Moss Wood was built in 1934 by William Bromley Mason, a Canadian bachelor who had been a tea planter in East Africa – you can still see his initials WBM carved into the wall above the site of the original wood burner.
William had the house designed and built on the theme of an East African tea plantation, and lived there until August 1949. The house was built ‘upside down’ with the living quarters upstairs – and the servants downstairs.
Our Canadian bachelor lived at Moss Wood throughout the Second World War, before the house was put up for auction on Thursday 14th July 1949: the deeds show that it was then transferred to Mrs Isabella Crossfield on August 4th.
Mrs Crossfield lived in the house with her husband Eric – again, not much is known about them, although a member of the local church did suggest that Mr Crossfield was a diamond dealer from Manchester.
The Crossfields lived in the house for over 50 years – and managed to have Moss Wood featured in the April 1951 edition of Ideal Home! Eric died at the age of 80, but Isabella continued to live alone in the house until her health failed and she had to go into a home at the age of 96. Local legend has it that as she was being driven away she never looked back at the house that had been her home for so long – and she died two weeks later.
Eric and Isabella were very keen gardeners and I suspect that they planted a lot of the trees that are on the property today, as well as doing a lot of work to preserve the existing trees. Pride of place in Moss Wood gardens goes to our Metasequoia: this is tree that was thought to be extinct until one was found in a remote village in China. Seeds were sent to the nursery at Tatton Park, and we believe the tree at Moss Wood may have come from a cutting at Tatton. Either way, it is a remarkable tree to find in a private garden.
After Isabella left the house it fell into serious disrepair and eventually came up for auction on Thursday 4thOctober 2001. I’d been to look at Moss Wood a week before – and I knew within 20 seconds that if there was any way I could buy it I would. Yes, there were holes in the roof; yes, some of the walls were dripping with water – but no-one with a soul could see the house and not fall in love with it.
I completed on Moss Wood on November 1st – and on my first day spent seven hours on the roof repairing holes. I’d known the house would need some serious renovation – but I’d underestimated the work required by a factor of about three!
But Moss Wood has – and always will be – a labour of love for me. I’ve gradually restored the house and the gardens and the aim has been to do things right, not to do things quickly. In many ways I feel I’m the custodian of William Mason’s vision, and Eric and Bella’s commitment to the gardens.
And when I’m driven away from the house at age of 96, I promise that I will look back…