The Bucklow Hundred & Great Budworth


St Mary's and All SaintsCentral to our story about the Gandys, the Hindleys, the Birchalls and the industrial revolution in Cheshire is the large and ancient parish of Great Budworth in the Bucklow Hundred and the church of St Mary's & All Saints. The parish comprised many familiar townships - Allostock, Anderton, Antrobus, Appleton, Aston, Barnton, Bartington, Birches, Castle, Cogshall, Comberbach, Crowley, Dutton, Great Budworth, Hartford, Hulse, Lach Dennis, Little Leigh, Lostock, Marbury, Marston, Northwich, Peover, Pickmere, Plumley, Rudheath, Seven Oaks, Stretton, Tabley, Whitley, Wincham, Winnington and Witton cum Twambrooks. As events unfolded in and around this parish in the 17th century there seemed to be four great influential manors and two important religious houses; Dutton to the West, Arley to the North, Marbury to the South, Tabley to the East and further afield Norton Priory and competitor Vale Royal Abbey ...

A surprisingly large number of the Cheshire gentry in the 17th century were directly descended from the first Norman landlords and the eight barons who served Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester, the nephew of William the Conqueror. Some families, such as the Brookes of Norton Priory and the Holcroft & Cholmondeleys of Vale Royal, owned their land as a result of purchase at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries and some, such as the Brookes of Mere, by acquisition of Royalist estates at the time of the English Civil War. Such names from the past have long lost their significance ...

There were three notable issues which eventually impacted & subdued the power & influence of the great landowners -

the growth of trade and freemen in the cities

the industrial revolution and decline in the share of rent & profit derived from land

and the spirit of Beowulf & Magna Carta ... later universal suffrage and perhaps the ravages of tax.

But at the Conquest it was Norton Priory and the Augustinian Canons who organised the livelihoods of the folk in Great Budworth. Everything revolved round the church of St Mary's & All Saints which dominated both the religious and economic life of the parish.

Norton Priory  

Norton PrioryIn 1134 the Augustinians of Norton were given the church and their living in Great Budworth by William Fitz Nigel, Baron of Halton. Nigel, the first Baron of Halton, was one of the most powerful men in Cheshire at Domesday, endowed by Hugh Lupus, the Earl of Chester after his contribution to William's invading force.

Originally sited on the banks of the Mersey overlooking and benefitting from the Runcorn gap crossing, the Priory was moved to Norton in 1134.

Around 1216 the Canons received a further gift from Geoffrey de Dutton amounting to a third of all the land in the Great Budworth township. This added to the substantial holdings of land they seemed to be given by local people. Keen to save their souls and those of their loved ones, folk willingly transferred large slugs of their wealth to the Canons in return for burials and perpetual prayers ... this was a great deal for the church as it grew rich from voluntary gifts in return for the Gospel.

The ongoing success of Norton Priory in overcoming mismanagement, disputes and rivalries with Lords and Abbots was recognised in 1391 by raising the Priory's status to that of a mitred Abbey. The only other mitred abbey in Cheshire was the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh in Chester.

There was, of course, sharp competition for funds & influence amongst the religious houses and in 1178 the Cistercian Abbey at Stanlow was founded. And later Vale Royal ...

Vale Royal Abbey

Vale RoyalThe Vale Royal Abbey was founded in 1270 by Edward I (1272-1307) for monks of the austere Cistercian order on the eve of Edward's departure on crusade. Endowments included Darnhall & Over manors and the advowsons of Frodsham and Weaverham.

There was trouble from the start. A superb history was concocted by by John Henry Cooke in 1912 - Ida or the Mystery of the Nun's Grave at Vale Royal Abbey, Cheshire ...

Originally monks who came from Dore Abbey in Herefordshire settled in Darnhall in 1269. The site proved unsuitable for the new abbey and Edward permitted the monks to choose a more suitable location 'out of all the kingdom of England'. So later in 1277 they settled on a place only 4 miles away to the north of Darnhall manor.  Vale Royal to the north. Darnhall was retained as a grange and park. The king renamed the spot Vale Royal to show that no monastery should be more royal in liberties, wealth and honour.

Edward laid the foundation stone for Vale Royal in 1277 and attended the consecration in 1283. Building work had lasted 50 years, and even in 1336 the church was reported to have no roof or glass ... and insufficient revenues. The Black Prince poured more support into the abbey in 1353 ... and then the nave blew down in a storm. The project ran into a spate of problems; the abbey was frequently grossly mismanaged, relations with the local tenants were so poor that large scale violence erupted on a number of occasions, internal discipline frequently collapsed with power struggles & feuds, the abbot and monks were constantly accused of offences in Delamere Forest and the dispersed nature of the estate added to coordination problems and a distinct lack of involved benefactors apart, of course, from the remote King.

 The lands were disforested, and the abbey was granted privileges in Delamere Forest, including the right to keep bees and have a quarry. The king intended the abbey to be on the grandest scale, however, the financial difficulties meant that these ambitions could not be fulfilled and the final building was considerably smaller than planned.

Ormerod vol 2 page 74 described the trauma & machinations associated with the dissolution -
Cheshire tradition has given to the story the tragical catastrophe which might naturally be expected from the protracted resistance of the abbot, and the formidable preparations; and has grounded thereupon the fulfillment of one of the prophecies of Nixon. Willis states that the final consummation of his injuries was spared the poor abbot, who was allowed to retire on an inconsiderable annuity; but, from an examination of the pension roll of the reign of queen Mary, the statement of Willis appears to be incorrect, as the name of the abbot is omitted in this document, and no notice whatsoever is taken of him or his convent in the earlier roll of the time of Henry VIII.
The ruin of the house was now finally accomplished, and the distribution of its possessions quickly followed. Of its Cheshire estates, Darnhall, with its appendages', was granted, 33 Henry VIII to Sir Rowland Hill, knt. and merchant of the city of London. In the same year, March 7, the site of Vale Royal, with the granges of Conersley, Bradford, Ernesley, and Merton, Petty Poole Hill and Dam, and Bradford Mylne in the parish of Whitegate, Hefferston Grange and Onston Mylne in Weverham, Ernesley House in Weverham and Whitegate, and the Pool of Oakmere, were granted to Thomas Holcroft, an esquire of the body, for the sum of £450 10s 6d subject to the reserved rent of £3 5s 8d payable to the court of augmentation of the king's revenue.
In the 37th of the same reign, Aug 1, the manors of Weverham and Over, with all their privileges, were granted to the same, now Sir Thomas Holcroft, subject to the rent of £10 0s 4d in consideration of the sum of £464 10s 10d and the manor of Cartmel given in exchange by Sir Thomas. The Holcrofts of Vale Royal by Tony Bostock.

Thus after the dissolution the site of the abbey and most of the property in its vicinity were sold to Thomas Holcroft in 1544, who 'plucked down' the great church and built a great house on the site of the monastic buildings. Holcroft's heirs lived at Vale Royal until 1615, when the estate came into the hands of the Cholmondeleys. Significantly Petty Pool Hill & Dam, Bradford Mill and Onston Mill in Weaverham were in the Cholmondeley estate when Thomas Cholmondeley founded The Vale Royal Company in 1718. 

The abbey itself was largely rebuilt in 1728, incorporating fabric from a timber-framed church dating probably from the 14th century. In 1874–75 Douglas re-modeled the church, changing its external appearance, but again retaining much of the internal fabric. The Cholmondeleys eventually sold the property in 1947, although much altered since then, it still stands today as a private golf club ...

Duttons of Dutton Hall

Dutton HallPerhaps second to Halton at Doomsday was the powerful manor in Dutton and held by Odard, the first of the Duttons of Dutton, who had also fought alongside Nigel with the Norman invaders. His Dutton descendants were major influences on events in Great Budworth. Inevitably the Haltons and the Duttons interbred making a formidable gene pool of influenced. Not only did Geoffrey de Dutton transfer substantial land from the parish to Norton Priory but also Dutton descendants established estates at Arley and Tabley, and extended their Dutton holdings into Little Leigh, Barnton and Aston. 

Norton Priory did not survive the dissolution and it was the Dutton family that moved rapidly from their role as ancient benefactors to hopeful opportunist as the lands were redistributed. Sir Piers Dutton was in charge but in 1545 the estate came into the ownership of the Crown, and the abbey and the manor of Norton were sold to Sir Richard Brooke. Sir Piers managed to secure the ancient priory door which became the imposing entrance to his new home.

Sir Piers built Dutton Hall in 1539. The new hall was half timbered in the Tudor style of the day. It was built in the form of a quadrangle and was surrounded on three sides by a broad, deep moat. Around the impressive porch was inscribed, ‘Sir Piers Dutton Knight of Dutton and my lady dame Julian his wife made this hall and building in the year of our Lord God 1542 who thanketh God of all’. Inside the outer doorway was the massive, deeply carved oak door from the abbey at Norton. In pride of place, either side of the door, were the combined arms of the Duttons of Dutton and Hattons of Hatton. One of the most striking features of the house was the great hall and minstrel gallery. It was constructed with lofty clustered columns, supporting a beautiful roof. Round the cornice Sir Piers had carved, in large letters, a long account commemorating the building of the house ‘by the especial devising of Sir Piers Dutton' ...

Much of the Hall built by Sir Piers Dutton was demolished in the 18th and 19th centuries. What remained became a farmhouse, the home of a succession of tenant farmers. In 1935 the Hall was purchased by Mr J A Dewar, the whisky magnate, who had it taken down, beam by beam, brick by brick, and transported by steam wagon to Sussex, where it was rebuilt as an extension to his private residence ... the site in Dutton is now a stud farm ...

Warburtons of Arley Hall

Arley HallThe Warburtons at Arley were descended from the Duttons and Sir Geoffrey de Dutton who died about 1248 married the daughter and heir of the Warburtons who established the Arley estate. In 1469 Piers Warburton moved his principal seat from Warburton to Arley, and built the first house on the site. It consisted of a 'U'-shaped building with the centre of the 'U' facing south. The original Hall was constructed as a timber-framed building, and was surrounded by a square moat. A three-storey south front was added in about 1570, making the house a complete square with a large internal courtyard.

The current hall was built for Rowland Egerton-Warburton in the 1830s, to replace an earlier house on the site. Local architect George Latham designed the house in a style which has become known as Jacobethan, copying elements of Elizabethan architecture.

The church of St Mary's All Saints was to find a major benefactor in Rowland Egerton Warburton of Arley who inspired and oversaw the restoration of the church in the 1850's, rediscovering the medieval glory of the building.

Egerton-Warburton was a hunting man, a keen member, and later the president, of the nearby Tarporley Hunt Club. The major contributions of the Warburtons to life in the Bucklow Hundred have been described in detail by Charles Foster.

Smith-Barrys of Marbury Hall

Marbury HallThe de Merberies held the manor at Marbury from around 1200, the time of John, and subsequent generations were important Sheriffs of Cheshire. Almost inevitably the Duttons were involved. Some time around 1485 John Marbury married Elizabeth, daughter of John Dutton of Dutton and thus confirmed the Dutton infiltration into all four manors influencing Great Budworth. On the death of Richard Marbury in 1684, the male line of the family became extinct in 1708 the estate was sold to Richard Savage, 4th Earl Rivers. In 1714 it passed by marriage to James Barry, 4th Earl of Barrymore, the Earl's son-in-law, who enlarged the existing house, and then it passed to the second son Richard Barry. When the latter died without issue in 1787, the estate passed to James Hugh Smith Barry, an art collector who also owned the adjacent Belmont Hall.  Marbury Hall, near Comberbach, was originally built in the thirteenth century, a large brick mansion with stone facings stands in beautiful grounds, which include a lake of 80 acres.

From 1801 the hall housed his extensive collection of artworks and sculpture. Around 1856 James Hugh Smith Barry had the hall extended and remodelled by Anthony Salvin based on the French Royal Palace at Fontainebleau. It served as the home of the Smith-Barry family until 1932, when it was sold and became a country club. I learned to swim in the wonderful swimming pool in the grounds ... regrettably Marbury Hall was demolished in 1969.

Marbury Hall was famous for strange tales of horses, fox hounds and ghosts ...

The family owned most of the land in Marbury and Comberbach and used its wealth to indulge a passion for horse racing. A tale relates to the purchase of a horse by Lord Barrymore in London. The white mare was named Marbury Dunne and was bought as a wedding present for his wife. Lord Barrymore laid a bet that the horse could cover the distance between London and Marbury between sunrise and sunset. The horse achieved this feat but died on arrival. She was buried in East Park and the gravestone carried the following inscription -

'Here lies Marbury Dunne
The finest horse that ever run
Clothed in a linen sheet
With silver hoofs upon her feet.'

A second story relates to the pub in Comberbach which was called the Spinner and Bergamot Inn. It was built in the mid-eighteenth century and named The Spinner after a local loom. Sir Hugh Smith-Barry patronised the hostelry and decided to call one of his racehorses after the pub. When his horse proved to be successful in all her races, Smith-Barry thought that this signified good luck and bought the premises. The other part of the name was added later when another of his racehorses, called The Bergamot, won the Chester Cup in 1794. The village is still noted for the Spinner and Bergamot Inn ... and fine ale they serve!

Blue Cap, bred and nurtured by John Smith-Barry at Marbury, was a foxhound of exceptional skill and repute who worked with his friends in the Tarporley Hunt to rid the farms of one of the most destructive of vermin, the mangy fox. In the course of their work Blue Cap and the hunt helped to bind the social fabric of rural Cheshire together in an escapade of social fun and usefulness ... a cultural artefact ... at a time when the rural economy was being eclipsed by the new wealth in the urban conurbations ...

Then there was the ghost ... the Marbury Lady ... everybody believed she was there but who was she? An Egyptian Princess, Alice Knappett,  Jane Hyde or Elizabeth Smith-Barry ... ?

Leycesters of Tabley House

Tabley HouseThe Leycesters at Tabley found fame and influence when Sir Peter Leycester (1613-1678) was created a baronet in 1660 for his royalist support during the civil war. He was a great historian and wrote Leycester's 'Historical Antiquities' in 1673 which focused on the Bucklow Hundred and was included in George Ormerod's 1819 tome on Cheshire.  

In 1642 he married Elizabeth Gerard, the third daughter of Lord Gilbert Gerard of Gerards Bromley, and Elinour Dutton sole hair to the Dutton estate. They were married at Dutton sealing yet another link to the ubiquitous Duttons of Dutton. But Sir Peter's ancestor Nicholas de Leycester had previously married another Dutton in 1276, Margaret the daughter of Geoffrey de Dutton.

Interestingly Sir Peter's ancestors recovered part of the Great Budworth lands which had been endowed by the Duttons to Norton Priory and lost after the dissolution. In 1548 Peter Leycester secured them via purchases from John Grimsditch to John Eaton ... another part was purchased by Hall of Brownslow who through Mary Hall may have contributed genes to the Gandy clan?


As if to bind together in history the great family influences on Great Budworth, Ormerod tells us, 'in the church is yet the case of a fair organ having the coats of arms of the Warburtons of Arley, the Leycesters of Tabley and the Merburys of Merbury, carved thereon. These organs came from Norton, bought after the dissolution of that priory, and were in good order, till the pipes thereof were taken out and spoiled by the Parliamentary soldiers in the late war, 1647, which some Scotchmen among them called Whistles in the Box'.


'Historical Antiquities' by Sir Peter Leycester, 1673.

'History of the County Palatine and the City of Chester' by George Ormerod, 1819.

'A History of the County of Chester: History of the Religious Houses' by C R Elrington, B E Harris, 1980.

'The Duttons of Dutton' by G H Buchan, 1984.

'Norton Priory: the Archaeology of a Medieval Religious House' by J Patrick Greene, 1989.

'Capital & Innovation, how Britain became the first industrial nation' by Charles F Foster, 2004.


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