Manchester’s Hidden Mansions.
Click on Photos to enlarge.
It was a real privilege for the fifty members of the Trust to visit these three little known or accessible houses.
Heaton Park stands high above Manchester gazing down and over the metropolis. This huge area of land was purchased by Manchester Corporation in 1902 to be an open space on the outskirts of the city, and to incorporate a new reservoir to provide fresh water to the city.
It still functions in this way. There are multiple family activities available within its outer walls. The park itself is well worth a visit.
On the brow of the hill sharing these magnificent panoramic views is a house built by the young James Wyatt in 1772. Heaton Hall was the mansion created by a member of the Egerton family when he married into the family of the owners of this estate. It sits low and horizontal on the ground seeming to be part of its landscape. A central apse –like two storey Georgian bow window is flanked by two open walkways. Each of these culminates in octagonal structures.
His nephew, Lewis Wyatt, added a porticoed entrance and hall backing onto the original house with resonances of his uncle’s work.
What a magpie concoction the elder Wyatt has given us. He has scavenged throughout his contemporary world and the ancient to create his first neo-classical mansion. Egyptian motifs are married to columns and pilasters. Rams’ heads and swags abound. The chimneys are a delight. Palladian windows and an obtrusive bay are there.
It is a wonderful show, but it is internally where the real fireworks begin. The building is having a major renovation, and we explored these superlative rooms around dustsheets and crates. Wyatt uses a subdued palette of light green and blue, pink, white and gold. The walls are plain with delicate neo-classical ornamentation and roundels with wispy classical maidens. There are well-executed grisailles and stunning plasterwork ceilings. There continues to be strangely adorned capitals and large classical figures are in alcoves.
Only the Billiard Room has large inset paintings. Tellingly these are by the stage decorator, Michael Novasielski. Externally and internally the house is a set.
The rest of the wall decoration in the house is by Biagio Rebecca, and his masterpiece here is the Salon on the second floor within the Georgian bay. Here what appears somewhat clumsy externally comes to life in creating a circular domed room. The theme is Pompeian: further wispy maidens are set amongst the arabesques, which Raphael had used so successfully in the Vatican. Very few of the rooms decorated like this still exist. It is delicious.
Our next visit was the antithesis of show. Clayton Hall was to be lived and worked in. It is a small timber-framed remainder of a fifteenth century courtyard house. The building is thought to have been the lodging house of the original hall. Linked to it now is an eighteenth century building. The two were once joined, but were divided at some point into two separate dwellings.
In the 1620s the original open hall house was bought by the Chetham brothers, who proved to be such large benefactors to Manchester. The mansion passed through various members of the Chetham line. It was bought in 1900 by Manchester City Corporation. Until about ten years ago the house was still privately rented.
The original medieval moat area is in place with its medieval sandstone bridge. The Friends of Clayton Hall have dressed the brick structure as a Victorian house, but the timber-framed portion is still being renovated and interpreted.
Wythenshawe Hall was once a timber-framed house too, but was later stuccoed and then had timbers placed over the stuccoing to return it stylistically to its medieval origins. Built around 1540 by the Tatton family it was later extended and renovated by Lewis Wyatt and then Edward Blore. Ernest Simon bought the house and lands from the Tatton family in the mid-1920s, and then donated it to Manchester Corporation for the benefit of its people. This enabled them to build their long dreamed of garden village.
From 2004 Manchester struggled to keep the house open to the public. It was totally closed in 2010. In 2012 a Friends Group was formed and has worked tirelessly to open it and furnish it. In March of this year their work seemed to have been held in derision. There was an arson attack on the building. Much of the central portion of the older building was devastated.
The speed of response of the fire service and their training in heritage disaster work meant that their intervention did not create further problems. Within hours a team from Manchester, Historic Britain, the insurers and architects were beginning to put in plan for the hall.
When we arrived in early May the house was protected under scaffolding and tarpaulin. The bell tower had been removed safely to the ground. Already the team is considering what possibilities have been opened up to them and not just of the negative impact on the building.
What all these houses had in common was that they were just adjuncts to the land on which they were standing when they came into the care of Manchester. Although they may now be Listed Buildings and seen as national treasures, in times of austerity they have been too difficult for the city to adequately maintain and keep open for the public. What has been the saving factor for all of them is the enthusiasm of their Friends’ Groups. They fund raise, research the building, reach out to the city and open the buildings. This is all voluntary.
We would like to give a big thanks to Michael Plane, a fellow member, who organised these visits and gave us such a wonderful and informative day. His post, working for Manchester, involves the oversight of these buildings. His knowledge of each of them and popularity with the staff was obvious at every location. He is also coordinating the plans at Wythenshawe.
In future Events’ visits we will try to include a further look at the progress being made on these buildings.
Account of visit written by Karen McKay
Some additional photographs:
Additional Photographs by David Evans