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A Trip to Scarisbrick Hall by Val Hearn
For many years on my way to and from Southport I have driven past the gates that lead to Scarisbrick Hall. All I could see was a long drive at the end of which was a building with a tower. A friend of mine who knows about these things once told me that parts of the present hall, are considered to be some of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture in England and that they had been designed by the architect Augustus Pugin. This made me wish that the hall would open its doors to visitors, but I supposed because it was a school that would be unlikely.
Imagine my delight when the secretary of the history group I belong to announced we had been invited to visit Scarisbrick Hall. On Saturday 10th March we turned right and drove through the grounds to the hall. It was a thrill as we drew into the car park and saw this beautiful building close up for the first time. The 100ft tower which has been a distant landmark stood proud and it was easy to see why it had been Pugin’s inspiration for the Elizabeth Tower, better known as Big Ben, in the Houses of Parliament.
Before the visit I decided to read about the history of Scarisbrick Hall which was the ancestral home of the Scarisbrick family and dates back to the time of King Stephen (1135–1154). Those of you who are Cadfael fans will recognise him as the King who claimed the throne from Matilda, the daughter of Henry I. A little later in 1286 Edward I (known as the Hammer of the Scots) awarded a charter to the monks of Burscough to hold a market in Ormskirk.
The Scarisbrick family lived on the site from 1238 until the house was sold in 1946 to become a training college. Between 1813-1816 Thomas Scarisbrick rebuilt the original timber framed building in stone, also adding North and West wings in a Regency Tudor style. Thomas was succeeded by his brother Charles. Charles Scarisbrick employed the architect Augustus Pugin to make further changes and improvements, which he completed between 1837-1845. Charles Scarisbrick had already employed Pugin in 1836 to design a garden seat and fireplace for the Hall. For Pugin this was his first major commission. After Charles’ death his sister Anne employed Pugin’s son Edward to rebuild the East Wing. Following Anne’s death the estate was inherited by her daughter Eliza, her sole surviving child.
After that it became an independent school called Scarisbrick Hall School. Recently it became the Scarisbrick Hall Trust. Having looked around at the wonderful carvings in the entrance hall we went into the Great Hall. There has been a great deal of recent restorative work here and the fireplace which was installed by Pugin is stunning. However it is not all from the original fabric of the hall. It seems that Pugin gathered carvings and architectural features from different sources many of which are unknown. For example there are two magnificent doors beautifully carved that are believed to have come from a church but the name and location of the church is unknown.
It’s the sort of room that the more you look around the more gems you find and then you look at the ceiling and are astonished again.
After the ground floor we continued our tour up the magnificent staircase carved with beautiful scenes of Scarisbrick and larger figures such as St George slaying the dragon.
On the first floor we saw other rooms that had different architectural styles and reflected the fact that the hall had been influenced by several members of the family.
In Anne’s bedroom Pugin added glass doors in front of the original window allowing the architecture to be appreciated and without spoiling the view but cutting down on the draught. It was noticeable that the room was much warmer when the inner doors were closed, an early example of double glazing.
Along this floor are class rooms with up to date technology while managing to maintain the charm and style of the hall.
There are two libraries which have been refurbished one on the first floor for the older pupils and the other for younger children on the ground floor.
Outside the hall is surrounded by parkland which includes the lake, lawns, shrubberies and trees and the seat built by Pugin for Charles.
The medieval hall is believed to have occupied a moated site, parts of which may survive in the Old Wood 200m north-west of the Hall. There are gothic stables and a building called the gas house which has been used over the years for different purposes. More modern buildings on the site used are for teaching and for the gymnasium.
Scarisbrick village lies on the north-west edge of the park, and Bescar on the north-east. Roads run along three sides of the park boundary, to the west the A570 Ormskirk to Southport road, and to the north and east the B5242 (Bescar Brow Lane and Hall Road) from Scarisbrick to Burscough. To the south the park is bounded by the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.
By the time we finished our tour I was captivated and charmed by the hall. After passing the gates for so long it was delightful to have seen inside at last. There are plans to hold more heritage days which will be open to everyone and I would recommend a visit as there are many more architectural gems to see.
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Photographs supplied by Henry Mullarkey