Thomas Wardle bought Swainsley Hall in 1896 as a weekend house. It was too small to accommodate his large family so the west side was extended in the same year. Thomas loved his life at Swainsley where he entertained both family and distinguished guests including Samuel Langhorne Clemens (the writer, Mark Twain), and General Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who reputedly preferred to sleep in a tent outside! William Morris was invited to the house but was too ill to accept the invitation.
One of the rooms at Swainsley was furnished completely with drawings and prints by the artist Rossetti, while scattered all over the house were trophies of Thomas’ time spent in India, including a Bengal tiger shot in a hunt there.
Thomas was a keen sportsman enjoying both shooting and fishing and spent many hours walking the countryside around Swainsley with his gun in pursuit of hares, partridges, pheasants and grouse. In fact at Swainsley he had an aviary populated with many different breed of pheasants.
Fly rods and drawers full of flies in the house served as reminders of happy times spent with friends fishing for trout and grayling.
Thomas had fishing rights on lengths of the Dove in Dove Dale and on the right bank of the Dove in Narrow Dale. He also rented a length of the Manifold below Hartington. Thomas preferred to fish with a wet fly and often used Moss’s cock-winged dun. He helped to improve the fishing in Narrow Dale by breeding rainbow trout, Loch Leven, fontinalis, and native brown trout. Thomas Wardle shared his love of fishing with William Morris and joined him in fishing expeditions at Kelmscott Manor.
Although Thomas was a director of the Leek and Manifold Railway he did not want his views from the house spoiled by allowing the railway to cross his land. So he built Swainsley Tunnel to protect his view.
Thomas Wardle was a generous host inviting members of organizations and his employees to days out at Swainsley.
In 1898 he entertained all the employees of his Hencroft and Churnet dyeworks together with those from Joshua Wardle and sons of Leekbrook to a pleasant day at Swainsley. Over 200 people journeyed to Swainsley went in brakes and waggonettes. They wandered the grounds of Swainsley were plied with food and drink and watched a cricket match.
In 1905 170 members of the Girls Friendly Society went by train to Butterton and then on to Swainsley where they were entertained by Thomas Wardle, a monkey proved to be a great attraction and afforded much amusement.
After Thomas died in 1909 the house passed to his daughter Margaret and her husband Admiral Sir Guy Gaunt. Swainsley Hall then became known as Gaunts Wood for a while. In 1949 Margaret, Lady Gaunt, died in a fire at Swainsley, which was at that time the Manifold Valley Hotel.