Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Visit to Rufford Old Hall

It's been two months since Denis and I returned from our month-long holiday in the UK, and I've shown you very little of what we saw and experienced. I'll make up for that a bit right now. (As always, to see any of the photos in larger sizes, all you have to do is click on them, and they'll open in a new window.)

I don't know why, but I fell in love with half-timbered houses the first time I saw a photograph of one when I was a child. Perhaps it's some vestige of ancestral memory because when I visited Bolling Hall in Yorkshire where some of my ancestors lived before they began their migration to the colonies, part of it was in that style. For whatever reason, I decided that I really wanted to see a few prime examples while Denis and I were over there. I'm happy to say that, while we were staying in the East Lancashire/West Yorkshire area, we were able to carry out my (almost) lifelong wish before blizzard conditions lowered and we were snowed in.

Road construction in Preston
Our circular route took us through the center of Preston, and naturally it went right through an area of road construction. Why is it that road construction isn't so bad in another country? Could it be that it gave me more time to gawk out the window at old buildings and shops, to get accustomed to road signs, to check out UK car models? Whatever the reason, it didn't bother me much, and we were soon out in the countryside and heading for our destination: Rufford Old Hall, a National Trust home that Denis vaguely remembered visiting when he was a mere lad at school. 

Rufford Old Hall was built by the Heskith family in 1530, and they owned it until 1936. The Great Hall is the only part of the original building that remains, with later brick wings added in the 1660s and 1820s. When we pulled into the car park, we showed our National Trust membership cards (which gave us free admission and parking), and it was obvious that the man at the booth had never seen a membership card from the American branch of the Trust. (The Royal Oak Foundation, if you're curious.) As we walked down the path, I watched ducks swimming in the canal that runs along the side of the property, and then I took a look at the house. If I didn't know any better, from that first look I'd never believe that there was anything half-timbered on the property!

My first look at Rufford Old Hall

Our path led us into a courtyard surrounded by outbuildings, a few of which had been converted to a tea room and a gift shop. We were facing the 1820s wing of the Hall.

The courtyard

Two doorways in the wall led out into the garden. One doorway had two sassy geese above it. I loved them and couldn't wait to see the grounds.

Geese above a doorway leading to the gardens

My first look at the grounds of Rufford Old Hall fired my imagination. I could just see lawn parties and ladies in Edwardian gowns walking in the shade of the trees on a summer's day....

One view of Rufford Old Hall's grounds

But as I walked out into the garden, I was still wondering where "my" half timbers were!

Shiver me, where's the timbers?

Bidding a fond farewell to those geese, I went in search of those timbers! (Were those feathered garden guards laughing at me?)

Farewell, geese!

A-ha! Did I just catch a glimpse of what I came to see?


I don't know about you, but I love old homes that have been added to over the centuries in varying architectural styles, and Rufford Old Hall is a prime example of that. And the pair of topiary squirrels on either side of the path made me laugh!

Rufford Old Hall from the garden

In case you're wondering, you're taking almost exactly the same tour Denis and I did as we walked around the house, and right at the moment, we're perambulating very slowly around the outside of the Great Hall.... By the way, the cupola on top of the Great Hall was added much later when a Victorian Heskith decided he wanted more light to shine down on his billiard table!

From this angle, you can't see the newer parts of the house!

The Great Hall from the outside

Once I'd inspected it throughly, wooden pegs, glittering windowpanes and all, I sat down to soak it all in. I didn't even care what the inside looked like; I was absolutely thrilled with the outside!

The bench where I sat to soak it all in

Where old meets older!

Put together seamlessly, aren't they?

The insets in the wood are stained glass

What Denis was doing while I was bench warming

Little did I know that the inside was so glorious that it made me want to cry. Master craftsmanship, soaring space-- and the young William Shakespeare once performed here!

Inside the Great Hall.

But of all the wonders in the Great Hall, it wasn't the fireplace that brought tears to my eyes....

The Great Hall fireplace

... and it wasn't the ancient carved lintels above the doorways...

Carved lintel #1

Carved lintel #2

It wasn't the suits of armor staring at me impassively...

One of the suits of armor in the Great Hall

It wasn't even the moveable screen that shielded the gentry at table from the sight of the servants carrying food in and out of the kitchens. The moveable screen at Rufford Old Hall is the only intact one of its kind in the UK-- and it weighs four tons! Moveable? I feel my back going out just thinking of moving that thing!

From sunlight to shadows, the moveable screen

Detail of the moveable screen

No... I wanted to cry when I looked up at that soaring ceiling high above me. I wanted to cry at the sight of the room glowing with light whenever the sun came out from the clouds. I wanted to cry at the sight of the beautiful patterns of wood and carvings....

The ceiling of the Great Hall

Walls and ceiling of the Great Hall

Does Shakespeare's voice still linger up there somewhere?

In the Heskiths' Great Hall, we are looked upon by two rows of angels. For a long time, I sat in that wonderful space. I looked all around me, and I looked up at those angels and smiled. Before Rufford Old Hall, I loved half-timbered architecture. Now that I've been to Rufford Old Hall, I'm passionate about it!

Angels above me, part one

Angels above me, part two

I hope you've all enjoyed your tour of Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire. If you'd like to see a more complete tour of the house (and you're one of my Facebook friends), I have a Rufford Old Hall album on my personal Facebook page.

Next weekend, I hope to show you the second stately home we visited that day. (There was a reason for our circular route!)


  1. Wow! What a place. Loved taking the tour with you. Now you're making me miss the UK.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Candace. It's odd. I love living here, and I love this climate, but part of me always misses the UK.

  2. Cathy - What a wonderful tour! Thank you! That's such a magnificent place with such a fascinating history. And what detail everywhere, from the carved lintels to the way the gardens were planned out. I'm glad you shared this with us.

    1. I couldn't keep this gem all to myself, Margot!

  3. The visit to this historic and architecturally significant house was obviously well worth the side excursion.

  4. I loved this tour! It doesn't compare with actually being there but then who among us can just flit across the ocean on a whim to see this place? Thank you for all the wonderful photos and your inspired commentary.

    1. You're welcome, Barbara. By telling y'all about it, I get to relive it. Selfish, ain't I? *grin*

  5. What a fabulous place to visit! I love that you and Denis took your time exploring it and that you shared your photos with us.

  6. I'm adding Old Rufford Hall to my list of places to visit in England -- if I ever get back there. Gorgeous! Thank you so much for sharing your lovely visit.

    1. I forgot to ask: May I pin a few of your photos to my "Places to Visit" and "Anglophilia" Pinterest boards? I won't be offended if you say no.

    2. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Lark. You're more than welcome to pin any of my photos to your Pinterest boards, but one word of warning: if you pin things by right clicking, right clicking doesn't work on my blog. I have a "Pin It" button at the top of my browser window, so right clicking isn't a factor for me.

    3. Thank you very much, Cathy! I have a Pin It button, so I think I'm set.

  7. Thank you for a very interesting post.

  8. What a breath-taking building! Fantastic tour - I felt like I could have been there with you.

    I am with you on the timbered houses. It's my not-so-secret dream to own one someday, no matter the maintenance cost!

    1. Sooner or later, I'll be showing all of you the half-timbered house *I* would want to own!

  9. Stunning photos. I love the doors in the brick walls and the geese above the doorway.

    It is awesome to me to think of all of the work that went into the architecture, the metalwork, the carving. How much work and artistry was involved. Wonder how many years, workers and craftspeople it took to complete all of this.

    Thanks for sharing these photos. Oh, what I wouldn't give now for a duck-riddled pond amidst green meadows, total peace.

    1. One of the memories I brought back with me from this trip was sitting on the back steps of the cottage we rented in Bedfordshire on a Sunday morning-- looking at the woods and fields, watching a deer creep past on the other side of the hedgerow... and listening to all the church bells ringing. As you said, total peace.

      Hopefully within the next month, I'll be sharing another travel tale from the UK, this time about a half-timbered house that I would love to own. I think you'll enjoy the pride the craftsmen took in their work just as much as I did. Somehow I think they knew that what they built would stand for centuries to come, and they wanted everyone to know who was responsible for a work of art.

  10. Yes, beautiful houses, metal work, carvings, all are forms of art.


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