BEFORE AND AFTER
After the private school’s closure due to insufficient pupils in 1986 the buildings were left unoccupied, and the grounds untended. The hall and its outbuilding began to decline rapidly.
In 1989 a company named Lawton Leisure Ltd submitted plans to convert the hall into a hotel with leisure facilities including a conference centre, squash courts and a swimming pool. Even though the plan was approved by Congleton Borough Council in April 1990 and English Heritage offered financial assistance, the scheme was never implemented as the Lawton family were unwilling to sell the freehold, wishing only to grant a lease. Later that year, The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England became very concerned and produced a detailed report on the hall, stating “the house was empty and in poor and deteriorating condition”. Even at that point, they could only survey and record the ground floor as it was unsafe to climb what was left of the upper floors.
In December 1991, a development company called United World Entertainments based in the Isle of Man purchased a lease for 150 years. However, no development planes were ever submitted by this company.
By 1993 the hall fabric was in a terrible state. The Jacobean fireplaces had been stolen along with much of the lead from the roof and other internal fittings. There was short term interest by G. and J Seddons in a scheme to build houses, however the collapse of part of the hall structure added urgency to any possible proposals and the increased cost of restoration ended Seddon’s interest.
In December 1993, Congleton Borough Council served a repair notice on United World Entertainment who still owned the lease, but this was ignored. The council by this time were considering the possibility of a compulsory purchase.
During 1994, a new ‘would be owner’ of Lawton Hall appeared on the scene in the shape of Robincorp Ltd. In July that year, they managed to fell in excess of 100 mature oak, yew and elm trees until being finally stopped by an emergency tree preservation order issued by the council. The Forestry commission prepared a report on the tree felling for possible prosecution but no action followed due to problems relating to the identity of the owner of the site.
Robincorp Ltd then submitted a planning application in October 1994 to renovate the hall and convert it into 6 houses, providing they could build 50 additional houses in the area between the hall and the church! This application was withdrawn before it was even considered by the planning committee. A year later they applied for planning permission again. The only difference being they reduced the additional houses to 43 but intended to rebuild the stable block into 3 dwellings. After a public consultation, their application was rejected. Robincorp submitted and withdrew various other plans over the subsequent 3-4 years although no renovation took place.
By the end of January 1999, following a structural engineer’s report, which stated that the hall was in such bad repair it was dangerous, and could collapse at any time, Congleton Borough Council sought a demolition order.
Demolition - The only option?
Looking West from the dining room!
Gleesons reconstruction begins!
As it was a listed building, consent had to be granted by the Secretary of State for the Environment (John Prescott).
At the beginning of July it was announced that the Secretary of state had ”after due consideration” decided to hold a public enquiry to consider the application to demolish the hall. It was at this point that an organisation known as The Rural Buildings Preservation Trust appeared on the scene. They stated that they had entered into an agreement to purchase the property from Mr John Lawton (the Squire’s son). They stated that preliminary particulars of the hall had been circulated and that a number of applicants had been identified who were interested in taking a long tern leasehold.
John Lawton issued a statement through his solicitors confirming that he was the owner of Lawton Hall, and that the lease granted to United World Enterprise Ltd had been terminated. By this time, much of the estate, woods, farms etc had been sold off and the remaining estate was approximately 20 acres including 9 acres of lake!
Finally, after 15 years of uncertainty, in late 1999, Gleeson Homes took on the lease and provided practical development plans to renovate the hall and remaining estate. Plans were approved in late 2000. Work began in earnest from 2001 and completed in 2004.