Relatively little known and nestling as it does in trees at the back of Lytham, Lytham Hall has a rich history. We can forget the seaside resorts which now dominate the coast, Lytham Hall contains all the clues we need to imagine an earlier age.
In medieval times Lancashire was a backwater, difficult to access and a long way from London. Lytham is mentioned in Domesday book (1086) but not Lancashire. This is an area of “moss and sand” with a rich hinterland for growing arable crops. When managed well the moss (peatland) and sand could be fruitful too however and the first to get organised on this were the Benedictine monks of Lytham Priory.. The monastic system improved agriculture all over England and dominated the local economy. Over the years the mossland was drained and the occasional “rages of sand “ were endured.
It is not clear why the 12th century priory was set up – but thought to be connected with the legend that the bones of St Cuthbert rested here on their travels around the north of England to escape the Viking desecrations. Lytham, with its rich fishing grounds and guarding the route inland up the Ribble. was an ancient settlement.
The Clifton family (originally of Clifton, later of Westby) were minor gentry , and typically hampered by a lack of male heirs. However their wealth grew through judicious marriages and inheritance. The dissolution of the monasteries was an opportunity for the gentry class to gain land. Lytham was acquired by Cuthbert Clifton of Westby in 1606 as part of a land swap with his relatives the Molyneux for land on the other side of the Ribble. From then on Lytham became the Cliftons’ home. Cuthbert, whose painting is at the Hall, was knighted in 1617 and built himself a large new house, probably in the ruins of the old priory. Imminent research and archaeology may tell us for sure.
Lancashire was little affected by the C16th Reformation and mostly continued in its old Catholic ways, the Cliftons and their loyal tenants being no exception.
The Cliftons’ retention of the old religion led them to support the King in the Civil War, James II at the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and the Jacobites in 1715. This led to great losses within the family and the tenantry.
For many years the Cliftons steadily built up and improved their property and land but were forced to live quietly. By the second half of the 18th century, however, Catholic emancipation was in sight and society’s attitudes were changing. The time was right to build a new house.
The new Hall
Work had begun on the new Lytham Hall by 1757. Designed by John Carr of York, one of the most prolific architects of the age, it put the Cliftons at the forefront of fashionable living. In his book ‘Lancashire’s Architectural Heritage’ (1988), John Champness rightly says “The finest Georgian house in the County is, beyond question, Lytham Hall”.
Thomas Clifton, who inherited in 1734, wanted a house and garden which would make a strong statement about his wealth and position in the county.
Carr constructed the house of brick, with stone dressings. Its ground floor windows differ from the two upper floors in that they have ‘Gibbs’ surrounds, i.e. every other stone is not carved to shape but left square. The front door has Doric columns and a pediment. The two upper floors are fronted by tall Ionic columns and the windows are smoothly finished. The pediment above them lost its central coat of arms during the 20th century. The reason for this difference of emphasis on the floors of the Hall is that its design reflects a transitional stage. Palladian houses had their state rooms on the first floor (called the ‘piano nobile’). The ground floor, called the ‘rustick’, was for everyday family and servants’ rooms and could not normally be accessed from the front. Grand steps would lead up to the first floor, as at Tabley Hall, another Carr house, in Cheshire. The newer fashion was to have the formal or state rooms on the ground floor, as here, but the design still retains the heavier detailing of the ‘rustick’ on the ground floor. There is a large Venetian stair window at the rear. A billiard room with stained glass was added later, also at the rear.
Inside the Hall there are many very fine features. John Carr personally supervised much of the interior decoration. The centrepiece is the plaster medallion by Guiseppe Cortese, above the grand ‘imperial’ stairwell, depicting Jupiter, creator of the universe, surrounded by thunderclouds. The open pedimented architraves of the doors, Corinthian columns in the stairwell, ornate plaster decoration of the highest quality, fine chimney pieces, on both ground and first floors make this relatively unaltered building a joy to visit. The entrance hall has a stone flagged diamond pattern black and white floor. The dining room contains a mahogany buffet specially made for the Hall by Gillow of Lancaster. Gillows’ accounts record a good many other purchases specifically for the Hall, most of which are lost..
What is left of the old Hall?
No new servants’ quarters were built as the new hall was added to the old, and the old rooms were used as a service wing. This part of the hall, round a rear courtyard, has been dated to the latter part of the 16th century or earlier and could well contain parts of the old priory. There are areas of timber framing infilled with “clat and clay” and delicately moulded ceiling beams. The Long Gallery retains its old oak floorboards and its ghost. It is thought that some of the panelling form the old hall was moved to the top floor of the new house (with another ghost). There is much to be discovered under the modern plasterwork.
The later Cliftons
There is no doubt that the Cliftons were eccentric and great travellers. They had sufficient wealth to enable them to spend time in warmer and often more exciting climes. Colonel John Talbot Clifton became squire in 1851 and died in 1882 in North Africa (see his memorial in Sparrow Park Lytham). His wife Lady Eleanor Cecily took a greater interest in the town than most, including the building of the new parish Church of St Anne.
Colonel Clifton was succeeded by another John Talbot, who rented off the Hall to various industrialists for a number of years. Many of the internal photographs we have of the Hall were taken during this period. He married Violet Beauclerk in 1907 and their son Harry was born later the same year. Three daughters and a further son, Michael, followed. MIchael’s descendants retain an interest in the Hall.
Violet spent time in a convent after the death of her husband in 1928, but returned to live at the Hall for a period in the 1960s.
Henry Talbot de Vere Clifton, known as Harry, died in 1979 having spent his inheritance, but the estate had already passed to his chief creditors, Guardian Assurance, in 1963. They operated the farms, both in Lytham and Scotland, and used the Hall as offices and for entertaining (including shooting at first). There was limited public access and many local people were not aware of Lytham Hall’s existence.
Acquisition for the community
GRE put the Hall and 78 acres of parkland up for sale in 1996. The Friends of Lytham Hall were in the forefront of attempts to raise money to buy it for the community, and to save it from commercial or domestic development. At the eleventh hour, British Aerospace (Bae Systems) stepped in with a donation to cover the near £1 million asking price and the Hall passed to Lytham Town Trust amid great jubilation. It is now operated by the Heritage Trust for the North West.
The Home Farm was auctioned a little later in 1996 and has become separated from the Hall estate. It contains the remains of the kitchen garden.
Lytham Hall Parkland
Around the Hall are a number of listed structures, and the parkland itself is registered with English Heritage.
Main Lodge and Entrance Gates
The main gatehouse and entrance were moved here in 1863 when the rail link to Blackpool was put in. It is debatable how much of the present structure would have been found on the old site in Hastings Place. The style is Italianate and symmetrical, and the arch is surmounted by the Clifton arms. The wrought iron gates are nearly the full height of the archway.
The lodge accommodation is on both sides of the gates, with doorways onto the drive, sleeping on the left, living and cooking on the right. At the rear is a privy and a sliding sash window. It was lived in up to the 1980s.
Railings and gateway across the drive approximately 250 metres east of Lytham Hall
Proceeding up the carriage drive, the railings which form the inner boundary to the grounds of the Hall, are listed. They are likely to date to about 1860, are of cast iron, and run on to enclose a coppice of woodland. Just inside them was an inner lodge, replaced by a modern building known by GRE as the ‘Great-grandfather tape store’, where early computer tapes were kept for high security.
Screen wall attached to the south-west rear wing of Lytham Hall with attached cottage & privy
This 150 metre long wall was formerly one side of a walled garden. It incorporates a cottage, and a two seater privy recently repaired after fundraising by the Friends of Lytham Hall. The path by the wall is known as the Monks’ Walk;and it leads towards St Cuthbert’s church and cross.
Four ranges of buildings enclose a rectangular cobble courtyard. There are blocked up windows and doors, some of which pre date the C17th decorative diaper patterned brickwork. Part of this has been damaged by fire. The 18th century wing with stable stalls remains. The Cliftons were keen on horse racing and there are portraits of some of their favourites in the Hall.
Dovecote to north-west of Lytham Hall, Grade II*
Inside are 850 nest boxes and a perfectly balanced revolving ladder .
Conveniently placed not far from the Hall kitchens, these are classic sties with round headed entrances, one with the feeding slot still intact and set in a cobble courtyard..
There are several graves for family dogs, and one for a cat.
The gardens are being restored, including the Mount (or Mound). This is being interpreted as a C18th landscape feature, and the path to the top has been restored. A large metal flagpole flew a flag which would have been visible from the sea. The remains of the C19th icehouse have been found Inside the Mount.