years of Tirley Garth
Explore the idyllic surroundings of a secret treasure
Looking for an interesting day out, then look no further than
Tirley Garth, a Cheshire secret treasure,at Utkinton, near Tarporley.
This Edwardian house, built in 1911, is now the home of the Moral
Rearmament Movement started by American educationalist Dr. Frank
Buchan in the 1920s under the original name of the Oxford Group,
an international organisation for the reformation of character of
Christian principles. It was Irene Prestwich who provided Tirley
The Prestwiches were an old Lancashire family, well established
in cotton in the days when Manchester was Cottonopolis. When Richard
Henry Prestwich reckoned that he had make enough "brass"
out of the "muck", and decided to move away from the smoky
city to the clean air of Cheshire, he came across Tirley Garth which
had just been built by a director of the ICI at Northwich who had
to transfer to London before he had time to occupy the place.
Tirley had been designed by C E Mallows, a famous architect of country
houses. He gave this one an open courtyard in the centre with an
enclosed cloister walk round the sides. The style is that of the
Roman atrium with a fountain in the middle. In Anglo-Saxon times
the style came to be called a garth, being chiefly applied to the
design of monastic buildings.
The site makes use of different levels on the hillside so that the
house and its 30 acres of ground including the fabulous central
avenue of rhododendrons overlooks the Cheshire plain. The land also
slopes on one side down to a stream and the semi-circular rose garden.
When the move was made to these idyllic surroundings, Irene was
28, unmarried, accustomed to a social life in which literary and
musical evenings played a large part. Their house in the Broughton
district of Manchester had been a centre of much cultural activity.
Now, she found herself among the "Cheshire set," the hunting,
riding and shooting fraternity whose indoor events were largely
confined to bridge evenings.
Although she learned to ride, Irene missed the intellectual stimulation
of the Manchester circle. However, in 1914 came the First World
War and she and her sister Lois went to North Wales where they spent
most of the war working for the YMCA at the army camp.
After the war, feeling at a loss, the two sisters joined their local
church and were formally baptised, even though they were now in
their thirties. The happening that was to lead to the change in
her life came when Irene was invited to attend a conference organised
by what was then still called the Oxford Group.
Here she met a new breed of young people of a kind totally surprising
to her selfless, dedicated and with a mission in life. She sensed
that she had so far only been "passing time away" while
these people had a reason for living. Later, she went to Oxford
and came under the influence of Frank Buchan himself.
Irene, however, still continued in drift - until 1940 when another
war suddenly gave her purpose in life. Government offices and private
firms were moving out of London, seeking safe havens in the countryside,
and Irene impulsively offered Tirley Garth a Moral Rearmament. Her
parents had died and she, as the elder sister, could do as she pleased
with the estate.
Furniture and filing cabinets were fitted into the rooms as MR's
headquarters staff came in. The gardens were dug over "for
victory" and the produce taken daily to the markets at Chester
Servicemen and women came to Tirley on leave and to enjoy the peace
and tranquillity. At last Irene felt that she was doing something
worth while. When the war ended she created a trust fund so that
Tirley could be used in perpetuity for the work of Moral Rearmament.
Today, conferences and seminars are organised for members of the
Movement who come from all over the world, to plan their campaigns
of spiritual revival. In these surroundings MR mobilises its forces
for work in many lands where they are needed.
One weekend may see a meeting of ethnic community leaders with representatives
of the police, another weekend can find trade unionists meeting
employers, or Moslems discovering a vibrant Christian faith in a
land in which they thought religion had died. There is a small staff
to look after the house and gardens but otherwise everyone at Tirley
is an unpaid volunteer.
Every year when the grounds in their full glory, Tirley opens its
gates to the public, so that for a small entrance fee anyone can
wander in the grounds, take afternoon tea in the spacious dining
room, or watch in the lounge a film showing the history of the house
and Irene's part in it.
No one attending need expect to be subjected to moral propaganda.
The only sign of MR's presence in a bookstall in the garth at which
you can purchase the Movement's literature if you wish. Even the
film is concerned with Tirley Garth and the Prestwich family.
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