Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Bradley Old Hall - a rare moated site

Bradley Old Hall is an excellent example of a late medieval moated site, situated near Burtonwood Village in Cheshire, not far from St. Helens and Warrington. The manor house, first built in the 15th century, then rebuilt in the late 1700s as a Georgian manor house, still retains a number of features from the original building such as the main door and the oak beams. The moat and the medieval gatehouse still survive and are in good condition.

Included in the house is the original Tudor style bed that Richard III supposedly slept in when he stayed at the Hall in 1482. There has also been many finds from the Civil War (Cromwell also supposedly stayed there) and there is an oak timber beam which is inscribed a Catholic script, as the Leigh family who lived there were said to be secret Catholics after the Reformation.

In the book A Burtonwood Story by J.P. Fogarty, published in 1986, Bradley Old Hall is mentioned extensively displaying a number of black and white photos. A mention of the Hall by Peter Leigh in 1465 is printed, in which it says the Hall had:

‘...three new chambers and a fair dining room, with a new kitchen, bakehouse and brewhouse, and also with a new tower built of stone with turrets and a fair gateway, and above it a stone bastille well defended, with a fair chapel…also one ancient chamber called the Knyghtes Chamber…surrounded by a moat with a drawbridge…’

The two coat of arms displayed at the top of the stairs on the first floor are of Standish of Standish and Leigh of Lyme- both taken from the original Hall, along with a number of oak doors and beams, such as the one in the front attic room which displays the legend:

‘Here Master doth and Mistress both accorde with godly mindes and zealous hartes to serve the livinge Lorde.  1597 Henry Wesle’

 This seems to suggest a continuation of the practise of Catholicism by the family.

The book by Fogarty also mentions that Peter Leigh supported the Duke of Gloucester (Richard III) with King Richard III granting Peter Leigh £10 per year for life in consideration for his loyal services. Fogarty mentions that the Duke of Gloucester was reputed to have stayed at the Hall in 1482 when the Duke was marching through Lancashire to repel the Scots. The Kings Bed – a late medieval oak bed - is still in the Hall, and the story of the Duke staying at the Hall seemed to have originated from Lady Leigh’s history of the Leigh family.

Other books which mention Bradley Old Hall include Warrington and the Mid-Mersey Valley by G.A. Carter, published in 1971, which also mentions Peter Leigh’s 1485 description, and the Leigh family connection to the nearby Winwick Church were a number of the family are buried. The Hall, according to Carter, was mentioned as ‘lying waste’ in 1666, which may be because of activity during the Civil War were there was nearby the battle of Winwick in 1648. There has been a canon ball and shot recovered from the moat which dates to the Civil War period, and there are local stories of secret tunnels from the Hall to the nearby Winwick Church and that Oliver Cromwell himself stayed at the Hall.

The Hall and the Leigh family are also mentioned in a much celebrated local history book published in 1947 called Warrington Ancient and Modern by Austin Crowe, who had been Mayor of Warrington from 1933-35. In the book, the Leigh family are portrayed as a leading family of the area during the medieval period, and describes The Leigh Manuscript of 1465 drawn up by Sir Peter Leigh which lists the agriculture, industry and life of Warrington of that time.

The Hall is still privately owned and can be seen from the many public pathways that run from the Sankey Canal towards Burtonwood.

All photographs by Dr David Harrison.

© Dr David Harrison 2017.

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