Grappenhall in watercolours by Gordon Wilkinson
PUBLISHED: 11:09 17 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:11 20 February 2013
Our artist Gordon Wilkinson takes his easel to the picture perfect village of Grappenhall
Of all Cheshire's beautiful villages, few can match Grappenhall for being simply picture perfect. The cobbled main street, delightful cottages and canal-side views are enough to bring a smile to anyone's face. And that's before you explore the village pubs and red sandstone church which was inspiration for the most famous Cheshire grin of all time.
St Wilfrid's Church was built in the 12th century and rebuilt 400 years later and up there, on the west face of the tower is a carving of a smiley cat which is thought to have given Lewis Carroll the idea for the grinning Cheshire Cat in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
And it's possible he found more inspiration here, too. When he wrote of Alice peeking through a wooden door to see the marvellous gardens, he could easily have been thinking of the Grappenhall Heys Walled Garden.
But while Alice met a succession of odd characters, including the Mad Hatter and the blood-thirsty Queen of Hearts, visitors to the walled garden today are more likely to bump into Graham Richardson. He is the head gardener who maintains the tranquil 200-year-old gardens, runs a successful kitchen garden and hosts events throughout the year.
The former horticultural lecturer, who served his gardening apprenticeship at Ness Gardens on the Wirral, took on the walled garden near Warrington four years ago and is now trying to return it to the way it would have looked a century ago.
The garden was originally developed to feed the wealthy Parr family's estate from around 1830, providing fruit, vegetables and flowers for the house. Also within the walls, but separated from the kitchen garden by a yew hedge, are also ornamental gardens with three ponds.
The estate declined in the 20th century and by the mid-1970s the walled garden was in a near derelict state. The gardens were over to Grappenhall and Thelwall Parish Council in 2005 after a plan to build new homes on them had been thrown out.
The Parr family were important land owners in the area for generations and are today celebrated in the name of one of Grappenhall's pubs, the Parr Arms. The pubs, the other is the Ram's Head, and the church, are joined by a third building which has a major bearing on life in Grappenhall - the youth and community centre.
The centre, on Bellhouse Lane, provides a meeting place for several village groups and is run by the Grappenhall Youth and Community Association who are now two years into a five year plan which aims to increase use of the hall and its facilities and to make Grappenhall even more alluring.
Grappenhall was mentioned in the Domesday Book under the name Gropenhale, when it was said to be worth five shillings
In the 19th century the sandstone Saxon font was discovered buried three feet below the floor of St Wilfrid's Church. It is oblong shaped large enough for the total immersion of a child
Grappenhall sits beside the Bridgewater Canal which opened in 1772 to transport coal from the mines in Worsley to Cheshire's new chemical industries.
Admission to Grappenhall Heys Walled Garden is free and the garden is open every day from 1-4.30pm. For more information go to www.ghwalledgarden.org.uk.
For more information about Grappenhall contact the parish council on 01925 264918 or go to www.grappenhallandthelwallpc.org.uk
All his original watercolours featured in this article are for sale. Contact Gordon on 01244 531785, or email him at email@example.com. More of his work - including paintings he created for Cheshire Life - can be viewed at www.gordonwilkinson.com