Dunham Massey is an ancient deer park with a Georgian House and formal gardens. Now in the hands of the National Trust there is a long and rich history dating back to the 14th Century. The oldest record of the deer park is in 1362. Dunham Massey is described as a real plantsman’s garden with richly planted borders and majestic trees. The sights and smells change with the seasons and the house provides a glimpse into the past and has a unique dunsocial history.
The original moat surrounding the old manor house partly survives as an ornamental lake and there was possibly a castle before then. Indeed there are the remains of a Norman motte (an artificial mound with a flat top usually for a fort or castle to sit on). The moat still powers a fully working Jacobean mill by means of a water wheel. The original Tudor house built in 1616 was replaced by a Georgian House in the 18th Century as a plain, brick building reflecting the family’s financial circumstances at the time. The present structure was heavily restored in Edwardian years by the architect Compton Hall to create the elegant and attractive, although not showy, house there today.
The park has a number of radiating lines of avenues of trees laid out in the 17th Century. The ancient herd of fallow deer still roam the 250 acre deer park.
The gardens are now reckoned to be amongst the finest in the North West of England. The gardens were developed around this time and include terraces, parterres, and two productive gardens. Subsequently, flowing lawns were added, as was an orangery. Dunham Massey is famous for many old and mature trees and shrubs, herbaceous borders and water plants. Some sections of the garden are French in style.
Dunham Massey has acid soils making it suitable for moisture loving plants. In spring drifts of bluebells can be seen in the shady woods. In summer there are Himalayan blue poppies and in the autumn over 60 varieties of hydrangea provide colour and interest. Purple beech trees planted in the 1790s are still visible near the orangery.
The estate was the seat of the Booth family for generations. Sir Robert Booth was Sheriff of Cheshire in the Mid 15th Century. Successive Earls were heavily involved in the turbulent politics of the 17th Century and were on the side of Parliament during the Civil War. When the second Earl died he left a daughter who married into the Grey Family, who then inherited Dunham Massey. The Grey Family had an unfortunate history. This included Lady Jane Grey who was queen for only 9 days before being deposed and executed. Also, the Princes in the Tower, murdered so they could not succeed to the throne in the 15th Century, were stepsons of Sir John de Grey.
George Booth, the Second Earl of Warrington, was responsible for creating one of the largest country house collections of silver in the 18th Century. The collection of over 1000 pieces of Huguenot silver was dispersed in the 19th Century but partially brought back together in the 1920s and 1930s. Today, approximately one-fifth of the entire collection is now back in the house and is periodically on display to the public.
Legend has it that during one of the many periods of renovation to the house an architect fell to his death from the roof of the hall. Although it was claimed to be an accident, some believe that the fall was due to a quarrel - but this has never been proven. Whatever the truth, it is said that the dead man’s spirit can still be seen wandering about the buildings and grounds.
Since 1976 Dunham Massey is in the hands of the National Trust. There are now 30 rooms open to the public. This includes the library with its crucifix by Grinling Gibbons and the Tudor Long Gallery containing Dunham Massey’s most prized painting Mars, Venus and Cupid with Saturn as Time, by Guerino. A tour of the restored servants quarters provides a glimpse into what life must have been like ‘below stairs’.