We met a branch of the Philips family at Bank Hall. Their roots were in Staffordshire, but one branch of the family came to Manchester. John Philips of Heath House Staffordshire had three sons, one of whom Nathaniel (1726-1808) came to Bury to set up as a smallware and hat manufacturer, settling at Pilkington there. His son, Robert (1760-1844) purchased part of the Pilkington Deer Park in 1798 and built his residence there.
The family were philantrophically minded and liberal in their political outlook. Robert spoke out in favour of the French revolutionaries, believing strongly that a country has the right to choose its own government, he was anti slavery and opposed the Corn Laws, seeing it as a regressive tax on the poor, who were forced to pay up to 50% extra for their bread as a result.
Robert was a member of the Manchester Literary and Philisophical Society between 1783 and 1844, one of the founders of the Manchester & Salford Deaf and Dumb School and subscribed generously to the construction of the Manchester Infirmary. He married Ann Needham of Nottingham in 1798 and the couple lived at the Park, where over the next 16 years Ann gave birth to ten daughters and two sons,
Caroline Philips (1811-1844) was the firstborn, then came Mary Philips who married Robert Hyde Greg the son of Samuel of Quarry Bank Mill.
Their first son was Mark Philips (1800-1873) who like his father was a radical, and was one of the first two MPs elected for the town, after the Great Reform Act of 1832 restored Manchester’s Parliamentary Representation ( it had been removed in 1660 as punishment for the town’s support for the parliamentarians). He too was a proponent of Manchesterism along with all his family supporting free trade. It was he who donated funds for the provision of free public parks and open spaces within Manchester, allowing Philips Park (in Bradford, Manchester, not the Prestwich one) and Peel Park to become amongst the first urban parks. He supported publically funded schooling and was instrumental in 1852 in establishing the first free public library in the United Kingdom.
Mark Philips resided at Welcombe House in Snitterfield, Stratford Upon Avon, where he died, unmarried, on 23 December 1873 leaving a fortune of £400,000 (£44m in 2020). In 1876 his brother, Robert Needham Philips, erected a obelisk in his memory on his Stratford Estate, which Robert inherited from him. Robert, his father declined a baronetcy in 1838, in order that Mark could further his career
Robert Philips , Esq . , The Park , Manchester .
MY LORD , – I feel proud that you should from any quarter have heard anything of my character which induces you to believe me worthy of any mark of public distinction . I seek no honour , my Lord , in return for any past services I may have rendered the cause of Reform . I have been through a long life a sincere , and I hope a consistent reformer , and I am amply repaid for any exertions or sacrifices in so good a cause in having been permitted to live to see those principles triumph which are now so zealously advocated by your Lordship .
It has been a matter of great gratification to me to see my son returned as one of the first representatives for the borough of Manchester . I am ambitious of no higher distinction to my family ; and in very respectfully declining the honour of a baronetcy , tendered by your Lordship , I trust that I shall not be deemed guilty of any want of courtesy towards one for whom I entertain , on public grounds , the highest esteem .
I have the honour to be , my Lord , your faithful and obliged servant ,
R . PHILIPS
Of the other children, Sarah Jane Philips (1801-1864) married James William Mylne, a London Barrister. The next seven children were a run of girls, all of whom died unmarried, Hester Emily (1803-1834) Anna Priscilla (1803-1879) Imeilia (b 1804) Isabella (1806-1889) twins Jessey Ann (1808-1824) and Elizabeth Lucy (1808-1824) Clara Octavia (1810-1826)
The youngest child was the second son, Robert Needham Philips (1815-1890) who inherited the Park Estate from his father. He was educated at Rugby and Manchester College, York¹. He served as MP for Bury between 1857 and 1859, and 1865-1885.
On the occasion of his first election to parliament 4,000 citizens of Bury attended a celebration to commemorate his entry to Parliament. It was not only the great and good that came, but the Illustrated London News reported a considerable proportion of working men, and a goodly sprinkling of women and girls. The festivities took place in a specially built wooden structure, covering 60 yards by 40 and illuminated by 400 gas jets.
In 1845 he married Mary Ellen Yates, the daughter of a Liverpool Merchant, Joseph Brooks Yates in Toxteth. He describes himself as a Manchester Merchant, Cotton Manufacturer and Magistrate in the 1851 census at Philips Park and is still there in 1861. Sadly Anna Maria died in childbirth in April 1850. The couple continued the run of girls with two children, Caroline (1846-1928) who married Sir George Otto Trevelyan Bt (1838-1928), who rose in political ranks under Gladstone, serving twice as Scottish secretary during an almost 30 year long ministerial career. the couple had three sons, Sir Charles Trevelyan (1870-1958) who served as a Liberal and Labour politician, Robert Calverley Trevelyan (1872-1951) a poet and George Macaulay Trevelyan (1876-1962) a prominent Whig Historian.
The other daughter born to Robert Needham Philips and Anna Maria Yates was Margaret (b1849). She married William Edwin Price (1841-1886), who was MP for Tewkesbury between 1868 and 1880, and the couple had a son, Morgan Philips Price (1885-1973) who also became an MP.
Robert married once more, this time to Mary Ellen Yates (1822-1897), a cousin of his first wife. This marriage was however for reasons unknown not successful, and the couple appear to have separated after the birth of their only daughter, Anna Maria (1857-1946). Robert pointedly refers to himself as a widower in the 1881 census whilst staying at his London residence in Berkeley Square.
As well as the Bury estate, he also owned property in Snitterfield in Warwickshire, and inherited Welcombe House on the death of his brother Mark. Robert died on 28 February 1890 from Bronchitis and congestion of the lungs and was buried in the family vault at Stand Chapel in Pilkington. He left a fortune of £460,547 18s 11d (£60m in 2020).
The estate was inherited by Anna Maria Philips who became a somewhat daughty Mancunian, never marrying. She lived at the estate full time from 1906
Anna was very close to her father and became his constant help and companion both personally and in his political career. The two spent August to October every year at the Park.
In 1878 Anna became manager of Park Lane School and patron after Robert died. She retained this post until the school merged with the local council school. After that she was vice chairwoman of the Stand Grammar School for boys and girls until 1937.
Always closely involved in local education, an idea of her character can be ascertained from an newspaper article from 23 June 1938 when, aged 86 she walked alone in the rain to attend a childrens sports event. She was described as disliking riding in a car and walking at a sharp pace. I have no use for a car, she said.
After her death, the hall was sold to Whitefield council and unsurprisingly demolished in 1950. Whilst some original buildings remain, the entire park was delisted by English Heritage because of its deterioration in 1998.
¹ A dissenting academy founded in Warrington in 1757 as the Warrington Academy, moved to Manchester in 1786 where John Dalton was a professor. In 1803 the college wanted to appoint Charles Wellbeloved, a Unitarian preacher as Principal. Wellbeloved would not move to Manchester, so the college upped sticks to York. It kept its name. Back in Manchester in 1840, it received a Royal Letter in Council signed by Victoria in 1840, giving it the same status as Kings College, and University College. The college relocated to London in 1853 naming itself Manchester New College. Finally in 1893 it settled in Oxford as Harris Manchester College. Just to keep things easy, the only other Unitarian College in the country is also called Manchester College, and has since 1854 (fittingly as its peripatetic namesake had finally abandoned its eponymous roots by then) trained students to attain leadership positions in the Unitarian Church. Today its degrees are validated by the University of Manchester.
² There are many pictures and memories of the Park to be found in Ian Pringle’s Album, the Philips Family of the Park which can be found here.
Memoir of Robert Hibbert, Esquire, Founder of the Hibbert Trust, Sir Jerom Murch: Lewis 1874
© Allan Russell 2020.