HS2 and Dunham Massey

Dominic Cole, Landscape Architect, continues his series looking at the special places affected by phase two of HS2 by examining the history of Dunham Massey and what the impacts of HS2 might be here.

Why it’s special

Dunham Massey Hall and Park sit at the heart of an estate of some 1,200 hectares on the edge of the Manchester conurbation with Altrincham immediately on its doorstep. It is essentially an eighteenth century composition but has elements and stories that date much earlier. The wider estate is agricultural, comprising 18 working farms and including 104 houses and cottages. The Manor of Dunham is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086.

The medieval estate was given to a French family in recognition for their part fighting at the Battle of Hastings – the De Masci family being the origin of the name Massey.  Masci is a village near Mont Saint Michel in Normandy. Cheshire was the last county in England to fall to the Norman invaders who used the Roman Road to cross the Pennines from York to Chester, passing along the edge of Dunham Park. William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy awarded, Dunham to Hamo de Masci along with land in North Wales, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Wiltshire. Hamo established three castles, one of which survives in archaeology at Dunham. The De Masci line ended in 1409 when the Booth family inherited and the estate remained in the family until 1976 when it was given to the National Trust. The water mill is first recorded mid 1300’s and there is other evidence of a busy, working, rural medieval estate – the early history is well documented.

The North Front viewed across the moat at Dunham Massey. Early morning. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

The North Front viewed across the moat at Dunham Massey. Early morning. ©National Trust Images/Nick Meers

The designed park and hall we see today originate in the 17th century and are mainly an eighteenth and early nineteenth century imprint. The Hall of 1616 was built on the moated site of the old Manor and was a magnificent Jacobean red brick building with corner turrets and is recorded on a panoramic aerial landscape painting dated 1696 by Adrian van Diest. The park today holds the largest concentration of veteran trees in the north west of England, many of which date from this phase of improvement. The formal gardens included a productive fruit and vegetable garden and a formal snail shaped mount with a summer house on the top and a Dutch style drawbridge over the moat.

The house was remodelled in 1723 (mostly what is seen today) and the park included five avenues radiating from the west front (the Patte D’Oie or goose foot pattern), focussing on distant church towers, outside the Park, or features within. A two mile long brick wall was built around the park to enclose the deer and this incorporated deer leaps (allowing deer to jump in to the park but not out) and two ‘Claire Voies’ – literally clear views, which were ornate metalwork screens that allowed a view to pass through the wall and beyond. Other features refer to the enjoyment of the surrounding countryside (the landscape context of the designed park) such as the eighteenth century stone seat that looks out to the south, across the Bollin valley. The house and park are recorded again in four magnificent panoramic views painted by John Harris the Younger in 1751 that give intricate detail of how the designed landscape worked in the mid eighteenth century. These hang in the Hall. In the formal front court is a sundial borne by a ‘black slave’ – this was a popular motif, first commissioned by King William III from sculptor John Nost  c. 1710 for his Privy garden at Hampton Court.  At that time the money being made from the slave trade was celebrated, but by the late eighteenth century the abolition of the slave trade gained momentum and “The Kneeling Slave” or “Blackamoor” came to symbolise freedom. There are examples elsewhere, including Wentworth Castle in Yorkshire.

From Hamo de Masci up until the twentieth century there are lively stories of the family and their antics. “Old George”, made a Baronet by James I, married heiresses to secure the family fortunes and when he died aged 80 left an extensive estate with lands, money and an hereditary title. Another Booth, the family being Low Church, initially supported Cromwell’s protectorate Parliament, but later became disillusioned and called for the restoration of the monarchy – (the Booth Rebellion) and was rewarded with a title: Lord Delamere. Booth disapproved of the frivolity of the Restoration Court and innovations of Charles I and Archbishop Laud. In the late eighteenth century a family member emigrated to America and founded academies which educated, among others, members of the Washington family. In the nineteenth century the 7th Earl of Stamford’s first wife, Bessy Billage, was the daughter of his college servant at Cambridge. She died young and he then married Kitty Cocks, a circus equestrienne, whose brother had committed grievous bodily harm – although pretty and intelligent she was shunned by Cheshire society. The 8th Earl was a missionary Bishop in South Africa who married his African housekeeper.

The collection inside the house is diverse and extensive – when something became outmoded it was not thrown away, but put into store. There are good paintings, the National Trusts best collection of silver, an early carving by the well-known wood carver Grinling Gibbons  and what is considered to be one of the best State Beds in the country.

The Old Park with its veteran trees is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its deadwood habitat which supports a range of Deadwood invertebrate fauna, including worms, snails, centipedes, wood lice, pseudoscorpions, spiders, beetles, and social insects; which, in turn, provide rich pickings for many birds and bats.

The garden continues to evolve and is best known now as a ‘plantsmans’ garden – the most recent innovation being the Winter Garden.

The designed landscape at Dunham Massey has a solid feeling of time and antiquity and is an important green lung on the edge of the built up areas beside it. The farmed estate, mainly to the west provides a rural setting of equal antiquity – remaining largely unaffected by the industrial revolution.

Grandparents and grandchild in the park at Dunham Massey watching the birds and deer.  ©National Trust Images/Chris King

Grandparents and grandchild in the park at Dunham Massey watching the birds and deer. ©National Trust Images/Chris King

The impact of HS2

The integrity of this important estate lies in its completeness and unchanged character in this peri-urban context. The route of HS2 would have little impact on the designed core but would have significant impact on the agricultural landscape to the west. The route crosses over the eighteenth century Bridgewater canal (a popular walking route) and, where it rises to cross the Manchester Ship Canal, would be visible from a great distance. There would be potentially significant disturbance to the agricultural community and local roads during construction.


One thought on “HS2 and Dunham Massey

  1. Nice piece of research….the early part re KingWilliam and Hamo de Masci, is it all documented fact or simply copied fro other articles on the internet? I wen to DM today and mentioned this, the guide had not heard of it and upon looking at her book I was shown the first evidence was the 1400’s….

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