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In the grounds of Sutton Hall there is a somewhat dilapidated Bronze Age barrow (now the resting-place of a water trough).
In an initial excavation of the barrow in 1877 by the Macclesfield Scientific Society, they found only a collection of boulders, some of which had been split by fire, and drew the conclusion that the barrow was in fact a Bronze Age cremation site (the Bronze age began about 4000 years ago and linked the Stone Age to the Iron Age).
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.
A couple of millennia later
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'.
Murder most foul
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).
Lord Lucan in the '70s and perhaps now in Goa
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.
2009 - Food and Drink Festival
In all honesty, there was an degree of anxiousness on the lead up to the Food and Drink Festival weekend, mainly arising out of the fact that we had absolutely no idea how many people would turn up – the quandary of first-time village fetes everywhere, of course, but that gave not a crumb of solace.
We had circulated some 20,000 flyers and done a couple of ‘shout outs’ on the local radio. We’d also taken a few small ads in the local press, but in reality, it was the first time we had done such a thing and we had no way of knowing whether the local population would respond.
A couple of the pub locals had intimated that people around and about were talking about it and that there was a general buzz going on, but did that mean 1,000 would turn up, or 4,000?
|Some of the local colour||More like 4,000|
So... how many kilos of minced beef would we need for the BBQ? How many lemons for the fresh lemonade stall? How many staff? In the end, we licked our finger, stuck it in the air, and reckoned we might have 3,000 people through the doors, based on no evidence whatsoever. There again, if 3,000 people turned up, how many of them would want fresh lemonade? It was pretty much largely guesswork based on a hunch, informed by a stab in the dark.
|The party got going early|
The same issues, of course, would have been faced by each of the stallholders. The bread people turned up with a small hill of bread, and our chefs at the Combermere Arms had spent three days hand-raising 450 pies for the pie stall, which we thought was wildly ambitious.
|A small hill of bread||Lindsey, champion pie lady|
On top of the crazy uncertainty, of course, was the spectre of rain, and the car park (aka farmer’s field) becoming a quagmire.
But Zeus, the Greek God of the Sky and all its phenomena, smiled kindly on the pub, and the sun blazed away for each of the three days of the event, enticing local residents and visitors from their own gardens and BBQs by their thousands.
|A few locals popped round for a drink on the lawn|
There was something for everyone:
|22 stalls featuring local artisan food producers|
|45 different cask ales to taste: all the beers were sold out apart from a couple of the dark stouts|
|50 different wines by the glass, and a wine tasting room which was an oasis of calm|
|The front line inthe war zone: a crazily busy BBQ ran throughout the weekend|
The main day, Saturday, was filled with foodie activities, with seven different wine tastings, cheese tastings, demonstrations of fish filleting, cookery, bread making, chocolate making, cheese making and butchery, but there was a host of other fascinating and interesting activites to keep everyone happy.
|How to turn a plaice into a glove puppet|
Three enormous steam engines provided interest for the engineers and nostalgics: believe it or not, this one is insured for something like £700,000
|There was a range of fun things to do for families - donkey rides, a bouncy castle, ballon modelling, face painting|
|Morris Men added colour to the event|
Some of the statistics from the weekend boggle the mind: the BBQ got through over 100 kgs of minced beef in burgers alone, and served over 1,500 meals, while the Pimm's stall got through over 50 bottles of Pimm's. The little pie stall sold every last one of its 450 pies, and the fresh lemonade stand got through 500 lemons.
|Short work for a thirsty mob|
The 4,500 pints of cask ale poured over the weekend bore witness to the wonderful weather and the enthusiasm of the thirsty hoards of beer enthusiasts.
|Graham delighted in creeping up behind people and giving them the fright of their lives|
"It was really fantastic the way everyone got behind the event”, said landlord Neil, ”It completely restores one’s faith in human nature. The weekend was in aid of the North West Air Ambulance and the East Cheshire hospice, and we asked stall holders to give a percentage of their take to the charities, but a number of them gave their entire takings from the day. The farmer next door let us use the field for car parking, and Titanic brewery loaned us the enormous amount of beer equipment needed to rack 45 different beers, completely free of charge. Even the Morris Men only required the odd beer or two.”
|The Morris Men danced with considerable vigour, which left them somewhat dry in the mouth on such a hot day.|
“Countless numbers of people gave up their time for free to support the weekend: the local Scouts controlled the car parks, the steam engines asked for no contribution to their costs, staff gave up their tips, and the local visitors dug deep in their pockets to contribute to the collection boxes and buy raffle tickets.
"It was so busy that the wine merchants who had given up their time to conduct tutored wine tastings, ended up pitching in behind the bar to help out.
At the bars, throughout the weekend people asked us to put their change in the collection buckets, and all in all, together with our own contribution, we anticipate being able to pass on north of £8,000 to the two charities, so it was all worth it. I’d really like to thank everybody, from the staff, the participants and all the visitors, for their efforts and their generosity.”
|However busy it was, there were still lovely quiet corners to enjoy a picnic|