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Ask Joan
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Joan Leach is a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.

 Dear Joan, I am writing a memoir for my twin seven year old grand-daughters. I am English but have lived in Canada since 1956. My husband was Hungarian. My son, now a professor at a university in England, is married to a Chinese girl from Shanghai. So with that diverse background, she and I decided to record our respective histories for her two daughters. (Both her parents were professors and she has incredible stories of the Cultural Revolution etc.)

My question? Sometime in the early part of the war, perhaps 1940, or 41, when we lived in Manchester, my brother was sent away to a school in Knutsford for his own safety from the bombing as I understand it. I thought the school, which I remember as being a sort of "stately home" - I was maybe four or five - was called Brierton Hall, but I cannot find any reference to this on the Knutsford web site.

I remember it having a huge staircase, which he frequently used to sleepwalk down. And I remember a river or lake in front of it where a horse got stuck in the mud, and had to be hauled out with ropes! My brother died when he was twelve, and my parents are both deceased. Why is it that we wish years later that we had asked more questions!

I would be most intrigued to know if this rings any bells with you. My son and his family are having a wonderful time exploring England's ancient history. Everything, he says, is "just down the road" by Canadian standards, and therefore easy to reach. You search out old castles and cathedrals, whereas in Canada the logistics are quite different - you travel five hours to ski on a particular mountain, for instance. His family is quite mesmerized by the different cultures. And China, where they have also lived, rivals England in history, and Canada in vastness.

Joan answers:

Brereton Hall still stands and is in private hands having survived its days as a boarding school. Nearby is the charming timbered inn The Bear's Head (which takes its name from the crest of the the Brereton family). Due very soon in Cheshire is an invasion of Breretons from all round the world to look up their ancestors!!? Sir William Brereton was a Cromwellian general who lived at Handforth Hall.

The following was taking from the April 1939 copy of Country Life Magazine

Brereton Hall Cheshire

Brereton Hall Cheshire