As visitor attractions begin to reopen after the lockdown, writer and former Warrington Guardian reporter Barry McLoughlin profiles two country houses that are just a relatively short drive away. In the first of a two-part series, this week he presents a guide to Bramall Hall and Arley Hall

CHESHIRE contains some of the most handsome and historic country houses in Britain.

Several are featured in my new book about the north west’s stately homes as they reopen after the pandemic that has devastated their income.

The title, Stately Homes Alone, refers to the fact that they are all independently run, whether by the original owning families or local authorities, rather than by the National Trust.

Illustrated in colour, the 184-page paperback includes richly detailed descriptions of 15 houses in Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria – and one spectacular castle – their sometimes eccentric owners, their gardens and ghosts, their restoration and how to visit them.


Breathtaking Bramall Hall is one of the finest Tudor houses in Britain. The Grade I listed mansion is a an unparalleled example of a black and white timber-framed building – a riot of wood and windows – with origins dating back to the Middle Ages.

The doyen of architectural historians, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, described Bramall as ‘one of the four best timber-framed mansions of England’ – high praise indeed.

Although now absorbed by the suburbia of north-east Cheshire, four miles south of Stockport, it is set in some 60 acres of parkland with lakes, woods and gardens. The estate has witnessed seven centuries of colourful history from medieval beginnings to the present day, and has been owned by just three families.

Bramall Hall

Bramall Hall

Construction started in the 14th century for Alice and John Davenport, and the final great burst of improvements took place in the late 1800s. As a result, Bramall is an eclectic combination of medieval, Tudor and Victorian architecture, giving intriguing insights into the families and servants who lived and worked there.

The hall, owned by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council, reopened in 2016 after a £2million renovation. In an age of local authority austerity, it’s a tribute to councils such as Stockport’s that they are restoring and keeping superb buildings like this open, and at an incredibly reasonable admission charge.

Bramall is of great national importance. The astonishing 16th-century wall paintings, magnificent Elizabethan plaster ceiling, Great Hall, Banqueting Room and the Victorian Kitchens and Servants’ Quarters give the house its unique charm.

Getting there

By car: Bramall Hall is four miles south of Stockport and can be reached via the M6, M56 and M60. The postcode is SK7 3NX

By train: Nearest railway stations are Bramhall and Cheadle Hulme.

Visitors must buy a timed entry ticket online in advance.

Find out more by calling 0161 474 2020 or visit


Even if you’ve never visited Arley Hall, parts of it may still look familiar – the sumptuous Cheshire mansion is something of a magnet for TV producers.

Dozens of programmes have been filmed at the Grade II* listed hall, one of the north west’s most distinctive stately homes.

They range from the gentility of the BBC’s Antiques Road Show to the gritty brutality of one of its most recent dramas, Peaky Blinders. No fewer than five Coronation Street weddings have been celebrated there.

It’s no surprise that the ‘Jacobethan’ mansion should be popular with filmmakers. In terms of access, it’s one of Britain’s best-situated stately homes, only five miles from the M6, and just 20 miles from Manchester’s TV studios.

Arley Hall is often used as a TV set

Arley Hall is often used as a TV set

Arley’s eight-acre formal gardens, developed over 250 years, have been voted one of the top 50 in Europe, grafting inspired modern ideas on to traditional design.

One minute you’re amid woodland wildflowers, the next in the extraordinary Ilex Avenue of 14 holm oak trees immaculately clipped to the shape of giant cylinders. Famous horticulturalist Gertrude Jekyll described it as ‘the best kind of English garden of the formal type’.

Behind its façade of red brick and Hollington stone, the house features fine plasterwork, oak panelling, a grand staircase and a showpiece library.

The hall stands on the site of the first house built by the family in 1469.

If you happen to see groups of tough-looking men wearing cheesecutter caps and curious cropped hairstyles stalking the grounds of Arley, don’t worry.

They’re probably fans of the hit TV drama Peaky Blinders, and for them Arley is a bit like Abbey Road is for Beatles lovers. The BBC decided Arley would make an ideal country seat for gang leader Tommy Shelby, played by Cillian Murphy.

Getting there

By car: The hall is signposted from junctions 19 and 20 of the M6 between Northwich and Knutsford, and junctions 9 and 10 of the M56. Follow the brown tourist signs. The postcode is CW9 6NA

By train: The nearest stations are at Northwich, Knutsford and Warrington.

Opening: The gardens, grove, woodland walk and children’s playzone are open daily but the hall, chapel and vinery are closed until further restrictions are lifted.

Find out more by calling 01565 777353 or go to

Stately Homes by Barry McLoughlin

Stately Homes by Barry McLoughlin

Stately Homes Alone: Independent Country Houses in the North West is available for £12.50 at Readers are advised to contact the properties first to check what is open. Booking may be necessary.