100 Halls Around Manchester Part 18: Ashway Gap, Greenfield, Oldham

Ashway Gap and the area around Dovestone is more notorious for the deaths that have occurred in the area, than for the people who lived there. In fact very few people did inhabit the house, and of the only two owners I have found, one met a grisly end, and the other died shortly after buying the property,

The whole area is dangerous, and, there are many tales of people falling to their deaths whilst climbing the surrounding hills, getting lost in the snow and mist, suicides, a plane crash and more.

Dovestone reservoir in Greenfield is today perhaps one of the most beautiful spots in the Greater Manchester area, nestling in the shadow of the Pennine moors, it attracts day trippers to walk around the waterside and take in the stunning scenery.

Ashway Gap was built as a hunting lodge for John Platt, MP for Oldham, by the Greenfield Brook. The area is now dominated by the reservoirs, so I have included a few maps for orientation.

Ashway Gap, Yorkshire CCLCCI SW 1894 © Ordnance Survey
OS Maps and Bing Side By Side View © Ordnance Survey © Bing © National Library of Scotland

Even before the house was built the area was renowned for the brutal murders on 2nd April 1832. The Moor Cock Pub, also known as Bill O’Jacks was owned by William “Bill” Bradley who lived there with his son Tom. That day Tom had been out walking on the moors, he had some beer with a friend and regular, Reuben Platt and then went into Greenfield to to buy candles. On the way into Greenfield they passed, first Bill, then three Irishmen by the roadside who asked for directions to Holmfirth. Tom remarked that they had had a run in with these men the previous year.

They watched the men skulk away, but went on into Greenfield. Tom set off back to the pub, fearing for his father’s safety, and that was the last we know.

The next day, Bill’s granddaughter, Amelia came to the inn to fetch some yeast and discovered Tom and Bill weltering in gore, and the dog barking frantically. The girl ran out of the house terrified and fetched a doctor, but there was little he could do. Thomas had fifteen head wounds, his father’s face had been mutilated and legs and arms mutilated. Whoever had committed the murders had left their victims to writhe in unspeakable agony overnight. Bill had clearly struggled through the blood upstairs to his bedroom. Tom died soon after being treated by the doctor, Bill managed to survive for ten hours and he said that five Irishmen had come into the house and demanded money, he showed the men where his money was, but they still attacked him. Tom then entered the house and he was also set upon by the men. Both father and son were beaten within an inch of their lives.

The murderers escaped with £7 (£700 in 2020) and some clothes. Witnesses testified to having seen five Irishmen drinking in Uppermill, but leaving, because they had spent up. Although several suspects were apprehended, no evidence to link them to the killings could be found and the murders remain unsolved to this day. The Moorcock was demolished in 1937, and today all that remains is the cellar, in which sheep sometimes shelter.

The Moorcock Inn

The House at Ashway Gap was built around 1850 for John Platt (1817-1872) as a shooting lodge. John was born to Henry Platt (1793-1842) and Sarah Whitehead (1792-1860) in Dobcross, Saddleworth. John’s father, Henry founded Henry Platt & Co in Dobcross to manufacture cotton and wool machinery. The firm moved soon to Ferney Bank in Oldham and then merged with Elijah Hibbert to form Hibbert & Platt.

The premises were moved to Mumps in Oldham, and by 1842 were employing 400 men. After the deaths of the two founding partners the company fell under control of John and his brother James (1823-1857), along with Elijah’s son, John Tomlinson Hibbert (1824-1908). In 1843 the company moved to premises near Werneth Railway station, but by the time that factory was built, the brothers realised that they had grown to such an extent that they had to maintain the Mumps factory as well.

In 1851 John contributed exhibits of cotton machinery to the International Exhibition in London, and Hibbert sold his stake to follow a career in politics, where he served as MP for Oldham between 1862 and 1874, 1877-1886 and 1892-1895. The brothers renamed the company Platt Brothers, bringing their cashier, WF Palmer and managers W Richardson and E Hartley into partnership with them.

Such was the growth of the company that by 1855 there were 2,500 people working for them. The cotton famine and civil war posed a threat to the continued prosperity of the company, but they were nimble enough to diversify into equipment suited for processing Indian and Egyptian cottons and their reputation grew further. During this time the number of spindles in operation in Oldham grew to 500,000, whilst those in other towns declined.

The brothers diversified further into the manufacture of woolen machinery and set up a brickmaking business, both making bricks and the machines to manufacture them. Whilst the primary intention was to aid the manufacture of forges to supply their need for iron, they sold their products to all comers.

John married Alice Radcliffe on 9 May 1842, the sister of James of Oakwood Hall and lived in Werneth Park and estates in Llanfairfechan and Bryn-Y-Neuadd as well as building Ashway Gap as a hunting lodge . He and Alice had twelve children between them. John died on 18 May 1872 of Typhoid at the Hotel Le Meurice Paris during a trip to the continent.

John Platt by Patrick Knight

It was the connections with the Radcliffe family that lead to his brother’s premature demise. John purchased lands on the Ashway estate from George Radcliffe to build Ashway on the land.

John’s brother James (1823-1857) was not only his business partner, but lived near him at Hartford House, Werneth. He had married Lucy Ann Schofield in 1847 and had just taken his seat in March 1857 as MP for Oldham.

On 27 August 1857 a party of local gentlemen, including James Platt, Josiah and Joshua Radcliffe, left Oldham for a day’s shooting, basing themselves at the lodge. They left the Lodge at 9am. By 1pm they had bagged four brace of birds. The gamekeepers were then sent back to Ashway to fetch lunch and dinner which the party intended to consume on the moors after the day’s shoot.

However, on the keeper arriving with food, the men decided to press on with the shoot instead of eating. James went on ahead followed by Josiah Radcliffe a short distance behind him. Josiah tripped, catching the trigger of his rifle on his coat, and swinging round to regain his balance he managed to shoot James in his right leg, blowing a big hole in his calf.

The wound was severe and blood was flowing profusely, attempts to bandage him were in vain, and they carried the wounded MP back to the Lodge, sending men ahead to telegraph Stalybridge and Manchester for medical assistance.

A local surgeon, William Blackburn who lived two miles distant managed to reach the lodge and they rested James on a bed, there was a rapid deterioration in James’ condition and he died shortly after 2:30pm with his brother John at his bedside. The Press newspaper issued the following warning to young sportsmen.

The late lamentable and fatal accident to Mr J Platt the Liberal member for Oldham is one of those occurrences with which the shooting season is but too often ushered in Next Tuesday will no doubt witness the debut of many and youthful sportsman who amid his zeal for the destruction of partridges would do well to remember the sad loss of life which has recently taken place The constant observance of one or two very simple rules would be sufficient to prevent this class of accidents The first and most obvious is never to carry the gun with the muzzle pointed not merely at but in the direction of any human being The gecond is that all parties in the field should walk as much in a line as possible carrying their guns either on the shoulder or under the arm not swinging across it as is to commonly done thereby

News of his death spread the deepest grief and gloom over Oldham. James was buried at Chadderton Cemetery on 2 September and John followed him into parliament after the 1865 General Election, serving as MP until his death in 1872.

The Platt Engineering works continued from strength to strength. In particular they forged strong links with Japan. In 1865 three engineering students from Satsuma visited the works in Oldham and this lead to the order of machinery for the first industrial factory in Kagoshima. The students returned to Japan with four Platt engineers to build and train the locals in the use of the equipment. The favour was returned when in 1929 Platt Brothers purchased the patents for an automatic loom for £100,000 (£6.4m in 2020). This allowed the Kagoshima company to raise the funds to diversify into automobile manufacture. That company was Toyota.

Ashway remained as a hunting lodge. In 1868 proposals were put forward to build reservoirs in the valley which could provide 1.6 million gallons of water per day for Oldham at a cost of £155,000 (£17.6m in 2020). The house was offered for sale in 1875, and was described as an attractive stone built sporting residence with a spacious entrance hall, dining and drawing room, each measuring 12 yards by 7 yards, a billiard room, corridor separating the entertaining rooms from the domestic offices. It had a kitchen, scullery, butcher’s pantry and seven bedrooms four of which had dressing rooms. The outhouses had servant’s quarters, stables, cowhouse and kennels and the surrounding countryside offered some of the best grouseshooting in the West Riding, despite being only two miles from Greenfield Railway station.

The house next appears for sale in 1895 and was bought in 1897 by Albert Slack (1843-1902) a paper manufacturer from Hayfield. He lived with his wife, Mary Jane Bennett at the Oaklands in Hayfield. Albert did not get much use of the lodge, he died on Boxing Day, 1901 and the Lodge was once more up for sale the following year.

In 1905 the Ashton, Stalybridge and Dukinfield Joint Waterworks Committee proposed a reservoir in the valley, and so that wayleaves could be avoided that they also purchase the House. An additional advantage of this was a ready supply of clay with which they could line the reservoir. This they did for £12,500 (£1.5m in 2020) a price which included the furniture. They subsequently sold on the shooting rights, realising themselves a 3% return on their outlay. The purchase of the house caused trouble locally as it was felt that a council should not be setting themselves up as mansion and landowners and consequently it took until 1907 for the purchase to go through. They were not however successful in letting or selling the property during construction.

The reservoir was completed by 1912 with the filter plant being build by Mather & Platt, enabling 2,760,000 gallons of water per day to be processed. After the opening ceremony the worthy councillors retired to Ashway Gap House and a sumptous feast, funded as usual by the ratepayers, to celebrate their selfless efforts. The aldermen must have deemed themselves worthy several times over the next years, in 1931 District Auditors baulked at the expense of a reception for councillors attending a reception at Ashway Gap after an inspection. On that occasion they spent £32 11s 6d (£2,250 in 2020) on drinks including nine bottles of whisky, ten dozen bottles of Bass, a dozen of Stout, three of Port, 100 cigars and 200 cigarettes.

During World War One the house was used as a military hospital, and in the Second War, it housed Italian POWs.

Nurses outside Ashway Gap 1917 © Dovestone Heritage

The valley continued its macabre associations, in 1907 a Mrs Bamforth caught the 09:30 train from Oldham to Greenfield, walked to the Gap and discharged two bullets into her head. Three girl hikers from Manchester nearly died there in December 1935 after spending four and a half days wandering lost on the moors. They had lost their way in a sudden mist, their shoes coming off in the peaty bogs and were found soaking wet, exhausted and suffering from exposure. On 19 August 1949 a Dakota DC3 got lost in the fog and went off course over Wimberry Rocks which overlook the valley. The pilot, thinking he had locked onto the beacon at Ringway and could land crashed straight into the cliff, killing 24 people. Miraculously there were 8 survivors. As recently as 2015 a mystery man travelled to Dovestones and committed suicide by poisoning himself with strychnine. It took a considerable time to identify who he was.

On a brighter note, in 1936, the Ammon Wrigley assocation held a picnic in the house to discuss the proposed closure of Bill O’Jacks a place dear to their heart.

Between 1971 and 1971 the house served as a location for the Granada Sitcom, Last Of The Baskets, starring Arthur Lowe and Patricia Hodge. Ken Jones played Clifford Basket, a factory worker who inherits the title of Earl Of Clogborough. Arthur Lowe was the somewhat disgusted loyal manservant, Bodkin. It has never been repeated, but all episodes still exist in the ITV archive.

Arthur Lowe, Patricia Hayes and Ken Jones at Ashway © Granada TV

The water board did not want to retain the house, and debate raged for a long time as to what to do with it, during which time, as always its condition deteriorated. It was proposed that it be used as an youth outdoor pursuits centre in the late 1970s, and advertisements were published for highly paid directors, again funded by hapless ratepayers, alas the costs of restoring the house to good condition were by this point prohibitive, and it was finally demolished in 1981. The true cost of potential repair was then discovered, as the foundations were found to be only 12 inches deep.

All that remains today are some steps near the path around the reservoir. Let’s have a look at some pictures.

The House circa 1880. Only the steps remain today © Dovestone Heritage
The House 1974 © Herb Riddle
© Gavin Fay
Today (Wimberry Rocks in the background) © Dovestone Heritage

Sources:

Oldham’s incredible mark on Japanese industry

© Allan Russell 2020.

5 thoughts on “100 Halls Around Manchester Part 18: Ashway Gap, Greenfield, Oldham

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