The Limes stands on Wilmslow Road in Didsbury, between the the Old Cocke Inn and the centre of the village. It is a little unclear on earlier maps, so I have also included an up to date map showing the building today:
The house was built sometime between 1851 and 1854 for John Ashworth (1791- before 1851), a gingham silk manufacturer and his wife, Elizabeth Mercy McDowell (1798-1854). The house itself may have been split into two residences, as at times more than one family appears to live there concurrently.
Its first resident did not manage to live at the house for long. In the 1851 census Elizabeth is living as a widow at Ashworth’s House in All Saints Manchester, running her late husbands silk spinning works, John Ashworth & Co of Newton Heath, but a newspaper report records her death on 8 June 1854 at the Limes.
After her death, Walker Skirrow moved in from West Bank House, staying there until his retirement in Brighton in 1860.
In 1862 John Ashworth’s sister, Elizabeth (1793-1868), her husband Charles Bradbury and her sister Ellen Ashworth (1790-1865) were at the house. Ellen died at The Limes on 1st August 1865 and her sister passed away there in 1868.
The house then passed to Robert Lee (1826-1895) and his wife Jane (b 1832). Robert was a woollen manufacturer and merchant, born in Wakefield on 23 December 1826 to George Lee and Mary Keighley. His father founded the family firm and they lived in a prestigious house on Westgate in Wakefield. He married Jane sometime in the 1840s and by 1851 he was employing a workforce of 150.
They moved to Manchester in the mid 1850s and settled at the Limes in the late 1860s to run the Lancashire branch of the family firm, George Lee and Sons.
The firm was well known for its spinning yarn, and eventually were taken over by the Lister Group of Bradford in the 1960s. Listers-Lee Target was once a household name in knitting yarn and patterns. They had two children, Kate and Frank.
Around this time Henry Pearson owned the property, however he was living at Parr’s House in Heaton Mersey at the time, and it may just have been an extra source of income.
George lived at the Limes until shortly after 1891 when he retired to Southport, dying there on 20 March 1895. He was followed by Arthur Godfrey Roby KC (1862-1944) and his wife Alice Keturah Oakley (1864-1934). Godfrey was the son of Henry John Roby and Mary Ann Matilda Ermen, and named for Henry Roby’s business partner, and father in law, Godfrey Ermen.
Godfrey Ermen was the business partner of Friedrich Engels Senior and the pair prospered and built mills in Weaste and Eccles trading as Ermen and Engels. Friedrich died in 1860 and his son also Friedrich (1820-1895) succeeded him. However Friedrich Jr was not particularly interested in business, and keener on pursuing his political interests via his friendship with Karl Marx, whom he had funded using the proceeds of his father’s business.
So disinterested was Friedrich in the business that Godfrey Ermen managed to buy out his reluctant partner for a meagre sum in 1869, and in 1875 he brought Henry Roby into the firm, and they were henceforth known as Ermen and Roby. They established mills at Patricroft and Pendlebury manufacturing cotton yarn.
The firm was bought out in 1897 by the English Sewing Cotton Company but still traded under its Ermen and Roby style. At this point there were 1,200 employed in the enterprise. The Patricroft mill closed in 1945, but the Pendlebury mill still operates under another name.
Godfrey Ermen died a rich man and Arthur Godfrey Roby succeeded his father in managing the business and also the generous charitable bequests that Ermen had left in 1899, totalling £200,000 (£26m in 2020). The terms of the bequest were wide ranging and included any charitable philanthropic literary or educational institution . . . or in the formation and maintenance of hospitals, libraries, baths, wash-houses, model cottages, and generally in support of any object which may seem worthy of encouragement and assistance.
The list of institutions that benefitted are far too long to list them all, but include the Godfrey Ermen Primary school in Eccles and the Godfrey Ermen playing field in Abbey Hey. Arthur Roby also practised as a Barrister in Manchester and involved himself in local schools in Didsbury during his time at the Limes where they lived from the late 1890s until around 1910. By 1911 they had moved to High Bank on Stenner Lane in Didsbury, and after that they returned to London where Alice died on 11 February 1934 at Phillimore Place in Kensington. Arthur died in 1944.
The last inhabitants of the house were Charles E Hopkinson (1854-1920) and Mabel Campbell (1863-1942). Charles was born to John Hopkinson (1824-1902) and Alice Dewhurst (b 1825) and lived at Grove House on Oxford Road in Manchester. This building will be better known to you as the Whitworth Art Gallery. Arthur started work at Wren & Bennett as an apprentice millwright. He showed an aptitude for engineering and rose through the firm as an engineer, eventually becoming a partner in Wren and Hopkinson. He met his wife, Alice as he supplied cotton machinery to the Dewhurst mills in Wakefield.
The Hopkinson children all became engineers, Charles’ brother John was an advisor to the Edison Company in London on dynamos, and partnered with him to design the Edison-Hopkinson dynamo. Hopkinson’s law, the magnetic counterpart to Ohm’s law is named after him. Charles joined his father in Wren & Hopkinson and subsequently practiced as a consulting engineer before joining his brother John was responsible for the installation of many large tramway and electric lighting schemes, including the Newcastle and Leeds tram systems via his work at Mather and Platt.
Charles died at the Limes in 1920, Mabel lived on there until 22 December 1942 when she too passed away.
After that the history is vague, at one point in the 1970s it was a squat, and had as residents at Limes Cottage to the rear, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, and is believed to be the inspiration for the Young Ones TV comedy series. It then became a nursing home and is currently under development for 15 apartments and four town houses which will hopefully see it restored and purposed for the future.
Pictures of it are also hard to come by, here’s all I could find from Google streetview, perhaps you know better.
© Allan Russell 2020.