Hall I’Th’Wood stands in the Tonge district of Bolton. The name possibly derives from the old English tang meaning a fork in a river. In 1212 Gilbert De Tonge held an oxgang of land in Tonge by 4 shillings rent. William De Tonge had sixty acres in 1346. The land was divided later and one half was held by the Hiltons of Brindle. In this half of the land stood the house called Hall I’Th’Wood which was built around 1483. This was occupied in the 16th century by the Brownlow family and in the next century by the Norris family.
The Hall commands a strong defensive position on a steep cliff on the edge of Tonge moor. The eponymous wood, however, no longer remains. The original house was a timber and plaster construction built in 1483. A stone north west wing was added in 1591, and in the 1648 a stone south west wing was added by Alexander Norris.
The Brownlow family probably built and occupied the house. Lawrence Brownlow (d ca 1558) was there at the beginning. His will of 1550 shows that the house was comfortably furnished with fetherbedes, boulsters, mattresses, blankets valued at a considerable sum for the time of £14. There were also 35 pieces of pewter, five candlesticks, brass pannes, pots, frying pans, chaffing dishes, dripping pans and tubs, bedstocks, chests, cupboards, chairs, cushions, trene ware, fire irons, beer barrels, etc, giving a total value of £118-0-8d.
An idea of how the house looked then can be seen in this 1904 picture below, ignore the stone wing and we have a fine tudor building.
Lawrence Brownlow (c1547-1634) succeeded to the house in 1577. His son, Lawrence altered (as the terms allowed) his father’s will, to let him have a life interest in the house, and after that it was to pass to Christopher Norris¹ (c 1605-1639) and his heirs. This was granted on 27 March 1637.
This naturally caused turmoil in the Brownlow family, and Lawrence’s nephew, William (the son of John, Lawrence’s brother) filed suit. At this point the reason for the transfer was made apparent. Lawrence had been apprenticed to George Lowe of London in the woollen trade, but lost money, and in 1614 had borrowed £1,000 from Humphrey Cheetham, leading to the ruin of the family, and the need to sell the property.
A letter of July 1637 from William to his uncle gives some idea of the unctuous grovelling he pursued once legal means had failed:
LOVING UNCKLE, This is to let you Understand I receaved
aletter from my father uppon Frydaie last, the effecte whereof is
this for to speake unto you and Christopher Norres concerning
the taking of your Answers who and where, that he might provide
his commissioners against the daie appointed. For my owne
parte I am not forwardes in this bussiness yet, nor for owght I
knowe I neuer wilbe. Loving Unckle, this is to intreat you, and
Chr. Norres, that you would be pleased to giue unto mee either
of you one 100 powndes if it be possible. The reason is this : with
soe much monie I could haue amatch that would make mee
agentleman as longe as I liued. Therfore, good Unckle, take
some pittie of mee, thoe undeserued. Likewise I would intreat
you to moue Chr. Norres in this busines, for aworde of you woud
doe more with him than all the parishe besides. Good Unckle,
tread all my former faultes downe ; I will promise to amend my
life; let them not at this tyme be laied in mie dish. Let mee
not be quite cast awaie. Thus hoping you will consider of it and
proue alouing Unckle -I rest.
Christopher Norris moved into the house in 1639 shortly after Lawrence Brownlow Junior’s death. However, William did not give up and a suit against Norris was still active in 1649. Christopher Norris died on 22 December 1639, and his son Alexander succeeded him. Christopher’s will makes provision for the repayment of a debt of £2,000 from father to son. This may be the money borrowed to buy the house. The terms of the loan were also particularly usurious, providing a penalty of a further £2,000 were it not repaid on time.
Christopher left all his estate and half his personal property to Alexander (1604-1672), a Bolton Woollen Merchant and Draper, and the other half of his property to be divided amongst all his children, Alexander, Henry, Alice and Christian. Again this succession caused grief amongst the family, and the other children tried to sue Alexander for undue influence before the Bishop of Chester. Sadly we do not know the outcome of this case.
The Norris family had by now become wealthy enough to have an Inquisition Post Mortem held Christopher held three houses and gardens in Bolton, The Hall I’Th’Wood estate consisting of 15 messuages, 7 cottages, twenty gardens, fourteen orchards, a grain watermill, a fulling mill, 215 acres of arable land, 105 of meadow, 205 of pasture, 20 of wood, 120 of moor, 40 of moss, 40 of turbary, as well as a small property in Turton.
Alexander may not have immediately occupied the house, and the Brownlows could still have been tenants, however in 1648 he built the south west wing in stone, installing an oak staircase and well proportioned rooms with picturesque windows.
Alexander by now considered himself a gentleman, but continued in trade being partner with his brother Henry in the clothing business. He was a strict puritan, taking on the role of Treasurer to the Committee of Sequestrators (ie Parliamentary side) from 1645-1649. This role involved handling funds from the confiscated Royal estates and dealing with money from various church benefices. I will leave to you, dear reader, to draw conclusions on how he managed to fund his 1648 building programme.
Alexander married Anne, and had two daughters, Anne and Alice. In 1665 Anne married the Reverend William Bordman of Bolton who became rector of Grappenhall, Alice (1632-1683) married a fifteen year old John Starkie of Huntroyd Hall near Burnley (1639-1665) in 1654.
Bolton folk appear particularly litigious and on Alexander’s death he settled the majority of his estate on Alice, leading to further court cases. The favouritism arose from the marriage settlement made with the Starkies. A probate suit was heard at the Chester Diocesean Registry on 17 October 1672 where John Okey a linen draper of Bolton, testified that he was:
present one day in April last with Mr Alexander Norres
dec’d at his house in Bolton where he haveinge first sent for Mr
Thomas Lever for that purpose gave the said Mr I.ever instructions
for the drawing and making of his will.” Mr Lever committed
ihe instructions to writting and then took them away with
him and promised to draw the will in accordance with these
instructions. About 4 or 5 days after Mr Lever ” brought the
writing on paper now showed to this deponent” and read it over
to deceased and deceased with his own hand ” did write the latter
parte of the said will ” relating to the remainder of the personalty
etc. Deceased heard the will read over to him and understood
it and approved it. Deceased made the erazure in the first part
of the will relating to a legacy of £200 “to daughter Starkey.”
Deceased was sound in mind and memory. Deceased published
his will in “an upper rome or chamber at his house in Bolton
about the midtime of the day and he was sometimes walkinge in
the rome and sometymes sate downe.”
Deponent “considers the reale estate to be worth about eight
score pounds a year which the widowe is to have, one thirde of
duringe her life and this daughtir Miss Starkey is to have the rest
according to a settlement made at her marriage
Alice and John had five children, Mary, Nicholas, Alexander, Pierce and Alice. John Junior dropped out of Corpus Christie in Cambridge, came back to Bolton and eloped with the daughter of Mr Hulton of Hulton who was engaged to be married that week to a Mr Farrington. Whilst John succeeded in the estate, the male line failed and therefore subsequently descended through Nicholas’ line.
Nicholas was far more respectable, and studied at Christ Church, Oxford, entering the Bar at Gray’s Inn in 1686, returning to Bolton for a successful legal career and living at the Hall until he left it in 1697.
After this the house fell into disrepair, and was let out to farm labourers and weavers, each of whom had their own entrance. It is now we meet the Hall’s most famous inhabitant, Samuel Crompton (1753-1827).
Samuel was born on the 3 December 1753 in Firwood Fold in Bolton to George Crompton and Betty Holt. The Crompton family could trace their roots back to Henry III and had a coat of arms, but this branch were now poor farmers. George died when Samuel was five and Betty had to carry on alone continuing to farm and weave. At 16 they had moved into one of the tenancies at Hall I’Th’Wood where he worked at a loom during the day, and studied at night.
James Hargreaves had recently invented the spinning jenny, and Samuel learnt to use one of these in the Hall. Being a practical lad he thought of improvements to the machine, describing at the age of 21 a new spinning machine, which he called the Hall I’Th’Wood Wheel or Muslin Wheel. The invention eventually became known as the Mule.
It took a further five years for him to perfect the invention, and he worked at night in the Hall, funding himself from his earnings and by playing violin at Bolton Theatre. The Hall got a reputation for being haunted as the candles were lit until late at night as Samuel worked away diligently on his machine.
Bolton has never greeted technology with open arms, being the home of the Luddites, and Samuel had to protect his machine from the waves of destruction flowing through the surrounding towns, Jennies were burnt and machines destroyed as weavers protested against the new technologies threatening their livelihoods. He accordingly took the Mule to pieces and hid it in a garret next to a big clock in the Hall.
When he presented his machine to the world it was quickly apparent that this was much more efficient than previous jennies and demand outstripped his ability to supply the market. He could not afford a patent, so agreed with local millowners to offer his invention freely to the public on the receipt of payments.
A few months reduced me to the cruel necessity either of destroying the machine or of giving it up to the public. To destroy it, I could not think of. To give up that for which I had laboured so long was cruel. I had no patent, nor the means to buy one.
Needless to say these were not forthcoming, and Samuel only earned £67 6s 6d from his invention. Furthermore as it was unpatented, it was freely copied and improved upon, for which Samuel did not receive a penny. By 1812 there were up to 5 million mules in use. John and James Platt’s Hibbert Platt & Company² of Oldham made 500,000 mules a year in 1859.
Samuel married Mary Pimbley on 16 February 1780 and they had eight children. He eventually received a payment of £5,000 in 1811 from Parliament for his invention and set up as a bleacher and spinner, but was unsuccessful. He survived on an annuity bought by his friends until his death in relative poverty on King Street in Bolton on 26 June 1827. Meanwhile the weavers of Bolton were renowned as the best dressed men in town, and were said to wear five pound notes in their hats to demonstrate their affluence³.
The Hall continued to be tenanted through the nineteenth century, but fell into further disrepair, but was renowned as the home of the Mule, and the source of Lancashire’s wealth. A movement started mid century to build a memorial to Samuel Crompton and preserve Hall I’Th’Wood for posterity, as a memorial to the man, and the preservation of one of the best surviving examples of medieval architecture in England.
A statue was erected in Nelson Square Bolton in 1862.
On 13 April 1899, Colonel Le Gendre Nicholas Starkie of Huntroyde (1828-1899) died. He had served as MP for Clitheroe between 1853 and 1856 then subsequently as JP and High Sherrif of Lancashire. He married Jemima Monica Mildred Tempest at the British Embassy in Paris in 1867 and had two sons, Edmund Arthur Le Gendre and Cecil Le Gendre Piers. The Colonel was a keen sportsman who loved hunting and fishing on his estate as well as being one of the most prominent Freemasons in England.
As well as the Burnley property, the Starkies had amassed properties elsewhere and he was a substantial landholder in Bolton, owning not only the Hall, but several Collieries there. In total his landownings covered thirty townships. In short this meant that the Hall was up for sale and William Hesketh Lever (1851-1925) came to the rescue, buying the Hall and giving it to Bolton Council along with £1,200 (£150,000 in 2020) for upkeep and repair.
The museum was opened on 23 July 1902. There were exhibits connected with Samuel Crompton and the rest of the building displayed antique furniture. 30,326 people visited the museum in its first year of operation, and it remains so to this day, happily finally saved for posterity. I must get around to paying a visit.
¹ The Norris family are probably related to the Norrises of Speke Hall however there is an older branch of the clan at Blackrod. They all descend from William Le Norreys who gave his name to Heaton Norris.
² We will learn about the Platts in my gory Halloween Special.
³ Sadly sartorial elegance no longer graces the streets of our towns. How I mourn the passing of Mr Astaire and Mr Grant who were such fine role models.
The Brownlow Family Of Hall I’Th’Wood, H Ince Anderton, 1911
Notes on the History of Hall I’Th’ Wood and its owners, William Fergusson Irvine, 1903
The Life and Times Of Samuel Crompton, Gilbert J French : Simplin & Marshall, 1859
© Allan Russell 2020.