Didsbury is mentioned as early as 1280. There was no manor as such in the village, it was a hamlet of Withington. Today’s house is one of the oldest occupied sites in the village.
The land on which the current building stands was the site of the house of Didsbury’s first ever owner occupier, Thomas Walker, who died intestate circa 1602. Thomas was listed as a freeholder in 1600. He was the son of John Walker of Didsbury who probably also owned the property. During the Civil War the house was owned by Lawrence Walker who participated in the siege of Wythenshawe.
The land was held by the Mosley family in 1653², and via the marriage of Sir John Bland to Ann Mosley it passed to the Blands. As we have learnt, Sir John’s son’s gambling debts forced much of the estate to be sold, and it was the Broome family, Solicitors, Surveyors and Land Agents to the Bland and Barlow families who bought it. The Broomes gained in wealth by wise investment in land, and soon became one of the largest landowners in the area.
In 1720 William Broome was Steward to Lady Ann Bland³ and the two worked to rebuild St James in Didsbury, which was old and ruinous by that time. However they did not take kindly to the first curate, Thomas Wright, and for a while withheld payments to him. William Broome was her enforcer and he ensured by bullying tenants that they also made no contributions to the church. As a result he had little money and sparse attendance at services. There was even a threat of making him homeless:
My Lady Bland and Mr. Broome still continue persecuting me, and this looks like the last piece of malice they are able to vent, viz.. there is no house in or about the town for a curate to dwell in but that which I now live in, which I rent from one of their lease-tenants; Broome has now sent for a writ of ejectment to fling the man off his tenement (pretending he has forfeited his land), Avith no other design (I am sure) but to plague me by turning my family and goods into the streets at an hour’s
warning; this is what I daily expect. Mr. Broome still browbeating the tenants from contributing, my necessity compels me to think of some other method for subsistence, and I have laid a little scheme, hoping your lordship will encourage my just endeavours, viz., whereas there are several legacies (in all £104) left to my chapel to be laid out for the best advantage of the curates of Didsbury for ever, the chapel-wardens being successive trustees, and whereas all the seats in the body of the chapel being forms, and those very old, ruinous and irregular, and having no place for a curate to dwell in, I most humbly request your lordship will grant us leave to pew the body of the chapel, regularly and uniformly, which a joiner (having viewed) tells me will not cost much above £60 ; and with the remainder of the money, with what I can beg to it, I humbly request we may build a little house for a curate to dwell in.
William had two brothers, Richard, a Manchester attorney, and John a merchant, and together they purchased most of the land in Didsbury, Richard in particular became extremely wealthy, he sold a parcel of land to Samuel Egerton of Tatton for £20,000 in 1753 (£4½m in 2021) and his Didsbury holdings to his brother, William (1712-1781) in 1740.
The land of Sandhurst¹ has been in use since 1465. At one point it had a deer park. William bought the land in 1740 and lived comfortably from rental income. He married first Elizabeth Whiteacres of Prestbury in 1738, then after her death married Elizabeth Dawson in 1749.
Elizabeth was the daughter of James Jemmy Dawson, who was executed in 1746 for his part in the Manchester rebellion. He and eight others were draged from Southwark Jail to Kennington Common and hanged, then stripped naked, beheaded, disemboweled and their entrails hurled into a fire. At least one of the men was not quite dead after being removed from the gallows, and was mercifully beaten senseless to spare him the suffering, then had his throat cut to ensure his death. James Dawson’s betrothed, Kitty came to witness the execution, his body was the last to be thrown on the fire, and the crowd were not quite as hostile to the poor victims as may be expected, admiring them for their courage and expressing sympathy for poor Kitty seeing her lover so executed.
After the execution their heads were set up on poles on top of Temple Bar. William Shenston wrote a poem about Jemmy Dawson.
The tragedy of her father notwithstanding the couple lived a comfortable life, racing horses – William’s Bay Colt, Lofty won at Stockport races in 1764. William died on 28 March 1781 and his son, also William (1755-1810) inherited the estate.
William Broome Junior cemented his father’s equine interest by marrying the daughter of a Suffolk horsebreeding Parson, Mary, daughter of the Reverend C Jeaffreson in 1784. The couple had one daughter, Maria Jeaffreson Broome.
William continued the life of the gentleman, selling horses to stud, entering the Manchester races in 1793. However, around 1785 he decided to build a new property, Sandhurst, to reflect his increased wealth. The house was built of red brick and had a large deer park to the rear. He also built a fish pond across the road, which can be seen on the 1819 map.
William and Elizabeth’s daughter, Mary, married Robert Fielden (1743-1830), the scion of another wealthy Didsbury family, and their son Robert married Anne Mosley, daughter of Sir John Parker Mosley who was the great great Grandson of Sir Oswald Mosley of Ancoats Hall. Anne died at Sandhurst on 27 March 1810 and was buried at St James in Didsbury three days later and Robert died there on 6 September 1830.
Robert and Anne had five children and lived at Prestbury Hall in Cheshire. Robert Mosley Fielden (1794-1862) became Rector of Bebington in Cheshire, living at Bebington Hall, his sister, Elizabeth (1795-1883) did not marry and lived with her brother, the Reverend Henry James Feilden (1796-1886), the Rector of St Michael in Kirk Langley, Derbyshire. The Reverend Oswald Feilden (1797-1872) was Rector of Sleaford in Lincolnshire.
Returning to William and Elizabeth’s son, William (1755-1810), he became a JP for the county and died in Didsbury on 13 August 1810. His daughter, Maria Jeaffreson Broome inherited the estate and married Colonel John Parker and lived at Sandhurst, but the Colonel was of middle class stock and not as attached to Didsbury as his inlaws and sold the property to become first a girl’s school and then the Wesleyan Theological College.
Maria and John had one child, William Broome Parker (1805-1884) who became a solicitor in London. He does not appear to have had any children, and left £6,717 in his will (£865,000 in 2021).
On 18 March 1841 the Westleyan Methodist Church had recently started training their ministers. They purchased the house and grounds for £2,000 (£215,000) and it became the Wesleyan Theological Institution from 1842 until 1940. It was one of two such schools, the other being in Richmond, Surrey. The money was paid from the centenary fund for Wesleyan Methodism, which had raised £250,000 in 1839 (£27m in 2021). They built a red brick chapel to the side of the college in 1842 with staff accommodation.
In 1866 the house was extended with the addition of two Neo-Grecian style wings and a back to form a quadrangle. The building was clad with a Kerridge sandstone facade to become the building we know today. This extension was designed by Richard Lane (1795-1880) who also built the old MRI, the Cheadle Lunatic Asylum and much of Victoria Park.
In February 1865, the Reverend James Wayman (1840-1899), who had recently finished study at the college, resigned from his pastorate at Pitt Street Chapel, Liverpool. He was presented with £30 (£4,000 in 2021) and a bound volume of the Church’s floral calendar. At a meeting the press were requested to withdraw, publicity being a commendable thing, but must he have a reporter at his breakfast table? Eventually the meeting was made public, and the Chairman expressed a belief that the Reverend Wayman would overcome the unchristian reports which had been spreading about his ministry of the gospel.
The Reverend, in return, thanked the chairman and stated that circumstances of a particular nature had made him resign his office. He then spoke in favour of Lancashire Cotton operatives and against slavery to great applause.
What had caused the good man to resign? The following month, a Miss Rebecca Rust wrote to the Liverpool Mercury outlining the story.
Gentlemen, having seen the correspondence regarding the Rev. J Wayman’s resignation as a Wesleyan minister, I crave the insertion of this.
Mr Wayman was matrimonially engaged to me for eight years. Disregarding his own solemn vows, he broke off that engagement to escape a minor district meeting, to which my friends were determined to appeal.
Contempt will not obliterate the sad record of Mr. Wayman’s shameful disregard of his plighted word. I give below a few extracts from letters:
(from the Wesleyan College, Didsbury) Ah, my love, I don’t care when my one year shall expire so that I can visit you again in dear old Barking.
(from the College) Let no-one break that sacred tie, almost as binding as if the knot was tied.
(from 5, Wesley Street, Liverpool) It was no new thing for me to say I love you. I have said so now for nearly five years. Ah! my dearest, sometimes it seems to me as if you were too great a treasure for me to get: and how to love you sufficiently I don’t know.”
For some months last year [the letter resumes] his letters came less frequently, and were less warm in expression. At the latter end of the year he gave me his “only reason” for this, professedly founded on a report about myself and family which had caused him severe mental suffering.
I wrote denying the truth and asking the author of the slanderous rumour. He wrote he could not remember who. In the letter he repudiated my claims, asserting he had never been properly engaged and had never asked me to be his wife.
The following was sent by the Rev Jabez Marrat, superintendent of the Barking and Romford circuit, to Mr Wayman: “You have very plainly given Miss Rust repeated assurances of undying love and repeated promises of marriage.
To you she has given the warmth of her heart and the best years of her life. Have ‘the jolly girls who are open to a romp and a kiss’ stolen your heart?
You have, I am afraid, forgotten the old vows and the stolen kisses of Didsbury. Your unkindness is wearing her life out. It is not too late to make all right. Take a brother’s advice and make it so.
At this the Reverend took off his epistolary gloves and asked publically by way of a letter printed in the Mercury whether she was suffering from a virulent disease of a hereditary nature asking whether she would submit herself to medical examination to test for this. Miss Rust countered by publishing a letter from her doctor stating that no such disease existed within her family.
All protests were to little avail, as James married his Emma that year, only not Emma Rust, but Emma Jane Jenkins, and was quietly ordinated into the Church of England. A few years later he was a member of the Congregationalist Church where he practised as an Independent Preacher.
Scandal still followed him, in 1879, he was accused of forgoing his opposition to Town improvements in Blackpool by being wined and dined to the point of drunkenness by a councillor. He successfully fought a libel action on this. After that he became a popular congregationalist minister in the town as well as leading liberal politician. He moved to Matlock Bath for his last few years, before returning to Blackpool where he died and was buried.
His obituary tactfully stated he chose the Congregationalist path as he felt it found better scope for his religious opinions. However it is fair to say that during his time at Blackpool he worked tirelessly and help build many churches.
During the first and second wars, the building served as a military hospital and then after World War II became a teaching college, and part of the Manchester Polytechnic, subsequently MMU Campus. However, it has now reverted to luxury private ownership and is under development as prestigious accommodation.
Let’s see some pictures:
¹ I have seen it referred to as Sandhurst, The Pump House, Didsbury House and even The Manor House. I’ll stick to the former. To add to the confusion, it is shown as Didsbury House on the 1819 Johnson map, and that name also gets confused with the Manor House, owned once by Robert Feilden. As stated above Didsbury was not a manor, so it is a house with ideas above its own station. If anyone can point me to a picture of the Manor house, I would be grateful.
² Some accounts say the Mosley family sold it to William Broome, some say the Walkers.
³ Lady Bland seems a fascinating character. I only knew about her founding St Ann in Manchester, and had imagined a pious God fearing gentlewoman, but anti Jacobite, bullying, fashionista, husband and son inveterate gamblers, she sounds ripe for a biography.
A History of the Ancient Chapels of Didsbury and Chorlton, Rev John Booker: Chetham Society, 1852
A History of Didsbury, Ivor R Million : Didsbury Civic Society/ E J Morten, 1969
© Allan Russell 2021.