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Combermere Abbey tours

27th April 2012 @ 7:07am – by Sarah Proctor
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Following the completion of phase one of The Library restoration, C12th Combermere Abbey,  one of Cheshire’s most notable historic properties, situated six miles west of Audlem, opens for its annual tours of the Abbey once more, from 24th April – 28th June, each week on either Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

The Abbey, which has been described as ‘One of the most romantic places in Europe’, has played host to many famous visitors. The complex and fascinating building, mediaeval in parts and sixteenth century in others, was enclosed within a Gothick ‘envelope’ in the early nineteenth century.

It has an impressive location, overlooking a glacial lake and acres of rolling parkland, with ancient oaks. Recent investigation has indicated that the ‘naturalistic landscape’ was the work of William Emes who created many gardens and parks in the area.

The restoration work, assisted by a grant from English Heritage, repaired the essential structure of the Library itself, and has uncovered yet more of the fascinating history of the building revealing an earlier phase of construction including an earlier 17thcentury fireplace. 

Visitors will glimpse the intricate design of the original cloister wall of the monastery, and the decorated timber frame wall discovered behind the paneling in the Library.  The paintings in the medieval paneling have been restored, thanks in part to a grant from the Heritage Conservation Trust.

Sarah Callander Beckett commented: “This unexpected repair was necessitated by the near collapse of the Eastern wall of the Abbott’s lodge, and has been achieved with the support of two important grants, but the most exciting thing is that it has revealed another piece of the jigsaw puzzle about its complex structure which the public can now view as well.” 

The tours are guided and visitors will delight in finding out more about the extraordinary history of this estate, which started out life as a Cistercian monastery, built in 1133 for Hugh de Malbanc, Lord of Nantwich.

In its heyday, this important estate stretched right to the market town of Nantwich, and extended to some 22 000 acres. It has played a key role in the social and economic history of this area for almost 900 years.  Following the dissolution of the monasteries, the Abbey has been home to two families – the Cottons and the Crossleys, makers of the Crossley car.

In addition to the Abbey tours, the estate welcomes groups of 20 plus visitors.  These need to be booked in advance and also take in the Abbey’s formal gardens, which include the World’s only fruit tree maze, five and a half acres of formal walled gardens, with its beautifully restored C19th ‘Glasshouse’ and the Pavilion and Geometric gardens. 

These gardens have all been restored by Sarah Callander Beckett and her husband, Peter over the last twenty years since Sarah inherited the property in 1992.

Sarah and her family are committed to restoring the historic buildings of the estate, most of which needed serious repair and recent successes have included the Game Larder and the Clock Tower. This has been identified as one of the ‘victory towers’ built to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the unusual clock was provided by Joyce’s of Whitchurch.

The Abbey tours are led by Lynette Mason and the garden tours by Head gardener Patrick Driscall, both of whom have a rich collection of facts and anecdotes to share, bringing the fascinating history of this estate to life.

All tours must be pre-booked, and the Abbey tour lasts one and a half hours, and cost £5.50 (or £3.50 for under 16’s).  Group tours last for approx 3 hours and cost £10.50 pp (min. 20 guests) and also include refreshments in The Glasshouse.

For bookings contact:  Heather Palmer in the Estate Office on 01948 662880
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Address: Combermere Abbey, Whitchurch, Shropshire SY13 4 AJ 

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