Worsley New Hall was built for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere between 1840 and 1845. A Gothic-style mansion with formal landscaped gardens it was described in A Guide to Worsley: Historical and Topographical (1870) as 'comparable with any of the mansions of the nobility in the north of England; it is an ornament to the county in which it stands.'
The New Hall was an Elizabethan Gothic style building designed by the architect Edward Blore (1787-1879). Work began on the foundations for the building in 1839 and in April 1840 the 1st stone was laid. By the time Lord Francis was elevated to the Peerage in 1846 as the 1st Earl of Ellesmere, the building was complete.
The New Hall at Worsley was to replace the Brick Hall, built in the 1760s as the official residence of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater. This Georgian style building was located north of what is now Leigh Road, and was pulled down between December 1844 and August 1845 as the New Hall neared completion. Leigh Road was subsequently moved north and is now situated over the former site of the Brick Hall.
The New Hall cost just under £100,000 to build - the equivalent of around £6.7 million today - and was one of Blore’s biggest houses. Built from Hollington stone from Staffordshire, it comprised a symmetrical main block, three stories in height with a family wing on one side and a tower and servant wing to the other.
Blore was an established country-house architect and Tudor and Elizabethan styles were his speciality. Most of his clients were drawn from the gentry and peerage, and he had the reputation of completing schemes on time and within budget. When John Nash was dismissed from the remodelling of Buckingham Palace in 1831 owing to his extravagance, Blore was appointed to complete the project in his place.
Blore's contribution to Worsley's architecture went beyond the New Hall. Soon after the Earl of Ellesmere inherited the Worsley Estate in 1833 Blore was commissioned to make alterations to the Old Hall and to design the Garden Cottage, located to the west of the New Hall site. Between 1839 and 1845, Blore also provided the Earl with designs for the Bridgewater Trust Offices in Walkden, St Mark's Church and the Parsonage House at Worsley, schools at Worsley and Walkden Moor and a number of cottages.
The grandeur of the New Hall was matched by its gardens. These were laid out in the early 1840s and developed and enhanced over a period of 50 years.
William Andrews Nesfield (1794-1881) was involved in the development of the gardens from 1846. At the time, Nesfield was the most sought after landscape designer in the country. He first followed a career in the army where he became a skilled map maker and by 1823, had established a good reputation as a watercolour artist. In 1831 Nesfield laid out his first garden and embarked on a third career as a landscape designer. Over a period of 30 thirty years Nesfield worked on over 260 estates for some of the wealthiest and most influential landowners of the day, including Witley Court, Worcestershire; Crewe Hall, Cheshire and Castle Howard in Yorkshire.
The Gardener’s Chronicle described the New Hall and its grounds in 1846:
‘This magnificent residence lies about eight miles west of Manchester. The mansion is beautifully situated on a rising knoll, the gentle acclivity of which the approach imparts to a great degree of dignity. In the east may be seen the wild and lofty blue hills of Derbyshire, whilst the fertile county of Cheshire lies within view on the south. The celebrated Chat Moss lies in this direction formerly covered with impenetrable swamps, but now bearing the impress of civilization. Skirting the declivity of the park may be seen the famous Bridgewater Canal winding along the vale, which is beautifully skirted by rich meadows and woods, the whole forming a picture full of interest.’
Over the following years, the sloping grounds to the south of the Hall were organized into a formal terraced garden. By 1857 there were altogether 6 terraces, separated by stone balustrades and accessed by series of steps and gravel paths. The two upper terraces were designed in Nesfield’s trademark parterre de broderie, intricate patterns based on 17th-century French embroidery designs created using coloured gravels and plantings. Research by Shirley Evans has shown that the parterre on the 2nd terrace was a direct replica of a published design by the French landscape architect Dezallier d'Argenville. At the centre of this terrace was a bronze fountain of a Spanish design by the French company Val d'Osne, and originally exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851. Two further fountains were located on the 5th terrace and all three were fed from Blackleach reservoir. According to C A Brooks in Gardens of England (1857), the terraced gardens at the New Hall were ‘one of the most beautiful examples of the kind to be met with in the country’.
Beyond the formal terraced garden was landscaped parkland which extended southwards towards a lake. By 1875 the lake had been enlarged and a grotto constructed on the island, accessed via a footbridge. There was also a croquet lawn and tennis court close by the terraces, and an area of woodland towards the west of the Hall which separated its grounds from the gardener’s cottage and kitchen gardens.
The expense of maintaining elaborate parterres such as those designed by Nesfield led to decline in their popularity, and in the 1870s those at Worsley were modified. After the Great War 1914-18 and the departure of the Egerton family from the Worsley Estate, the gardens fell into decline.
The kitchen garden was constructed in the early 1840s and were used to provide flowers, fruit and vegetables for the family when in residence at the Hall. Flowers and evergreens from the garden were also given out as Christmas and Easter decorations to local churches, Sunday Schools and workhouses. By the late 19th century the garden was surrounded by a wall which could be heated with flues using the Trentham wall case design to ward off the effects of frost. The garden extended over an area of around 10 acres and had a number of potting sheds and glasshouses used to grow peaches, grapes, melons and cucumbers.
The Garden Cottage was built by the 1st Earl of Ellesmere in 1834 soon after he inherited the Worsley Estate. It was designed by the architect Edward Blore to accommodate the Worsley Hall head gardener. In the later 19th century, the Bothy was built as additional living accommodation for unmarried gardeners whose job was to ensure the boiler in the cellar of the building was constantly fuelled to heat the glasshouses. Unlike the Hall, the Garden Cottage and Bothy are still standing today.
The longest serving gardener at the New Hall was William Upjohn, who occupied the post for over 40 years. Despite retiring in 1914, Upjohn continued to live at the Garden Cottage until his death in 1939. Following Upjohn’s death, the cottage was leased by Bridgewater Estates to a Mr J Whittingham until 1948 when it was sold to Richard and Herbert Cunliffe, who used the building as an office and dwelling for Worsley Hall Nurseries and Garden Centre.
The Earls of Ellesmere welcomed many important visitors to the New Hall at Worsley. Queen Victoria visited the Hall twice, once in 1851 and again in 1857.
The Royal Visit to Worsley in October 1851 was the 1st to the area for 150 years. Arriving by train at Patricroft Station, the Queen and her party travelled to the New Hall via the Bridgewater Canal. In preparation for her arrival, the water in canal was dyed blue and the Earl of Ellesmere commissioned a Royal Barge and built a landing stage on the banks. The Ellesmere Polka was also composed by Heinrich Blumer to commemorate the occasion of the Queen's visit.
The Queen was accompanied by the Duke of Wellington, who was a close associate of the Earl. Lady Alice Egerton, the Earl’s daughter recalled the Duke’s arrival:
"I was alarmed to see the Duke struggling up the bank, he being past eighty, and I saw the moment when he would slip into the canal and so I seized hold of his hand and hauled him up. He did not say a word, but when we got up to the top, solemnly shook hands with me, which was funny."
Members of the public watched the procession from certain points along the route. John Jackson recalled to members of his family that ‘Prince Albert looked about as tall as me, very pleasant looking, the Duke not so tall but very stern.’
James Nasmyth, inventor of the steam hammer and based at the Bridgewater Foundry, Patricroft was invited to the Hall to meet the Queen during the first evening of her visit.
The Queen’s 2nd visit to Worsley took place 29 June to 2 July 1857, and coincided with her visit to the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition at Trafford Park.
Her Majesty travelled from the New Hall to the Exhibition by horse and carriage, going through Worsley, Swinton and Pendleton. The Illustrated Times described her reception at Worsley:
As the procession quitted the handsome avenue which leads out upon the Manchester road it was welcomed with inspiring cheers by the spectators, some eleven or twelve hundred of whom were tenants of Her Majesty’s noble host, the Earl of Ellesmere.
The Queen made a ceremonial visit to the Exhibition on the 29 June and gave a speech to the awaiting crowd. On 30 June she made a private visit which according to the Illustrated Times, lasted 4 hours.
Back at the New Hall, the Queen planted a North American giant redwood tree on the lawn in memory of the Duke of Wellington who had died in 1852. An English Oak was planted at the same time by Her Royal Highness, Princess Fredericka of Prussia. However in 1875 William Hindsaw, author of Eccles and Worsley: Historical and Descriptive observed that the redwood had failed to prosper:
'The wellingtonia gigantea' wrote Hindshaw, 'haughtily declines to recognise the air of England as equal to that of California, notwithstanding its royal introduction, and presents a shrivelled and attenuated form.'
Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited Worsley Hall on 6 July 1909. The occasion was a Review of the East Lancashire Division of the Territorial Army in the grounds of the Hall.
In the morning the King formerly opened the Manchester Royal Infirmary on Oxford Road. He then travelled to Worsley by car where the party luncheoned with the Earl of Ellesmere. The Review took place on land south of the Bridgewater Canal and temporary bridges were constructed over the canal to allow the Royal party access to the Royal Box and Grand Stands.
After the death of the 3rd Earl of Ellesmere in 1914, ownership of the Hall passed to his to his eldest son Lieutenant-Colonel John Francis Granville Scrope Egerton, the 4th Earl. However, the Egerton family was never again to live at the New Hall.
At the outbreak of the Great War, the 4th Earl and his wife lent the New Hall to the British Red Cross Society as an Auxiliary Home Hospital for wounded soldiers. The hospital was fitted out to accommodate up to 132 patients, and 884 patients were treated there in the 1st year alone. The large lofty rooms of the Hall were converted into wards, sitting rooms and dining rooms, and the gardens and boating lake were used for recreation. The greenhouses and kitchen gardens provided patients with fruit and vegetables and at Christmas, the Hospital was decorated with evergreens and a fir tree.
One of the patients treated at the New Hall Hospital was the former editor of the Sporting Chronicle, Colonel Richard Reading. Photographs held in Salford City Archives show Colonel Reading in the Hospital receiving the Chevalier of the Order of Leopold for an act of bravery. Reading served in the Belgian Army and was awarded the medal after he was shot in both legs during a skirmish in Flanders.
Following the end of the War and the closure of the Hospital in 1919, the Egerton family struggled with the financial upkeep of the New Hall and gardens. Hit by heavy death duties, in 1920 the 4th Earl began to break up the Hall and sold items of its furniture and fittings at auction. Furniture and paintings were moved to the Earl's other properties including Mertoun House on the Scottish Borders, Stetchworth Park near Newmarket and Bridgewater House, St James. In April 1921, the Manchester-based auctioneers and valuers CW Provis and Sons were instructed to sell the Hall’s library and surplus furniture at auction. In 1923 the Worsley Estate was sold to Bridgewater Estates Limited for £3,300,000. Efforts made by the company to sell the Hall in the 1920s and 1930s were without success.
During WW2, parts of the New Hall site were requisitioned by the War Office. In 1939 and 1940, the Hall and gardens were occupied by the 2nd/8th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers as a training ground. Around 100 troops were accommodated on the site; training trenches were dug in the grounds and the basements of the Hall used as air raid shelters. Following the departure of the Fusiliers, between 1941 and 1943, the site was used by the 42nd and 45th County of Lancaster Battalions of the Home Guard. Explosives storehouses were constructed in the grounds and the Hall was used for the practice of streetfighting. It was during this period that parts of the Hall grounds and lake were used by local scouts, and became known as Middlewood Scout Camp. In 1944, it was reported that American troops were also stationed at the Hall.
Over the course of the early 20th century, the Hall had fallen into disrepair. The formal gardens had overgrown and the fountain was badly weathered. While the Hall was under military occupation, the entrance gates on Leigh Road were damaged, windows to the building were smashed and there were reports that interior fittings had been used for firewood. Although the War Department was fined to cover the cost of the repairs, in September 1943 the top floor of the building was badly damaged by fire and the rest of the structure weakened by dry rot and mining subsistence.
In 1944 tenders were put out for the demolition of the New Hall and it was eventually sold to Sydney Littler, a scrap merchant from Ashton in Makerfield for £2,500. Demolition began in 1946 and included the dismantling of the footbridge over Leigh Road. In an agreement between Littler and Bridgewater Estates, the Hall was to be demolished to ground level and the debris used to fill up the basements. By 1949, just over 100 years after it had been built, the Hall was completely demolished. 800 tons of the Hall’s stonework was transported to Yorkshire and used in the construction of council houses in Southfield, Heptonstall.
In 1951 the War Department once again requisitioned a portion of the New Hall site. Where the servant’s wing of the Hall once stood, the Department erected a reinforced concrete bunker and two radar masts for anti-aircraft operations. In 1956 the Department purchased the site of the bunker and from 1958 to the early 1960s, it was used by the Royal Navy as a food store. In 1961, the bunker was sold to Salford Corporation and used as a joint area control centre with Lancashire County Council. After the disbanding of the Civil Defence Corps in 1968 the building was handed over to the Greater Manchester Fire Service and in 1985 leased to a local gun club who used the site as a shooting range.