Little Moreton Hall is a higgledy-piggledy house in Cheshire. I visited it with my parents when we first moved to Salford a couple of decades ago (I can’t remember it at all) and recently revisited it.
Higgledy-piggeldy is the only way to describe it. ‘Wonky’ could work for some of it in isolation but to apply it to the whole would be assigning a kind of uniformity to it. It suggests that all of it is leaning or sinking in the same direction or all at once.
Not so with Little Moreton Hall. Each wall, timber frame and floor board seem tired by themselves, independent of the others, and wishes to go to sleep in completely different dens. It is higgledy-piggledy.
It is also absolutely fascinating to visit. Not much is known about the family who owned it, compared to other properties and given that it was built and owned by the same family – the Moretons, first appearing in the 13th Century – for about 400 years.
That is a LONG time.
Let’s just think about that for a second. That family was going strong in lineage since the 1200s at least. What was happening in the medieval times? The Magna Carta was signed, Scotland and England sort out some border lines but then Scotland defeat England later on in the same century and the height of the medieval period sees a run-up to the Black Death. It was indeed the plague which helped the Moretons buy the masses of land going cheap, which they worked to weigh down their purses and eventually invest it in a higgledy-piggledy house in the mid-1500s.
It wasn’t designed to be higgledy-piggledy. It’s not a Gaudi predecessor. It was designed to be a grand status-symbol of wealth.
(Unfortunately, not so long after this house was built, heavy and regular bouts of bad timings and alliances during the Civil War steadily and swiftly crippled the family’s wealth and any notion of noble status.)
It is technically built as three houses stacked on top of each other, each with a stone roof sitting on wooden supports and some parts with no supports whatsoever.
The effect is that, not only is each level wheezing under the pressure of its own unforgiving roof, but the second level shoulders the weight of a top level with its own stone roof and the ground floor level has both the others like concertinas above it, like giant acrobats trying to stay on top of each other.
As if this was fascinating enough, it’s full of beautiful craftsmanship.
There was also a witches’ mark somewhere to ward off evil spirits but by the time we’d remembered it, the sun was just about to clock off and those wooden rooms steal and hide light like imps.
We did manage to get a cake in at the tea rooms, though. Naturally.
Oh! If you do ever go and I really hope you do, bring a jumper. And a coat. And hat, gloves and fluffy socks. That place is ghostly cold. Top tip: staring at the child sitting on the bench by the fire to get him to leave so you can have the warmth’s attention on you alone, works.
Go! Enjoy your day, trip up the windy staircase (my nemesis), get the urge to release a toy car over its lolling stone floors in order to reenact those scenes from ‘Bullit’ and, as always, have a cake.