Failsworth Lodge was built in the 1760s for Joseph Birch, it was one of the first Georgian brick buildings built in the Oldham area. It is probably today one of the only mansions in the Greater Manchester area which was home to a football club, Avro FC who played in the North West Counties League Premier Division, although the ground has now moved to Whitebank Stadium. It stands today off Broadway in Failsworth.
Joseph Birch (c1723-1786) was a yarn merchant who was in partnership with John Rigby in John Birch and sons. He married Elizabeth Scholes in 1748 and rose high in Manchester society, becoming a constable in 1763, honorary treasurer of the Manchester Infirmary between 1776 and 1783, and Vice President of the Manchester Agricultural Society in 1783. He lived at Failsworth Lodge between 1763 and his death. One of his children, Samuel Ogden Birch (1765-1804) also lived at the house after the death of his wife, Mary Owen (1766-1797) at the beginning of the 19th century.
Samuel worked in partnership with his father after John Rigby left the firm and in 1793 he took over the debts of the company to work on his own account. However, soon after that he took up residence in Messina, Sicily where he died of fever on 24 January 1804. His daughter Mary (1793-1804) was with him at the time and succumbed to the same illness, dying a few days later. The house was put up for sale after that.
Another son, Scholes Birch (1769-1850) raised and commanded the Newton and Failsworth Pikemen, before retiring to Broughton Lodge in Cartmel. His son, the Archdeacon Edward Birch (1809-1886) became the inaugural Archdeacon of Blackburn from 1868 until his death.
Between 1796 and 1799 John Whittenbury lived at the Lodge. John was one of the partners in Arkwright’s Mill on Shudehill, between Miller Street and Angel Street, now the site of the Cooperative Group Headquarters, but which was the subject of a Time Team dig in 2006. The original mill was destroyed in the Manchester Blitz, and served as a car park for CIS until that date.
In 1819 the Lodge was home to the Reverend Joseph Harden MA. Indeed over the years it appears to have been inhabited by several families at the same time, as well as housing a school. It is said that Sir Robert Peel attended the school, although that is probably more local folklore than established in fact. What is definite is that in 1830 Miss Bury ran a school at the premises. Alongside the school, operating out of the Lodge in 1834 were Frith and Milne Dyeworks. The Dyeworks certainly stayed over the next few decades operating under different owners, some of whom resided at the Lodge.
However in 1809 George Hadfield (1777-1839) was at the house with his wife Jane Barlow (1778-1851). The Hadfields stayed a while and over the next years his descendants were resident at the house. His son, Thomas Henshaw Hadfield (1801-1842) and wife Mary Burtonshaw Peacock (b 1804) were living there in 1829 and Thomas’ brother George (b 1821), a varnish maker, was living there in 1841 with his wife Elizabeth, along with Jane Barlow (d 1843), the sister in law of George Hadfield Senior.
In 1842 the building was housing James RIdall Wood and Company, manufacturers of elastic and waterproof sheeting and tarpauling, as well as Askew and Barlow Dyers (presumably related to the Barlow family above).
Also in the crowded lodge in 1841 was John Heywood (b 1803). It is unclear where he came from, but he was a widower, born in Bolton (his wife Elizabeth (1803-1839) had died a couple of years earlier, and he was living there on independent means from at least 1841 until past 1861. His son, John F Heywood ,also independent (and presumably a failed professional, describing himself at the age of 23 in 1851 as a retired Articled Clerk was living a life of ease with his father too.
The industrial uses continued at this time, the dyeworks was put up for sale in 1848, and in 1867 Joseph Barlow sued the paper manufacturer at Failsworth Lodge mills for polluting the stream upon which his mill at Moston Brook depended for fresh water, obtaining a nominal settlement of 40 shillings.
In 1871 John Guerin (1825-1889) is living at the house with his wife, Catherine Sheehy (1816-1876). John was born in County Kerry on 4 April 1825. He became a constable in County Cork, in those days enforcement officers had to move from their county of birth to avoid corruption. Catherine was a widow, who’s husband had been a rag and bone dealer and John took this trade over the England with his brother, Thomas, operating from Addington Street in Manchester as J&T Guerin Iron and Steel Merchants. By 1871 he is styling himself as Cotton and Steel Merchant (rags and scrap presumably) and has become a prominent Catholic in the Manchester area. After this he returned to his adopted county of Cork where he had a house at Eden Hill.
Rather fittingly his demise matched his trade. On 25 March 1889 he was riding his horse from his house, when the animal was startled by the rattle of a corrugated iron sheet, and he fell off, landed on his head, and sadly never regained consciousness.
The couple had two children, Mary (b 1852) who married Thomas Uppington, a Barrister at Law and Legal Secretary to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and Thomas Austin Guerin (1853-1904) who was called to the Bar in 1877. He practised first from Manchester but moved to London married Anna Trelawny Clark in 1902, however sadly died just two years later.
The Yorkshire side of the Birch family seem to have kept ownership, as John Birch (b1823) is back at the house in 1881. He was born in 1823 in Bowring, Yorkshire and came to Manchester to operate as a steel converter. However, that business failed in 1881, with £5,350 of debt (£650,000 in 2021) and he describes himself as a Gentleman farmer on the 1881 census at Failsworth Lodge.
Between 1890 and 1892 George Evans, a timber merchant is at the house with his wife Jesse and their eight children, followed a few years later by William Bird Broome (1862-1912) an Accountant and Estate Agent. William retired to Lytham with his second wife Agnes Ogden ( he was previously married to her sister, Sarah, who passed away) where he passed his last years, dying in his native Oldham on 14 May 1912.
Briefly after George, Hugh Higson was living at the Lodge when his daughter, Laura Gladys Daisy married Leonard Hartley Swain in 1903. They were followed by Failsworth born Edward Whitehead (b 1865), a manager at a cotton spinning factory and his wife Elizabeth (b 1865). They stayed at the house a few years, still being there in 1923.
The house was bought in 1936 by Sir Roy Hardy Dobson (1891-1968), the managing Director of the A V Roe Engine works. He was born in Horsforth on 27 September 1891, the son of Horace Dobson a farmer, and his wife, Mary Ann Hardy. He started his working life as an apprentice at T&R Lees in Hollinwoood before joining the airplane manufacturers A V Roe in 1914 as an aircraft fitter, he rose rapidly through the company becoming works manager in 1919, General Manager in 1934, joining the Board in 1936 ending up as Managing Director from 1941-1958 and was responsible during World War II for the production of the Lancaster Bomber.
The 1930s and threat of war brought Roy to his forte. A V Roe had been trying to develop a twin engined bomber aircraft, the Manchester. However, this did not succeed, and his chief designer suggested using four merlin engines designed by Rolls Royce which were placed on the Manchester bomber and thus evolved the Lancaster.
He was knighted for his services in 1945, and a few years later, when Hawker Siddley took over production, he rose to managing director in 1958, then chairman in 1963, maintaining the role until 1967. He played a major part in Hawker Siddley’s development in the post war climate, bringing in the De Havilland company.
He married Annie Smith in 1916 and the couple had two sons, one of whom was killed in an air accident in 1946 and one daughter. Sir Roy died at Woodford, near Stockport on 7 July 1968 and was buried at Christ Church in Woodford.
He left a fortune of £121,794 in his will (£2.2m in 2021)
The site was briefly used for the Paramount Film Service of Manchester as an Archive in 1941, but in 1950 the lodge was given over to the employees of the company for use as a sports and social club, and renamed the Lancaster Club. Avro FC started playing at the ground some time around then.
The property appears today to be used for private functions. Again it seems to be facing an uncertain future.
Let’s see some pictures.
© Allan Russell 2021