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.