MediaCity may grab the headlines but Ordsall Hall leads Salford's regeneration
PUBLISHED: 00:16 11 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:16 20 February 2013
Media City has grabbed the headlines but an 800-year-old building laid the foundations for the area's development. Emma Mayoh visits Ordsall Hall MAIN PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON
It is difficult to imagine a time when Salford was nothing but fields. It is a place that seems to have been continually developed throughout its history with cranes and building machinery a permanent fixture on the areas skyline. And as the vast Media City project rumbles on, thats something that is unlikely to change.
But architects working on the multi-million pound redevelopment at Salford Quays may want to take a stroll down the road to Ordsall Hall. This beautiful manor house has been standing for more than 800 years. It has survived the Industrial Revolution, the coming of the Manchester Ship Canal and the German bombs of World War Two.
Liz McNab, the halls manager, said: When the Radclyffe family lived here they would have been surrounded by farmland and woods. The earliest part of the building dates back to the 1360s, its quite inconceivable to imagine it now.
It is incredible to believe that in an area of such constant change a building like Ordsall Hall can stay standing.
The key to its success has been the passion of its owners and the community surrounding it. Unlike some other manor houses, the hall has had to adapt to ensure its future.
Throughout its eight centuries the building has been used for many things.
It was first home to the Radclyffe family. It was inherited in the early 1300s by Sir John Radclyffe from a distant relative and it became the family seat for more than 300 years.
It was also once owned by the Egerton family of Tatton Park, who were responsible for extending part of the hall. The hall is also believed to have been the first private home in the Manchester area to have had its own chapel.
But Ordsall Hall has also been put to use as a training school for the clergy as well as individual tenements, a butchers shop, community allotments and a working mens club.
Liz McNab said: Its hard to imagine the hall full of men from the mill over the road all sitting in here in the same place that the clergy have done their training and the gentry have lived. Bread was cooked here for the mill workers.
Its impressive that a use has always been found for the building. But I think that is what makes Ordsall Hall so special. There has always been a place for it in the community.
The building has also been home to many characters, including Frederic Shields, a noted artist and friend of the Pre-Raphaelites. He used one of the halls rooms as his studio where he painted local mill scenes, some of which can now be seen in Manchester Art Gallery. He chose the hall because he loved the light that flooded in through the window.
It has also been said there are links between the hall and Guy Fawkes apparently he spent time at the hall planning his Gunpowder Plot although Liz is not convinced.
Ordsall Hall has also come close to demolition on several occasions but in 1959 it was bought by Salford City Council following an overwhelming public vote to keep the hall standing. Following a major restoration, it was finally opened as a museum in 1972.
A few years ago it was realised that urgent repairs were essential to ensure the halls future. Local fundraising efforts and Lottery funding generated the 6.5 million needed to carry out the work which was intended to restore the building to how it would have looked when the Radclyffe family were in residence.
Timbers in the vast roof space were restored or replaced and the beautiful stained glass windows in the Great Hall were given a new lease of life.
Items from the buildings past were also uncovered during the restoration, including original art work painted on the beams in the Great Chamber the Radclyffes original sleeping quarters. And in one of the original ceilings tiny wooden stars were found which could be removed to enables eavesrfopping on the room above.
The hall reopened to the public a few months ago, following a two year closure. And not all the restoration work took place inside the hall. Formal gardens have been created in the grounds and fruit, vegetables and herbs are being grown a to recollect the halls previous use as allotments.
An orchard has also been planted with pears, medlars and apples, which will establish itself over time.
Liz said it was important to carry out the work not only to ensure that the building was saved, but also to retain its place at the heart of the community.
She said: People have taken real ownership of it and are proud to have it in their area which is very encouraging. The reaction you get from visitors is really positive and were so thrilled to have it back open again.
The building was allowed to get into a terrible state. It was really ramshackle and run down so to see it back to how it would have been is fantastic. We have restored the fabric of this building and made it safe and it feels like the hall has been safeguarded for the next 800 years.
Weve also seen peoples opinions of Salford change with the money that has been put into the area. There is a much more positive outlook now. We want the hall to very much be a part of that positive future.
The print version of this article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Lancashire Life
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