Many of England's historic buildings have been lost to neglect and sorry abandonment. Baronial mansions, some hundreds of years old are left to crumble away, and only when they are gone do people realise that their heritage has disappeared forever. In Lancashire, yet another historic building is under threat but local people are determined that Bank Hall of Bretherton won't suffer the same fate.Books & Magazines:
As you turn the corner of Eyes Lane, past the Bretherton Village memorial cross, you may be forgiven for believing you had left this century. Walking on down Carriage Drive, this impression of being in a time-warp grows stronger. For a moment, one can imagine the sound of horses' hooves beckoning the arrival of the Banastre family as they return from the hunt to their ancestral Bank Hall and on a breezy day when the trees croak and leaves rustle, you can't help but look over your shoulder half-expecting to see a ghostly apparition.
There is indeed a certain atmosphere about this place which sends a shiver of anticipation flooding through your veins but as you reach the end of the tree-lined drive, you are met by the sight of the all too familiar 20th century neglect which hurtles you back to the present with overwhelming speed. Bank Hall, almost cloaked by the surrounding greenery of once beautiful gardens stands partially ruined, now but a sad shadow of its former glory. The resplendent clock tower still prevails, though precariously, and much of the building and roof remains with its distinctive chimney pots and Jacobean-style architecture, but each year sees it crumble a little more.
Though dating back to the 13th century, Bank Hall has not been as fortunate as neighbouring Rufford Old Hall and yet in its heyday, this Bretherton mansion was as grand as any other. Set in acres of illustrious countryside, hidden in a quiet copse flanked by the River Douglas on the edge of West Lancashire, the passing traffic on the busy A59 remains totally oblivious to its existence except for a glimpse of its tower peeking over the tree tops in winter.
It was first occupied by the Banastre family who can be traced back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In the 17th century, the hall passed to the Fleetwood family and then on to the Keeks before finally resting with the Lilfords who are the current trustees of the estate today. During World War Two, Bank Hall was used as a hospital camp and played a significant part in the war efforts. Also in this century, it became a popular location for the Hammer House of Horror films. Without a doubt, Bank hall is rich in local history and yet sadly this seems not enough to safeguard its future
Residents of Bretherton, who have previously celebrated the title of "Best Small Village", are only too aware of the hall's abandonment and, together with a growing number of interested people from surrounding areas, have joined forces with the aim of seeing Bank Hall saved and preserved for the benefit of future generations. The Bank Hall Action Group established in the summer of 1995 and a feasibility study was completed in November, 1996, through the Lancashire Heritage Trust which will ascertain what can be done to save the hall, but time is running out. England's unpredictable weather continues to eat away at the structure and funds need to be found to protect the tower and the rest of the building from further damage.
Ideally, the Group would like to see Bank Hall restored to its original eminence and opened to the public but would welcome any one who has the finance and ideas to make the hall grand again. Supporters believe it would make a perfect conference centre, museum, visitor centre or residential home and they would welcome any practical suggestions.
Gordon Johnson, a resident of the village for over forty years and a member of the Bank Hall Action Group, believes it is time that something was done to stop the rot.
He said "It is sickening to see this gracious hall fall to ruin and it's shameful that nothing has been done to halt its demise during the latter part of this century. With support from a commercial enterprise, Bank hall could regain much of its beauty and splendour with sympathetic restoration, and the Action Group are looking forward if the dereliction is allowed to continue.
"We are awaiting to hear about funding applications which will ascertain Bank Hall's future," Gordon continued, "but judging by the accelerated demise, something needs to be done quickly before its too late."
Bretherton Village derives from the word "Brotherton" which is thought to mean joint ownership with reference to Bank Manor and the adjoining lands once held buy the Banastre brothers of the 11th and 12th century. The village also boasts a fine windmill as a reminder of the once thriving corn trade and, perhaps more renowned is Carr House where lodger, Jeremiah Horrocks, recorded the "Transit of Venus" in 1639. This placed Bretherton on the map and into the astronomical history books. You can still get an unprecedented view of the stars as you journey through the village on a clear night.
But, it is Bank hall which takes centre stage and even now, with its fading exterior standing like a ghostly shell of its original splendour, there is still character in the place crying out for attention. And, whether you love old buildings or not, you can't help but be drawn to the hall such is its power of attraction and unequivocal charm.
If you happen to be passing through Bretherton and are fortunate to stumble across Bank Hall, do not be surprised if you feel out of time. Like all old houses, it too has its ghosts, and as you walk along Carriage Drive you can't help but wonder what century you might find yourself in as you turn the corner.
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