100 Halls Around Manchester Part 64: The Towers, Didsbury


The Towers was built between 1868-1872 for £50,000 (£5.8m in 2021) for John Edward Taylor (1830-1905), the second son of the founder of the Guardian, also John Edward Taylor (1791-1844). Setting a trend often seen with the Manchester Guardian, he never lived there but moved down south. It stands in Didsbury, near St James off the road towards Parr’s Wood.

The Towers, Lancashire CXI.SE 1895 © Ordnance Survey

John Edward Taylor senior was born on 11 September 1791 at Ilminster to John Taylor, a Unitarian minister and his second wife Mary Scott (1751-1793) a poet. After Mary’s death John and his children moved to Manchester where he joined a group of radical liberals.

John’s liberal circle was in favour of proportional representation, the abolition of rotten boroughs and Parliamentary representation of the industrialised towns of the North and Midlands.

Although a witness to Peterloo, he was unimpressed with its leaders, but was encouraged to found the Guardian in 1821.

He married first, Sophia Russell Scott (1793-1832) on 4 May 1824 in Portsmouth¹ and the couple had three boys and one girl.

John Edward Taylor junior was not meant to inherit the mantle of the Guardian, he only did so on the death of his elder brother, Russell Scott Taylor (1825-1848) that he took over the newspaper. The couple’s second son, John Edward Taylor (1828-1829) died in infancy and John Edward Taylor II was born on 2 February 1830. Their daughter, Sophia Russell Taylor (1826-1868) married Peter Allen (1815-1892) who joined the Guardian as manager and partner.

After Sophia’s death, John married once more to Harriet Acland Boyce (1802-1845) and had three more daughters. Sarah Acland Taylor (1837-1894), Harriet Ann Taylor (b 1838) and Mary Ann Taylor (b 1840). Each of these sisters married into the Jevons² family of Liverpool.

On taking over the Guardian, John E Taylor became editor and sole owner. He increased publication from its original weekly edition to a daily one and halved the price to one penny. He was one of the founders of the Press Association. In 1868 he bought the Manchester Evening News which he owned until his death. He was one of the guarantors of the 1857 Manchester Arts Treasures Exhibition He amassed a vast collection himself which took 12 days to sell in 1912, raising £358,499 (£42m in 2021), having already donated several to the Whitworth, including some Turners. He also donated a complete set of Turner’s sketches, Liber Studiorum to the British Museum (now in the Tate).

He married Martha Elizabeth Warner in 1861 and whilst the couple had no children, they adopted two girls, Charlotte and Sarah. After his death the Manchester Evening News passed to his nephews in the Allen family and the Guardian was sold to his cousin, the editor C P Scott.

He lived up until 1861 at Platt Cottage in Rusholme, and in 1868 he commissioned Thomas Worthington (1828-1909) to design a residence in Didsbury, The Towers. Thomas specialised in Gothic structures and also designed the Albert Memorial in Albert Square, the Police and Sessions Courts on Minshull Street and Kendal Railway station as well as many public baths and low cost housing. It was built by T Clay and Sons.

The Building News of 29 August 1873 provided an extensive description of the building, which can be read here. The house became known as the Calendar House, supposedly because it had 12 towers, 52 rooms and 365 windows.

However, failing health meant that he never occupied the building – he moved to live down south with his wife, and it was sold in 1874 to Daniel Adamson (1820-1890).

Daniel was born to Daniel Adamson and Nanny Gibson, the keepers of the Grey Horse Inn in Shildon, on 30 April 1820 near Durham. He was educated at the Edward Walton Quaker school and in May 1833 he started an apprenticeship at the Stockton and Darlington Railway. He and Mary Pickard (1822-1897) married in 1845 at Aysgarth, at which time he described himself as a farmer. However, a few years later he was working at the Hackworth Engineering works. The works were sold on the death of Timothy Hackworth in 1850, so Daniel moved to Stockport, where he became manager of the Heaton Foundry on Gordon Street in Heaton Norris. At this time Daniel and Mary were living on New Road in Heaton Norris.

Daniel was both successful and precocious, he left the Heaton Foundry to set up the Newton Moor Iron works and they move to Back Lane in Newton, near Ashton Under Lyne.

By 1871 he had a workforce of 250 men, and described himself as a civil and mechanical engineer, and in 1872 he relocated to Johnson Rook Road. He had patents on 19 improvements to boiler design and used steel when other manufacturers would not.

His wealth at this point allowed him to move to the Towers in Didsbury.

On 27 June 1882 a number of people, including Joseph Leigh (1841-1908) his son in law, and Daniel Adamson (a director of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce by then) met at the Towers and agreed in principle to proceed with the building of a Manchester Ship Canal.

Daniel was elected chairman of the committee to promote the Ship Canal, and in the face of intense opposition from both the railway companies and the Port Of Liverpool – who would lose out on their monopolies, the Ship Canal Act was finally passed on 6 August 1885

The Shipping and Mercantile Gazette of 4 November 1882 sets out the economic case for the canal

While all (are) anxious to support the great railway interests which had done so much for them, yet they could not hide the fact that if they were to keep abreast of the times, they must possess means for carrying produce in bulk at the very lowest rates…. an Atlantic steamer carried 1,000 tons 1,000 miles at less cost than the railway for 100 miles, they had no fear the canal paying, if only it were made

On 8 August 1885 Daniel returned from Parliament to Didsbury to an enthusiastic reception at the Towers. It was arranged by the people of the village, bunting was festooned across the streets, an arch had been set up above the station holding a portrait of Daniel, with the inscription, A Well Deserved Success on one side, and Lancashire’s Future Greatness on the other. The Newton factory band played him in with See The Conquering Hero Comes the procession proceeded to the Didsbury Hotel, where a lorry was standing carrying a boat, The Daniel Adamson crewed by a boy and a girl in nautical clothing.

Daniel then proceeded to a rousing speech which drove the crowd wild. The Manchester Courier reported on 10 August 1885

I am rejoiced at this reception, because it will tell our Liverpool friends that it is an untruth to say that Lancashire is weary of the fight. If I may judge by what I see this day, Lancashire is only just beginning to fight. We have fought one of the greatest battles ever contested (Cheers) and won that battle in spite of the opposition of strong and powerful corporations. – a struggle prolonged for a period beyond all precedent (Cheers) Our opponents said that we could not find the money, but if they might judge from the demonstration the money could be found three times over (Cheers) Our Liverpool friends might at once take notice that the sixteen millions sterling which they have invested is in some danger. (Laughter). When we have got the money we want to construct the canal with, we should invite our Liverpool friends to sell to the Ship Canal Company their docks and warehouses. The property in which sixteen millions has been invested at Liverpool is not after the passing of the Canal Bill worth more than eight millions, and I shall not be prepared to offer more for it.

A prospectus was issued for 725,000 £10 shares at par in 1886 with Daniel as Chair of the Ship Canal Company and Joseph Leigh as a director.

1886 Prospectus, Illustrated London News

Unfortunately failing health meant that by 1887 Daniel had to retire and was unable to cut the first sod, nor did he see the canal completed. Daniel Adamson died on 13 January 1890 at the Towers, and is buried at Southern Cemetery. There is a blue plaque to Daniel on the Gatehouse to the Towers which can be seen from the main road.

The Towers was put up for sale or let in 1893, it was occupied by an M Winterbottom, of whom I can find no details³.

However, Joseph Leigh did see the canal completed and lived for a brief time until his death at the Towers. Let’s return to him. Joseph continued as a director and promoter of the Ship Canal Company, and was present at Eastham Ferry on 11 November 1887 when the first sod was cut for the Canal.

We met Joseph at Brinnington Hall and Bank Hall, he was the son of Thomas Baines Leigh and Mary Ann Linney. He started at the Beehive and Portwood Mills in Stockport, having had to cut his education because of his father’s failing health. He married Daniel Adamson’s daughter, Alice Ann Adamson (1834-1927) and served a record four times as mayor of Stockport.

Alice moved to St Anne’s On Sea after her husband died, and the Towers was sold to the British Cotton Industry Research Foundation in 1920, with a significant contribution by William Greenwood (1875-1925) who served as MP for Stockport from 1920-1925. He asked that the research institute be named after his daughter, Shirley, and so it became the Shirley Institute. Amongst innovations produced by the Shirley Institute is the Tog, which we all use nowadays when buying a duvet from Ikea. Today it is part of the British Textile Technology Group.

Pevsner called the Towers, the finest of all Manchester mansions, lets see some pictures:

¹ It is mildly curious that the Taylors although they settled in Mancunia, chose to marry people from the South, and live mainly there. Sophia Russell Scott was from Portsmouth, Harriet Acland from Tiverton, as was Peter Allen, and John’s wife Martha Warner from Norfolk. I have not been able to find where the Buxton / Taylor family of Clumber House fit into this picture, they were Stockport and Poynton people, if indeed they even are related. Additionally and perhaps even less worthy of curiousity is the fact that Sophia Russell Taylor went on to live at Cringle Villa in Burnage, an erstwhile home of the Watts family, and on my list of places to cover.

² The most famous of which was William Stanley Jevons (1835-1882) an Economist who became professor of logic and mental and moral philosophy and professor of political economy at Owens College.

³ Help!


The Towers on Archiseek

Dictionary of National Biography John Edward Taylor

© Allan Russell 2021.


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