In the grounds of Sutton Hall there is a somewhat dilapidated Bronze Age barrow (now the resting-place of a water trough).
In 1962 the barrow was again excavated, by James Forde-Johnston of Manchester University, who unearthed evidence of several further cremations. He discovered that the mound had originally been around 100 yards in diameter, but was substantially reduced, with many of the river cobbles having been removed to the nearby farmyard for use in paving, where they can still be seen.
In the 12th century, the Norman earls granted the manor of Sutton to individual families, for the performance of certain duties within the Forest of Macclesfield. Sutton was originally two manors, Sutton and Downes, both of which gave names to separate families. In the second half of the twelfth century, Hugh Keveloic granted the land to Adam, son of Onyt, whose family assumed the name of Sutton. The Suttons may have acquired the remainder of the manor in the 16th century.
In 1399, the abbot and convent of the monastery of Chester was granted a royal license to crenellate the manor at Sutton (that is, to fortify the building and add a stepped parapet wall to the roof from which archers can fire their bows with a measure of protection). The wording of this licence, granted by Richard II by privy seal, reads, "Licence for the abbot and convent of the monastery of Chester, of royal foundation and in the king’s patronage, to crenellate their manors (manerium) of Salghton, Sutton and Ins."
This license was not acted upon, but in 1410 Henry IV granted a confirmation licence to crenellate Sutton manor, for which the abbot of Chester paid 13s. 4d. (67 pence in today’s money).
This building no longer survives. The current hall, built on the foundations of the previous structure, dates from sometime in the 16th century, with numerous later additions. We’ll keep our eyes open when we tackle any structural work to see if we can find any evidence of the earlier Medieval manor house.
Sutton Hall was the birth place of Ralph Holinshed, a 16th century scholar whose historical chronicles were used as the basis for fourteen of Shakespeare’s plays. As a young man he worked for Reginald Wolfe, who in 1548 planned to prepare a history of the world. Wolfe died in 1573 with the book incomplete and his heirs gave Holinshed the task of completing a less ambitious work covering the United Kingdom alone. These were published in 1577 as The Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Holinshed is very well known amongst Shakespeare scholars, but Shakespeare played fast and loose with many of Holinshed’s texts.
Moving on a few hundred years or so, Sutton Hall became part of the family estate of the Earls of Lucan. Here is a letter from the 3rd Earl of Lucan, George Charles Bingham (1800-1888) to William Brocklehurst, his estate manager at Sutton Hall. The letter was written in 1842, urging Brocklehurst to implement a scheme for the management of his Sutton estate and asking for help in securing two mares (“I have always admired the horses about…Manchester & Liverpool”)
George Charles Bingham was a field marshal at the battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War, which was the campaign that featured the infamous charge of the light brigade, when cavalry heroically, but tragically, charged the guns of the Russian army.
In a nutshell, the disastrous action came about through a commander failing to take account of the fact that he was on a hill and could see what was going on, though his troops in the valley could not.
The situation was apparently exacerbated by upper-class rivalry. George Charles Bingham, the Earl of Lucan, in overall command of the cavalry and subsequently promoted to Field Marshal, was by all accounts an imperious and over-bearing aristocrat who was promoted to high position over more proficient professional officers because of his social connections. He let a personal quarrel with his brother-in-law - Lord Cardigan, commander of the Light Brigade - reach such a point that their respective staffs refused to co-operate, and an order from Lucan to Cardigan was misconstrued, leading to the charge.
Balaclava was also, of course, the spawning ground of the eponymous woollen helmet, knitted by the womenfolk of the British Isles to protect their men from the ravages of the Crimean climate. The Oyford Encyclopedia (Oyford, that is, not Oxford) is quite illuminating on the subject. The entry reads - ‘Balaclava Helmet - A tight-fitting woollen helmet-like covering for the head and neck, originally worn by soldiers on active service in the Crimea. When the Balaclava Helmet was first introduced there were heavy casualties and it was very much disliked, but then someone had the idea of cutting a hole in the front of it so the wearer could see where he was going'.
Moving on another century or so, George Charles Patrick Bingham, the 7th Earl of Lucan, also earned a measure of notoriety, having disappeared on 7th November 1974 after the murder of his nanny at his house on Lower Belgrave Street, London. All the evidence points to Lucan as the murderer.
The belief is that he was actually intending to murder his wife, but his children’s nanny was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He fled the scene and has never been found, although numerous sightings have been reported from around the world. For the full story go to http://www.lordlucan.com. The author of this piece is of the firm belief that Lord Lucan is alive and well, living in South America or Africa, possibly Canada or the USA (which narrows it down a bit).
If you see this character hanging around the bar looking furtive, the police would be grateful if you would ring them.
This is an early draft of the Sutton Hall history page, and if you have any interesting bits and pieces, be they anecdotes, old menus, old photographs or whatever, we’d love to see them.