All posts by dewinter

Artisan crafts, designer interiors and royal connections: An introduction to the Restoration of Combermere Abbey

My family and I are very lucky to be able to call Combermere Abbey home! Set in the Cheshire countryside the place oozes character and history, but it does come with its downfalls – maintenance and upkeep! The North Wing of the Abbey has been uninhabited since the 1950s, and it had become structurally unstable therefore endangering the rest of 900-year old Abbey, so we knew a substantial facelift was in order. After nearly 20 years of planning and preparation we’ve now started peeling back the layers of time with an ambitious restoration project.

Since inheriting the Abbey in 1992, I have ploughed enormous time and energy with the support of my husband Peter, into securing the £2 million required, via an enabling Development Scheme. We’ve now stripped back the North Wing to its medieval and Tudor frame, replaced the old roof, and are planning to add new Gothic cladding to restore this amazing Grade I listed building to its former glory.

Combermere Abbey began life as a Cistercian monastery in 1133. After falling prey to Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell’s dissolution of the monasteries, it was rebuilt as a Tudor mansion and, in the late 1820’s remodelled in the then-popular Gothic style by Sir Stapleton Cotton. It is also proud to boast a plethora of royal and aristocratic connections to the Abbey, being visited by King Charles II and William of Orange; playing host to the friend and colleague of Viscount Combermere, the Duke of Wellington; and rented by the Empress of Austria during hunting season in the 19th Century.

Over the years there have been many changes – from Viscount Combermere’s addition of a Gothic façade and the demolition of crumbling walls to the recent restoration of the Abbey’s Library, which proudly displays the Cotton/Combermere family heraldry. Throughout this latest phase of the Abbey’s development we’ve enlisted the help of specialist craftsmen, including a third generation father and son joinery team as well as artisan craftsmen in lead work and roofing, bringing their expertise and bespoke craftsmanship to the project. I am particularly proud of the Library (once the Abbots Hall) restoration, completed in 2014, which has also given a new lease of life to the building.

Since the project began, a number of exciting discoveries have been uncovered revealing insights into the story of the Abbey and its many residents. From shoes hidden under floorboards (to ward off bad spirits and bring good luck) to papal bulla, the official seal of the Pope, dating from the 1200s, our talented tradesmen are constantly finding new pieces of the Combermere history puzzle.

To complete the newly refurbished wing, designer and personal friend Nina Campbell, will be bringing a touch of elegance with a stylish new look which will transport Combermere into the 21st century yet remain sympathetic to its historical roots. I have also recruited specialist paint producer and architectural historian, Edward Bulmer, to join the North Wing design team. So watch this space for some fabulously luxurious interiors!

I will be revealing more about the latest news on the North Wing restoration every month, follow our monthly blog to find out about historical discoveries, the art of artisan craftsmanship in the modern world and grand interior designs.

Visit http://www.combermere-restoration.co.uk/ for the full story on the history of Combermere Abbey and the restoration project.

Researching, recording and documenting: Unlocking the history of the Abbey

Whilst my main aim is to restore the North Wing to its former glory the various discoveries of artefacts and historical parts of the building have been undeniably intriguing, which has also led me to explore the history of the abbey even further by employing an archivist to delve into the depths of Combermere’s ancestry and tales.

Steven Myatt, a keen biker and classic car restorer, who has undertaken many research tasks throughout his working life as a features writer, magazine publisher and most recently, novelist, has undertaken a series of research tasks for me and has been expertly documenting discoveries and the restoration programme on the Abbey’s dedicated online blog which recently, has been re-developed and re-launched as an interactive timetable – http://www.combermere-restoration.co.uk/

This project has offered us a wonderful and unique opportunity to actually uncover and record the early archaeological history of the house and to set it in its proper social context both locally and nationally.

My family did not acquire any records and archives generally found in old historic houses, and with such a long and diverse tale to tell it was an opportunity not to be missed. Hopefully it will be centuries before the building will be exposed again and her secrets revealed again. It has been like the discovery of a treasure trove!

By creating an on-line presence, anyone has been able to access it as the discoveries have taken place, and it will be there into the future. It has allowed the public and our existing fans to follow the restoration story while the house is shut.

Steven has been the perfect partner in this part of the journey as his talents as a researcher and a writer have created a wonderful tapestry of its history and those who lived here as well as those who have brought their talents to restore it.

With the restoration well underway, we’ve been focusing work on the North Wing, with additional exploration of the art, the house’s genealogy and literature in The Library, and creating a whole catalogue of restoration activities documenting the talents of the local craftsmen and artisans involved.

A lot of the history of the Abbey has never been documented or placed in its historical context. Since the current incumbent, who inherited the Abbey in the 1990s, has undertaken this mammoth task, pieces of the jigsaw are coming together.

For example, thanks to the restoration we discovered an eighteenth century map of the estate and using that we have been able to deduce a lot of new information about the house and its surroundings before and during the eighteenth century.

Each day there is a new find, and it’s always surprising to see what the tradesmen working on the project find it’s also fascinating to think that without this project it would never have been uncovered!

For stories around the restoration, the fantastic history of the building as well as highlight long hidden features revealed along the way, and profiling some of the trades and people involved – including our researcher and resident archivist, Steven Myatt.

Visit http://www.combermere-restoration.co.uk/ for the full story on the history of Combermere Abbey and the restoration project.

Nina Campbell Announces Involvement in the Restoration of Historic Combermere Abbey’s North Wing

British interior designer Nina Campbell is pleased to announce her involvement in the exciting North Wing restoration project at Combermere Abbey.

Combermere Abbey is a former monastery, later a country house, on the Cheshire/Shropshire borders. The 18-month restoration project costing £2 million will restore the historic North Wing of the Abbey. Uninhabited since the early 1950s, beneath the North Wing’s gothic exterior cladding, the building had become structurally unstable, seriously endangering the rest of Combermere Abbey – one of only a few privately owned Grade I listed buildings.

Owned by Sarah Callander Beckett, work on restoring the Abbey has already begun and involves stripping the 900-year-old building back to the original medieval and Tudor frame before restoring it back to its beautiful gothic exterior.

Nina Campbell has been longstanding friends with Sarah Callander Beckett since they met in New York in the early 1980s. When Sarah originally took on Combermere Abbey Nina was invited to collaborate and design the interiors of Crossley cottage, one of the Combermere‘s holiday cottages. Collaborating with Sarah once again on this exciting and major restoration project, Nina will design the interiors of the North Wing when fully restored.