Wharmton Tower commands a magnificent view over the surrounding countryside of Greenfield and Uppermill. It is reached by a steep road, near Greenfield Station. At the top of Wharmton there’s a large TV mast.
Greefield Station opened on 1 August 1849, and soon gave factory operatives from Oldham the opportunity to visit the picturesque villages of Saddleworth, and even as far back as 1857 Whit Friday was an important celebration in the area. The Huddersfield Chronicle of 13 June 1857 describes a visit to Saddleworth on a gloriously fine summers day, The correspondent alighted from the train at Greenfield and looking back as he descended to the villages, he saw the recently built Wharmton Tower, the residence of JD Whitehead of Messrs Whitehead Brothers, whose name was known not only locally but for many miles around. He described the Tower as Half Mansion, Half Fortress, surrounded by a thick wood at the back and infront vistas of the heather clad hills with their black frowning rocks in the distance. He considered it amongst it the finest views in Yorkshire¹
John Dicken Whitehead (1814-1886) was born to William Whitehead (1784-1832) and Sarah Heywood (1773-1817) at Lydgate in Saddleworth. Along with his brothers Ralph Radcliffe Whitehead (1809-1871), Francis Frederick Whitehead (1812-1886) and James Heywood Whitehead (1810-1869) they continued in their father’s trade as wool manufacturers and traders at Royal George Mills in Saddleworth. The brothers garnered favour with local traders by paying off in full their father’s debts in bankruptcy of £6,000 (£0.8m in 2021) in 1843. in their gratitude the creditors presented them with two inscribed tureens and trays, which the modest four would only accept without public ceremony. The brothers also provided the funding for the build of Christ Church, Friezland where many of the family are buried.
In May 1848 John married Elizabeth Mary Taylor (1821-1879) and the couple moved to Beech Hill in Grasscroft before taking up residence at Wharmton Tower around 1857. Wharmton was built by George Shaw² (1810-1876) the son of a Saddleworth clothier, who spent his early years as a travelling salesman, before teaching himself architecture with which he added the trades of builder contractor and church furnisher. He designed and built many churches, including those at Friezland and also worked extensively on John Platt’s Welsh estates and Gladstone’s Hawarden.
Having had the mansion built, the couple did not stay long and in 1861 John resigned from the partnership at Royal George and moved with Elizabeth to Glangwna in Caernarfonshire. He lived out the rest of his days at Glangwna as a JP, Landowner, Deputy Lieutentant for Caernarfon and a Gentleman.
Elizabeth died in November 1879 in Southport after a long stay there. John died at Glangwna on 16 July 1886, and was buried alongside his wife at Friezland. The couple had no children.
After the Whiteheads it was Henry Gartside (1815-1880) and his wife Elizabeth (1804-1892) who took up residence in the mid 1860s. John was born in Delph and in 1840 married his cousin Elizabeth Gartside of Tynemouth, the daughter of Captain Thomas Gartside of the 11th Hussars and woolen spinner/printer.
Henry was the second of the three sons of John Gartside and Ann Hampson, the founder of the Brookside Brewery, and the uncle of Roger Arthur Gartside of Staveleigh.
Henry was town clerk for Ashton and received the charter for the town on its incorporation in 1847. He practised as a solictor from chambers in Stamford Street, and in the spirit of his predecessor at Wharmton endowed a church, this time Christ Church in Denshaw which was built by John Eaton (1810-1876). Henry donated £8,000 (£1.1m in 2021) to the build of the church in 1864, and owned the incumbency.
Politically Henry started out as a liberal, but fell out with his party in 1863 over the cotton famine and competing claims to combat it, resigning as town clerk. He then lead the conservative group in Ashton to power in 1874 he was once more town clerk, a position he maintained until his death. He clearly upset his liberal colleagues in leaving them as one disgruntled liberal described him as a great man in a small way, full of lofty self complacency and one who constantly bumps his head against the facts.
Henry died on 8 October 1880 after presiding over a Conservative meeting the previous evening in Ashton, when he was taken ill with a heart problem. He was attended to by Dr Hughes and stayed overnight at the doctor’s house, but died there the following morning. Elizabeth lived on at Wharmton Towers, taking a ladies’ companion, and passed away there on 31 January 1892. She was buried alongside her husband at Christ Church at Denshaw. Again the couple were childless.
The house and contents were put up for let in 1892. The advertisement for the house describes it as encompassing 6½ acres, with commodious hall, dining, drawing morning and billiard rooms, servant’s hall and numerous large bedrooms. The contents were as described below:
The house was then inhabited briefly at the end of the century by Robert and Hannah Collinge and their family. Robert was an Oldham Cotton manufacturer who had moved from Greenhill in Oldham.
In 1901 we see Henry Mumford Smith (1879-1954) and his sisters Helen Mumford Smith (b 1869) and Ethel Agnes Smith (b 1872). They had possibly moved to Wharmton with their father, Henry (1841-1900) who founded Henry Smith & Co, Chemical Manufacturers and Sizing Specialists. Henry senior was born in Burnley, but moved to London to establish his works manufacturing adhesives. He married Agnes Arthur Mumford in Islington in 1868. They had seven children, all born around London.
By 1891 he had returned to Manchester and was living with his wife and children at Pownall Fee in Altrincham. He was by that time operating from 55 Market Street, Manchester and the Ceramyl works in Diggle, Saddlworth, and this probably prompted a move to Wharmton.
Henry senior died on 19 April 1900 and the business was inherited by Henry Mumford Smith and his brother Herbert Alderson Smith (b 1877). However, the brothers fell out with each other when Herbert refused to divulge the secret partnership books to his brother. Henry Smith & Company continued to operate from Diggle until it was taken over in 1968.
Henry married an Irish Girl, Marianne, and moved to Moorgate House in Stalybridge where they had a son, Henry Francis Mumford-Smith (b 1906).
Between the first and second world wars, a party of anglers, including Henry Mumford Smith used to assemble once a year at Holyhead and travel to County Mayo, in particular, Henry enjoyed Newport. He decided to retire there, and when in 1945 Newport House was put up for sale by its American owners, he purchased it for £8,000 (£360,000 in 2021). He converted the property into a hotel for anglers which he ran for many years, his son taking over the license on his death alongside his wife Eleanor. The Rainier family of Monaco stayed there often. The Hotel was eventually sold by Francis Mumford Smith in 1985.
In 1911 Wharmton was occupied by William Edmunds Hyde (1850-1918) and his wife Catherine Ann Yates OBE (b 1881). William was born in Mottram and started out as a Hat manufacturer, being bankrupted in 1880, after which he switched to the woolen trade. He married Emily and lived in Moorgate, Stalybridge, moving to Wharmton Tower around 1907, by which time Emily had passed away and he had his new wife whom he wed in 1901 at St Martin In the Fields, Westminster.
He had a car, and was something of a boy racer, being pulled up by the police in Old Colwyn, where he had a second house, in 1913 for driving at a barely believeable breakneck eighteen miles per hour whilst returning from a performance of the Merry Widow.
During the War, Wharmton was used as a hospital, and in addition William and Catherine took in Belgian refugee children. Henry died on 7 March 1918 at Wharmton.
In the 1930s we have the delightfully named Alfred Ethelbert Gospatric Chorlton (1870-1937) and his wife Agnes Mary Gartside (1875-1938) living at the house. Alfred was the son of Thomas Chorlton (1868-1913) and Martha Towler (b 1843). Thomas was a Manchester solicitor and his son followed him in his calling, becoming a solicitor for the supreme court. Agnes was the daughter of the patriotically named Horatio Nelson Gartside (1828-1888), who was Elizabeth Gartside’s brother (the one who married Henry the town clerk)³ which suggests that Wharmton stayed in the family’s ownership until then.
Wharmton Tower is today a desirable residence, being recently valued at £2.5m. You can watch a video tour here.
Let’s see some pictures:
¹ As it was until liberated for the good folk of Lancashire in 1974. The journalist went on to visit Bill O’Jacks, which was already a tourist attraction and the local houses did a good trade in tea, ginger beer and hot peas, before dining on thick buttered bread and porter at the Bill O’Jacks pub. Saddleworth remains the most beautiful area of Greater Manchester and the Whit Friday he describes in 1857 was certainly celebrated in the same drunken manner as they celebrate Whit there today.
² Given the architectural similarity and Platt connections he is another candidate for building Ashway Gap.
³ Horatio and Elizabeth were two of at least thirteen children. The good Captain Thomas Gartside certainly enjoyed his wife’s company, and it goes a good way to explaining why there are so many Gartsides in Saddleworth.
Church Building In Manchester, Meriel C Boyd Thesis 2015
© Allan Russell 2021