The Agents

There is a group of men about whom we hear very little in the printed sources, and of whom there are no known pictures, yet these men were of extreme importance at Heaton Hall.  They were the Agents, the men responsible for the day-to-day running of the  Egerton family estates.

Perhaps the most important of these was William Rogers, the only one to have the designation ‘Agent and Steward.’  Thomas Egerton (later the 1st Earl) inherited at the age of seven, so the running of the estate was in the hands of his mother and William Rogers. No doubt while young Thomas was growing up William Rogers instructed him in the management of a landed estate, and later letters from Sir Thomas to William, once Thomas was an adult, show an obvious affection and trust.  Sir Thomas always addressed his letters to ‘William’, whereas letters to other agents in later years were more formal and always addressed the agent by his surname.

William Rogers oversaw the rebuilding of Heaton Hall in the 1770s and 1780s in the absence of Sir Thomas, since the latter spent much of the year in London, as MP for Lancashire. Being the agent was in some ways like a family business, and the son of an agent was likely to succeed his father in the post.  William had two sons working as ‘clerks’ at Heaton.  One, unfortunately, was killed in an accident in Liverpool while there on estate business.  The other son took over the role of agent from William in the 1790s, but with reluctance Lord Wilton had to dismiss him for alcoholism. It was not so much that he was taking freely from the wine cellar, more that he was not capable of the very responsible position he held.

After the dismissal of the younger Rogers, the available records are not clear about who filled the role of agent.  A Mr. Ellis is mentioned in letters, as is a William Crossley, both in the early 1790s.  Perhaps they were agents; perhaps they held other positions, such as surveyor.  But by the mid 1790s Richard Denham was the agent, and he was followed by a second Richard Denham, whom Baines’ Directory of 1825 records as living at Ainsworth Lodge and being Agent to Lord Wilton.

Richard Denham worked as agent until 1842, when he when he was succeeded by a Mr. Hampson, who remained as agent until 1873.  After 1873 the post of agent was held by Richard Denham Walker.  This man was the son of Mr. Walker who was the agent at the Egerton family’s estate in Batley, Yorkshire, who had married Emma Denham, daughter of the elder Richard Denham.  He was succeeded in turn in 1889 by his son Walter Egerton Walker, who was the agent at the time Heaton estate was sold to Manchester Corporation in 1902.  Behind the altar in St. Margaret’s Church is a memorial to his son, who was killed in action during the first World War.

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The door shown here at the far end of the entrance hall was the door into the Agent’s office.  It was from here that all estate business was conducted.  Whereas all other rooms in Heaton Hall have wooden floors, the entrance hall has a floor of flagstones. There was good reason for this. There would be frequent callers on business to see the agent or his clerks; tenant farmers would come here to pay their rent; business men who rented the various mills belonging to the estate paid their rents here, or consulted about changes they wished to make; estate workmen would come in for instructions; and once a week the managers of the coal mines in Radcliffe would come to pay in the money they had taken from sales.

Lord Wilton also owned estates in Batley, as mentioned above; Holywell in North Wales where he had lead mines; Fathinghoe in Northamptonshire; and the original Egerton family estate, Wrinehill in Staffordshire.  Each of these estates had an agent in charge, and each of these agents had to submit their accounts and transmit income from the estate they managed to the agent at Heaton.  The agent at Heaton ran the Heaton estate, the largest, but ultimately he was responsible to Lord Wilton for all the estates.