100 Halls Around Manchester Part 33: Mr Croxton’s House, King Street, Manchester

Manchester has always knocked down its grand buildings. Consider the following three examples.

They all have one thing in common, the same piece of ground upon which they stand. Which would you keep?

Lloyd’s Bank building on King Street was designed by Charles Heathcote (1850-1938) in 1913. It was listed in 1974, and subsequently sold by Lloyd’s in 2009 for £6m, and is now used as offices. Heathcote was a Manchester Architect and is responsible for many of Manchester’s listed buildings, including the National Westminster Bank and Lancashire and Yorkshire Bank in Spring Gardens, Sparrow and Hardwick’s Warehouse on 107 Piccadilly, the Northern Rock building opposite Lloyd’s as well as the Manchester Dental Hospital and the Trafford Park Estate¹.

The King Street building replaced a library which had been Manchester’s first purpose built Town Hall, built in 1822 as the town grew in cotton wealth. It was designed by Francis Goodwin (1784-1835) in the Grecian style, as was the contemporary mode. Francis was predominantly a church architect, making his fortune from the Church Building Acts of 1818 and 1824 but he did also design Macclesfield Town Hall, in the same mould. On demolition the collonade was moved to Heaton Park, after a campaign to preserve some memory of the structure. It is now being allowed to rot behind a metal fence whilst the Council presumably consider how they can best forget it.²

By 1877 Cottonopolis had outgrown the King Street property and Alfred Waterhouse was commissioned to design the Albert Square site.

However, perhaps an even more beautiful building was demolished to make way for the Town Councillors, Mr Croxton’s house. This stood on high ground on the corner of King Street and Cross Street and had at the front a terrace which could be approached from each end by a flight of steps from the street. It was described as the most handsome and conspicuous house on the street.

We know little about George Croxton. He may have been born around 1694 in Warrington to Hugh and Elizabeth Croxton, and possibly apprenticed as a Haberdasher to John Crowther of Liverpool in 1712 for a premium of £25. The Croxton family were wealthy before him.

Whatever his roots, by 1729 he was living in St Anne’s Square in Manchester, and in 1743 he had made sufficient fortune to purchase Birch Hall in Rusholme from Humphrey Birch, the grandson of Colonel John Birch of Ardwick Manor, and noted Parliamentarian. He only stayed two years at Birch Hall, selling it to John Dickinson of Market Street Lane, who gave lodgings to Charles Edward Stuart during his stay in Manchester.

George is described as a merchant. He was certainly successful, he died in August 1753, and was buried on 1 September 1753 at the Collegiate Church, leaving a fortune of £20,000 (£4½m in 2021) – and that excluded the value of his house.

He does not appear to have married, and had no son and heir to whom he could bequeath his money and therefore the lucky recipient of his good fortune was his nephew, George Johnson (1730-1795).

George used his money well. He married Sarah (1730-1764), the daughter of Dr Thomas White, who will will meet shortly, on 10 December 1754 and moved to Timperley Hall where he built a new brick structure, demolishing the older building shortly after. He served as a churchwarden at the Collegiate Church in 1767. Sarah died on 11 November 1764, in childbirth.

The couple had at least four girls, Sarah, Mary, Elizabeth and Charlotte, and one son, the Reverend Croxton Johnson (1716-1814). Croxton, named for the family’s benefactor, studied at Manchester Grammar School and St John’s College Cambridge.

He had a good start. In 1783 his father bought the presentation of the Rectorship of Wilmslow, allowing him to move into the Rectory on 16 April 1787 when the post fell vacant. He lived there until his death on 20 January 1814, and was buried in the chancel of Wilmslow Parish Church.

On 18 March 1788 he married Frances Houghton Peters (1766-1850), the daughter of Ralph Peters, a barrister and deputy recorder of Liverpool, and via his wife, Elizabeth Entwistle, granddaughter of Bertin Peters, Vice Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster who we met last time at Foxholes. His sons were educated at Kings, Macclesfield, Croxton Johnson (1789-1875) enjoyed a life of foxhunting, pigeon shooting and had a son also named for the family’s patron who lived a similar life of ease spending time in Bognor at regatte and on the golf course.

Bertie Entwistle Johnson (1794-1873) married Isabel Legh, the sister of John Legh of Norbury was rather more sober. He became rector of Lymm and eventually incumbent of St Michael in Ercall. At King’s he developed the ability to sleep with his eyes open, in order to avoid a fear of being watched in his sleep. A small, testy and quarrelsome man, he was once highly offended when someone quoted Dryden at him:

There are some insects so little and so light

You would not know they live but that they bite

We will now return to Sarah White. She was the granddaughter of Thomas White MD (1696-1776). Thomas was born in Manchester on 9 April 1696. His family came from Nottinghamshire, and his grandfather was Colonel Charles White of Benall Abbey, Greasley, MP for Nottingham. Unfortunately he took the wrong side in the English Civil War and lost his estate. The Colonel’s son Thomas (1656-1702), Thomas’ father, was born in Greasley, but moved to Manchester where he practised as an attorney.

Thomas himself practised as a midwife and married Rosamund Bower (1704-1776), the daughter of Benjamin Bower, and sister to Benjamin and John Bower, textile manufacturers of Manchester.

Thomas and Rosamund had three children, Sarah, we have already met, Elizabeth (1739-1744) and Charles (1728-1813). They moved into the King Street residence in 1728.

As a child, Charles had helped his father in his midwifery practice, and in 1748 he was sent to London to study where he formed a friendship with John Hunter, the younger brother of Dr William Hunter, a celebrated teacher of Anatomy. He returned to Manchester via study in Edinburgh by 1752 and started campaigning for a hospital to be built as well as joining in his father’s practice.

His father retired from the King Street practice and purchased Sale Hall where he spent the rest of his days, dying on 20 July 1776, and was buried at Ashton on Mersey.

Charles was a hard worker, being capable of long journeys on horseback without tiring. He slept little, rose early and by 1774 was considered the best doctor in the North of England.

His campaign to build the first hospital in Manchester bore fruit early and with help from a local industrialist, Joseph Bancroft a house on Garden Street off Withy Grove was opened on 27 July 1752. The first patient was Benjamin Dooley, aged 12, suffering from sordid ulcers of the leg. The following year saw the lease of the Daub Holes near Levers Row (now Piccadilly) from the Mayor, Sir Oswald Mosley at an annual rent of £6 for 999 years. The Daub Hole pits themselves were filled with water and formed an ornamental pond, which later formed the sunken gardens when MRI was built.

Charles became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1761, and a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. He was one of the founders of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, and its first Vice President. In 1783 he helped found the Manchester College of Arts and Sciences³ at which he lectured with his son, Thomas on anatomy, believed to be the first such lectures on the subject outside London. He was also one of the first subscribers to the Portico Library and also founded the Lunatics Hospital.

He resigned from the Infirmary in 1790 over a dispute as to whether to enlarge the hospital and make it open to more people (he did not believe it should be). He went then to found the Manchester Lying In Hospital in 1790, realising the importance of good hygiene in childbirth to avoid the high mortality rates. His work, a Treatise on the Management of Pregnant and Lying in Women of 1771 became the standard work. He stayed with the Lying in Hospital until blindness forced him to retire in 1811, lecturing on midwifery and apocathery. The hospital continued after his death, becoming St Mary’s in 1854.

Charles White by J Allen , Manchester City Art Gallery

His interest in anatomy meant he amassed a rather large and gruesome collection of human remains, this was noted by Thomas De Quincey who became a good friend after Charles attended his sister in 1792 when she contracted hydrocephalus (meningitis) from which she died. His specimens were lost in a fire in 1847. However, we have briefly met him before in this context in the tale of the unfortunate Hannah Beswick.

As well as his midwifery he took an interest in the relationships between the human race and animal and plant species, noting that there was a general gradation between one and another, but he rejected any ideas that one may evolve from another, and held what would be considered racist views on the supremancy of the white races.

After his retirement, he settled at the Priory in Sale, where he died on 20 February 1813. There is a monument to him and his family at the Church in Ashton on Mersey, and whilst his retirement house no longer exists, his name lives on in White’s Bridge over the Bridgewater Canal near Dane Road, and Blue Plaques to his memory in central Manchester:

His house was demolished to make way for the Town Hall. Looking at the picture below, it seems even our early councillors destroyed beauty for their own ends. Although all three buildings are beautiful, this is perhaps the finest house Manchester ever had.

The house of Charles White on King Street, Manchester. Coloured lithograph by A. Aglio after J. Ralston, 1823 © Wellcome Foundation

¹ The list of his works is stunning. This has got to be a project to document all in one place.

² I realise I appear to be growing Meldrewish over crumbling edifices. Don’t get me wrong we can’t keep every building, and I do like the bold skyscrapers rising sentinel like around the City Centre. However, sometimes you do get the impression that councils are to our heritage as flies to wanton boys. There are too many examples to make it seem just coincidence.

³ Not to be mistaken with the Manchester Academy, founded in 1786, which further adds confusion to the tangled story I related in the tale of Park. The curriculum was rich covering Chemistry with reference to Arts and Manufacture, Practical Mathematics, Natural and Experimental Philosphy, Theory and History of the Fine Arts and Geography. Notably there were courses on the Arts of Bleaching, Dying and Calico Printing which were offered to skilled men in those trades. This academy failed in 1786, due it is believed to a superstitious dread of the tendency of science to unfit young men for the ordinary details of business.

Sources:

The Fellows of the Collegiate Church of Manchester, Part II, Francis Robert Raines: Cheetham Society, 1891

Old Manchester, A Series Of Views, Published JE Cornish 1875.

Charles White FRS A Great Provincial Surgeon, Charles J Cullingworth: The Lancet, 1903

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Royal_Infirmary.

Science and Technology in The Industrial Revolution, Musson Robinson: Manchester University Press 1969 .

https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-29238

https://www.thornber.net/cheshire/ideasmen/white.html

An Account of the Regular Gradation in Man, Animals and Vegetables

© Allan Russell 2021.

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