Standing nestled away in the verdant oasis of Fletcher Moss Park, the Old Parsonage is thought to be one of the oldest buildings in Didsbury. Its origins lie hidden in history as no deeds exist for any of the old Didsbury properties. A Parsonage is mentioned during the Commonwealth, when the minister of St James was Thomas Clayton. It was then valued at £10 pa, given that Mr Clayton was a single man and soe cannot husband it to advantage. However, it is believed that this was not the building in question.
In 1796 it is appears in an Act of Parliament as costing the Bamford family of Bamford £550. The Bamfords had inherited property in Didsbury from John Davenport of Stockport.
To raise the money to pay for the Act, William Bamford sold all that ancient messuage of inn known by the sign of the Cock, with the barn and shippen thereunto belonging…… with three other small ancient messuages or dwelling houses adjoining… orchards, garden and vacant land to Sam Bethell a joiner so he could repair or erect better buildings. The present Cock Inn¹ dates from around this time.
Sam sold his property in 1804 for £1,250. This consisted of a mortage of £1,000, yet a deed of £2,000 was written up. Presumably the hapless buyer was fleeced by his lawyer.
William Bamford had clearly renovated the buildings well as by 1832 the value of the Parsonage had doubled to £2,450 (£290,000 in 2022) when William Fletcher of Birch Hall and a grocer William Newell found the money to but the property and sold it to Louisa Titley as part of a marriage trust for her upcoming nuptials to Sam Newall, the curate of Didsbury. Sam Newall is the first person who we know did definitely live in the Parsonage. Sadly his young bride died soon after.
Left alone, he commenced to improve the building, repairing it and adding the two high rooms at the ends of the Parsonage.
After Sam the Reverend W J Kidd took over the house, but refused to live at the house, declaring it to be haunted, he moved to the much more comfortable Didsbury Park. The ghostly apparitions are supposed to eminate from a disturbed graveyard nearby.
Despite its name that is the only evidence we have that the Parsonage was ever occupied by men of the cloth. On 8 March 1865 Fletcher Moss (1843-1919) and his parents John (1810-1867) and Catherine (1809-1900) moved into the house. He came to a house which had fallen into disrepair and its gardens left to run wild.
Fletcher was a local businessman. As a boy he studied at Cheletenham College and made his fortune. He retired and settled into serving on Manchester City Council and writing. He published several volumes of Pilgrimages to Old Houses detailing his perigranation and portraits of properties around the country as well as writing several books on local history.
He devoted his time to tending the his garden and planted several trees, including Lebanese cedars, apple trees and introduced mistletoe to the village.
The hauntings suffered by the Reverend Gentlemen continued during Fletcher’s stewardship of the Parsonage. He said that as a boy he was often awoken in the night by strange noises, and wondered why the Curates had not used their powers to exorcise the phantoms.
However, the tales of spooks often could be put down to mundane occurences, such as cracked panes of glass, or the local village constable who was checking security²
In 1902 the Spread Eagle Hotel³ in Hanging Ditch was demolished. Fletcher owned the property on which the hotel stood, and bought the old doorway from Manchester Council for £10, spending twice the amount to transport it to Didsbury and erect it on its current site. He also furnished the house with historical artefacts including the stalls from Barlow Church and grandfather clocks from Standon Hall, and chairs similar to those sold by the Earl of Wilton at Heaton Hall for one thousand guineas. He gleefully added he bought his for nine pounds.
In a house in the gardens lived Emily Williamson, nee Bateson (1855-1936) with her husband Robert Wood Williamson (1856-1932). Robert was a solictor in Manchester and in 1882 married Emily, they lived in The Croft from 1882 to 1912 when they moved to Surrey.
Emily was against the fashionable use of bird feathers in ladies’ hats and the resultant slaughter of avian wildlife for the audacious trophies and in February 1889 formed the Society for the Protection of Birds whose lady members undertook not to wear hats from plucked fowl (except those killed for food, and, bizarrely, ostriches). Punch magazine, in the days when it could claim to be on the cutting edge of humour supported the move, although added, not a very self denying ordinance that, Ladies?.
In 1891 they merged with a London based society with similar aims, forming the Society for the Protection of Birds, of which she held the post of secretary until her death. In 1904 men were admitted and it became the RSPB.
Not only was she incredibly successful in this endeavour she also founded the Gentlewoman’s Employment Association, which promoted and funded training for nurses and the costs of further education for young women, the first such organisation to do so. A life well lived.
In 1917 Fletcher Moss donated the Croft and surrounding gardens to Manchester City Council, and on his death on 26 December 1919 he donated the Parsonage and House to the Council. His dying wish was to be buried under a yew tree in his garden. This appears not to have been granted.
In 1923 the Fletcher Moss Museum opened in the Parsonage, containing some of the furniture and paintings of old Manchester. The park and house remain today as a hidden gem to visit after a beer in the Old Cock Inn, and unusually for Manchester Council both the house and gardens are kept in excellent condition, no doubt due to the diligent work of the volunteers at the Friends of Fletcher Moss Park and Parsonage Gardens.
Let’s see some pictures:
¹ The Cock Inn also a history lost to the murky haze of history. In 1590 the Blomeleys, who like many families in Didsbury at the time took an alias of Cocke. This may be the origin.
² And wooing cook, whom he later married.
³ Site of the first meeting of the Northern Rugby league in 1895.
Pilgrimages To Old Homes, Fletcher Moss: Published by the author from his home, 1906
A History of Didsbury, Ivor Million : Didsbury Civic Society, E J Morten, 1969
© Allan Russell, 2022.
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