“ 30/31 Market Place / Stockport / England / SK1 1ES / Tel: 0161 480 1460. „
When you think of historic English towns and cities you think instantly of places such as York, Chester and Bath. Stockport does not come to mind at all. Surely its just an industrial town near Manchester? Well no. It may not be in the same league as the other places mentioned but it does have a few historic gems that make it worth visiting such as the Tudor Bramhall, Hall, the Victorian market, the picturesque Chadkirk Chapel and their newest heritage attraction the Staircase House.
You might be thinking Not another historic house with period rooms . You may be right to an extent. However I feel the Staircase House has a couple of unique aspects that differentiates itself from other house type museums. The Staircase House was originally built as a merchant;s townhouse house dating from the seventeenth century. This is fairly unique as most of the historic houses have visited from this period have been country manors and halls. The townhouses I have visited have tended to date from the eighteenth century or later thus quite a rare building.
The Staircase House is a a little hidden gem. Located facing Stockport's great marketplace the origins of this house date back to a crook framed medieval building (reputedly built for one of the Lord Mayor's of Stockport). This was developed into the seventeenth century house owned by a family of merchants, the Shawcrosses, that still remains today with its very rare Cage Newall staircase (hence the name The Staircase House). The house became derelict during the latter part of the 20th century and was partially destroyed by fire in 1996. Since then Stockport Council have been restoring it to its former glory. It's now a social history museum furnished with period rooms. I visited recently and found it a fascinating building. .
It is not the most obvious place to find as the Staircase house itself is hidden behind and accessed through Stockport's Tourist Information Centre in the market place at th top of the town near the covered market and the main church. I am not sure how easy it is to get to for disabled people as it is up quite a steep hill. It is about a ten minute walk from the bus and railway stations. Apparently there is a pay and display car park a few streets away.
Unlike some of the council museums in Stockpot such as The Hatworks and Stockpoert Museum and Art Gallery there is a small admission fee. This was £3.95 for adults and £2.95 for concessions. There is a special family ticket that admit two adults and two children for £12.90 and children under five are admitted for free. The admission fee is good value for money as it includes a very good audio guide tour that really enhanced my understanding of the house.
You enter the house in the courtyard where there is an introductory room with computer generated graphics of what the house looked like at various stags throughout its history and also little models of the various buildings that had been on the site throughout the ages.
The tour starts properly in the seventeenth century storeroom and takes between an hour and two hours depending how thoroughly you do it (and depending if you spend time doing the little activities suggested by the audio guide). Through your tour you work your way through a number of different rooms mostly dating from the seventeenth century such as the kitchen, bedroom, tallow room, counting room and dowry room. On the top level there is an eighteenth century dining room, an early nineteenth century room that illustrates the growth of political movements in the early nineteenth century and finally a World War 2 room complete with black out curtains and tape across the windows.
The rooms (especially the earlier ones) are very well designed keeping family visitors in mind.I could see this museum appealing to anyone over about the age of six or seven. There is very little original seventeenth cemetery furniture left thus the rooms are furnished with skillfully crafted replicas. This is good as the furniture can be touched by little ones without fear of damaging very delicate timbers. It was nice to be able to lift the lid of the dowry casket and sit on the chairs in the Dower's room to see how comfortable (or uncomfortable) they were. There were also very simple touches that enhanced my visiting experience such as bowls of herbs in the kitchen. This does not cost a fortune but conveys how a kitchen might have smelled.
This sensory experience would be good for blind people as there is a lot to touch and smell. I was really interested in the tallow room where there were examples of seventeenth century lighting from rush lamps (which you could make) to tallow and beeswax candles. I had read that tallow is not a nice substance for lighting as it is made out of animal fat but until I felt and smelled the difference between the beeswax and tallow I did not realise how vile tallow is. It's really greasy and oily. It is a bit like the fat from a cooking pan all solidified. Would you want that burring in your home?
As well as things to touch and smell there are a number of activities that children (and big children) are encouraged to do to understand seventeenth century life better. These included sweeping the floor, packing apples in straw to preserve them better,and writing with a quill pen. I found the last few non seventeenth century rooms not quite as good because there was less emphasis on interactivity. I think the early nineteenth century room with its emphasis on the radical movement would go over younger children's heads.
The last few rooms were also spoiled by something out of the museum's control. I could hear 1950s rock and roll music coming from one of the market stalls that felt it bit anachronistic when looking at an eighteenth century dining room.
One area that worked well for me was a viewing platform where you could view the courtyard and a wall that showed the different building materials used in the house throughout the centuries It quite clearly showed different types of bricks, plaster and llathe panels and the old fashioned wattle and daub. This was the only area that had an interpretation panel which was quite useful to identify the different building materials.
The one let down in the Staircase House was the Cage Newall staircase itself This is only one of three staircases of its type to survive in Britain . I was pretty underwhelmed when seeing it as I suppose I had it in my mind that rare equaled spectacular. The staircase is interesting but looks very rickety. It has carved horizontal beams with vertical post. Originally these post would have been ceiling height to give the staircase a caged effect. I think that would have probably made the staircase look more impressive. We are lucky to have such a rare staircase as part o it was engulfed in the blaze of 1996. Luckily like a lot of the house it has been restored sympathetically and it is interesting to see the slight different shades of wood of the old and newer timbers in the staircase.
I felt the audio guide was the ideal way of interpreting the Staircase House. It meant traditional labels and boards were done away with so that the house had a more natural feel to it and I did not have to struggle to read text. I also really liked the audio guide as it was very interesting to listen to. It catered for a wide range of audiences. In each room they would describe the room pointing out pieces of furniture of particular interest. It would also use acted out scenes of everyday life relating to that particular rooms. It was really well researched as contemporary source were consulted throughout. I found the general commentary informative and interesting. I even found out where the Sleep tight bit of the phrase Night night sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite came from. It's from when they tightened the ropes used on the bottom of th beds to hold the mattress in place. For those that wanted slightly more in depth knowledge about the house including a lot of details on the techniques used in restoring the house there were further commentaries to listen to. I really liked this as as I found it fascinating due to my background in heritage but it might be too specialised, boring or go over other people's heads. I was interested to hear that the bed hangings in the bedroom will be developed as a special project. A group of embroiders both amateurs and specialists will gradually provide all the embroidery for the bed clothes and hangings thus involving the community in the development of the Staircase House. The only problem I can see with the audio guide is that it limits repeat vising as the audio guide is included the price of the ticket, unless they change the connect of the audio guide slightly. They also have live interpretation and demonstrations on certain days to bring the house alive, although there were none on the Saturday we visited the Staircase House.
The Staircase House is suitable for disabled visitors as there is a lift between floors and there is also a step less route. It shares its other facilities with the adjoining Stockport Story Museum and tourist Information centre. These included a tearoom which i did not go in an a shop that had all the usual museum gifts with nothing particularly distinctive pertaining to the Staircase House.
I would heartily recommend a visit o the Staircase House. It is an interesting period house museum which is slightly different from the normal Tudor hall or Georgian or Victorian town house. I strongly suggest you combine it with a tour of Stockport's delightful main parish church and a tour of the market for some bargains and unusual cheeses!
Monday to Friday - 12pm to 5pm
Saturday and Sunday - 10am to 5pm
including bank holidays
30/31 Market Place,
Tel: 0161 480 1460
Originally a medieval hall, Staircase House was built in around 1460. Tours and educational visits held regularly.