Large and perfectly formed

Mobberley Old Hall, a gloriously preserved Jacobean home in Cheshire, is waiting for a new owner to add that personal touch, says Penny Jackson. Just don't tell any footballers' wives it's for sale...
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The Independent Online

Just after the Second World War the owner of Mobberley Old Hall, a Jacobean manor house, marvelled at how unspoilt it was. Perhaps it was because the people who lived there over the centuries had not been wealthy enough to ruin it through modernisation, mused the then-owner, Elsie Bishop, writing about her Cheshire home in a local periodical.

Just after the Second World War the owner of Mobberley Old Hall, a Jacobean manor house, marvelled at how unspoilt it was. Perhaps it was because the people who lived there over the centuries had not been wealthy enough to ruin it through modernisation, mused the then-owner, Elsie Bishop, writing about her Cheshire home in a local periodical.

Maybe they had only been able to afford to add a little comfort and convenience, she suggested - and thus the Old Hall's character has managed to remain unchanged. But the enchanting 17th-century house that Elsie Bishop had fallen in love with in the 1920s is in need of some more attention. This time, though, sensitivity will have to be combined with rather deeper pockets.

Mobberley Old Hall and its garden and grounds are for sale at a guide price of £2.5 million and it's likely that a new owner will want to make more than a few simple alterations. Although the charm of this almost 400-year-old house is its unique historical air, one bathroom and a rudimentary kitchen fall pretty short of what would be expected in a country home today.

At the moment it is empty and that makes it seem rather sad to Rebecca Fifield, a chartered surveyer with agents Jackson-Stops & Staff. "It is the most wonderful house, a gem," she says.

"You go through the front door, which is heavy oak and studded, into a hall with a large stone fireplace and panelled walls and you immediately get a real feeling of history. Just about nothing has been touched and everywhere has this lovely smell of old wood. Its floorboards creak and it has a feel that only comes with a genuinely old place."

The hall has eight bedrooms, some with the original carved and panelled walls. The main bedroom has a large bay window and, like others, has stone mullion transomed windows with leaded panes. It has a particularly delightful window seat where you can look out over the gardens which are still fabulous, even though they have been neglected, says Rebecca Fifield.

Elsie Bishop had described variety as being one of the great characteristics of the house, with a number of different levels and two doors to most of the rooms. On the first morning a new domestic worker arrived, the household would apparently be hugely amused to hear despairing cries of, "I'm lost, I don't know where I am." But the narrow twisting staircase at the rear of the house couldn't contrast more with the wide oak staircase leading from the entrance hall. It appears that the banisters on this sturdy stair had been taken down at one time and become jumbled because now they form an irregular pattern.

It's this kind of quirk which contributes to the charm of the house which is grade II star listed. This effectively means nothing can be touched without approval , although Rebecca Fifeld says the authorities recognise that modernisation, undertaken sympathetically, is essential. "There is no fitted kitchen, but you do have things like a pantry and the old meat hooks. And the cellars are fantastic," she says.

Among the three large reception rooms - all oak-panelled - on the ground floor, one has particularly fine linenfold panelling by the fireplace, with beautifully inlaid wood above. It is thought that this fireplace had been plastered over for some time and it was only rediscovered at the end of the 19th century.

The fine brickwork and details of its time were not confined to the house itself, which was built in 1612 by Robert Robinson, a successful clothier of Manchester and Yorkshire. Robinson was clearly a man who believed in displaying a taste for quality. Two barns, screened from the main gardens by a wall, were constructed in the same English wall bond brick and with stone cornerwork not normally found in such functional buildings. Inside they have all the original beams and are large enough to become homes in their own right, if permission were granted.

Behind them, through a delightful cobbled courtyard, an L-shaped lake is the only remaining sign that a moat once encircled the house. A large lawn is the main focus of the garden, but like the house itself, it is constantly revealing unexpected corners: a sunken terrace leads to a secret garden and the small lake.

At the approach to Mobberley Old Hall , you pass through brick and dressed stone pillars supporting stone balls - grand enough in the early 1600s but less ostentatious than might be commissioned these days, particularly by the new Cheshire set.

Mobberley, a popular village close to Knutsford and within easy reach of Manchester, is increasingly affluent; the Old Hall certainly may fall into Footballers' Wives territory - but not, I would think, to their tastes.

Elsie Bishop noted that over the years it had been altered simply, that it was the story of "quite ordinary people to whom the ageing house was home and who contributed imperceptibly to its gracious charm". More than 50 years on, that still seems apt.

The selling agent is the Wilmslow branch of Jackson-Stops & Staff: 01625 540340, www.jackson-stops.co.uk

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