Astley Hall, in Chorley Lancashire, is an excellent example of an Elizabethan style mansion. Set in parkland near the town centre it’s now owned by the local town council. It’s free to visit, so while I was over in Chorley on Sunday I went for a walk through the park and decided to pop in to have a look at the house.
The house was built by the local Charnock family around 1575-1600. It looked quite different when it was fist built – a timber-framed house, around a small courtyard. A model on display inside the house suggests how it may have appeared at that time.
The distinctive front with the large mullioned bay windows, together with the long gallery on the top floor, was created when the house was remodelled around 1660.
The remodelled house has a very Elizabethan look to it, even though the changes were made just after the Restoration of Charles II, so the house must have appeared rather old fashioned at the time. Long galleries were popular during the later 16th and early 17th Centuries so to create one in the 1660’s was rather behind the times. But Lancashire during this period, before the Industrial Revolution, was very much a backwater. I suspect the owners had very little knowledge of contemporary fashions in house building and, in any case, were probably a little conservative in their tastes. The large windows that dominate the front of the house must have been intended as a display of wealth.
The front door is flanked by two pairs of rather crudely modelled Ionic columns supporting stone lions
Inside visitors can access a number of rooms which have been set up in period styles – Elizabethan, Tudor, Jacobean and Victorian.
Passing through the front door leads to the grand hall with it’s high ceiling with extremely ornate plasterwork. Many of the mouldings and figures are made of leather and lead which have been covered with plaster
The ceiling is rather over the top and gives a good indication of how the gentry in the sticks tried to impress visitors to their homes.
The panelling around the walls of the hall features full length portraits of notable people from the Elizabethan era, including Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake, Philip II of Spain, Ambrogio Spinola, the explorers Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, and Bajazet and Mohammed II, Sultans of Turkey.
The “Morning Room”, accessed through the door to the left of the Hall, is furnished in the style of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The furniture was dark oak, and gave the room a very dark appearance despite the large bay window. During this time Walnut furniture was fashionable in the South of England, but hadn’t caught on in the North.
On the opposite side of the hall, the Drawing room is furnished in Victorian style. Like the Hall, it has a very ornate plaster ceiling.
With two of the four sides comprising large windows which overlook the ornamental lake, I expect it would be quite a bright room when it was occupied. Today there are blinds drawn across the window to protect the Flemish tapestries which depict the story of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece. Unfortunately, as flash photography was not allowed, my photos have come out rather dark.
The small Library has rather attractive inlaid oak panelled walls
The Dining Room, which overlooks the lake, has a decorated plaster, although it’s much more restrained than those in the Hall and Drawing Room, and inlaid oak panelled walls.
Much of the furniture is 17th Century, with some pieces, including the chairs and sideboard, from the 19th Century.
Moving upstairs to the first floor, two of the rooms have been furnished as bedrooms. The Master bedroom at the front of the house has a very grand Elizabethan oak four poster bed and some impressive pieces of oak furniture. The bed was reputedly slept in by Oliver Cromwell who is supposed to have stayed in the house in 1848 after the Battle of Preston. There’s a pair of boots on display on the ground floor that are alleged to have belonged to him and which he left behind in the house, but this seems rather improbable.
Notice the small pull out bed where a servant would have slept so he or she was ready to attend to their masters’ needs.
The Long Gallery is on the second floor and runs along the entire width of the house.
It was obviously built by the 17th Century equivalent of John Wayne and Company as the floor and walls are rather uneven, to say the least! Long Galleries were used for leisure purposes such as entertaining guests, playing games and even taking exercise during inclement weather. Being in Lancashire which is well known for being rather wet, I guess it was well used.
There’s a pretty magnificent oak shuffleboard table – twenty three feet long with twenty turned legs.
A couple of rooms on the first floor have been converted into art galleries which are used to show work by local artists. There’s also a room with a display on the history of the house and another dedicated to local people who died in the First World War, including members of the Chorley Pals, who formed a company of the well Known Accrington Pals Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment.
All in all the hall is something of a “little gem” and, as the Michelin Guide would say is “worth a diversion”. The park in which it’s set is also very pleasant with a mixture of playing fields, restored walled garden, bowling greens and woodland walks.
The art works displayed in the house are included on the BBC “your paintings” website here.