THE neo-classical Georgian Davenham Hall has had a variety of owners during the past 200 years, writes Adrian L Bridge.

Perhaps the most distinguished though were the Allen family, who lived beneath the Tuscan columns for 70 years.

Russell Allen, who bought the property in 1909, was the owner and proprietor of the Manchester Evening News and as such, he was a regional newspaper magnate of considerable repute.

When Allen sold the MEN to the Guardian newspaper in 1924, it created the foundations of the modern Guardian Media Group.

The sale of the MEN made Russell Allen a very wealthy man, and when he died in 1927, he left an estate valued at £322,000.

Mr Allen left behind his wife Blanche and five children - Doris, Geraldine and Margaret, and two brothers called Peter and John.

The eldest son, Peter, inherited the estate, but like his father, he spent little time at Davenham Hall.

Principally, it was the girls who came to rule the roost at Davenham Hall. All three sisters created an impact wherever they went and were written about with affection and reverence.

What was it about the Allen sisters that made them so memorable? Well, the women certainly seemed to be determined, independent and courageous from an early age.

During the First World War, John served as a captain in the 16th Lancers, dying in battle in 1918. However, Doris and Geraldine also left Davenham Hall for the Western Front, serving as members of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY).

This women-only organisation had been created in the aftermath of the Boer War and was meant to be the ‘mounted’ link between the field hospital and the battlefield.

In 1907, ‘mounted’ really meant via horseback. However, vans and lorries had taken over from the horse, and both Doris and Geraldine started as FANY drivers, ferrying wounded soldiers from the battlefield to hospitals.

At the onset of war in 1914, British Army commanders were still opposed to using females in front line positions, and FANYs were instead utilised by the Belgian Army.

By 1916, however, attitudes were changing, and FANYs became the first female drivers to be officially sanctioned by the British Army. By this time, Doris was a sergeant, and by 1917, Geraldine had also left Davenham Hall to join her sister.

The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry offered its recruits no pay. Perhaps as a consequence, the organisation was looked upon as being the preserve of affluent and aristocratic women who wanted to contribute to the war effort in some way.

However, this factor shouldn’t be used to downplay their role. Doris and Geraldine came from privileged backgrounds, but their bravery and stamina soon proved to be exemplary in every respect.

In 1917, Doris was transferred to the French section of FANY (taking her sister Geraldine with her). Doris was also promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, and from this point onwards, every member of FANY allocated to the French Army, came under Doris’s command.

The first part of 1918 was a difficult time for the Allies: A German offensive was smashing through the British and French armies, and French forces on the River Marne were being overrun.

At this time, Doris and Geraldine Allen were making highly dangerous journeys to and from the French frontline, with supplies.

So catastrophic was the nature of the French collapse at this point that Doris herself seems to have played a major part in processing upwards of 17,000 French and Allied casualties in just five days, through the town of Epernay.

The German offensive eventually petered out, and successful British, French and American counter-attacks soon followed and final Allied victory was secured.

Doris, in particular, had played a distinguished role in that final victory, and she was awarded the prestigious Croix de Guerre medal for bravery by the French government.

Doris and Geraldine received the commemorative Medaille de Societe aux Blesses Militaires (the forerunner of the French Red Cross) for their wartime services, before they withdrew again to a peaceful, rural life at Davenham Hall.

Like many who have been involved in war, and seen its awful consequences, Doris was largely content to sit on the sidelines, in peacetime, and it was her sisters who made the most significant contributions to Cheshire (and national) life in the post war period.

Peter spent most of his time in the Cotswolds, but returned to Davenham to be Master of the Cheshire Hunt between 1933-44.

Geraldine indulged her philanthropic tastes, and became a key sponsor and benefactor of Chester Zoo during the financially difficult days of the Great Depression. She also became a forthright and well known figure in Cheshire politics, receiving an OBE in 1958.

Margaret wrote books for children under the pseudonym ‘Mard’.

Geraldine and Doris became involved in the rather secretive world of national Kennel Club politics, by encouraging a breakaway, more northerly Chihuahua club, away from the influence of southern and London-based Chihuahua breeders.  None of the sisters married.

Margaret lived until she was 77. Geraldine died aged 84 and Doris died, aged 89, in 1979. Davenham Hall was sold the following year by Peter.

After renovation, the building reopened as a nursing home – a function it still occupies to this day.

The Allen sisters were certainly remarkable women, involved in writing, philanthropy, local politics and dog breeding.

And, in 1918, when the fighting on the Marne was at its height, Doris and Geraldine drove their ambulances straight towards the sound of the guns. Their actions, in this centenary year of the end of the First World War, are certainly worthy of remembrance.