The earliest mentions of Gorton are from 1282, when it was held by the Lord of Manchester. The name Gorton derives from the Gore Brook. At the beginning of the 19th century, the township consisted of four hamlets, Gorton, Abbey Hey, Gorton Brook and Longsight.
Gorton was leased to the Booth family, and in 1433 Sir Robert and his wife, Douce, Booth held the lands. The Gorton family also had also held land in the area since 1332, and one of them, Samuel Gorton (1593-1677) emigrated to the New England in 1637 where he founded a religious sect, the Gortonites. He was ousted from several places because of his insubordination towards magistrates. Eventually he was sentenced to death for refusing to answer a summons resulting from his alleged unfair treatment of some Native Americans in a land transaction to settle his followers in the territory of Shawomet. He ended up being spared execution but jailed for his insolence.
On his release he returned to England, and involved himself with the most extreme of the Puritans, rejecting church authorities but viewed women with a spiritual and social inequality unusual for that time. He returned to New England in 1648, evading arrest because he had obtained a letter of protection from the Earl of Warwick, and obtained a royal decree to rename Shawomet, Warwick in honour of his protector.
In the light of poacher becoming gamekeeper, now that he had a settlement, he became involved in the government of what became the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, becoming president in 1651, and authored a statute for the emancipation of slaves. He died in late 1677 and is buried at the Samuel Gorton cemetery in Rhode Island. His sect continued until the 1770s when it died out.
This first hall is first mentioned in 1681 – this was replaced sometime in the mid 19th century with a structure designed by Thomas Worthington, who was also responsible for the Albert Memorial in Albert Square, Daniel Adamson’s Towers in Didsbury as well as the Peacock mausoleum, of which more anon.
Around 1722 John Gorton a miller’s man from the Fylde, who by his own words had become rich through good luck, bought the hall and several other properties in the district.
John had his place of business in Manchester became in 1732, a trustee of the Gorton Parsonage Estate and in 1753 commissioner for the rebuilding of Gorton Chapel. The old chapel had been a small half timbered structure with overhanging eaves and a very narrow entrance door, through which the ladies of the Gorton family could only pass by holding high fashioned hooped dresses to one side. John died sometime in early 1774, leaving three sons, Thomas (ca 1719-1789) Robert and John (d 1780).
Thomas married Ann Graeme in 1743 and traded as a flower merchant in Manchester, living in Salford and Gorton Hall. he became a boroughreeve of Salford and warden of the Gorton Chapel as well as trustee of the Gorton estate, dying in Ardwick in 1789. His brother John traded as a check manufacturer.
Thomas’s son Richard (1753-1816) succeeded his father at Gorton Hall. When he came of age it is said that his father presented him with a cheque for £20,000 (£3.6m in 2020) and said, now Dick, thou’rt Gorton’s Gorton. He married Elizabeth Atkinson in 1779 in Bradford and moved to Salford where he also became a boroughreeve. He set up a silk business near Nottingham, but lost all his money when the mill was destroyed by fire. He died in London in 1816.
The Hall was next occupied by John Gorton, Thomas’s cousin, and son of John Gorton who drew an annual income of £2,200 from rents on local properties. John did not produce issue, so he passed the hall down to his nephew Richard, who took to the squire’s life, arriving each Saturday in Manchester accompanied by a local barefoot boy, who acted as his messenger whilst in town. Richard also took over John Gorton and company, who had a warehouse on Market Street, unfortunately this too burned down, with uninsured losses of £30,000.
Before the loss of the business, the workers of John Gorton and Company were invited once a year to Gorton Hall, for a fete during September wakes. There was an abundance of food served and the celebration became known as the Bean Feast. In 1805 the Gortons were declared bankrupt and their various estates sold off by public auction.
However, the Hall was tenanted before this as the Gorton family had settled more in Salford to pursue their business interests. We meet Elizabeth Twyford there in 1802. Elizabeth (b 1755) married Henry Lawrence Zinck (d 1791) who was born in Norway and naturalised as a British Citizen in the year of his marriage, 1774. He first settled in Liverpool, where he traded as a general importer of chandlery, foodstuffs and linen, as well as acting as Danish Consul. After being bankrupted the couple moved to Manchester, where Elizabeth operated a number of schools for young ladies, first at Portland Place, then George Street, and finally Gorton Hall from 1802-1804, which she ran in conjunction with her daughter Elizabeth.
After the Zincks came George Shawcross a check manufacturer, who held a lease for the building sometime between 1802 and 1810.
Then in 1835 we meet Robert Bennett (b1796) at the Hall. Robert had been articled as a solicitor to Mr Foulkes in Manchester in 1813. He married Ann Barker in Oldham in 1835 and they are then both living at the Hall. Robert was a keen racing man, and owned a number of horses as well as a stud for horses and dogs. His interest was so great that he built a racecourse behind the hall where the Gorton Sweepstake was held on 4th and 5th October 1844. The race was won by Staley, owned by Mr Heap.
It had been intended to open the course the previous year, but it was not ready because of a prolonged spell of dry weather. Races were held at the site for the next two years, concluding with the Gorton Gold Cup on 26 September 1846.
The Bennett family were not entirely honest. Bells Sporting Chronicle relates in May 1846 of a horse being scratched without warning by Robert Barker Bennett (1818-1867), under dubious circumstances, causing one John Thompson of Wrexham gambling losses of £3,000 (£350,000 in 2020). There appeared to be money problems, and adding to this, Robert Bennett senior had sold off a collection of very valuable paintings a few weeks earlier, including works by Rubens, Steen, De Witt, Stubbs, Parry, Reynolds and Haygarth.
Robert senior had actually fled the country. He was wanted for a breach of trust on the adminstration the estate of his father in law, Samuel Barker. Samuel had died in 1834, leaving £150,000 (£20m in 2020) to each of his three daughters equally. Robert was one of the trustees, but had stolen several thousand pounds from the trust. Bennett eventually returned to face the music in 1848, and was imprisoned at Lancaster Castle.
The Hall was leased in 1846 to Joseph Braham and his son Isaac. Joseph was of Jewish stock, being born in 1775 in London, and Isaac (1806-1880) practised in Manchester as a tailor, rising to prominence in the local Jewish community. He married Emily Eachus (1812-1865), the daughter of a Cabinet maker from Cheshire on 9 May 1845 and they lived at Gorton Hall between 1846 and 1859 when they moved to Oak House on Hyde Road in Gorton.
Richard Peacock (1820-1889) is next at Gorton. Richard was born on 9 April 1820 in Healaugh in Swaledale, Yorkshire the son of Ralph, a lead miner, who rose to foreman of his mines. One of Richard’s earliest memories was being taken by his father to see the opening of the Stockton and Darlington line in 1825 which awoke an interest in engineering. The family moved to Leeds, where he went to the Grammar School, and in 1834 joined the firm of Fenton, Murray and Jackson as an apprentice engineer, at the time the company were manufacturing engines for the Leeds and Selby and Liverpool and Manchester Railways, using George Stephenson’s designs.
The two companies amalgamated in 1840 and he moved to London, working on the Great Western Railway alongside Brunel. During the opening of the Box Tunnel he travelled on the footplate alongside Brunel and Daniel Gooch, the Great Western Locomotive Supervisor. During the journey through the tunnel they heard a loud scream from Brunel who had placed his cigar into his own mouth the wrong way round in the dark, the trains speed blowing a large lump of flaming ash into the back of his mouth.
In 1841 he came to Manchester as superintendent of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire railway for the next 14 years.
In 1846 when the railway wanted to build a permanent engineering works, he selected the first plot of level ground outside Manchester, which was at Gorton. At the time the population of Gorton was only 2,000. Forty years later it had risen to 50,000. Other engineering concerns were attracted to Gorton because of this, including Joseph Whitworth’s gun factory as well as the Midland Railway’s steam sheds.
By now he was successful enough to embark on his own career and entered into partnership with Charles Beyer, who was head of Sharp Brothers. The pair established Beyer Peacock and built a 14 acre site in Gorton, which prospered and expanded, employing around 3,000 and paying £125,821pa (£16.3m in 2020) in wages by 1885. Beyer died in 1876, leaving money to the Royal Infirmary and Owen’s College. The firm took up limited liability in 1883 with Peacock as chairman.
Richard also much in the community, being a founder member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and building Brookfield Unitarian Church at his own cost, investing £12,000 (£1.5m in 2020) of his own money in the project in 1870, as well as layting the foundation stone at Denton Unitarian church. He was a keen collector of art, and advocated a coming together of Art and Commerce. He also was a keen supporter of the Ship Canal, becoming Vice Chairman of the company.
Politically he was a liberal, attending meetings given by Cobden as a young man, and in 1885 he was successfully elected as MP for Gorton, and reelected the following year. He hosted Emily Faithfull Guest at Gorton Hall in 1884, Emily was a prominent early women’s rights activist, and also Queen Victoria’s official publisher.
He married Hannah Crowther (1821-1854) in 1838 and the couple lived at Openshaw Villa, where Hannah died. He had two children with Hannah, Colonel Ralph Peacock, and Joseph. Ralph succeeded him as chairman of Beyer Peacock.
The following year he married a Welsh girl, Frances Theresa Littlewood (1824-1870) and had a son and two daughters with her and moved to Gorton Hall with her. He had the Hall rebuilt by Thomas Worthington and named it Peacock Hall. He lived there for the rest of his life.
Whilst he did live in the Hall for the rest of his life, he did sell some parts of the estate off for building in 1871 after Frances’ death. He remained a generous man, instituting a tradition where he personally gave one penny to any child who presented at the gates of Gorton Hall on New Year’s morning. In 1887 1,900 local children waited in freezing temperatures for the gates to open at 10:30.
His health declined over the years, and he suffered a series of strokes, and he eventually died on 3 March 1889 at Gorton Hall. His funeral took place at Brookfield Unitarian Church, and was attended by 1,200 workers, who donated wreaths and funds to erect a tablet to his memory at the church.
His architect friend Thomas Worthington built him a mausoleum in white stone and this has a Grade II listing.
Later that year, the house contents and furniture were put up for auction, and his will published in July left a fortune of £202,680-11s (£26.2m in 2020), however, considering he was a generous man in life, he made no provision for any public endowments.
After his death, the house was tended by his caretaker and gardener, Thomas Francis, until its eventual demolition in 1906, although the lodge house still survives.
The Hall was put up for sale in 1889, but does not appear to have sold. The offer for sale describes a brick structure with a handsome porch, a large social room and four entertaining rooms on the ground floor, a large roof lit hall, and nine principal and five secondary bedrooms. The house had been decorated by the firm of James Lamb, and had modern chimney pieces.
Outside there were stables, a coach house, a coachman’s house and steward’s office with a paved yard. The grounds were well tended and included a conservatory, vinery with a fernery and summer house attached. The whole estate covered some 60 acres. It was a grand structure.
Miscellanea Genealogica Et Heraldica, 1874
© Allan Russell 2020.