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‘Plan for Moody Hall to fall into rack and ruin’

Campaigners have said they are no closer to finding out how Cheshire East Council will help to preserve the future of a historic boarded-up building, which was once again set on fire deliberately two weeks ago.

Representatives of the Elizabeth Group were outside Moody Hall in Congleton on Tuesday.

They hope that one day it can be the location of a museum to honour suffragist Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy.

The three-storey hall, on Moody Street, was once her home and where she founded a girls’ school in the 1860s.

It was for some years a restaurant and more latterly a care home, which closed in 2017 and has been derelict and boarded-up ever since.

There have been at least two fires there, the most recent on 20th August, which is under investigation by police, as reported by the Chronicle.

The coverage led to an interview recorded by BBC Radio Stoke outside Moody Hall on Tuesday as campaigners stepped up their pressure on Cheshire East to do what it could to protect the building’s future.

Moody Hall is believed to be owned by Birmingham-based Ghian Properties. A petition was launched by Susan Munro, chair of the Elizabeth Group, last year calling on Cheshire East to intervene with a compulsory purchase order.

She had hoped that the council would respond after last month’s fire but she has heard nothing.

Mrs Munro told the Chronicle on Tuesday: “We have been onto Cheshire East since the latest fire but we can’t pin down anyone who is looking into our concerns.”

In the meantime, Elizabeth’s Group is promoting its heritage trail brochure that can be used as a guide for walks around Congleton. It points out places connected to Elizabeth Wolstenholme Elmy and her husband, Ben Elmy. They include the long-since demolished Eaton and Albion mills as well as Salford Mill (now Jantex) and Kinsey Street school room, Moody Hall itself and Buxton House, where the suffragist and her husband lived.

Mrs Munro, whose group campaigned, fund-raised for and unveiled the Elizabeth statue on Bridge Street last year, said she feared that unless action was taken to save Moody Hall it would go the same way as Bossons Mill, which was eventually demolished because it was unsafe.

“We’ve lost so many of Congleton’s historic buildings in the 20 years I have been living here, such as Bossons Mill,” she said.

Gazing at the boarded-up Moody Hall, where tall weeds grow at the front, Mrs Munro said: “Up to 2017 it was a care home with beautiful stained glass windows and a wonderful staircase. Now it’s an absolute disgrace.”

Pointing down the side of Moody Hall and referring to the trees and land beyond the mesh security fence, she added: “Those trees have got preservation orders. The back of Moody Hall is near the Howty Brook, which acts as a wildlife corridor through the town.”

Fearing for the future of the building, Mrs Munro said: “I think there is a plan for it to fall into rack and ruin.”

But she said she believed its future should be as a museum to honour Mrs Wolstenholme Elmy. “We want somewhere that would house a permanent exhibition about her. Elizabeth’s Group would be happy if the building could be saved, even if it is brought back into use for assisted living.

“We are losing everything to developers and getting nothing in return,” said Mrs Munro.
Congleton town councillor Kay Wesley, a trustee of Elizabeth’s Group, said Cheshire East conservation officers have said “they will do what it takes to safeguard” Moody Hall.

“But that’s not enough,” she said. “We want it restored and brought back to life. We would like to see some action taken to get the owner to do something about it.”

Cheshire East was asked to comment.

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