Gorgeous Gawsworth, Macclesfield's manor house
PUBLISHED: 01:44 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 13:16 30 December 2017
Cheshire Life visits an historic listed manor house at Christmas time<br/>WORDS BY JANET REEDER<br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
One of the loveliest of Cheshire’s fine manor houses, Gawsworth Hall, is transformed into the setting for an idyllic Christmas when it is decked out in fabulous floral finery.
An army of talented florists have been busy planning for months the festive floral displays that will enhance the beauty of this splendid country house in Macclesfield, now the much-loved home of the Richards family.
Swags, garlands and spectacular decorations using floral blooms of rich ruby reds and golds, against the darker greens of winter, are used to enhance this wonderful Elizabethan setting.
And although Gawsworth is usually closed over the winter months and becomes the focus for the Richards’ traditional family Christmas, the doors of the hall are thrown open for a few days so that the public too can enjoy the fruits of the floral artists’ labours.
‘There’s a lot of upheaval beforehand of course,’ says lady of the ‘manor’ Elizabeth Richards.
‘But we love it. It brings the house alive. We are closed for the season so the ladies who work and have done so for more than 20 years look forward to it, though I have to say they have to gird their loins because it gets quite busy.’
The displays are normally orchestrated by hands-on florist Barry Grey. However for a couple of years it was the ladies of NAFAS who had the privilege of garlanding the hall.
‘Gawsworth is just so lovely and I think I speak for all of us when I say we have really enjoyed being there,’ enthuses NAFAS member Margaret Delany.
‘We were just made to feel so welcome and it is wonderful being able to arrange fresh flowers without having to pay for them! The Hall didn’t want anything too modern because the building is so old but there were one or two contemporary touches which were added. However most of the flowers were chosen to match the colour schemes of each of the rooms.’
Gawsworth itself has a wonderful romantic history which gives it immense intrinsic charm. The Fitton Family chapel here, dating back to 1365, is still used by the family today.
The original Norman house, however, was rebuilt in 1480 and following extensive remodelling in 1701, was the subject of the most famous duel in English history. It was in 1712 that Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton fought over the estates and both duellists were tragically killed.
Gawsworth Hall was also once the home of Mary Fitton, the younger daughter of Sir Edward and Lady Alice Fitton after Sir Edward inherited the stunning half-timbered landmark on the death of his father in 1579.
Mary too is a figure of romance and mystery as it is believed that it was she who could possibly be the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Her short, but brilliant career at the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, where she was appointed Maid of Honour in 1596, ended in 1602 following a rather wild affair with the Earl of Pembroke.
As a result, she became pregnant, a matter that so outraged the Virgin Queen that both she and the Earl were sent to the Tower although nobody knows how long they were incarcerated.
The tilting ground surrounding the building forms part of a large Elizabethan pleasure garden of around 30 acres which was originally set within a larger park of some 600 acres, which is admittedly a rather a vast private estate even by today’s standards.
It was used purely for the pleasure of the Fittons and their lucky guests, who no doubt would have enjoyed seeing the rooms majestically decked out in holly and mistletoe in Christmasses long past.
Sadly, following Mary's disgrace from court the Fitton finances never recovered and, at the end of the English Civil War, a long legal battle began between Sir Charles Gerard (later the 1st Earl of Macclesfield) and Alexander Fitton over the Gawsworth estates.
his battle was eventually settled in 1663, but events came to a head again in 1701 with the death of Fitton Gerard (the 3rd Earl of Macclesfield) who left no male heirs.
The estate was left to a niece, Lady Mohun, and was contested by another niece, the Duchess of Hamilton. It was this dispute that culminated in the famous duel.
On a lighter note, Samuel Johnson, the last professional jester in the country, lived in the house and, eccentric to the last, he lies buried in the spinney know as ‘Maggoty Johnson’s Wood’. n
Gawsworth Hall will be open for its Flower Festival from Sunday December 13 to Wednesday December 17, from 10.30 to 5.00pm with evening sessions on December 14 and 16.
Tel: 01260 223456 or visit: www.gawsworthhall.com