100 Halls Around Manchester Part 87: Worsley Old Hall, Worsley

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Worsley is first mentioned around 1195 as Werkesleia. Hugh Putrell had a fourth part of the fee of two knights. The earliest member of the family who took their name from the place is Richard De Worsley who is mentioned in 1203. Sir Geoffrey De Worsley fought in the French Wars and married Mary De Felton around 1376. However he managed to divorce her in 1381 and she retired to a nunnery. Sir Geoffrey then married Isabel De Lathom, but died a year later, leaving a daughter, Elizabeth, aged only one. At this point Mary came out of the nunnery, saying that she had been forced to enter it, and asserted the validity of her marriage. Elizabeth was declared illegitimate and lost her inheritance. The manor then passed to Alice Massey, the wife of Sir John Massey and Sir Geoffrey’s brother. Sir John was the son of Hugh Massey of Tatton he had married Alice De Worsley around 1372 and was killed at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. The estate was inherited first by his eldest son, Thomas, then his brother Geoffrey who died in 1457. It then passed to his nephew, William. On his death the estate was inherited by his only child, Joan, and in turn her heir was also her daughter, Joan who married William Stanley.

Worsley Old Hall, Lancashire CIII, 1848 © Ordnance Survey

Joan married Richard Brereton of Malpas, her first husband having died without issue. and their second son married Dorothy Egerton the daughter of Richard Egerton of Ridley in Cheshire. Their only son died in infancy leaving no legal heir, and the manor passed to Dorothy’s father’s illegitimate son, Sir Thomas Egerton a lawyer, who became Lord Chancellor and was made Viscount Brackley. Richard Egerton died in 1598 and Dorothy married Peter Legh of Lyme.

Sir Thomas Egerton died in 1617 and his son, John was created the first Earl of Bridgewater and succeeded to the estate in 1639, dying in 1649. He married Lady Frances Stanley the daughter of the 5th Earl of Derby. Her mother, Alice Spencer was at one point second in line to the throne of England, but was passed over for King James VI of Scotland.

The second Earl, John (1623-1686) married Elizabeth Cavendish (1626-1663) and their eldest son John (1646-1701) succeded him and in turn he was succeeded by Scroop Egerton (1681-1744), who became the first Duke Of Bridgewater. His son John (1727-1748) became the second Duke but on his early death the title passed to his brother, Francis (1736-1803) who we all know as the canal building aptronymous Duke of Bridgewater.

Francis commissioned the building of Worsley Brick Hall in 1760.

If Sir John Radcliffe of Ordsall Hall can be considered one keystone of Manchester’s greatness, so can the Duke. Disappointed in love as a young man of 22 – he was spurned by the Duchess of Hamilton – he abandoned court life, eschewed the society of women, shut up his London house returned to Worsley and worked on changing the landscape of Manchester forever.

In 1757 Manchester was small. The population only numbered around 20,000. The roads were poor and food shortages were not uncommon. That winter, the weather was so severe that the Shudehill Fight erupted over food in which several men lost their lives.

Coal for heating was also in short supply. There was however a good stock at Worsley in the Duke’s mines.

He saw a good business opportunity. If he were able to construct a canal¹, it would lead to better supplies of coal and food, and enrich himself in the process. A self taught engineer, James Brindley (1716-1772) was in the Duke’s employ. He had experimented with steam engines. His journals of the time show the nature of his work and results Bad louk……, five days, middllin louk……, engon at work. He used these machines to drain fields.

James built machines for the very love of it. The Duke built canals to snuff out the memory of a love. Together with his land agent, John Gilbert (1724-1795), who lived at the Brick Hall and took it as Estate Offices, the men managed to obtain an Act of Parliament in 1759 to build a canal. In order to secure the passage of the Bill, he undertook not to charge more than 4d (2p) per CWT, which was less than half the prevailing price.

They were straight away presented with a major problem. The path of the Irwell crossed their intended route down a deep gully. Whilst the Duke favoured building a series of locks down to the river then back up, James saw the obvious answer, carry the canal across the river on an aqueduct.

People would travel for miles to see the new wonder, or Brindley’s castle in the air, and marvel at barges passing over the river towed by a single horse.

The three men would discuss their plans at the Old Hall during the long winter nights. The first Act was no use, so the men had to obtain a second. James travelled to London to discuss the matter there, setting out on 23 January 1760 and taking five days to arrive.

Eventually, at the cost of £1,000 per mile, the canal was completed. The whole project nearly bankrupted the Duke, he cut down on his servants, closed his town house, denied himself all luxury (apart from snuff), and even resorted to borrowing money from his tenants.

When it was about to be filled Brindley took to his bed at the Wheatsheaf in Stretford until he was assured all had gone well. He now set off on the greater task to continue the navigation down to the Mersey at Runcorn, so that boats could sail out to sea. He kitted himself out once more in his finery for a trip to London to negotiate a new Act of Parliament. He was successful, the legislation passed by 127 to 98, a majority of 29.

The plan was to carry the canal level all the way, and then descend in a chain of locks to the Mersey at Runcorn. The entire length cost some £220,000 (£48m in 2022) but was a financial success for the Duke.

James sadly succumbed to his hard life of long days and damp beds and died aged 56, the Duke, lived on wifeless and childless, not even allowing female servants to wait upon him. He cared little for his clothes, and constantly took snuff. He refused to eat any white meats, and did not allow any flowers of shrubbery at Worsley. Once, seeing some flowers on a return from London he promptly whipped off their heads with his cane and ordered their removal. However, he loved his canal, and often rode on it until his death in 1803, being buried in a simple grave in the family vault according to his wishes, his greater monument being the canal which bears his name.

The Old Hall became estate offices after the Duke’s death, and then was let out to tenants until renovated in 1855 when Algernon Egerton (1825-1891) moved in. He was the son of the 1st Earl of Ellesmere and sat for Lancashire South, Wigan and Lancashire South East in Parliament, serving under Disraeli as Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty.

During the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal until the early 1900s the Hall was occupied by Walter Langley Bourke (1859-1939) and his wife Ethel Kathleen Jane Freeman. Walter was the son of the Rev George Wingfield Bourke (1829-1903) and grandson of Charles Thomas Longley, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1862-1868.

During the construction of the Forth Bridge, he worked with the engineers staff and became resident engineer on the construction of the Ship Canal with his partner, James Kyle of Kyle and Burke. After the canal he became Superintendent of the Bridgewater Canal Trust, and became the 8th Earl of Mayo in 1927. A keen photographer, he was a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.

The terms of the Duke of Bridgewater’s will expired after a century in 1903 and the Worsley properties passed into the ownership of the Francis Charles Granville Egerton, the 3rd Earl of Ellesmere, Viscount Brackley (1847-1914), and his son John Egerton, the 4th Earl (1872-1944) was the final occupant.

He did not hold onto the property for long, and the Bridgewater Estates were sold in 1923 to Bridgewater Estates Ltd. The Hall became offices for Manchester Collieries and subsequently the National Coal Board.

In 1971 it became a pub, and The Old Hall specialised in Jacobean Banquets, one of my earliest office Christmas parties was held there. I’ll have to admit passing on that opportunity.

The time fashion would prefer to forget. A Jacobean Banquet at Worsley © Lee Giles 1978
A bargain at 15 shillings

The Old Hall has regained a little dignity after its 1970s fashion disasters and now serves as a Brewer’s Fare Restaurant, having been tastefully restored with Jacobean fare being replaced by a better class of chef.

Let’s see some pictures:

¹As you will remember, Hulme Hall fell victim to the Bridgewater Canal, and in 1807 also received its oak panels


A History of the County of Lancaster, William Farrer and J Brownbill :London, 1911

The Manchester Magazine, Volume I: Heywood, 1879.

© Allan Russell, 2022

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