Torkington House started its life as the first silk mill in Bullock Smithy, as Hazel Grove was then known. Samuel Gaskell built or adapted it as the first¹ such factory in the area. He was active in Torkington as a Check Manufacturer² from the 1790s until 1830. The property stood on the junction of London Road and Torkington Lane, opposite the present day Bullock Smithy pub (late The Bull’s Head, even earlier The Bullock Smithy).
Torkington stood at the junction of the Turnpike from Manchester to London and Manchester to Buxton, and therefore was an ideal spot for passengers and horses to refresh before they continued their journey. This attracted innkeepers to a lucrative trade. It was not always so well served for roads.
On 1 May 1560 Richard Bullock was granted a lease by John Torkington to establish a Blacksmith. In Richard Bullock’s days there were few roads in the area. There was a narrow route from Bramhall to Disley which entered a forest at Norbury Moor and the old route from Stalybridge to Congleton which is now Bramhall Moor Lane. There was a narrow track which is now Torkington Road, leading from Torkington Hall to Norbury Moor.
Robert Norburie built Norbury Hall around this time and Richard saw the opportunity of attracting such a wealthy customer, so he built his business on the boundary between Norbury and Torkington Halls. Other thoroughfares were even less attractive. A narrow track led from the Norbury estate to the Stalybridge-Congleton Road and ended there. After that there was an immense bog, known up to the reign of Charles I as the Black Lake on the Great Moor.
The area around the blacksmith eventually became known as Bullock’s Smithy and then Bullock Smithy. By 1750 the area was notorious for staging cock, bull and dog fights. John Wesley noted the wickedness that went on there during a sermon he gave in the village.
Gradually the roads improved and transport became easier. In the early 1830s Thomas Ashworth lived at the house briefly before his move to Barlow Fold. The nearest post office was at Bullock Smithy and Thomas, presumably having covered his piano legs³, took offence at the name, lobbying for it to be called Hazel Grove, after a small hamlet nearby called Hessel Grove.
This was passed unanimously at a public meeting on 26 September 1836 and to celebrate the name change from the uncouth appellation to a more euphonious and Rosa Matilda Hazel Grove. At 10:30 that morning a procession of one thousand children set off accompanied by a band with the two oldest inhabitants sat on grey horses each bearing a shield and accompanied by a page boy. Stopping at the Sun Inn the Beadle of Stockport, Mr Faulkner read a proclamation
Oyez!, Oyez!, Oyez!
Whereas the inhabitants of this village have agreed to revive the ancient and original name of Hazel Grove. I do, therefore, hereby and proclaim and declare that this place shall be called and known by the name of Hazel Grove, henceforth and forever!
God Save the King!
And the inhabitants of this village!
The procession then set off once more repeating the proclamation before the children were given a meal to celebrate. Thomas Ashworth presented them with a number of useful books and the organising committee dined at the Red Lion. At the end, Mr Faulkner ceremoniously disposed of a blacksmith’s tongs and horseshoe into a coffin. Celebrations continued into the night, no doubt in a fashion that would have further offended Mr Wesley.
Whether the new name is a well chosen is a moot point. There are no hazel trees nearby and a hussel is old English for a dweller at witches hollow, whilst grove is a digging place. That being the case, the village ended up being called Witches Hollow Grave, perhaps not an improvement.
On the 1841 census Jose Rathbone Smith (1799-1855) and his wife Catherine Wood (b 1806) are at the house. Jose had a variety of jobs in his life. He married Catherine on the 15 December 1824 at St Mary in Stockport, and five years later he is trading as a muslin manufacturer in Stockport and Manchester with John Smith. The following year he describes himself as a provision dealer on Hillgate, but in the same year sets up at Bone Hill in Tamworth as a Calico Printer, however by 1836 he is bankrupt and back in Stockport where he moved into Torkington House where he is schoolmaster, possibly in partnership with the Misses Hughes of Torkington Lodge next door. He manages to keep this role for quite a while until 1849 when he is bankrupt once more and lodging at Bloomsbury in Rusholme.
Coming full circle he moved back to Higher Hillgate where he died on 31 January 1855, and was buried at St Thomas off Wellington Road on 5 February that year. Catherine and Jose had four children, Fanny and Sarah married vicars, Samuel emigrated to Australia, after marrying an Irish girl, Margaret Manley in Heidelberg.
The next residents were John Goodman MRCS, LRCP (1809-1886) and his wife Mary Middleton (1811-1911). John was born in Chapel En Le Frith to Thomas and Catherine. He was educated at the Manchester Grammar School, and then studied medicine at the Infirmary finishing his studies at London.
He practised first in Salford where he married Mary in 1835. The couple and their children are living at Torkington House in 1851, but it is only a short stay as by 1853 they have moved to Southport where he founded the Southport Hydropathic Institution at 8 Leicester Street, styling himself Consulting Physician to the body whilst the family lived next door at number 10.
The move to Southport was principally because of his health, but on discovering the joys of a sea cure he threw himself enthusiastically into the science of Hydropathy, advertising widely locally and nationally, targetting the spa resorts like Buxton. He was the most prolific writer on the subject in Victorian England publishing several volumes. His biographer describes him as energetic but heroic in his style of treatment. He was well thought of, and the trustees of the hospital included several worthy gentleman he had met in Manchester and Stockport, including Ephraim Hallam. The institution was not solely for the use of the richer classes, as the constitution of 1863 stipulated that it was open to the poor and those in reduced circumstances suffering from any acute of chronic complaint. He died on 17 December 1886 in Southport, Mary lived to the age of 100 dying in 1911.
After the Goodmans, in the mid 1850s we see John Gaskell Harrop (1827-1856) and his second wife Elizabeth Bramall (1827-1892) at the house. John was born on Millgate in Stockport to a wealthy family. His father, John owned Lower and Higher Bollington Mills amongst other things. John practised as a solicitor in Stockport and first married Elizabeth Downing in 1849 at the Collegiate Church, but she died the following year, and he wed Miss Bramall in late 1850. They moved to Torkington, where he lived a life of ease as a farmer and annuitant on Filder Moor before moving to Torkington House around 1855.
The couple had four girls, Elizabeth, Margaret, Jane and Mary. However, his time was limited, and he died aged 29 on 22 May 1856. Elizabeth married again to Joseph Albiston, also a widower, who made popular career choices, Tax Collector, Highways Surveyor and Estate Agent and the couple settled in Heaton Norris.
Next up at the house are the Shaw Brothers, David and Matthew. They were sons of Daniel and Hannah Shaw. The family started at Bosden House Farm. David Shaw (b 1825) moved in soon after John Harrop’s death in 1856. He owned a local coal mine. His brother Matthew (1828-1912) was still there in 1871 with his wife Elizabeth Conway but by 1878 had moved to Crich Carr near Belper where he ran a brickworks, retiring in June 1900 to Bootle where he died on 27 July 1912.
Joseph Ramsey Railton (1849-1890) was the next resident, with his wife Henrietta Coulson (1854-1927). Joseph was the son of James Railton of Cumberland and Manchester girl, Elizabeth Ramsey. James came to Manchester in the early 1840s to marry Elizabeth Ramsey in 1844 at the Cathedral. He started out as a wool merchant, as Ramsey and Railton on the High Street in Manchester. By 1871 he was employing two assistants as a Draper, Joseph Ramsey Railton being one of the assistants. Joseph married Henrietta Coulson in 1875 in Worsley and worked as a commercial traveller in India Rubber Products. They lived at Torkington House between 1878 and the mid 1880s when Alfred Darbyshire (1838-1908) moved in with his wife Sarah Marshall (1838-1933) and children.
Alfred was born to Quaker parents William Darbyshire and Mary Bancroft on 20 June 1839 at 8 Peru Street in Salford. His uncle was George Bradshaw the pioneer of railway timetables. His father managed Edmund Ashworth’s Dyeworks. Through his parent’s connections he met many of the anti Corn Law campaigners of the day, including William Cobden. His mind was further stimulated by a trip with his uncle George to the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace in 1851. He started his education at the Friends School on Peter Street in Manchester before being sent away to the Quaker school in Ackworth in Yorkshire where a teacher inspired him to draw plans to scale. However it was not a happy time away at Ackworth and he finished his education at Lindow Grove in Alderley Edge.
He entered his articles to train as an architect for Peter Alley (1811-1904) who designed John Platt’s residence in Werneth and the Winter Gardens and Ballroom in Werneth and possibly Ashway Gap as it is very similar to Bryn-y-Neuadd Mansion in Llanfairfechan another of Alley’s designs.
Also training with him at Alley’s practise was Alfred Waterhouses, however he was not as much a Goth as his colleagues, preferring classical designs.
Alfred Darbyshire also joined the Manchester School of Art, where he got to know many leading Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Ford Madox Brown. He had, however, a weakness. He was stage struck, and a regular visitor and sometimes participant at the theatre, playing Jacques in As You Like in 1864 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeares’s birth. He also acted alongside Henry Irving and was good enough to be offered a contract, however his religion would not allow him to enter the stage. After this he only played once, again Jacques in 1879 for a benefit show in aid of his recently deceased friend Charles Culvert. This time he was expelled from the Friends for his conduct.
He set up on his own account as an Architect in 1862 in St James’ Square Manchester, and travelled in Northern Europe sketching many scenes. He managed to follow his love of the theatre during his professional career as he specialised in Theatrical design, working on the Palace Theatre on Oxford Street
Alfred Darbyshire’s Palace Theatre 1 © Manchester Archives 2 & 3 © Arthur Lloyd
He was highly regarded in the architectural profession rising to President of the Manchester Society of Architects between 1901-1903 and vice president of RIBA 1902-1905. He built or worked on many fine structures, including on Lyme Hall, Clayton Hall, Barlow Fold as well as Pendleton Town Hall, Heaton Moor Congregational Church, Norbury Parish Church and Heaton Chapel Liberal Club.
He married Sarah Marshall on 10 August 1870 at St Mary in Stockport and they had four children, Anna Gertrude (1872-1959) Ethel Mary (1874-1960) Esther (b 1880) and Percy William (b 1875). Anna and Gertrude never married, Esther married but was killed in a motor accident. Percy moved to Australia with his wife, Blanche Dittenhoefer, whom he married in Manhattan in 1910. However the couple also had no children.
The family lived at Torkington House between 1885 and 1895, when they moved to Manor Park in Knutsford until 1906 when they moved to Chatham House in Flixton where he died on 5 July 1908 and was buried at the Parish Church there. Sarah moved to Poynton, living at 123 London Road South until her death in 1933 and was buried alongside her husband.
Our next resident was John Southam (b 1856), the son of John Southam (1806-1860) and Mary Smith Swire (b 1811). John senior was a coal merchant but his son trained up as a solicitor. He married Florence Ralston Brooke (b 1859) a baker’s daughter living modestly at 13 Whitelow Road until the editors of Spy, an investigative magazine which outed wrongdoing amongst the respectableº, accused him of having misappropriated funds from his mother’s will. The Spy had affadivits from relatives and Southam’s now deceased brother to the effect that this had occurred.
Southam obtained an apology from the Spy, and the editor Henry Yeo and proprietor, Percival Percival offered to pay costs. The Judge however, in solidarity with a fellow member of the legal profession refused to allow this and sentenced the defendants to twelve months in jail. The Spy folded.
In 1904 Southam was accused of fraudulently handling funds in a bankruptcy case. He managed to have the charge reduced to one of negligence, a compliant judge helped. He then fled, leaving debts of nearly £5,000 (£617,000 in 2021) of which £3,336 was in client monies. There was also a further £1,000 expected to arise. In contrast the few assets at his house, items of furniture would only be able to raise £175 and funds owing to him from clients was less than £1,000 of which part was considered doubtful. It was even believed that Southam may have received some of the cash and not entered the transactions through his books. In his absence an order for bankruptcy was issued, and a warrant put out for his arrest. The Law Society struck him off for misappropriation of funds, however, it appears that he was not caught, as no record appears of him after he absconded in 1904.
From 1904 until 1913 three Todd siblings were living at the house. Mary Elizabeth (1853-1927), John William (b 1857) and Herbert Todd (1865-1927) were three of five children born to William Todd and Elizabeth Ross of Langrigg, near Aspatria in Cumberland. William came down to Manchester in the mid 1800s to work in the Silk Industry, but took up as an Insurance Agent by 1871, living on Woodlands Road in Sale. Mary was a school mistress, John a Solicitor’s clerk and Herbert a Railway clerk.
The final residents were William Hampson Lillie (1888-1972) and Mary Ida Ruston Fitter (1891-1977) who lived there from the early 1920s until around the Second World War. William was a director of a Bleachers and Dyers, their son Captain Charles Lillie RASC was awarded the MBE in 1945 for distinguished services in Italy.
After being a family home the building served as a Sunday School then an Old People’s Home until it was demolished on 28 August 1966. The space it occupied is now part of Torkington Park. Let’s see some pictures:
¹ Another source says that it was Thomas Moseley who started silk manufacture in 1810. Stockport Image Archive says Samuel Gaskell. Gaskell appears to be active earlier.
² Weaving different coloured threads to produce a checked pattern
³ Of course he didn’t – modestly clad piano legs are an urban myth, started as a satire on our colonial cousins and their priggishness by Frederick Marryat in 1839 in A Diary in America:
When at Niagara Falls I was escorting a young lady with whom I was on friendly terms. She had been standing on a piece rock, the betterto view the scene, when she slipped down, and was evidently hurt by the fall : she had, in fact, grazed her shin. As she limped a little in walking home, I said, “ Did you hurt your leg much ?” She turned from me, evidently much shocked, or inuch offended ,– and not being aware that I had committed any very heinous offence, I begged to know what was the reason of her displeasure. After some hesitation , she said that as she knew me well , she would tell me that the word leg was never mentioned before ladies . I apologized for my want of refinement, which was attributable to having been accustomed only to English society ; and added, that as such articles must occasionally be referred to , even in the most polite circles in America , perhaps she would inform me by what name I might mention them without shocking the company. Her reply was,
that the word limb was used ; “ nay,” continued she, “ I am not so particular as some people are, for I know those who always say limb of a table, or limb of a piano- forte .”
There the conversation dropped ; but a few months afterwards I was obliged to acknowledge that the young lady was correct when she așserted that some people were more particular than even she was.
I was requested by a lady to escort her to a seminary for young ladies, and on being ushered into the reception -room , conceive my aston ishment at beholding a square piano-forte with four limbs. However,that the ladies who visited their daughters might feel in its full force the extreme delicacy * of the mistress of the establishment, and her care to preserve in their utmost purity the ideas of the young ladies under her charge, she had dressed all these four limbs in modest little trousers, with frills at the bottom of them.
º In 1895 it outed Gilbert Kirlew, the respectable social campaigner who ran the Strangeways Boys Home for sexually abusing his charges. At a libel trial in 1895 the editor Henry Yeo produced several witnesses who testified to such abuse, causing the case to be dismissed. However Kirlew pulled in powerful friends to testify on his behalf and took the case to the Lancaster Assizes in 1898 where the likes of Dr Barnardo and some boys testified in his defence that they loved him with all their heart. Yeo was found guilty and sentenced to six months.
A Diary In America, With Remarks on its Institutions, Frederick Marryat: Appleton, 1839
Hydropathy Or the Philosophy of Bathing, John Goodman : Horsel, 1858.
The Rise & Progress Of Hydropathy In England & Scotland, Richard Metcalfe : Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton Kent & Co, 1912.
© Allan Russell 2020.