A visit to Biddulph Old Hall

I have been a supporter of Perennial, the horticultural charity, for some years now and one of the programme of events to raise funds that they run is the ability to visit amazing gardens that you might not otherwise get the chance to see.  You usually get a nice lunch and the company is always good, so when the garden visit programme came out earlier this year I did my usual look to see which of the gardens I could get to.  This year there was the chance to visit Biddulph Old Hall, a place I admit I had not heard of and that was reason enough for me to pay my money and book my place.

My oh my what a good choice this was.  Let me take a breath and try to give you a small flavour of this incredible place.

Biddulph Old Hall is close to Leek and Congleton and beautifully situated in the Staffordshire Moorlands.  You wind through roads, up and down hills and then you go through a fairly ordinary gate, past a farm and then nestled in a dell there is this delightful home.  The origins of the current building date from the 1400s.  It was owned by the Biddulph family who owned the Biddulph estate including Biddulph Grange a few miles down the road.  The Old Hall was originally a hunting lodge and  the tower you can see was built so that the 'ladies' of the house could watch for the men processing towards the lodge with their hunting kills.  Time moves on and in 1530 the family decide to create it more into a home they could live in and work began on creating a larger mansion.  The family were loyal Catholics which meant they came under a lot of financial pressure during this period.  This restricted their ability to complete the mansion as they had wanted it to be.  Fast forward to the Civil War and the family were Royalists in a very Parliamentary area.  The house was attacked (evidence of cannon ball damage can still be seen) and the men imprisoned and the woman cast out.  The woman eventually after much hardship were allowed to return, but their finances were kept low.  The mansion had been destroyed and so they returned to live in the original part of the house.  The very picturesque ruins of the mansion now form the outer walls of the white courtyard garden.  

Bryan Vowles, who bought the house with his late partner Nigel Daley and Nigel's brother David, told us this story with great affection and great knowledge.  We were all hooked on his every word.  As the story moved on we moved around the garden.  They bought the garden in 2004 and it was in quite a state of neglect by that point.

Bryan and Nigel set to work restoring the hall, ensuring that its histories were not lost.  There is a Madonna in front of the wing of the house that was built to house the Catholic chapel when catholicism was allowed to be worshipped again in England.
There is a shining gold Buddha to remember when the Hall was owned in the 1960s by a leading Buddhist organisation.  What Bryan and Nigel had been using as a 'coal hole' had been used previously as a buddhist meditation cell.   When they were told this they restored the 'cell'  so that this moment in time would not be lost.
The scent of honeysuckles and roses hits you as you walk into the courtyard.  The planting is informal and hugely effective.  I am known as someone who disliked hostas for many years and this garden shows you how to use them to great effect and if I had not already been converted to them, then I would have been there and then.
Here is Mme Alfred Carriere romping away up the side of the house.  Regular readers will know I have this rose and I often say that she responds well to a hard prune.  Bryan said he cuts her down to 6ft every year and just look at how she is doing!  A fabulous rose in a fabulous setting.
The centrepiece in the courtyard garden is this stunning wooden sculpture taken from a Burne Jones painting 'Love Leading the Pilgrim'.
It was a sculpture that Bryan and Nigel knew they wanted to place in this garden.  Sadly Nigel died before the sculpture was installed but it stands here now, where it was intended to be.
We move around the garden more and the colour scheme to the side of the house becomes more pink and purple.  Here we get to the part of the story where Bryan starts to tell us about one of the previous owners, Robert Bateman, son of James Bateman who had owned Biddulph Grange, now owned by the National Trust and the Old Hall.  Bryan and Nigel discovered that Robert had been an artist and went on a quest to find out more about him.  I am not going to give any spoilers as it is a fascinating story that Nigel wrote a book about 'The Lost Pre-Raphaelite'  it is a quite amazing story that leads you towards seeming oubliettes, of love, love lost, love refound, of a child and of paintings.  We were all gripped.
This statue is of Bethseda entering the pool.  Again it is another beautiful sculpture and it acknowledges the painting that Robert Bateman made of this subject.  Bateman's painting uses the house as part of the background.  There is a circular nicety to this.
In front of the ruin there is this wonderful sweep of green leading your eye away through an avenue of trees planted by Bateman.
This leads you to the bridge where you walk under the road....
and down into the Clough, a walkway that links Biddulph Grange and Biddulph Old Hall - though sadly you cannot walk all the way along the route now.  
This walkway is now a public footpath and it is designed to be viewed walking away from the Grange towards the Old Hall (there was no mention of what you were meant to do on the way back.....).
and you arrive back at the Old Hall to see this sight.

I have not given you half the joys of this place.  I have rarely been as bowled over by the sheer beauty and the feeling of love that surrounds this home and garden.  I want to visit again, I must visit again.

Take care and be kind

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