Little Moreton Hall is the most perfect moated timber framed manor house in Britain and probably the most famous. It was built bit by bit between the 1440’s and 1580’s and offers free guided tours, though just wandering around by yourself is ideal for engrossing oneself in the structure of the building – you’ll see why as you read on.
The principal delight of Little Moreton Hall is the black and white timbered architecture, arranged in a rich variety of patterns, predominantly within square panels. This decorative timber framing was popular in Elizabethan times and it was the gentry of Lancashire and Cheshire who used the technique to its most glorious effect. Other buildings in the North West include Rufford Old Hall, Smithills Hall and Speke Hall, but it’s at Little Moreton that it’s most impressive.
The courtyard shows that the carpenters combined decorative framing with other motifs, most notably the Quatrefoils (above the Great Hall doorway and in the gables) which have been carved out of solid wood, resembling a four-leaf clover. It is a style peculiar to this area of the country.
There are so many places where you can just sit and marvel at the beauty of the place, from the mount on the green between the house and the car park, to the benches in the knot garden. Or why not partake in a beverage and bite to eat while sat in the outdoor eating area. You can’t beat the view!
From viewing the exterior of the house, it is clear there are very few straight lines, but I could barely believe the guide who said there wasn’t a straight timber in the place. All the floors are slanting and vertical lines skewed. The addition of the South Range Long Gallery and the massive weight of its stone slate roof have contributed to the subsidence which is primarily the cause for the wonky appearance of the building.
The Gallery Chamber houses one of the most impressive features in the hall and back in the day, guests retiring in here from the Long Gallery would have been surprised by the fireplace in the corner. Believe it or not, the fireplace and over mantle are actually level, the only level thing in the house I hasten to add, showing just how much the floor is sloping towards the moat. I’m staggered that visitors are still allowed to tread the floors here with the obvious level of slant!
The crowning glory of Little Moreton Hall is the 68 foot Long Gallery on the top floor built around 1570. The arch-braced roof trusses were designed to take the weight of the stone slate roof. The crossbeams running between the roof trusses were probably added in the 17th Century in an attempt to stop the structure from ‘bursting apart’. The walls are clearly slanting outwards and one can’t help but wonder how the building is still standing.
One of the strangest things about Little Moreton that strikes most people on first visit is the lack of furniture in the hall. On my first visit 16 years ago I was surprised at the emptiness of the building; however on my recent visit knowing what to expect, I found the starkness suitable because it allows you to focus on the structure of the building and appreciate the craftsmanship – the crooked lines, the floors, the plasterwork, the glazing and the superb wooden paneling and carving.
The grain in the wood is visible everywhere and it is stunning.
There are only 3 pieces of original furniture left at Little Moreton Hall and the Great Hall contains 2 of the 3 pieces – the long refectory table and the large cupboard. The other piece is a large octagonal table known as the “great rounde table” located in the Withdrawing room.
When Little Moreton Hall was built, glass windows were rare in town houses and glazing was viewed as a prime status symbol. Over and above the elaborate timber work, it is perhaps the patterned glazing of the windows that gives Little Moreton it’s unusually complete 16th Century character. The fabulous view from the Long Gallery open window shows just how eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing the combination of carpentry and glazing is.
The variety of pattern is particularly noticeable at Little Moreton. The glazing varies from room to room, with some windows containing more than one pattern with very small pieces of glass.
It’s marvellous that one of the rooms in the hall has been turned into an exhibition room. The exhibition I saw was called Full Grown (unfortunately it finished on the 17th July 2016) and featured pieces of furniture and lamps made out of wood… but not just any wood…
Full Grown grows their furniture pieces in the Derbyshire hills. The furniture requires the training and pruning of young tree branches as they grow over specially made formers. As they grow, they are grafted together so that the object grows into one solid piece. After it has grown into the right shape, the tree is nurtured while it thickens and matures, before harvesting it in winter, then letting it season and dry. It is then a case of planing and finishing to show off the wood and grain. It takes 4 years to grow a lamp and 6 years to grow a chair. It is an art form in itself just looking after the trees from birth to harvest, keeping control of what is in effect, a small forest! The creations shown here are fascinating!
I initially found Little Moreton Hall’s gardens to be very underwhelming, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that actually the petite knot garden suits the size of the house.
In typically 17th Century fashion, the formal knot garden is a square design divided into quarters and each quarter into floral beds. Its symmetry is actually rather beautiful and I have to admit, just right for the size of house.
The evergreen border means the moat cannot be seen from inside the garden or house, so it’s a further delight when one ventures beyond to be able to skirt the house by walking alongside the pretty moat.
There are of course additional green spaces where the outside tearoom seating is and the large lawn walked past on entry to the hall.
Through June and July, Little Moreton Hall is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am – 5 pm.
From Monday 31st July, the hall is open every day throughout August until the bank holiday weekend.
From the 29th August the hall is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, keeping the same opening hours on all other days.
The half term week in October (from 23rd) the hall is open every day.
Then the hall closes until 29th November where it reopens for 3 weeks (Wednesday to Sunday) in the run up to Christmas from 11am – 4pm, closing on the 18th December for Christmas.
NT Members: Free
Are there any aspects of Little Moreton Hall that you think should be a treasure in their own right? Let me know….
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