100 Halls Around Manchester Part 77: Poplar Grove, Didsbury

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Poplar Grove stood near what was to be the Towers, it was substantially refashioned when the Towers was built and replaced by another shortlived mansion, Scotscroft¹ which we will look at next time.

Lancashire CXI, 1848 © Ordnance Survey

It is a little known house. The only descriptions I have found say it was a beautiful mansion, next to James Heald’s Parr’s Wood House in grounds covering six acres. It certainly was standing in the early 1800s when a Mrs Lyon lived there until her death in 1842. After that, John Gadsby (1809-1893) was in residence. His claim to fame as recorded in legal annals is the court case of Warburton V Gadsby where he objected to the inclusion of one Samuel Warburton of Newton near Hyde on the Harpurhey electoral register, signing himself as John Gadsby of Poplar Grove, Didsbury, in the Township of Manchester. Warburton claimed that the address was not sufficient to raise an objection.

There was a great deal of legal argument, which you can read in the casebook in the sources, however, John did get Warburton booted off the electoral register for a year, despite the counterclaim that John had not provided sufficient address information. Quite why he took exception to Samuel Warburton is a mystery. John was a regular in the Manchester political scene and and participated in the battle against the Corn Laws.

John was born to William Gadsby (1773-1844) and his wife, Elizabeth (1772-1851). William was a dissenting minister at the Baptist Chapel on Rochdale Road¹. He was an early leader of the Strict and Particular Baptist Movement.

William Gadsby

John commenced business in Manchester as a printer in 1839 and published what he claimed to be the first railway guide in 1839, Gadsby’s Monthly Railway Guide, only relinquishing it when his work for the Anti Corn Law League took over.

The actual argument is full of controversy and filled several columns in the Manchester Courier from May to August 1874. In the end, it appears Michael Portillo may rest easy, whilst Gadsby did produce a regular timetable before Bradshaw, it was restricted to local transport only, whilst Bradshaw covered the entire country, and as all railway afficianados know, the Grand Junction Railway issued a timetable for the Grand Junction Railway between Birmingham and Manchester in 1837 giving departure times from Birmingham, Liverpoool and Manchester, in the form of a medal printed which could be carried in the pocket.

Considering the argument he made over Samuel Warburton, it is little surprise that he would heat up over his origination of the Railway Timetable.

In August 1843, he caught a severe cold, which rendered him so weak that he was spat blood and could hardly dress himself He was advised to go to Madeira. Feeling he could not stand the journey he wintered in Bath, only returning to Poplar Grove in 1844 on the death of his father.

He grew weaker, and set off on a journey to Grafenburg in Silesia to see the Hydropathist, Dr Priessnitz, taking ten days for the journey, and getting by using a German dictionary. The good doctor advised some of his milder treatment, avoiding sweating and plunging, and he returned home making a recovery.

However, in 1845 he fell ill again, and became bedridden. This time he consulted a Dr Roots of London who diagnosed tuberculosis on his left lung. Dr Roots advised a journey to Malta for six months. His wife readily gave her consent. Perhaps he was too grumpy.

He travelled through Malta, Greece, Turkey and Egypt, on his return he settled in London and in 1849 his house there burned down. To top things off, he caught a cold whilst travelling by rail and took a cure in Malvern, where the medical advice was to undertake another tour.

This time he saw Egypt, Ethiopia, Jerusalem, Beiruit and Gibraltar before returning home, being careful to take appropriate hydropathic treatment. In 1852, he was again forced to take a tour to Egypt for his health, one which he hoped would be the last one, for in his own words

It may be all very well to visit those spots of sacred history once,, as the pleasures afforded may counterbalance the annoyances; but to go again and again, not from choice but compulsion; to be worried with fleas and mosquitos, constantly searching your clothes for vermin of even a worse description, surrounded with filth , smothered in sand, perpetually tortured and thrown out of temper with myriads of flies, separated thousands of miles from all that is dear to you, and, above all , to have no friend near to whom you can open your heart either on temporal or spiritual matters, is a greater trial than I wish to have repeated. And those who think they could endure it without murinuring are quite at liberty to make the experiment.

He did quite well out of his peregrinations. He published books on his travels, and over the next decades wandered the whole country, lecturing on his experiences to gathered crowds. He lived for a while at Cowley Hall in Uxbridge, and settled finally at 12 Cambridge Road in Brighton, with his second wife, Emily Johnson (1831-1915) where he died on 12 October 1893

Emily lived on at the house until her death. They had one son, David Johnson Gadsby (1875-1956).

After John Gadsby we see Thomas William Phillips (1805-1856) in the house with his wife, Maria Laurina Leech (1816-1885). Thomas was born in 1805 to William Phillips and Elizabeth Fish. His father was described as a mariner. Thomas lived in Liverpool until 1839 where he traded as a druggist, with James Lowther. He married Maria in 1832 and by 1841 he is wealthy enough to be living at 3 Hyde Road in Ardwick, which would have been near Ardwick Hall. He was at this point living on the proceeds of investments and owned property on wharf land near Piccadilly, suitable for water carriages.

Around 1846 they moved to Poplar Grove with his wife and children. The couple lived there until 1855 and he died the following year in at 393 Waterloo Road in Cheetham Hill. Maria lived there for the next few years before she moved to Beech Grove on Bury New Road and then to Church Stret and Park Crescent in Southport., where she died in January 1885.

The couple had seven children. Kate Laurina Phillips (1853-1940) married the Reverend Edwin Mosscrop (1843-1917), a Wesleyan Minister and the couple travelled from Manse to Manse wherever the church took them over the course of his career. They settled finally in Harpenden, living on Holly Bush Lane there in a house which she named Didsbury in memory of a happy childhood. The good reverend died there in 1917, and she moved to Wordsworth Road in Harpenden, naming that house after Didsbury as well.

William John Phillips (1838-1871) moved back to Liverpool where he lived with his uncle, the aforementioned James Lowther on Hall Lane in Halewood. He worked as a warehouse clerk, but died young in 1871 at the age of 32. Elizabeth Ann Phillips (b 1841) was still living with her mother in 1881 in Southport.

Marion Elizabeth Phillips (1846-1876) married The Reverend Frederick Smith (1833-1907) but also died young at the age of 30.

Harry A Phillips (1848-1920) had a good life. He does not appear to have worked on day during his long years, living off whatever wealth he had inherited from his parents. He married Jeanette Isabella Reese (1858-1939) of Birkenhead, and the couple lived first on the Wirral, before settling in Teignmouth. He died in Muswell Hill on 17 January 1920 after which Jeanette moved to Kent.

Rose L Phillips (b 1853) appears to have died in childhood and Ida Gwendaline Phillips (1854-1944) married James Pryce Reese (1846-1924) in 1872. James was the son of a Liverpool Customs Officer and traded as a Central American Merchant. The couple lived in Southport. The couple retired to the White Cottage at Gresford, near Wrexham where James died on 1 October 1924, and Ida some 20 years later on 29 October 1944.

After the Phillips family moved out of Poplar Grove, it was occupied by A W Clarke, and put up for sale in August 1867, after which the Tower and Scotscroft appeared.

I don’t have any pictures of Poplar Grove.

¹ Looking at the maps it’s hard to say whether the two houses are one, or one replaced the other. I am treating them as two.

² His last words were I shall soon be with him forever, Victory, Victory Victory for ever, Free Grace, Free Grace, Free Grace.


Reports of Cases of Controverted Elections, Vol1 Thomas James Arnold: Sweet, 1846

My Wanderings, being travels in the East, John Gadsby : A Gadsby, 1862

The Times, A Journal of the Australian Timestable Association Vol 38 No 7 Issue 450 July 2021.

© Allan Russell 2021.


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