Didsbury Lodge stands on the junction of Wilmslow Road and Parrs Wood Road, just past East Didsbury Station. Its grounds once bordered on those of Parr’s Wood Hall before the coming of the Wilmslow to Levenshulme railway. The building is not listed, although the lodge house is at grade II, I suspect to save it from demolition. Pevsner liked both, calling the house the finest, built of orange brick creamy ashlar, like the Towers, with symmetrical semicircular bays and an impressive stone porch. He conjectured the lodge house dated from earlier in the 19th century than the main house.
It was built around 1854 for Joseph Bull (1813-1872) an Iron Merchant born in Market Harborough to Thomas and Mary Bull, grocers. Joseph apprenticed in the Iron Trade in the Black Country and by the early 1830s he was involved in the Snedshill forge in Wellington, near Telford in Horton, Simms and Bull, not at this stage a partner. The company followed the money, and built a warehouse at 66 Port Street in Manchester to benefit from the trade there. Joseph married William Simms’ daughter Mary in 1836 which suggests he obtained an equity stake around this time.
In February 1844 the Port Street Warehouse collapsed under the weight of iron stacked up against the supporting pillars which toppled domino-like killing a worker and a gentleman who had just entered the building, the gable end fell through into the canal, knocking a child out of a passing woman’s arms into the canal. The woman sustained a broken leg and fortunately her baby was retrieved unharmed from the water.
Joseph prospered in Manchester, investing in the railway boom, and serving on the committees of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway and Shropshire Mineral Railway. By 1851 he was living with his wife and children at The Grove in Withington.
The partnership of Horton Simms and Bull was dissolved in 1854, and Joseph was wealthy enough to use the proceeds to build Didsbury Lodge, where they lived until around 1860. The gardens were set out infront of the Ha-Ha which still can be seen, with hothouses to the north and evergreens to the front. At the house end there was a flight of stone steps and an alcove in the corner, whence you could contemplate the geraniums, yellow calceolaria and white verbenas, gravel paths led between the beds and the surrounding grass framed the landscape with a green border. The only niggle the Journal of Horticulture could find in its otherwise favourable review was the narrowness of the paths.
A wealthy man by 1859 he entered into a conveyance with Ralph Sneyd of Keele Hall for three acres of land, upon which he built Bradwell Lodge on the grounds of the demolished Bradwell Hall, near Newcastle Under Lyme. However in 1861, just after he had moved in he was declared bankrupt, and his new house was auctioned off at the Leopard Hotel in Burslem, the proceeds, £3,350 (£420,000 in 2021) accruing to the Manchester and Liverpool Banking Company who had taken over his assets.
Tragedy struck again in 1856 when his Ravensdale Iron Works at Tunstall suffered an boiler explosion. The boiler, 18 foot, by 7 feet 6 inches, the largest part of which weighed six tons was blown one hundred yards into the air over a chimney stack, demolishing five furnaces. Fortunately the explosion happened early in the morning, and the death toll was relatively low at three.
He managed to recover, and moved to Port Hill Villa in Port Hill, still a comfortable house and by 1871 he was back in the iron trade, employing 25 men. He died at the end of 1872. James (1842-1909) his younger son succeeded him in his iron business and achieved great success rising to JP for Staffordshire, ending his days at the luxorious Brampton Park near Newcastle Under Lyme.
The elder son, William Simms Bull (1837-1919) lived a more idolent existence. As early as 1861 he was describing himself as a gentleman, and moving with his wife, Mary Adams (1838-1895) to a succession of grand houses, Burston Hall in Stone and Northlands in Cheltenham. The couple then moved to Hendre Mynach at Barmouth, where he owned a slate quarry. William died on 6 February 1919 in Surrey. His son, also William Simms Bull (1866-1944), appeared with the D’Oyly Carte touring company between 1892 and 1900, as well as working for the main company as stage manager and finally as the company Business Manager. He described himself as a comedian in the 1901 census.
It was Edward Uhry Isaac Nathan (1830-1882) and his wife Helena Lieben (b 1843) both Hamburg born naturalised citizens who next occupied Didsbury Lodge. Edward was the son of Nathan Nathan and Hännchen Speyer and the couple moved in directly after their wedding in February 1861. Edward was one of the German Jewish merchants who prospered in Manchester, working for his father’s company, NP Nathan and sons, merchants, spinners, manufacturers and shipping merchants of 20 Oxford Street.
Edward became president of the Manchester Jewish Schools and in October 1868 laid the foundation stone for the school on Derby Road on Cheetham Hill², to which he had generously contributed. He also served as Vice Consul for Norway and Sweden between 1862 and 1875.
In 1875 they moved from Manchester to Paris because of Edward’s failing health. He died on 23 November 1882 in at 23 Avenue Kleber, Paris. The couple had no children. He left a fortune of £112,000 (£14m in 2021) in his will.
The house was at this time richly furnished, as the advertisement from the Bradford Observer of 2 December 1875 shows:
The house did not sell immediately, and was withdrawn from auction in 1882. However some time in the 1880s John Port (1830-1903) and his wife Jane (b 1831) took up residence.
John was born in Stalybridge and operated as an iron bedstead and safe manufacturer at Corporation Street and Mill Street, Ancoats where he had his ironworks. He had married Jane and first lived on Oxford Street then moving to Stamford Lodge in Altrincham where he farmed 30 acres as well as tending to his iron business. However, the couple had moved to Didsbury Lodge by 1890, sadly Jane died there on 22 December 1890, and as the house was clearly too much for a man to inhabit alone (they had no children) he moved to Richmond House, on Chorlton High Street, where he died on 11 March 1903, leaving a fortune of £579,495 (£73m in 2021). His business was clearly successful, and his safes are highly collectable items today, appearing often in auctions. This one is currently for sale at £1,800:
John was obviously keen to move, as the house was advertised for sale in 1893 as cheap and one of the finest in Didsbury, with over three acres of laid out gardens, which the next resident, Frank Reddaway (1854-1943) would guard jealously, albeit unsuccessfully. He purchased the property for £22,000 in 1895 (£3m in 2021).
Francis Joseph Reddaway was born in 1854 in Ireland to Joseph Reddaway and Henrietta. His father was born in Barnstaple and spent his early years as a sergeant in the army, touring such places as Ireland and Caernarfon. On leaving the army he became a commercial traveller in India Rubber, working for his son. Frank married Elizabeth Jane Baxter in 1877 and by the end of the 1870s was selling fire hose that did not burst, a problem suffered by other hoses at the time.
Frank’s company, established in 1872, made canvas fire hose and textile transmission belting of his own invention – initially made from wool, it performed better in hot, dry countries such as India. He was indifferent to the actual constituents, but gained great success with his patented Camel Hair Belting from 1879 dominating the market. Other companies copied him, naming their products by similar exotic animal names (crocodile, yak, etc).
In 1891 one of his employees left the business, and set up a competing operation using the phrase Camel Hair, even claiming that his product performed better than the market leader. At this time both manufacturers were actually using camel hair in their product. Reddaway sued, but this was overturned in the Court of Appeal, as it was determined that no manufacturer should be prevented from telling the simple truth, and as the belt was made of camel hair, this should not be held from the customer.
The case went to the lords and Reddaway was represented by John Fletcher Moulton and Herbert Henry Asquith (the future PM) who had the appeal court decision overturned on the basis that there was also a secondary significance to the name, and that the defendant was passing his product off as the same as Reddaway’s. The case established the precedent that descriptive terms can acquire secondary meaning, and therefore become the basis for an action in passing off.
In 1883 Frank visited Russia looking for opportunities for his Manchester based products, he studied the local market requirements closely and developed a business model to manufacture within Russia itself, avoiding heavy import duties. He purchased a 15 acre site at Spass Setun near Moscow, a warehouse in Moscow and branches in St Petersburg, Kiev, Baku, Saratov and Ekaterinburg. The Russian market was a popular outlet for printed oilcloth table covers which sold in their millions throughout the country. He visited Russia up to three times every year, each time spending up to six weeks at the mill or amongst the sales force.
His workforce was initally brought in from Manchester, but he trained the locals in his methods, retaining Manchester men in key positions such as foremen and supervisors. By the mid 1890s he was returning profits of £30,000 pa. (£4.1m pa in 2021).
The Moscow factory had much better conditions than other nearby establishments, and became a showplace for visitors to the region. Frank paved local roads, ensured that there was a clean water supply, opened a bath house and a school for the locals. At its peak it employed 1,000 people, and 250 travelling salesmen.
Whilst he settled at Didsbury Lodge, the building of the Wilmslow to Levenshulme relief route between Wilmslow and Manchester caused him and James Heald of Parr’s Wood House and their objections went as far as the House of Lords eventually forcing the railway to build the line on an embankment, and the act of parliament authorising the railway incorporated compensation payments being made to Frank, as well as the railway buying part of the land upon which the Lodge stood
Frank was not a total grouch. As soon as the First World War started he donated Didsbury Lodge and other properties for use as a Military Hospital (it formed part of the annex to the hospital at the Wesleyan Theological College) whilst he moved to his new residence, Winmarleigh Hall near Preston, a substantially bigger and more desireable mansion:
At the end of the war, he greeted his employees at his Salford works with the following:
I can see it is no use trying to work this week, keep the joy bells ringing for the whole of the week and on Saturday I shall pay you all full wages as usual and double them
The Russian revolution caused him great losses, and he his Russian operations were confiscated, causing him to pursue claims against the Soviet Government for many years. He commenced a writing campaign, lobbying Arthur James Balfour, Henry Asquith, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. Included amongst his losses were £30,000 in furniture and works of art from his house in Spass Setum. Compensation of £250,000 was eventually awarded to Frank Reddaway and Company by the UK Foreign Compensation Commission (in 1990). He did however, manage to come into possession of six gilt mounted chairs, the erstwhile property of Tsar Nicholas (1868-1918) who suffered a far worse fate than loss of assets. The furniture was kept at Winmarleigh Hall.
He died on 12 June 1943 at Winmarleigh, leaving a fortune of £273,004 (£13m in 2021).
By 1932 the Lodge had been converted to a Catholic School, Our Lady of Lourdes Children’s Home
This was followed as a time as the Head office of an advertising agency, Barnaby & Tarr, in the 1970s before reverting to domestic use as apartments in work carried out by P J Livesey & Company, it still stands today, perhaps hidden and overwhelmed by modern flats to its left, and reduced in size, but still with us which is the main thing. Quite a hidden gem I think.
Lawrence Connell tells me:
“Like I mentioned Didsbury Lodge & The Ceders in the 60’s & 70’s Were occupied by the CEGB, ” Central Electricity Generating Board HQ ” I started about 1966, aged 15 ! In the Printing Dept “Reprographics ” and occasionally helped in the post room which took me all over both buildings , they told me that Didsbury Lodge had been something to do with a religious use, I Loved walking round these two buildings, Behind Didsbury Lodge there was the Catholic Children’s rescue society, I may have that title wrong ?
Didsbury Lodge and The Ceders were connected with a modern corridor and modern Buildings including post room and later a huge new Reprographics Dept, The Ceders was the main entrance for the CEGB, with the then Reprographics Dept housed in the cellars, Didsbury Lodge held the Lands & Wayleaves Depts,
I wish I could go back and take more notice of the Buildings as they were then and maybe take photos,
The white gate lodge at the front was CEGB’s Occupational Health dept,
The CEGB later moved to Cheadle Ladybridge road sometime in the 70’s,
Some time later I worked over the road at Shirley Institute in their Print unit,
So I managed to get to go in the Towers another grand building”
¹ The key to the diagram 1 Mrs Holford Verbanas, 2 Tom Thumb Pelargorium, 3 Pelargorium, 4 Scarlet Verbena, 5 Calceolaria floribunda, 6 Purple King Verbena, 7 Blue Bonnet Verbena, 8 André Verbena, 9 Parfum Madeline Verbena, 10 Fountain surrounded by Géant Des Batailles Verbena edged with Alyssum 11 Vases and at each corner an Irish Yew.
² Demolished in 2012, now moved to King David School in Crumpsall
Plans of Flower Gardens, Beds, Borders, Roseries, and Aquariums; accompanied by rules and directions for their formation, By Contributors to the “Journal of Horticulture.”: Journal Of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener Office, 1868
Lancashire – Manchester & The South East, Pevsner: Yale, 2004
Foreign Participation In Russian Economic Life 1865-1914 Fred Carstensen: University of Virginia, 1978
© Allan Russell.