Astley Hall contains Tudor, Stuart and Georgian architecture that reflects the times and building tastes of the three families that owned it throughout most of its history. The first part of this grand hall was built sometime after 1576 by the Charnock family, when their original home in nearby Charnock Richard burnt down.
Robert Charnock constructed a typical Tudor timber framed grand house, built around a central courtyard. Much of the building of the Tudor part took place in the reign of Elizabeth I, and with a Protestant queen on the throne it was a difficult time for local Catholics. Some would have worshipped in private and had a priest secretly conduct mass for them. Many old halls in Lancashire would have somewhere to hide a visiting priest. The Stucco room contains a priest hole to the right of the fire place. This is very similar to one found at Speke Hall, and perhaps not coincidently Robert Charnock’s first wife Isobel Norris came from there.
During the Civil War many Catholic families sided with King Charles I, and the Charnocks did likewise. A portrait of a later Robert ‘Captain One-Eye’ Charnock hangs in the hall today. He is said to have lost an eye during the war. The incident occurred during the siege of Lathom House near Ormskirk, while he was defending it against the Parliamentary army. His estates were confiscated for his actions and he had to pay a £260 fine to have them returned to him.
A second connection for Astley Hall and the Civil War in Lancashire is the visit of Oliver Cromwell, but this could just be local folklore. A lot of the older buildings in Lancashire seem to claim that Cromwell slept in them. He was in fact only in Lancashire for a short time before he led the last decisive battle of the Civil War, at Preston. Astley Hall has a Cromwell Room where he supposedly stayed, a Cromwell bed which he slept in (now in the Oak Room), and even an alleged pair of his boots.
Robert (Captain One-Eye) was the last of the male Charnocks, so the house passed to his daughter Margaret. In 1665 she married thirteen year old Richard Brooke who moved with his father to live at Astley. It is the Brooke family that is responsible for changes to the house, and with the austerity of Oliver Cromwell’s rule behind them, and the ‘merry monarch’ King Charles II on the throne, perhaps they wanted a more modern feel. The highly decorated plaster ceilings in the Great Hall and Drawing Room were created then, probably to celebrate the marriage. They consist of a huge amount of decorative plants (‘ornate foliage’) and large cherub like figures (‘cupids’). The shapes were made from wood and leather, fixed to the ceiling and then the plaster would be added over the framework. More plaster work from this period can be seen in the Stucco and Morning rooms. The Brookes also added the present day front of the house, which features large imposing bay windows.
In 1787 the Townley Parker family took over Astley Hall. They had the surrounding parkland landscaped, a walled garden created and a coach house built. They built the east wing of the house, which is the side that overlooks the lake. The outside of this wing was covered in plaster to give it a stone-like appearance. The brickwork of the front of the house was probably also covered over with grey plaster at the same time. The Dining and Inlaid rooms were created, in which different coloured woods are used to produce distinctive panelled patterns. The panels of famous historical figures were added to the Great Hall, harking back to the building’s Tudor past.
In 1922 the final family to own Astley, the Tattons, donated both hall and grounds to the people of Chorley. (The Tattons also were the last owners of nearby Cuerden Hall, which also has an interesting history which we discuss here.) Chorley Corporation converted three of the rooms to an art gallery, and then opened Astley Hall up to the public. The art gallery is still open today, as are most of the many rooms in the hall.
The walled garden has been renovated and replanted and is now open to the public after being out of bounds for years. The Georgian coach house, a huge grade II listed building, now houses a café and exhibition centre that is regularly changed. The most recent addition is a new shop, which has a good range of gifts and books on sale.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2014. This page updated 2023.
Access There is a modest fee to enter the hall.
Wednesday: 10am – 4pm
Thursday: 10am – 4pm
Friday: 10am – 4pm
Saturday: 10am – 1pm
Sunday: 10am – 4pm
Café : Monday to Friday 9.30 am- 4pm. Saturday and Sunday 9.30- 4.30pm.
Parking: There is a free car park in Astley Village, right next to the hall
Astley Park Curiosities, Chorley
Astley Hall Bronze Age Burial Monument
The Evaders Garden. See our description of it on Lancashire at War website here
Just a short drive away Cuerden Hall
On site interpretation inside Astley Hall, Chorley Borough Council
English Heritage Website http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1362068 accessed 19/10/2014
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