Ford Green Hall: a snapshot in time

We really enjoyed our visit to Ford Green Hall, a fine example of a timber-framed farmhouse built in 1624 on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent in the county of Staffordshire. Who wouldn’t appreciate such an iconic building, positively dripping with atmosphere, creaking at the seams with nearly 400 years of history? Such places are strangely comforting, aren’t they, islands of calm and stability amidst a raging ocean of rapid change. They seem timeless, as perfect and wonderful as the day they were first conceived all those centuries ago.

Rear view. The half-timbered black and white core of the building dates from 1624. The brick-built extensions to left and right were added about 100 years later.

But look a bit closer and you’ll quickly realise that it ain’t necessarily so.

When approaching Ford Green Hall the visitor’s attention is drawn to the picturesque timber-framed parts, which are plainly very old. And that’s why we’re here, isn’t it, to see some old stuff. We conveniently block out from our minds the fact that to either side of the building’s black-and-white core are two rather more modern and less attractive brick-built extensions.

Front view. The black and white projection towards the right of the hall is a gabled two-storeyed porch, added just a few years after the hall was first built. This extension is early evidence of the building’s dynamic history.

The plain fact is that by the early 18th century Ford Green Hall wasn’t meeting its owner’s needs, so around 1734 he added two new wings. To our modern eyes these wings are somewhat unsightly – perhaps even a little ugly – and serve only to disfigure the majesty of the half-timbered building to which they’ve been attached. Back in the day, however, the owner will have felt very pleased with himself for modernising an inadequate building that appeared to be stuck in the past.

Worse was to follow – from our modern, sentimental perspective – in the years that followed. Half-timbered buildings fell out of fashion to such a degree that the external timbers were covered up altogether, coated in stucco to disguise the hall’s 17th century origins. The name of the game was modernisation: out with the old and in with the new, and if you can’t get rid of the old altogether at least do the decent thing and hide it from view.

The Hall Chamber (first floor) was originally used as a bedroom, and at the time of Hugh Ford’s death in 1712 it contained 3 beds.

In the nineteenth century the long term owners of the hall – the Ford family – moved away, prompting a further decline in its fortunes. Divided first into three and later four cottages, which housed local coal miners, the building’s glory days appeared over until the local council stepped in.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council purchased the hall in 1946 and, following a major restoration – including removal of all the hideous stucco – opened it as a museum in 1952. They furnished is sumptuously, in the style of a 17th-century yeoman farmer’s house.

The Hall (ground floor) was the most important room of the house. Originally much of the cooking would have been carried out over the hearth in this room, and the family would also have eaten their meals here.

When the Council ran into financial difficulties (don’t they all, sooner or later?) in 2011, the museum faced closure. At this point the voluntary sector came to the rescue, with a charitable trust taking over its running. And they’ve done a good job: as far as we could see, when we visited a few weeks ago. Ford Green Hall is thriving once again despite the best efforts of local government and the Covid virus to throw spanners into the works.

This restoration project has done a great job of preserving a historic structure that would otherwise have perished. However it’s important to remember that what exists today doesn’t reflect the vision of the man who commissioned the building in the early 17th century, and gives few hints as to its varied history.

The Parlour (ground floor) was originally used as both principal bedroom and sitting-room.

When we visit Ford Green Hall, or any other historic building that has been restored for its heritage value, we are simply being treated to a snapshot in time. The true history of such places is always much more dynamic and complex than is apparent to the casual observer.

16 comments

  1. Paddy Tobin · October 13

    I was impressed by the fact the local council saw the value of the building and undertook its restoration and upkeep as early as 1952, so soon after WWII when the country was still in quite dire straits financially. However we may view the house now, in the mixture of its various incarnations, it stands to their credit that it is still there for us to visit and enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 13

      Yes, that’s very true, and not – I suspect – at all typical of how most councils were performing at that time. Maybe it was a deliberate, public attempt to demonstrate that “wars may come and go, but Merrie England shall last forever,” a thumbing of the nose at the late and unlamented Herr Hitler. Whatever the precise motivation, someone in Stoke Council showed remarkable sensitivity and foresight, and deserves great credit. I wonder if I can find out more? I’ll look into it. Thank you, Paddy, for your thought-provoking observation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Paddy Tobin · October 13

        Many thanks for being able to visit with you!

        Like

  2. Laurie Graves · October 13

    Glad Ford Green Hall is thriving, despite “the spanners into the works.” (Not a term we use here, but I love it.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · October 13

      I did wonder, when I used that phrase, whether it would be familiar to overseas readers of the post. Plainly not in the USA! πŸ™‚ Prompted by your comment I’ve just asked Professor Google (would you guys say “Principal Google”?) about its origins, and it seems that this form of words may have originated in New Zealand in the early 19th century, when a clumsy youth accidentally dropped a spanner down the world’s first oil well and wrecked chances of a historic and lucrative strike. I don’t know if I really believe this, but it’s one of those tales that most definitely SHOULD be true!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves · October 13

        Absolutely! If that’s story isn’t true, then it should be. I watch a lot of British television, so I was familiar with the term. πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jet Eliot · October 22

    Thanks for taking us to Ford Green Hall, platypus man, very interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Adele Brand · October 31

    It is an attractive building, and I’m glad it survives to tell its stories. Certainly it cannot be easy to decide how to present a building that has seen so many years and varying ambitions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · November 1

      Yes, they’ve done a very good job, By reading the information boards and exercising their imaginations visitors can hopefully understand how the building has changed over time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. tanjabrittonwriter · November 1

    Thank goodness for the Coucil and for private investors for paying for the renovation and upkeep of this impressive building. I find it interesting to learn about its different iterations. I’m sure the original and subsequent owners didn’t have posterity in mind when they made their alterations and I think that’s true for many structures, old or modern.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · November 2

      What you say works at all levels. Our street was only built in the late 1970s, but many of its properties have been changed (sometimes radically) since construction. We knocked out the rear of our own house around 15 years ago to extend it, with no thought to posterity…we just wanted extra living space, and to make our lives a bit more comfortable. Whether future generations will judge that we disfigured the original building or improved upon it I cannot possibly say! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · November 3

        It would be interesting to know how posterity will judge us. Very harshly, I suspect–if posterity will even get a chance (sorry, but the reports from Glasgow are depressing me).

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · November 3

        Me too. Even when something positive does seem to emerge (the end to de-forestation by 2030, for example) I’m left wondering if they’ll carry it through. These people are politicians, after all, and are therefore not known for their integrity. And anyway, as Mrs P points out, what will be left by 2030? Oh fear, I really should stop watching / reading the news, it’s all way too depressing. 😒

        Liked by 1 person

      • tanjabrittonwriter · November 4

        I share your and Mrs. P’s fears and severely limit my diet of news. But ignoring the bad news does not make them go away… 😦

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · November 5

        Yes, true. Although there days when I just want to run away and hide 😒.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s