Today we return to the cluster of big houses at the top of Didsbury Road in Heaton Mersey. This time we are looking at West Bank House. It was one of the last merchant houses built in this area, not appearing on the 1848 Ordnance Survey, surveyed in 1845, but inhabited by 1851. It can be seen below between the two ornamental ponds (the lower one survives to this day, the upper one was silted up when I knew it in the 1970s and known to us as the swamp.)
It was built for Walker Skirrow QC (1784-1866) who served as the Commissioner of Bankruptcy for Manchester between 1842 and 1860.
Walker was born to John Skirrow and Elizabeth Walker in St Giles in the Fields, London. His father was a Barrister and Walker followed his footsteps, being educated at Eton and called to the Bar in 1810. On 8 August 1808 he married Mary Anne Wainman (1784-1846) , the daughter of William Wainman who was also a Barrister at Law. The Wainman family had their seat at Carrhead in Kildwick, Yorkshire, and it is likely that the Skirrows also hailed from the same area as Walker sat on the Committee of the Yorkshire Society for Maintaining Clothing and Educating the Children of Indigent Yorkshire Parents resident within five miles of the Royal Exchange. His chambers were at Number 6 Stones Buildings in Lincoln’s Inn and he rose to prominence in legal circles, serving as Master of the Walks in 1848 and Dean of Chapel in 1850¹.
In 1842 he came to Manchester to oversee local bankruptcies. The couple lived first briefly at Marple Hall, where Mary Anne Skirrow died on 27 January 1846. A memorial to her was placed by her son in 1866 at All Saints in Marple. Walker then moved to Reddish House that year, and then by 1851 he is living at West Bank House.
We do not have a picture of the Skirrows, but I did find Mary Anne’s childhood toy, a doll.
The Doll was given as a gift by Mary Anne Skirrow (b1811) to her great nieces in 1893 with the accompanying letter:
July 6th 1893
I send you, my Darlings, the old Doll of my dear Mother’s; which I have valued through life. I am sure you will take care of the old Lady.
A Portuguese Nun–(any ancient likeness) I put in the Basket.
The Manuscript Songs you may like.—-
Your loving Aunt
Mary Anne Skirrow
The doll will have been kept by Mary Anne at West Bank, as a keepsake memory for her mother.
Walker has quite a retinue of servants at West Bank, a nurse, Elizabeth Cook, aged 67, who appears to be a faithful family servant from his native Yorkshire. He also has a cook, two servants, a butler and a coachman to attend him and his daughter Mary Ann Skirrow, and his son, Joseph Skirrow who served in the Royal Navy.
However his tenure at West Bank was also relatively short as by 1856 he is living at the Limes in Didsbury, and in 1860 he retired to move to Codrington Place in Brighton where he died on 21 December 1866.
Walker and Mary Anne had six children. John Skirrow (1814-1836) served in the Engineer Corps and died in Bombay. Joseph Skirrow (b1822) served in the Royal Navy. Mary Anne Skirrow (1811-1904) never married, and lived at Codrington Place with her father, and staying there after his death. Caroline Amelia Skirrow (1825-1887) married Brent Spencer Follett (1809-1887), a Barrister, MP for Bridgewater and the first Chief Land Registrar.
The other two boys, Charles Fletcher Skirrow (1820-1891) and Walker Skirrow Junior (1809-1890) also became barristers. Walker also served as a Charity Commissioner, and displayed distinctly Rumpole like qualities in his handling of investigations.
In one case, Walker attended an investigation where Richard Warner, the Head English Master of the Ashby De La Zouch Grammar school was threatened with dismissal on charges of incompetency and misconduct. Instead of concentrating on the case in hand, he threw the court open to comment on the administration of Ashby charities in general. It transpired that the trustees had offered him a pension of £100 pa if he retired. Considering this a fair offer on his salary of £200 pa, he accepted but was immediately refused the pension by solicitors acting for the trustees. It then transpired that the trustees had been awarding scholarships intended for poor pupils to the sons of clergymen, and had spent up to £2,000 on legal proceedings against Warner. Walker found for the teacher, and promised to return soon, once new trustees and funding were established.
The house was only occupied by servants in 1861, but by 1862 James Buckley (1831-1881) and his wife Martha Abbot Kaye (1825-1908) were resident. James was the nephew of John Smith Buckley (1798-1860) who we met at West Bank, and was involved with the Buckley family cotton spinning business in Ashton Under Lyne. He served as Mayor of Ashton Under Lyne between 1869 and 1871.
The couple had no children, and retired to Massie Street in Cheadle. The West Bank area was a Buckley stronghold, there were Buckleys living at the Lodge House as well, however, they appear to be from the poorer side of the family as they were clearly employed by the big house.
After the Buckleys we meet more familiar faces, David McClure (1830-1896) and his wife Annie Marsh. We met David’s father, Robert at The Bower House and Cheadle Moseley House. Robert founded Robert McClure and sons at Travis Brook Mill. David was born in Wigan, and the family moved to Travis Brow his father became manager of the Mill. They moved to Bower House and Cheadle Moseley house. The couple lived at West Bank House until the 1896. Annie died in January that year at the house and David on 6 May 1896 at Cheadle Hall.
The couple had three children. Donald Marsh McClure (1865-1900) became a civil engineer, and married Florence Maude Mary Lane, the daughter of James North Lane of Heaton Lodge in 1898. Sadly Donald died two years later at their home in Chapel En Le Frith, and Florence married Francis Grey Bennett a year after.
Robert Martin McClure (1863-1905) followed his father into the cotton trade, and also died young, in Beiruit on 31 March 1905. Annie McClure (1867-1959) lived to a ripe old age, marrying Arthur Thomas Radcliffe in 1890. The couple travelled to Los Angeles in 1935.
The next inhabitants were John Leeman (1843-1918) and his wife Amy (1859-1933) John was born in Switzerland and became a British Citizen. He partnered with a French immigrant, Frederick Albert Gatty (1819-1888), who had discovered and patented khaki dye in 1884. In 1842 Gatty started out as a Turkey Red dyer in Accrington. Gatty had visited India to see what would sell in the British Raj. He met Major General Alexander Kinloch who told him of the need for a fast khaki dye to replace the inferior native dyes. Khaki means dust in Hindi.
The process became incredibly popular and Leeman and Gatty were able to fill the demand profitably with their army contracts. During World War I they supplied 50 million yards of Khaki to the army. The Gatty concern manufactured the cloth and Leeman distributed it via E Spinner & Co.
Being a rich man, Leeman could afford to donate £50,000 (£3.5m in 2020) to the war effort in 1917, after all the war was making him and extremely rich man.
In his spare time he was a keen horticulturalist and member of the Royal Horticultural Society, being especially known for his cultivation of rare orchids, selling examples for up to £431 (£52,000 in 2020) each in 1907.
As a feckless youth, I joined in with the local children hurling stones at the windows in that now delapidated greenhouse, for the simple joy of hearing the glass shatter.
He died on 14 January 1918, and left a fortune of £148,398 (£8.5m in 2020). Amy remained at the house until she died in 1933, but sold the contents of the orchid house.
It was eventually demolished in the 1980s for housing. The only picture I can find of it, is a picture taken from the railway from some time in 1931, with the house obscured by trees.
¹ The duties of the Master of the Walks are: To liaise with the gardeners and encourage them in their work. In consultation with the gardeners, to make suggestions for the maintenance and improvement of the planting and landscaping of the Squares and the Walks. Provided that any ideas that require expenditure outside the normal budget should be referred to the Management Committee for approval.
To satisfy himself that the gardeners are competent and, if not, to bring it to the attention of the Under-Treasurer. To ensure that all the trees are inspected regularly to make sure that they are in good health and are not in a dangerous condition.
Lincolns Inn Chapel is a Royal Peculiar, that is to say it does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Diocese, but is subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Monarch. The Dean and the Master of the Walks are one of the 3-4 officers of the Inn, who report to the Treasurer, the Head of the Inn.
© Allan Russell 2020