A Lived in Historic House
Wrapped in romance, intrigue and great charm, the Cheshire domain of Gawsworth has been held by only five families since Norman times. Today it is the home of Timothy and Elizabeth Richards, and their sons Rupert and Jonathan.
On a tour of this ancient Tudor manor house you will see fine paintings, furniture, sculpture and stained glass. The grounds are no less impressive, with a rookery, tilting ground and Elizabethan pleasure garden.
It has been said that to see Cheshire, you must see Gawsworth, and there can be no doubt of the important role that this beautiful black and white Hall, built in 1480, has played in Britain’s history over the last five centuries.
The Dark Lady
Here lived Mary Fitton, the beautiful Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth I, whose family spent vast sums in the hope of procuring a visit from the Monarch.
It was not to be, despite work starting on a garden to rival those at Holdenby and Chipping Campden. Complete with mile-long Tudor wall, a series of five lakes and wonderful avenues of Lyme trees, renowned Cheshire archealogist Rick Turner suggests it would have cost some £10 million in today’s terms. Instead, the younger daughter of Sir Edward and Lady Alice Fitton was threatened with the Tower, and sent home in disgrace after becoming pregnant by the Earl of Pembroke.
After Mary’s fall from grace, the Fitton finances never recovered and at the end of the English Civil War, a legal battle began between Sir Charles Gerard (the 1st Earl of Macclesfield) and Alexander Fitton over the Gawsworth estates.
This was eventually settled in 1663, but events came to a head again in 1701 with the death of Fitton Gerard (the 3rd Earl of Macclesfield) who left no male heirs. The estate was left to a niece, Lady Mohun, and contested by another niece, the Duchess of Hamilton. The dispute culminated in one of the most famous duels in English history, when in 1712 Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton met in Hyde Park and both were killed. Their deaths re-invigorated the campaign against dueling and Queen Anne made her displeasure clear, condemning the practice at the opening of parliament the following year.
The Pleasure Garden
Leaving the Hall by the North door, a flight of stone steps from the garden leads up to the ancient rookery and onto the Tilting Ground, which formed part of a vast Elizabethan pleasure garden.
Built by Sir Edward Fitton in the late 1590s, it consisted of a wilderness garden, with long graveled walk (now called the bowshot) giving views over the Cheshire plain towards the Welsh hills. In this formal 20-acre paddock there is also evidence of a maze, extensive brick revettment, and excavation in the low central section has revealed that it was sealed with red clay.
Old maps show a system of sluices and the ability to flood the garden to make a shallow ornamental lake. Sir Edward may well have intended to emulate the water entertainments used at Elvetham and Kenilworth to impress the Queen.