5 romantic tales from Cheshire's stately homes and museums
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 February 2017 | UPDATED: 18:54 24 November 2017
Cheshire's stately homes and museums may not be the first places that spring to mind when thinking about romance, but some of them harbour love stories that make the heart flutter, writes Mairead Mahon
We all associate Lyme Hall, near Disley, with the glorious moment in the BBC drama when Colin Firth, playing Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy, appeared to wade out of the lake; which is quite enough to qualify it as a romantic place to visit, especially as 2017 marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. There is even a special Pemberley Walk, where you and a loved can re-trace Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s steps!
However, there is a true story attached to the estate which could easily have formed the plot of a Jane Austen novel: the tale of Thomas Legh, born in 1792, the eldest illegitimate son of Colonel Thomas Legh and a maid. Nonetheless, when he was five, he inherited his father’s estates, including Lyme, making him rich. He became an adventurer, his feats included wrestling with crocodiles!
He was also a swashbuckling hero and when he heard of a young heiress called Ellen Turner who had been abducted, he made it his business to successfully rescue her from the hands of her captors. In true romantic style, he and 16-year-old Ellen fell in love and married in 1828. Three years later, they were looking forward to the birth of their first child when Ellen died, following a stillbirth. An inconsolable Thomas had them buried in a local churchyard and then travelled the world for twelve years. He did marry again in 1843 but he never forgot his beloved Ellen.
Today, it is thought that a harp may have been a love gift from Thomas to Ellen and it is worth a trip to see it. It has been recently restored and has been played by a harpist from the Royal College of Music: we think Thomas and Ellen would be delighted.
Any house that is given as a wedding present is bound to have a romantic atmosphere and that is certainly true of Bramall Hall near Stockport, given to Charles and Mary Nevill, in 1883, on the occasion of their wedding by the groom’s father. They lived there all their married life and were blissfully happy. Sadly, there is another earlier and more tragic love story connected with Bramall Hall. In 1665, the owners, William and Elizabeth Davenport were travelling in their coach to London.
They were waylaid by a man who begged them for help. He told them that a lady, Grace, had been taken ill and that she and her fiancé, Charles Arden, needed to get to London. The Davenports obliged and found themselves liking the young couple so much, they arranged for a chair, with their initials carved in it, to be sent to them as a wedding gift.
Shortly after the wedding was due to have taken place, the chair was returned to Bramall Hall. The marriage had not taken place: the bride had been killed on the morning of her wedding. The horses that had been bringing her and her father to the church had been startled and the coach had fallen down a steep ravine.
Next time you visit, spare a moment to look at the chair that was given to celebrate a marriage that was never to be.
For many in Victorian society, this estate near Altrincham was synonymous with a love affair that scandalised genteel folk and led to a couple leaving their home for ever. George Harry was the seventh Earl of Stamford and Warrington and he was everything a romantic hero should be: young, gorgeous, rich and dashing. There was no doubt he was one of the most eligible bachelors of his age until that is, he married Catherine Cox in 1855. Catherine was beautiful and vivacious so, on the surface, it seemed as if they were on course to be the most glamorous couple around. Unfortunately, there was one insurmountable problem: Catherine was working class and, to compound that failing, she was also a horse rider in a circus!
Cheshire society openly snubbed Catherine in many hurtful ways. Once she attended Knutsford Races and the ladies literally turned their backs on her. On another occasion, Queen Victoria refused to attend a concert that Catherine would be attending.
The couple tried to put up with it, hoping that things would get better and never once wavered in their love for one another. Eventually though, they had enough and towards the end of the 1850s moved away to another of their estates, Enville in Staffordshire. They had been hounded out of Dunham Massey, never to return but their revenge was that they remained deeply in love.
If you would like to know more about their story, Dunham Massey is highlighting their romance throughout the 2017 season.
The Grosvenor Museum
You will find many romantic objects at this Chester city centre gallery, from Victorian wedding gowns to examples of early Valentine cards.
Keep an eye out for what must be the oldest depiction of a married couple anywhere in Cheshire, if not the whole of the UK. It is the tombstone of a Roman centurion and probably dates from the second century AD, making it almost 2,000 years old. The inscription shows that it was the centurion’s widow who set this memorial up to him after his death and we hope he would be pleased that she chose to have their marriage immortalised in stone for ever.
A more recent married couple on display is Mr and Mrs Roger Comberbatch. They lived in Castle Street Chester during the 18th century, when Roger was Chief Clerk of the County Palatine of Chester and Helen was his second wife. They were very much in love but it was bittersweet, as Helen outlived Roger by 57 years and in all that time, she was never tempted to marry again and continued to live in the marital home with her son until her death in 1814.
The wedding gift which was given to the Third Marquis of Ormonde when he married the eldest daughter of the first Duke of Westminster, Lady Elizabeth Grosvenor, in 1876, is certainly eye-catching. It is a gorgeous covered cup and was given by his brother officers in the First Life Guards. It really is a splendidly decorated piece and well worth a look. It was bound to have put many other wedding gifts into the shade but it is heartening to know that it was treasured.
Cheshire Military Museum
Not the most obvious choice when thinking about a romantic trip but this Chester museum has plenty to tug at the heartstrings. There is a permanent display entitled, ‘Fondest Love’ and it contains objects that soldiers sent home to loved ones.
Often, they were enduring hard and life-threatening conditions but sending ‘fondest love’ home was important. You will see a collection of cards and embroideries, as well as discovering the touching stories behind them. One such is a watch that belonged to Captain Yorston.
His fiancé had given it to him at Christmas and had had it inscribed with the date. He lost it in the bloody fields of No Man’s Land during WW1 but he risked life and limb in order to return to find it. He did and the story has a happy ending: he and Kathleen married on his return from war.