Featured image: Michael D Beckwith
Flora Jackson showcases the beauty found in National Trust sites around the North and gives ideas for the perfect day out for students and visitors alike in the third edition of Trust Flora.
In this edition, we were highlighting one of the most famous and long-standing timber-framed buildings in England, the exclusive and elusive Little Moreton Hall.
No, it’s not your eyes playing tricks on you. The tumbling timber-framed architecture of Little Moreton Hall, curled around with a scenic moat, has defied logic for over 500 years. The hall is a Grade I listed building, meaning it’s of incredible national and historical significance and is of ‘special interest’ as Historic England describes.
It is an outstanding example of a half-timbered house and dates from the thirteenth century, when it belonged to and was occupied by the de Moreton family; the roots of the family go far back into Cheshire’s history, the name deriving from the Saxon and Old Norse words meaning ‘marshland’ and ‘farmstead’.
This timber-framed moated manor house can be traced back to more precisely 1450 and was originally only two stories tall. Furthermore, between 1570-80 a large ‘Long Gallery’ was added to the south wing – giving the house its distinctive, top-heavy, appearance.
Congleton, Cheshire, England, CW12 4SD
By train: Kidsgrove – 3 miles away. Congleton – 4½ miles away.
By Car: 35.6 miles away. Starting from Manchester Piccadilly via the M6. Head south-east on London Road/the A6 towards Fairfield Street. Take the A5103, M56, A556, M6 and A534 to your destination in Cheshire East. Little Moreton Hall will be on the left.
Total time: 50 minutes approximately
Travelling from University: Catch a direct 40-minute train from Manchester Piccadilly to Stoke, jump off at Congleton station, and then enjoy the scenic walk – or perhaps a taxi drive – to Little Moreton Hall. You should be able to spot the classic Tutor black and white architecture through the tall green trees.
The Timber Tudor House
The hall is the most charming and least altered Elizabethan timber-framed manor house in the country, an icon of Britain’s heritage. The curators at Little Moreton Hall want to focus on preserving the history to its most authentic state, drawing the eye to the beauty of the building itself. It matters little that its interiors are unfurnished but keep on the lookout for the historic original long table in the great hall and a round table in the old parlour room next door.
Another unique quality of the house is the ‘higgledy-piggledy’ upstairs rooms, especially the wooden floor undulating like a rolling sea in the ‘Long Gallery’. Buckled and bowed over the course of 400 or more years under the weight of 200 tons of gritstone, roof tiles, and the lavishly glazed long gallery that tops the south wing. One architect said he can see no logical reason why it is still standing.
The older parts are of the mid-to-late 1400s, but most were built between 1559 and 1580. The beautiful bay windows that greet you once you’ve entered the cobbled courtyard are a bold statement of wealth and status, as they were installed when glass was rare and expensive (dated 1559 by “Rycharde Dale, Carpeder” [Richard Dale, Carpenter]).
Another niche of the historic house is the unusual inscription etched into the glass in the Long Gallery by a grieving workman carrying out repairs. The inscription reads, ‘Mary Martha Gee waskild [was killed] Nov 22 1892’ to commemorate the death of his young grandchild who was tragically involved in a road collision in the village of Congleton. Keep an eye out for other unusual or superstitious inscriptions and markings around the house, especially in rooms below bedrooms or above doorways.
The Knot Garden & Moat
Outside of the house is a small knot garden, based on an Elizabethan design, a herb garden, an orchard, a yew tunnel and herbaceous borders. A much-loved feature of Little Moreton Hall’s garden for 50 years, the Knot Garden is formed of box hedging spanning hundreds of metres. Based on a Tudor quatrefoil design, the box hedge of the knot garden apparently takes National Trust gardeners around 80 hours every year to clip by hand – a true labour of love. Although there are no records of the old garden, the knot garden is based on a drawing from Leonard Meager’s The Complete English Gardener (1670).
The Mysterious Mounds
During your exploration around the gardens, once you’ve popped out of the other side of the yew tunnel, your eyes may be drawn to an unusual grassy mound. You may even spot its sister mound while walking down the drive after parking up. Archaeologists are currently carrying out geography surveys to assess the original purpose and intention of these abnormal mounds. Where they were built from dredges of the moat surrounding the property, or constructed journeys for residents to climb and ponder the great question, or perhaps they simply served as a form of exercise?
When sitting on the lawn with your lunch after visiting the heritage house, consider what could be buried underneath the manicured grass. You may well be relaxing on another heritage site sunk beneath you, just waiting to be discovered.
For more places to visit, read more of Trust Flora.