Monday, 25 April 2016

Timber! Beautiful 16th – 17th Buildings in Cheshire Pt 1

I am lucky to live in a part of the UK that has an abundance of beautiful early modern buildings, in particular the timber framed ‘tudor style’ buildings, whether original or 19th/20th century re-imaginings. I’m thinking the Wild Boar in Tarporley which I love (I had my wedding reception there!) and Lockwood’s in Chester, and other lovely examples that were built well into the 19th century. In this post I will be dealing with buildings that were constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Although undoubtedly restored in parts over the years, these buildings maintain their original structure and character.There are so many to choose from once I started compiling the list I decided to make this post into a series, I give you Part 1:


A modern construction of the timber framed building
Timber framed buildings are given their distinctive look by the pattern made by the vertical posts and horizontal beams of wood used in their construction, as shown by the image on the right.The gaps in between the timber would have been filled with wattle and daub. Wattle being strips of wood woven together and then daubed with a mud based mixture. If you are interested in seeing how this was done see the YouTube video series Timber frame workshop with wattle & daub infill.

Timber framed buildings were always prefabricated and carpenters would have cut and fitted all of the joints before construction. Everything had to be carefully fitted flat on the ground before erection, this is called framing up. Once erected the frames joined as sides of a box which was infilled to create the walls, roof and floor.[1]  They would have looked something like the above, which is from a story that ran in the Mail a few years ago, it featured a couple who taught themselves trade skills and completed their own ‘Tudor Style’ home. (read the full story here

Little Moreton Hall

Front view of the hall I tried and failed to take a picture with no people in it :)

View of the moat
The Moretons were wealthy landowners, Sir Richard Moreton began building the hall in the late fifteenth century with later additions added by his son John Moreton.[2]
The house is a beautiful piece of architecture and even has its own moat. It has a delightful uneven, top heavy appearance due to the addition of the long gallery in the latter part of the sixteenth century. It almost looks as though it may topple. When you take a closer look there are so many stunning carved details of figures, animals and leaves (see my photos below). It is amazing the hall is standing at all considering it was built with no foundations. Luckily the house has been well preserved and hasn’t suffered from irreversible changes, even during its time as a run down farmhouse. It is now under the care of the National Trust and has been since 1949, they run lots of Tudor themed events throughout the year. When we visited it was later in the afternoon and we had the last tour of the day, the staff were happy to let us up to the long gallery, even though it was close to closing time. So we had it all to ourselves to wander in peace. Long galleries were very fashionable during the Elizabethan period, described as being 'for no other use but pastime and health'[3].

The parlour has original paneling that was uncovered in the 1970s hidden behind Georgian wooden paneling. The sixteenth century paneling is well preserved considering it was painted directly onto the plaster and in parts paper over plaster. Although the images and decoration are some what unsophisticated, crude even, somehow they still make a grand visual impact.  They tell the story of Susanna and the Elders from Apocrypha. Like the outside of the hall, there is so much decorative detail.

The Moreton family crest included a wolf head, wolves can be seen in stained glass in the great hall bay window and the withdrawing room east window. For a close up of all the stained glass I recommend the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Medieval Stained Glass in Britain website here. I have tried to include some of the parts of Little Moreton Hall I enjoyed but there is plenty more to see it really is a gem, I highly recommend a visit.

Address: Little Moreton Hall, Congleton Rd, Congleton, Cheshire CW12 4SD

Great hall Bay window, c. 1559-63

16th Century paneling discovered in the 1970s

The long gallery: a late 16thc addition
View of the courtyard from the long gallery
Some of the ornate decorative carvings

A wolf, part of the Moreton family crest
More detail from the exterior of the building

A 16th Century over-mantle in the withdrawing room 


  Old Hall Sandbach

Haunted? It does look foreboding here!
The Old Hall is located near the center of the historical market town of Sandbach (where you’ll also find 9th century Saxon crosses and cobbled streets) it was built as a manor house but is currently a pub/restaurant. Unlike Little Moreton the availability of information regarding the hall is scant but it is dated at around 1656.[4] It was built on the site of a ruined thirteenth century manor by  John Radclyffe, son of Sir John Radclyffe Lord of the Manor of Sandbach. The previous manor which belonged to the Sondbache family had burnt down.[5]  Over the years the hall has served as a hotel/inn and pub under various ownership, but in 2006 it was empty and local residents were so concerned about the neglected state it had fallen in to, they formed an action group to save it. Happily it was purchased in 2010 and restored by Brunning and Price.[6] It currently describes itself as a 'Traditional pub restaurant serving fresh food, cask ales and wine'.[7] I enjoyed eating there recently, it has an eclectic style inside (which I loved) with various historical artwork, documents and prints hanging on the walls. There is new extension to the back of the old hall with an outdoor seating area, but it is still in keeping with the old style. The ladies toilets are spacious with an open fire and a chaise lounge, it makes using the facilities more of an occasion (many drunken selfies have taken place here I'm sure). Features of note inside are seventeenth century paneling and fireplaces and a priest hole (I regret not taking any pictures inside!). It is also reputed to be haunted be many ghosts, including some which are believed to be from the previous manor's fire. It appeared on Most Haunted series 5, in 2004. 

Address: Old Hall, High St, Sandbach, Cheshire CW11 1AL

Another view of the front which shows the
 length of this impressive building

The Bear and Billet

The Bear and Billet is a seventeenth century town house in the city of Chester, it is dated at 1664 but is thought to have replaced an earlier house destroyed during the Civil Wars (1637-1653). It was the home of the Earls of Shrewsbury, sergeants of the Bridgegate in the mid seventeenth century. It became an inn in the eighteenth century and was originally called the Lower White Bear. It was later named the Bear and Billet with its sign being a bear shackled to a post or billet.[8] It has been a much loved drinking spot in Chester ever since, currently it serves real ale and high quality food (sadly I cant comment on the food yet!). In 1999 it was given a refurbishment and changed to ‘Bensons at the Billet’, however after local protest the name was returned once again to Bear and Billet.[9] 

During the seventeenth century there was a move away from the decorative panel treatment of the Elizabethan period as seen above at Little Moreton Hall. There was a change in framing with return to story height studs, frames were stronger but they were also smaller and of poorer quality, perhaps due to timber shortages.[10] The Bear is in keeping with this shift away from an abundance of decoration but it does still have some ornamental paneling and corbels. The top story has folding doors to the granary where corn and provisions were once kept.[11]  Chester is full of beauties like this so it the city will certainly be appearing in future posts in this series. 

Address: Bear and Billet, 94 Lower Bridge St, Chester, Cheshire CH1 1RU

Bear and Billet

The latest incarnation of the Bear and Billet
sign and a closer look at the corbels

[1] Richard Harris, Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings, (Shire Publications: Buckinghamshire, 2006), p. 5.

[2] Anthony Emery, Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales 1300-1500: Volume 2, East Anglia, Central England and Wales, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996), p. 555.

[3] Described by 17thc Lawyer/Biographer Roger North (1651-1734) in Colin Platt, The Great Rebuildings Of Tudor And Stuart England: Revolutions In Architectural Taste, (Routledge: Oxon, 1994),p.78.

[4] Nikolaus Pevsner, Edward Hubbard, The Buildings of Cheshire, (Penguin Books: London, 1971), p.332.

[5] 'History', Old Hall Sandbach, at [accessed 23/4/16].

[6] 'Old Hall Hotel, Sandbach', Heritage Works, at [accessed 23/4/16].

[7] This description appears on the Google search summary for their website but does not appear elsewhere on the site [Google search 23/4/26].

[8] Paul Hurley, Chester Through Time, Amberley Publishing Limited, 2013).

[9] Paul Hurley, Len Morgan, Chester Pubs, (Amberley Publishing Limited, 2015).

[10]  Laurie McKenna, Timber Framed Buildings in Cheshire, (Cheshire County Council, 1994).

[11] William Andrews, Bygone Cheshire, (Cheshire, 1895).

All but first one are photos taken by me in 2013-16

Copyright © 2016 E.JH

Friday, 8 April 2016

Early Modern Alphabet: L

I haven't blogged in ages because I've been busy, but I'd like to start doing a few posts again so I thought I'd start with something easy :) I did have a grand idea (once upon a time) of blogging the Early Modern Alphabet using letters that I come across in early modern texts weekly. Not sure I can commit to it with such regularity but I will start doing some again as I find them. I came across this little gem today and it reminded me.

Is it a lion? Is it flower/person hybrid? Who knows?! I like to think that it's L for Lion. It probably isn't though...

Pierre Boaistuau,Certaine Secrete Wonders of Nature, 1569

Copyright © 2016 E.JH