House History

The area before the Estate began

The area on which the Estate was formed has a long history.

Early habitation in the Mersey Basin is believed to date back around 10,000 years. The Warrington area would have been desirable in early times, as it was later, as a crossing point of the Mersey. The land around Grappenhall appears to have been an attractive settling place, perhaps due to its elevation which makes it safe from flooding. Whatever the reasons, Bronze Age artefacts have been found in Grappenhall.

In Roman times Wilderspool was both an important industrial area and, again, a crossing point over the Mersey. The approach road ran through Appleton and Stockton Heath, and at least one Roman coin, dating from AD69-79, has been found near the House site.

Grappenhall features in the Domesday Survey, where it is described as Gropenhale – probably meaning ‘a piece of flat land by the side of a river’. Accurate, if not very romantic!

Medieval farming patterns changed when enclosure came to Grappenhall in 1773, after which the land which formed the Estate was farmed under various ownerships. A Tithe Map of 1828-9 indicates that some of the land which made up the Estate was already owned by Thomas Parr, but other areas were held by different owners including – interestingly – one Jane Harper who owned a section covering some of the present Walled Garden site.

Formation of the House and Estate

The founder of the estate was Thomas Parr. Thomas was born in 1792 into an old-established Lancashire family which had lucrative banking interests in Warrington with which Thomas was associated.

Thomas first married Clare, daughter of the vicar of Wilmslow, in 1825. After a tragically short marriage Clare died in childbirth in 1827, although the daughter survived into adulthood. We can only speculate, but perhaps Thomas threw his energies into forming the Estate around 1830 as a way of, as we would say nowadays, ‘moving on’.

Happily he married again, in 1833, Alice Charlton from Wytheford Hall, Shropshire. Alice had rather better health, and they had eight more children. Thomas was a wealthy man, leaving £500,000 when he died in 1870.

The land which made up the Estate had been farmed in smaller units for many years before the Estate’s formation. Thomas bought the land, including the existing Witherwin Farm and what became Dairy Farm, over a period of some years, until he eventually owned around 150 acres. This is small compared to some of the great Cheshire estates such as the Grosvenor or Tollemache lands near Chester, but large for farming units at the time.

Thomas built his house in a raised location in the centre of the land with views across farmland. A lodge and drives formed an appropriately impressive approach to the house. Formal gardens surrounded the house on three sides and formed an attractive setting with lawns, terraces and a bowling green around the house. Further away to the south and west, areas of parkland formed a backdrop to the gardens, while stables and other buildings were concentrated to the east to keep the other views clear of obstructions.

In creating the parkland it appears that Thomas used many existing features such as individual trees, copses and ponds in the park to enhance the setting of the house. He used the farmland around his house to create a designed parkland landscape which formed a transition from his gardens to the more distant surrounding farmland.

All in all, this must have been a suitably imposing home for a powerful figure in the area.

Many of these landscape features of the park and farmland remain today for us to enjoy. We are therefore benefiting not only from Thomas’s landscape legacy, but from that of earlier generations.

The House and Estate through the 19th century

Unfortunately we only have snapshots of the Estate at certain times when accurate records were made, usually in the form of Ordnance Survey maps, so we cannot be certain of the sequence or precise timing of some developments. However, we can be fairly sure of the Estate’s status through the 19th century due to the influence and wealth of Thomas Parr and his son Joseph.

In 1850, The Mansions of England and Wales described the Estate:

“Grappenhall Heys, the seat of Thomas Parr Esq., magistrate for the counties of Chester and Lancaster, is situated in the Parish of Grappenhall, three miles from Warrington. The house is a handsome, modern building, standing on a gently eminence, commanding a fine view of the surrounding country. It is approached through grounds of considerable extent, beautifully laid out and well wooded”

The second of Thomas’s surviving children (the oldest inherited a Scottish Estate), J. Charlton Parr inherited the Grappenhall Heys Estate in 1870 and lived in it until 1918. Joseph too was a very wealthy man, a prominent figure in Parr’s Bank and Mayor of Warrington in 1901-3.

Joseph did not, as far as we know, make great alterations to the Estate. One of the few changes Joseph made seems to have been the construction of the East Lodge and rerouting of the east drive.

However, he appears to have maintained it to a very high standard. The late 19th century seems to have been the Estate’s heyday, with photographs and accounts from the time showing a comfortable and well-staffed home for Joseph, his wife Jessie and their four children.

It is easy to imagine Joseph, secure in his wealth and position, surrounded by family and servants on his impressive Estate, believing that his legacy would continue for ever.

The end of the good times

Joseph moved out of the House in 1918 and died in the early 1920s in his 80s.

On Joseph’s death the Estate passed to his son, Roger Charlton Parr.

A source in 1939 paints a rather more down-to-earth picture than the 1850s one:

“The Heyes [sic], the seat of Roger Charlton Parr Esq. D.L., J.P., is a mansion pleasantly situated in a park of 150 acres. Roger Charlton Parr Esq. D.L., J.P., is the chief landowner. The soil is light, the subsoil is sand. The chief crops are oats, wheat and potatoes.”

On Roger’s death the estate passed to Major H.C. Parr, who is believed to have been from a different branch of the family with a base in Oxfordshire. The house seems not to have been lived in by the family after 1941 and it appears it was used by the W.R.N.S. for part of the war.

Although details are sketchy, it seems reasonable to assume that the Estate suffered the same pressures of wartime wear-and-tear, post-war austerity, scarce labour and rising costs which led to so many country houses being demolished or sold after the Second World War.

In 1950 several buildings – including the East Lodge and Keeper’s Cottage – were sold, the beginning of a process which ultimately led to the break-up of the Estate. The farms and other structures were also sold around this time to a variety of buyers. The house and formal gardens were finally sold in 1951, for £7,500, to the British Transport Commission.

Finally, after a period as a furniture depository, the House and surrounding land was taken over by the Warrington-Runcorn Development Corporation in 1975. They demolished the house, which was by then in a very dilapidated condition, as well as the stables and other structures.

The life of the Estate was, after 145 years, now at an end.

There are many aspects of the Estate’s history which we would like to know more about. Can you, or someone you know, help us fill in the gaps in our knowledge or correct any errors?

If so, please contact us and we will be delighted to learn more about the history of this fascinating place. Please e-mail us or contact us.