A 16th century mansion and garden remains at Biddulph Old Hall
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1014688
Date first listed: 02-Sep-1960
Date of most recent amendment: 01-Aug-1996
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Staffordshire Moorlands (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SJ 89355 60123
Reasons for Designation
Country houses of the late Tudor and early Jacobean period comprise a
distinctive group of buildings which differ in form, function, design and
architectural style from country houses of both earlier and later date. Built
after the dissolution of the monasteries they are the product of a particular
historical period in which a newly-emerged Protestant elite of lawyers,
courtiers, diplomats and other officials, mostly with close contacts at court,
competed with each other to demonstrate wealth, taste and loyalty to the
sovereign, often overstretching themselves financially. Their houses are a
development of the medieval hall with flanking wings and a gatehouse, often
looking inwards onto a courtyard; later examples tend to be built outwards,
typically on a U- or H-plan. The hall was transformed from a reception area to
an entrance vestibule and the long gallery and loggia were introduced. Many
houses were provided with state apartments and extensive lodgings for the
accommodation of royal visitors and their retinues.
Country houses of this period were normally constructed under the supervision
of one master-mason or a succession of masons, often combining a number of
designs drawn up by the master-mason, surveyor or by the employer himself.
Many designs and stylistic details were copied from Continental pattern-books,
particularly those published in the 1560s on French, Italian and Flemish
models; further architectural ideas were later spread by the use of foreign
craftsmen. Symmetry in both plan and elevation was an overriding principle,
often carried to extremes in the Elizabethan architectural `devices' in which
geometric forms were employed to express religious and philosophical ideas.
Elements of Classical architecture were drawn on individually rather than
applied strictly in unified orders. This complex network of influences
resulted in liberal and idiosyncratic combinations of architectural styles
which contrasted with the adoption of the architecture of the Italian
Renaissance, and with it the role of the architect, later in the 17th century.
About 5000 country houses are known to have been standing in 1675; of these
about 1000 are thought to survive, although most have been extensively altered
or rebuilt in subsequent centuries to meet new demands and tastes. Houses
which are uninhabited, and have thus been altered to a lesser degree, are much
rarer. Surviving country houses of the late Tudor and early Jacobean period
stand as an irreplaceable record of an architectural development which was
unique both to England and to a particular period in English history
characterised by a flourishing of artistic invention; they provide an insight
into politics, patronage and economics in the early post-medieval period. All
examples with significant surviving archaeological remains are considered to
be of national importance.
The remains of the 16th century mansion at Biddulph Old Hall stand in good condition and are sufficiently substantial to illustrate the former appearance of this high status residence. The building illustrates fashionable concepts in the domestic architecture of the late 16th century, including the tendency towards symmetry in planning and an increase in the number of windows to allow light into the building. The elaborate, and for its time, up-to-date south entrance clearly reflects the influence of Renaissance ideas on the architecture of this period locally. Buried structural and artefactual evidence for the four building ranges will provide further information on the construction and internal layout of the mansion and for the activities of its inhabitants, whilst paths, surfaces and other features will survive as buried features within the internal courtyard. Surviving earthwork and buried evidence also provides a clear picture of the setting of the house. The gardens to the south of the house will retain archaeological and palaeobotanical evidence for borders, parterres and other elements of their planting and design, thus making an important contribution to our understanding of both this garden and of 16th century gardens in general.
The monument stands in a prominent position above the valley of the Biddulph
Brook, approximately 1.4km to the north of Biddulph. It includes the ruins,
part of which are Listed Grade II*, and the buried remains of a late 16th
century house which was described by the historian Sampson Erdeswick in the
late 16th century as a `statelike and fair new house of stone'. A number of
earthwork features associated with a formal garden, and part of a principal
carriageway to the south, are also included.
The house was built of coursed and dressed sandstone and takes the form of
four ranges around a rectangular inner courtyard with maximum dimensions of
30m north-south and approximately 25m west-east. It was constructed in the
1580s for Francis Biddulph, whose family continued to occupy the house for two
generations. During the Civil War it was garrisoned by the family in support
of the king and came under siege by the Parliamentarians in January 1643, when
the east range was destroyed and the house plundered and fired.
The remaining external elevations of the north, west and south ranges provide
a clear impression of the mansion's original appearance. Even though the
internal walls of all four ranges, together with the external wall of the
eastern range are no longer visible above the ground surface, they will
as buried foundations. The main entrance is an archway through the centre of
the southern elevation flanked by ornamental, tapering pilasters, one of which
retains a plaque inscribed with the date 1580, 1588 or 1589. A window above
the doorway is also flanked by pilasters and topped with an ornamental
pediment of sandstone blocks. Adjacent to the entrance on the north east are
the standing remains of a small chamber which is thought to have been a gate
The two storey southern elevation is symmetrical and, in part, stands to just
below the roof line. There are two- and three-light mullioned windows on the
ground and first floors, either side of the entrance, and at each end of the
elevation are semi-octagonal bay windows of two storeys with mullions and
transoms typical of the late 16th century. Identical bay windows survive
within the west range and it is thought that there were originally further
bays within the north and east ranges to complete the symmetrical design. The
architecture of the west range is otherwise distinctly different from the rest
of the house, however. Its window openings are considerably smaller than
elsewhere and a large fireplace indicates that this range housed the kitchen.
There is a doorway towards the southern end of the west range which is
believed to be an original feature to provide access between the house and the
land to the west and north. The internal, south facing elevation of the north
range retains evidence that it was originally of three storeys, although there
is also evidence that sections of this elevation have been rebuilt in more
recent times. The window openings in the range mirror the position of those
within the south range, although the majority have been blocked up. On the
second floor are the remains of a fireplace and a large, blocked archway which
appears to have provided access between this floor and an octagonal stair-
turret situated in the central part of the range. The stair-turret is
surmounted by an ogee-shaped cap and projects slightly northwards beyond the
external wall of the north range. The eastern end of the north range is
occupied by the house known as Biddulph Old Hall, a mainly 17th century
building which incorporates some late 16th century masonry within its fabric
and has 18th and 19th century alterations and additions. The house is in use
as a dwelling and, together with the external wall of the north range, is
Listed Grade II*. The house itself is excluded from the scheduling but the
western half of the external wall of the north range, 19m in length, which has
not been incorporated within the present Biddulph Old Hall is included in the
scheduling together with the ground beneath the house which will retain buried
features associated with the construction and occupation of the earlier
The main approach to the house was from the south via a carriageway which
enters a levelled, rectangular area, or court, immediately in front of the
house. The carriageway extends southwards from the main entrance to the house
for approximately 250m and an 18m section of this approach, immediately to the
south of the court, is included in the scheduling to preserve the relationship
between these features. The court itself is defined to the west and south west
by an artificial bank some 74m long which would have supported a raised
walkway, and to the east and south east by a level terrace, also originally
carrying a walkway, which has been cut into the hillside. Together, they
define an area of approximately 0.25ha. It is thought that much of the court
was occupied by formal gardens that could be viewed from the raised walkways
which flank either side of the court. The area is now overlain by grass but is
considered to retain buried features, including the surfaces of paths and
archaeological evidence for the arrangement of borders and parterres.
The surfaces of all pathways, the modern walling in the eastern part of the
site and the 17th century Biddulph Old Hall, a Grade II* Listed Building, are
all excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 21636
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Allidge, J T, 'Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club' in The Possessions of Biddulph, (1888), 69-76
Beckett, J H, 'Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club' in Three Old Houses, , Vol. 57, (1923), 91-4
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing