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The Wythenshawe Hall Investigation

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Wythenshawe Hall was a family home for nearly four hundred years. The original Hall was built around 1540 by Robert Tatton, possibly on the site of an earlier medieval building. It was further developed over the following centuries by fourteen generations of the Tatton family until 1926, when the estate was sold to provide new housing for the people of Manchester. The Hall and parkland became an art gallery and public park and have been open to the public ever since.

Today, Wythenshawe Hall is a reminder of four centuries of local history. The original oak timbers of the Tudor Hall can still be seen in places, and an intricate painted plaster wall celebrates the marriage of Robert Tatton and Dorothy Booth in 1539.

During the English Civil War Wythenshawe Hall was at the centre of a bitter local struggle. Beseiged by Parliamentarian troops. Royalist Robert Tatton defended his home for over three months during the winter of 1643-44, with the help of more than fifty servants, tenants and neighbours. It was only the arrival of two Parliamentarian cannons from Manchester that finally forced his surrender.

The Hall was confiscated and a detailed inventory drawn up of all its contents, whilst Tatton somehow escaped to Chester. Two years later Wythenshawe was returned to him, on payment of a hefty fine totalling £707.13s.4d.

The following centuries were quieter and much more prosperous. As the Tatton family acquired more land, the Hall expanded to become a much grander home, with the addition of the Library in the 1790s and Tenants Hall during the 1860s. By the 1920s the Tatton estate comprised some 2500 acres of farmland worked by tenant farmers, many of whose families still live locally.

Today, although Wythenshawe Hall is no longer a family home, it is still a centre of activity. The farmland is now one of the largest housing estates in Europe, designed in the 1930s as a 'garden city' with plenty of green spaces to provide a healthy living environment.

Different City Council departments have offices in the Hall and surrounding buildings, and since 1997 wedding ceremonies have been held in the Library. Only a small part of the Hall is now open to the public, but these few rooms provide an atmospheric reminder of the changing history of Wythenshawe.

Historical Information.
The Civil War of the 1640s brought into question not only the divine right of kings but the powers persisting in the manorial system. Since the Cheshire gentry were equally divided between royalists and parliamentarians, the war divided families and brought distress (the brothers-in-law of the then lord of the manor, Robert Tatton, were parliamentarians, whilst he was a staunch royalist), but it also brought excitement if one believes the highly dubious account of the rector of Northenden, Thomas Mallory (a descendant of Sir Thomas Mallory of Morte d'Arthur fame). The cleric is supposed to have described how, on 25 November 1643, they found parliamentarian soldiers at the church, where the east windows with the figures which included 'the form of the blessed Saint Wilfrid were. . . smashed', the font 'ground to pieces . . and our fair and goodly temple laid to waste'. (The truth is probably that the 'account' was written much later, perhaps even in the late 19th century.)

In the Domesday Book of 1086 we have the first record of Northenden and Baguley. It was made for William the Conqueror after the redistribution of land from the English to the Normans following his invasion in 1066.

The 'total waste' (wasta e tola) reflects the devastation in the north following a rebellion in 1069-70 and William's savage 'harrying of the North' afterwards.

The story of Wythenshawe is the story of the three ancient townships of Northenden, Baguley and Northen Etchells. Northenden in the north of Wythenshawe and Baguley in the west appeared in the Domesday entry above. The trinity was completed with Northern Etchells , the eastern part of Wythenshawe. Down the centuries the fortunes of the three rural townships, Northenden, Baguley and Northern Etchells were interwoven: the forces that bound them together were partly the waters of the River Mersey and the Fairywell, Baguley and Gatley Brooks and partly the matrimonial webs spun by the Tattons, the archetypal country squires of Wythenshawe Hall.

The trio of townships, by the 20th century called civil parishes, were formally welded together as the suburban Garden City of Wythenshawe when they became part of Manchester in 1931. The Tattons have now gone but, in spite of the bricks and mortar and the glass and aluminium, the rural atmosphere and clean air are still present.

The name Northenden ('Northen' to many locals) tells us that the place existed as a northern-den in the Saxon kingdom, of Mercia (whose northern boundary was the Mersey ). At this point in its course the Mersey is likely to have been forded and used by Man from the earliest times, and axe-hammers of the Bronze Age have been found in and around Northenden. Early farmers would have found the sandy soil of the Mersey terrace, which formed a shelf about a mile wide south of the river, easier to cultivate than the boulder clay just a little further south. The nearest Roman roads were at Sale (Watling Street) and Stockport but again the Mersey and its banks would have been used as a link.

Topping the small hill that rises from the Mersey at Northenden is the church dedicated to St Wilfrid, the seventh-century Bishop of Ripon who established the Roman form of Christianity in Britain . During the rebuilding of the church in the 1870s, rubble walls, possibly of Saxon origin, were found. The dedication to Wilfrid may be a pointer to the date of the founding of the church but it would be wishful speculation to assert that the saint visited Northenden.

The Civil War of the 1640s brought into question not only the Divine Right of Kings but the powers persisting in the manorial system. Since the Cheshire gentry were equally divided between royalists and parliamentarians, the war divided families and brought distress (the brothers-in-law of the then Lord of the Manor, Robert Tatton, were parliamentarians, whilst he was a staunch royalist).

But it also brought excitement if one believes the highly dubious account of the rector of Northenden, Thomas Mallory (a descendant of Sir Thomas Mallory of Morte d'Arthur fame).

The account then says that the rector, a royalist, went to stay at the ferry house (which was being used as a parliamentarian outpost - Mallory actually went to Wythenshawe Hall) 'with a godly family, the Swindells' (the ferryman was called James Dean and he too was a member of the royalist garrison).

In the Puritan purge of High Church 'idolatry', Mallory and the rector of Cheadle, Dr. William Nicholls (who was Robert Tatton's stepfather), were ejected in September 1643. Nicholls and his wife fled to Chester (where he was later appointed Dean of Chester as successor to Mallory's father). Mallory stayed and helped to garrison Wythenshawe Hall.

With the latter and Robert Tatton there were also Edward Legh of Baguley, a number of yeomen from the surrounding areas of Didsbury, Altrincham and Hale, and some tenants from Northenden, Etchells and Baguley.

The local parliamentarian regimental commander, Colonel Duckenfield of Stockport, sent 30 soldiers under Captain Adams to besiege the hall.

The siege lasted from 21 November 1643 to 25 February 1644: they finally took the hall by storm with two cannons brought from Manchester (the weather and the roads had been too bad for them to have been brought before).

On the same day someone shot Captain Adams. The dubious so-called Mallory account has it as an act of revenge by a maidservant named as Mary Webb for the death of her fiance. There are depositions (i.e. statements) amongst the Tatton family papers taken by the parliamentarians at Stockport from members of the garrison and none of them mention the incident. Captain Adams was shot, but by someone unknown. He was buried at Stockport on 27 February, according to Stockport parish register.

Robert Tatton fled to Chester , where he was appointed High Sheriff of Cheshire a few months before its surrender. He then went to support the king at Oxford , which finally surrendered to the New Model Army on 24 June 1646 .

Robert was not the only heroic member of the family. In true 'secrets in her curlers' fashion, Mistress Anne Tatton smuggled letters out of Chester . She had travelled to Chester, in March 1645 with rent moneys for her husband and stepfather, who were in desperate need of money. On 10 March Sir George Booth the elder of Dunham, a prominent Cheshire parliamentarian and neighbour, gave her a safe conduct pass out of the city for herself, her servant, William Tomlinson, and two other ladies. They were stopped at Tarvin by an enemy patrol and their baggage searched. Mistress Tatton was found to be carrying letters from royalist ladies in Chester to royalist ladies in Manchester, which were of great interest to the enemy for they mentioned the movements of a royalist army marching north to relieve Chester. Mistress Tatton and her friends were sent back to Chester but were later allowed to return to their homes.

In 1649, King Charles 1st was beheaded in Whitehall . The Death Warrant was signed by (amongst others) the Lord President of the High Court of Justice, Judge John Bradshawe who came from Marple, Stockport (MORE ). Bradshawe then served as the one and only President of the Council of State ( English Republic ) from March 1649 to April 1653. The monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican Church were all abolished. The Great Seal of England was replaced with a new one. Scotland was integrated, Ireland savaged and war declared on the Dutch.

In 1651, Charles I’s son, the future Charles II, brought down an army from Scotland. It was routed by Cromwell at Worcester and the remnants straggled back to Scotland, some crossing the Mersey at the Northenden ford. A story still heard in golfing circles tells how 11 Scottish soldiers are buried on the second fairway south-east of Simon's bridge: it is said that the site, formerly marked by a stone, can still be traced by a cross-shaped mound, 'so low that it is almost invisible'.

An early attempt at the restoration of the monarchy, the Cheshire Rising of 1659, was led by Sir George Booth of Dunham Massey. The then constable of Northenden, William Whitelegg, raised four soldiers but had problems in also raising the leys or taxes to pay them. At the Restoration in 1660 Robert Tatton was rewarded by Charles II with a silver snuff box. Two odd legacies are the Cromwell Room in the hall, at the top of the original staircase, and a Cromwell Cottage by the church, which dates only from the 18th century.

Edmund Shelmerdine, a local roundhead captain, did not accept the Restoration. He was arrested in 1662 for saying in a Northenden alehouse that ...

'...there never was such great taxes laid upon the country as now there were, and that there would never be peace and quietness till they did as in Germany and that is to rise and cut the throats of all the gentry in England, wherein he said he will be as ready as any man . . .'

Shelmerdine had fought hard to overturn the manorial system, but now he saw it re-established nearly as vigorously as before.

The account then says that the rector, a royalist, went to stay at the ferry house (which was being used as a parliamentarian outpost — Mallory actually went to Wythenshawe Hall) 'with a godly family, the Swindells' (the ferryman was called James Dean and he too was a member of the royalist garrison).

In the Puritan purge of High Church 'idolatry', Mallory and the rector of Cheadle, Dr. William Nicholls (who was Robert Tatton's stepfather), were ejected in September 1643. Nicholls and his wife fled to Chester (where he was later appointed Dean of Chester as successor to Mallory's father). Mallory stayed and helped to garrison Wythenshawe Hall.

With the latter and Robert Tatton, there were also Edward Legh of Baguley, a number of yeomen from the surrounding areas of Didsbury, Altrincham and Hale, and some tenants from Northenden, Etchells and Baguley. The local parliamentarian regimental commander, Colonel Duckenfield of Stockport, sent 30 soldiers under Captain Adams to besiege the hall. The siege lasted from 21 November 1643 to 25 February 1644: they finally took the hall by storm with two cannons brought from Manchester (the weather and the roads had been too bad for them to have been brought before). On the same day someone shot Captain Adams. The dubious so-called Mallory account has it as an act of revenge by a maidservant named as Mary Webb for the death of her fiance. There are depositions (i.e. statements) amongst the Tatton family papers taken by the parliamentarians at Stockport from members of the garrison and none of them mention the incident. Captain Adams was shot, but by someone unknown. He was buried at Stockport on 27 February, according to Stockport parish register.

Robert Tatton fled to Chester, where he was appointed High Sheriff of Cheshire a few months before its surrender. He then went to support the king at Oxford, which finally surrendered to the New Model Army on 24 June 1646.

Robert was not the only heroic member of the family. In true 'secrets in her curlers' fashion, Mistress Anne Tatton smuggled letters out of Chester. She had travelled to Chester, in March 1645 with rent moneys for her husband and stepfather, who were in desperate need of money. On 10 March Sir George Booth the elder of Dunham, a prominent Cheshire parliamentarian and neighbour, gave her a safe conduct pass out of the city for herself, her servant, William Tomlinson, and two other ladies. They were stopped at Tarvin by an enemy patrol and their baggage searched. Mistress Tatton was found to be carrying letters from royalist ladies in Chester to royalist ladies in Manchester, which were of great interest to the enemy for they mentioned the movements of a royalist army marching north to relieve Chester. Mistress Tatton and her friends were sent back to Chester but were later allowed to return to their homes.

Paranormal Activity.
Wythenshawe Hall is of course not without paranormal phenomena. Like many other Halls of its time, a range of ghostly phenomena have been reported over the years.

The ghost of Mary Webb is believed to haunt Wythenshawe Hall. The story goes that Mary's Royalist fiancee was killed in the Civil War seige of the Hall. In revenge she took a musket and shot dead Captain Adams, the commander of the Parliamentarian attackers. Mary is often described as the Lady in White. She is said to have been seen throughout the Hall and grounds. On three separate occasions witnesses claim to have seen the apparition of a floating lantern in the front and rear gardens at night. It has also be said that Mary has been heard crying in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

Other paranormal activity consists of reports of Monks which have been seen walking across the field adjacent to the Hall. One particular witness claims to have seen several Monks walking together, but we only seen from nee height upwards. They made no noise and after a minute or so faded away.

Gunshots are said to have been heard on numerous occasions and security officers reports a large rug that was fastened to the wall obove the staircase suddenly launched itself off and on top of passing visitors. On one particular occasion the security officers watched this themselves.

Many strange photographs have been taken throughout the Hall and gardens. A large number of photographs taken in the gardens at the rear of the Hall often depict strange white mist on them. The gardens at the rear are said to house a number of bodies with unmarked graves and there are rumours that a few of the larger trees were used to hang several individuals.

Finally, strange banging sounds have been heard in two of the rooms in the Hall. On investigation nothing was ever found. The library has a secret bookcase doorway which connects the library to the servant quarters via a small corridoor. Also a number of odd photographs have been taken showing strange figures in the glass windows, however there could be a rational explanation as the window glass is of poor quality (as it should be for its day) and can produce images that look odd - ie, Pareidolia.

Investigations carried out at the Hall have produced many dust orbs, several audible sounds that currently cannot be identified or found to have a rational explanation. Photographs taken at the rear of the Hall still seem to captured a strange mist on them.

Special Thanks to Wythenshawe History.
Some details compiled by Steve Mera.

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