100 Halls Around Manchester Part 57 : Fern Cliff, Heaton Mersey

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Perhaps the finest house still in private ownership in the Heatons. The Manchester Evening News mooted that it may be the biggest house in Greater Manchester, I doubt that, but it is probably the biggest in the Heatons. It was built in 1869, for whom is unclear, as the 1871 census shows the house to be empty, but by 1881 it is inhabited by John George Tiller (1835-1885) and his wife Selina Mickelwright (1843-1918).

Fern Cliff, Lancashire CXI. SE, 1911 © Ordnance Survey

John was born in in 1835 to Thomas and Elizabeth. His father was a joiner, but clearly rose in the world as in 1866 at his son’s wedding he described himself as an architect. John however, sought a different career, and he started out as an apprentice warehouseman in a Calico printers in 1851, and by 1871 he is living on Landsdowne Terrace in Moss Side an working as a Linen and Cotton Merchant. His star rose further by 1875 when he is a Director of the New Bailey’s Hotel in Blackpool, which continues today as the Grand Metropole Hotel. The hotel was founded in 1776 by Lawrence Bailey, a farmer and opened in 1785 with 34 bedrooms, three dining rooms and a coffee lounge. It is one of the few hotels in the town on the sea side of the promenade. He was also a director of the Piccadilly Hotel Company in Manchester, which was formed to develop the Clarence and Waterloo Hotels in town.

Hotel Metropole 1911. The train is delivering sand to the promenade.

John and Selina lived at Fern Cliff until his death on 30 June 1885. After that she moved with most of her children to Blackpool. She died in 1918 at her house on Boscombe Road in Blackpool. She appears to have had a comfortable middle class existence on her annuity, living with two of her sons, Thomas, a cotton merchant, and George, a bank clerk along with two daughters Florence and Elizabeth Selina. The four children living with her do not seem to have married.

Next along at Fern Ciff were Charles Cohen Wakefield (b 1842) and his wife Elizabeth (b 1853). Charles’ father, Joseph Colin Wakefield was born in England but travelled to make his fortune in Scotland. He was a partner in Inglis and Wakefield, Calico Printers, patron of Clydesdale Cricket Club and a keen gardener, closely involved with the Botanical Gardens in Glasgow.

The family lived at Eastwood Park House in Renfrewshire and Charles worked as a partner in the firm with his father, overseeing operations in the capital city of cotton. He and Elizabeth spent some twenty years in Manchester, living first on Wilbraham Road before moving to Fern Cliff in the late 1880s. The couple left Fern Cliff around 1892.

Joseph Colin Wakefield © Glasgow City Libraries

By 1901 Sir James Hoy (1837-1908) and his wife, Selina Hargreaves (1844-1915) had moved to the house. Sir James was born in modest circumstances but was keen to be educated. He studied first at Windmill Street School in Manchester and then took evening classes at the Mechanics institution and then the Working Man’s College. He married first, Hannah Hume in 1862 at St John in Deansgate, and after she died married Selina in 1882.

He set up as a shirt manufacturer, and at the same time pursued a life of public service, being elected to the city council in 1882, becoming an alderman in 1893. He maintained his interest in education and chaired the committee which ran the Technical School. He believed there was something lacking in the Technical education offered in the City, so after travelling through France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland to learn what could be offered he established the School of Technology (subsequently UMIST) in Whitworth Street in 1895 with a grant received from Sir Joseph Whitworth of £5,000. The building was completed in October 1902, during which time Joseph Hoy was Lord Mayor of Manchester and was opened by the Prime Minister, Mr Balfour who said:

This building is perhaps the greatest fruit of its kind.. of municipal enterprise in this country. Nobody can go over it, observe its equipment, study even in the most cursory manner the care which has been devoted to it. The Corporation of this great city have set a great example, worthy of the place they hold in Lancashire, worthy of the place they hold in Great Britain.

Also during his mayorality, the Prince and Princess of Wales visited the City to open the new Whitworth Hall at the University and he was awarded with a knighthood for his services to education, together with an honorary doctorate by the University.

He was a little less successful in his other dream, which was to amalgamate the two Cities of Manchester and Salford.

In 1902 with the new Education Act giving powers to Corporations as Local Education Authorities, Sir James became chairman of the Manchester Education Committee, only resigning when the council refused to sanction a training college at Platt Hall.

However, that did not stop him from his public service, he continued by chairing the Infirmary Site Committee, and adopted tentatice plans to build a complete Art Gallery and Library. He was succeeded at the Education Committee by Thomas Thornhill Shann. Many worthy men of Manchester honoured him on his death, C P Scott of the Guardian saying: I do not think any assembly of liberals should meet… without expressing a strong sense of the services which Sir James Hoy has rendered to this city and the whole community.

He also perhaps demonstrated a great deal of foresight in 1903 when addressing the annual dinner of the Old Millhillians School in Manchester he said it was contemptible that Football Clubs should exist as limited companies.. it was utterly wrong and degrading. However he was firmly put down by the Athletic News on this point who considered he had let his supercilious eloquence run away with his discretion.

Sir James Hoy in 1908

He lived with his wife at Fern Cliff fron the mid 1890s until his death in 1908. He died on 6 March that year and was buried four days later at Southern Cemetery, after which Selina moved to Park View on Wilmslow Road in Withington where she died on 22 April 1915.

After the Hoys we meet the Buck family at Fern Cliff. Edward Robinson Buck (1853-1912) and Mary Elizabeth Pattinson (1875-1924). Edward was the son of Robert Robinson Buck and Margaret Pattinson of Carlisle. He was born in Wigton. Robert Robinson Buck (1822-1897) was a fancy flannel manufacturer. He was born in Skipton but moved to the West Coast taking a job first with John and Samuel Heighway as a salesman following that with a post at Joseph Pattinson and Company, becoming a partner after three years. In 1863 he set up on his own account in Dalston making flannel shirtings. Edward started out working for his father, but he came down south to Stockport in 1879 to form E R Buck and son, who manufactured shorts for soldiers in the Boer War.

The following year Edward married a Cumbrian girl, Sarah Elizabeth Maxwell (1859-1896), and in 1881 he had diversified into athletic shirts. His company is better known by its brand name, Bukta. Bukta became synonymous with sportswear and as early as 1884 Nottingham Forest Football club was photographed in Bukta kit.

However, the firm was a heavy innovator – they were the first to produce uniforms for the Boy Scouts and made Hospital and tropical shirts for soldiers in the first world war. By 1891 the company had established a factory in Poynton, and the family lived at Oakfield there.

Sarah died in 1896 in Poynton, which triggered a move back to Manchester and in 1901 he is living with Mary Elizabeth Pattinson (1875-1924), his new wife at Burford House in Withington. He had married Mary on 8 September 1900 at St John in Peterborough, before setting off on a honeymoon in the Italian and Swiss Lakes. In 1908 the couple moved to Fern Cliff, but Edward died there on the 12 April 1912. Mary died in 1924.

The work in the firm was carried on by three of Edward and Sarah’s children, triplets, William Maxwell Buck (1883-1961), Edward Stanley Buck (1883-1956) and Robert Robinson Buck (1883-1969). They built on the Bukta brand and moved production from Poynton to Brinksway in Stockport in 1938. Bukta continued until 1982 under family ownership until it was bought out by Sir Hugh Fraser. In the 1960s it was the premier supplier of athletic kits to sporting teams.

© Graces Guide

In 1939 Henry Higham (1866-1948) , a home trade fancy drapery merchant is living at the house. Henry’s father, Thomas was a townsman for a finisher² and Henry started his life apprenticed to him becoming a drapery merchant. He moved first to Withington, then Didsbury and eventually Fern Cliff as he grew more successful. He married Annie Marsden (b 1874). She predeceased him and he died on 18 April 1948 at Fern Cliff.

Dr Geoffrey Hick (1917-2006) LMSSA, MB, ChB, DPH moved into Fern Cliff in Heaton Mersey the day after marrying his sweetheart, Margaret Beetham. She was a former nursing sister born in Askrigg but had worked in Stockport at Hyde House Nursing Home. They tied the knot at St Oswald in Askrigg, Wensleydale, and just managed to hold a reception at the Parkway Hotel in Leeds (the car ran out of petrol en route to the hotel).

Geoffrey was born on 19 March 1917 in Hunslet, Leeds. He studied medicine at Leeds University and during the war served in the Indian Medical Service rising to Lieutenant. For the next sixty years he lived happily at Fern Cliff, serving the community of the Heatons as a GP, as did his son, Dr Peter, who was at one point, my GP. His other daughter Margaret was also a nurse, so medicine ran in the family.

Dr Hick and his wife on their wedding day

The house was a very happy one for the next sixty odd years as the house stayed in the family. Many Heatonians will remember afternoon surgeries at the house.

Sadly, the house was sold a few years ago and I am told it’s future is in doubt, there are fears that it is being allowed to fall into disrepair so it can be demolished and the land built on, which would be a great tragedy.

Let’s see some pictures:

¹ Sadly these days it is owned by the Britannia Group.

² A travelling salesman, in manufactured goods

Sources:

https://regionalheritage.omeka.net/items/show/63

© Allan Russell 2021.

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