Trustees of an historic hall are celebrating after 30 years of painstaking restoration. Justine Halifax reports.
Middleton Hall is a wonderful example of a fine English gentleman’s residence, where centuries of history can be found on the same site.
Yet the Grade II listed building in Tamworth is a far cry from the “wreck” it was 30 years ago.
After falling into disrepair, it was targeted by vandals, stripped of anything of value by thieves, and the magnificent centrepiece staircase in the Great Hall even used by scrambler bikes for riding practice.
The story of the fight to return it to its former glory is nothing short of amazing, some even describe it as “a miracle”, and it’s an inspirational one of determination and unfaltered dedication.
While about a quarter of a million pounds, including several grants, has been spent on renovating it over the last three decades, the hundreds of thousands of man hours given for free by volunteers would have been worth millions of pounds. Set in 40 acres of conservation parkland, after being in the hands of the Willughby family for 500 years, Middleton Hall was sold to a gravel extraction company in 1966 and fell into disrepair.
After putting a roof over the heads of Queen Elizabeth I, former Tamworth MP John Peel, Sir Robert Peel’s cousin, and John Ray, one of the first great naturalists, monogram pictures taken in 1977 show the hall’s rooms reduced to rubble and littered with holes.
Trustee 72-year-old Nigel Morris, a volunteer at the hall for five years, says: “In some rooms you could stand on the ground floor and look up and see the clouds rolling past.
“I remember visiting the hall 25 years ago and walking over rubble on the floor of the Great Hall, it was a complete wreck.”
And that’s just what North Warwickshire Borough Council and Staffordshire County Council thought too, concluding that it was both beyond repair and “beyond the authority’s purse” to restore.
A letter dated July 6, 1977, from a borough council planning officer to Warwickshire’s branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England – one of two groups which fought to save the building (the other was Tamworth’s Civic Society) – states that: “The building has suffered seriously from neglect due to both exposure to the elements and lack of occupation.
“Parts of the building are structurally dangerous and complete restoration to its former glory would be prohibitively expensive as the property is now dilapidated and in a ruinous condition. Both the county planning officer and I are agreed that the main building is now beyond economic repair.”
But a 30-strong group of people decided otherwise and founded Middleton Hall Trust in 1980.
Since then 500 volunteers, including teachers, councillors, businessmen, carpenters, blacksmiths and tool makers, have played a part in restoring the hall, listed as a settlement in the Domesday Book of 1086.
The jewel in its crown is a beautiful Jettied building whose impressive frontage was found hidden behind a cosmetic facade added during its time as a family home. In May, the last and oldest piece of the main buildings was refurbished, a 13th century stone building, marking the end of this remarkable labour of love.
Retired managing director Nigel, of Amington, Tamworth, says: “The trust believed Middleton Hall was not a lost cause. It regarded Middleton Hall as so important because it represents so many stages of domestic architecture, as the building has Norman, Medieval, Tudor and Georgian parts.
“It’s this charm and interest which has encouraged so many people to bring it back to life.”
He adds: “The dedication of the volunteers is nothing short of extraordinary. What they have done here is amazing.’’
* For more information visit www.middleton-hall.org.uk