Great Budworth

by Howard Boast

Great Budworth is a delightful village of quaint cottages, attractive houses and winding lanes. It stands on a low hill, commanding splendid views of the tranquil Budworth Mere and Weaver Valley. Until 1948 the village was part of the Arley Hall estate which explains how it has retained its time worn buildings and intimate character. During the 19th century Rowland Egerton-Warburton, one of the estate owners, restored many of the cottages and constructed new ones in a style which blended in with the existing dwellings. Since then, Great Budworth has changed very little and has remained one of Cheshire's most charming villages.

Approaching Great Budworth from the main Warrington to Northwich road, the visitor comes upon the Running Pump at the foot of the hill. Water from this source still trickles into its stone trough. This was the source of drinking water for the whole community until 1934 when a piped supply was first connected. Here village gossips would gather and sweethearts would swear undying love which, according to legend, would “last so long as runs that water from the spout.”

Climbing up towards the centre of the village, the visitor is struck by the varied styles of architecture and well kept gardens of the cottages and houses along this narrow street. On the left hand side is a decorative half timbered black and white cottage on a sandstone base. There is also a terrace of houses with twisted chimneys and tiny leaded windows. On the right hand side is the post office which occupies just one room of a cottage. This is somewhat dwarfed by its chimney stack which spans the building from top to bottom. Old style cast iron street lamps are dotted about the village and the red telephone box has so far survived the ravages of BT's modernisation programme.

Wandering along the pebbled pathways, the sightseer can admire some colourful gardens. Roses clamber round doorways and walls are cloaked in wisteria. In spring and summer, flowers tumble out of window boxes, stone troughs and hanging baskets. At the brow of the hill the visitor reaches the centre of the village. This is dominated by the structure of the red sandstone church. Nearby is the George and Dragon public house and the lychgate where the stocks can still be seen. Here many a miscreant had to pay the price for his wrong doings.
The church sits on a knoll with dwellings clustered around it. There was a church on this site as early as Domesday Book (1087) but the present structure dates from the 14th century. Unusually, its tall tower is lined with battlements and pinnacles, giving it a rather castle like appearance.

Inside the church the splendid archways, beautiful stain glass windows and high vaulted ceiling reflect the skill and devotion of the craftsmen who created them. The ornate wooden image of the Virgin Mary was cut down by order of Elizabeth I, hewn to pieces and burnt in the vicar's oven. However, there are many unusual carvings that still exist inside the church. Mischievous faces peer from unexpected corners with staring eyes and tongues poking out. In days gone by, village life focused on the parish church. There was the ancient rush bearing ceremony and also Budworth Wakes where locals ate 'furmetry', a special porridge made from the new wheat and laced with treacle and cinnamon. However, the event of the year was the 'Soul Cakers Play.' This folk play brought the whole community alive in carnival spirit. It featured St. George, the Black Knight and a Hobby Horse and is still performed in the village every November.

To the left of the church is the narrow lane that gets its name from the 17th century Smithy and adjoining cottage that can still be seen. Some of the cottage walls in this street lean at odd angles. This type of asymmetrical building is often associated with genuine half timbered houses, such as those seen in the Shambles in York.
Running alongside the church is the cobbled School Lane where the Jacobean school house with its tiny windows and wooden gables has survived. This building was both the home and the work place for the school master. Bordering the churchyard is a narrow footpath. Here a practical joker once tried to frighten his friend. He lay down in a newly dug grave, knowing that his acquaintance had to pass that way late at night. As his friend approached he began to moan, “Eh! It is cowd down 'ere.” The passer by looked into the grave and, realising the prank, decided to turn the tables on the mischievous trickster. “I don't wonder th' art cowd,” he said, “they'n none covered thee up” and proceeded to shovel soil over him!

Just over a mile to the south west of Great Budworth is Marbury Country Park. Once the site of Marbury Hall, it is set in 200 acres of splendid parkland, lined with sweeping avenues of lime trees and planted with woods and gardens around the enchanting Budworth Mere. The Smith Barry family once owned the Hall. They used to boat across the Mere to reach the church and village of Great Budworth.

From the hide, on the lake’s southern shore, can be seen many different varieties of bird life. Great crested grebes nest among the reeds at the water's edge. Mallards swim in and out of the water lilies and coots feed by tipping their bodies upright in the water. On the far shore, yachts gracefully tack to and fro, whilst cattle graze peacefully in the fields above the water line. It is a very relaxing scene.

Walking along the tree lined pathway lower down the mere, the visitor can see the ice house. This building was sunk deep into the cool ground at the water's edge. During the winter months it was packed with blocks of ice and insulating layers of straw. In this way food could be preserved during the hottest of summers.

Great Budworth is a fascinating place for the tourist. He or she can potter along the narrow streets, investigate the towering church and admire the intriguing cottages. Later, a drink can be sampled in the warm atmosphere of the local hostelry or a picnic enjoyed at Marbury whilst gazing across the peaceful Budworth Mere. The area also provides some excellent views across the undulating Cheshire countryside. If you are looking for a refreshing and rewarding day out, you should visit Great Budworth.