Working hard on finally trying to make the most of living in Cheshire, we paid a classic visit to a stately home this week. It was a short drive, but it looks like it is also reasonably accessible by bicycle – which is promising for the summer months!
Arley Hall is on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens managed by Historic England under the provisions of the National Heritage Act (but it is not a National Heritage property). The three of us paid 22 GBP altogether for a ‘family’ ticket for the hall, gardens and parking – and we spent around 2 hours there. The hall itself has extremely limited opening days and times (the grounds/garden/nursery are open more often) so do check their website before you go!
What makes this historic hall so unique, is that it is still used as a home. It was not old and dusty, it was not formal, and none of the accessible rooms were empty. This makes it a very different experience from visiting other stately houses such as e.g. Newstead Abbey (Lord Byron’s old house near Nottingham). There were several helpful people at the entrance and around the rooms to provide information. For example, one of the ladies told me that the owners still use the space, when there aren’t visitors roaming around, especially the library.
I wish I could share a picture of the library, but there were no photos allowed in there. It houses a collection of around 5,000 Victorian books, including I believe a unique dictionary (but I cannot find any trace of this on the internet!). Apparently they hosted a scene from The Voice UK in the library at one point, which required moving all the books. (Why on earth would you pick to film in a library if you’re not going to film the books? I don’t understand at all.) This meant all the books and shelves got cleaned however, and the company that did it shared some fascinating photos of the process. The library was also used as the office of one of the main characters in the show Peaky Blinders, which is apparently why a lot of people come to visit!
The route through the house leads upstairs via a grand dining room and reception room, decorated with pictures of the ancient as well as modern family associated with the estate. On the next floor there is a small room detailing the history of the house. It was actually designed in the Tudor period – but it was made completely out of wood. When one enthusiastic owner tried to re-enforce the structure with brick, the wood began to rot, and eventually the whole building had to essentially be replaced in the 19th century.
Interestingly, one of the inhabitants commissioned a chapel in the mid-19th century, which he wanted to look older than it was. He was inspired by the Oxford movement (part of Church of England which eventually developed into Anglo-Catholicism) and wanted a Gothic chapel, resulting in a Gothic Revival style. Mostly notably, the nave roof is supported on corbels decorated with carved angels holding different shields – which he said ‘should be in the fashion of the time in which the Chapel may be supposed to have been built‘.
Outside, there is also a beautiful 19th century clock tower, attached to a 15th century barn. This structure is unique, because it has seven cruck trusses constructed completely out of wood without using any nails. Sitting next to this is a slightly newer 16th century barn, which is now used as a tea room. They had a lovely selection of cakes there, and for the non-vegetarian the Sunday roast also looked decent.
Arley Hall actually has somewhat of a history when it comes to traditional English cooking – The Experienced English Housekeeper by 18th century entrepreneur Elizabeth Raffald was written there. Another somewhat famous resident was Piers Egerton-Warburton. I am not sure how much recognition he ever received (he did not sell his work) but he painted lovely depictions of the 19th century Cheshire countryside. A lot of those buildings have since vanished, so they are a wonderful historic architectural record.
We did not spend a lot of time exploring the gardens, because even though we brought some sunshine with us, the grounds were still flooded from the February storms. It looks like a great place to take children to run around and play though (and several were happily jumping in puddles while we were there!). We will have to find out some time when we return by bicycle in the summer!