Emerging from woodland on the outskirts of Worsley village are the remains of one of Manchester’s great lost Victorian county houses. A maze of 20 rooms and three corridors stands to head height with fireplaces, brick floors, windows and worn steps still in place; it’s as if Roman Pompeii has come to Salford. The ruins are those of Worsley New Hall, a mid-19th century country mansion built by Lord Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere, between 1839 and 1846. The hall 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.’
This was no exaggeration and certainly not merely local pride. The New Hall was designed by the noted Victorian architect Edward Blore (1787-1879), who worked on a large number of country houses and royal palaces (including Crewe Hall, Kingston Hall, Merton Hall, and Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle). After its completion in 1846 a series of terraced, formal, gardens were built to designs by William Andrews Nesfield (1794-1881). At the time, Nesfield was the most sought after landscape designer in the country. By 1857 there were six 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. Queen Victoria visited the house and it was even featured in an addition of the magazine Country Life.1
Francis Egerton was heir to the Bridgewater estate and the Gothic-style mansion and its formal gardens reflected the wealth generated for the estate by the digging of coal in the nearby Worsley mines. Nor was this the first hall on the site; rather it was the third and the second building to be built with the profits of coal. The late medieval and early modern timber-framed old hall still stands on the hill to the north. The New Hall at Worsley replaced the Brick Hall built in the 1760s as the official residence of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, of canal fame. This Georgian-style building was located north of what is now Leigh Road, and was pulled down in 1844-5 as the New Hall neared completion. Leigh Road was subsequently moved north and now runs over the site of the Brick Hall.
The community excavations are being funded by the land owners, Peel Investments North West, and are being undertaken by the Centre with the help of dozens of local volunteers, and hundreds of local school children. An open weekend on the 16th and 17thJune (10am to 4pm), will see the hall’s history brought back to life through guided tours and displays, and there will be an opportunity to capture the memories of local residents who remember the hall and its grounds. Visitors can also learn how to get involved in other local archaeological projects in the city region over the rest of the (hopefully dry) summer.
1) More information about the project and the Bridgewater Estate archives can be found at http://www.salford.ac.uk/library/about/worsley.