Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire

There can be few houses in England that possess an 'olde worlde' charm more appealing than this striking black and white timber-framed building. Resting sedately beside the clear, still waters of the moat, Little Moreton Hall represents the classic chocolate-box picture that many believe are just figments of an artist's imagination. Even more surprising is that this romantically crooked old manor house stands just yards from the busy main road between Kidsgrove and Congelton, on the borders of Cheshire and Staffordshire.

On land owned by the Moreton family for 700 years, the house was built by three generations over a period of some 120 years. The earliest surviving structural work at Little Moreton Hall can be seen in the east wing and the great hall and, despite extensive remodelling over the centuries, very little appears to have changed since the original house was first constructed in the mid 15th century. It is interesting to note that the carpenter who carried out the modernisation work in the 1550s, Richard Dale, is immortalised with an inscription on the bay windows. Most of the stained glass in the leaded light windows is from the 16th century and demands a close inspection to appreciate the variety of colours and patterns made by these tiny, thin pieces of unbleached glass.

As Little Moreton Hall was developed and enlarged, it formed a delightful hotch-potch of buildings around a central courtyard. Looking at the external elevation of the building, from any angle, it is nigh impossible to find a perfectly straight edge anywhere, and many of the glass panes appear blown and distorted under the pressure of the heavy stone slate roof. A peculiar sensation of slight giddiness and loss of balance might be experienced whilst trying to negotiate the uneven floor surfaces which, in turn, appear to be pushing the walls outwards on either side. This is not an hallucination. The sturdy timber floors do have very pronounced dipping and swelling boards, and the huge overhead beams have put so much strain on the walls over the years that they have slowly buckled beneath the weight. Although this contorted structure seems on the verge of total collapse, it has miraculously survived intact, with hardly any obvious additional bracing or supports to spoil the intricate external decoration.

By the early 18th century, the Moretons had vacated their family home, deciding to let it to tenant farmers. Less than 100 years later many of the buildings were being used for storage purposes, with only a small area remaining inhabited by the tenant. Suffering from neglect and decay, Little Moreton Hall was substantially restored by Elizabeth Moreton at the end of the 19th century, with continuing maintenance and stabilisation work undertaken by her cousin and heir, Bishop Abraham during his time at the hall. Extremely proud of the fact that the family home had never been sold, and wishing to secure the future of such an outstanding example of period architecture, Bishop Abraham presented it to the National Trust in 1938.


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