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The District of Blackley, Manchester
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by Allen Blakeley, produced for the Blakeley ONS Gazette in 2002 and reproduced here by kind permission of the author.

In the year in which Herculaneum and Pompeii were buried under the ashes and lava emitted by Vesuvius, Mamucium [Manchester] was born Mamucium, meaning breast-shaped hill, stood on a sandstone ridge near the junction of two salmon-rich rivers, the Irwell and the Medlock.

The Romans founded the township in 79AD. The Roman army of Titus, under their General, Governor Julius Agricola, came to Mamucium from Chester. The local people of the area the Brigantes, a loosely confederated group constantly warring amongst themselves, were easily defeated by the invading army.

The forest of Arden (or the Great Wood), where boar and deer roamed freely, surrounded the five-acre fort built by the Romans This forest curved around the town in a "large amphitheatre of woods" and "it covered all the hills of Broughton [an area in Salford] and Blackley".

The fort had natural water defences and was a vital refueling stop for the legions - a sort of motorway junction with roads heading north, south and west from the fort to Ribchester, York, Buxton, Glossop and Chester. The original fort was constructed of turf and wood and was occupied by some 500 inhabitants, who mainly came not from Rome but from other parts of Europe.

The Romans remained in Mamucium until 411 when the legions withdrew from England. Modern histories believe that only 20% of the troops ever left the area.

The tiny town on the banks of the Irwell was left defenceless. There were no soldiers or fighting men to defend it from the warlike Picts and Scots and it became an easy target for the hordes from the north who attacked and plundered the town in the year 429.

Other invaders came, saw and conquered in the first millennium. King Edwin of Northumbria, for instance, subdued Mamucium in 620. The Danes came in 870, destroying the town after a desperate and bloody struggle.

In 923, the town came under the dominion of the West Saxon kings, when it was occupied by troops of Edward the Elder sent to "repair and garrison it", presumably against the Vikings. The Saxons rebuilt the town, approximately one-mile north of the original site, near to the junction of the rivers Irk and Irwell.

A relic from those days, the Angel Stone, is still visible in Manchester Cathedral. The Stone, measuring 13in. by 8in., is believed to be a typical piece of Anglo-Saxon workmanship of the 9th century, which probably marked part of the Church of St. Mary mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086.

It was almost the only remaining relic of Saxon times - until the IRA bomb of June 1996 ripped the heart out of the city centre. Archaeologists then discovered that Manchester had a much grander Saxon and medieval past than historians had suspected.

The name Blakeley is believed to be of Anglo-Saxon origin and, until this time, was no more than an expanse of forest and land to the north of Manchester. In Blakeley the Saxons "made good use of its river [the Irk], its open lands and extensive forests".

Until the time of the Industrial Revolution Salford was a more important place than "that upstart on the other side of the River Irwell" [Manchester]. After the conquest of 1066, the land between the Ribble and the Mersey was divided into six Hundreds (an administrative term) of which Manchester belonged to the Salford Hundred. To reward the devotion of his followers William the Conqueror, bestowed upon his knights, the "landed possessions of the Saxons".

To Nigellus, a Norman knight, he gave land within the boundaries of the Salford Hundred, which included the Manor of Mamecestre and within that the Township of Blakeley. Nigellus defected and the property reverted to the Crown, although Mamecestre was still held by the knight.

Note: According to Mrs G Linnaeus Banks in her book "The Manchester Man", Manchester was written as Mamecestre until the end of the 14th century.

The family of Greslet, as they are styled in the Doomsday Survey, or Gresley or Gressy as designated in the Battle Roll Catalogue of Hastings Abbey, also came to England with the Conqueror. At times this family were also known by the name Grelle.

By an alliance of marriage between Albert de Gresley and Maud, daughter of William Fitz-Nigel (Nigellus?), Baron of Halton and Widnes, the Manor of Mamecestre came into the family of the Gresleys.

In 1086, Albert de Gresley obtained a grant of the Manor of Mamecestre, which became part of the Barony of Gresley. Albert was, therefore, the first Baron of Mamecestre. Albert, his son succeeded him, and Robert de Gresley eventually succeeded him.

In 1215 Robert, a knight of the King, had a warrant for 6 harts (stags) to be taken in the Royal forest of Clive for restocking his park at Blackley and/or at Horwich Chase. The Lord's Deer Park was located at Blackley.

Robert was described as a patriotic Baron whose name ranks high in the annals of the country. In 1215 he was one of a number of Northern Barons who went to London to demand from [King] John the laws of Edward the Confessor and the rights and privileges of Henry I.

After a struggle the Barons were successful in extorting the Charter of Liberties [Magna Carta] from the King, for which cause, towards the end of 1215, the Pope excommunicated Robert and his estates were seized. The King placed Adam de Yealand in charge of the castle of Mamecestre and the Lords dependent on it.

King John survived for only a year after the signing of the Magna Carta and was succeeded by Henry III. The sentence in 1215 was repealed soon after the accession of Henry. From 1216 Robert carried a letter from the King, which granted him safe conduct.

Robert obtained from the King a grant that allowed Mamecestre the right to hold an annual fair. Robert died in 1222 and was succeeded by Thomas de Gresley, the fourth Baron of Mamecestre. Thomas died in 1247 and was succeeded by his grandson Thomas. This Thomas died in 1281 and was succeeded by his son Thomas.

In 1249 Henry III granted to Thomas de Gresley the exclusive right of fishing in the waters of the Irk.

In 1281 the park of Blakeley was described as being with trees and eyries of sparrow-hawks. During this period the wild white cattle of Britain were bred at Blakeley. Tradition had it that the wild cattle were transferred to the Abbot's Park at Whalley and this continued until the Dissolution. After this time they were removed to Gisburn Park, where their descendants remained until the 18th century.

The value of the park in 1282, was £6 13s 4d for herbage, dead wood, pannage (acorns and mast for the feeding of pigs) and aeries of sparrow hawks.

In 1301 Thomas granted a charter to Mamecestre which made it a "free borough". Amongst the benefits, this allowed the burgesses of the township permission to "nourish swine of their own breeding in the woods of the Lord, except in the forestor parks (Blakeley and Horwich) used by him, until the pannage (the feeding time of swine), free of all licence".

The death of Thomas de Gresley in 1313 ended over 2 centuries of de Gresley rule. Thomas never married, had no brothers but had a sister who had married into the La Warre family. In accordance with the will of Thomas, the Manor of Mamecestre, including the Township of Blakeley, was granted to Sir John and Joan la Warre.

In 1320, the sporting rights of the Manor of Mamecestre in Blakeley were strictly reserved for the Lord of the Manor. Reference to the land at that time states that at Blakeley, three and a half miles north of his Hall, in the rough uplands on the left bank of the Irk, the Lord had an enclosed deer park, more than 7 miles in circuit, with room for 200 deer and 2 deer leaps. Cattle were admitted to pasture in its glades on payment of sixpence a head. Iron was worked to some small extent. In accordance with the "Extent of the Manor of Mamecestre" taken for Edward II in 1322, it was noted that Blakeley had...[descriptions of 6 sections, not included here.]

The two deer leaps in the park were probably cloughs or ravines. According to Wentworth evidence from the above Extent directly points to Boggart Hole Clough and probably Alkrington Wood as being the site of these leaps.

In 1355, by an indenture dated the 31st of May signed at Swineshead, Lincoln, Roger la Warre granted to "our beloved Thurstan Holand, our kinsman for life the pasture at our park at Blakelegh, with the meadow in the same park for feeding in the said pasture his own cattle as well as those of others in the same place, on agreement, by his leave and for the ploughing of the said land and also the inclosing the end of the said park, as it was want to be inclosed". For this right, Thurstan had to "yield" 100 shillings (£5) annually, payable on the feast of St. Michael.

In 1411, "Sir John Assheton, being then Lord of the Manor of Ashton, by favour of Thomas, Lord de la Warre, by whom the estate was conditionally conveyed, was bound by the agreement to render annually twenty two shillings and one hawk, or forty shillings and a contribution called "putura", to the maintenance of the foresters of Horwich and Blackley as part of the manor of Manchester".

The Manor was held in turn by four la Warres until the last one died in 1426, a period of 113 years.

Following the death of the last la Warre, the Manor was taken over by Sir Reginald West, knight, the fifth Baron West. he was styled by Parliament as Sir Reginald West, Lord de la Warre.

On Mayday 1430 (Monday 1st May), "Sir Reginald, by deed or charter, gave, granted and confirmed to William Chaunterell, sergeant- at-law, and Master John Huntyngton, clerk (the first warden of the Church of Manchester) the whole of his park at Blakeley and all of his lands, woods and tenements called Blakeley feldes (fields), with all woods or underwoods in the said park and being to them and their heirs and assigns for ever. Paying to Reginald and his heirs yearly for the first 20 years, 39 marks 6s 8d (£26 6s 8d)afterwards 50 marks 6s 8d yearly(£33 6s 8d)".

William Chaunterell transferred the lands to Sir John Byron in 1433 for a term of seventeen years at a peppercorn rent. The Byrons continued to hold the estates until the beginning of the 17th century.

In 1473, the parks of Blakeley were held as a fee-farm. The rental of the lands was still £33 6s 8d and was paid by John Byron to Sir Thomas West, son and heir of Richard West, a knight of the King, died in 1482, and an inquisition taken at that time estimated the value of the whole estate to be approximately £100 per annum.

In 1538, Leland in "Leland's Itinerary" bore testament to the changing face of Blakeley. he stated that wild bores, bulls, and falcons were bred in times at Blakeley but due to cultivation and the clearing of the woods this was no longer the case. As a result of this, blacksmiths shops were no longer required there.

Evidence based on the design of Blakeley hall and its grounds suggest that this was built in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547). "The Hall was a spacious black and white half-timbered mansion in the post and petrel style. It was a structure of considerable antiquity and consisted of a centre and two projecting wings, an arrangement frequently met in the more ancient manor houses of this county, and bore evidence of having been erected at two distinct periods. The older portion was constructed of timber and plaster, gabled and originally protected by a bargeboard with ornamental hip knob. The other wing erected probably about the end of the sixteenth or the beginning of the seventeenth century was of brick, with quoins and dressings of stone. The windows were all square headed, chiefly of three lights, divided by mullions, and having the addition of a label or weather table."

The Hall was about 500 square yards in area and had several very large rooms. It was situated about 150 yards from the junction of the Manchester and the Rochdale road, with the road that leads to Blackley Church and what was formerly a part of the old road from Middleton to Manchester.

An oratory existed in Blackley as early as 1360. It was probably on the site that in 1548 the Byrons built a Chapel dedicated to St. Peter. The Chapel was sold to the inhabitants by Sir John Byron of Newstead in May 1611, and was then entirely rebuilt at a cost of £3,300. In 1880 it was again enlarged.

In 1593, Sir John Byron of Newstead, Co. Notts, granted a lease to John Samond of Blackley, Co. Lancs, a gentleman who was Sir John's servant, Elizabeth, his wife and Charles Nuttal son of Roger Nuttall Clarke for good and faithful service, for land at Blackley Charles Nuttall was to have nothing during the lives of John and Elizabeth Samond.

The "Manor" of Blackley, consisting of seventy messueges, (dwelling house with outbuildings and land), two fulling mills, a water mill and 1,000 acres of land to Blackley, Blackley Fields and Bottomley, was in 1598, either sold or mortgaged by Sir John Byron and his heir John Byron to Richard and William Assheton.

Blackley continued to be held "in the lands of the Byrons, as its subinfeudatory lords, until the commencement of the 17th century, when, in consequence of the "improvidence of Sir John Byron", it was "resolved to sacrifice a portion of the family estates to save the rest".

In 1604 the Blackley estate was invested in the hands of trustees. These trustees were Sir Peter Legh of Lyme, Sir Richard Assheton of Middleton and his son Richard and John Holt of Stubley. From this time, according to John Booker, the estate underwent a gradual alienation. Blackley was still, however, mentioned in the Byron Manors in 1608.

On the dispersal of the Byron estate, Blackley was sold in parcels to a number of owners. James Assheton of Chadderton acquired Blackley Hall and demesne and sold it to sir Richard Assheton of Middleton.

The eldest son of Sir Richard Assheton, Richard Assheton, Esq. (born 1577) lived, during his father's lifetime, at Mostyn Hall near Manchester and Blackley Hall near Middleton and married Mary, daughter of Sir Thomas Venables, Baron of Kinderton, a lady of exemplary piety and of great domestic virtue." Richard died on Nov. 17th 1618 and was buried at Middleton.

Francis Nuttall, who died in 1619, was described as being of Blackley Hall, near Middleton, but in the parish of Manchester. He was a lawyer and was the successor of William Assheton of Clegg Hall in the high local office of steward of the court leet and court Baron of Sir John Byron, the Manoral Lord of Rochdale. On his death he left his lands and messuages at Blackley to his son and heir, John Nuttall.

In 1623, John Nuttall leased lands in Blackley to Edward Holland of Heaton for 299 years. Amongst the field names were Howgate meadow, Blackfield and Gladen Croft.

On the 30th December 1630 the brother of John Nuttall died and was buried in Middleton. This brother was referred to as Mr James Nuttall de Blackeley.

By indenture dated 16th March 1636, Ralph Assheton, Elizabeth, his wife, and Mary, his mother, sold the Hall and closes called Bottomley, Hunt Green, Ashenhurst, Hazelbottom, etc. to Francis Leigh of Lyme for £2,000. These remained in the Leigh family until 1814. This indenture stated that this included "the mansion howse...comonly called or knowen by the name of Blakeley hall or the hall of Blakeley, situate and being in Blakely in the said county of Lancaster".

"In 1650, in Blackley near Manchester, in one John Pendleton's ground, as one was reaping, the corn being cut seemed to bleed, drops fell out of it like to blood. Multitudes of people went to see it, and the straws thereof, though of a kindly colour without, were within reddish and as it were bloody."

In 1666, there were four houses in Blackley having ten hearths each. These belonged to Mr Legh, Ralph Bowker, Mr Bowker and Edward Dawson. No other dwelling had more than 5 hearths. The population of Blackley at that time was 107 persons.

In 1714, the population of Blackley was 89 families or "about 445 persons".

For many years Blakeley Hall was occupied by tenants and sub- tenants as distinguished from owners who ceased to reside there near to the end of the 17th century. Following this time it was occupied by a family named Shaw or Shay who probably resided there until 1749.

In 1749, Blakeley Hall and 70 Cheshire acres (about 80 acres) of the estate was leased to Joseph Scholes, a farmer of Fenney Field, Chadderton, for the sum of £70 yearly to be held for and during the life of his brother Robert, who was then 18 years of age. The Scholes lived in Blakeley Hall and farmed the land until the lease expired on the death of Robert in 1815.

Around 1760 a schoolmaster named Nicolson rented a large room in Blackley Hall from the Scholes family and kept a school for 150 pupils. Nicholson was the first person to report seeing a 'boggart' (ghost) in the Hall.

This ghost was reputed to be the wife of 'Old Shay', a tenant of the hall in the early 18th century, who, if rumours were correct, had been murdered in the Hall and walked the deserted rooms at night accompanied by a black dog "making unearthly noises in the dead of night, and taking liberties with the crockery ware and doors of the rooms."

By 1774, the population of Blackley had grown to 270 families or "about 1,474 persons".

When Mr Nicholson died (around 1803), the school in the Hall was taken over by Mr James Hall. At this time the school had no less than 150 pupils and was well patronized by village children.

In 1788-9, Mr Robert Rayson in conjunction with the Rev. Mr Griffiths, the minister of St. Peter's, Blackley, opened a Sunday school in Blackley Hall.

In 1814, Blackley Hall and demesne held by the Leighs was sold in 34 lots. William Grant of Ramsbottom purchased and then in March 1815 demolished the Hall. This same month was reputed to be the time of the last appearance of the ghost.

William Grant and his brother, Charles (who were sterling millionaires) were responsible for the building of most of Ramsbottom, a market town near Bury, which is now best known for a restored railway station belonging to and operated by the East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society.

The Grants were "cheery" brothers who were well known for their "benevolence and kindness" such that they were immortalized by Charles Dickens as the Cheeryble Brothers in his novel, Nicholas Nickleby.

The Grants erected a printworks on the site of the old Hall, which was occupied for the first few years by Edmund Taylor and then by Messs Wilson and Chreighton who employed about 200 hands. After Christmas 1839 the printworks closed.

"The ghost of Shay's wife, or some other evil spirit had cursed the place, for nothing appeared to prosper on the spot."

The population of Blackley (acreage 1,840) in 10-year periods from 1801-1901 was as follows: 2361, 2389, 2911, 3020, 3202, 3503, 4112, 5174 (2,417 males, 2,757 females), 6075 (2933 males, 3,142 females), 7332 (3,472 males, 3,860 females), 9012.

The wedding dress for Queen Victoria was made, by royal order, at the Asshenhurst Works in Blackley by the firm of Messrs James Houldsworth and Co, in accordance with the designs "drawn and painted in the Queen's own hand".

In accordance with an Act of Parliament in 1890, the "City of Manchester Order", Blackley became part of the City and six years later became part of the new township of North Manchester.

The first Municipal Election for the combined townships of Blackley and Moston took place on Saturday 1st November 1890.


"The History and annals of Blackley and Neighborhood" by Peter Wentworth (Peter Ball).
"The Victorian History of England the County of Lancaster" edited by W Farrer and J Brownbill.
"Mamecestre" issued by the Chetham Society.
"History of the Ancient Chapel of Blackley" by Rev. John Booker.
"Antiquarian Notes on Blackley and Moston" by Henry Thomas Crofton.

Blakeley Courtship

There was a young lad in Blakely did dwell,
And he'd go a courting one night by hissel';
To borrow th' gray mare it was his intent,
He took Tinker's gray mare and a courting he went,
To his own mind.

He rode and he rode till he came to the door,
And Nell came t' oppen it, as she'd done afore;
"Come, geet off thy horse", she to him did say,
"And put it i' th' stable, and give it some hay,
To thy own mind.

And when he had done he came into th' house,
And he was as weet as any drown't mouse;
She rought his th'owd cheer, as he'd set in afore, (1)
"Come sit thee down by me, love; let's talk it o'er
To his own mind.

They talk'd it o'er until it was day,
He said "Ah'll goo whoam", She said "Goo thy way",
He went into th' stable, to fot his mare out,
"Now prithee, love, ta'e me to the bottom o'th fowt" (2)
To thy own mind.

When Jamie were mounted, right off he did trig,
His face was as curled as any owd wig;
He'd a chin like a chum, and an owd queer hat,
And he look'd like a monkey a-top o'th' mare's back.

1. Reached him the old chair
2. "Take me to the bottom (or entrance) of the fold" (or cluster of old houses round a yard or court), a common mode of grouping cottages in country places like Lancashire - forming the nucleus of many a hamlet or villages as population increases.
The comment of the compiler of the book from where this was taken added the following: "To courtship in Blakeley, we must say a most lame and impotent conclusion. We can only infer that James rued, and his fair one did likewise."

This poem was taken from "Ballads and Songs of Lancashire (chiefly older than the 19th century)"; the book was compiled by John Harland (1865).

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