|The higgledy-piggledy Hall bent under the gallery's weight|
It bought us two tickets for Little Moreton Hall, a higgledy-piggledy Tudor masterpiece of a house that must have used most of the local oak forests in its construction 500 years ago.
It was built and gradually extended by the Moreton family, not Earls and Dukes but wealthy and successful local landowners. At least they were for the first hundred years, then they backed the wrong side in the Civil War and lost more or less the lot except for the house.
They and their relatives clung on to that over the centuries, though most of the time they were too poor to live in it and instead rented it out to tenant farmers who took to using the chapel as a coal store and lived in the only two or three rooms that didn't leak.
The coal store notion didn't please one of the final inheritors who was a nun. She – rather understandably – didn't have any immediate family to pass it on to so she found a second cousin (who she'd never met) and offered it to him, though he wasn't allowed to sell it. He started guided tours – sixpence including a cream tea – to try and cover the repair costs but finally gave up and handed it to the National Trust in 1938. Who spent the next forty odd years sorting it out.
|Grouped round a central courtyard like a piece of Tudor op-art|
All this, and more, we learned from Sue our tour guide. Did I say that the tour was included free?
|Original Tudor wall painting and wallpaper were hidden|
|Richard Dale made sure his name would last|
Apart from the obvious cause – it's 500 years old and built on virtually nothing – the real cause of the problem is that a 'long gallery' was built straight on top of the south wing's roof rafters. I'm sure the carpenter must have sucked his Tudor teeth (if he had any) and warned that the roof 'cannae take it, skipper' but, these galleries were fashionable so he was likely ordered to go ahead anyway.
|The knot garden – clipping the hedges takes 80 hours|
Guide Sue told us some of those fabulous factoids which I manage to hold in my brain when everything else goes straight through. Here's one: the original table was made of three long oak boards – one remains and it's a huge single piece of oak that must be 40 x 3 feet. The head of the family sat at the top of the table and was the only one with a chair – everyone else sat on stools or benches. Hence the phrase 'the chairman of the board'. There was also a board at the side of the room for dishes - the side-board. After the meal they turned the main boards over and played, yes, board games. And when actors or musicians came and needed a stage they used the boards so the actors 'trod the boards'. As you can tell, I was not bored by this information.
After a fascinating tour and a turn round the grounds with their exquisite knot garden, we had an equally excellent lunch in the cafe. Another twenty quid very well spent.