As I sat in the car, warming up after my climb to Mow Cop castle I pondered if there was anywhere else nearby I could visit before heading back home. Maybe my new friend Patrick could enlighten me. After a few minutes of finding my way around the sat-nav’s interface, Places Of Interest popped up on-screen. Hmmm, Little Moreton Hall is not far from here.
“Plot a course Patrick” I said to the screen as it feverishly set about gathering the telemetry to aid my journey. Three(ish) miles and ten minutes later and I was pulling onto the car park of the hall, sheltered from the cold wind under the autumnal colours of numerous oak and chestnut trees.
After exiting the gift shop with my little pocket guide it was a short walk to the hall with Mow Cop castle still visible to my right in the distance.
The hall itself is an amazing sight, it really does look like it will collapse at any minute. It stands on an island surrounded by a 33 ft (10m) wide moat with a sandstone bridge leading to a gatehouse on the southern aspect of the three storey building. There is a large long gallery that stretches the length of the buildings upper floor, the weight of which over the years has caused the walls and floors to sink and buckle, giving the impression of a stranded Noah’s Ark.
The house was built for the prosperous Cheshire landowner William Moreton around 1504-08 and remained in the ownership of the Moreton family for almost 450 years. Ownership was transferred to the National Trust in 1938 and it is now a Grade I listed building with the surrounding grounds protected as a Scheduled Monument. The house and gardens have now been fully restored and it is open to the public from April to December each year. You can find more details of opening times here.
After standing outside for a while to admire the irregular but elegant facade I made my way over the moat via the bridge and entered the courtyard.
The surrounding aspects of the buildings within the courtyard give the feeling of a small village with a typical Elizabethan feel, so much so that I kept expecting Baldrick to rush past holding a beetroot or two! There is an extravagant use of glass in the hall, the windows contain over 30,000 leaded panes known as quarries, set into patterns of squares, rectangles, lozenges, circles and triangles.
Making my way inside I entered the splendid half-timbered hall and the myriad of rooms on the ground floor. There seems to be no corridors in the house, just one room leads to another and sometimes leads nowhere, with some of the rooms no bigger than a cupboard. The original purpose of some of the rooms is still a mystery today.
I made my way up the wooden spiral steps to the third floor and the Long Gallery which runs the entire length of the south range. The Gallery is roofed with heavy gritstone slabs, the weight of which has caused the supporting walls and floors below to belly and buckle. It is a gloriously long and crooked space with wide floorboards undulating like waves and walls bowing in and out at different intervals over its length. It has almost continuous windows along the longer aspects and a window to the west. The cross beams between the arch-braced roof trusses where probably installed in the 17th century to prevent the structure from bursting apart under the load of the roof.
The gallery was always sparsely furnished and was used as a games room when the weather was inclement. Four 17th century tennis balls were found behind the wooden panelling during renovations.
The end tympana of the gallery have plaster depictions of Destiny and Fortune, copied from Robert Recorde‘s Castle Of Knowledge of 1556. It was his fourth book for the self-education of craftsmen and artisans and shows how to make instruments for astronomy and navigation. The blind goddess Fortuna stands on the unstable sphere with the wheel of chance hanging over her in the first picture while the Spirit of Knowledge stands on a stable cube holding the navigator’s dividers and the spear of destiny in the second one. The inscriptions read “The wheel of fortune, whose rule is ignorance” and “The speare of destiny, whose ruler is knowledge”.
During the last batch of restoration work, “18 assorted boots and shoes” were found hidden in the structure of the building, all dating from the 19th century. Shoes were often concealed about a building to ward off demons, ghosts and witches or to encourage the fertility of the female occupants.
Little Moreton Hall has its own ghost stories; a grey lady is said to haunt the Long Gallery and a childs sobs are said to have been heard in and around the family chapel.
After making my way back down the stairs I stepped out into the courtyard and walked around the exterior of the hall again to explore and get a few more pictures.
As I walked back to the car I couldn’t resist running up a nearby small hill to photograph the house again from a slightly different perspective, thinking, that had it not been for Patrick I probably wouldn’t be stood here and why after all these years had I only just got around to using a sat-nav? It must be a male pride thing, I thought, still playing King of the Castle on my hill and surveying the peasants passing by below.
Description: Little Moreton Hall
Date Listed: 6 June 1952
English Heritage Building ID: 56552
OS Grid Reference: SJ8324958922
OS Grid Coordinates: 383249, 358922
Latitude/Longitude: 53.1272, -2.2518
Location: Odd Rode, Cheshire East CW12 4SD