The History of Wycoller Hall

Charlotte Bronte Writes Jane Eyre at Wycoller Hall

Wycoller Hall dates back to the end of the 16th century and was built upon the site of a house occupied in 1507 by Piers Hartley. But by the 1590’s a substantial house had been built probably sometime in the mid 16th century. The estate then came into the possession of the Cunliffe family, after the marriage of Pier’s daughter Elizabeth to Nicholas Cunliffe in 1611. They had a number of children, one of which John, married Grace Hartley in 1628.

The Cunliffes settled at Wycoller in the 1720’s after losing their ancestral home to debts. The estate then passed through several brothers, before passing to the grandson of one of the sisters. Henry Owen took the name Cunliffe and became the new squire. He embarked on a large building project for the hall, to create a home that he felt would be worthy of his position and that would attract a new wife.

The building project took over a year to complete during which time Henry moved out and lodged at the nearby public house. The work included the fitting of a new porch, a large range of mullioned windows and the modernisation of the interiors. By the time it was complete Henry had married and the couple moved into the hall to enjoy a new lifestyle.

Henry was however a keen sportsman and gambler and ran up heavy debts. On his death in 1818 the property passed to his nephew Charles Cunliffe Owen, but he could not afford to pay off the debts and the estate was parcelled off to the creditors. The hall passed to a distant relative, John Oldham and then to the Rev. John Roberts Oldham. The latter then arranged for large parts of the stonework to be sold off to build a cotton mill at Trawden.

Despite this much of the hall survived into the late 19th century though it was unoccupied and steadily crumbling, with considerable amounts of the stonework being removed for local buildings. The entire village subsequently passed into the ownership of the local Water Board, but continued to decline. A conservation group, ‘The Friends of Wycoller’ was founded in 1948 and began a campaign to conserve the historic village.

The work on the hall included the restoration of the fireplace in the 1950’s. The entire area was sold to Lancashire County Council, who declared the entire village a conservation area and designated the surrounding 350 acres (1.4 km2) as a Country Park. The ruins of the hall were designated as a scheduled monument and are Grade II listed and an exhibition about the history of the hall, the village and the surrounding area was established in the aisled barn close to the ruins.

The house had a grand two storey porch which was removed in the 1870s and re-erected in Trawden. The porch led into the great hall dominated by a large stone fireplace, the house contained the drawing and sitting rooms, and the bedrooms. Behind the main hall was the kitchens. Beyond the main building of Wycoller Hall was a courtyard with coach-house and stables. Gardens were laid out in Henry Owen Cunliffe’s period of occupancy, as was a cock pit. During the last years of occupancy the house was divided in two and lived in by two different families.

Wycoller Hall is said to be the inspiration for Ferndean Manor in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Charlotte is believed to have spent time staying at Wycoller Hall writing the book Jane Eyre. Parallels have also been drawn with the owner of Ferndean, Mr Rochester’s father and Henry Owen Cunliffe. One of the occupants of the hall, Elizabeth Cunliffe also became Elizabeth Eyre through marriage.

The Brontës lived in the nearby village of Haworth and the family visiting Wycoller on their walks. Wycoller Hall was even used to illustrate the cover of the 1898 edition of Jane Eyre.

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