Pevsner wasn’t over keen on Longford Hall, he said it was built in an indifferent Italianate style¹, but without any pretensions. It’s just as well really, as it was demolished in 1995.
The name may derive from Sir John and Lady Joan De Longford who were named in a survey of Manchester in 1320. That family lived at Longford Hall in Derbyshire. They did own land in Withington and their lands passed on to Sir Nicholas Mosley between 1579 and 1596.
Longford House was a minor asset owned by the Mosley family, they rented it out to various farmers. In 1781 Richard (b 1731-1792) and Folliot Powell (1734-1791) of Liverpool, sold some land, including Longford to Samuel Whitelegg a Manchester Fustian Manufacturer for £880. The Powell brothers were Merchant sons of Samuel Powell (1694-1745) and Elizabeth Richmond. Folliott was a Manchester Merchant and his brother Richard inherited then alienated the estate of Stanedge in Shropshire to one Richard Knight.
The property then passed to Thomas Walker (1751-1817) and his wife Hannah (1747-1821). Thomas was the son of a Bristol merchant and initally rented Barlow Hall from Thomas Egerton, where we first met him.
He died at Longford Hall on 2 February 1817 and his son, Charles James Stanley Walker (1788-1875) inherited the property. In 1836 Charles demolished the farm buildings to rebuild a mansion and wooded park. This was known as Longford House and had a large walled garden to the north and an ornamental water feature running parallel to the north wall of the garden, with a pond at the eastern end.
Charles James Stanley Walker was named after his godfathers, Charles James Fox (1749-1806) and the Earl of Derby, Edward Smith Stanley (1752-1834). Fox was a whig statesman who was the arch rival of Pitt the Younger. Fox regarded George III as a tyrant and dressed in the colours of Washington’s army. He served as Britain’s first Foreign Secretary in 1782, but apart from that spent most of his time in opposition. Charles served as a magistrate for Manchester and up until 1851 is living comfortably at Longford House
He does appear to be doing well up until 1847, with directorships in many railway companies, serving as an Alderman and Magistrate. However money troubles seem to overcome him and he is forced to put Longford House up for sale in 1847, it not being sold until 1854. In the meantime he has to declare himself an insolvent debtor, and live out the rest of his days in reduced circumstances, lodging amongst the middle class clerks and merchants of Lloyd Street in Chorlton Upon Medlock, whilst still serving as a magistrate until the last few years of his life when illness made it difficult for him. His portrait is still in the collection of Manchester Town Hall, and it was commissioned by several well wishers² during the Lord Mayoralty of Robert Barnes.
The property was bought by John Rylands (1801-1888) and his wife Martha Greenough (1806-1875). His first task was to demolish Charles’s building and erect his own, the new Longford Hall.
John Rylands was the son of Joseph Rylands (1761-1847) and Elizabeth Pilkington (1761-1829) and was born on 7 February 1801 in St Helens. Joseph’s father was a hand loom weaver and had a small busines. However, Joseph had bigger ideas and rapidly expanded the business, opening a drapers shop in town, where he sold not only his own produce, but the output from other mills.
Becoming more successful, Joseph moved to Manchester in 1822 where he established Joseph Rylands and Sons, linen and cotton manufacturers, bleachers and dyers on the New High Street. His son John had first started on his own account in St Helens but aged 18 entered into partnership with his brothers, Joseph (1796-1853) and Richard (1798-1863) as a travelling salesman, touring the North West soliciting orders for his brothers to fulfil. Their father saw the value of the business they were creating and invested in his sons’ enterprise.
They closed the Wigan drapers, but not before opening a larger shop in Manchester in 1824, having diverted their trade from serving Chester to Manchester, which they saw as a more lucrative market – building a warehouse on New Street from which they sold their wares. They expanded into dying and printing forging partnership with flax spinners in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Over time the operations on New High Street grew until they almost occupied every property. He was soon the largest trader in Manchester. He lived at first on Smedley Lane in Cheetham Hill before moving to Gorton Villa, near to where he had built a factory. After Gorton Villa he moved to Ardwick Green and finally Longford Hall.
His business continued to grow with factories in the surrounding towns – Gorton, Bolton, Wigan, Chorley, Swinton, Ainsworth, Chorlton on Medlock as well as several within Manchester on Water Street, Oxford Street, New High Street, Tib Street, Bread Street, Joiner Street, Market Street and Bridge Street as well as far afield as London and Liverpool.
John employed over 12,000 people and became the largest manufacturer in the United Kingdom. He was a generous philanthropist, congregationalist and liberal, but did not choose to enter politics, saying My good man, if you can afford to waste your words, I can’t afford to waste my time, it is very precious, worth in fact, nearly a guinea a minute.
He expanded into other interests, supporting the Manchester Ship Canal Company with an investment of £360,000. However rich he became, he retained his modesty, it is said that his shopwalkers were more elegantly dressed than he, and he ensured he did not lose attention to detail – even down to ensuring that individual cabbages in his gardens were properly accounted for in the books.
His brother Joseph retired in 1840, choosing to live on the fruits of his labour. Of his other siblings, Eleanor (1794-1819) married John Cross of Rainford. Richard (1798-1863) retired to run a farm in Upholland with his wife, Elizabeth Heyes (1792-1863). Richard died on 11 March 1863, and Elizabeth a fortnight later. Finally, Elizabeth Rylands (March 1806- July 1806) died in infancy.
He married three times, firstly to Dinah Raby (1802-1843) on 17 August 1825, with her he had three children, John Garthwaite Rylands (1826-1872), William Rylands (1828-1861) Emily and Eliza (1831-1832) Joseph (1829-1830) and Emily (1834-1834). John lived on his fathers money after marrying Hannah Birtenshaw (1824-1900), William entered his father’s trade but died young at the age of 33, leaving a widow and three young children.
After Dinah’s death in 1848 he married Martha Greenough (1806-1875) the daughter of Isaac (1771-1811), a wealthy brewer from Parr near Warrington, and Alice Rylands. Martha was a widow, who had been married to Richard Carden (1806-1841), a druggist from Winwick.
Martha and John lived for most of their lives at Longford. They had no children. At Longford Park he spent a great deal of effort building a home suitable for a wealthy merchant. The house was built in the Italianate style and he began to expand the wider estate, laying out new formal gardens in the style of Chatsworth. The estate was a working farm until 1912 and elaborate irrigation systems were built with subterranean piping to transport the water. He employed 19 gardeners and had 31 conservatories growing grapes, pineapples and other exotic fruit.
He was active in the community, building Union Church in Stretford ,the Public Hall and Longford Coffee House, employing his own personal architect, William Arthur Lofthouse (1847-1887) to carry out much of the work. He made sure that his staff were looked after, erecting Longford Cottages for his gardeners and Sunnyside Cottages for a home for aged Gentlewomen.
Martha took a ladies’ companion towards the end of her life, Enriqueta Augustina Tennant (1843-1908). Enriqueta was the daughter of Stephen Catteley Tennant (1800-1848) and Juana Camila Dalcour (1818-1855) Her father was a Leeds born merchant who had married in Cuba, where his daughter was born. He returned to England where he died in a tragic accident on 3 November 1848 when he fell between the wheels of an approaching train and the platform at Farnborough Railway station, despite efforts to cut him free he was crushed to death by the time he was extricated. His widow, Juana who was the daughter of a Cuban father and American wife, went on to marry Julian Ignace Fontana (1810-1869) who was a pianist, composer, journalist, author and close friend and promoter of Chopin. Juana died whilst pregnant with their second child in Paris.
Enriqueta became close friends with the Rylands and after Martha’s death, she married the 74 year old millionaire, whilst aged only 32, on 6 October 1875. She inherited his vast fortune of £2,574,922 on John’s death (£343m in 2021) on 11 December 1888.
She continued to live at Longford until the mid 1900s when she moved to Torquay for her health, together with two sisters who she and John had adopted, Fanny Sharman Huckett and Lucy Huckett. She died on 4 February 1908 at Fairholme in Torquay.
By this time the Rylands wealth had grown to £3,428,547 (£423m in 2021). In June 1908 the paintings and sculptures at Longford were auctioned off along with the building. Stretford council offered £25,000, but the building remained unsold.
In her will, she left £200,000 to the John Rylands Library on Deansgate and another £273,000 to other public institutions and charities, around £500,000 to various relations and servants, with the residue of the estate being shared equally between her nephews and nieces and Fanny Sharman Huckett.
The John Rylands library is the main memorial to her husband. She began the work soon after the death of her husband, buying land on Deansgate in 1889 and in 1892 she bought the Earl Of Spencer’s library for £250,000. The library opened to readers in 1900 and today has over 250,000 books and one million manuscripts.
Enriqueta worked to maintain John Rylands’ memory and was given the freedom of the City of Manchester in 1893. After her death, her brother Stephen Joseph Tennant (1843-1914) carried on her work supporting the library, we met him previously at Barlow Fold.
Stretford Council finally managed to buy the Hall and Estate in 1911 for £14,700 , considerably less than previously offered, but largely because chunks of the estate had already been sold off. The estate was opened as a park, but they had no idea what to do with the Hall until 1914 when Mr Hilditch, a local man, held a display of his Chinese and Japanese Art.
The first world war saw the Hall being used to house Belgian Refugees then as a convalescent hospital for limbless soldiers until 1921. War use did cause damage to the structure of the building, but work was carried out in the 1920s, installing a dance floor and reopening for functions and as a museum and art gallery.
A long period of decline followed the second world war, the conservatories were demolished and the bandstand was despatched to Crich tramway museum and in 1983 the Hall was closed for repairs.
It never reopened and fell into dereliction to be demolished in 1995. Quelle surprise.
Let’s see some pictures:
¹ Other sources say that he considered it to be the finest Italianate building in Manchester, but I can’t find that quote. Some of those sources are the ones that knocked the building down in the first place…
² For reasons I have not been able to ascertain CJSW was known to locals as Cabbage Walker, although his niece vehemently denied that in a letter to the Guardian in October 1875. Apparently she never heard him called that when she was in his company.
The Buildings of England, South Lancashire, Pevsner : Penguin 1969.
A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great Britain & Ireland, John Burke:Colburn, 1836
A History of the Ancient Chapel of Stretford in Manchester, Henry Crofton : Chetham Society, 1903
Longford Conservation Area Consultation Draft 2016: Trafford Council
© Allan Russell 2021.