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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006
    Gothic piles
    Just about recovering after coordinating an away weekend for a coachload of parishioners. It was interesting to be staying in the house originally built as a country retreat for Liverpool millionaire banker J.P. Heywood, whose city mansion was sited in our own parish, now a crumbling ruin in Norris Green Park. I guess that's where a lot of the port money went in the 19th century - out of Liverpool into Shropshire, Lancashire, Cheshire estates. I guess that's still where a lot of the port money goes. There and into corporate boxes at Old Trafford or The Spaniards up the road.

    Heywoods bank was eventually subsumed into Barclays, and the Heywoods' Shropshire home eventually sold off, becoming initially a school and now a Christian conference centre, cheap and cheeful and accommodating up to 140 people. Sometime in the Heywoods' decline their mansion had got too much to manage and so they demolished most of it. Where we stayed at the weekend - all there is left of Cloverley Hall - was originally the servants' quarters and stables.

    En-route we passed the magnificent Victorian folly Peckforton Castle, which only days before Linda and I had sat outside pondering our family history. Nana, a local lass, had been a maid there, probably during the First World War, when the family she served would have been in mourning for the loss of young Bevil, nephew of the second Baron Tollemache, who died at Givenchy in December 1914.

    Some time after that the Tollemaches abandoned Cheshire to return to ancestral Helmingham. By then our Nana had found herself in service in posh Liverpool, where she met a delivery driver who she ended up marrying, and moved to a Waterloo terrace to start a family of her own.

    Peckforton is now a corporate catering and conference establishment whose exterior gave all the signals needed to persuade my sister and I that the only way we'd get into it would be the same way as our grandmother nearly a century ago: through the back door.