Rogue Agent

This piece concerns the Batley estate belonging to the Egerton family, inherited from the Copley family through the first Earl’s mother and aunt. Some time between 1809 and 1826 the position of Agent in charge of running the estate was given to one Richard Walker, a man with business interests of his own. In one document he is described as a ‘clothier,’ which would mean dealer in woollen cloths, but his chief business was the running of a corn mill at Carlinghow. His business gave him a relatively comfortable lifestyle, but a salary as the Agent for the Earl of Wilton was a useful addition to his income. His link to the Heaton estate was enhanced by his marriage in 1815 to Emma Denham, daughter of Richard Denham, the Agent at Heaton; furthermore, when Richard Denham was succeeded as Agent at Heaton by his son, another Richard, it was then his brother-in-law that Walker was responsible to.

As well as running his own businesses he was responsible for managing the Earl of Wilton’s interests in the Batley area – farm rentals, collieries, quarrying, etc. However, it would seem that he advanced his own personal business interests, using his role as the Earl’s Agent, to carry out some rather questionable deals, sometimes ‘borrowing’ Egerton money to finance his own interests.

His fall from grace took place in 1842 when, while away on a business trip to York, he failed to leave enough money to pay the miners’ wages at one of Lord Wilton’s collieries. The uproar that followed this prompted several other people to make complaints about his dealings, and news of this cash-flow problem soon reached Heaton. An investigation into Walker’s financial management took place, and he was swiftly dismissed as Lord Wilton’s Agent at Batley.

One of the affairs Walker profited from was a wish by local textile manufacturers to build a new road from Dewsbury and Batley to the important wool town of Bradford, and in 1826 it was planned to apply to Parliament to form a Turnpike Trust. Walker was quick to point out to Lord Wilton that a new road would open up more of his land to development, thereby increasing his income. Lord Wilton agreed, and Walker, appointed one of the trustees for the Turnpike, was left to see to the day-to-day work involved. Walker, as Trustee of the Turnpike, had knowledge of the proposed route, and used this to inflate the price of his own land at Carlinghow, where he also bought up old cottages at a spot where the new road would intersect with an older one, a useful resting point for travellers. There he pulled down the cottages and built an inn for travellers, which he named ‘The Three Arrows’; the funding of this venture relied on his ‘borrowing’ some of Lord Wilton’s funds. When the new road was completed it never raised the income from tolls that was projected at the outset.

A footnote to this story is that Richard and Emma Walker had a son, who was named, to reflect his mother’s family, Richard Denham Walker. At the time of the scandal the broke in 1842 this son was already employed in the office at Heaton Hall. This Richard Denham Walker went on to become the Agent at Heaton in the later years of the 19th century, a well-respected man, who retired in 1888 to be replaced as Agent by his son, Walter Egerton Walker, who was still Agent at Heaton in 1902 when the park and hall were sold to Manchester Corporation.

(Information for this article is drawn from ‘Batley Pride’ by Malcolm Haigh, published 2005)

The Three Arrows

The motif of the three arrows is to be seen all around Heaton Hall, the one shown above being on the weather vane above the stables. This motif also features in the interior decoration in various places in the Hall, as shown in the next picture below.

The choice of this decorative motif at Heaton Hall arose from Thomas Egerton’s keen interest in the sport of archery. He was a member of the Lancashire Archers, and was a serious competitor in archery competitions at a national level. A report in The Star newspaper in July 1791 describes one such competition held over five days, in which Lord Grey de Wilton (Lord Wilton’s title before he was created Earl in 1801) was one of the leading contenders.

The following is an account of the Archers’ meeting held at Hagley Hall near Rugeley, under the patronage of the Earl of Aylesford, Lord Grey de Wilton, and Ashton Curzon Esq. On Monday, from the severity of the weather, the meeting was but thinly attended; but on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, there was a great assemblage of Ladies and Gentlemen of the first distinction. The Archers, the Woodmen of Arden and Broughton for Warwickshire, and the Lancashire Bowmen, shot three grand matches on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; the Lancashire Archers won onWednesday and Friday; and the Warwickshire Archers on Thursday – which three days were well contested on both sides. The ladies shot till dinner time on Wednesday and Thursday, and the whole was a sight truly elegant. The Archers and company were very satisfied with the spot of ground which they have for seven years; and the annual meeting will be held on the first Monday in July, which is expected to be more numerous and splendid than any similar one in England. The Gentlemen and Ladies breakfasted and dined in the booth, very dry, and the Gentlemen Archers continued shooting till nine o’clock at night. Among the most expert were the Earl of Aylesford, Lord Grey de Wilton and Sir Nigel Gresley.’

Such was Lord Wilton’s love of, and prowess in, competitive archery that he commissioned a portrait of himself dressed as an archer, in the pose of the Apollo Belvedere, a sculpture he saw in the Vatican Museum while he was on his first tour of Europe in 1784-85 and which he greatly admired. For many years this portrait hung in the entrance hall at Heaton, though now it is kept in Manchester Art Gallery.

Lord Wilton as an archer

This is a somewhat idealised view of the landscape at Heaton, with Heaton Hall to be seen in the background.

Heaton Hall and the Military

Heaton Hall has a long association with the military, beginning during the time of the 1st Earl, whose portrait below shows him in the uniform of colonel of his own regiment, the Royal Lancashire Volunteers.

When the American colonies declared independence in 1776 and war began, a war in which France soon entered as an ally of the Americans, a patriotic meeting in Manchester pledged to raise a regiment to fight in the colonies. Sir Thomas Egerton of Heaton Hall pledged £500, (equivalent to £80,000 today), and a regiment was raised and equipped at the expense of the people of Manchester. The Royal Manchester Volunteers, soon to be known as the 72nd Regiment of Foot, did not in fact serve in the colonies, but were sent to garrison Gibraltar, where they remained until 1783, at which time the regiment returned home and was disbanded.

Shortly the founding of the Royal Manchester Volunteers Sir Thomas raised his own regiment, the Royal Lancashire Volunteers, of which he was colonel. This was a fencible regiment, destined only for home service, but thereby freeing regiments of the regular army for service abroad rather than garrison duty in England. Its first posting was in the northeast of England.

When the war ended in 1783 the regiment was disbanded. However, six years later there was revolution in France, where the monarchy was overthrown, and by 1794 Britain was again at war with France. Thomas Egerton, now ennobled as Lord Grey de Wilton, raised the Royal Lancashire Volunteers for a second time, during which period the regiment saw service in Dublin. A brief peace in 1802 did not last long, and in 1803 Lord Wilton had his third experience of the military life when he formed the Heaton Volunteer Artillery.

Although that was the end of Lord Wilton’s involvement in military affairs it was not the end of Heaton Hall’s military use. During the nineteenth century peacetime territorial regiments were established in many large towns and cities, and the Manchester territorials sometimes were joined by units of the regular army for war games in Heaton Park. Such events were often watched by large crowds.

During the 1st World War Heaton Park, now owned by Manchester Corporation, was again put to military use when it became a holding and basic training camp for recruits of the Manchester Regiment. Later in the war Heaton Hall was used as a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers where pioneering therapies were used.

In the 2nd World War Heaton Park was used again, this time by the Royal Air Force as a temporary camp for new fliers prior to their being sent to Canada for training.

Brewing Beer at Heaton House

Until the middle of the nineteenth century most water was unsafe to drink. Our public supplies of clean water today are the result of numerous outbreaks of cholera and typhoid that prompted the Victorians to invest in water supply infrastructure.

Most people, even children, drank beer, a safe alternative to water.  Large houses such as Heaton had long brewed their own beer to provide drink for the household; not just for the family but also  for  the many servants who lived in the house.  Some houses had a separate brew house, but most  had the beer brewed within the house.  Since there are no records of a separate brewhouse at Heaton we must assume the beer was brewed in the west wing. (shown below)

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Three strengths of beer were normally produced.  The first mash resulted in a strong ale that was usually bottled and put away for special occasions.  After the first brew had been drawn off the mash, extra malt would be added and a second brew made, the result being a medium strength ale.  Finally the mash would be used for a third time, this time with no extra malt, and this would produce what was called table beer or small beer, a much weaker brew for everyday use, by adults and children alike.

Brewing was often done in the winter months, between November and March, and a master brewer would be brought in for the occasion to oversee the work.  A letter dated to September 1810 is  request for the services of a brewer employed by David Claughton of Haydock Lodge;    ‘Sir, My Lord Wilton’s tenant Thomas Widdows of Kenyon called upon me some days ago to ask my permission for the Brewer at Haydock Lodge to go to Heaton to brew for his Lordship….. I have only to beg you will inform me how soon the Brewer will be wanted and for what length of time..’

It would seem that Lord Wilton preferred his own Heaton beer to that in London.  As an MP he spent much of his time living in London.  In 1775 he wrote to his agent at Heaton, William Rogers, ‘…. I have heard nothing to the two barrels of beer that were sent to town before I left home, as they were consigned to Mr. Whittaker at Liverpool.  Pray write to him to know whether he heard anything of them and by what ship he forwarded them to London…’

A letter dated January 1777 is a reply sent to Heaton about a request to purchase ale casks from Thomas Whittaker of Liverpool.

‘Sir,     I  am favoured with your of the 3rd Inst and observe Sir Thomas is in want of 8 or 10 ale casks of large size for the purpose of holding ale.  Staves and casks have for the year or two past been so very scarce and dear that all the old pipes and hogsheads have been bought up for the use of the shipping and I do not think they would suit your purpose, being very slender and indifferently made; so they would not last long in a Gentleman’s cellar, besides the risk you run of having the drink spoiled by them.  If Sir Thomas would choose to have casks that will endure I would recommend it to him to buy a quantity of the best oak pipes and staves and get them made up by a cooper at his own House.  The staves before they are worked  ought to be boiled for a considerable time, and afterwards dried upon a kiln.  When the casks are made they should be repeatedly filled with boiling water and that continue for some time till the sap be entirely taken out.  By this means the ale cannot possibly be affected.  Before the casks are used they should be well painted on the outside and under the hoops before they are driven on.  And by continuing to do this as often as the casks are empty, you will find the wood will endure as long as the hoops.  If Sir Thomas be not in immediate want I would advise him to defer laying in a stock of casks a year or two, as staves have never been dearer than at present.’

Sir Thomas, of course, was Lord Wilton’s title before he receive a peerage.  The statement referring to the shortage of casks and the steep rise in prices of barrel staves, and much existing stock having been ‘bought up for the shipping’, along with the date 1777, would point to the effect of war and an expansion of the navy, the war with the American colonies having begun the year before;  with the French support for the Americans meaning that Britain was now also at war with France.

The Heaton Park Races

Horse races were held in Heaton Park during the early adult years of the 1st Earl, but do not appear to become a regular fixture.  It was during tenure of his grandson, the 2nd Earl, that the Heaton Park Races became a regular fixture in the racing calendar during the 1820s and 1830s.

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The picture shown above, taken from a painting by John Fernley, a popular painter of racing pictures, shows the paddock area near the start and finish of the races, somewhere near today’s boating lake. (Heaton Hall is visible on the skyline)

Following are some excepts from the Manchester Guardian.

September 29 1827;  ‘The seat of the Earl of Wilton, at Heaton Park, near this town, was, on Tuesday and Wednesday  last, the scene of much festivity, in consequence of the races with which the noble earl generously treated his neighbours, and which, we understand are intended to be repeated every year.’

September 27 1828;  ‘The races at Heaton Park, notwithstanding the short time they have been established, are now beyond dispute the most important private races in the kingdom, and afford a very agreeable treat to the sporting community in this neighbourhood ….. and the manner in which they are attended sufficiently manifests that the amusement which the liberality of the noble owner of the park affords to his neighbours, is duly appreciated by them.  The meeting for the present year took place on Thursday and yesterday, and was on each day numerously and respectably attended.  For the purpose of keeping the spectators a little more select than heretofore, tickets of admission were issued, and no person, even with a ticket, was admitted, unless  he presented himself at the gate either on horse-back or in a carriage.  Owing to this latter regulation, almost everything in the shape of carriage or saddle-horse which could be hired in this town, was engaged for the purpose ….. (The  scene in the park was)  ….  enlivened by the number of carriages of every description and the crowds of well-dressed persons, on horseback and on foot, who crowded about the course.’

September 5 1838:  ‘These rapidly approaching races are becoming the leading topic in sporting circles.  The list is richly studded with valuable prizes; and there can be no doubt the company will be great, and the show of horses, in number and character, all that could be well wished for …… The Earl and Countess of Wilton are expected to arrive at Heaton House tomorrow or Thursday.’

The Heaton Park Races had been held annually since 1827, but despite the glowing reports in the Manchester Guardian, there had been rowdy behaviour and accusations of cheating.  One such incident had led to a duel between Lord William Bentinck and Squire Osbaldeston.  Perhaps the proximity to Manchester and its growing manufacturing population led to a decline the Heaton Races’ popularity among the landed racing fraternity; perhaps Lord Wilton’s sporting interests in Leicestershire made a continuance of the Heaton Races less of interest to him.

Whatever the reason, after 1838 the Heaton Races were transferred to Aintree, where they still continue to this day, the highlight being the Grand National.

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Close-up of the John Ferneley painting of the Heaton Park Races, showing Heaton Hall in more detail.

Travel from London to Heaton; 1785 and 2019 compared.

Lord Wilton was a regular traveller between Manchester and London, and indeed, elsewhere.  Before he was created a peer in 1784 he was an MP for Lancashire; afterwards, of course, he was still in Parliament, but in the House of Lords.  So travel between London and Heaton was a regular occurrence, and in those times politicians did not receive a salary or expenses but were meant to support themselves out of their own means.

Fortunately for the historian, Lord Wilton kept detailed records of his expenditure on his travels which provide an insight into what long distance travel was  like in the 18th century.

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Below is a transcript of a journey Lord Wilton, along with his wife and daughter, made in July 1785 from London back to Heaton, in a chaise such as the one shown here, (which can still be seen in the stables at Heaton). The journey was made in a series of ‘posts’, where horses were changed for new teams at regular intervals, the distances of which varied according to the terrain.

23rd July   Post horses to Aylesbury, 3 posts, 48 miles          £2  –  19  –  6

24th July    Post horses to Aynho, 3 posts, 37 miles                £2  –  14  –  0

25th July     Post horses to  Farthinghoe, 1 post, 10 miles               14  –  0

26th July     Post horses to Coventry, 3 posts, 36 miles           £2  –  10 –  6

27th July     Post horses to Derby, 3 posts, 43 miles                 £3  – 12  –  6

28th July     Post horses to Leek, 2 posts, 27 miles                   £2  –   0  –  6

29th July     Post horses to Heaton, 3 posts, 35 miles               £2  –  2  –  6

Total expense of Post horses                                                      £16 –  15  –  0

The next set of expenses that Lord Wilton recorded were the ‘expenses of living with my family on my journey down to Heaton.’

23rd July    Breakfast at Uxbridge                                                        7  –  0

Dinner at Missenden                                                £1  –  4  –  6

24th July     Supper and breakfast at Aylesbury                       £1  –  8  –  6

Dinner at Stowe                                                         £1  –  5  –  6

25th July      Supper and breakfast at Aynho                             £1  –  6  –  0

26th July      Dinner and breakfast at Banbury                         £2  –  4  –  0

Dinner at Warwick                                                   £1  –  1  –  0

27th July      Supper at Coventry                                                  £1  –  1  –  6

Breakfast at Atherstone                                                    7  –  0

Dinner at Burton upon Trent                                         15  –  0

28th July      Supper and breakfast at Derby                             £1  –  17  – 6

Dinner at Ashburn                                                             18  – 6

29th July      Supper at Leek                                                          £1  –  1  –   0

Breakfast at Macclesfield                                                 16   – 0

Some sandwiches at Stockport                                         7  –  0

Total expense of living costs on the jourey                             £15  –  9  –  0

The total of travel costs from London to Heaton                   £32  –  4  –  0

How do these statistics compare with travel today?  A rail journey from London to Manchester is about 2 hours 20 minutes; by car it might take 4 hours.  Petrol for a car journey, depending on the model of car, might be £30 to £40.  A rail ticket, if bought on the day, would cost on average (June 2019) £170 per person, (or £510 for a party of three, the number who travelled in Lord Wilton’s chaise).  If you book well in advance and look for offers, travelling at times set by the rail company, the price can drop to less than £40 per person.

That looks expensive in comparison with Lord Wilton’s £32, until inflation over 200 years is taken into account. Using the Bank of England historic inflation calculator, which shows an average of 2.2% inflation since 1785, the £32 that Lord Wilton spent on his seven day journey from London to Heaton is the equivalent of £4,936 in today’s money.

Farthinghoe, Northamptonshire.

Farthinghoe is a small village in Northamptonshire that is situated on the road between Brackley and Banbury.  The Egertons of Heaton Hall had owned the Farthinghoe estate long before they acquired the Heaton estate in 1684.  Quite conveniently it lay on the route between London and Lancashire, and Thomas Egerton, (7th Baronet and 1st Earl) frequently called in there in his journeys between London and Heaton.

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The Church of St. Michael and all Angels, Farthinghoe.

Possibly the estate came into the family in 1610 when Sir Rowland Egerton (1577-1648), the 1st Baronet, married Lady Bridget Grey of Wilton Castle.  He had been born in Cheshire, but died in Farthinghoe.  Lady Bridget, who was born at Wilton Castle in Herefordshire, also died at Farthinghoe, and was buried there.  Lady Bridget was the sister of the 15th Baron Grey de Wilton who was attainted for his part in the Rye House Plot and lost his title and lands.  It was this title that the Egertons always maintained should rightfully have passed to them through Lady Bridget, and when Sir Thomas, the 7th Baronet, was ennobled in 1784 he took the title Baron Grey de Wilton, subsequently being raised to the Earl of Wilton.

It would appear that for the early part of the seventeenth century Farthinghoe was often the home of the family.  Sir John the 2nd Baronet was born there, and Sir John the 3rd Baronet may have been born there, and was certainly Christened there.  But after the acquisition of Heaton in 1684 and the building of a new hall  there, (the building prior to the existing one), Heaton became the principal abode of the family.

To some extent the Farthinghoe estate may have suffered neglect after that. In 1771 and 1772 the young Sir Thomas Egerton, having just come of age, commissioned two surveys of the land at Farthinghoe, possibly with the view of selling the estate to provide funds for the new Hall he was intending to build at Heaton.

The 1771 survey described the extent of the estate.  There were seven farms rented out to tenant farmers; a house and pasture with two small parcels of land; a house with shop and stable; an inn; a cottage rented out without land; and  a small plot of land without buildings rented to a freeholder.  This first survey was a preliminary one.  The survey made in the following year described the condition of the land and made suggestions for improvement, suggesting there had been some neglect of recent years.

‘This Estate… is naturally good land and had formerly been open field, perhaps 200 years ago, and applied to the growth and getting of corn ….. and some of the lands by too frequent  tillage are become poor, so that they now only grow a small quantity of corn on a deal of land. …… On the grazing farms they milk many cows but having no convenience fit to  make cheese but take off the butter and feed hogs with the milk, which form of management appears (to me at least) wasteful, as I think butter, cheese and hogs would pay more than butter and hogs only. ……. Also I think it would be right to admit a small quantity of tillage on the grass farms, with the restriction not to take more than two crops, and lay it down with white clover. ….. The hedges (which are the landlord’s property) are very much overgrown and want to be cut.’

The valuation placed on the estate was a net annual rental income, after land tax, of £800 which, using the practice of valuing land as thirty times the annual income, gave the sale value of the estate as £24,000 (about £1.5 million at today’s values).  As things turned out, young Sir Thomas Egerton did not sell the estate.  About the same time he inherited another estate from a cousin, and that was sold to help finance the rebuilding of Heaton Hall during the 1770s.

On his frequent journeys between London and Heaton Thomas Egerton frequently called in at Farthinghoe to keep in touch with his people there.  In the account of his travel expenses that he kept, he recorded that on his journey back to Heaton after his grand tour in Europe, he visited Farthinghoe on 25th July 1785, where he gave a guinea to the bell-ringers, two guineas to the poor of the parish, and five shillings to the sexton of the church. The journey from London to Heaton took about eight days, with overnight stays along the way.  He did not stop overnight at Farthinghoe, but at Aynhoe the night before, and at Banbury the night after.

 

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Egertons Elsewhere

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This column, situated in the National Trust’s 5,000 acre Ashridge Estate in the Chilterns, is a memorial to Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater (1736-1803).

There are several branches of the Egertons, the Egertons of Heaton being the senior branch. The branch that Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater, belonged to had been Earls of Bridgewater since 1617.  The dukedom was created for his father in 1720, and Francis inherited when his elder brother died childless.  He too died childless, so the dukedom died with him, though the Earldom was inherited by a cousin.

Towards the end of his life he decided to make improvements to the Ashridge Estate.  He commissioned Capability Brown to landscape the parkland, and pulled down the old house with the intention of building anew.  However, he died before a new house was started, and a new house was never built.

His main residence was in Worsley, and it was from there that he pursued his life’s work, work that earned him the nickname ‘the Canal Duke.’  He employed the engineer James Brindley and built Britain’s first canal, linking his coal mines at Worsley to the market for coal in Manchester.  The Bridgewater Canal was opened in 1762, and was a huge success.  Between 1762 and 1776 the Duke extended his canal to Liverpool.  As a result of the success of his canal the Duke became the richest nobleman in Britain.

None of this would have been lost on young Thomas Egerton of Heaton Hall, who was still a schoolboy when the canal was first opened.  When he came of age in 1770 and began the rebuilding of Heaton Hall he made use of the Bridgewater Canal to transport building stone from quarries in Lancashire; and later when he stocked his home with furniture from Gillows of Lancaster, the furniture was shipped from Lancaster to Liverpool, and then came by the canal to Manchester.

The success of the Duke of Bridgewater’s canal, and the financial gains it brought him,  sparked off a spate of canal building throughout the country.  Thomas Egerton of Heaton Hall followed his distant kinsman’s example. In 1790, along with the Earl of Derby and a group of businessmen from around Manchester, he was instrumental in getting an Act of Parliament to allow the setting up of the Manchester, Bury and Bolton Canal Company, in which he was one of the three largest shareholders. This canal would, primarily, allow him to transport coal from the mines he was developing in Radcliffe, as well as providing  a source of income from the profits of the canal itself.

The Brontes of Haworth and Lord Wilton

Although there is quite definitely no direct link between the Egerton Family of Heaton Hall and the Bronte sisters, there is a somewhat tenuous link which may have provided some inspiration for the aristocratic characters in their novels.IMG_0565

(Above: Haworth Church viewed  from beside the Bronte Parsonage Museum)

An article by Sarah Fermi appeared in ‘Bronte Studies – the Journal of the Bronte Society’ in 2005 Vol.30 Issue 1 entitled ‘The Young Brontes, Lord Wilton and the Manor of Oxenhope’ which examined how the presence of the young 2nd Earl of Wilton, who visited the area in the 1820s, may have influenced the early writings of the Bronte children, who would certainly have been aware of the presence of a group of young noblemen staying in what was at that time, a sleepy backwater.

In the valley below the hilltop village of Haworth is the village of Oxenhope at the upper end of the Worth Valley, quite remote until the middle of the eighteenth century. In his ‘History of Oxenhope’ (1996) R. Hindley writes,

‘Until some unrecorded date in the Middle Ages Oxenhope was just a manor, ie. a legal unit of land ownership and management – usually under one Adam of Copley (or Batley) and his heirs …. until the 1770s. ….. The records then show the lordship of the manor divided among absentees such as the Egerton family of Cheshire, the Earl of Wilton, and Abraham Balme of Bradford.’  Hindley also notes that, ‘There is little evidence of properly built roads in the upper Worth Valley before the mid eighteenth century.’

Part of the ancestral lands belonging to the Egertons of Heaton were the Batley Estates, and the acquisition of lands around Oxenhope would have been as part of that estate.  Perhaps the prime value of a remote moorland valley and the bleak hills above would have been as a shooting estate.

A letter addressed to ‘Mr. Rushworth, Gamekeeper of Oxenhope, nigh Haworth, nr, Bradford’ was sent by Edward Sykes of Dewsbury, Lord Grey de Wilton’s Agent for the Batley estates.

‘Sir,     I have been up in Lancashire & have seen my Lord Grey de Wilton & Lady Assheton & returned home last night.  I have orders to acquaint you that you may have the whole of the Free Rents as your salary for your being Gamekeeper and Bailiff.  Those rents amount to between 9 & 10£ annually.  ……..  As Lord Grey & Lady Assheton will have their House full of company the next & following weeks, they desire you will procure, if possible, & send a few Moor Game & a few Partridge; and they desire you will send them by the old stage coach from Bradford directed to the Right Honourable Lord Grey de Wilton at Heaton House near Manchester, which goes past his Lordship’s Gates.  And I am to request you will pay the carriage of them & put down upon the direction the words carriage paid.  And I will repay you what you may so pay the first time you and I see each other – Pray observe these directions and do your utmost, and let me remind you that you can’t send too many, nor too often.’img869

(Above: Keeper’s Lodge, high on the moor above Oxenhope)

It is unlikely Thomas Egerton, the 1st Earl of Wilton, ever visited his lands in Oxenhope. It was his grandson and successor, the 2nd Earl of Wilton, who had a direct connection with the area.  The second Lord Wilton inherited Heaton Hall and all the other Egerton estates, including the Batley estate, in 1814, on the death of his grandfather, at the age of fifteen.

Lord Wilton was, throughout his life, a keen sportsman, and hunting and shooting were something that brought him to Oxenhope and the surrounding moorland during the 1820s.  In 1823 he had a shooting lodge built in the village, which he used as a base for his activities.IMG_4245

(Above: Wilton House, Oxenhope)

IMG_4246(Above: date plaque over the front door of Wilton House)

At this time the Bronte children were just that – small children, but the presence of a group of young members of the nobility, Lord Wilton and his party,  would not have escaped their notice in a small, tight-knit community.

Sarah fermi’s paper “addresses the probability that the young Brontes’ early obsession with the nobility, as evidenced in their youthful writing, may have had a source closer to home than had previously been supposed. ….. Recent research reveals that the Haworth Township itself was closely connected to the aristocracy through the ancient, and still observed, custom of the manorial shooting rights on the moors.  The manor of Oxenhope is the principal case in point.”

IMG_4247(Above: the stables to Wilton House – now converted to a private dwelling)

After visits to the area in the 1820s the second Lord Wilton’s sporting interests moved elsewhere; notably horse racing, hunting in Leicestershire, and yacht racing, and visits to the Haworth Moors ceased.  But their legacy may have lived on in the writings of the Brontes.

THE DIVERSION OF ROADS AROUND HEATON PARK 1777-1804

When you look at the photograph of the path down to the Smithy Gate entrance it is hard to imagine that until 1804 this was part of the main road between York and Chester.

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The road came up from Smith Lodge, past the point where this photograph was taken, and continued down to Heaton Gate, which was located somewhere a little higher up than the tram museum, then onwards to Bowker Bank.

The road was known as the Heywood Turnpike, or sometimes the Crumpsall Turnpike, with a toll house near Blackley Lane. Turnpikes were a means of improving roads in the 18th century, with local investors, usually landowners, paying to improve and maintain the roads, then being reimbursed by collecting tolls from travellers. The chief, perhaps sole, investor in the Crumpsall Turnpike was Sir Thomas Egerton.  In a March 1778 he wrote from London to  his agent, Willam Rogers, ‘The interest from the Crumpsall Turnpike is now due.  I wish you would call upon Mr. Tunnerdine (his Manchester lawyer) and receive it from him, and get a bill of short date and send it to me.’

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Travellers along the road would have had this view of Heaton Hall, but from as early as 1777 Sir Thomas had it in mind to divert the course of the road and move it out of sight of the Hall. A survey was made in that year, and a map produced, showing the proposed line of the new roads, but nothing other was done until 1783 when the map was submitted  to the Manchester Court of Quarter Sessions, as a result of which the following was added in the blank half of the map;

‘We Richard Towneley and James Bradshaw Esquires two of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace ….. having upon view found that a certain part of an ancient pack and prime otherwise a horse and foot or drift highway within the Parish of Prestwich ….. through the grounds of Sir Thomas Egerton of Heaton House ….. may be diverted and turned so as to make the same more commodious to the public ….. having received the consent of Sir Thomas to the said new highway being made through his land ….. and do so order that the same shall be done by and at the expense of Sir Thomas Egerton who has been accustomed to repair and mend the said … highway.’

Although legal permission to divert the road had been given, construction work did not begin until 1799, by which time Sir Thomas had become, first Lord Grey de Wilton, then the Earl of Wilton. Work on the new highway was completed in 1803, at which time it was officially inspected and given legal approval.

‘We the undersigned being Justices of the Peace …. having this day viewed a certain diversion of the Turnpike Road from Manchester to Rochdalesuch diversion commencing at or near the Three Mile Stone at Bowker Bank and extending thence to or near the Toll Gate at Blackley Lane end and having also viewed the continuation of a certain lane or way called Sheepfoot Lane into the new line of the road made by such diversion Do hereby certify that the diversion and continuation are made and completed according to the agreement made between the Trustees acting within and for the Manchester District of the said Turnpike road and the  Right Honourable Earl of Wilton (late Lord Grey de Wilton) at a meeting of the said Trustees held at the Griffin at Cheetham Hill on the 21st January 1799 and entered in the order book of the said Trustees which order book is now produced and read to us and the plan there referred to also exhibited to us and given under our hands the twenty second day of September one thousand eight hundred and three.’

The line of the new road is that stretch of Middleton Road running between the M60 and Bowker Bank (much of which has been widened considerably since 1803).  The lower half of Sheepfoot Lane was also constructed at that time as part of the work.

One other road was included in the diversion work.  The Bridle Path, and its continuation, Whittaker Lane, was the route from the old main road to Prestwich Parish Church, but that part which lay within Heaton Park (now the road up to the gate at Heaton Park Station) was diverted to go round the northern boundary of the park, continuing from Old Hall Lane to St. Mary’s Road.  When the reservoir was built in the early 1900s the Bridle Lane was diverted yet again, to come out on Heywood Road on the way to Simister.

It was after the diversion of these roads that the wall around Heaton Park was built.