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.