Utkinton Hall and The Dones
Extracted from "Tarporley & Beeston Country", by R.M.Bevan



“Forest de la Mare” (Delamere Forest) was a Royal hunting ground, jealously guarded through harsh and cruel laws introduced by William the Conqueror to ensure that all hunting and game preservation remained vested in the Crown. Miscreants, normally the peasantry, were dealt with severely and anyone caught in the act of poaching faced short shrift on the end of a rope.

The Crown’s representative in the forest and holding almost exclusive powers over life and death was the hereditary Master Forester and Chief Bowbearer, the first of whom was Ralph (Ranulph) de Kingsley who was granted the title in 1123 by the 3rd Earl of Chester. The symbol of his authority was a black horn that came to be known as the “Delamere Horn”.

Through marriage and inheritance, the office of Master Forester passed to Henry Done, of Utkinton, and remained in the Done family for over four-hundred years. Sir John Done (1577-1629), the 19th Master Forester, was actually knighted at Utkinton Hall, in 1617, by King James I following a day’s hunting in the forest. “Arise Sir John – a gentleman very complete in many excellencies of nature, wit and ingenuity.”

The last of the true Dones associated with the Master Forestership was Mary Done who married into the influential Crewe family. Her son, Sir John Crewe, became the 23rd Master Forester. Through the female line the title and estates then passed into the Arden family whose best known son was Richard Pepper Arden, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, who, in 1801, became Baron Alvanley, of Alvanley.

The female line was obviously stronger in the genes of the Master Foresters and thus the title descended through marriage to George Baillie-Hamilton (Lord Binning) the 11th Earl of Haddington, in whose family the Delamere Horn was carried until 1959.

Utkinton Hall, now a rambling farmhouse, dates from the Elizabethan period but is only a quarter of its original size. It was the seat of the Master Forester Dones and at once contained a chapel and a dungeon. It was plundered of its plate and jewels by the Royalists in 1644 and the stained glass and a staircase were removed to Tarporley Rectory in the 18th century. The glass then went to Vale Royal (Whitegate) and is now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow. This view dates from the early 20th century and shows many of the windows blocked.

The Utkinton Hall frontage and the once magnificent tall brick gate-piers were built around 1700 for Sir John Crewe.The photograph here, dating from the early 20th century, shows the North and East sides of the hall.

* Tarporley & Beeston Country, by R.M.Bevan, £9.95, may be obtained direct from the publishers. CLICK HERE to order and view many other Cheshire books.

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