I glimpsed a house – a huge place in the distance and immediately knew that was it. I couldn’t believe it. Had we really stumbled on the house that inspired Caledonia Manor, home to Miss Hephzibah Fayle in the Alice-Miranda books? We drove along further, found a safe spot to turn around and headed back to the gatehouse in the hope of a better look.I was almost sure of it – but the house was impossible to see and we were not in the habit of trespassing – although the gate was wide open.
We wondered how we could find out more. In Oswestry I asked a couple of people in the shops if they knew the name of the place to no avail and then we ran into Sean and Caroline who we had met at Moreton Hall last week. They suggested the local estate agents or the library.We decided to visit the library in the morning and so drove back out along the road to see if we could at least snap some photos in the distance – which we did. But then we found someone outside at the gate house and asked her who owned the place and if we might be able to have a look. She said that there was a public right of way access through the property but seeing that the gate was open, she thought we could probably drive up and take some photos. There was another car at the top of the driveway so I hopped out and asked the lady if she lived there and as luck would have it – her partner resides in the stables. So we wandered about for a while then met Pete, the resident. I explained why we were so interested – that this was the inspiration for a place in the Alice-Miranda books called Caledonia Manor. He said that it was most unusual for the gate to be left open and that we shouldn’t really have driven up but after I told him the whole story he was keen to show us around. He also knows an incredible amount of the history of the Hall, the tragic demise of the family and plans for the future. Settled in the 1600s the house and its estate once presided over the land as far as the eye can see. The family was one of the great English dynasties and owners of Harlech Castle in North Wales as well.
Unfortunately a string of tragedies including two Lords Harlech dying without wills, leaving massive death duties to be paid, saw the decline of the family fortunes and subsequent sale of the Hall. Interestingly it was also used during the war by British Telecom as headquarters for communications for the spy network operating in Europe. Apparently the cellars are bomb proof. During the time that the Hall was used by BT it fell into serious disrepair and has continued in that vein ever since. The family eventually sold it about 11 years ago to a development firm who are currently looking at what they could do to save it. Perhaps a hotel or apartments. Although Pete said that it is absolutely haunted!The grounds are utterly gorgeous with towering trees and the remnants of a once much loved garden where in its heyday, 24 gardeners were employed.
The stables are magnificent too and so close to what I had imagined. I could almost hear naughty Bonaparte whinnying hello.It was such a thrill to find this place. I never imagined that we would – given that when I saw it on the Internet it was an unnamed derelict mansion in Shropshire, which is quite a large county. I had searched and searched for further clues about this place that I came to call Caledonia Manor but nothing. There are apparently many derelict mansions in Shropshire and without an exact location or a name the search seemed fruitless. But today we found it – on a road that we travelled by accident. Tomorrow there is a chance that we might be able to look inside. I’m very excited by the prospect.