Behind the scenes at Blakemere Village near Northwich
- Credit: Amanda Cope
The Gerrard family has turned Blakemere into an ever-evolving multi-faceted attraction in the Cheshire countryside
Blakemere Hall may only have stood for 70 years however, the land it once inhabited now thrives as a much-loved Cheshire tourist attraction.
The expansive Blakemere Village, just off the main Chester Road close to Northwich, was established in 1994 by the Gerrard family, initially as a craft centre, before transitioning over the years into a popular visitor destination with dining, shopping, and a busy events programme, alongside an award-winning touring park and newly opened holiday park.
Gordon and Jackie Gerrard, along with their children, and grandchildren have grown the 25-acre site to a thriving independent business that welcomes more than 150,000 visitors per year.
The village is now home to a collective of independent shops and activities, including Segway and award-winning Birds of Prey experiences, a craft workshop, children’s trails and food and drink outlets and the Magical Woodland outdoor experience.
‘We never expected Blakemere to evolve the way that it has. People’s expectations over the years have been key to ensuring we stay relevant and on trend,’ says Ginny White, daughter of Gordon and Jackie.
Although the history of Blakemere Hall remains sketchy, with no known images of the building in existence, Jackie can clearly remember how it looked just before the fixtures were stripped out and the house demolished, prior to the land sale.
- 1 There's a lovely Kent beach for every taste
- 2 Scotney Castle makes an appearance in Netflix's The Sandman
- 3 Win a luxury 2-night Lake District getaway to the Skiddaw Hotel worth £500
- 4 Noddy Holder's wife: my guide to being married to a rock star
- 5 Slade star's wife gets two-book deal – without trading on her famous name
- 6 Win the Cobra MX3440V Cordless Lawnmower
- 7 Flower Child
- 8 Sand, sea and sourdough
- 9 11 pretty riverside pubs in Hertfordshire
- 10 20 of the best places to eat out in St Ives
She recalls: ‘The hall had a big sandstone porch with windows, and there was a beautiful solid oak door, with brass fittings. If you visit Blakemere Village on a really hot day, when the sun is burning the lawn, you can still see the hall’s foundations.’
Blakemere Hall was built in 1878 by Lord Barclay Paget, the son of the 2nd Marquis of Anglesey, as a country retreat for hunting and entertaining. Gentlemen visitors, including Edward VII, were invited to witness cockfighting from the specially installed first-floor gallery overlooking the cock pit below. With a grand entrance hall and sweeping staircase, billiards room and a spa room it was quite the party palace.
Lord Paget sold the hall in the late 1800s to millionaire Walter Jones who constructed a cobbled courtyard for his polo ponies, and these buildings remain to this day.
Blakemere Hall fell into disrepair and was demolished in the early 1950s, just before Jackie’s family bought the land. She says: ‘My brother Jeff had dreams of becoming a farmer but had struggled to find somewhere that ticked all the boxes. That was until my uncle, Sam Foster, found ‘the place in Sandiway’ that was up for sale.’
After buying the site, it became known as Blakemere Hall Farm, with the family first living in the converted coach house. ‘We started with Jersey cows, supplying milk to the community, and kept horses in the big stable block to bring in extra money,' says Jackie.
'The farming trade properly began in 1956, along with the introduction of pigs which we grew to 300 sows. My husband, Gordon, built most of the buildings that can be seen at Blakemere Village today.’
Jackie and Gordon’s children, Ginny and Tim, were both born at the farm in the 1960s, with Tim joining the farmer when he finished school at 16. It was in the same year, 1984, that Jeff retired, and Gordon bought his brother-in-law out making the Gerrards the sole owners of Blakemere Hall Farm. They continued farming pigs until 1994 when EU changes to farming forced the family to diversify their offerings and begin thinking of new ways to make money.
Jackie says: ‘The concept of a craft centre was very popular in the 1990s and having visited Brimstage Hall on the Wirral and the Jinney Ring Craft Centre in the Midlands for inspiration, it became a family project to create our own. At weekends everyone would be in the stable block converting it – painting, demolishing, and laying cobbles.’
On the 5th of November 1994, Blakemere Craft Centre officially opened its doors and with it came a complete change of direction for this family of farmers. Jackie remembers: ‘We had to learn how to advertise and promote the business as well as renting out the units. Thankfully, most of the units were occupied by the time we opened, with some of the original businesses still operating here to this day.’
Beginning with just the converted stable block, restaurant, and toilets, the family continued to convert all the farm buildings into workshops or retail units over the next few years.
‘The layout of Blakemere isn’t necessarily how you would plan it if you were starting from scratch however, we had to follow the footprint of the original farm buildings,’ Ginny explains.
'In 1996, Steve Birchall opened his Falconry Centre alongside Cheshire Aquatics, followed by Mr and Mrs Parry who opened Jo Crow's Play Stacks, now known as The Playbarn, with the first children’s nursery opening on site around 2000. Original tenants also include Salsa Jewellery store and Nanna Parry’s sweet shop, previously known as The Chocolate Box.
Following the expansion of the Blakemere Craft Centre and shops, it was a natural progression for the family to make use of the extensive surrounding land. Gordon was desperate to see the completion of the next big project – the Touring Park – but passed away in 2013, two years before it opened in 2015.
Current projects at Blakemere Village include the Design Shed and a new holiday park. Summer 2022 will see the arrival of 12 individually styled glamping lodges, each with a hot tub. Four are dog friendly and there are three larger lodges for families and groups, plus a special occasion suite to support the on-site Cheshire Woodland Weddings.
Nowadays, Ginny and Tim, head up the day-to-day running of the site. Tim says: ‘Ginny generates the ideas and supports the admin, while I work practically in a building and project management role.’
Although Jackie officially retired in 2003, she continued to work in the restaurant for quite some time. As Ginny describes: ‘nobody ran the pot-wash quite like mum.’ Charlotte, Ginny’s daughter, is now responsible for organising events at Blakemere Village and, Tim’s wife Debbie, has taken control of the catering facilities.
Blakemere Village, Chester Rd, Northwich CW8 2EB
The Blakemere dynasty
Sister of Tim, co-owner of Blakemere and has worked on site for 28 years. Her roles and responsibilities include administration, tenant licensing, planning applications, future development planning, marketing. Ginny knows how to make things happen, she takes a vision and ensures the correct procedures are in place to make it a success. Very organised and efficient with a true dedication to making Blakemere the best it can be.
Brother of Ginny and co-owner who has worked on site his whole life. His main roles and responsibilities include maintenance and upkeep of the site, management of project developments. Tim is not afraid to muck in and get his hands dirty. He is often found behind the wheel of a digger or running the carparks at events. All the structural aspects of Blakemere you see today wouldn’t be here without his dedication and hard work.
Tim’s wife, catering manager on site for 10 years. Her main roles and responsibilities include management of the Village Restaurant and Blakemere Village Social and on-site wedding catering. Very organised and forward-thinking, always creating new concepts and ideas to bring people to Blakemere.
Daughter of Ginny, events co-ordinator and personal assistant. Her main roles and responsibilities include organising and planning on site events, marketing, risk assessments, admin assistance and support towards all departments. BSC in business and events. Charlotte is everyone’s helping hand, extremely reliable and passionate about her job.
Mother of Ginny and Tim, founder member of Blakemere Village. Worked on-site most of her life and retired at 65 in 2003. No one could run the pot-wash the way Jackie did. In her retirement she often visits Blakemere and attends events to support the family.