Hall i’ th’ Wood – an interesting history

A rare surviving example of a Tudor wooden-framed house, Hall i’ th’ Wood was originally built as a half-timbered hall in the early 16th century, then during the mid 17th century, while it was owned by a family of wealthy yeomen and merchants, it was given a grand Jacobean-style stone extension. In later years other extensions were added and the building was split into several rented dwellings, and it was while living in one of these with his family that Samuel Crompton invented the famous Spinning Mule, a machine which revolutionised the UK’s textile industry and shaped the fortunes of both the town and the north of the country.
The hall was inhabited up until the late 19th century after which it fell into disrepair but thanks to local businessman William Lever (Lord Leverhulme), who purchased it in 1899, it was saved from ruin and much-needed repairs were undertaken. The house and grounds were opened as a museum and presented to the people of Bolton in 1902 in memory of Samuel Crompton.
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Hall i’ th’ Wood
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The hall is only open two days a week and a dog walk back in May coincided with one of those days – unfortunately dogs aren’t allowed in the hall itself but I was lucky enough to get chatting to a lady from the local history society who offered to keep an eye on Sophie and Poppie for me if I wanted to go in and look round. It was an opportunity not to be missed so I took her up on her offer and went to explore, although I didn’t linger too long in any of the rooms.
Thanks to a bequest from Lord Leverhulme more than a hundred years ago admission to the hall was free, and the entrance was through a side door which took me into the Great Hall which also doubles as a reception/information centre. A very knowledgeable guide told me some information about the hall and offered me a booklet to take round with me then I was free to wander at will, although there was actually a designated route to follow. From the Great Hall I went into the kitchen, furnished in the style of a typical Lancashire kitchen of that era, then into what I first thought was the laundry room but turned out to be the dairy.
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Fireplace in the Great Hall
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The kitchen
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The dairy
Through a doorway from the dairy a steep spiral staircase led up to a bedroom directly above, furnished with heavy oak furniture and a large oak tester bed with ornate carvings and heavy curtains – there was even a cute little oak crib by the side of the bed.
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Staircase up to the bedroom above the dairy
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The next room was dedicated to Lord Leverhulme and displayed many of his personal possessions in a glass-topped case, although to be honest I found that room to be a bit less interesting than others. There was even a stuffed flamingo in a tall glass case residing in one corner although I didn’t bother photographing that – with hindsight maybe I should have done.
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Along a narrow corridor and set back in a corner was a ducking stool with an information sheet attached to it. There was no clue as to why the seat was there but the last part of the sheet rather amused me – ‘Talking too much on the job can lead to a session on the ducking stool. You are strapped into a seat which is hung from the end of a free-moving arm, then at the whim of the operators you are dunked into a river or pond once or twice a day in front of a jeering crowd’. It’s a good job these contraptions aren’t still around as with my liking for a good natter I’d never be off the thing!
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The ducking stool
Towards the end of the corridor and up a couple of steps were the three rooms which Samuel Crompton and his family lived in. One of the rooms held a partially constructed replica of the Spinning Mule (the original is on display in the town centre museum) and another contained the upright organ built by Crompton himself. On one of the walls was a painting of Firwood Fold, Crompton’s birthplace as it was at that time, done by significant Bolton artist Fred Balshaw (1860-1936) Sadly, despite several attempts to gain sponsorship, Crompton never got the financial recognition he deserved for inventing the Spinning Mule and he died in poverty at the age of 74.
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Partially constructed replica of Crompton’s Spinning Mule
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The organ built by Crompton
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Painting of Firwood Fold with Crompton’s birthplace 2nd house down from the top on the right
Passing the top of another staircase I came to the withdrawing room, a huge room tastefully furnished and with a big bay window letting in lots of light. In contrast, up a few steps and off a half-landing was the study, a very small and very dark room where it’s thought that Crompton spent a lot of his time thinking and looking at the views outside.
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The Norris withdrawing room
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Withdrawing room ceiling
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Stairs up to the study
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The study – this room was so dark that I’ve had to tweak the photo to show some detail
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Stairs down to the Norris Dining Room
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Back on the ground floor – the Norris Dining Room
The Norris dining room was the last room to see and passing the kitchen I arrived back where I started in the Great Hall, and on a straight and solid flag floor – many of the upstairs rooms had floors which sloped one way or another, some sloping both ways at once, which gave my tour of the house rather an unbalanced feeling but also added to the house’s quirkiness. It was an interesting place and one which I’ll definitely go back to another time but without the dogs – and a second visit could well be in just over a month’s time as while I’ve been writing this I’ve seen in the online edition of the local paper that special tours are being held in early September which will enable visitors to go up into the normally out-of-bounds attic where Samuel Crompton hid his dismantled Spinning Mule during the spinners’ and weavers’ riots. That sounds like it could be quite intriguing so I’ll be finding out more and marking the date on the calendar.
**The full story of Samuel Crompton, his life and his invention can be found here – I think it makes very interesting, if rather sad, reading.

16 thoughts on “Hall i’ th’ Wood – an interesting history

  1. Thank you for reading, I hope you found it interesting. I never really liked general history when I was at school but local history fascinates me.

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    1. The back of the place is nothing out of the ordinary but the front and sides are very attractive – I really love old black and white buildings 🙂

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  2. I found this post very interesting Eunice and like you I didn’t enjoy history lessons at school but find local and social history fascinating. I’m just about to research my family history as you know,. My Mum and Aunt worked in the Lancashire cotton mills and only last evening I saw a snapshot on the 1911 census that my grandfather was a “Little Cotton Mill Piecer” at age 16 and I can’t wait to find out more as I never knew him, he died when I was a baby.. You should revisit on the special tour day as no doubt that will be a fascinating insight into Samuel Crompton’s life. Looking forward to that post 🙂

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    1. Researching Hall i’ th’ Wood and Samuel Crompton has surprised me at how much local history surrounds the two and how much I never knew. At school we were just told that he was born at Firwood fold, lived at Hall i’ th’ Wood, and invented the Spinning Mule and very little was elaborated on – they seemed to be more intent on teaching things like the kings and queens of England, cavaliers and roundheads, the Tolpuddle Martyrs etc and all sorts of stuff which, to my mind, wasn’t even relevant. There’s a lot of local history round here but it was very rarely touched on, or if it was it was only briefly. It’s interesting to hear about your grandfather, I hope you manage to find out some good information about him 🙂

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    1. It’s certainly worth a look round if you can get there – it’s open on Tuesdays from 10am till 4pm and Saturdays from 12 noon till 4pm, and there’s a small (free) car park right opposite the gates.

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  3. Glad you enjoyed it Jayne. It’s a lovely old house set in its own grounds bordering woodland and fields, and hard to believe it’s right on the edge of a big council estate. It was a very interesting visit and a good dog walk as well 🙂

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  4. It’s a lovely old house full of interesting history, and the sloping floors upstairs are very quirky. It makes a good halfway point for a local dog walk too 🙂

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