This is one of favourite weekends of the year – the Heritage Open Days – when all sorts of places with links to the past open their doors for free.
And before you say anything, it isn’t the ‘free’ bit that is the main attraction. It’s just that the weekend is a reminder to visit places those places on your doorstep that you otherwise drive past.
One such little gem is Clayton Hall (above) that I visited yesterday, a place I must have driven past a thousand times and didn’t know existed.
Clayton was once an industrial powerhouse, particularly for the chemical industry, and not the sort of place you would normally think of for a pleasant stroll in the sun and the hall itself is tucked away behind a small, unassuming public park.
But once through the park, you cross a bridge over the now dry moat into an oasis of well lawns and gardens that lead to the magnificent house you see above.
There has been a hall on the site since the 12th century when it was home to the Clayton family, although the oldest surviving part of it now is the black and white timbered section which dates back to the 15th century.
Among those who have owned the hall was Humphrey Chetham who founded the Chetham School in 1653, now Chetham’s School of Music, the largest specialist music school in the UK.
Inside, the hall has been transformed into a Victorian museum and in many ways, this is the most impressive part of its long history.
The hall had fallen into decay and was rescued by local people who set up The Friends of Clayton Park. It is their hard work, creativity and determination that has brought the hall back to life.
And they have achieved it with very little outside financial support. They have had something like £6,000 in grants, but most of what you see is down to their own labour of love.
That is reflected by the state of the house and grounds. There is no vandalism or graffiti which you might expect in a public area in a rough part of town which to me says that it is very much part of the community.
I’m really glad I went and we’re planning some more visits today. It may be late in the day, but check out what is open near you.