100 Halls Around Manchester Part 45: Woodfield, Stalybridge

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Woodfield is one of my favourite buildings, I used to drive past it regularly, and wonder about it, harbouring a desire to live in the house. I still do.

It was built in 1835 for the Reverend Joseph Saville Roberts Evans MA (1801-1861) and his wife Elizabeth Lees. It has an exterior of polished stone in the Grecian style. Downstairs had dining, drawing and breakfast rooms with kitchens and a butler’s pantry with some cellar space. Upstairs were seven bedrooms, dressing rooms and closets. Outside there was a four stalled stable, saddle room and double coach house. Behind the house stood a wood, and infront there was a view of the Tame and surrounding hills. The grounds covered four acres, and when offered for sale in 1850, the surrounding land was protected from new build.

Woodfield, Lancashire CV, 1848 © Ordnance Survey

The Reverend was born in 1801 at Staley Bank (just above on the map) to Thomas Evans. The Reverend Thomas Evans DD, Archdeacon of Worcester (d 1815) and Rector of Severn Stoke in Worcestershire was probably his grandfather. The Reverend Thomas travelled the country extensively with George Harry Grey, the 5th Earl of Stamford. Many of the journeys started at Dunham Massey. Joseph’s father, Thomas Evans – a clothier – married Sarah Saville in 1780.

Joseph was born at Staly Bank next door to Woodfield and studied at Queen’s College, Oxford, obtaining a BA in 1826 and an MA in 1829. He married Elizabeth Lees, the daughter of William and Ann Lees of Prescot on 22 September 1830. Joseph was an inveterate snuff taker, and his new father in law so detested the habit that he joked that he would buy the Reverend’s snuffbox for £1,000 (£118,000 in 2021), and held a roll of banknotes to that sum infront of him. Naturally the good Reverend accepted. The gift caused problems on William’s passing in 1838 when the trustees of his will attempted to claim that this money was part of a settlement upon Elizabeth for her use. The case did not succeed. During his time in Woodfield, he was curate of the Parish Church of Lydgate, Saddleworth.

The house was burgled on 28 December 1838 by James Taylor, Thomas Greenwood (aka Hartley) and James Shaw. It was one of a wave of break ins that were plaguing the area. Around 2:45am on that Friday morning Mrs Evans heard someone moving downstairs. Initially she thought it was a servant, but going to the top of her stairs she saw a man with a light at the kitchen door. She challenged him, but he threatened to kill her if she did not flee. Running back to the bedroom, she grabbed some keys and locked the door. She woke her husband up and he immediately loaded his pistol. By now the thieves had come upstairs and were attempting to jemmy the door open.

Joseph shouted at the intruders that he would shoot if they came any further. They defiantly dared him to open fire. The Reverend called their bluff and discharged his gun through the door. They quickly abandoned efforts to break into the room, and went downstairs. The frightened couple threw open the windows and called for help.

Still defiant, the men outside told the Evans to go back inside or risk death. However, all eventually went quiet and Joseph went downstairs to survey the house, where he was joined by Ann Cowell, one of his servants.

The robbers had gained access by the back door in the cellar, causing so much damage in the process that the iron staple holding the bar which secured the door had been ripped off. During the theft they had taken eight bottles of wine and eight of brandy, ten pounds of roast beef, two rounds of cheese and some pastry, tarts and ham. Elsewhere they had stolen some spoons, two unloaded pistols, some knives, a powder cask containing some powder and bullets.

From his study they had taken twenty shillings worth of silver, forcing open a sideboard to get some trinkets, ransacking his papers and his silver snuff box (his father in law being dead, he obviously felt he could recommence the habit).

Outside they discovered four empty bottles, suggesting that they had decided to consume some of their booty in celebration.

The felons were apprehended and stood trial at Liverpool Assizes. James Taylor was sentenced to two years imprisonment, Thomas Greenwood transported for life (he had other indictments) and James Shaw transported for ten years.

Elizabeth and Joseph lived at Woodfield from 1835 until around 1846 when they moved to Wood Staley until moving to Prescot where they lived in Fazakerley House on Fazakerley Street. It is not clear whether the Reverend kept up his ecclesiastical duties as he had clearly inherited a great deal of property from his father and he lived a comfortable life on the income from these rentals.

He died on 28 October 1861 at 4 Pelham Place in Hastings, where he had a seaside home, leaving £25,000 (£3.1m in 2021) in his will. The couple had eight children, of whom William Lees Evans (1833-1887) became a colliery proprietor and Thomas Evans (b 1835) a tea broker.

The house remained in Joseph’s possession for the next tenant, James Edward Adshead (1791-1860) and his wife Christina Hodgson (1801-1876) The couple lived at Woodfield from 1847-1851.

James operated Adshead Mill with his brother George, which their father had founded in 1791. This was a four storey Mill with some of the first spinning mules used in Tameside. The mill was disused by 1818 – the firm had switched production to an old corn mill Staley Mill in 1815. In the 1820s it was sold to Buckley and Howard.

By 1824 he built Staley New Mills employing 209 hands. He built a second mill next to it, in total the two mills operated 58,000 spindles. In 1851 he built North End Mill, a five storey structure on the opposite side of the River Tame, which were sold to William Young and the Bannermans in 1864. However, his chief interest appears to be chairing the courts of session as a magistrate, he appears in numerous court reports in the newspapers.

James was born in 1791 to Edward Adshead and Sarah Sidebottom. He married first Mary Kinder (1798-1823) in 1820. Mary died in childbirth. James then wed Christina Hodgson (1801-1876) of Horton, near Blyth in Northumberland on 16 December 1825. Christina was the daughter of Richard Hodgson, a Colliery owner and his wife, Ann Watson.

James and Christina first lived at Staley Hall. Crime was rife at the time, as he suffered two burglaries during his stay there. After leaving Woodfield, the couple moved across the road to Acres Bank (also on the map) where he died on 18 March 1860.

After James’ death Christina first lived with her sons William and George in Gorton, then moved back to North Shields in Northumberland, where she died on 9 July 1876. Many of the Adshead family forged strong links with Northumberland, which is hardly surprising given its unique beauty. If I owned Woodfield, my second house would be in Northumberland.

James’ first son, by his wife Mary, John Edward Adshead (b 1823) married Jane Anna Shotton of North Shields in Tynemouth on 4 November 1863. Jane was the daughter of George a mariner and shipowner. The couple lived in Chorley near Macclesfield, where he lived the income of property and investments.

James Adshead Junior (1828-1865) married Elizabeth Wooley Buckley (b 1833) in 1854. Elizabeth was the daughter of a Glossop Wine Merchant, Edwin, and his wife Ann Wooley. He stayed in the family cotton spinning business, living at Wood Staley. He died there on 28 December 1865 after a lingering illness.

Thomas Sidebottom Adshead (1831-1871) was also a cotton spinner, and lived at Sour Acre, until he married Matilda Linney White in 1865, moving to Formby in Lancashire until his death.

Elizabeth Adshead (b 1831) married John Matthews Elliott, who practised both as a Gum and Starch maker and Estate Agent, in 1865, going to live in Newton.

William (1837-1898) and George (1841-1879) lived in Gorton and operated as Felt Manufacturers. William marrying Emily Bowden in 1862. William and Emily retired to The Hall, Bradley Orchard, Fenny Bentley where William died on 23 March 1898.

Catherine Jane Adshead (b 1836) married Robert Donnell, a US citizen and provision merchant and the couple went to live on the Esplanade in Litherland. Joseph Henry Adshead (b 1843) went to stay with them shortly after their marriage, having like most of his family retired on a healthy income. He seems somewhat itinerant as we find him in 1891 staying in St Petrox, Totnes with a school teacher, Florence L Luff, her widowed mother and sister, also a school governess.

At the age of 48 he finally settled down and married Elizabeth Ann Matthew (b 1849) of Bishop Wearmouth in Durham, and the couple settled to their dotage living in Hart Lane, Winterton, Brigg, Lincolnshire. Joseph died at the age of 70 at the house.

After the Adsheads, it is another cotton manufacturer that moves into the house, John Knott (1806-1868). John was born in Chipping, Lancashire and in 1839 married Emma Priestley Bilbrough (1818-1893) of Leeds. The couple first lived in Stamford Street in Ashton, before moving to Staveleigh then Woodfield where we see them in 1861. However, John died in 1868. Emma lived on at the house until her death on 7 August 1893 with her children.

John and Emma’s first two children died young at Woodfield, they were Charles James Knott (1840-1863), Ellen Priestley Knott (1842-1861).

Of the others, Jane Agnes Knott (1843-1902) lived at Woodfield until her death on 8 May 1902 as did Emma Frances Knott (1855-1952). She left Woodfield shortly after her sister’s death and set up home at Gildersome in Wilmslow, named after her mother’s birthplace. She volunteered for the Red Cross in the First World War, and tended in local hospitals. She died at a grand old age in 1952 in Grange Over Sands.

John Frederick Knott (1844-1924) first worked in Ashton as a Cotton Spinner living first in Ashton Under Lyne at Staley Bank. He married Elizabeth Maria Dickins (b 1847) in 1871 and moved with her to Staveleigh House before setting up in cotton in Great Malvern where the couple lived with their children before retiring to Conway and Anglesey. John died on 21 March 1924 in Tonbridge.

Finally Herbert Knott (1856-1947) married Ada Sophia Wilhemina Wakefield (1854-1939). Herbert stayed in the cotton trade until the early 1900s when he and Ada retired to Sunny Bank on Holly Road in Wilmslow, where they lived until their deaths.

Between 1902 and 1927 the house was occupied by George Harry Walker (1864-1916) and his wife Elizabeth Heginbotham (b1864) and their children.

George Harry Walker was born in 1864 to a bricklayer father, George Walker and his wife Jane Pollard. He started out as a bricklayer himself but by 1891 is practising as a builder and contractor and by 1902 has obtained some lucrative public works contracts enabling him to move into Woodfield with his family. He died on 24 June 1916, leaving £50,592 (£4.5m in 2021) in his will. His son, also George Harry Walker, stayed on at the house until 1927 when it was occupied by Arthur Platt, a flour miller and his wife Christina Ferguson Park (1870-1961).

Arthur was the Oldham born son of a flour miller, Thomas Greaves Platt (1847-1927) and his wife Frances Cowper. The couple married in 1898, and did not have any children.

As I mentioned before, the house is a particular favourite of mine, and is still standing, and has recently been on the market. It is a good example of a period house, kept away from councils and public ownership which inevitably leads to spiteful decay. The last picture is of Woodfield Mews, which is a newer build, but as it is in the grounds, it counts. It’s also up for sale at the time of writing, if you are interested.

Let’s see some pictures:



© Allan Russell 2021.


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