Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cheshire

A short distance from Chester, in the valley of the Dee, is Eaton Hall, the elaborate palace of the Duke of Westminster and one of the finest seats in England, situated in a park of eight hundred acres that extends to the walls of Chester. This palace has recently been almost entirely rebuilt and modernized, and is now the most spacious and splendid example of Revived Gothic architecture in England. The house contains many works of art—statues by Gibson, paintings by Rubens and others—and is full of the most costly and beautiful decorations and furniture, being essentially one of the show-houses of Britain. In the extensive gardens are a Roman altar found in Chester and a Greek altar brought from Delphi.

At Hawarden Castle, seven miles from Chester, is the home of William E. Gladstone, and in its picturesque park are the ruins of the ancient castle, dating from the time of the Tudors, and from the keep of which there is a fine view of the Valley of the Dee. The ruins of Ewloe Castle, six hundred years old, are not far away, but so buried in foliage that they are difficult to find. Two miles from Chester is Hoole House, formerly Lady Broughton's, famous for its rockwork, a lawn of less than an acre exquisitely planted with clipped yews and other trees being surrounded by a rockery over forty feet high. In the Wirral or Western Cheshire are several attractive villages. At Bidston, west of Birkenhead and on the sea-coast, is the ancient house that was once the home of the unfortunate Earl of Derby, whose execution is mentioned above. Congleton, in Eastern Cheshire, stands on the Dane, in a lovely country, and is a good example of an old English country-town. Its Lion Inn is a fine specimen of the ancient black-and-white gabled hostelrie which novelists love so well to describe. At Nantwich is a curious old house with a heavy octagonal bow-window in the upper story overhanging a smaller lower one, telescope-fashion. The noble tower of Nantwich church rises above, and the building is in excellent preservation.

Nearly in the centre of Cheshire is the stately fortress of Beeston Castle, standing on a sandstone rock rising some three hundred and sixty feet from the flat country. It was built nearly seven hundred years ago by an Earl of Cheshire, then just returned from the Crusades. Standing in an irregular court covering about five acres, its thick walls and deep ditch made it a place of much strength. It was ruined prior to the time of Henry VIII., having been long contended for and finally dismantled in the Wars of the Roses. Being then rebuilt, it became a famous fortress in the Civil Wars, having been seized by the Roundheads, then surprised and taken by the Royalists, alternately besieged and defended afterward, and finally starved into surrender by the Parliamentary troops in 1645. This was King Charles's final struggle, though the castle did not succumb till after eighteen weeks' siege, and its defenders were forced to eat cats and rats to satisfy hunger, and were reduced to only sixty. Beeston Castle was then finally dismantled, and its ruins are now an attraction to the tourist. Lea Hall, an ancient and famous timbered mansion, surrounded by a moat, was situated about six miles from Chester, but the moat alone remains to show where it stood. Here lived Sir Hugh Calveley, one of Froissart's heroes, who was governor of Calais when it was held by the English, and is buried under a sumptuous tomb in the church of the neighboring college of Bunbury, which he founded. His armed effigy surmounts the tomb, and the inscription says he died on St. George's Day, 1394.

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