|Cranage Hall, North elevation||The entrance to Cranage Hall|
Cranage Manor and hall have a chequered history compared to some of the local estates, which remained with the same family for several centuries. The best single source of information on the area is A Journey through Time: Holmes Chapel, Cotton and Cranage, by Annabel Capewell, Rosemary Dear, Patricia Dingle, Rodney Smith, Terry Taylor and Janet Yarwood. It was published in 1996. Much of the following information has been abstracted from this book. There is an excellent website on Armitstead genealogy written by Nigel Watts from which I have taken additional details of dates.
In the 12th century, the Cranage estate was given by Roger de Runchamp to the priory of St. John of Jerusalem. At an early period the manor was vested in the Croxton family and later in a collateral line which assumed the name of Cranage. Alice, the daughter of "William de Crannech", brought a moiety of the estate in marriage to William Nedham, son of Thomas Nedham of Nedham in Derbyshire. Sir Robert Nedham, 5th in descent, purchased the other moiety. The Needhams became Viscounts Kilmorey. In 1756, the manor was purchased from Lord Kilmorey by Thomas Bayley Hall, Esq.
It appears that Cranage Hall was owned separately from the rest of the manor for a time. It was sold by Viscount Kilmorey in 1660 to William Swettenham of Swettenham. The Kilmoreys had been Royalists in the Civil War and sold land after suffering financial losses. In 1678, William Swettenham sold it to the Rev. William Harrison and it passed through three generations of this family until the death of Strethill Harrison, who died 7 April 1801.
Cranage hall was sold in 1814 to the Rev. John Armitstead, incumbent of Goostrey. He had already acquired some land in the Cranage area from his first marriage to Catherine Fenton, daughter and co-heir to John Fenton of Betley in Staffordshire. The estate passed to Lawrence, the only son of John's first wife. At that time the estate comprised Cranage Hall and 165 acres.
The Hermitage (Grid Ref. SJ 766683) like Cranage, was in the hands of the Cranage family followed by the Winningtons and Leadbeaters who sold it to Thomas Hall in 1702. Hall was an iron master and it is thought he rebuilt the Hermitage in about 1707. This estate passed to his nephew, also called Thomas Hall, who became High Sheriff of Cheshire. He died in 1738 to be succeeded by his three year old son, Thomas Bayley Hall. He died aged 83 on 8 September 1828. The estate was to be sold by auction but before this happened Lawrence Armitstead purchased most of the property. This purchase included the Lordship of Cranage, the Hermitage Mansion House and the Swan Inn at Cranage, now Swan Farm, comprising 370 acres, about 93 acres of fir plantation at Rudheath, the lordship of Cotton with 334 acres, including Cotton Hall; the lordship of Holmes Chapel, containing about 370 acres with various houses in Holmes Chapel, in total about 1,100 acres for which he paid £55,000 with a further £7000 for standing timber. At this time Cranage Hall is believed to have been a house built in the 17th century incorporating elements of an earlier hall. Lawrence Armitstead had Cranage hall pulled down and built a new house to the design of Lewis Wyatt in 1829. In that the year he married Harriet Vyse Massie, of Coddington, Chester, who was 20 years his junior, and was High Sheriff of Cheshire. He lived at Hermitage at the time of his marriage and while Cranage Hall was being rebuilt.
By the time of the 1841 tithe map, Lawrence Armitstead was said to own 1,131 acres of which 115 were owned jointly with others. In the national Return of Owners of Land, commissioned in 1873, he was said to have 1,620 acres worth a rental of £3,807. The Armitstead family owned the Hermitage for 67 years but Cranage Hall remained in the family until 1920.
Cranage Hall has recently obtained a new lease of life as a sports club and conference centre.
The Armitstead family is atypical of the gentry of East Cheshire in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The Reverend John Armitstead (1st) came from a Yorkshire family and was a clergyman. He purchased land in the Cranage area and shortly before his death in 1814 he bought Cranage Hall. Three of the Armitsteads were clergymen associated with Sandbach continuously from 1828-1941 and also at various times with Holmes Chapel and Goostrey.
John's son Lawrence Armitstead (2nd) succeeded his father and purchased Cranage estate, Hermitage and Cotton Hall in 1829. He had two daughters who died unmarried and the estate then went to his eldest nephew, The Reverend John Richard Armitstead.
Lawrence's brother, was the Rev John Armitstead (2nd). Although he never succeeded to the family estate he was the most influential member of the family. The self indulgence of the late Georgian period gave way to the new Victorian age of public service and philanthropy. John Armitstead was vicar of Sandbach from 1828 to 1865. He was responsible for the restoration of St. Mary's at Sandbach employing as the architect the celebrated George Gilbert Scott, famous equally for the Royal Albert Hall and for destroying features of many churches by overzealous restoration. John Armitstead organised the funding and building of churches at Wheelock (1836), Elworth (1845) and Sandbach Heath (1861). The National Church Schools were established by his influence in 1841 and Sandbach Grammar School rebuilt between 1849 and 1850. In addition he built the alms houses in Sandbach.
Rev. John Armitsted
Gatehouse at the Hermitage near Goostrey,
The plaque commemorating Lawrence Armitstead of Cranage is at Goostrey; he died in 1874. The monument to the Rev. John Armitstead shown above is at St Mary's Sandbach, and was designed by G. F. Watts. The inscription reads:
To the glory of God and in remembrance of JOHN ARMITSTEAD MA Vicar of the parish from AD 1828 to AD 1865. During his incumbency, and mainly through his efforts and influence, this, the mother church, was restored and enlarged, three district churches were erected and endowed at Wheelock, Elworth and Sandbach Heath, the Grammar School was rebuilt, and the National Schools were established, the Almshouses were erected with the noble object of giving help to the deserving poor and shelter to decent old age, and provision was made for the wise expenditure of the income of the Sandbach charity estate. A landowner in this parish caused this monument to be raised here as a memorial of long friendship and as a Record of public worth.
A Journey through Time: Holmes Chapel, Cotton and Cranage, by Annabel Capewell, Rosemary Dear, Patricia Dingle, Rodney Smith, Terry Taylor and Janet Yarwood, published by Intec, Goostrey, Cheshire in 1996.
Website on Armitstead genealogy by Nigel Watts.
History of Sandbach and District by Cyril Massey, first published 1958, enlarged edition 1982, reprinted Johnsons, Nantwich 1990. Massey describes the purchases of Lawrence Armitstead in 1829 and claims that he had bought Cranage Hall in 1814 rather than his father, as reported in the sources listed above.
Holmes Chapel Parish Church by Rosemary Scott, Eachus and Son, Sandbach, Cheshire, 1974. (This source has the Rev. John Armitstead, (2nd) educated at Trinity College, Cambridge rather than Trinity College, Oxford)
History of Cheshire by J. H. Hanshall, published in 1823.
A Short Description of St. Mary's Church, Sandbach, by John Minshull, published by the Parochial Church Council, 1974, revised in 1990.
Back to list of families
Introduction to Cheshire Gentry