Prospect House is one of Atherton’s older properties, its appearance is deceptive and this may be part of the reason as to why the building has not received a listed building status. Moreover the history of the residents of Prospect House tie in closely with the history of Atherton itself.
Prospect House: Origins
Prospect House was built in the late 1820s or early 1830s by the Hesketh Family and for almost the next century it was their family home. There appears to be some confusion with the history of Prospect House, as with many historic homes it is often referred to by different names. In this case Prospect House is also known as “New Road House” and it appears under this name in the 1841 census and also as late as 1915. In other historical records, such as the 1911 census, it is named simply as “32 Bolton New Road”.
Local historian, Dr. John Lunn wrote that the house was built in 1860 and was one of the first domestic properties on Bolton New Road, which itself was constructed in 1839/40. However further research has shown that Prospect House pre-dates this as the property is shown on the Ordnance Survey map of 1849 (see below). Furthermore the obituary of Sarah Hesketh stated that she lived her whole life at Prospect House and therefore we known it must have been built before or shortly after her birth in 1829.
The Hesketh Family
Edmund Hesketh (1793 – 1833) was the first resident of Prospect House. He was the son of Thomas and Sarah Hesketh (1771-1841). Thomas Hesketh (1770-1804) (son of Henry Hesketh) was born in Atherton (or Chowbent as it was commonly known back then). Thomas was a fustian manufacturer and was one of a few men in the Leigh Parish to hold such a status. For example in the 1792 trade directory of Chowbent Thomas is listed as one of only two manufacturers in the town.
In 1783 he married Sarah Higginson at St. Mary’s in Leigh, where he signed his own name on the wedding certificate. Surprisingly they were both only 13 years old! The parish registers note they were married by license and not the usual banns, which suggests a hurried arrangement. To give us an idea of why it might have been necessary to marry two minors, there was only 7 months and 18 days between the wedding and the birth of their first child. Despite this, together they had ten children: Thomas (1784), James (1786), Edmund (1st)( d.1788), Mary (1789), Martha (1791), Edmund (2nd)(1793), Ann (1796), William (1798), Johnathan (1800) and George (1803). In the latter part of the 18th and early 19th centuries, Thomas Hesketh was a farmer.
Sadly Thomas died at the young age of 34 in 1804, he left his widow with £600 (around £47,000 in modern currency). The Hesketh family continued to thrive. James Hesketh, like his father was a manufacturer. His brothers; Edmund, William, Jonathan and George were all involved in the wholesale and retail grocery business in Atherton. Jonathan Hesketh was a corn merchant and had stores at the back of Market Street/Mealhouse Lane known as “Hesketh’s Yard” and in 1864 William Hesketh was elected to Atherton’s first town council. James, Ann, Martha and Johnathan Hesketh did not marry and lived together at Gib Fold Farm in Atherton.
By the 1820s Edmund Hesketh was a successful merchant and on 3rd October 1824 he married Mary Pearson (1797 – 1870) at St. Mary’s in Leigh. Their first child, Thomas Pearson Hesketh was born 4th September 1825 and a daughter, Sarah, followed on 1st November 1829. His prosperity was reflected in the building of Prospect House around the time of his children’s births.
A Tragic Turn
In a strange twist of fate Edmund Hesketh died young, mirroring the death of his father some decades before. Edmund died in 1833 at the age of 39 and Mary was left with no income and two young children aged 8 and 4 to raise. Fortunately Mary was an extremely educated lady and had been a teacher previous to her marriage. In fact Mary’s own mother Sarah Pearson was also a teacher of young ladies from her home in Molefields, Howebridge. Sarah Pearson (1768-1857) is another remarkable woman. She had three daughter’s illegitimately (including Mary) yet did not let this or the consensus of society at the time hold her back, she is even listed in the 1819 trade directory as a teacher.
Therefore after her husband’s untimely death, Mary used her skills from her previous profession and established a school from her own home at Prospect House. We know the school opened as early as 1834 as Mary Hesketh appears in the ‘schools and academies’ part of the Pigot & Co. directory from that year. By 1841 the school is recorded as a “Ladies School” and is therefore very much a middle class establishment.
By 1851, twenty-one year old Sarah Hesketh had joined her mother as an assistant teacher and the census conducted in that year reveals Prospect House was a boarding school. Three pupils; Mary Jane Lamb aged 14, Mary Harrison aged 9 and Hannah Lund aged 9 are living with the Hesketh family. Also in the household is Thomas Pearson Hesketh, now 25 and working as ‘general broker’ and two servants; Harriet Butterworth, a housemaid and Ellen Knight, a kitchen maid.
The school proved to be a success for Mary and her children both socially and financially. Eventually the Hesketh’s went on to teach both sexes of all different social backgrounds. Mary and Sarah Hesketh were teaching children in a time before schooling was compulsory. It was not until 1876 that every child had to go to school, but only until the age of 8. In 1899 this was extended to the age of 12. When Mary Hesketh began her school in 1834 children under the age of ten were still expected to work in coal mines and factories. Although there were some church schools and other private schools, such as the ladies academy run by Mary Hesketh’s mother, the school at Prospect House marked a change in the way girls were educated. The emergence of the middle class in the mid-19th century meant new social aspirations, one in which daughters of the wealthy had a better chance of receiving a full education. The school at Prospect House also paved the way for future girls schools in the locality. For example the Holland sisters were educated by the Hesketh’s and they in turn founded their own school in the 1860s at Hindsford House.
In 1864 there was a presentation in honour of Mary Hesketh, for her retirement after forty years worth of service (which again infers she was a teacher before her marriage in the 1824). Her pupils, past and present, which included both men and women, raised several thousand pounds; enough to present Mary Hesketh with a solid silver tea and coffee service and an ornamented address. Among the celebrations, some of her former students wrote an acrostic poem for her, which spelled out “MRS HESKETH ATHERTON”.
The popularity of Mrs Hesketh and the respect shown towards her is displayed in a newspaper article from the Leigh Chronicle which reported the presentation evening:
” MRS EDMUND HESKETH rose amid deafening cheers and said: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, you will excuse me if I do not say much. The occasion has overpowered me. It is beyond my deserts and expectation. I express my heartfelt thanks; I can say no more. I only wish I could say more. (Applause, loud and long)”
In Slater’s 1869 trade directory Mary Hesketh is recorded under the “Gentry and Clergy” section. She never remarried despite being widowed at a young age. On 11 December 1870 she passed away at the age of 73, leaving her whole effects and money to her daughter Sarah.
Sarah Hesketh: The Teacher
Sarah, like her mother, was a renowned local teacher. She taught children in her own home and after the establishment of Atherton Urban District Council in 1864, which led to the development of more public schools in the town, she taught in those as well. She was a member of the Church of England and often taught Sunday School. It is also recorded that she taught non-academic subjects as well, such as needlework at St Michael’s School in Howe Bridge among others. The children were taught in the attic of Prospect House as there was three large rooms up there, with natural lighting from windows in each gable end of the house. The coat hooks the children used are still there today.
In 1936, Robert Greenhalgh was 82 years old (born 1854) and he left a written record of his memories growing up in Atherton. This is what he remembered of the Hesketh family:
” I must not omit to mention a school that was conducted by Miss Hesketh in the house now used as the Atherton Estate Office. Miss Hesketh was more urbane and a gracious lady and one to whom many people in Atherton were greatly indebted for her many kindnesses. Her brother, who I as a lad used to regard as the most courteous gentleman that I had ever met, but he suffered I think from locomotor ataxia and he had many other troubles but Miss Hesketh gave him a home and comfort to the end.”
Neither Sarah nor her brother Thomas ever married. For a while Thomas resided at Southport but returned home to Prospect House where he lived with his sister who cared for him throughout his illness until his death in 1897 (locomotor ataxia is a loss of co-ordination of movement).
Sarah Hesketh: The Philanthropist
Sarah devoted her entire life to the people of Atherton and the legacy of her many philanthropic causes still exist today. As well as a being a teacher she was secretary for the Atherton branch of the Girls Friendly Society, President of the Atherton Nursing Association, she held an honoury rank in the Local Volunteer Corps and was a member of the Local Education Committee and the women’s branch of the NSPCC. During the Lancashire Cotton Famine, which was a direct result of the American Civil War (1861-65), Sarah was part of a ladies sewing group making clothes and household linen for the poor.
Although she was an un-married woman during the 19th century and therefore had almost no rights at all for much of her life, Sarah Hesketh was far from the typical Victorian spinster. She had come from a line of strong women, her mother and both grandmothers raising families alone and using their education as a tool to survive and prosper. For example Sarah Hesketh was financially independent, she had earned her own money throughout her career as a teacher and she inherited vast sums of money from her uncles and aunts on the Hesketh side of the family. When her uncle Johnathan Hesketh died in 1873 he left the modern equivalent of £2.3 million to his nieces and nephews. Sarah used her wealth to help those less fortunate.
Miss Hesketh donated generously and often anonymously to many religious causes. She was particularly invested in the spiritual well-being of Atherton and donated money towards the building of St. George’s Church, where she laid the foundation stone in 1911 (see above). She also donated money towards the building of St. Anne’s in Hindsford and St. John the Baptist Atherton’s Parish Church. In fact in 1896 she paid £1000 towards a stained glass window for St. John’s which is well over £90,000 in modern currency. The window depicted scenes of the Crucifixion.
She donated huge sums of money to other causes as well, including the construction of St. George’s School in Atherton. In 1903 she gave £100 (£9684 in modern currency) to St. Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. She often spent St. Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day) distributing as part of Prescott’s Charity in Atherton. Reverend Cameron speaking of Sarah Hesketh and of her home at Prospect House in 1919 said: “One would go into her home, for example, and find everything of the simplest and simple plainness of living and yet at the same time she was giving great sums to charity.”
However we do know that Sarah took pride in her home and continued to modernise and update it. By 1908 she had added a rear extension to the back of the house and later installed central heating, the original cast iron radiators still exist today. Around the same time she updated the fireplace in her bedroom to a beautiful Art Nouveau and glazed tiled surround. Miss Hesketh, being a prominent member of Athertonian soceity, also used her home to entertain. In her youth she can be found on the guest list of various balls and civic functions and in her old age she often attended the weddings of her acquaintances. In 1896 she held a wedding reception at Prospect House for the 100 guests of Mr Alan Ramsey and Miss Jeanette Whittaker.
“A loss to Atherton”
Sarah Hesketh died in 1919, just two months short of her 90th birthday. Reverend Cameron, speaking at her funeral referred to her passing as “a loss to Atherton” and noted that her final years were somewhat lonely as many of her contemporaries had already passed and a fractured leg after a fall in 1914 had left her housebound. She had spent the last five months of her life recovering from an illness at Colwyn Bay in Wales where she died on Thursday 19th September 1919. She was buried in the family grave at St. George’s Church in Tyldesley but unfortunately no marker of her grave exists today.
Fortunately the people of Atherton decided to honour the memory of Sarah, and the first Secondary school in the town was named “Hesketh Fletcher” after her and the Fletcher family. The school stood off Market street from 1932 to 1968 and then on Hamilton Street until 2011 when it closed and was renamed ‘Atherton Community School’. The site of the original Hesketh Fletcher School is now sheltered accommodation, again paying homage to history, it is called Hesketh Manor.
Prospect House: The Estate Office c.1920s-1940s
After the death of Sarah Hesketh in 1919, the property was purchased by Lord Lilford, who used it as his Estate Offices and Surveyor’s Department. It’s likely Lord Lilford wanted Prospect House given its location adjacent to Atherton Town Hall, the Library and Technical School which were all built in the 1890s and early 1900s.
Josslyn Alleyne Robinson (1879-1966) was the last land agent to Lord Lilford and he worked at Prospect House. He was born into a wealthy family in Cockermouth, Cumbria and privately educated in Yorkshire. During the First World War he served as a temporary Captain of the Lancashire Volunteer Regiment. In 1917 he married Harriet Swinley and they had a son together. Although the family lived near Preston, J.A. Robinson conducted all his business from Prospect House and the property was adapted to reflect this. One rooms in the cellar was lined with steel and protected behind a huge safe door, in order to protect the money Robinson collected as rent. A later Lord Lilford eventually moved the Estate Office to Bretherton near Preston and by doing so effectively ended 900 years of the Atherton/Lilford families involvement in the town.The 1949 Electoral register records Ralph Revill, his wife Doris and their children Ralph and Joan living at Prospect House, where they are listed every year until 1955.
During the 1960s and 1970s Prospect House was used as offices by Atherton Urban District Council. At the same time, land at the rear of the property was developed and Blakeborough House, council owned accommodation for the elderly was built there. During the 1980s Prospect House was used at Atherton’s Citizens Advice Bureau.
Prospect House was later used as a clinic specialising in arterial disease. It was sold a few years ago and purchased by Mark Aldred, a town councillor and locksmith. Mr. Aldred now uses the building as office space and also providing on-site training for apprentices. So over 180 years after Mary Hesketh established her school there, the building is once again being used for educational purposes. In another mirroring of the past, Mr. Aldred uses one of the former bedrooms as a reflection room for his charity ‘Dementia Buddy’, which helps individuals who have dementia and their families. This room is named the Hesketh Suite in honour of the history of the building.
The building has undergone many changes in the past century, this is evident on the facade of the house, which includes the construction of a ramp where there was originally stone steps and the removal of the chimneys. During the 1910s or early 1920s, a large bay window was added to the front of the property which does not appear on earlier maps and town plans. Although this altered the original simple Georgian facade, it is reflective of architectural preferences of a different generation. Internally Prospect House retains many original 19th century features, from the stone steps and flags in the cellar, to the spindle staircase and even the storage cupboards on the landing.
The building is the only survival of its time in Atherton today and both building and former residents have played such an important role in the history of Atherton. Fortunately under its current ownership this tangible heritage is being preserved and protected and slowly but surely the life of Sarah Hesketh and her family and the recognition of Prospect House as an important historical asset are coming to light.
- Census information – http://www.ancestry.co.uk
- Old Maps – http://maps.nls.uk/os/6inch-england-and-wales/index.html
- Parish Records – http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Search/indexp.html
- Trade Directories for Atherton – http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Atherton/indexr.html
- Memories of Robert Greenhalgh (1936) – http://www.nyt.co.uk/athertonhistory.htm (Transcribed by Dave Dutton. A copy is also located at Chowbent Chapel under the care of Steve Glover)
- Presentation to Mary Hesketh – Leigh Chronicle, Sat 25 June 1864, Page 3
- Prescott’s Charity – Leigh Chronicle, 29 December 1893, p.8
- Atherton Parish Church – Leigh Chronicle, 22 May 1896, p.5
- Wedding Reception – Leigh Chronicle, 11 December 1896, p.4
- Donations – Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 14 February 1903, p.16
- NSPCC Meeting – Leigh Chronicle, 18 February 1910, p.5
- Lost Paper Parcel – The Nantwich Guardian, 5 November 1915, p.1
- J.A. Robinson – The London Gazette Supplements, 6 January 1917, p.361
- Obituary of Sarah Hesketh – The Journal, Tues 23 September 1919, Page 4
- Electoral Registers & Rate Books & Photograph of Sarah Hesketh- Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies
- John Lunn, ” Atherton: A Manorial, Social and Industrial History” , (Atherton: Atherton Urban District Council, 1971) Pg. 175