'On closer approach, it becomes apparent that this handsome home is, in effect, two houses in one.'
When Roger Wilbraham (1623 -1707) purchased the Rode estate for £2,400 in 1669, its manor-house was probably half-timbered, like nearby Little Moreton Hall. Today, nothing remains of that original building. Instead stands a fine, redbrick, Georgian country house: Rode Hall. On approaching, it becomes apparent that this handsome home is, in effect, two houses in one, and that the substantial, porticoed building is a later second house attached to a smaller, now wisteria-clad, first house.
The first west-facing, house was built between 1705 and 1707 by Roger Wilbraham’s son, Randle Wilbraham I (1663 – 1732). It was a conventional, slate-roofed building with slightly extending wings and simple, lead-paned cross windows. Sometime before the 1750s, the house received grander Venetian and oeuil-de-boeuf windows to the wings and a new semi-circular headed central doorway. The cupola between the hall’s tall chimneys was put in during the early 1800s and is echoed by that added to the adjacent stable block.
Although his father died in 1732, it was not until 1752 that Randle II (1694 – 1770), a distinguished London lawyer and politician, completed the second house. Made of red brick with white stone architraves, the two-and-a-half storey building was more imposing than the first house (which then became the service wing) but retained its simplicity. Unlike the earlier building, its original entrance was not in the present south west façade but in the north west, garden-side. The present Grecian-style portico was probably added in about 1820.
When Randle II died in 1770, the hall passed to his son Richard Wilbraham Bootle (1725 – 1796), a lawyer and MP for Chester. He had taken the extra name Bootle to comply with the will of his wife’s uncle, Sir Thomas Bootle, Chancellor to the Prince of Wales. Richard’s wife, Mary Bootle (1734 – 1813), was heiress to both her uncle and her father whose estate included Lathom House in Lancashire; on Richard’s death in 1796, this (now demolished) Palladian mansion passed to their elder son, Edward Bootle-Wilbraham (later Baron Skelmersdale) while Rode became home to their younger son, Randle Wilbraham III (1773 – 1861). On his return from a five-year Grand Tour, Randle Wilbraham III set about transforming Rode into a smart Regency home with the assistance of Liverpool architect John Hope.
Today, Rode Hall remains quintessentially Georgian. For this, the current custodians must thank Randle Wilbraham IV, as it was his unfortunate lack of funds which prevented the house’s Victorianisation. ‘Young Randle’ inherited Rode in 1861 and had already overspent on the building of the nearby All Saints’ Church when the devastating cattle plague of 1866 forced him to cut all estate rents. The few decorative improvements he made to the house included little French-style balconies added to the first-floor windows at the entrance front and, beneath, a fashionable porte-cochere, nick-named ‘St Pancras’ by the family, which was cleverly converted from an earlier conservatory.
There were no major alterations to the house until Sir Philip Baker Wilbraham (1875 – 1956), the grandfather of the present owner, inherited Rode in 1912. Redecoration commenced in a piecemeal fashion following the First World War, when the house had been used as a hospital, but a surprise legacy of £5,000 enabled more significant renovation to begin in 1927. Then the London architect Darcy Braddell removed Hope’s stucco, exposing the warm red Cheshire brickwork, and replaced the shabby porte-cochere with a smart Ionic portico. ‘His gifts are artistic rather more than practical,’ wrote Sir Philip in a tribute to Braddell, ‘but he entered into all our ideas with ready sympathy, and with a strong appreciation of the house and its possibilities.’
Conservation of Rode continues in the same spirit today, in a manner which respects the house’s primary purpose as a family home but also makes the visitor experience as warm, welcoming and enjoyable as possible.