The Hall was saved in 1969 when Bill Cash – then a 30 year old lawyer in London with a young family – noticed Upton Cressett on the endangered buildings list of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). Bill and his wife Biddy drove up to Shropshire to look at the romantic sounding Elizabethan manor.
When they arrived they found the Hall was a ruin with farm animals in the entrance hall along with farm machinery. There were no locks on any of the doors: once you had battled through the overgrowth and brambles, you just walked in.
But despite the wild pigs, out-of-control ivy, broken windows, and a large tree growing up the staircase of The Gatehouse, Bill and Biddy Cash immediately fell in love with Upton Cressett. Renovation work began in 1971. In the preface to his history of the Cressett family, Bill Cash recalls that sultry and muggy day in August 1969 that he and Biddy first glimpsed the Hall, after driving up from Somerset in their old white Citroen Safari:
The atmosphere was magical, heavy with the humming of bees. We walked, with mounting excitement, through high grass surrounding the ancient, derelict buildings with tumbled down chimneys and trees growing through the brickwork, faintly discerning the outline of the moat by the Norman church. The air of romantic dereliction was permeated by a surge of ancient emotions. It has never lost its medieval character.
2016 will mark the 45th anniversary of the Cash family living at Upton Cressett. Sir Bill Cash was elected as Member of Parliament for Stafford in 1984 and is currently MP for Stone, having served as Shadow Attorney General and Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and over 30 years as an MP. Sir Bill is the seventh owner of Upton Cressett to have served as a Member of Parliament and the second to be knighted. The Cressetts provided five Sheriffs of Shropshire from the fifteenth century onwards.
Upton Cressett and the SPAB
Much of the credit for saving Upton Cressett must also go to the efforts of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, especially Lord Euston, who worked for the SPAB in the 1950s and later become its president. Even when the Hall and Gatehouse was used to house farm animals after being abandoned in the 1950s, various conservation groups such as the SPAB were aware of the exceptional architectural interest of the house – and worked hard to try and save the Hall.
In July 1953, Lord Euston (later the Duke of Grafton), visited Upton Cressett Hall on behalf of the SPAB with James Lees-Milne of the National Trust. So moved and intrigued by the romantic ruin they encountered, Lord Euston wrote on several occasions to the then owner, Sir Herbert Smith asking whether SPAB could help with restoration.
‘We were very much impressed with the importance and interest of the Gate House and the house (i.e the Hall) adjoining it, also with the church. Altogether they form one of the most interesting groups of buildings I have ever seen….I feel that Upton Cressett is of national importance and this Society is most anxious to help you over it’ (16th July, 1953, Lord Euston to Sir Herbert Smith, SPAB archives). Click here to view the full letter.
But Smith was unresponsive. He did not live at Upton Cressett and had only inherited the Hall from his father who was a former Kidderminster carpet baron (turned baronet) who had bought the Upton Cressett estate during the 1940s after a great fire in 1937 had destroyed Witley Court, the former grand Worcestershire house he had bought of the Earl of Dudley’s family.
Despite repeated efforts to try and persuade Smith to spend money on repairing the Hall and Gatehouse, the owner refused. Further neglect resulted in the Hall ending up on the SPAB’s endangered property register in the late 1960s by which time the estate had been sold to the Marsh family who lived at Monkhopton.
It was only when Bill and Biddy Cash began renovation in 1970 that the Hall was removed from the SPAB’s ‘Buildings at Risk’ register. Various phases of restoration have continued since 1970-1973 concluding with a major three year refurbishment from 2008 until 2011. After extensive renovation work, Upton Cressett Hall was upgraded to Grade 1 listed designation status by English Heritage in 2012 along with the Gatehouse and the Norman church of St. Michael.
The Hall is now lived in by author and publisher William Cash and his milliner wife, Lady Laura Cash, along with baby Cosima and their two pugs, Thimble and Thistle, and labrador Cressetta.
Restoration Hall Exhibition
Opening in May 2016, a new exhibition with archive photographs dating back to 1907 tells the remarkable story of the restoration of the Hall, Gatehouse and Gardens from 1970-2011. The exhibition hopes to include the John Piper photographs taken at Upton Cressett in 1939, hopefully with some additional images should any be found to exist from the John Piper Archive at The Tate.
A second period of extensive restoration was carried out from 2008-2011 by the current owner William Cash, son of Sir Bill and Lady Cash. For a detailed account of this second period of restoration, see the notes below, along with the various articles in our press section from such publications as Historic House (the magazine of the Historic Houses Association,), Shropshire Magazine and House & Garden.
The ‘Restoration Hall’ exhibition will also feature original drawings and sketches by Adam Dant in preparation for his extensive mural works at Upton Cressett. There will be a video film interview with Adam Dant talking about his work at Upton Cressett and a section on the new gardens designed by celebrated Shropshire gardeners Dr Katherine Swift (author of The Morville Years) and Lindsay Bousfield.
Lindsay is now in charge of designing the new expanded neo-Elizabethan ‘Dragon Pool Gardens’ that will comprise of around two acres beneath the church that runs down to the old medieval fish ponds. This will lead into a new medieval woodland garden which will run along the stream that runs through the ancient wood.
These new gardens will be a stunning new attraction and will allow visitors to walk around the entire gardens and grounds in a circular nature trail. This new nature path will allow visitors to enjoy the Kitchen Garden, the Moat Walk, the Medieval Wood, The Rose Garden as well as the existing topiary gardens and Gatehouse Garden.
For more information see the Exhibition page.