This week we look at Knutsford, an ancient town with a fascinating history and some quite extraordinary buildings.

Some of these buildings are in the town centre, and worthy of mention first, the Gaskell Memorial Tower and Kings Coffee House, which was once the Belle Époque restaurant, now closed.

It was built in honour of the famous Knutsford author Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, known as Mrs Gaskell. She used the town and its characters in her novels, including Cranford, a successful TV series.

They were built by the somewhat eccentric Richard Harding Watt in 1907/08. Watt also built the large laundry and Ruskin Rooms in Drury Lane nearby.


Gaskell Memorial Tower

Gaskell Memorial Tower


He included some Moorish influences with minarets, domes, and towers. The laundry has gone, but two beautiful cottages are now housed in the buildings.

Watt was initially a Manchester glove maker, not an architect himself but well travelled.

He worked closely with four professional architects who helped bring his ideas and drawings to life.

His many buildings are a strange addition to this pretty Cheshire town.

Legh Road is where he built his own house, The Croft (now The Old Croft), in 1895, this was relatively conventional, but he then took his fantasies further in the form of Italianate dwelling houses.


Olde King St

Olde King St


These houses are built in styles reminiscent of Italian villas, certainly not what one would expect in an English country town, and he was subjected to some ridicule at the time.

Although the houses are popular and the road quite exclusive, when Steven Spielberg made Empire of the Sun, he used Legh Road to depict old Shanghai.

Not everyone was enamoured with these fantastic buildings. Noted architectural historian Nicholas Pevsner described the creations as the maddest sequence of villas in all England!

One of these buildings, The Ruskin Rooms in Drury Lane, became famous at its official opening as a Welcome Club for officers of the US Third Army based at Peover.

The speech given by General George Patton included the words ‘it is the evident destiny of the British and Americans (and, of course, the Russians) to rule the world'.


Ruskin Rooms Drury Lane 2011

Ruskin Rooms Drury Lane 2011


When it was released, the mention of the Russians was taken out and caused such a political uproar that it became known as ‘The Knutsford Incident’.

Because of this, and his later striking a junior soldier suffering from what is now known as PTSD, his career was blighted for a while.

However, he was a brilliant leader, so this did not hold him back for too long, and he renewed his reputation as a superb general with his trademark pearl-handled pistols and his nickname Old Blood and Guts.

Sadly, he died on December 21, 1945, after suffering fatal injuries in a car crash in Mannheim, Germany.