Little Moreton Hall on the outskirts of the town of Congleton has been on my list of places to visit ever since I saw photographs of the place.
It is a enchanting, bemusing and whimsical in equal measure as well as being a standing testament to the astonishing feat of skill and ingenuity of the craftsmen of Tudor England.
The iconic higgledy-piggledy house sits in the rural countryside and looks distinctly fairytale-esque with a delightful 33ft moat curling around the house and its Tudor gardens. I caught a glimpse from the road and knew this was going to be something special.
Before you enter there is a sign that says just around the corner, you’ll encounter one of the country’s most extraordinary timber-famed houses. As the house comes in to view as you approach, it feels bigger than I imagined and the striking black and white design contrast wonderfully with the green surroundings.
Crossing the bridge over the moat is literally like stepping back in time to the 16th Century and entering the busy cobbled courtyard underneath.
The name Moreton probably derives from the Old English mor meaning “marshland” and ton, meaning “town”, thus literally “marsh town”. The land on which the house sits was very marshy and wet – it is true a purpose of the moat was to ensure the water levels of the surrounding land never got to high.
The Moretons were well to do farmers who were relatively wealthy for the times and took opportunities whenever they presented themselves to trade and buy up land such as when the Black death struck England in 1348 land was available cheaply so this was bought up by the family.
Little Moreton Hall first appears in the historical record in 1271 however the earliest part of the house which survives today is the North range including Old Great hall directly opposite the Courtyard entrance.
This was built by William Moreton I in 1504 – 1508. This building would have been a hub of noisy activities as well as being very crowded and smoky from a fire which boomed out from the middle of the Great Hall. As privacy became more important and society changed new wings were added for more space such as the West wing in 1546.
Astonishingly there are no foundations to the building at all which is utterly remarkable given it’s been standing proud for 516 years.
The south wing was added in about 1560–62 by William Moreton II’s son John (1541–98). It includes the Gatehouse and a third storey containing a 68-foot (21 m) Long Gallery which appears to have been an afterthought added on after construction work had begun.
“A feast of medieval carpentry”
The impressive Bay windows were added in 1559. Uniquely the carpenter, Richard Dale was permitted (or asked) to add his mark to the windows, with the bottom one proclaiming ‘Rycharde Dale Carpeder made thies Windous by the Grac of God’ – the spelling is so interesting in that is it very typical of the spelling of the time and the font and typography of the letters are completely identifiable as not being from modern times but straight out of the Elizabethan era (at time point they were 1 year into Elizabeth’s reign)
The Parlour contains elaborate biblical Tudor wall Paintings which date to around 1575-80. A painter in Tudor times would only have a life expectancy of around 40 due to the noxious materials used in the paints.
The captivating Long Gallery is the most impressive room which would have been used to entertain guests and was even used to play tennis. This had a warming room attached which has the original fireplace in one corner that the inhabitants could have used to get warm in the winter months. This is now at such an angle as the rooms slopes almost a foot from one side to the other.
Walking around the rooms on the first and second floor the floors were very uneven and with the creaking of the old wood below your feet felt akin to being on a ship.
Interestingly throughout the house there were burn marks on the wood with a lot of them appearing on the cracks of the wood. The Tudors thought this would ward off and trap any evil spirts lurking within.
Throughout the house, if you look closely, there are also curious star signs which at first glance look like the star of David but these are not. They are charms to ward off the threat of fire. Had a fire happened then this could have bought the whole house down within no time at all.
The family were punished severely for supporting Charles I during the Civil war. Cromwell’s parliamentarians confiscated the estate in 1643 and demanded extortionate fees for its return. This change in fortunes helped to preserve the house as they stopped making modifications to keep up with latest fashions. Eventually it was neglected and let out to be used as farmland.
The house’s whimsical, top-heavy appearance, as it has been described “like a stranded Noah’s Ark”, is due to the Long Gallery that runs the length of the south range’s upper floor which has caused the structures underneath to sink slightly and bow over time. The roof tiles weigh over 200 tons which is the equivalent of having a herd of 32 African elephants lounging on the roof.
I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the various rooms and courtyards, imagining life here 500 years ago. How hard everyday life must have been but how much better off inhabitants of this house were than the general working classes around them.
As I pondered the everyday Tudor traditions and superstitions which today seem rather wild, they would have lived in both fear and hope, particularly at a time of a festivity such as Candlemas which was to celebrate the end of the hard, unrelenting winter and the season giving way to lighter days and nights ahead.