I taught poetry and fiction at Burton Manor ten years ago. I remember my first residential course in performing poetry. I arrived in a beat up Ford Fiesta called Sir Cuthbert. The car had delusions of grandeur, most of the seats were torn and on the way down to the college my exhaust fell off and rested on the rear axle for the last thirty miles of the drive down country lanes. I arrived in a hail of exhaust fumes to be met by Keith Chandler.
Keith always made me feel welcome every time I showed up to teach at Burton Manor. I taught on and off there for five years but that first time Keith took me in hand and gave me a quick tour of where I would be teaching, sleeping and eating. He gave me free rein to explore the rest of the Manor and the library, and I discovered one of the hidden gems of the North West. This was a stately home built for the Congreve family in 1805 and became the home of the Gladstones in the early part of the twentieth century before became an adult education college in 1948. The great thing about Burton Manor was its programming, the residential schools were driven by what the students wanted from astronomy with Patrick Moore (who was there when I was teaching poetry and we had lunch together in the Orangery…I will one day be able to start an anecdote with this) to poetry with me. One memory I have of Burton Manor was that all the staff were friendly, and who could blame them in such wonderful surroundings? I was always happy to drive down that drive and park beneath the bell tower and enter through those doors. I once was the only lecturer in the old Manor itself and I had to walk from my bedroom to an Edwardian bathroom. Never let it be said that writers don’t have active imaginations, old houses, old ghosts, a hero alone in the darkened corridors but even when my flights of fancy soared I never felt more secure than when I climbed into bed in those old bedrooms.
I remember talking with Keith Chandler about restoring the Walled Garden eight years ago, when I stumbled across it, and was thrilled to read that they had done this thanks to a Lottery grant and you can see what they have done here: https://sites.google.com/site/glasshouseatburtonmanor/. Whether this can carry on after I discovered the following is to be seen but I hope it does.
I was saddened to read that the College had been closed in March of this year citing a 1.6 million pound debt and the withdrawal of funding from Liverpool Council. My sadness turned to grief and then anger that such a narrow view of adult education can be taken. All education costs and all education runs up debt, it is an investment for the future, that those educated will give back to the economy. If we treated education merely as an accountants spreadsheet then all education would cease. Burton Manor wasn’t just a place of value amongst its alumni and staff but it was an environment that inspired. Liverpool Council now seek to sell it, and this reveals their true game play, for the Manor is large with out buildings, a tennis court and an ice house all located in that Goldillocks zone, Cheshire. The house itself will be worth more than 1.6 million but those who have been educated in it, their worth is priceless. It is a shame that Liverpool Council took such a short term and narrow view to what should be saved for the nation and not handed over to become a private residency or worse still, another failing hotel.