Our history : It goes together like … The importance of the separateness of Middleton Hall’s buildings
One thing that many people struggle with in regards to the layout of Middleton Hall’s structures is the separateness of the buildings. How can an important stately home be so … unimposing? I get this view. When I was at school we often had classes in a group of separate buildings we called the huts. It did not matter that the huts had double glazing and heating, the very fact that they were separate buildings seemed to denote a lesser status than the imposing grammar school, which was a single structure. However, the concept of a single structure is actually relatively recent.
The separateness of Middleton’s buildings is a testament to the age of the Hall and a legacy from its earliest times. In the 13th century, important manor houses were a collection of buildings. The main reason for this was fire safety. By having lots of separate buildings a fire break was created between the different structures.
By the 15th century, as Middleton Hall evolved, passages were constructed to link the buildings together.
It was not until the 16th century that Middleton began to evolve into a single structure. Surprisingly, this is actually when the concept of a single entity manor house began to develop. To accommodate the new fashion of a single structure, often the previous version was completely demolished and a whole new singular building was constructed in its place. However, Middleton was never fully knocked down. There are bits remaining of most periods of its construction. Things just got tweaked a little. In the 16th century, many of the passages were replaced by a first floor level gallery corridor. We know a lot about this corridor because one section of it survives intact within the north wall of the Great Hall.
It was not until the complete 18th century Georgian makeover that Middleton truly began to look like a single structure. New buildings were jointed between existing structures. However, although a couple of wings were knocked down, yet again most of the changes were cosmetic. Beneath the surface, the original features remained as well as the core separate structures that had existed from the 13th century. Even when rebuilding the South and West Wings in brick, they rebuilt these ranges clearly showing where the end of the earlier buildings had once been. However, from a modern perspective, at this point Middleton did finally look like an imposing important stately home.
We then come to the 20th century. Ironically Middleton does a full circle. John Averill, who purchased Middleton Hall in 1924, knocked down the central buildings. He and his family lived in the West Wing and Great Hall, which could no longer be separate due to the gallery corridor being part of the Great Hall walls. However, he turned the older East Wing buildings into separate cottages. These buildings essentially simply reverted back to their earlier separateness that had just been hidden.
Today, we get a little wet when it rains as we move from building to building! However, as we scurry along, it reminds us that Middleton Hall’s separateness is not something to make it seem a lesser structure, a poor cousin. It is a mark of its antiquity, its survival against all the odds and actually it is the true core of the building of Middleton Hall.
Debbie Jordan, Middleton Hall Trust Volunteer & Historian