Lockdown Diary 3 – Gorton Heritage Trail

Gore Brook

With the glorious spring weather I’ve been neglecting the lockdown blog (renamed diary!) because I didn’t want to spend time hunched over my laptop. Instead I’ve been out walking and cycling, gathering wild garlic and making home made pesto, and sorting out the garden. Now the weather is beginning to turn I’m catching up with some of my earlier trips….

A few weeks ago I went over to Gorton and walked the Gorton heritage trail, something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. It’s a bit shabby in places and could do with some litter picking, but it’s still amazing how many buildings have survived from the eighteenth and early part of the nineteenth centuries, in places giving the impression of a small village community. The picture above is of the Gore Brook, running behind Far Lane on one side and Brookfield Unitarian Church on the other. There are many legends about the Gore Brook. The most lurid is that the stream ran red with the blood of Danes when they attacked the Saxons in the area in the 900s. But the most likely origin is that gore means muddy in old English.

It’s interesting how often people love the idea of a violent origin to a name. I heard a similar tale a couple of days ago about the origin of Reddish – that the area was bathed in blood after a battle during the English Civil War – even though the name Reddish is much older, and probably derives from reed ditch, or red ditch (perhaps from the sandstone?).

Brookfield Churchyard

The path through Brookfield Churchyard is very atmospheric, with gravestones hidden by trees and fragments of broken masonry in the stream. It is a really peaceful place to walk, and on the afternoon I visited was full of early spring butterflies. Far Lane was the original road into Manchester and has a terrace of small cottages, one with the date 1782 above the door. These were probably either farm labourers’ houses, or were perhaps lived in by handloom weavers.

Fragments of broken graves in Gore Brook

At the end of Far Lane is the gatehouse to Gorton Hall, which stood near to Sunny Brow Park from the seventeenth century until its demolition in 1906. It was probably demolished as Gorton was becoming more industrialised and terraced houses were being built in large quantities – it seems unlikely that the wealthy owners would have wanted to stay in the area. Photographs show a grand mansion with extensive grounds, not unlike the villas of prosperous residents of Burnage.

Forgotten Gorton: Old Photos of Gorton Hall – Gorton, Manchester
Gorton Hall

Gorton Hall gatehouse

I walked back through Brookfield churchyard past the church itself and the very impressive tomb of Richard Peacock, an engineer and Gorton’s first MP (Liberal) MP, who paid £12,000 to have the church built between 1869 and 1871. Peacock was one of the main employers in the area, and was one of the founders of Beyer and Peacock locomotive manufacturers in Openshaw. The church was built on the site of an earlier dissenters’ chapel. The Unitarians were ostracised by the Church of England and the political elite at the time, but many were successful businessmen and industrialists, including Peacock and the Gregs of Styal Mill. Richard’s tomb is very imposing – it reminded me of the shrines of saints in medieval cathedrals!

Brookfield Church's graves of honoured worshippers
Richard Peacock’s Mausoleum (1889)

I continued my walk along the trail by crossing Hyde Road and walking along the path behind Tanyard Brow, where I imagined the stink of tanning wafting up from the stream. It must have a noxious place in the late 1800s. I finally ended up at Gorton House, a sadly neglected eighteenth century mansion on Debdale Park, built by the industrialist Robert Grimshaw in the 1780s. It is grade 2 listed and the Historic England listing mentions “high quality late-C18 interior features, including an elegant top-lit open-well stair, moulded door architraves, six-panel doors with fielded panels, some fireplaces, cornicing, and stone floors” – but looking at the boarded up property I would have thought that many of these features are now severely damaged. Robert Grimshaw himself had a tragic life. He built a large mill in Knott’s Mill, Manchester, which was destroyed by arson in 1792 – probably by handloom weavers trying to protect their jobs. Robert took his own life in a debtors’ prison in London in 1799. Like Richard Peacock he was a Unitarian and was buried in the graveyard at the dissenters’ chapel, later Brookfield Church.

Finishing on a more positive (!) note, the Friends of Debdale Park are trying to raise money to turn Gorton House into a community centre and cafe.

Gorton House

Lockdown Blog 2 – Coppicing and Wood Hall, Reddish

Coppiced Sycamore Tree, Reddish

I’ve become slightly obsessed with Reddish Vale and the Tame Valley during lockdown. It’s a relatively wild strip of countryside, reaching to within a mile of Stockport town centre, and it’s looking glorious this spring, the woods carpeted with wild garlic and bluebells. There are also many clues to the local history of the area – mysterious cobbled roads, fragments of masonry and walls half hidden by undergrowth. So expect many more posts about the Vale!

On a walk last week on the Reddish side of the valley I spotted this sycamore tree. It’s an unusual shape with a number of tall straight shoots growing from the original trunk and is good example of a coppiced tree. Coppicing is a very ancient form of woodland management. Trees would be cut down to just above ground level, allowing straight shoots to grow from the sides of the trunk. These were usually harvested quite young, the poles being used for fencing, handles, posts, thatching spars and for many other purposes. They were also used for producing wood to be made into charcoal, needed for smelting iron. There would be a constant supply of new shoots growing each year, so it was a very effective use of the resource.

The coppiced sycamore tree at Reddish has been left to grow, presumably when the practice went out of use, so the straight shoots are now the size of small trees. It is on the site of Wood Hall and Wood Hall Farm, and is interesting evidence of land management on the estate. The first definite reference to Wood Hall (“Wode Hall”) is in 1501/02 and it is clearly marked on a map of 1818/19. During the Civil War, Wood Hall was owned by Henry Stanley, a supporter of Charles I – Stanley had to pay to get his property back after it was requisitioned by Parliament. His brother was a staunch supporter of Parliament and died from wounds he received at the siege of Manchester in 1642, showing how the war often split families.

Johnson’s Map – 1818/19 (published 1820)

By the 1890s Wood Hall Farm had been built next to the Hall, but sadly neither have survived – the Hall had been demolished by 1960 and the Farm by the mid 1970s. The pond shown on the map has survived and contains a number of Koi carp!

Wood Hall Farm

Postscript

When I was walking nearby yesterday I had a chat with an 80 year old local resident who reminisced about stacking the sheaves of corn on one of the farm’s fields. The field is now covered in tree growth.

Stook - Wikipedia

Lockdown Blog 1

Greetings on a beautiful spring morning! As the local history group isn’t meeting I’ve decided to write a regular blog instead. One of very few advantages of the current situation is that people who can leave the house are walking far more and exploring their neighbourhoods. Looking at buildings and places in a slow and more considered way opens up all sorts of historical puzzles. I’ve been revisiting places I haven’t been to for a long while and discovering many new nooks and crannies of history. I’ll share these on the blog over the next few weeks. A lot of the things I’ve seen raise questions – so if anyone has any information about them please comment on the blog.

Entrance to Tiviot Dale, Reddish – Spring evening walk with wild garlic

My first observation is a stone halfway up a building on Barlow Road in Levenshulme – located at the Cromwell Grove end of the road, opposite the old swimming pool, next to a row of shops and at the beginning of the cobbled entry. It looks like a foundation stone which has been relocated in Levenshulme on a more recent building, hence the different dates – 1904 relates to the date of the block of shops, 1845 is the date of the original location of the stone. Toni from the group found that Rev Richard Bassnett (1800-1865) was the rector of St James’ Church in Gorton from 1831. He also baptised a Richard Bassnett Preston in 1855, probably a relative through his mother’s family, who went on to become a church architect. Preston designed many local churches, including St Andrew’s Levenshulme and St Werbergh’s, Chorlton, and his designs were described as “impeccably correct in detail, built to last until the Day of Judgement, and very, very dull!” .

St James’ was originally a chapel which existed from at least 1562. Bassnett clearly organised its rebuilding, probably as Gorton grew during the industrial revolution – he presumably didn’t pay for it himself! The current church of St James was built in 1871, so it looks like Bassnett’s church didn’t last very long – I haven’t been able to find any prints or photos of it.

But there is a puzzle… Why did the stone end up in the wall of a block of shops in Levenshulme? There is a gap between the demolition of Bassnett’s church (probably about 1870) and the building where the stone is currently located (1904). Perhaps the stone was saved as an object of curiosity and randomly placed in its current place? Or perhaps there is another reason. In 1904 a certain O.H. had their initials carved into the stone. Who was O.H.? Any suggestions gratefully received…

Foundation Stone of St James’ Church, Gorton


The Home Front and Evacuation – visiting speaker (Peter Heaton) Tuesday 10th March

On Tuesday 10th of March we have a visiting speaker to the group. Peter Heaton will be sharing his memories as an evacuee during World War II and also talking about the home front.

If you would like to attend, meetings are free and are held between 2.00 and 4.00 pm at Burnage Library. Please feel free to bring any memorabilia from the war to show to the group.

Image result for evacuation ww2

Mapping the Shops on Burnage Lane

The group recently spent the afternoon mapping the shops on Burnage Lane. The recall of some of the members was truly remarkable and, between us, we managed to locate most of the shops and other commercial buildings from the later 1940s onwards. This led to much reminiscing about the the variety of shops and what was available in Burnage. There were different blocks of shops (i.e. the crossroads at Mauldeth Road, the crossroads at Grangethorpe Road, Green End roundabout etc), but each one had a grocer, a greengrocer and a newsagents. This meant that people didn’t have far to go to buy their basic necessities. Locals could also buy children’s clothes, shoes, medicines, hardware and many other things in Burnage, although Alison noted that there was no fishmonger. It was also interesting that people’s shopping was confined to a very narrow locality – no one was able to remember the shops on Lane End even though it borders Burnage/Didsbury.