Christmas at Combermere Marks 23 Years of Restoration

15 December 2015 It was the week before Christmas, and festivities are in full swing at Combermere Abbey, as an eventful year in the abbey’s restoration phase comes to a close.

Plasterers, painters and workmen took a break from their decorating duties to get suitably festive and take stock of how far the abbey has come before it opens it’s newly refurbished doors to the public in April 2016.

Sarah Callander Beckett and her family have been driving the restoration project since she inherited the 900 year-old abbey in 1992. Sarah said: “We’ve been working round the clock this year to get the abbey restored to its former glory and it’s been a labour of love by all involved.

“We’ve had our set-backs, from the terribly wet weather that has delayed the exterior painting project using specialist Keim paints, developed for historic buildings, to unforeseen structural issues with timber framing. However, we’re on track to start our exciting new venture as we look to diversify further to the public with exquisite bridal accommodation, opening in April 2016.

“To mark Christmas, and welcome our holiday guests staying with us, each cottage is decorated, as well as lighting up key trees around the cottages and walled gardens. We even have one cottage still available due to a last minute cancellation. Each cottage has a special Christmas Hampers full of local delicacies – Cheshire cheese, port, and chocolates and the Radio Times! .”

For more information about this historic restoration project, visit


Notes to editors

For more information, contact or call 01244 320677

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 16.42.18

Religious paraphernalia and superstitious finds: historical discoveries at Combermere Abbey

Since commencing the North Wing restoration project in 2014 we’ve made some fascinating discoveries, which have helped to peel back the layers of time at Combermere Abbey. With more than 900 years of history to unravel we’ve discovered a variety of items and pieces of the historical puzzle from a range of eras. From a thirteenth century papal bull to a marker stone inside the walls of the Abbey itself to deliberately concealed household items, we’ve found out some of the Abbey’s most interesting secrets.

One of the oldest and luckiest finds was a Papal bull in perfect condition made of clay which was uncovered by our local metal detecting club by chance as it was buried beneath a piece of lead. Papal bulls were used to seal documents from the Vatican. Pope Innocent IV, who became Pope in 1243 and died in 1254, attached this particular papal bull to a notification sent by Combermere Abbey. We’ve spent many an hour wondering what may have been in that letter to the Abbot…

Another fascinating discovery during the restoration of a shoe and a large horse-shoe, hidden beneath the floorboards, sheds light on the superstitions and fears of the period. It’s likely that both were concealed within the build of the Abbey after it became a private residence as good luck charms. We all know that horse-shoes are commonly associated with good luck, and we’ve since learnt that during this period shoes were believed to both bring about fertility as well as ward off evil spirits. Traditionally it was a woman’s shoe that would have been buried, however we were surprised to find out that it’s actually a man’s shoe dating from the 1780s. Nevertheless it seems it worked a treat still as Richard Cotton, who was the owner at that time, fathered thirteen children!

One of my personal favourite finds is what we call the ‘power stone’ – it’s a marker stone, which indicates the point at which two strong ley lines (hypothetical alignments of a number of places of geographical or historical interest) meet. Again it shines a light on ancient beliefs (some say superstitions!), that these meeting of ley lines created a strong spiritual force. Originally the, marker stone would have been outside the walls of the Abbey itself but the extension of the North Wing must have swallowed it up! So it’s fascinating to think that without this project it would never have been uncovered!

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.

Visit for the full story on the history of Combermere Abbey and the restoration project.

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 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 –

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 for the full story on the history of Combermere Abbey and the restoration project.