Crumbling heritage - Old Hall Hotel, Sandbach
PUBLISHED: 20:01 01 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:14 20 February 2013
Residents in Sandbach are leading the fight to save one of the town's most prized and historic buildings, writes Jonathan Bacon
The once grand and gleaming Old Hall Hotel in Sandbach is falling into ruin. This Grade 1 listed building was originally an Elizabethan manor house and later an elegant hotel and restaurant. But now the Old Hall stands vacant and in severe need of renovation, having become an urgent priority on the English Heritage 'at risk' list.
It has been in swift decline for some time. An asset management company acquired the property in 2006 and with no occupant or use for the building, the Old Hall's upkeep has been overlooked, resulting in extensive water infiltration and rot from a deteriorating roof.
A group of Sandbach residents concerned by such decay established the Save the Old Hall Action Group to press upon the owner and the council the importance of preserving it. The campaign achieved an important victory earlier this year when repairs to the roof were completed, though the group's chairman, Malcolm Thurston, remains keen to keep up the pressure to see the building fully restored and reoccupied.
'The Old Hall is part of the heritage of Sandbach so it must be saved,' says Malcolm, a retired engineer and local historian. 'With its location in the centre of Sandbach by the old, cobbled streets, it is part and parcel of the town.'
The present black and white, timber-framed Old Hall was built for Sir John Radclyffe, the lord of the manor who secured the town's first market charter in the 16th century. Following several additions by Sir John's descendants, the building became a coaching inn during the 19th century for servicing parties travelling between Liverpool and Lichfield. Thus began the Old Hall's widespread reputation for hospitality.
'We've had people from all over the world who've stayed in the Old Hall get in touch to say what a shame it is that the hotel has not been maintained,' says Malcolm.
Among the building's unique and fascinating features are two Jacobean fireplaces and a 'priest hole' where Roman Catholic clergy hid from persecution during the Reformation. There are plenty of spooky stories to tell too as the Old Hall has become known as one of Britain's most haunted hotels. A ghostly lady was said to watch over sleeping guests from a rocking chair.
'I've never seen any ghosts but one or two members of our group say they've seen them. They mumble it to themselves at our meetings because they don't like to admit they believe in ghosts,' chuckles Malcolm.
With its rich and varied history in mind, Malcolm is keen to see the Old Hall become a popular visitor attraction in Sandbach. 'We have proposed that the building be turned into a museum and a tourist information centre,' he says. 'There is currently nothing in Sandbach to document the town's history such as its importance as a trucking centre for big firms like Foden. With its proximity to the M6 it could also be the first stop on a coach tour of all the black and white buildings in Cheshire.'
In order to see this dream realised the action group has raised funds for a study into the possible future uses for the Old Hall. Frustratingly for Malcolm, though, such efforts are slow to reap fruition. 'We're fighting against high finance and bureaucracy.'
With the Old Hall now up for sale, a new buyer is being sought who will be willing to invest the time and money needed to fully renovate the building. The campaign has also recently gained support from the council's conservation officer and from Lord Robin Radclyffe of Surrey, a descendant of the building's founder who has expressed his desire to see his ancestral home restored. Such influential backing, combined with the stoic determination of Malcolm's action group, has given the Old Hall a fighting chance of becoming the pride of Sandbach once more.
If you know of an important or historic building being neglected why not tell us about it? Please write to Cheshire's Heritage, Cheshire Life, 3 Tustin Court, Port Way, PR2 2YQ. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org