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

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006
    A suit of armour and a horse
    Fascinating exchange of emails with John, Clerk to Tarporley Parish Council, who's been reading my various references to life in that gentle corner of Cheshire. Particularly excellent to read some remembrance of Uncle Lance, who (I'd forgotten this when I eulogised him here) published two books of collections of photographs and reminiscences about local characters and happenings, one of them called "Surrounding Districts of Tarporley". Lance is regarded as 'one of the last of the local characters who knew all there was to know about the folk who had lived in the village'. It's lovely to know that.

    And then some local insight on Peckforton Castle which I blogged about (in some ignorance) just the other day. One of the local estates where our grandmother Jessie worked, in service, in her early years.

    John tells me that Peckforton Castle was built around 1850 in a mock medieval castle style as a country home for the Tollemache family.

    'They lived in the castle as their Cheshire home until about 1950 living very much the life of a wealthy country family and employed many local people on the estate of 26,000 acres. The main family home was, and still is, Helmingham Hall in Suffolk. Since then the castle has had a very chequered existence. It has been used for charity functions, by adventure games clubs, as a film set for Dr Who and Robin Hood (20th Century Fox). It was sold to Evelyn Graybill and become a hotel in 1989 and was variously used for functions, concerts and visitor tours but did not do very well. More recently I think it has changed hands again and is licensed for weddings and reputedly has had major investment to make it serviceable as a hotel.'

    The Peckforton Castle website bears out this latter point, with pictures of luscious table settings in decorous rooms. John shares my observation (from looking at these) that it may be a bit pricey for a casual meal, but he's been inside a number of times in the past, on open tour days, adventure club days:

    '[I] even hosted a works function there when it was a hotel under the somewhat eccentric Evelyn Graybill (we ran out of food and drink, the lights failed ... but we had a good time). When I visited it, although built as a house, the inside has much the style of a castle, bare sandstone walls, a great hall etc , very sparsely furnished and fairly run down with water coming through the roof in places and the chapel at that time said to be unsafe. I roamed all over the place (security was none existent) from the battlements (roof really) to the cellar and found it an intriguing place to visit. It made a good fun play place for young families on the open tour days. I did once get any email from America from someone who had booked it a wedding and wanting to know where to hire a suit of armour and borrow a horse, no idea if it was a hoax but I did know where to hire a suit of armour and a horse.'