Local History

Peckforton Castle

Peckforton Castle viewed from Stannah Nab with Beeston Castle in the background Above: Peckforton Castle viewed from Stannah Nab with Beeston Castle in the background.
Photo: Helen Bate 2003.

Peckforton Castle

Peckforton Castle was designed by Anthony Salvin for John Tollemache, Landowner and politician. The Foundation stone was laid in early 1842 and the castle was completed ten years later at a cost of ?8,000.

John Tollemache

Left: John Tollemache photographed in old age with his grandson Dennis.

Photo: Courtesy of Tollemache family and Ian Dunn.

John Tollemache was the son of Admiral John Richard Delap Halliday, and Elizabeth Stratford, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Aldborough. At the age of 32, he inherited the ancient Cheshire Wilbraham Estates. Three years later he inherited the Tollemache Estate at Helmingham in Suffolk. On 23rd September 1840, he signed an agreement with Lord Mostyn for the purchase of Peckforton and Beeston, at a cost of ?70,000.

Why a Castle?

"The site I have chosen is not adapted for a Tudor or Elizabethan building, therefore, it appears to me, that a castellated house I must have." - John Tollemache Dec. 12th 1843.

It is possible that as well as wanting to build a comfortable family home, well suited to its hill top site, John Tollemache had a practical defensive purpose in mind when he commissioned Peckforton Castle.

There had been widespread Chartist riots in England in 1839. In 1841, riots in the Potteries had to be put down by the 3rd Dragoons and a mob from Staleybridge and Ashton closed mills and marched on Manchester. 10,000 men were reported to have invaded Congleton armed with bludgeons. John Tollemache was an M.P. and a magistrate and would have been a possible target. As it was designed, Peckforton could easily have resisted the attacks of any 19th century mob.

The Lady Tollemaches & their children

John Tollemache was married twice, and fathered 12 surviving children. His first wife was Georgiana Louisa, daughter of Thomas Best. They married in 1825 when John Tollemache was just 20 years old. After 21 years of marriage Georgiana died leaving two young sons, Wilbraham aged 14 and Lionel who was only 8 years old.

Four years later, at the age of 45 John Tollemache married again. His second wife was 'Minnie' Eliza Georgiana, daughter of James Duff. Like many women of the time, Minnie gave birth to a succession of children. Of these, nine boys and one girl survived; John, Hamilton, Murray, Stanhope, Duff, Douglas, Stratford, Ranulph, Mortimer and Rhona. Peckforton Castle must have been a lively place when all the family were in residence. This second marriage lasted 40 years until John Tollemache's death in 1890. Minnie lived on for another 28 years.

John Tollemache's son Lionel gave us an indication of his father's character when he wrote:

"It is important to mention that my father became his own master when very young. He is well known to have been a model landlord, and as such he lived much on his estate. This was of course an excellent thing, but it had the drawback of accustoming him to be surrounded by his dependants and to be, as the phrase is "cock of the walk."

Lady Lynette Tollemache, was the wife of Bentley who succeeded to the Estate in 1904.

Death of Lady Lynette Tollemache in 1926, aged 47
Extract from the Observor 2nd May 1926.

Lady Tollemache, since her marriage in 1902 (to Bentley Tollemache) had spent most of her life at Peckforton Castle, and during that time she did an immense amount of good work, most of which is likely to remain untold? She was a kind friend to the sick and needy over a wide area .. from November 1914 onwards to the end of the war Lady Tollemache did magnificent service. Peckforton Castle was converted into a war hospital under her charge. Herself a capable masseuse, she devoted hours to relieving pain and suffering among the soldier patients ... Lady Tollemache was an enthusiastic worker in nursing in times of peace and for many years she was president of the Bunbury Nursing Association.

On many occasions she played her cello on various platforms in aid of worthy charitable causes. She gave numerous recitals in Bunbury Church and every time she played her selections were a delight. She was an accomplished and gifted performer.

She bestowed much care upon the children of Beeston and Peckforton Schools, whom she delighted at Christmas time holding tea parties and Christmas trees for their enjoyment."

Improving the Estate

John Tollemache was a firm believer in providing well for his tenants and workers. By 1881 he had built 58 new farmhouses and about 270 cottages in Cheshire alone. His attitude to his farm workers was described in the 1885 pamplet 'Three Acres and a Cow' by Frederick Impey:

"Nearly three hundred labourers have the opportunity of hiring three acres of land each adjoining their cottages, and of keeping a cow and other stock. ..every plot is provided with a suitable cow house, calfpen, and pigstyes...The houses and families of the men are, as would be expected under these circumstances, very comfortable-looking and well- to-do."

John Tollemache died aged 85, at Peckforton Castle on Tuesday 9th December 1890.

The previous Thursday he had set out in an open carriage to give advice and help to one of his tenants, who was ill. After traveling 20 miles in a bitter east wind and a damp fog, he took to his bed feeling severely chilled. He died five days later. One of the obituaries written after his passing commented:

"..he has shown how one great, good man, highly placed, can better and shape the life of thousands."

The Castle Gardens

The Castle Gardens Left: Photo of the Castle Gardens in the 1940's.
Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Moynihan.

During the 19th and 20th centuries the Castle gardens provided the Castle with all manner of fruit and vegetables

The Castle had no formal gardens but was surrounded by newly planted woodland.

Bracken from this woodland was harvested for use as bedding for the horses in the Castle Stables. This practice is believed to have ended in 1939.

The kitchen gardens were at the bottom of the long Castle drive and boasted vegetable gardens, an orchard, extensive glass houses and a large orangery where all manner of fruit was grown. In its heyday seventeen gardeners were employed in its upkeep. One of the gardeners was James Lawie.

Story of James Lawie, Head Gardener at Peckforton Castle By his Granddaughter, Kathleen Golder.

James Alexander Lawie was born in the Highlands of Scotland on Feb. 10th 1859. He was the illegitimate son of the Earl of Stair. When James Lawie was a teenager he started his apprenticeship as a gardener. His first few years were spent at Lowther Castle. He worked for a time in Lancashire and married Mary Alice Barnes. They had two daughters, Annie and Barbara. James Lawie was close to the banks of the Tay in Scotland on the very night that the bridge collapsed with the train on it, and he well remembered on this stormy night, actually seeing the train plunge into the Tay.

I think he went to Peckforton Castle about 1914 or 1915. His wife had died before he went to Peckforton. I think that he retired quite late in his life, maybe in the late thirties.

He was a kind gentleman and much liked by his neighbours and workers. He went up to the Castle almost daily with his basket lined with a rhubarb leaf, and the vegetables and fruit carefully arranged. He would stay and have tea with Mrs MacDonald, the Castle cook, and have a chat with her. My brothers, my two cousins and I very frequently accompanied Grandpa Lawie to the Castle, and often received a little treat from Mrs MacDonald.

About 1915 or 1916 James Lawie fell off his bike and broke his leg. I think that her ladyship must have been sympathetic to him, and she used to come down to the gardener's cottage and massage his leg regularly. This information was handed down by his daughters. Peter Richardson, his grandson, was born in 1917. He remembers quite clearly both his Lordship and his Ladyship going down to the Mere for a swim in the summer time, and he remembers them skating when it was frozen.

On a Friday evening, James Lawie used to walk to Stanner's Nob where he enjoyed his 'wee hoot with a glass of beer'. Peter Richardson remembers the time when James Lawie used to pack the very best of the fruit in cotton wool and send these boxes by train to London. Some mornings Lord Tollemache used to visit the gardens and was shown around by James Lawie. His grandchildren would then be hiding under thick bushes so as not to be seen.

It may have been during the first world war that Lord Tollemache had the idea to build a banana glass house at the top of the steps in the garden, and for a time he did grow bananas. James Lawie died on the 27th Feb. 1947.

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