Sixty years of Tirley Garth
Explore the idyllic surroundings of a secret treasure

Looking for an interesting day out, then look no further than Tirley Garth, a Cheshire secret treasure,at Utkinton, near Tarporley.

This Edwardian house, built in 1911, is now the home of the Moral Rearmament Movement started by American educationalist Dr. Frank Buchan in the 1920s under the original name of the Oxford Group, an international organisation for the reformation of character of Christian principles. It was Irene Prestwich who provided Tirley Garth.

The Prestwiches were an old Lancashire family, well established in cotton in the days when Manchester was Cottonopolis. When Richard Henry Prestwich reckoned that he had make enough "brass" out of the "muck", and decided to move away from the smoky city to the clean air of Cheshire, he came across Tirley Garth which had just been built by a director of the ICI at Northwich who had to transfer to London before he had time to occupy the place.

Tirley had been designed by C E Mallows, a famous architect of country houses. He gave this one an open courtyard in the centre with an enclosed cloister walk round the sides. The style is that of the Roman atrium with a fountain in the middle. In Anglo-Saxon times the style came to be called a garth, being chiefly applied to the design of monastic buildings.

The site makes use of different levels on the hillside so that the house and its 30 acres of ground including the fabulous central avenue of rhododendrons overlooks the Cheshire plain. The land also slopes on one side down to a stream and the semi-circular rose garden.

When the move was made to these idyllic surroundings, Irene was 28, unmarried, accustomed to a social life in which literary and musical evenings played a large part. Their house in the Broughton district of Manchester had been a centre of much cultural activity. Now, she found herself among the "Cheshire set," the hunting, riding and shooting fraternity whose indoor events were largely confined to bridge evenings.

Although she learned to ride, Irene missed the intellectual stimulation of the Manchester circle. However, in 1914 came the First World War and she and her sister Lois went to North Wales where they spent most of the war working for the YMCA at the army camp.

After the war, feeling at a loss, the two sisters joined their local church and were formally baptised, even though they were now in their thirties. The happening that was to lead to the change in her life came when Irene was invited to attend a conference organised by what was then still called the Oxford Group.

Here she met a new breed of young people of a kind totally surprising to her selfless, dedicated and with a mission in life. She sensed that she had so far only been "passing time away" while these people had a reason for living. Later, she went to Oxford and came under the influence of Frank Buchan himself.

Irene, however, still continued in drift - until 1940 when another war suddenly gave her purpose in life. Government offices and private firms were moving out of London, seeking safe havens in the countryside, and Irene impulsively offered Tirley Garth a Moral Rearmament. Her parents had died and she, as the elder sister, could do as she pleased with the estate.

Furniture and filing cabinets were fitted into the rooms as MR's headquarters staff came in. The gardens were dug over "for victory" and the produce taken daily to the markets at Chester and Liverpool.

Servicemen and women came to Tirley on leave and to enjoy the peace and tranquillity. At last Irene felt that she was doing something worth while. When the war ended she created a trust fund so that Tirley could be used in perpetuity for the work of Moral Rearmament. Today, conferences and seminars are organised for members of the Movement who come from all over the world, to plan their campaigns of spiritual revival. In these surroundings MR mobilises its forces for work in many lands where they are needed.

One weekend may see a meeting of ethnic community leaders with representatives of the police, another weekend can find trade unionists meeting employers, or Moslems discovering a vibrant Christian faith in a land in which they thought religion had died. There is a small staff to look after the house and gardens but otherwise everyone at Tirley is an unpaid volunteer.

Every year when the grounds in their full glory, Tirley opens its gates to the public, so that for a small entrance fee anyone can wander in the grounds, take afternoon tea in the spacious dining room, or watch in the lounge a film showing the history of the house and Irene's part in it.

No one attending need expect to be subjected to moral propaganda. The only sign of MR's presence in a bookstall in the garth at which you can purchase the Movement's literature if you wish. Even the film is concerned with Tirley Garth and the Prestwich family.