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£2m project restores Combermere Abbey to former glory

Telford | Entertainment | Published:

It has taken at least 12 years of planning, more than two years of building, and cost about £2 million.

But now the major restoration of the north wing of the Grade I listed Combermere Abbey, near Whitchurch, is nearly complete.

The wing, which features a dining room, kitchen, bedrooms and study, will be used for weddings and B&B accommodation.

Scaffolding is now beginning to be taken down from the property and workers are expected to leave the site for good next month.

Sarah Callendar Beckett, who inherited the abbey in 1992 and has been carrying out work to restore it ever since, said: "The north wing had been uninhabited since the early 1950s and had become structurally unstable, seriously endangering the rest of the abbey.

"It was in dire need of some love, attention and most importantly money.

"I felt I owed it to this extraordinary building which had survived over 800 years to restore this part of the abbey to its former glory."

Planning permission for the project was granted in November 2013 and the work began in January 2014.

Work to the 900-year-old complex has involved stripping the building back to the original medieval and Tudor frame, removing the gothic cladding and the existing roof structure, and completely repairing or replacing the decayed areas.

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It has also included rebuilding the roof and chimneys, and putting back the gothic exterior.

Mrs Callander Beckett described the restoration as challenging, but said she is delighted with the results.

"The building is now structurally fine and is looking fantastic," she said.

"It has been challenging and it has been a real team effort to achieve what we have.

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"It already had structural problems and we discovered more issues as the work has progressed.

"The weather has also been against us in the last six months."

Mrs Callander Beckett said the building, which had issues such as dry rot and wet rot, had also been left exposed to the elements.

As part of the refurbishment she purchased a chair from Christina Trevanion, of Whitchurch-based Trevanion & Dean auctioneers, which will be used in one of the new-look rooms.

The chair will feature on BBC's Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is which is being aired tomorrow(WED).

"I bought it for about £150 and it is over 100-years-old," she said.

"It was a real wreck when I had it but it now looks fantastic. It will go in the twin bedroom."

Mrs Callander Beckett added: "Going forward is always going to be challenging.

"We need to maintain the building to a good standard and I need to balance between my other activities as we have still got the farm and holiday cottages.

"We certainly need people coming back to see us."

Combermere Abbey began life as a Cistercian monastery in 1133, before being dissolved under Henry VIII.

The lands and monastery were gifted to the Cotton family, local squires, who built a manor house which was completed in 1563.

The family lived at Combermere for almost four centuries and in 1820, the famous General, Sir Stapleton Cotton became 1st Viscount Combermere.

The Tudor timber-frame house was 'gothicised' as was popular at the time, but instead of a completely new building he built a gothic envelope and undertook substantial alterations which seriously compromised the Tudor structure.

Not only has the architectural fabric of the building changed over the centuries, but it has also received several royal and other notable visitors over the years including The Duke of Wellington and William of Orange.

A dedicated website – http://www.combermere-restoration.co.uk/ – has been launched to document the project's progress.

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