A Brief History
Combermere Abbey, a complex of medieval and 16th century buildings with extensive Gothic enveloping (of the early 19th century), began as a Cistercian monastery founded in 1133 by Hugh de Malbanc, Lord of Nantwich. It sits overlooking a 143 acre lake and set in gentle rolling parkland filled with ancient oaks on the Cheshire/Shropshire border.
With a history rich with local association, the Abbey was well supported and its lands and holdings reached 22,000 acres at its zenith. Early maps show the extent of its early desmesne and its later development. Records show that monastic life at Combermere for the 22 monks was far from quiet and contemplative and eventually its administration was taken over by the crown.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536, only the Abbot’s Lodge (built in 1503 and now called the Library) remained, which together with twenty-two thousand acres of land were presented to the Cotton family. They created a manor house incorporating the Lodge and became well established in the local county life, owning the estate until 1919. It also survived the tumultuous era of royalists and roundheads. Most notable of the Cottons was Sir Stapleton Cotton, a brilliant general, who fought under Wellington at the Battles of Salamanca and Bharatpore. He was created a peer for his services, becoming Viscount Combermere, and was also Governor General of Barbados and Commander in Chief of Ireland and India. He was married three times and finally died aged 91 in 1865.
Between 1814 and 1820, the house was remodelled in the Gothic style so popular at that time, and to commemorate the Duke of Wellington’s visit in 1820, he built a ballroom for the event (!) and planted an oak tree which is still in the park. In 1837, a large Jacobean style stable block, designed by the Edward Blore to house 36 horses was built. This building is now home to a number of 5* holiday cottages.
Combermere has hosted a number of distinguished visitors including Charles II, William of Orange, Samuel Johnson and Mrs Thrale, and Elizabeth, Empress of Austria, who described the Abbey as “picturesque, wild and romantic”.
By the end of the 19th century the estate was almost bankrupt and put up for sale. The Abbey, Park and 5000 acres did not sell and it was rented to Elizabeth of Austria in 1891 and then to Katherine, Duchess of Westminster, from 1898 until 1919. In 1919, the estate, then five thousand acres, was bought by Sir Kenneth Crossley, Bt., Chairman of the Crossley Car and Crossley Engineering companies in Manchester. In 1992, his great-granddaughter, Sarah Callander Beckett inherited the estate, and now lives in the Abbey with her family and runs the estate. As well as juggling a variety of businesses on the estate, including an organic farm, a solar park, a holiday cottage operation, and a fast-growing weddings and corporate hospitality business, she and her husband Peter have almost completed the restoration of all seven listed buildings, most notably the North Wing of the Abbey itself which will open in April 2016 after a challenging 28 month restoration project and be integrated into the business offering.
For a comprehensive history and record of the recent restoration of the Abbey please click here.