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?).
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.
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.
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!
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.