100 Halls Around Manchester Part 81: Ordsall Hall, Salford

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The oldest building in Salford, Ordsall Hall has survived by the grit of its teeth. In danger of demolition, destruction by vandals, being exported to the USA, it has served as manor house, farm, clerical training college and centre for unemployed workers. It is even claimed that the Gunpowder Plot was planned there¹. Now restored stands on the banks of the Irwell as a museum.

Ordsall is first mentioned in the Pipe Roll of 1177. The manor was first granted in 1251 and was granted by William De Ferrers to David De Hulton, in exchange for Pendleton. For the next 80 years it was in the possession of the Hulton family and then was passed to the Radcliffes around 1330 as a reward for service to the King.

Sir John Radcliffe (c 1288 -1362) was born in Ordsall. His family had worked with the insurgent barons and became known to Queen Isabella the wife of Edward II and her son Prince Edward, accompanying them to the continent in 1325. He entered the prince’s service and after Isabella, her lover Roger Mortimer and Edward had deposed Edward II, making Edward King. Roger Mortimer became de facto ruler as Edward was only 14 at the time. Edward III eventually staged a coup against Mortimer three years later and banished his mother for life. John Radcliffe fought with his King against the Scots and in 1337 was sent to Flanders to negotiated trade agreements. He gained great favour there and upon leaving he was asked to name his reward.

He asked that a number of Flemish craftsmen accompany him back to England, and he settled the weavers in Salford where they taught the local men their trades, thus starting the area on its long history with cotton and weaving. John married Joan De Holland, and they settled in Ordsall, looking after the local people and fostering the weaving industry during the time of the Black Death, starting the area on its successful path to the Industrial Revolution.

In 1361 there was a particularly virulent outbreak and Sir John died in spring 1362. He was succeeded by his son, Richard (c 1301- 1380). He inherited his father’s estates in Ordsall, as well as the Balliwick of Rochdale and the Stewardship of Blackburn. He married Matilda Booths, bringing him the manor of Sandbach and part of Mobberley as well as the Arderne properties in Chester. He became one of the biggest landowners in Lancashire and Cheshire, also inheriting Pendleton and Hope. He drowned in Rossendale water in July 1380.

During Richard’s time, the house had a hall, five chambers, a kitchen and a chapel as well as two stables, three granges, two shippons a dovecote an orchard and a windmill, 80 acres of arable land and six of meadow.

He was succeeded by his son, John (c1333-1422). John lived through the reigns of three Kings, Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, fighting with distinction as an old man at Agincourt. He married Margaret Trafford, whose father’s manor house stood across the river Irwell. His son John (c 1377-1442) succeeded him. John Jr was possibly quite extravagant as he was summoned for offenses against the sumptuary laws, which were intended to reinforce social hierarchies, and prevent the bourgeoisie from excessive consumption by legislating against outrageous and excessive multitude of meats and dishes which the great men of the kingdom still use in their castles, … and persons of inferior rank imitating their example beyond what their stations required of their circumstances could afford.

In turn, his son Alexander (1416-1475) succeeded him. He allied himself to the House of Lancaster in the Wars Of the Roses and was present at the beginning of a three generation long feud with the Booths of Barton. In 1444 he was out hunting on the Weaste with his brother and friends when near the manor of Little Bolton, he was approached by William Gawen, the Lord who summoned Sir Thomas Booth and his two sons along with a supporing force. In the ensuing fracas John and Hugh Radcliffe were killed along with two other members of his party, the initial trial resulted in an acquittal, but Alexander continued in his proceedings and had the Booth brothers sentenced for outlawry. the feud was only finally settled when his grandson, Sir Alexander (c 1476-1548) married Alice Booth.

Alexander was knighted by Henry VIII and served as High Sheriff. He was succeeded by his son, Sir William (1502-1568) who was knighted for his services against the Scots, laying seige to Edinburgh. He died of the plague on 12 October 1568 at Ordsall. His son John further increased the estates, marrying Anne Asshawe of Elston and gaining land around Chorley and Preston, and he was the one who built the current house in 1512. Alexander’s house features in the first ever description of Manchester by John Leland who toured the country, seeing Manchester in 1536.

Coming from Northwich towards Manchester at Northwich town, I passed over a riveret and thence riding a five miles by causeway, I rode over to Waterleese and Pyverey river that be likelyhood resort to Wyver and in this way came across Tabley Park and on the left hand side where Mr Leycestre dwells.

And a few miles further I came by Dunham Masse park where Master Bothe dwells and about that place by good culture is made very good corn ground where sometime was very ferny and common ground.

And there about by Riston church is a pool of two to three miles in length very plentiful of fish.Three miles off I rode over Mersey water by the great bridge of timber called Crosford Bridge.

So about three miles to Manchester in the which way first I left Sir Alexander Radcliffe’s park and house.

But ‘ere I saw that I passed over Corne brooke and after I touched within a good mile of Manchester by Mr Trafford’s park and place – and after on the left I saw Mr Prestwickes place (Hulme Hall) on the left hand over the Irwell whereby the Lord of Darby has a place and a park called Allparte park – here I passed over the Medlock river and so within less than a mile to Mancestre.

Mancestre on the south side of the Irwell river stands in Salfordshire and is the fairest best built quickest and most populus town of all Lancashire, yet is in it but one parish church but is a college and almost throughout double laid ex quadrato lapide durissimo whereof a goodly quarry is held by the town.

There be divers stone bridges in the town but the best of three arches is over Irwell. This bridge divides Manchester from Salford, the which is a large suburb of Manchester. On this bridge is a pretty little chapel.

The next is a bridge that is Thirke river on the which the fair built college stands as this is the very point of the mouth of it.

For hard thereby it runs into the Irwell. On Thirke river be divers fair mills that serves the towns.In the town be two fair market places and almost two fleet shots without the town, beneath on the same side of Irwell yet be seen the dikes and foundations of old man castel in the ground now enclosed.

The stones of the ruins of the castle were translated into making of bridges for the town. It is not long since the church of Manchester was collegiated,

The town of Manchester stands on a hard rock of stone as Irwell as well appears in the west part has been noyful to the town. Irwell is not navigable but in some places for fords and rocks.”

Although Erasmus of Rotterdam, who had visited the old Ordsall Hall in 1499 was not quite as impressed:

The floors are made of clay and are covered with layers of rushes, constantly replenished, so that the bottom layer remains for 20 years harbouring spittle, vomit, the urine of dogs and men, the dregs of beer, the remains of fish and other nameless filth

The new hall was one of the largest manor houses in the country. It was half timbered and stood by what was then the unpolluted Irwell with views of the Derbyshire hills in the distance. It was a moated house, and the Ordsall brook kept the water fresh. A lane connected the manor with Salford, and this lead to a drawbridge to an inner courtyard and the Great Hall.

Alexander’s son, John (1536-1589), like his family, remained a Catholic, but he was fiercely loyal to his Queen Elizabeth. going as far as fighting against the Catholics supporting Mary, Queen of Scots. His loyalty was repaid when he was not imprisoned when many Catholics were captured and imprisoneed in the New Fleet Prison in Salford.

The last Radcliffe to own the house was Alexander, who suffered for his family’s royalist sympathies, and was imprisoned and fined, forcing his son and heir, John to sell the house to Colonel Samuel Birch in 1662. Alexander moved to Foxdenton Hall.

Lady Jane and Sir Alexander Radcliffe, the last owners of the hall.

In 1666 the house was the largest in Salford. The Oldfields of Leftwich in Cheshire bought the house at the end of the 17th century but sold it in 1704 to John Stock, one of the Trustees of the Cross Street Chapel. This family were the last owner occupiers and lived in the central part of the building, with a large hall, lounge, dining room, chapel, six other rooms and brewhouse. They sold the property in 1756 to Samuel Hill of Shenstone, upon whose death the house was inherited by his nephew Samuel Egerton of Tatton, who leased it out to tenants.

During the Egerton ownership, a floor was inserted in the Great Hall and the east wing demolished. Tenants during these years included Joseph Ryder (1747-1779) who was a partner in Thackery Stockdale & Company, cotton merchants.

Countermarked Dollar, from Cark Cotton Works, run by Thackery, Stockdale & co

He shared the property with Richard Alsop, landlord of the Bull’s Head in the Market Place, who became a cotton merchant, as well as his son, also Richard.

From 1815 to 1871 the Hall was occupied and farmed by the Markendale family, who were butchers and tanners. Ellis Markendale (1790-1853) was born in Manchester to John a butcher and Mary. He married Mary Shiers (1790-1864) in Skipton in 1813 and in 1815 they settled at Ordsall Hall.

The Markendales were part of the Victorian nouvelle bourgeousie, and commissioned portraits of themselves, their son John took up photography and took several early pictures of Salford and the Hall.

Edward Brown, third great grandson on Ellis Markendale with his ancestor’s portrait © Kelvin Media
Mary Markendale © Kelvin Media

The Markendale skin and hide company continued trading until the 1980s on Regent Road.

From 1872-1875 the tenant was Frederic Shields (1833-1911) . He was born into poverty in Hartlepool and worked for an engravers, studying art in London, then Manchester, where he gained his fame. He was heavily influenced by the Great Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857 and designed book illustrations for Defoe’s History of the Plague and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which gained him the attention and admiration of Ruskin and Rosetti and he gained admission to the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood.

Frederic Shields by E Gertrude Thomson

He described Ordsall as the happiest refuge I have ever nested in. He designed the windows at William Houldsworth’s private chapel at his house in Scotland St Elisabeth’s church in Reddish, and the windows in the windows for the chancel of St Ann in Manchester. In 1874 he married the 18 year old Matilda Booth, who had been his model, and adopted her four year old sister Jessie. However, it was not a happy marriage, they lived apart for most of the time, and they had no children. He died in London and was buried at Merton Old Church.

Factory Girls at The Old Clothes Fair F Shields © Manchester Art Gallery

After its artistic interlude, the Hall was used as a workingman’s club by Haworth’s mill from 1875, converting the Great Hall into a Gymnasium. Earl Egerton of Tatton rescued the situation in 1883 employing Alfred Darbyshire to restore the building at a cost of £6,000 (£700,000 in 2022) and the building was converted into a training school for the clergy. The workingman’s club survived until 1940, being used also as a centre for the younger unemployed men of Salford in 1933.

During the Second War the Hall became a radio station and after the war the church and servants quarters built for the Clergy school were demolished. There then started a great debate as to what to do with the Hall. An attempt was made in 1953 by Salford Education Committee to buy it for use as an adult education centre, but this was blocked by the Minister of Education. Rumours started flying that an American buyer was interested, and that it would suffer the same fate as Agecroft but these were scotched both by the council and Egerton.

The historic buildings council offered a large grant in 1955, for the hall to be put to commercial use, and not end up as a museum. Lord Egerton was keen to sell the property at a reasonable price. The following year the council were considering it as a museum and public library and the following year the council voted by 33 to 15 to negotiate for its purchase. Councillor S C Homburger, the chairman of the building committee opposed this decision as he felt the Hall had no intrinsic historical value and its preservation would be a major obstacle in the replanning of the area.

Finally in 1959 a heated debate in council, alternatively describing the building both as an architectural gem, and heap of mouldering rubbish decided by 30 votes to 18 to buy the property. The cost was estimated at £2,500 to buy, and £15,680 to restore, together with £3,613 annual running costs (£63,000, £400,000 & £91,000 in 2022). It was acknowledged that its situation, being in one of the worst parts of the city, amongst factories, docks and old cottages was an issue, but after renovation the hall would be the beautiful centrepiece of the neighbourhood. Councillor Bernard Burchill did not agree, he considered the project an extravagance, and thought that nobody in Salford even knew where Ordsall was, Councillor Williams was in agreement, he saw the Hall as a heap of rubbish in which nobody to his knowledge locally had taken any interest. Councillor Dewhirst added Is this the best thing we can offer the people of Ordsall, a delapidated old hall filled with delapidated old furniture. It is falling down even now. It represents a period of history which doesn’t bear looking at anyway³.

The guilt of Agecroft obviously influenced the decision to preserve the Hall. The other issue that the councillors had to address was that the rector of St Cyprian’s church had since 1899 had the right to live in part of the complex rent free. During Lord Egerton’s lifetime an annual grant had been made for repairs, but this had ceased after his death. The building was damp, and windows could not be cleaned for fear of them falling out. It was hoped that the council would find more modern accommodation for future rectors.

In 1960 it was decided that Ordsall would become a museum, and in their role as iconclasts to the City, the council considered the demolition of Foxdenton to provide materials for the refurbishment. At the time Foxdenton was in a similar state of disrepair. The council asked Chadderton Council if they could use such materials. Fortunately the request was refused and Foxdenton avoided this fate.

By 1963 £30,000 had been spent on restoration, and a further £10,000 was requested from the Historical Buildings Council, the deterioration of the building being much worse than thought. After £42,000 spend by 1966 and work was abandoned. This left the hall at the mercy of vandals who set about undoing all the work that had been done to date, smashing windows, stealing the lead and ripping down the gutters.

Fortunately work was restarted and in 1972 the Hall was opened as a museum for the people of Salford, which it remains to this day, by the skin of its teeth.

Pevsner considered it the most important remaining timber building not only of Salford, but of Manchester, considering their shameful neglect of their heritage.

Councils, don’t you just love them.

Let’s see some pictures:

¹ Despite a Guy Fawkes street behind the Hall, the story starts with William Harrison Ainsworth and his novel, Guy Fawkes, published in 1841. Lady Ann Radcliffe is supposed to have attempted to dissuade Guy Fawkes from his endeavours. It is believed that there was a tunnel leading from the Hall to the Cathedral in Manchester. This was mentioned in a letter to the Guardian in 1900 – I was shown a door in Hanging Bridge Hotel cellar where the arches could be seen and a door made up … it was the entrance to an underground passage under the Irwell, possibly to Ordsall Hall … the owner had not traversed the passage himself, but the previous owner had, but had to turn back because of bad smells.

² Not unlike some pubs I have visited.

³ Thank goodness the elite of today respect and preserve our history…….


Views of the Old Halls N G Philips : Henry Gray, 1893

Ordsall in British History online

Radcliffe Of Ordsall

Salford an Illustrated History, Glynis Cooper : Breedon, 2005

Frederic Shields

The Buildings of England, South Lancashire, Pevnsner : Penguin 1969

© Allan Russell 2022.


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