The Retirees go Abroad – Living in Tudor Times

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If you have been following my blogs then you may well be sick of manor houses and gardens. But before you turn off, this is a tale of a manor house built in wood that has been in the same family ownership since 1500 and was last added to or changed in 1610. When you see the photographs you may agree with me – how is it still standing?

Little Moreton Hall at Congleton Cheshire is a National trust property. It is moated. It is built of wood and daub plaster. It is the ancestral home of a family of yeoman farmers named the Moretons. The earliest parts of the house were built for William Moreton in about 1504–08, and the remainder was constructed in stages by successive generations of the family until about 1610. The building is highly irregular, with three asymmetrical ranges forming a small, rectangular courtyard. The house’s top-heavy appearance, is due to the Long Gallery that runs the length of the south range’s upper floor which was built in about 1560–62 for William Moreton II’s son John It includes the Gatehouse and a third storey containing a 68-foot (21 m) Long Gallery, roofed with heavy grit stone slabs, the weight of which has caused the supporting floors below to bow and buckle. I could not remember all this so I have extracted what I thought would explain to you the uniqueness of this house from Wikipedia. If you wish to read more go to http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/little-moreton-hall/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Moreton_Hall.

Wikipedia has this comment which I thought was important for your understanding: “Architectural historians Peter de Figueiredo and Julian Treuherz describe it as “a gloriously long and crooked space (the Long Gallery), the wide floorboards rising up and down like waves and the walls leaning outwards at different angles.” The crossbeams between the arch-braced roof trusses were probably added in the 17th century to prevent the structure from “bursting apart” under the load.”

A small kitchen and Brew-house block was added to the south wing in about 1610, the last major extension to the house. The fortunes of the Moreton family declined during the English Civil War. As supporters of the Royalist cause, they found themselves isolated in a community of Parliamentarians. Little Moreton Hall was requisitioned by the Parliamentarians and used to billet Parliamentary soldiers. The family survived the Civil War with their ownership of Little Moreton Hall intact, but financially they were crippled. The family’s fortunes never fully recovered, and by the late 1670s they no longer lived in Little Moreton Hall, renting it out instead to a series of tenant farmers.

Elizabeth Moreton, an Anglican nun, inherited the almost derelict house following the death of her sister Annabella in 1892. She restored and refurnished the Chapel, and may have been responsible for the insertion of steel rods to stabilise the structure of the Long Gallery. In 1912 she bequeathed the house to a cousin, Charles Abraham, Bishop of Derby, stipulating that it must never be sold. Abraham opened up Little Moreton Hall to visitors, charging an entrance fee of 6d (equivalent to about £8 as of 2010) collected by the Dales who had taken over the tenancy in 1841, who conducted guided tours of the house in return. Abraham carried on the preservation effort begun by Elizabeth Moreton until he and his son transferred ownership to the National Trust in 1938. The Dale family continued to farm the estate until 1945, and acted as caretakers for the National Trust until 1955.

Tours of the house are available and they are really worth it. In the course of the tour our guide told us the house originally had a dirt floor and as the chooks and other animals would also be running through they threw a grass like product called “thresh” onto the floor and to keep the thresh in the house they erected a bar at the foot of each door called a “hold”. Hence our word “threshold” There is a chair in the main hall and we were told this was probably the only chair as everyone bar the elder of the house (the chairman) had stools or benches.

The house still contains a little furniture from the end of the 16th century. Apart from the chair there is the table top. We were told that in the 16th century this was called the “board” and it was not affixed to legs like today but rather sat on trestles. When the servants cleaned the room and everyone retired the board would be turned over because many servants received “board and lodging” instead of pay. There would have been other boards at the side of the room for other eating utensils – “side boards” and “cup boards”. If minstrels were visiting they would receive food in exchange for entertainment. So the boards would be taken into the courtyard and placed on the cobbles for the minstrels and troubadours to perform or “tread the boards”. Amazing where our vocabulary comes form.

Our tour included a visit to a room where we saw 16th century wall paper. In maintaining the house the National Trust has uncovered original “wallpaper” form that same time. The fashion was to draw patterns on the walls and colour them in but between the top of the wall and the ceiling is a fresco of biblical scenes drawn on paper affixed to the wall.

The Chapel is a sight to behold. It must have been constructed out of square to be so obviously crooked. The tour ends in the Chapel (which is still consecrated and used for short services). Walking around the remaining rooms there are picture boards with information on various aspects of the house. The “garderobes” are simple benches with holes and a drop into – you guessed it – the moat. Even so some poor sod had the job of cleaning out the mess and spreading it on the fields.

There is a good little café here with reasonable prices a warm fire and tasty food. We both recommend a visit to live in Tudor times.

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