Little Moreton Hall – A fairy-tale manor built during the Tudor period

Katerina Bulovska
 
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Little Moreton Hall is located in southeastern Cheshire, near the small town of Congleton, and is probably the finest half-timbered manor in England. The name comes from Old English words meaning ‘marshland’ and ‘farmland’. The house stands around three sides of a cobbled courtyard, surrounded by a moat. One of the most famous timber framed buildings in England, it was constructed during the Tudor period in the later years of the reign of Henry VII.

Little Moreton Hall was built by wealthy landowners as a status symbol. Sir Richard de Moreton started constructing the house from the traditional and available materials, oak and wattle, sometime in the middle of the 15th century. The house was extended and modified by each of the following owners, but the earliest constructions still remain – the hall and the east wing, which date from around 1450.

William Moreton II commissioned Richard Dale to improve and extend the house. The fabulous five-sided bay windows were added to the east wing and it was extended by the addition of the withdrawing room and chapel. The windows date from 1559 and there is absolutely no doubt that Dale made them, as his name is inscribed on the frieze.

Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire, UK. A fine example of an Elizabethan timber-framed manor house. Author: Christine-Ann Martin. CC BY-SA 3.0

After William’s death, his son John continued working on the house. He constructed the south wing, followed by the domestic part, gatehouse, and a 68-foot long gallery around 1600. The fact that the entire south wing has little or no foundation explains the distinctive irregular shape of the house, created by the weight of the long gallery.

Section of the withdrawing room’s bay window, showing the patterning of the panes. Author: RobertG. CC BY-SA 3.0

The Moretons, who were loyal supporters of the King, were devastated when Cromwell’s forces triumphed during the English Civil War. In the early 1700s, the family decided to leave the house, as they could no longer afford the cost of its maintenance and upkeep. In the following years, Little Moreton Hall was mainly used for storage and only part of it was still inhabited by farmers.

The courtyard, facing north toward the Great Hall. Author: Baresi franco. CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1892, the house passed to the nun Elizabeth Moreton, the last surviving member of the Moreton family. She restored the chapel and is thought to have inserted the steel rods that provide stability to the long gallery. In 1912, she passed the house to her cousin, Bishop Charles Thomas Abraham, on the condition that it must never be sold. Bishop Abraham proceeded with the restoration and this was continued by the National Trust, to whom he and his son bequeathed the building in 1938.

The long gallery, looking west. Author: Richard Croft. CC BY-SA 2.0

The house is most famous for its impressively elaborate exterior black and white timbering. The long gallery is the most captivating room with remarkable decorative woodwork. The interior of the house is just as beautiful as its exterior. Delicate carvings, mostly in medieval styles, can be found throughout the rooms.

Elizabethan fireplace in the parlor. Author: David Dixon. CC BY-SA 2.0

The great hall, however, is definitely not typically medieval because of its extravagant use of glass, in a period when glass was extortionately expensive and used in sparingly in all buildings except major churches. Painted plaster figures of Destiny and Fortune, typical examples of the Elizabethan love of allegorical devices, stand at opposite ends of the hall.

A decorated wall in the parlor. Author: Francis Franklin. CC BY-SA 4.0

The rooms are ornately decorated with painted leather paneling and heavily ornamented fireplaces such as the one in the upper porch room. An impressive round wooden table with an octagonal base can be found in the withdrawing room. In the parlor, biblical wall paintings dating from c. 1575-80 were discovered the behind Georgian paneling.

Little Moreton Hall. Author: Smabs Sputzer. CC BY 2.0

During the 20th century, the gardens were restored in the Tudor style too. To the west, there is a small orchard, while on the north side, a geometrically shaped formal knot garden, based on 17th-century design. Colorful flower beds along with fish and ducks swimming in the freshwater moat add to the picturesque nature of Little Morton Hall’s gardens.

The Knot Garden. Author: Michael D Beckwith

Little Moreton Hall is registered in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. The house was used as a setting for Amelia Edwards’ novel Lord Brackenbury published in 1880. In 1996, the manor was one of the film locations for the television’s adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s novel Moll Flanders.