Brereton Hall, Cheshire, England
The first mention of the name Brereton occurs in the Domesday Book. The name Brereton appears as one of the six dependencies or manors of the Barony of Kinderton at Middlewich, which was obtained by Gilbert de Venables . It would appear that the taking of land from the Saxon landowners and giving it to Norman followers was completed before the 1086 Domesday survey was completed. Records indicate that Brereton and Gilbert de Venables came with William the Conqueror and Hugh Lupus or Hugh d'Avranches (who became Earl of Chester). Under Norman rule Chester was virtually an independent kingdom with its own laws, taxes, nobility, army and courts of justice. Many castles were built for defense in strategic locations along the Welsh border.
VENABLE – BRERETON CONNECTION
The names Venable and Brereton are found in the roll of Battle Abbley, a contemporary list of the names of Norman barons, knights and esquires at the Battle of Hastings. Although there is no known definitive reference to a common family ancestor the close ties between the two families is evident in the coats of arms. The Venables coat of arms is azure (blue) with two bars argent (silver) while the Brereton's is argent (silver) with two bars sable (black). Further, a dispensation was required before a marriage was permitted between the Venable and Brereton families; this was based on the grounds of consanguinity (common ancestry). For centuries, the Venables sponsored and funded Breretons who took holy orders. Some writers have suggested that the First Sir William Brereton was probably a younger son of the Venables who assumed the Brereton name when he was granted his dependence in return for services to William the Conqueror.
For nearly 45 years, Brereton Hall (built circa 1585) was home to Sir William Brereton (1550-1630)5 and his wife Margaret Savage. A persistent tradition6 states that Queen Elizabeth laid the foundation stone of Brereton Hall, and that in later years paid a visit to the Sir William (Lord Brereton) and Margaret. The fact that the hall was designed in the shape of an E, for Queen Elizabeth and that the Royal Arms with the initials ER have a prominent place both outside and inside the hall all tend to support a visit by the Monarch. It has also been suggested that the Queen’s visit to the Hall may have been prompted by sentiment reasons, since Sir William Brereton (of the Malpas Line and a relative of Lord Brereton, of Brereton Hall) and the Queen’s mother,Anne Boleyn, were put to death under suspicion of adultery. Tradition also states that during Queen Elizabeth's visit she presented her fan to the Breretons, as a memento of the visit. In order to preserve it, it is said that Sir William built it into the wall of the room in which the Queen had slept. It is true that in the traditional Bedroom, which would have been used if the Queen visited; there was some carving and inlay work in the form of a fan or possibly a facsimile of the fan. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the carving may have been the Brereton arms, fashioned in coloured inlaid wood upon an ermine mantle and bordered by carving; which would resemble a fan. To add more mystery, the sculptured stone over the entrance distinctly resembles a fan. In 1817, Ormerod wrote - The Brereton arms, surrounded with a triangular mantle, the form of which is traditionally reported to be copied from the fan of Queen Elizabeth.
OWNERS AND OCCUPANTS OF BRERETON HALL
ST LORD BRERETON of BRERETON HALL (1585 – 1722)
Brereton Hall was built by the first Lord William Brereton and his wife Lady Margaret Savage, circa 1585. Following his death in 1630 his title and estates passed to his youngest son William (a youth of 19 years of age). William’s four older brothers had all predeceased their father. In 1632, at the age of twenty—two years William, the second Lord Brereton married Elizabeth Goring. Elizabeth’s father George Goring was famous as a Cavalier leader in the Civil War. He took over the Mulberry Gardens in London from Lord Aston and this house eventually became known as Buckingham Palace. As noted in the description of Brereton Hall, the mantel-piece in the dressing room off Lord Brereton’s bedroom celebrates the marriage of Elizabeth to Lord Brereton. In 1664, upon the death of the second Lord Brereton, his son William became heir. This William married Frances Willoughby, daughter of Lord Willoughby of Parham. They had three sons; William, John and Francis. William was a man of learning and influence and is considered a founder of the Royal Society. He died in London, in 1679 and is buried in St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields. Following his father’s death, son John Brereton became the fourth Lord Brereton; his older brother William had died. When John died in 1718 he had no issue. Consequently, his unmarried brother Francis (the last male heir of Lord William Brereton II) became the fifth and last Lord Brereton. Francis died in 1722.
HOLTE FAMILY (1722-1769)
In 1722, upon the death of Francis Brereton, after 600 years of male ownership, the Hall passed to the Holtes family of Aston in Warwickshire, in right of the female line, through Jane Brereton (daughter of Sir John Brereton and Anne Fitton
The Holte-Brereton connection arose with the marriage of Jane Brereton (sister of the second Lord Brereton and great-aunt of Francis, the last Lord Brereton) to Sir Robert Holte . Their married life which began in 1646 was brief; she died two years later after giving birth to a son Charles; who became the second Baronet, Sir Charles Holte . While Jane Brereton’s marriage to Robert Holte was short lived, the impact of this event and the legacy of the Brereton estate passing through a female relative of the last Lord Brereton was significant and very interesting. According to Ormerod the facts of the will of the last Lord Brereton were as follows: John, fourth Lord Brereton, and Francis, fifth Lord Brereton, his brother having died issueless (the latter in 1722) Brereton passed to the Holtes of Aston in Warwickshire, in right of Jane, wife of Sir Robert Holte, daughter of Sir William Brereton and great-aunt, and finally heir of Lord Francis, which Jane died in 1648. Under the will of Sir Lister Holte, Bart., (died October 12, 1769) the manors of Brereton and Aston with other estates were settled on his brother Sir Charles Holte, for life, remainder to his issue, remainder to Heneage Legge Esq., with similar remainder; remainder to Lewis Bagot, clerk (successively bishop of Norwich and St. Asaph, who died without issue) with similar remainder; remainder to Wriothesley Digby, Esq. with remainder to the right heirs of Sir Lister Holte, with authority to the persons successively seized to grant leases of the Cheshire estates for one life and 12 months after. Sir Charles Holte left issue one daughter, Mary Elizabeth, representative of the families of Holte, Brereton, and the eldest line of the Egerton or Egertons, and her husband Abraham Bracebridge, Esquire, held leases of Brereton Hall and demesne, and of other parcels of the estate (to which Mary Elizabeth was ultimately heir) from Heneage Legge, Esquire, who had succeeded on the death of Sir Charles Holte to the estates comprehended in the will of Sir Lister Holte. While the above is very formal and legalistic, it does provide an indication of the passing on of the Brereton estate. Arthur Moir, in his book, summed it up as follows: On the death of the last Lord Brereton, in 1722, the estate of Brereton Hall passed into the female line, and was in the hands of the Holtes and Bracebridges for a hundred years. Arthur Moir also commented that: in Washington Irving’s book ‘Bracebridge Hall’ the estate is supposed to refer to Brereton Hall, Brereton being thinly disguised under the name of its occupier, Bracebridge.
Brereton’s family had been seated at Brereton since the reign of Henry II, and had first represented the county in 1547. Unlike his better-known cousin of the Handforth branch, Brereton was an Anglican and a Royalist. Although he held no military command in the Civil War, he was an active commissioner of array and established a Cavalier garrison at Brereton. He was taken prisoner at the surrender of Biddulph House in Staffordshire, and compounded for an estate of £1,400 p.a. He was fined £2,538 18s which he could raise only by selling land. Although all his daughters reached maturity, five of them died unmarried, presumably for lack of portions. Roger Whitley put him down as a colonel in his list of Cheshire Royalists and he was involved in the rising of Sir George Booth in 1659. At the Restoration he was made joint lord lieutenant with the 8th Earl of Derby, an inharmonious partnership since ‘Lord Brereton is so wedded to his own humour that nothing else will please’. Brereton was returned to the Cavalier Parliament as knight of the shire, and became a moderately active Member in the first and second sessions. He was appointed to 49 committees, including those for the security bill, restoring bishops to the House of Lords, the Corporations Bill, and the reversal of Strafford’s attainder. His petitions for office or pension were rejected, but he was awarded £500 as the King’s free gift. He took a very active part in regulating the Cheshire corporations, and in the persecution of Presbyterians. In 1663 he was added to the committee to consider a petition from Cheshire concerning the Mersey and Weaver navigation bill. He was listed as a court dependant in 1664, but on 20 Feb. his son reported him ill with ‘an excessive cold’, and he was buried at Brereton on 21 Apr.
Holte was brought up by his uncle, William Brereton, Lord Brereton, from whom he derived those principles of the love of God and his country ‘which were to guide him in the splendid course of his life’. In this, politics played an altogether secondary role; his early years, after succeeding to the baronetcy, were principally devoted to rescuing the encumbered Aston estate by prudent management and rigid economy. He declined an invitation from the Warwickshire gentry to contest the county in 1681, though Sir Leoline Jenkins wrote to him in 1684: ‘Your affection for the public and your zeal for the King’s service being so great ... I wish you frequent occasions to approve yourself what you are’. The Birmingham nonconformists did not fail to supply such occasions, and Holte was particularly commended for his care and discretion in securing the surrender of the grammar school charter. Under the new charter of 20 Feb. 1685 he was appointed to the board of governors. Before the general election Holte wrote to Sunderland that ‘our old disturbers are at work under the pretence of great loyalty’; but he was returned unopposed for Warwickshire to James II’s Parliament. An active Member, he was named to 14 committees, including the committee of elections and privileges, and those to recommend expunctions from the Journals and to consider the general naturalization of Huguenot refugees. Danby added his name in pencil to his list of the Opposition. Holte seems to have evaded answering the three questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws in Staffordshire and Worcestershire on the grounds that he could not leave home as he was expecting a visit from Sunderland. He did not stand again, though his name was retained on the Warwickshire commission of the peace after the Revolution. He seems to have cleared the estate by 1692, and occupied his later years with medical studies. ‘By his skill in medical science, and by supplying the poor with medicine, he restored many to health who would have fallen a prey to disease, had he not charitably administered relief.’ He died on 20 June 1722, and in accordance with his will was buried quietly at Aston.
HENEAGE LEGGE3 and the BRACEBRIDGE FAMILY (1769-1817)
Heneage Legge succeeded to the Brereton estate (as per the will of Sir Lister Holte) upon the death of Sir Charles Holte. He subsequently, leased the hall to Mary Elizabeth Holte (daughter of Charles) and her husband Abraham Bracebridge. Upon the death of Heneage Legge the property passed through Mary Elizabeth Holte-Bracebridge to her descendants the Holtes of Aston Hall and in 1782 it passed to Abraham Bracebridge
Act of Parliament dated 10 July 1817,
Act of Parliament dated 10 July 1817, Cap. 38. An Act for confirming an Agreement relating to the Reversion expectant of certain Estates in the Counties of Warwick and Chester, late of Sir Lister Holte, Baronet, deceased, and property belonging to Abraham Bracebridge Esquire, and for vesting such Estates and Property in Trustees, to convey and assure the same according to the said Agreement. The sale was to take place in a few weeks, ‘by Mr. Adamson, at the Auction Mart’. However, the tradition is held that the Brereton property and advowson were not sold by public auction but, instead, remained in the care of a lawyer, who resided at the Hall. This situation continued for approximately two years amid hints of a potential Brereton heir to the title of the estate; if found to be true it would invalidate any purchase.
HOWARD FAMILY (1830-1918)
In 1830, when Mr. John Howard purchased Brereton Hall, the property was in a state of disrepair. Howard commissioned extensive renovations and repairs to both the exterior and interior of the Hall. It was at this time that the copper cupolas were removed from the towers; apparently the towers were in very poor condition and unable to hold the weight of the cupolas. Another interesting change occurred; the bricking in or insertion of sham windows in an effort to reduce property taxes. This was not an uncommon action in the 1830’s as taxes were levied on the number of windows. Other significant changes to the property during his ownership included the harvesting and selling a lot of timber (from the park) and the building of the Coach House. It is also believed that the Solarium replaced the centre wing of the Hall during Howard’s ownership. John Howard had two sons Aaron Clulow Howard (born 1822) and Robert Clulow Howard (born 1827) and several daughters. Only one daughter, Helen Elizabeth Howard, survived to adulthood. Helen married Mr. McLean of Aston Manor, Shifnal, Shropshire. Upon John Howard's death his eldest son Aaron inherited the Brereton property and younger son Robert Howard inherited the Malpas estate; which his father had purchased for him. Aaron Clulow Howard died in 1861. His widow continued to live at Brereton Hall until 1889 when, for health reasons, she moved to Blackpool. Brereton Hall remained vacant until 1891.
LEASED BY THE MOIRS
In 1891, Mrs. Howard leased the Hall to Mr. and Mrs. Moir who remained tenants of the Hall for the next thirty years. Mrs. Howard died in December 1897 and her son John Aaron Howard died the following year. As his heir, John Brereton Howard, was only three years of age, the Brereton estate was placed in the hands of trustees. In 1911, while John Brereton Howard was still a minor, the Hall was found to be in very poor condition; including an outbreak of dry rot and damp. Over the next six months, or so, extensive and costly repairs were carried out. When World War I broke out in 1914, John Brereton Howard took a commission with the 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Although he was wounded in 1915 he returned to the battlefield and on April 6th, 1918 was killed in action.
NORMAN MCLEAN (1918-1937)
John Brereton Howard's ‘willed’ all his estates in Cheshire, including the Brereton Hall property, to his younger second cousin, Mr. Norman McLean, for life. There was a stipulation in the will that should Mr. McLean die childless the properties would go to his second cousin Garnet Botfield, wife of Captain Corbett Winder. In 1922, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Howard McLean moved into Brereton Hall and lived there until McLean’s death, in October 1937. As Mr. McLean had no issue, Garnet Botfield-Winder became the next resident of Brereton Hall.
MRS. CORBETT WINDER (1937 -
With the outbreak of World War II, Brereton Hall, like so many of the great houses in Britain, could no longer be retained as a private residence. Brereton Hall became a boarding school when a Head Mistress, Mrs. M. E. Massey, brought a group of children (who had been living in the bombed-out centre of Manchester) to the property. Under her administration, the well-organized school became very popular a number of buildings were added to accommodate the new students. In 1969 Mrs. Corbett Winder offered the Brereton farms and buildings for sale to the tenant farmers - thus continued the sub-division of the Brereton estate of Lord Brereton.
MRS. M. E. FLETCHER41 (? - 1999)
The next owner of Brereton Hall was Mrs. M. E. Fletcher. With the assistance of her daughter and Principal Mary Creigh and son-in-law Derek Creigh, Brereton Hall became a private girl’s school and attracted students from many parts of Europe.
The school continued until 1993 when it becomes exceedingly difficult to operate a boarding school for girls, in a Grade I building – which was in need of upgrading. The school closed in late 1993 or 1994. When Mrs. Fletcher died in 1994, Mary and Derrick Creigh sold their private residence (located on the property) and moved into the Hall. After significant restoration and redecorating they opened the refurbished Hall for overnight guests, weddings, parties and even carol singing, at Christmas. 2000 The Hall was purchased in 2000. The property was sub-divided and the Hall and the Coach House listed for sale as separate parcels in 2001 and 2002. The Gate House had also been sold.