Hoghton is a tower of strength for Lancashire
PUBLISHED: 22:31 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:40 13 January 2018
Sean Joyce talks to Sir Bernard de Hoghton about the survival of one of Lancashire's great houses, Hoghton Tower
IT'S a place of rebellion and controversy, where Kings and Queens wined and dined, where William Shakespeare found early employment, and where Sirloin steak received its name. It reads like the credentials of one of London's historical attractions, but this impressive pedigree belongs to Lancashire's very own Hoghton Tower.
The Grade I listed building has been the ancestral home of the de Hoghton family since the time of William the Conqueror, and is today occupied by the 14th Baronet, Sir Bernard de Hoghton.
Speaking to Sir Bernard, it is clear he has lost none of the passion and drive which has seen him raise the Tower from a troubled estate to one of the county's most popular and attractive historical homes. 'These houses need to be treated with great affection,' he said, 'great sensitivity, great kindness, and with a generosity of spirit. Considering that it was originally built in 1109, and was completely redesigned between 1650 and 1665, you can see that this house is a great antiquity.'
Melissa Peter, the Tower's events manager, is equally as enthusiastic. 'It becomes a passion, it's not just a job,' she said. 'I just want to make Hoghton Tower as accessible as possible to everyone. It's to lift these places out of the image that they've got, which is boring and stuffy, and allow people to think that it can be fun.'
Having survived Civil War explosions, a fire and long periods of disrepair, the Tower's story has been one of struggle and determination. On taking the helm in 1978, Sir Bernard found himself faced with the mammoth task of restoring it to its former glory. 'To my horror they told me there was an extremely nasty outbreak of dry rot and unless we got on with it straight away, the house might not survive.'
After a grand effort to raise funds, the Tower with its famously steep half-mile driveway was able to ensure its survival and can now be enjoyed in its original Tudor guise. 'It was a wonderful exercise of everyone gathering round and supporting us both locally, regionally and nationally,' said Sir Bernard. 'There were sleepless nights where we thought we'd bitten off more than we could chew, in terms of the structural problems that the house faced. But we have, I would say, broken their back.'
Sir Bernard is the holder of one of England's oldest titles which was first bestowed on the de Hoghton family by King James I in 1611. The family's history, and that of the Tower, is an incredibly illustrious tale which can be traced back to Lady Godiva.
'We've never flinched from religious controversy or political controversy,' said Sir Bernard, also explaining how the family came to lose much of its wealth through a game of cards. 'The last Member of the House of Commons held by a member of this family was Sir Henry Philip de Hoghton, the great gambler, who gambled most of the wealth of this family away just at the time when we were becoming a great industrial power.'
As an historian himself, Sir Bernard plans to take a year out to write a book chronicling the family's past. 'The book will be a history of the de Hoghton family and their houses,' he said. 'The structure is the most important thing for me - to make it both interesting and factually water-tight.'