100 Halls Around Manchester Part 86: Heaton Hall, Prestwich

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Heaton Hall survives in Heaton Park, having been bought by Manchester Corporation after the wrangling over Trafford Hall . It was after all, offered a little more cheaply, and had the advantage of actually being within the Manchester Council boundaries, which gave the councillors a little more justification for the outlay on ratepayer’s money.

Within Prestwich were the townships of Great and Little Heaton, on high ground. Great Heaton had two detached portions lying on the border of Middleton, and Little Heaton had a small isolated part, occupying the extreme north-east corner of the townships. Formerly the district was called Faghfield, and the places were Heaton upon Fagh-field, but in time the present Great Heaton became known as Over Heaton or Heaton Reddish, from the lords of the manor, while Little Heaton was called Heaton Fallowfield.

Before 1212 Great Heaton was owned by Adam De Prestwich, and of him was then held by Adam De Heaton. Little Heaton was held by William De Radcliffe and of him was rented to Gilbert De Notton of Barton. The Prestwich half was part acquired by the Hulton family, and then passed to the Reddish family, the other half passed to Adam’s son John and then was sold to the Hollands of Denton.

The Heaton family appear to have sold their lands to the Prestwiches, and part was obtained by the Hollands. The original house, known as the Old Hall was in Little Heaton until the present house in Great Heaton was built.

Heaton House

The present structure dates from 1772, when it was designed by James Wyatt (who designed the interiors for the Liverpool Town Hall and also may have had a hand in Parrs Wood House) for Sir Thomas Egerton (1749-1801). The central block was completed along with the west wing in 1778 and the east wing, the following year. In front lies a Ha-Ha, designed to fool the viewer that they are looking at an uninterrupted picturesque scene, when infact it was heavily engineered by man. Ha-Has also have the advantage that they prevent livestock from getting near the house.

The Ha Ha

At the beginning of the 17th century, the Hollands gained the inheritance of the Reddish family of Great Heaton, and from that time chose Heaton for their principal residence. Richard Holland (1549-1618) was servant to the 4th Earl of Derby and a fierce protestant, and was noted as someone who was diligent in proceeding against recusants. He married firstly the daughter of Otys Reddish of Reddish Hall, then Margaret Langley, the daughter of Sir Robert Langley of Agecroft Hall and daughter of John Reddish of Reddish Hall.

Richard’s great granddaughter, Elizabeth Holland (1658-1701), the sister and heir of Edward Holland married Sir John Egerton of Wrinehill (1658-1729) in 1684

Sir John died at Wrinehill, but it was his great grandson, Thomas (1749-1801), who became the first Earl of Wilton in 1801. The Earldom carried a special remainder, should he not have male issue, the title would pass to the second and younger sons of his daughter down the male line. He was succeeded by his daughter and sole heir, Elizabeth who married Robert, Earl Grosvenor and the Marquis of Westminster. The Heaton estates went to her second son, Thomas (1799-1882) who succeeded to the title to become the second Earl, and assumed the Egerton name. By 1852 all of the land in Great Heaton belonged to the Earl, save one cottage on Catty Green who had mysteriously disappeared a century leaving no apparent heir. This had been claimed by the township as representative of the disappeared owner.

In turn Thomas was succeeded by Arthur Edward Holland Grey Egerton (1833-1885) who died without issue, to be succeeded by his brother, Arthur George Egerton who sold the Hall and Park to the Corporation of Manchester in 1901 for £230,000 (£30.6m in 2022).

The park was opened to the public on 24 September 1902.

Between 1827 and 1838 the Manchester Races were held here. Thomas Egerton had married Mary Stanley, the daughter of Edward Smith Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby. At a 1778 Dinner Party at his house, The Oaks, he suggested a sweepstake horse race. The following year he proposed a similar race and tossed a coin with Sir Charles Bunbury for the privilege of naming the race, Derby won, and Derby it is. Similarly the Oaks at Epsom is named for him. With such a horseracing background it is unsurprising that his daughter followed suit, and Thomas wishing to impress his father in law initiated a horse race at Heaton Hall. The first day included the the Stanley Stakes.

The Manchester Guardian 15 September 1827

The first day went well, and went off in the best possible manner with spectators of the most respectable description, save for money being taken for admission to the Park, after the gates had been closed for the start of the races, which must have been at total variance to the noble Earl‘s wishes. Mr White’s Alleto ridden by Mr White, with the Earl coming in second and Captain Radcliffe third.

Heaton Park Races, Francis Calcraft Turner 1772-1846, Manchester Art Gallery.

By the following year the meeting was considered the best and most important private races in the Kingdom, and to keep the spectators to a more select band, admission tickets were issued, and nobody with a ticket was allowed in unless on horseback or in a carriage, resulting in every available horse and carriage for hire in Manchester being snapped up and congestion on the road to the Park. As a result no instance of intoxication or disorder was reported. Even Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother was said to have attended.

By 1835, admission was a little more liberal, and you were allowed in if decently dressed. By now regular jockeys had replaced the Gentlemen riders, and any respectable person was allowed in without ticket, free of charge, the lower orders did still find their way in, but were suffered to remain if well behaved. A stand, capable of holding 1,000 people was built. Heaton Park became the most wagered race in the country, in terms of money placed in the local sporting pubs before the meeting. Up to 50,000 people attended the meeting on one day in 1836, and it became known as the Goodwood of the North.

Despite its success, the meeting was moved to Aintree in 1839, and Manchester lost out to its nemesis town. The last race to be run was the 100 Sovereign Stakes, the winner was not named, but running in that competition was one Captain Martin Becher (1797-1864) on a horse named Jim Crow¹. Becher was incredibly successful, winning most of his races, apart from his appearance at Aintree the following year when he fell at his soon to be eponymous fence, Bechers Brook². That race was the first which was to become known as the Grand National, although the idea of a Steeplechase at Aintree was his, and he did win the first unofficial Grand Liverpool Steeplechase in 1836.

The most distinguished expected visitor was the Duke Of Wellington who intended partaking of Wilton’s hospitality for the racing, as well as attending the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830. The Duke arrived at Bullock Smithy on the Saturday evening 11 September at 05:30PM where the Earl’s horses were awaiting. He went through Stockport down Wellington Road and over the Wellington Bridge (isn’t that great. The Duke of Wellington travelled his road and crossed his bridge) where he was unaccountably booed by some ex members of the Wellington Club. From Stockport through Levenshulme he was cheered by the crowds in his open topped coach. He received some slight further disapprobriation on London Road in Manchester³, but this was drowned out by cheering crowds as he passed through Piccadilly, Oldham Street, Swan Street, Miller Street and over Ducie Bridge before going up the Bury road to Heaton Hall, where he stayed.

The Sunday he attended divine service at Prestwich with the Countess Wilton and visited Sharp Roberts & Co, later known for building steam engines, but this time the Duke’s attention was grabbed by their innovatory iron billiard tables. At the works he spotted an old infantryman he knew from Waterloo and greeted him. That evening a grand dinner was held in his honour at Heaton Park in a dining room especially laid out by Hulme’s of Chapel Street.

The bill of fare was substantial, whilst not as extensive as served at Haddon Hall: Four dishes of fish, 20 haunches of venison, 20 necks of same, 40 venison pasties, 60 tureens of turtle soup, 15 brace of game, 20 hares, 60 chicken and turkey pulletts, 10 capons, 40 pigeon pies, 12 rounds of beef, 12 ribs of beef, 10 saddles of mutton, 20 dishes of pickled salmon, 30 hams, 60 tongues, 20 entrees, moulds of jelly, blancmange, lobster salads, etc, etc, etc.

Wines served were Hock, Mosel, Bucellas, Madeira, Sherry, Port and Claret. There were 750 attending after all, even so there was a general feeling that there was still not enough food to go round. They did however enjoy the wine. There then were extensive toasts, the Duke spoke highly of the Industry he had seen, but strangely there was only one mention of the occasion we all remember now, when the Boroughreeve made a toast to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.

After the speeches they retired to the ballroom, filled with an elegant assemblage of ladies to dance away until the early hours.

The following day the Duke departed to Liverpool to stay with the Marquis of Salisbury at Childwall prior to his Railway Journey. Whether the Earl of Wilton accompanied him, it is unclear, but he was there to travel back to Manchester aboard the Northumbrian@. The Duke stepped on the train accompanied by the Countess of Wilton# and followed by her husband.

Mary Margaret Stanley Egerton, the Second Countess Wilton 1830.

All went well until Parkfield the engines stopped to take on fuel. Several gentlemen went to stretch their legs including Liverpool MP, Mr Huskisson who saw the Duke and went to shake his hand. At that moment the Rocket approached, most of the gentlemen managed to get to safety, but despite cries of Take Care Mr Huskisson!! the hapless accident prone member for Liverpool got himself into a flurry and fell to the track, the Rocket going over his leg and thigh. The Earl of Wilton had the presence of mind to attempt to bind his mangled limb with an available hankerchief to attempt to stem the loss of blood. George Stephenson took charge of the train and set out toward Eccles at the incredible speed of 34mph (the engines had up until now only been travelling at 24mph).

Huskisson was left at the vicarage in Eccles whilst Wilton and Stephenson went on to Manchester to procure medical assistance. However it was to little avail, returning to the vicarage a great deal of laudunum was administered but Huskisson was told he had only a matter of hours to live. The Earl arranged for him to dictate a will which he witnessed and soon after Huskisson passed away, with his keening, distraught wife clinging to him.

Not to disappoint the public, the annual race meeting took place ten days later, without the Duke who had returned to Childwall and thenceforth foreswore rail travel.

Another visitor in 1830 was Frances Anne Fanny Kemble (1809-1893). Fanny was born into an acting family, her father Charles, uncle John were actors along with her aunt, Sarah Siddons. Her sister was an opera singer. Appearing first as Juliet, she rapidly became both popular and bankable. Although she moved in exalted circles amongst the great and the good of the day, she was also highly aware of the poverty that existed in England, especially in the Industrial North.

Lady Wilton’s mother, Elizabeth Farren had been an actress and also a friend of Fanny’s acting father and uncle. This gave her the opportunity to visit Heaton Hall, including an invitation to participate in the celebrations surrounding the inauguration of the L&M Railway, and a ride on the footplate alongside George Stephenson on an experimental journey during its construction. During the journey Stephenson flirted with Fanny, who said he would soon make a famous engineer of me… he has certainly turned my head.

During her 1830 visit whilst taken with the grandeur of Heaton Hall, she also got to see the poverty that created the wealth when she went into Manchester. Along with Fanny were two famous beauties, Anne and Isabella Forrester, who she remarked had quite beautiful bodies, with skirts shorter than the current fashion, showing off their feet and ankles, and such low cut bodices that she wished that they would slip off, so she could see her exquisite bust. During one meal during her stay she had to leave early to act in Manchester, and appeared in full medieval costume.

In 1832 she accompanied her father on a theatrical tour of the United States, where she witnessed the first railroad in the country, and married a wealthy slaveowner, Pierce Mease Butler. This was not an easy marriage, Fanny was an ardent abolitionist, on top of this he was serially unfaithful to her and they divorced by 1847. Pierse eventually sold his entire stock of slaves at a loss of $700,000, in the largest ever auction of human beings.

She returned to the Manchester smoke coming down with the penetrating cold drizzle and Heaton in 1841, whilst still a slaveowner. This heightened her political awareness and she railed against inherited wealth. She never remarried, and much of the rest of her life was spent amongst prominent lesbians of the day.

Fanny Kemble, Sir Thomas Lawrence ©NPG

The Earl died on 7 March 1882 at 08:10 at his hunting seat, Egerton Lodge in Melton Mowbray, and his was succeeded by his eldest son, Arthur Holland Grey Grosvenor Egerton, who had entered the House of Lords in 1875 as Baron Grey De Radcliffe. He died soon after and was succeeded by his brother Arthur George Grey Egerton (1863-1915).

After Arthur sold the Park in 1902 he went to live in London. The council were pleased to have avoided the fate of Trafford Park, and for once acted to save some green space for the City. It was considered a place where Mancunians could spend a holiday, the Hall was to be turned into a refreshment house. The council did however, quietly sell all the furniture and portraits at the Corn Exchange, which is why the house has a spartan look today. These were sold to brokers who made up to twenty times the purchase price in reselling them. Fletcher Moss was not impressed saying it had become the playground for the slums, music being paid for out of the rates and the grand mantelpiece in the hall was hidden behind bottles of pop.

In 1913 the Old Town Hall facade was erected at the park and at the beginning of WWI the Hall was used to quarter the City Battallions training for combat. The men complained about their provisions – being fed cold meat one day and hash the next. However, this was considered luxury compared with field conditions. They had the luxury of eating in the Great Hall. The rations were reduced to combat sizes and they were soon confined to to eat in their tents.

By 1916 the Hall was used to house convalescent soldiers, and rehabilitate them for discharge back into society with new skills. A hydropathic bath was installed to treat amputation stumps and trench foot. They also had the only whirlpool bath in the country, capable of holding 12 men with water at body temperature, where the men spent up to an hour in treatments for shell shock.

In the Second World War it was used to train aircrew. The council also stored its collection of Civic Plate there (the largest in the country) during the conflict. Perhaps unwisely as the Germans were aware of the air base and did bomb the Park. It had an important role even during the Cold War. The communications tower in the Park was intended as a key communications centre in the event of a nuclear attack, and held a monitoring station underground.

Lets see some pictures:

¹ A blackface entertainer, Thomas Dartmouth Rice, who performed minstrel slave songs in England and the US in the 1830s and 1840s. He appeared in England at the Adelphi in London in November 1836 in a play especially written for him, which celebrated the emancipation of slaves in the US.

² After falling, he lay in the brook, allowing the other riders to jump before climbing out, brilliantly remarking that he had not realised how filthy water was without whisky to accompany it.

³ No station as yet, but the same newspaper reveals plans for extending the Liverpool and Manchester line to Leeds via Halifax and Bradford and even moots that an East Coast line may be built as far as Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as a line to London from Liverpool. Who needs HS2.

@ This was the lead train on the South line. Phoenix, North Star, Rocket, Dart, Comet Arrow and Meteor with lesser guests travelled on the North line.

‘# She was a close friend and correspondent of the Duke and went to see Mr Babbage and his difference engine with him.


The Victoria History Off The County Of Lancaster Vol V, Wm Farrer & J Brownhill: 1911

The Fourth Book Of Pilgrimages To Old Homes, Fletcher Moss: Published by the author, 1908

Fanny Kemble, A Performed Life, Deidre David: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

Lancashire At War

Many of the pointers to paths I have followed on this article came from a tour of the Hall conducted by Jonathan Schofield.

© Allan Russell 2022.


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