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Was Gawsworth Hall the home of Shakespeare’s mysterious ‘dark lady’?
Cheshire is famous for its black and white timbered halls; Gawsworth Hall is one of the best. Begun by the Fitton family at the end of the Wars of the Roses it was later the home of the beautiful Mary Fitton, believed by many to be the mysterious ‘dark lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The Fittons clearly had high hopes for Mary, securing her a place at court as one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honour and laying out pleasure gardens, lakes and a tiltyard (which still remains) in expectation of a royal visit to Gawsworth.
But, in 1602, disaster struck. Mary was found to be pregnant by the Earl of Pembroke, was banished from court in disgrace and the visit never came. Even so the Gawsworth estates were important enough to be the cause, in 1712, of a duel between two would-be heirs, Lord Mohun and the Duke of Hamilton, which led to the deaths of both protagonists.
Gawsworth Hall is first and foremost a family home and its interiors are crammed with the owners’ possessions. The hall has undergone numerous restorations during its existence but the courtyard at the rear is a superb example of black and white work. The three-storied jettied bay still has its original window leading. Two 16th-century hiding spaces in the roof space of the hall’s gallery are a relic of the dangerous times when the Catholic owners entertained priests here.
Gawsworth is a lively place and where tilting once occurred there are now regular summer open-air concerts, plays and operas.
Don’t miss: the Fitton family tomb in the nearby St James’s church.
Gawsworth Hall, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK11 9RN
tel: 01260 223456