Keepers At Great Moreton Hall


Rector's Letter, MARCH 2004


My Dear Friends,


Shortly after our arrival in Astbury nearly five years ago we learnt that there may be some family connection with the area, but never really got to grips with what that connection was.  The discoveries of the last couple of days have given us some answers.

Side-by-side on the settee, looking at old black & white photographs of my wife’s family, we ran through the familiar seaside snaps of cold North Wales beaches.  I sat up sharply however at a photograph labelled Keepers at Great Moreton Hall.  This was clearly of a different vintage and was composed of beaters, flat caps, dogs and guns.

Apparently, at the end of the 19th century, Liz’s great grandfather, Francis Herbert Higgs, was brought back from the north of Scotland to work on the estate of Mrs C. Ackers at Moreton Hall.  He married a local girl, Alice Whittaker, from Cinder Hill, Scholar Green on All Hallows’ Eve 1900 and they lived at Roe Park Lodge in this very Parish.  Their first son, Uncle Frank, was baptized at St Mary’s the following year.

A witty 1915 article on Francis Herbert in the monthly magazine Gamekeeper (a snip at 2d.) described his success at Moreton Hall: ‘Here the bag consisted of Pheasants and poachers.  It is rather an open question as to which required the more attention!’

Our appetites whetted, more delving into the black and white archive brought forth tales of another branch of the family who were publicans and had the Saracen’s Head in Hanley.  The pub is long gone, sadly, though if any parishioners remember it we would love to hear from them.  These photographs held hidden tragedy and concealed exotic stories of alcoholism & orphaned sons who ran away to sea.

Our response was to sit back with a breathless ‘Well I never, fancy that.’

I can’t quite help but think slightly differently about us all as I look around the family.  We perhaps understand more about who we are and where we are from.  Maybe our eyes have been opened to some of our potential failings and hidden weaknesses.

The Lenten experience for a Christian should leave them similarly illuminated and possibly chastened too.  You set a little time on one side to sit and pray or read your Bible, and suddenly unplanned discoveries leap out to surprise or delight you.  You fast, and are humbled as you get hungry and see clearly how weak and driven you are by such simple and basic human desires as appetite and greed.  And at the end of the experience you see yourself differently.

During a season which is meant to be all about reflection, take time to look into the glass - you may make some truly illuminating discoveries.


Jeff Cuttell


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