Tatton occupies a strange world between local council management and National Trust ownership. Perhaps of all the buildings in this series, it is the most commercially run. That has guaranteed its survival and popularity to this day.
From the reign of Henry III until the late 15th century, Tatton was the seat of the Masseys of Dunham, after which it passed by marriage to William Stanley of Holt Castle in Denbigh, after which the Brereton family had ownership. Richard Brereton of Tatton settled his estates before 1598 on Sir Thomas Egerton who was Lord Chancellor and the ancestor of the Earls of Bridgewater. We have met the Egerton family already at Wythenshawe.
Originally there was an old hall, which still stands, but Samuel Egerton (1711-1780) commisioned Samuel Wyatt (1737-1807) to build a new Hall. Samuel was not only a busy and prodigious architect, he came from a family who between 1750 and 1850 produced twenty architects. Much of the work he did on London houses has long disappeared, but his country houses form the basis of his reputation today. Tatton was perhaps his greatest achievement, and headache.
It was a project that occupied the greater part of his career. The earliest detailed plans for a new building date from 1774, which suggests that he had already been working some time on the designs. Samuel’s brother , James was also busy from 1772-1776 on another Egerton family project, Heaton Hall.
Samuel Wyatt’s task was to enlarge a three storey brick structure that had undergone extensive refurbishment in the 18th century under Thomas Pritchard (1723-1777) who had added new dining and drawing rooms.
Egerton had a problem. Pritchard’s work lacked symmetry, the offices were not large enough and there was not space for his extensive library. Wyatt’s initial plans did not address these problems but eventually an extension for library and billiard room were added as well as a new kitchen (which design was crossed out by Egerton). These plans were also rejected, but eventually he started looking at larger schemes which encompassed an entire remodelling of the Hall, making Wyatt not only builder but designer.
However the plans were put on hold when Samuel Egerton died in 1780. His nephew William Egerton (1749-1806) took the reigns as he had inherited. Several new designs were submitted including these:
These were all rejected and William came to the conclusion that the refurbishment of the old house was not going to work. It would have to be a complete reconstruction. For this funds would have to be raised, so a bill was submitted to the House of Lords, enabling them to sell timber from the estate to build a new house at Tatton, and a private Act of Parliament enabling money to be raised on leasing land and selling timber was passed in 1784.
In 1785 Wyatt produced plans for the foundations which contained oak timbers covered in mortar to prevent rotting in order to stop subsidence¹ from brine extractions underground. That December he left London to organise a building schedule at Tatton.
The new house was built in two parts. The west end and offices were built, and the east side of the old house was left for the family to live in. When the west side was completed they could move there and let the east side be demolished and rebuilt. The west side was completed first and contained a seven bay orangery which was converted into family rooms during the build on the east side.
All this was completed by 1789 and two years later work came to a halt as funds ran out. Only one third of the main block had been completed, and the hall and salon were not even started. Existing rooms had not been decorated (a planned music room with an organ similar to the one in Heaton Hall lay in abeyance).
And so things remained until 1806 when William Egerton, perhaps fearing an unfinished legacy returned to Wyatt and commissioned more plans. These were necessarily much reduced in scale but Wyatt’s skills ensured that continuity of design was maintained.
The intended music room was now an entrance hall, Lewis Wyatt (1777-1853), Samuel’s nephew, completed an interconnecting drawing and music room. The plans for the library were changed so an extension was achieved without spoiling the symmetry of the building.
Then William Egerton and Samuel Wyatt died shortly after one and other and the baton was handed on the William’s son, Wilbraham Egerton (1832-1909), and Lewis Wyatt. Lewis produced five different designs and the one finally chosen was an adaptation of the original 1785 plan, making the exterior works mainly Samuel’s and the interior his nephews.
The final design was a success an 1845 guide describes it as a seat where taste and comfort appear throughout more uniformly combined with chaste magnificence.
During the Second World War Tatton became a practice ground for trainee paratroopers, including Frank Muir², as Ringway was considered too busy for the novices with a 1,090m landing strip being laid down for Wellington bombers. Maurice Egerton’s (1874-1958) co-operation was an immense boost to the success of paratroop training and in 1941 Winston Churchill inspected the progress and watched an exercise. By 1943 92,000 jumps had been carried out with only 26 fatalities, further training reduced this death rate even further. Thousands of these troops descended in Normandy on D Day and 600 were at the first drop at Arnhem (however only 100 returned). The actress Cicely Paget-Bowman (1907-2005) who served as an ambulance driver described how she saw a parachute not open properly and two arms groping up, he had gone that deep into the ground that his neck had broken.
The house remained in the Tatton family until the death of Maurice Egerton (1874-1958). This gave rise to the strange situation the hall exists in today. Lord Egerton bequeathed the park and hall to the Nation on the understanding that both were taken. The National Trust was not interested in the Hall, and local authorities could not afford the upkeep of both. The Lyme Park model was seen as a model plan and in the end the Trust took ownership whilst it leased the Hall, Gardens and Park at a peppercorn rent for 99 years to Cheshire County Council.
Naturally the council worked hard at madcap schemes to diminish the grounds, suggesting laying dozens of playing fields for schools, building a sports stadium but finally after incurring £213,828 (£5m in 2022) on refurbishment the hall and grounds were opened to the public on 30 May 1962 attracting over 105,000 visitors by September that year and by 1971 was the top National Trust attraction in the UK, toppling Churchill’s Chartwell from the top spot with 159,074 paying entrants.
The Egertons were never ones to court scandal or make great political strides, and perhaps the lack of great commercialisation and low key family has maintained the popularity of the house. Sir Thomas Egerton who first lived there, was a friend of Elizabeth I as well as being Lord Chancellor to James I.
Peter Egerton Warburton (1813-1889) was the first European to cross the continent from the centre to the west when they left Alice Springs to ride to the Oakover River between April 1873 and January 1874. An Egerton relative, Samuel Hill (1691-1758) (Rowland Hill’s cousin and Samuel Egerton’s uncle) was first British Consul in Venice and a friend and patron to Canaletto. This gained Tatton two large paintings by the Venetian Master. Samuel inherited his fortune, allowing him funds for the build perhaps.
Tatton’s glory was during the 19th Century when entertaining was on a grand scale. The First Baron (William) held a Ball in 1861 when he wanted his daughters marrying off. 224 guests attended. Lady Stanley of Alderley wrote to her husband after one evenings entertainment Did I tell you there was a bad smell at Tatton? Fancy my nerves when I found out it was Lord Ellesmere. The previous month she had complained about a party game which involved married guests carrying out coarse and vulgar conversations, which the Comte De Paris said would not be allowed in the Palais Royal.
The Second Baron, Wilbraham Egerton (1832-1909), installed electric light, built a railway under the house to transport coal to all the fireplaces. He entertained the Shah Of Persia, The Crown Prince of Siam and the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future Edward VII). He was a keen huntsman and the catch was never smaller than 2,000 head of game. However, he spent so much time in London on top of this that his wife still complained that she had never seen Tatton in the Spring. He was chairman and sponsor of the Manchester Ship Canal Company up until its opening. He cut the first sod at Eastham in 1887 and bailed it out when it had financial problems.
Maurice Egerton was friends with the Wright Brothers, flying with them and helping in their early experiments, even landing planes at Tatton. Maurice lived at Tatton and in Kenya where we was a leading tea planter. His 1900 Benz was the first car registered in Cheshire, with the plate M1. He was an early radio ham, travelled the world hunting game, staked a claim for a gold mine in the Yukon and lived for a while with nomads in the Gobi.
Before I go, I will tell a tale of Tatton Hall in Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina. This was commissioned by an almost namesake, Norman E Edgerton (1898-1995) a tobacco magnate. It clearly owes inspiration to the Cheshire pile.
Pay a visit, it’s worth it, the Cheshire one I mean.
Let’s see some pictures:
¹ In 1935 the hall was threatened thus and a summer house was completely ruined. A lake many acres wide had been formed and had reached to within 300 metres of the Hall.
² He was part of the photographic section, taking slow motion film, so that the risk of roman candles or parachutes which did not open could be reduced. He also took pictures of SOE trainees in a nearby Edwardian House.
Samuel Wyatt, D Phil Thesis By John Martin Robinson, Oriel College 1973
Remains, Historical and Literary, Connected with the Palatine Counties of Lancaster and Chester: Chetham Society, 1845
Peter Egerton Warburton in the Australian Dictionary of National Biography
The Egertons in the Guardian 31 August 1971.
© Allan Russell 2022.
2 thoughts on “100 Halls Around Manchester Part 98: Tatton Hall, Knutsford.”