All Souls Church Bolton – the old and the new

Back in the 19th century two local brothers, Nathaniel and Thomas Greenhalgh who had made a large fortune in the cotton spinning industry, were determined that some of their wealth should go towards improving the spiritual and moral welfare of the people living and working in the industrial sprawl on the outskirts of Bolton. Being fervent members of the evangelical wing of the Church of England they decided to build a school and a church on land they owned off the main road running north from the town centre, and though Nathaniel died in 1877 at the age of 60 Thomas decided to proceed with the scheme in his memory and work started on the school that same year.
In 1878 the architects Paley and Austin of Lancaster were appointed to design the church, with Thomas Greenhalgh’s remit being that the building should be without interior obstructions so that everyone could see and hear the sermon, and there should be no uncomfortable draughts for people to catch colds. Work on the Gothic Revival-style church started that same year though it was entirely without ceremony as Greenhalgh didn’t want the pomp of laying an official foundation stone; the contractors were Cordingley & Stopford of Manchester and the total cost of the build was £20,000, the equivalent of almost £2.4 million at today’s prices. The new church was consecrated by Bishop Fraser of Manchester on June 30th 1881 and the first vicar was the Reverend William Popplewell.
Built of locally made red brick with Longridge stone being used for the external dressings and Stourton stone inside, the church has a north porch and a west door, a small octagonal turret on the north side and a west tower 26ft square. The roofs were covered in Westmorland slate and at one time the tower had a weather vane bearing the date 1881 but unfortunately this was blown off during a storm in 1952 and was never replaced.
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Thomas Greenhalgh’s remit that the church interior should be without obstructions produced a large nave 52ft wide and 86ft long with just one central aisle, and a chancel measuring 40ft x 25ft. The high vaulted roof and the panelling of the nave walls were made of pitch pine, as were the original pews which could seat 800 people. The pulpit, lectern, reading desk, choir stalls, altar and communion rails were all designed by Paley and Austin and made of oak.
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The church was originally lit by twelve gas pendants then in 1929 electric lighting was introduced, with electric blowers being added to the organ at the same time. The organ itself was built by Abbott of Leeds in 1880 from a specification prepared by S W Pilling of Bolton, with extensive overhauls being carried out in 1959 and again in the 1970s by Peter Wood of Huddersfield. The case, again designed by Paley and Austin, was made of Danzig oak.
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The chancel floor is made up of white marble with inlays of Dent black marble, which isn’t true marble but a black crinoidal limestone found in certain areas of Dentdale and quarried during the late 18th century. With its amazing quantity of embedded fossil remains it became known as Dent Marble and was, at one time, very much sought after.
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The reredos was designed by John Roddis of Birmingham, sculpted from Mansfield stone and made up of a series of panels containing the Apostles’ Creed, the Decalogue and the Lord’s Prayer, while the large font near the west door was also designed by John Roddis and sculpted from Mansfield stone. In later years an oak font cover was added which was paid for by public subscription in 1930 and dedicated to William Popplewell, the church’s first vicar. The inscription on the plaque reads “To the glory of God and in loving memory of the Rev’d William Popplewell, first vicar of this parish 1879 – 1923”
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The eastern windows of the chancel were all made by Clayton & Bell of London and date from the building of the church. Clayton & Bell was one of the most prolific and proficient English stained glass workshops during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, well known for their use of exceptionally bright primary colours. The company was founded in 1855 and continued until 1993 with their windows being found throughout the UK and in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The windows in All Souls were given in memory of Nathaniel Greenhalgh and show scenes from the New Testament including several from The Acts of the Apostles, all with the relevant quotation below them.
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Fast forward through the years and what had once been a large congregation gradually dwindled over time and by the time the church celebrated its centenary in 1981 it was becoming obvious that the building had major problems. From the 1940s there had been several outbreaks of dry rot and in later years vandalism was rife – in 1970 the stained glass windows in the tower were removed after being badly damaged. They had been made by Shrigley and Hunt and had depicted the six days of the Creation but they were replaced with plain glass containing a cross in the upper part of the central light.
In 1986 it was stated that over 80% of the area’s population were of Asian origin with most being Muslims and with the small congregation unable to meet the parish’s financial commitments closure of the church was inevitable; the last service was held there on December 28th that same year. To avoid All Souls suffering the same fate as its sister church, which had been in another area of the town and was demolished in 1975, in June 1987 the church was vested in the Redundant Churches Fund, now known as the Churches Conservation Trust. Since then the Trust has undertaken several major repairs to the fabric of the building including eradicating the dry rot and pointing the brickwork.
In 2007 a local resident, Inayat Omarji, who had lived in the area all his life, recognised the church’s potential to be a community, events and business centre and after gathering support and financial backing for its regeneration a rescue plan was developed in partnership with the Churches Conservation Trust. Renovation and restoration work began in September 2013 and was completed in November 2014, with the doors finally reopening to the public on December 6th that year.
Because the inside of the church had been originally designed without pillars or aisles it was very adaptable to its new purpose as an events and community space. The philosophy of the restoration was to preserve the original beauty of the church while incorporating the very best of contemporary design and the interior now features two connected 3-storey ‘pods’ which are independent of the main building and touch neither the sides nor the roof of it. The newly designed interior provides an events space in the main body of the church for heritage and community activity, a ground floor coffee shop, a history wall, office space and five meeting rooms, while the chancel and all its original features remain intact. The building is still consecrated as a church and weddings can still be held there with the permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In spite of All Souls being only a mile from home I’d never actually been in there, either in the past or in more recent years, however I visited a couple of weeks ago on one of the Heritage Open Days – and I have to say that what you see on the inside is definitely not  what you would expect to see from the outside.
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The church as it was – photo from the internet
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As it is now – looking down the nave
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View from the chancel
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After spending some time wandering round taking photos and reading various bits of information on the history wall I sat down to listen to a very interesting talk on the history of the church given by Suzanne, one of the community workers, then I had the opportunity to climb the tower steps up onto the roof, stopping a couple of times on the way up to look down into the main body of the church.
The tower is 117ft high with a narrow spiral stone staircase of 180 steps and a ring of eight bells cast in 1880 by J Taylor & Co. of Loughborough. The tenor bell alone weighs over 23cwt (1160kg) with the whole ring of eight weighing a total of 90cwt (4570kg). Going up  the staircase was certainly a test of heart and lung capacity, though with no handrail or rope to hold onto coming back down was more a test of nerve and definitely not for the faint-hearted.
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Looking down from the first balcony
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The ringing room
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From the ringing room balcony
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Up in the main roof
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From the third balcony
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The strenuous climb up the tower steps was certainly worth it as I was rewarded with 360 degree views and I could see for miles in all directions; the weather was glorious and I got several good shots looking over the immediate area and beyond, with the high-rises of Manchester city centre on the horizon.
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Back at ground level I had another wander round to catch up on anything I’d previously missed – and I still didn’t manage to see or read everything – then it was time to go as it was almost closing time. I’d been there for over two hours and it was certainly time well spent – I’d learnt something of the history of All Souls and it had been interesting to see the modern ‘building within a building’. The church is open every weekday so who knows, I may very well be tempted to pop in sometime when I’m passing to sample their coffee and cake.

Salford Museum and Peel Park

Salford Museum & Art Gallery started life as Lark Hill Mansion, built in 1809 by Colonel James Ackers and situated in extensive grounds. After 40 years as a private house Salford City Council purchased the building to be used as an educational site, planning to turn it into a public museum and library, and in 1849 Mr John Plant was appointed museum curator and librarian. The building opened as the Royal Museum and Public Library in April 1850, the first free public library in England, and after less than five months was attracting an average of 1,240 visitors per day; extensive refreshment rooms were then opened on the basement floor and two adjoining rooms were added to the library, allowing it to accommodate nearly 12,000 books.
In 1851 three of the East rooms in the museum were knocked into one with proposals to turn the space into an art gallery, then in 1852 a large extension was added to the back of the building, creating a reading room on the ground floor and a museum room above. Between 1854 and 1856 the North and South galleries were opened along with a lending library of 2,500 books, and by 1857 visitor numbers had risen to an average of 3,508 per day. On his death in 1874 Edward Langworthy, a local business man, former Mayor of Salford and an early supporter of the museum, left a £10,000 bequest to the museum and library and this was used to build the Langworthy wing which connected the north and south wings; it was finished in 1878 and officially opened in August that year.
Fast forward almost sixty years and by 1936 the fabric of the original building, the former Lark Hill Mansion, was found to be structurally unstable so it was demolished and replaced by a new wing to match the Langworthy wing. It took two years to complete and was opened in 1938, then in 1957 part of the ground floor of the new wing was turned into Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed Victorian street named after the original Lark Hill Mansion. Although the museum originally had a wide remit when it came to collecting artefacts from different parts of the world it now focuses on social history with a Victorian gallery and hundreds of Victorian objects on display in Lark Hill Place.
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The main entrance to the museum took me through a foyer and into a large and bright reception space with a shop area and a pleasant café beyond it, and on the right was the local history library and a magnificent staircase leading up to the galleries above. After looking round Lark Hill Place, which was my main reason for going to the museum, I went to have a look upstairs; unfortunately a couple of the galleries were closed while the various collections and displays were updated but I had a pleasant wander round the Victorian Gallery, and though I’ve never really liked Victorian paintings I did like the sculptures and the various objects on display.

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In an octagonal glass cabinet was the orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system named after the fourth Earl of Orrery, and though the first one was made for him around 1713 the one on display dates from the early 20th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any really clear shots of it as there were reflections and things in the background on all sides, also I was careful to obey the instruction of ”please do not lean on the glass”
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A section of the fabulous ceiling
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In another gallery was the Superlative Artistry of Japan exhibition, a range of works including paintings and ceramics and several contemporary pieces representing food samples. In the middle of the floor was a wire mesh waste basket crammed full of empty cans – it seemed a strange place for visitors to discard their rubbish but it was actually part of the exhibition.

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Sashimi Boat food sample in vinyl chloride resin, courtesy of Maiduru Co. Ltd

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By the wall in a partially closed gallery was a glass case exhibiting a huge fish, a tarpon caught in the West Indies. There was no date on it, possibly due to some of the exhibits being moved and updated, but the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company operated between 1839 and 1932 so the fish would have been caught sometime during those 93 years.
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The museum building is situated on the edge of Peel Park which was once the extensive grounds of Lark Hill Mansion, so after coffee and cake in the very pleasant café I went to look round the park itself. Following a 7-year campaign by Sir Robert Peel and Mark Phillips MP for a public park it was agreed that part of the Lark Hill estate should be used, and after winning a design competition in 1845 Joshua Major & Son laid out the park. Paid for by public subscription it was the first of three Manchester and Salford parks to be opened to the public in 1846. In 1851 the park was the main public venue for the royal visit of Queen Victoria to Manchester and Salford, a visit which was attended by 80,000 people; in 1857 a statue of the Queen was erected in the park then in 1861 a statue of the Prince Consort was erected after his death.
The peak of the park’s popularity came in the 1890s; by then there was a lake, a fountain, a bandstand, a bowling green and cricket pitch, a skittle alley, seating areas and pavilions. It was the place to see and be seen but years later, in the aftermath of both world wars, many people moved away from the area and the park was no longer the focal point of a community. In the years between 1954 and 1967 it underwent a major redevelopment and landscaping then in 1981 it became part of The Crescent conservation area. Unfortunately the park fell into disrepair in the last few years of the 20th century but after receiving a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2016 it underwent a second redevelopment and reopened in 2017.

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Some very early blooms in a sunny corner
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The River Irwell and some of its residents
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Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore the park as much as I would have liked; although the sun was still shining the blue sky of earlier had been replaced by clouds which were getting darker by the minute so not wanting to get caught in a downpour I cut my visit short and made my way back to the station a couple of minutes walk away. It proved to be a good move as I was just crossing the road near the station entrance when I was hit by a heavy shower of hailstones. I didn’t mind too much though, I’d had my few hours out and got plenty of photos, and now having recently seen photos of the park in full bloom I’ll certainly be going back later in the year when the leaves are on the trees and the weather’s good.

 

Lark Hill Place, Salford

Lark Hill Place, set within Salford Museum, is a reconstruction of a typical late 19th century street and takes its name from Lark Hill Mansion which once occupied the museum’s site. The street was created in 1957 by the then curator of the museum at a time when slum clearances in Salford saw many areas changed to make way for more modern housing. He decided to salvage and restore several original shop and house fronts and their contents, and with the help of members of the public who donated various objects, and a group of local children who would raid skips for period items and beg or borrow them from their grandparents, he developed Lark Hill Place, with the theme being set on an early winter’s evening in 1897.
From the light and airy museum reception area and café double doors led to a corridor with information boards on the walls, then another set of doors took me into Lark Hill Place itself and I was instantly transported back to the late Victorian era; even at first glance I could see that this place was very unique and extremely interesting.
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Lark Hill Place from the entrance
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Looking left
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Looking right
The street ran left and right from a central ‘square’ and working my way round clockwise from there the corner shop on my immediate left was James Critchley’s clogger’s shop. It originally stood in Whit Lane, Pendleton, until it was demolished, and it supplied clogs and boots to many millworkers and those who worked at the nearby coal mines. Next door was Louisa Greenhalgh’s haberdashery; Louisa’s name first appeared in local directories in the 1840s, listed as a dressmaker, milliner and haberdasher of Bedford Street, Salford. The mahogany door of the shop dates from about 1750 and originally came from Hope Hall, a brick-built house once set in pleasure grounds on Eccles Old Road, Salford, though those have long since been lost to redevelopment.
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Next to the haberdasher’s was William Bracegirdle’s forge which once stood in Salford’s Ordsall Lane. In the late 19th century blacksmiths and wheelwrights were higher up the social standings than other manual workers as they were considered to be the backbone of transport, however when automobiles took over and trade diminished blacksmiths became the first generation of automobile workers, though after 1901 the Bracegirdle family became general labourers.
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Next was the Georgian House, showing what a room in the original Lark Hill Mansion would have looked like in the late 18th century. Much of the furniture is in the Chippendale style and on the right of the room was a square piano made by Christopher Ganer of London in 1789.

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Next door to the Georgian house, and at the end of the street, was the Victorian parlour, richly decorated and furnished and containing two pianos. Above the pianos and against the back wall were several glass domes containing decorative arrangements of stuffed birds, flowers and plants, reflecting the Victorian fascination with natural history and for bringing exotic birds into the home. Although the darkness meant I couldn’t get a clear photo of it, high on the wall outside the room was a fire plate decorated with a liver bird; this came from a property in Salford’s Broughton Street and shows that the house owner had an insurance policy with the Royal Insurance Company which was established in 1845.
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Set back in the far corner was a door with an undertaker’s sign indicating that funeral orders could be taken there even though the undertaker’s premises were elsewhere. Victorian funerals could be lucrative affairs, reflecting the increasing wealth of the industrial classes, but in spite of the potential for undertakers to become wealthy themselves through their work the association with death seems to have prevented them from being seen as truly ‘respectable’; the discreet unassuming sign at Lark Hill represents the careful tone which undertakers used in all their advertising and paperwork, from business cards and catalogues to invoice paper.
On the corner to the right of the undertakers was a Victorian post box and Adolf Renk’s pawnbrokers shop, although the Renk family were never true pawnbrokers; they traded mainly as jewellers and watchmakers. Established in 1836 by brothers August and Charles Renk, originally from Germany, the shop was situated at 144 Chapel Street in Salford. Charles’ son Adolph took over the business in 1903 and it remained in the family until the shop was taken down in 1956, with the main components of it being saved to become part of Lark Hill Place.
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Next door to the pawnbroker’s was the Bracegirdle’s cottage, a simple one-up, one-down affair. William Bracegirdle learned his trade from his father who was also a wheelwright, and he and his wife Elizabeth had four children, Elizabeth, Ellen, Albert and Joseph. Elizabeth worked as a cart hirer while Albert and Joseph became joiners; it’s assumed that Ellen worked away as a housemaid. Their simple home was more sparsely furnished than others, with the one downstairs room being used for cooking, eating, washing and general living, while attached to the wall near the back door was a vertical wooden ‘ladder’ which went through a hole in the ceiling to the bedroom above.
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Next was Mrs Driver’s house with a self-explanatory sign outside the door. Mrs Driver practiced leeching at her home in Bury Street, Salford; she became known as the ‘plaster woman’ as her secret ointment recipe was very popular among the locals. The red and white pole outside the house came from a local barber’s shop; in former times barbers were allowed to carry out bloodletting and minor operations and the poles became symbols of this as the stripes represent blood and bandages.
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Next door to Mrs Driver’s and on the corner of the square was John Hamer’s shop which was originally situated on Salford’s Broad Street. John Hamer was a chemist and druggist and lived with his wife Emma and their three children, Edward, Arthur and Mary; they also had a domestic servant called Elizabeth. In the days long before the National Health Service many people couldn’t afford to see a doctor so would seek the advice of a chemist; John Hamer sold his own remedies, made up in the back room of the shop, and many drugs which are now illegal including opium.
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Across the corner from the chemist was the Blue Lion Tavern which had been a corner-site public house on Cook Street and originally called the White Lion. It was run by Emma Jane Twyford who, in spite of being married, was listed on census records as being the head of her household. Emma was the last proprietor of the Blue Lion as it was demolished in 1892 to make way for a Threlfall’s brewery – the reconstruction at Lark Hill Place was made up from three different pubs demolished during Salford’s 1950s rebuilding works.
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Next door to the Blue Lion was the William and Mary house. Before the Industrial Revolution timber framed houses were common across Salford and one such house dated back to 1306. It was originally built as a manor house for the Wythin Grave family, eventually becoming Ye Olde Rovers Return Inn during the 18th century. It traded as a pub until 1924 then later became a working mens’ café and finally the Rovers Return Trinket Shop before being demolished in the late 1950s.
The William and Mary house at Lark Hill Place was reconstructed with timbers from that building, with wooden panelling from Kenyon Peel Hall, Little Hulton, and a staircase from a house in Gravel Lane, Salford. Representative of a property from the late 17th century it contains objects from the same period, including a high-backed walnut chair, a gate-leg table and a cabinet with marquetry decoration, while on the wall are portraits of Sir Robert Honeywood and Frances Vane who were married in 1631 – Sir Robert was a Commonwealth ambassador to Sweden in 1659.
Set back in the corner to the right of the William and Mary house was the tobacconist’s shop. Eugene Morand, originally from Italy, was a cigar merchant of Chapel Street in Salford; he had a wife, Louisa, and a son, James, and must have been quite a wealthy tobacconist as he also had a domestic servant. According to the trade directories of the time, E Morand Tobacconist’s traded from 1861 to 1893 in Salford, Hulme, and Whalley Range. On the wall to the right of the shop is a Muratti mirror advertisement; it came from a tobacconist’s in Broad Street, Pendleton, and is said to show the actress Lily Langtry who became known as the ‘Jersey Lily’.
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At the end of the street, and facing towards the square, was Henry Radcliffe’s toy shop with its window displaying many different types of toys from the era, including a model ark with a collection of animal pairs, several books and a Victorian rocking horse.
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To the right of the toy shop was the printshop, part of a booming industry in the mass production of text. Salford had its own newspapers, the Salford Chronicle founded in 1868 and the Reporter, founded in 1879. The Reporter changed its name frequently and in later years became the Salford City Reporter, continuing production until 1997 when it merged with the Advertiser. On display in the printshop were a two-handed printing press, several printing tools and a variety of printing blocks.
Next door to the printshop was the music shop containing a wide range of musical instruments and products. Although the commercial potential of musical instruments and recordings developed greatly during the 19th century dedicated music shops were rare in Victorian Salford, with piano tuners being more common. Since more and more people owned their own pianos at home and earlier instruments were becoming harder to maintain the demand for tuning services became too much for the piano makers, so independent businesses and tradesmen were able to flourish, with tuners being well respected.
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On the corner next to the music shop, and the last shop in Lark Hill Place, was Matthew Tomlinson’s general store which originally stood in Fairfield Street, Manchester. It sold a diverse range of products from sweets and chocolate to groceries, fabric dyes, soap and herbal remedies, and several brands on display in the Lark Hill window were still around when I was a child.
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Away from the light and airy main part of the museum, once I’d been in Lark Hill Place for a few minutes I really began to feel as though I’d stepped back in time. Getting photos looking through windows wasn’t easy as there was quite a lot of light reflection but I got enough shots to show what the individual rooms and shops were like. Looking round and getting an insight into Victorian times had been a fascinating experience, and as the museum is only a 10-minute train ride from my local main station it’s a place I may very well revisit in the not-too-distant future.

 

Bolton’s street art…

What little there is of it anyway.
My Monday walk this week is a relatively short one across the town centre from north to south, starting at the 1st Edition tattoo parlour just on the north edge of town. It’s round the corner from one of the places where I work so I pass it regularly ; the mural on the side wall has been done by a Hungarian-born Preston tattoo artist with over ten years experience working as a graphic designer, illustrator and street artist.
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Artist – Andrew Senph
Down into the town centre itself now, and the Greyhound pub on Deansgate. Unfortunately I’ve been unable to find out any history of the pub other than for some strange reason it’s referred to locally as the Kicking Donkey ; on its side wall is one of several murals done by an artist going by the name of Kaser.
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Artist – Kaser
A few minutes walk from the Greyhound and past the open market took me to the Griffin pub on Great Moor Street and a Kaser mural on the corner wall, though again I can find no history of the pub itself.
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Artist – Kaser
Another few minutes walk and I came to the Sweet Green Tavern on Crook Street, and more murals by Kaser. Yet again I’ve been unable to find out much history of the pub though the very friendly young lady behind the bar did tell me that the building used to be three separate premises. The window on the far left was once a doorway and that and the two windows on its right were the original pub which was just one room. The existing doorway and the two windows to its right belonged to a bakery and the other three windows were the doorway and windows of a house.
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Stretching along the pub’s rear wall, and bordering the main road, is a large mural which pays tribute to the photos of Humphrey Spender and the Mass Observation of 1937/38. Seen close up it’s just a jumble of black and grey shapes but from across the road (or in my case the middle of the road!) it makes more sense.
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Artist – Kaser

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On the end wall of the pub is another mural by Kaser, taken from a photo of the 1918 Crook Street train crash. On March 16th that year a coal train with an engine weighing 70 tons pulling wagons carrying over 400 tons of coal ran out of control going down the incline approaching Bolton Terminal Station. It was diverted into the Crook Street goods yard but ran through the yard, smashed through the buffers and the boundary wall, crossed the road diagonally and smashed into two small houses. The guard jumped from the brake van but the driver and fireman stayed on the footplate ; fortunately none of the men suffered more than minor injuries but eight people living in the houses were injured, though not seriously. In addition to the damage to the engine and the houses five coal wagons were completely wrecked and seven others were damaged.
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Artist – Kaser
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Framed article in the pub, taken from the local paper in 1998
Going through the pub and out into the outside smoking area I found a plethora of murals by Kaser. Unfortunately some of the canopy supports prevented me from getting completely uninterrupted photos of some of the murals but the shots I got were good enough. My favourite was the hummingbird on the end wall, and even though it was looking a bit worse for wear it was still quite pretty.

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This has no connection to the artist Banksy – the landlord’s name is Banks
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As far as I’m aware these murals are the only examples of street art in my town ; I can think of several places which could be brightened up with a mural or two so it’s a shame that most of these are hidden behind the outside wall of a pub’s beer garden. I’m glad I found out about them though, and at least I’ve added a few more photos to my street art collection.

 

Town centre heritage trail – some local history and photos

The industrial past of my home town, Bolton, lives on today in many ways, including the work and inventions of several famous locals who helped to forge and shape the industrial revolution. The Industrial Heritage Town Centre Walking Trail has 12 sites of interest including historic buildings and statues, and my Monday walk this week starts at the first one, the Town Hall in Victoria Square.
In the mid 19th century the town’s mayor at the time, J R Wolfenden, promoted the idea for a town hall and a competition for the design was held by Bolton Corporation. It was won by architect William Hill of Leeds in partnership with Bolton’s George Woodhouse and building began in 1866. A quarter-chiming clock by Potts of Leeds was installed in the baroque-style clock tower in 1871 and the completed Town Hall was opened by Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, in 1873. In later years the design was re-used by William Hill as the template to build Portsmouth’s Civic Town Hall in 1890, which is a near-identical twin, though it was renamed Portsmouth Guildhall in 1926 when the town was elevated to city status.
In the early 1930s the rear of the town hall was extended to the designs of local architects Bradshaw, Gass & Hope and which matched the original building, with a crescent of civic buildings providing office space built to the rear on a new street. Inside the town hall was the Albert Hall, a central hall used for concerts and official functions, which was surrounded on three sides by a wide corridor and an outer ring of offices. In 1978 local steeplejack Fred Dibnah made repairs to the clock tower and its 16 stone pillars and gilded the sphere at the top. On November 14th 1981 the Albert Hall was unfortunately gutted by a devastating fire but the rest of the building was saved, with the hall itself being rebuilt as two public halls, the new Albert Hall and the Festival Hall.
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To the right of the town hall is the statue of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Benjamin Alfred Dobson. Although born on the Isle of Man he was a descendant of the founder of Bolton company Dobson & Barlow, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of textile machinery. He studied as a civil engineer and entered the family firm in 1871, eventually becoming Chairman ; he also wrote books about the spinning industry and held several engineering patents. As a Conservative MP Dobson represented North Ward for six years from 1874 and was a magistrate from 1880.
In March 1879 Dobson opened the lattice girder ‘Dobson Bridge’ in Queen’s Park and in June 1884 he opened the Chadwick Museum in the same park. In 1894 he became Mayor of Bolton, with his wife Coralie being the first Mayoress to wear the Mayoress’s Chain and Badge ; he was knighted in July 1897 and died in March 1898 while still in office. The statue of Dobson, modelled by Manchester sculptor John Cassidy, was purchased by public subscription and was unveiled in February 1900. In much later years his great grandson, Christopher Brian Spencer Dobson, who was a lawyer, politician, comedian and actor, co-wrote the screenplay for Nicholas Roeg’s 1973 film ”Don’t Look Now” (starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland) under the name Chris Bryant.
About 50 yards away from the Dobson statue, in a huge reinforced glass case, is the Corliss Steam Engine built in Bolton by Hick Hargreaves & Co Ltd in 1886. The original Corliss steam engine was invented in 1849 in Rhode Island, America, by George Henry Corliss who managed to create an engine that was 30% more efficient than conventional ones. This was an important breakthrough as it meant that for the first time steam power became more economical than water power. This in turn meant that as factories no longer needed to use water to turn their wheels but could use a steam engine instead they could be built anywhere, not just next to a suitable river. The Corliss engine was ideal for textile mills as it had adjustable speed and power, which was useful when connected to machines for the spinning of delicate thread.
The Bolton engine was in use until 1969 in a silk spinning mill owned by Ford, Ayrton & Co in Bentham, North Yorkshire, and when it came to the end of its working life it was donated to the people of Bolton. Representing a typical steam engine which would have powered so many mills throughout the region, it was erected and placed in its huge glass case by Bolton Corporation when Oxford Street and Newport Street were pedestrianised in 1973. At one time the large wheel could be seen going round on Saturdays but it hasn’t turned for many years now.
The Bank of Bolton on Deansgate was a joint stock bank established in 1836 with a capital of £300,000. In 1896 it was acquired by Manchester & County Bank Ltd which eventually became part of the National Westminster Bank. The Coat of Arms still exists on the outside of the building and also in some of the interior stained glass, though of course for security reasons I wasn’t allowed to take any photos inside.
Along Deansgate and past the junction with Bradshawgate is Churchgate and Booth’s Music Shop which occupies the site of Arkwright’s Barbers Shop established in the early 1760s. Born in Preston, Lancashire, in 1732 Richard Arkwright was apprenticed to a barber in nearby Kirkham and began his adult working life as a barber and wig maker, setting up his shop in Bolton’s Churchgate. It was here that he invented a waterproof dye for use on the fashionable periwigs of the time, the income from which later funded his prototype cotton machinery.
After the death of his first wife Arkwright became interested in the development of carding and spinning machinery to replace hand labour in the conversion of raw cotton to thread for weaving, and in 1768 he returned to Preston with John Kay, a clock maker, where they rented rooms in a house on Stoneygate, now called Arkwright House. There they worked on developing a spinning machine and in 1769 Arkwright patented the spinning frame which produced twisted threads using wooden and metal cylinders rather than human fingers. This machine, initially powered by horses, greatly reduced the cost of cotton-spinning and would lead to major changes in the textile industry. The original building where Arkwright had his barbers shop was demolished in the early 1920s, being replaced by the existing building, though there is a plaque commemorating him on the wall above the music shop windows.
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At the far end of Churchgate is the large St. Peter’s Church, commonly known as Bolton Parish Church. The fourth church to be built on that site, it was designed by Lancaster architect E G Paley. Paid for by Peter Ormrod, a local cotton spinner of Halliwell Hall whose father founded the Bank of Bolton, it was built between 1867 and 1871 in the Gothic Revival style. Its tower, at 180ft high, is the tallest in the historic county of Lancashire and has spectacular 360-degree views across the area. The spacious and beautiful interior contains many items of interest including fine stained glass windows, carved woodwork, a museum corner and an organ with beautifully decorated case and pipes. Guided tours of the church can be pre-booked, and having been in there myself a couple of years ago it’s a church well worth seeing.
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In the grounds of the Parish Church is Samuel Crompton’s tomb. Building on the work of James Hargreaves and Richard Arkwright Crompton invented the spinning mule, a machine which greatly revolutionised the cotton spinning industry. Unfortunately his invention was never patented, which allowed others to copy his idea, and in 1827 he died a poor man at his house in King Street in the town centre. It’s said that a large number of people attended his funeral, including some of Bolton’s factory owners ; his original gravestone was very simple but in 1861 the existing granite monument, paid for by the workers of Dobson & Barlow Ltd, was placed over the grave.

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Not far from the Parish Church is Wood Street, a short cobbled street of Georgian terraced houses, most of which are now offices, and No. 16 is the birthplace of William Hesketh Lever, industrialist, politician, landowner and major Bolton benefactor. Lever started work at his father’s grocery business in Bolton but as a businessman he is noted for founding the soap and cleaning product firm, Lever Brothers with his younger brother James in 1885, and at Port Sunlight on the Wirral he built his works and a model village to house its employees. Lord Leverhulme was asked to become Mayor of Bolton in 1918 and for some time worked with town planners on a grand architectural revival for Bolton.
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Along the road from Wood Street is Nelson Square and the Samuel Crompton statue. In honour of his contribution towards revolutionising the cotton spinning industry a statue paid for by public subscription was unveiled on 24th September 1862 and still stands proud today.
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Heading back towards the town hall and on one corner of Victoria Square is No. 1 Newport Street, the Exchange Building. Built in 1826 by the Bolton Exchange Company it was originally a trading exchange inside which was a private reading room. This developed into a private library which later became Bolton’s first public library. Later still it became Bolton Council Reference Library and remained as such until 1938 when the library services were transferred to the new civic buildings behind the town hall. By 1956 the building was being used by the Inland Revenue Valuation Office, in the years since then it has been a building society and is now currently a Coral’s betting shop.
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Bolton Museum, Art Gallery and Central Library are all housed together at one end of the Civic Centre buildings designed by local architects Bradshaw, Gass & Hope in the 1930s. The museum collections include natural history, Egyptology, archaeology, art and local history, and one of Britain’s oldest public aquariums, opened in 1941, is housed in the basement.
In 2003, after consulting experts at the British Museum and Christies, Bolton Museum bought the small sculpture Armana Princess  for £439,767 from a local man who claimed it was from his grandfather’s forgotten collection. The sculpture remained on display until 2006 when it was exposed as a fake ; after an investigation the forger was found to be the local man who, over a period of several years, had produced many forged works of art in his garden shed, including what was said to be an original Lowry painting – he was eventually sentenced to 4 years 8 months in prison. In recent years the museum received £3.8 million in grant funding to update and improve its collections and displays and after a refurbishment programme lasting almost two years it re-opened in September 2018, with the Armana Princess  back on display in a special section for fakes and forgeries.
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The museum and art gallery concluded my circular walking trail round the town centre but there was one more place on the list – Queen’s Park. Although not actually in the town centre one part of the park was right on the edge and was included in the trail because of its heritage connections. Originally opened in 1866 as Bolton Park it was renamed by the Town Council in 1897 in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The park is the original site of the Chadwick Museum, which eventually became the Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, and it also has the Dobson Bridge, erected in 1878 to link the original park to a later extension and officially opened by B A Dobson who was Chairman of the Park Committee at the time.
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Dobson Bridge, Queen’s Park, on a much nicer day
Unfortunately when I did this walk two days ago the weather wasn’t exactly brilliant, it was so dull and grey that I’ve had to seriously enhance these photos to properly show some of the sites of interest, but hopefully I’ll have time to do the walk again on a much nicer day and I’ll be able to replace these shots with some better ones.

Bury Parish Church – some history and photos

This week’s Monday walk, if you can call it that, features a wander round a church about seven miles from home in the next town. The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin is situated right on the edge of Bury town centre, just a couple of minutes walk from the interchange and the main shopping centre and not far from the well known open market. Church records suggest that the first church on the site was a wood and thatch structure which was replaced in the late 16th century by a building in the Gothic style ; between 1773 and 1780 the main body of this church was demolished and rebuilt although the spire wasn’t touched.
The spire itself was replaced in 1842 but by 1870 the timbers in the rest of the church had rotted and another new building was needed. The current church was designed on a much grander scale by architect J S Crowther and was built leaving the 1842 spire in place ; construction took five years and the church was finally consecrated on February 2nd 1876. The interior features hammerbeam and tie-beam roof trusses, decorative mosaic flooring by Minton and stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell and Hardman & Company, while the tower houses eight bells, six of which date from 1722.
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The nave is 84ft 6ins long, 30ft wide and 76ft 6ins high, with the windows on the north wall depicting Old Testament figures while those on the south wall depict those from the New Testament. Unfortunately most of the windows were so high up that I would have needed to use an exceptionally long step ladder to get good clear shots of them. The west wall rises in four stages to the great rose window and was inspired by Westminster Abbey, while the pulpit was given in memory of Reverend Roger Kay who re-founded Bury Grammar School in 1726 ; it’s believed that he is actually buried beneath the pulpit.
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The nave and sanctuary
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The ornate sanctuary screen
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Looking down the nave from the sanctuary
The organ was at one time situated above the west door but it was relocated to its current position when the church was rebuilt in 1876. Originally a tracker action organ electrics were eventually installed and the console was moved to the south side of the chancel where it faced east. The organ was rebuilt in 2007, keeping some of the original pipework and giving it a French sound, and the console was turned to face south.
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Flooring in the South Chapel
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South Chapel reredos – Mary and child flanked by patron saints of Britain
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Looking down the nave to the west wall
The church is also the garrison church of the Lancashire Fusiliers. On April 25th 1915 the Lancashire Fusiliers were involved in taking West Beach at Gallipoli, for which the regiment won six VCs, and each year a service is held on the nearest Sunday to that date to commemorate those who took part in Gallipoli and subsequent battles. For anyone interested in regimental history the church has a number of colours hung on display along with memorial tablets, record books and other artefacts, with a dedicated museum in the old Fusiliers building round the corner.
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The Fusilier Museum
I hadn’t originally intended going into the church as I was in Bury for an entirely different reason, but when I saw the ‘church open’ sign on the outside railings I thought I may as well pop in for a quick look and I’m glad I did. It’s a lovely place with many interesting features, more than I realised at the time, so it would be worth making a return visit the next time I go to Bury – and with a nice little café just across the road I can treat myself to coffee and cake as well.

New Year’s Day walk 2019

After more than two weeks of almost constant gloomy and wet weather New Year’s Day was dry, bright and sunny so I took the opportunity to go for an afternoon walk round part of Leverhulme Park, a local place I hadn’t been to for about twenty years. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t take the dogs this time – with Sophie having recently had a major operation she wasn’t allowed out and it wouldn’t have been fair to take Poppie and leave Sophie behind so for once I was on my own.
Leverhulme Park is the largest of all the local parks and was gifted to the town by well-known local soap magnate and generous benefactor William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme). Back in 1914 Bolton Corporation was negotiating to buy 67 acres of land on the outskirts of town to turn into a park but when WW1 broke out government restrictions made it impossible to raise all the money necessary for the purchase. When William Lever heard about this he bought the land himself and presented it to the town, then went on to buy further pieces of land to extend the park to 98 acres – a total of 88 of these acres were donated by him and the park was eventually named Leverhulme Park in his honour.
Although the top end of the park provides the usual park facilities – well mown grass, bowling greens, cricket pitches, football pitch, playground, dog walking areas and more recently an up-to-date leisure centre and running track – the bottom end has more of a countryside look with wild meadows, woodland, two rivers and several unmade tracks and paths, and it was this part I was going to explore.
My walk started at the main car park close to the playground and followed a wide tree-lined tarmac path with the cricket pitches and a bowling green up a bank on my left. After a while the tarmac changed to cobbles and the path went downhill through a small wooded area, ending up close to a road where a row of cottages nestled in the shadow of the 86ft high Darcy Lever viaduct. This was once part of the railway line connecting Bolton to Bury but the line was closed in 1970 and the track was left derelict for many years, though more recently the viaduct has become part of a shared footpath/cycleway running from Bolton to Radcliffe.
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A few yards along from the cottages the River Tonge flowed down wide shallow steps and under the road ; footpaths ran both right and left of the river and I took the right hand one as I knew that would take me back into the park. I hadn’t gone far when the path split at the beginning of a wild meadow ; going straight on would take me directly across the meadow so I went left through a small coppice and followed the river round the meadow’s edge. At the point where Bradshaw Brook joined the river itself a man was throwing sticks into the water for his dog although it looked rather gloomy just there as the tall trees were keeping the sunlight at bay.
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The River Tonge
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Bradshaw Brook
At the far side of the meadow the path took me through a thicket of trees to a second meadow ; the man and his dog had given up playing in the river and were walking ahead of me. On the left was a bridge with stone parapets and railings, a bridge which I knew would lead to another more cultivated part of the park although I would save that one for another time. Continuing straight on the path led through more woodland but not sure of where I would end up I turned right and followed a nearby dirt track uphill.
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Bradshaw Brook near the bridge – a great spot for picnics and paddling in summer
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Looking towards the meadow from the bridge
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The top of the dirt track brought me out onto the main path through the top end of the park close to the running track ; although it was only just after 3 o’clock I was already losing the best of the sunlight so deciding that it was time to go home I followed the path past one of the more modern slide constructions and back to the car park.
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It had seemed strange walking without the dogs but although it hadn’t been a long walk – time-wise it had only taken 45 minutes – it had been a good one and it was nice to see that the bottom end of the park hadn’t really changed in the years since I was last there. I’d got some good photos too so I must remember to go back in the spring/early summer to see the differences a change of season will make.
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My walk, clockwise from yellow dot
It’s good to see that my blogging friend Jo is resuming her Monday walks when she can so I’m linking this with her latest, a walk round a nature reserve and salt marshes in Southern Spain, ending with some delicious-looking cake and cream.

Radcliffe Tower and Close Park

My Monday walk this week is more of a wander than a walk and features a look round Radcliffe Tower and Close Park at Radcliffe, a town just over six miles from home. Being a frequent visitor to the large camping store in Radcliffe I’ve been to the town many times over the years but I didn’t know anything about Radcliffe Tower until just three days ago when I was reading through someone else’s blog. It seemed that the tower and park are in an area of the town which I’ve only ever passed through a couple of times on my way to somewhere else, which was probably why I didn’t know about it, so as there was plenty of sunshine and blue sky on Saturday afternoon I decided to take the dogs and check things out.
A 20-minute drive took me to the car park at the entrance to Close Park, and though I was itching to look round the park straight away I decided to find the tower first. Just off the main road and adjacent to the car park was Church Green, a three-sided cobbled lane with three modern terraced houses on one side, a small public garden in the middle and St. Mary’s church at the bottom end. Built in the 14th century with the tower being added in the 15th century the church is Grade l listed, with the churchyard containing the war graves of six soldiers from WW1 and three from WW2. Unfortunately the central garden and the front of the church itself were very much in the shade but I got a couple of photos then moved on to find the tower.
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The Parish Church of St. Mary
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A path from the car park took me over a wide water-filled channel – originally a closed-off part of the nearby River Irwell – and past the back of the church to another path behind the far side of the graveyard ; the ruined tower and its surrounding land were completely enclosed by a high galvanised steel perimeter fence but at least there was a gate which allowed access during daylight hours.
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The back of the church seen through the trees
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Radcliffe Tower west wall and original entrance
Built as a typical fortified pele tower the earliest record of it dates back to 1358 ; it would have been three stories high with storage on the ground floor and living accommodation above. In 1403 the tower’s owner, James de Radcliffe, was given permission by King Henry IV to fortify his house and a new Great Hall was built to adjoin the tower, forming Radcliffe Manor, with the original ground floor storage area being converted into a kitchen with a fireplace on each of three walls. In 1517 the Manor passed to a distant branch of the Radcliffe family and in 1561 it was sold to the Assheton family who lived near Rochdale. They leased the hall and its land to tenant farmers, with subsequent members of the family continuing to do the same until 1765 when it was sold to the Earl of Wilton from Heaton Hall near Prestwich, though he continued to let it out to tenants.
By the early 1800s much of the Manor’s former grandeur had gone, with residents living only in the small west wing. The Great Hall was converted into a barn and the tower itself was used as a farm building, with the huge ground floor fireplaces in the south and east walls being knocked through to give access for farm carts and/or animals. By 1840 the Great Hall and the west wing were in such a state of disrepair that they were demolished and some of the stone from their foundations was used to build cottages nearby. The tower itself was spared and continued to be used as a farm building, with a new farmhouse being built to the north of where the Great Hall had been standing.
In 1925 the tower was scheduled as a monument and though it stayed in the ownership of the Wilton family until the 1950s the land round it wasn’t protected and in the 1940s gravel quarrying began to the south of the tower. By the 1960s the nearby farmhouse and cottages had been demolished, then starting in the 1970s the quarry was turned into a landfill site with large trucks rumbling right past the tower which, protected only by a fence round it, was in a very delapidated state by then. The future of the tower began to change in 1988 though when Bury Council took over ownership and conservation and stabilisation took place, which included blocking up two windows and the original fireplace arches. The scheduling of the monument was extended to include the land where the Great Hall had stood and by 2007 the landfill site had gone, with Bury Council acquiring the rest of the land surrounding the tower.
Starting in 2012 a series of archaeological investigations took place on the tower and Great Hall site and also on the site of the later farm and cottages which had been built nearby – finds from the Great Hall site included 15th century Cistercian drinking pots and storage jars and also showed that the floor would have been made from glazed tiles. Today the Medieval fabric of the tower has been professionally conserved and restored and the area round it has been landscaped, with a ‘pathway’ next to the tower marking out the footprint of the original Great Hall.
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The north wall with a fireplace arch still visible
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A window in the east wall
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The south wall with another fireplace arch
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West wall window showing the underside of a spiral stone staircase
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West wall showing the diagonal roof line where the Great Hall was joined to the tower
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Part of the footprint of the Great Hall marked out by a continuous pathway on the ground
At various points around the grounds covered information boards told the history of the tower site and once I’d read and photographed them all I made my way through the gate and back along the path to the park.  Close Park was originally the grounds to Close House, the home of the Bealey family who established a nearby bleaching business in the 18th century ; in 1925 the family presented the house to what was then Radcliffe Urban District Council for use as a Child Welfare Centre, with the grounds being converted into a public park for the town’s inhabitants. The house was also used as a clinic, a museum and an ambulance centre before being demolished in 1969, and the nearby bleachworks was finally demolished in the 1980s when a modern housing estate was built on the site. Current facilities and attractions at the park include 7 football pitches, 3 tennis courts, a bowling green, outdoor gym, children’s playground, a sensory garden and various sculptures which are part of the Irwell Sculpture Trail.
Starting from the car park the first thing I saw was a huge stainless steel dinosaur, one of three sculptures created by artist Mark Jalland in consultation with children from local primary schools. From there I followed the path down to the sensory garden and what I first thought was a water feature was actually a stainless steel and copper sculpture based on a cup cake, although after seeing it on an internet picture it seemed to have lost its chocolate topping. The third sculpture, not far from the bowling green, was a cheetah wearing trainers – presumably meant to signify running fast but strangely the trainers were only on diagonal feet. Who knows what goes on in the minds of these artists?!
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‘James and his ball of fire’ inspired by papercraft models and inflatable animals
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‘Chococupcakeboy’ based on a chocolate cup cake
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‘Tara in her trainers’
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Having found the three sculptures I wandered at random round the rest of the park ; the playing fields stretched for quite a distance but there didn’t seem to be much in that direction so I stuck to the main body of the park, and with the sunlight really showing off the autumn colours of the trees I got several lovely shots before ending my wander back at the car park.
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Downloading my photos onto the pc later on it struck me what a brilliant resource the internet is, even though it’s something that most of us now take for granted. I’d only found out about Radcliffe Tower and Close Park through reading a blog which I’d found from a link on another blog I’d discovered while doing a general search for something else – if it hadn’t been for that I could have lived the rest of my life in total ignorance of the place but now I know about the park I’ll certainly pay another visit in the not-too-distant future.

Inside Turton Tower

After visiting the gardens of Turton Tower while on a dog walk back in March, but being unable to go into the building itself, I decided last Saturday to take a couple of hours out and explore the place properly. Unfortunately the blue sky and sunshine of the morning had disappeared by the time I set out just after lunch but once I’d parked up I still took a walk through the grounds before going to look round inside. I must have looked rather suspicious while taking photos outside the main gates as one of the volunteer gardeners came to see what I was doing but she seemed quite happy when she saw my camera and even told me that the gates, with their ironwork decorations and coats of arms, had recently been repainted by another of the volunteers.
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The castellated railway bridge commissioned by James Kay in 1847
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The second footbridge, now overgrown and with no access across
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The summer house
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The main gates, not in use
The oldest part of the building is the tower itself, built in the early 15th century, but entrance to the house is now actually round the side, and once I’d paid the £6 fee I was given a picture guide to the different rooms then I was free to wander at will. In the first room, which was actually the original entrance hall, one of the volunteer guides gave me a lot of information about the place, information which even my previous research hadn’t told me. She was a very interesting lady to talk to and I could have stayed chatting for hours but I had a house to explore.
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The original entrance door
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This side of the table had no carved decoration
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The unicorn tapestry
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The right hand wall of this room was part of a cruck-frame extension which wasn’t connected to the main building. The whole lot was eventually joined together by the roof but a narrow gap still exists between the two separate walls.
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The very top floor of the original tower is known as the Chetham Room and was converted in the 19th century by the Kay family into a bedroom and billiard room. These are long gone, with the space becoming one big room with the walls stripped back so the original stone architecture can be seen. On a half-landing just outside this room is the top of the original stone spiral staircase which would, at one time, have run down the outside of the tower – this was restored by the Kay family and can be seen through a clear panel set into the floor, but because of the reflection from a light above, my attempt to photograph it wasn’t very successful.
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The Chetham Room
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A collection of horse brasses at the top of the stairs
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Looking down the stairwell
With the last photo taken inside I went out for a brief wander round the gardens. The afternoon had turned out to be very dull and it looked like it might rain so it wasn’t long before I was back in the van and on my way towards home. I realise this post is very photo-heavy but Turton Tower is a fascinating place with a lot of history and so much to take photos of, in fact I could easily have taken many more than I actually did and I’ve had to be ruthless in deciding which to include and which to leave out.
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A brief history of the place can be found here in my post from March, and a much more detailed account with some interesting reading can be found on this blog written by A & R Bowden. It was a shame that the weather turned out to be so grey after the sunshine of earlier but at least that gives me an excuse to visit Turton Tower another time in the not-too-distant future when hopefully there’ll be plenty of blue sky.

 

Smithills Hall – some local history and a few memories

Surrounded by 120 acres of gardens and open land with a steep wooded valley and small lake to the north, Smithills Hall is a Grade l listed manor house situated on the lower slopes of the West Pennine Moors and three miles north west of Bolton town centre. One of the oldest manor houses in north west England, the first written records began when William Radcliffe obtained the manor from the Hulton family in 1335. On William’s death in 1369 the hall passed to his son Sir Ralph Radcliffe who was an MP and High Sheriff of Lancashire, with the Radcliffes living there until 1485. When the male line failed the hall passed to the Bartons, a family of wealthy sheep farmers, and in 1520 the private chapel was rebuilt by Andrew Barton, with successive generations of the Barton family living at the manor for nearly 200 years.
In 1554 George Marsh, a Protestant preacher from another area of the town, was accused of heresy and questioned at Smithills Hall by Justice Robert Barton, and it’s said that after questioning he stamped his foot so hard to reaffirm his Protestant faith that his footprint was left in the stone floor outside the withdrawing room. He was then sent to Chester where he was tried and found guilty, finally being executed on April 24th 1555 – and the ‘footprint’, which is now protected by a reinforced glass panel, is said to bleed every year on the anniversary of his death.
In 1659 Smithills Hall and estate passed by marriage to the Belasyse family but as they owned several other properties around England they didn’t really need to keep the hall so it entered a period of neglect. In 1722 the Byrom family of Manchester bought the manor and kept it until 1801 when it was sold to the Ainsworths, a family of successful Bolton bleachers, and under three generations of that family the hall was extensively rebuilt and modernised. In 1870 Richard Henry Ainsworth, Colonel Ainsworth’s great nephew, inherited the hall and in 1875 he employed the prominent Victorian architect George Devey to design the most significant improvements to the building.
Changes in the British economy after WW1 increased the upkeep costs and reduced the amount of income the Ainsworth family could raise from the Smithills estate, with the financial burden of maintaining a large house and grounds finally becoming too great, so in 1938 the hall was sold to Bolton Corporation for over £70,000. The Victorian parts of the hall became a council residential home and many years of conservation work on the older parts allowed it to open as a museum in 1963. The residential home closed in the early 1990s but that part of the hall was used as a day centre before closing for good several years later, with the museum eventually being extended into some of the rooms.
The west wing is the most recent part of the building to be renovated and restored to its former Victorian glory and the entrance hall is now a reception area and small shop, with a bright modern exhibition room leading off it. Also on the ground floor is Poppins Tea Room, a Mary Poppins-themed Edwardian tea room with a menu which includes Mr Banks’s Afternoon Tea, Bert’s Cream Tea and a selection of sandwiches, light lunches and desserts. The hall is also licensed for civil weddings and these can be held in the Medieval Great Hall, the Tudor Withdrawing Room or the newly refurbished Devey Room.
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The Medieval Great Hall
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The Withdrawing Room
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These Heraldic Panels were originally commissioned in 1843 as decoration for the withdrawing room and to honour the families that lived at Smithills Hall – they were professionally restored to their former magnificent glory in 2006 and to keep them in good condition visitors are requested not to touch them.
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The Bower room
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The Solar room
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The carved oak tester bed
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From old to ultra-modern – the bright new exhibition rooms
The grammar school I went to back in the late 1960s was just down the road from Smithills Hall, in fact the school playing fields were, and still are, adjacent to the Hall’s lower gardens. Every three months we would have assembly services in the chapel and each year just before Christmas the school choir, of which I was a member, would go up to the Hall and sing carols to the residents of the retirement home part. I remember doing art and history projects there too, and one particular art project in my final year was conducted by a young modern teacher with some quite wacky ideas.
Using the green of the Smithills Hall lawns as a contrasting colour we all had to put on full length ‘costumes’, half of us in black and the other half in white,  which were basically cotton bags which covered us from head to foot, including our arms, and which just had small holes for our eyes. We then had to stand in small groups at strategic points and move, either individually or as a group, in whichever direction she told us while she filmed us – the black and white costumes were supposed to correspond with the black and white of the building but I never did understand the point of it all. Imagine trying to walk somewhere while encased head to foot in a cloth bag and only able to see through a couple of small holes – a lot of falling over and bumping into each other occurred but it was all good fun and at least it got us out of doing a proper lesson.
I remember one rather amusing incident regarding Smithills Hall which occurred when I was 14. Tim, a family friend who was an old army buddy of my dad’s, had come up from Worcester to stay with us for a while and as he liked historical buildings I took him to Smithills Hall one day. As we walked round we heard what we thought was the sound of a radio coming from the vicinity of the chapel but when we got there we discovered that it was the vicar vacuuming the carpet in the central aisle and singing away as he worked! Of course we apologised for disturbing him but he said he didn’t mind and he left us to wander round. That incident was mentioned a few times in conversation over the following years – sadly Tim passed away in 2006 but I’ve never forgotten the day we caught the vicar singing as he vacuumed the chapel carpet.
My visit to Smithills Hall earlier this year – my first for many years –  was actually part of a dog walk I did in glorious weather during the second bank holiday back in May, but as dogs aren’t allowed in the building I had to leave Sophie and Poppie just outside the entrance, meaning that my visit was very much a whistle-stop tour, but I still managed to get a fair amount of photos. The place is definitely worth a revisit but next time I’ll go without the dogs so I can spend much more time in there.