This post is actually based on an article I wrote some years ago which was actually the first time I’d written about the history of a building. Southbank is located on Hamilton Street and it opposite the house lived in by James Latham (see blog post 7 July 2015). However this beautiful detached Victorian Villa is older and larger than the rest of the houses, here is its history!
The Mill Manager’s House
Southbank was built on land at the top of Lee Street in Atherton in the late 1880s. The land belonged to Tootal, Broadhurst, Lee & Co, of the Lee Spinning Company (more commonly known as the Dan Lane Mills). Their large cotton spinning mill was located along Dan Lane from the 1840s. In March 1889 a notice appeared in the Leigh Chronicle that a building plan for a house belonging to the Mill had been approved, with the exception of an attic, which did not conform with the building by-law number 11.
Southbank was built as a residence for the manager and his family of this prosperous company. The name of the property must originate from its location, as it is faces south over what was historically a grassy embankment, hence ‘Southbank’.
The house is a typical solid brick-built Victorian double fronted property. The photograph above, although not the best quality, shows some of the decorative brickwork which adorns the house. The central keystone above the window is decorated with a floral pattern and reflects the beginning of the Art Nouveau movement. Inside the house has many typical 19th century features included panelled doors, cornices, dado rail, high ceilings and a carved ‘dog-leg’ style staircase. The house consists of entrance vestibule and hallway, three reception rooms, kitchen, scullery, cellar, five bedrooms, bathroom and a separate WC (as the Victorians thought this was more sanitary).
The Peacock Family
The first family to inhabit Southbank was the Peacock’s, originally from Renfrewshire in Scotland. The 1891 census provides us with a snapshot of the family. John Peacock is the head of the family and a cotton mill manager. He lives at Southbank with his wife Mary and their children Mary Jane, Harry, Jemima, John, Agnes and Archibald the family also employ a domestic servant, Mary O’Neill from Cheshire. Despite the clearly wealthy middle class position of the family, their eldest daughter Mary Jane, aged only 15 in 1891 was employed as a school teacher. In 1894 she passed her Queen’s Scholarship examination with second-class honours and she was working at Chowbent British School. Mary Jane Peacock is reflective of a generation of women in the 1890s, when the ‘new woman’ was becoming more socially and politically aware and breaking out of the confines of the domestic world.
Still she occupied a better position in society than her family’s maid, Mary O’Neill. As a maid of all work, Mary would have been expected to put in 10-12 hours days. Not only would she have been serving the family, she would doubled up as a cook, cleaner and laundress. Still she must have had some free time as year in 1892, Southbank was rocked by scandal. Mary, the Peacock’s unmarried Catholic maid gave birth to a son. Illegitimacy was a huge social taboo in the 19th century and even well into the latter half of the 20th century in Britain. It was extremely frowned up by all members of society, with judgment being unfairly passed on both mother and child and despite this it was actually quite commonplace, with the exception wealthier classes could afford to cover it up.
Uncommonly for the time, the Peacock’s did not dismiss Mary and they even kept her in their employment when they left Southbank in 1894 and moved to The Hollies, also in Atherton. Therefore we can at least deduce that the Peacock family were very attached to Mary, whether it was on a personal level or a paternalistic moral level we shall never know.The father of the child is unknown, but in 1895 Mary O’Neill married William Seddon and they set up their own home together in Atherton, with the baby.
The Blair Family
In 1896 the Blair family are recorded as living at Southbank, the head of the family Claude Herbert Blair is manager of the Dan Lane Mill. He lives at Southbank with his large family, his wife Anna Maria and their eight children; Annie Marie, William, Claude, Ada, Florence, Hermann, Harold and Dorothea. Also living with the family is Claude’s father-in-law William Antonio Murray, who died at Southbank in 1899. The family previously lived Poynton in Cheshire and originated from Manchester.
The photograph above shows Southbank (bottom centre) in relation to the Dan Lane Mill. It also shows the huge change that the Blair’s witnessed during their first decade living at Southbank. This included the expansion of the mill behind the property and the building of terraced houses next to and opposite Southbank creating Hamilton Street to house the growing population, which had grown from over 12,000 in 1881 to over 16,000 in 1901.
Claude Herbert Blair was a prominent member of Athertonian Society and held many respected positions of civil authority. In 1907 he was elected as a County Magistrate, and previously he held a commission in one of Manchester’s Territorial Battalions. He was actively involved in Atherton society during his time at South Bank as a member of the Atherton Higher Education Society and Vice President of the Liberal Club. He was also quite forward thinking and employed his daughter Florence (pictured below) as a Testing room manager at the mill. Claude was well travelled and could speak French and German fluently; he was educated at Owens College, Manchester. He was also a keen athlete in his youth and his descendants have been prize winning swimmers.
In both the 1901 and 1911 censuses there are three generations of the Blair family living at Southbank. Unlike their predecessors, the Peacock family, the Blair’s do not seem to employ a live-in maid. This is probably due to the fact that the house was full as it was there would have been no room for her. However this does not mean the Blair family have fallen from their middle class position (in 1891 whilst living in Poynton they had a maid). It is likely the family had help of some sort, either a charwoman who came in to clean or they sent their clothes to a laundry. Likewise it is easily just as possible that Annie Maria and her daughters took control of household duties.
In the Post-First World War era, as their children married and started their own families, Claude and Annie Maria left Southbank with their remaining unmarried daughters and moved to Sanderson house in Atherton c.1920. This large Georgian house was roughly located off Laburnham Avenue, near the modern site of St. Phillip’s School around 1920. At Sanderson House they had modern luxuries such as a telephone. They subsequently moved to Southport where Annie Maria died in 1924 and Claude a year later in 1925.
The Brooks Family
Around 1920 another mill manager, Harold and Martha Brooks and their three adult daughters; Ellen, Louie and Edith moved into Southbank. Little is known about their time there, although some buildings in the garden built during this time still exist today.
We can trace how long the Brooks family spent at Southbank by the marriage records of their daughters. Ellen married first in 1921 at Chowbent Chapel in Atherton. Louie married later in 1929 at Manchester Cathedral and Edith married in 1937 at St. John’s in Atherton and this is the last time the Brooks’ are recorded at Southbank.
The Gallagher Family
In 1938, for the first time in its history Southbank was not occupied by a manager of the Dan Lane Mill (this coincides with the decline of the cotton industry in Lancashire after the Depression). Two Irish Doctors, Dr John Daniel Gallagher and his wife Dr Mary Kate Gallagher moved into Southbank with their family. His surgery was located on Bolton Road, a short walk away. They lived here until Dr. Gallagher’s death in 1967, his wife having passed away the year before.
In 1968 James and Constance Daley bought Southbank and they lived there with their children. James Daley owned his own removal business and was also involved in the building trade; during his time at Southbank he made some changes to the building. A garage was built onto the side of the house and later in the 1980s the garden was re-developed and a pair of semi-detached houses now stand there (see photo above). Internally, glazed doors were inserted into the wall dividing two of the reception room, creating a larger better-lit room.
After almost 50 years of owning Southbank, the property was sold by the Daley family in late 2016/early 2017 and Southbank currently awaits its new residents and the next chapter of its story to unfold.
Leigh Journal, Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
Leigh Chronicle, 22 March 1889, p.8
Leigh Chronicle, 12 October 1894, p.5
Electoral Registers 1890s onwards, Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
Parish Records, Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
Photographs, Past Forward Magazine Issue 59, December 2010
Census Information – http://www.ancestry.co.uk