This is my first post about an historic building in the town of Leigh, Greater Manchester (which borders the towns of Atherton, Tyldesley and Astley featured in other blog posts). ‘Fairfield’ is the name given to number 72 St. Helens Road, an imposing and grand building even today, with an equally impressive history behind its bricks and mortar.
Historically Leigh was a Parish covering around six townships, with the area around the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin being known as Leigh. In 1875 three of the townships; Bedford, Pennington and Westleigh merged to form the Leigh Local Board District. In 1894 the Local Board became Leigh Urban District when large parts of land belonging to the Atherton estate were incorporated. Finally in 1899 Leigh became a Municipal Borough and the people could elect their first Mayor.
Fairfield is located on St. Helens Road in Pennington, just over the Leeds – Liverpool canal. It is also located next door to Christ Church, Pennington and also a short distance from Pennington Hall, which was demolished in 1963 and is now Pennington Park. During the 19th century, St. Helens Road became a very fashionable place for the wealthy middle class residents of Leigh to build their homes.
Fairfield was built in the late 1830s or early 1840s and was among one of the first houses on the road, its neighbour was Pennington House. The reason it was built was so the inhabitants of the house could enjoy an open green space away from the narrow terraced streets and mills a few hundred yard away – until they too caught up with St. Helens Road later in the 19th century as the town expanded.
According to “A Diary of Old Leigh” by Thomas Boydell (published 1916) Fairfield was built for William Hayes, the industrialist. In 1836 and again in the 1841 census, William Hayes, his wife Ellen and his son, Thomas Travers Hayes are recorded at Bethesda House in Newton Street and therefore Fairfield must have been completed sometime after these dates. The house is certainly there on the Ordnance Survey map of 1845-49.
The Hayes Family: Early 19th Century
William Hayes (1792-1869) married Sarah Travers (1794-1836) in 1820. They had one son, Thomas Travers Hayes in 1824 and another son James, several years later in 1836. Unfortunately, there was a complication during child birth and this is recorded as the cause of Sarah’s death. James was baptised on 13 January 1836, the same day as his mother’s funeral. As he is not mentioned in any later records, I assume he too passed away around the same time. In 1837 William remarried to Ellen Johnson (1793-1861).
William was a cotton manufacturer, which was big business in Leigh throughout the 19th century. In fact two of William’s brothers James and John Hayes also ran their own cotton Mill, Victoria Mill which was built in 1856 and expanded and re-built due to fire damage. William went into partnership with Henry Isherwood around 1836 and their mill, Kirkhall Lane Mill (historically known as Westleigh New Mill) was a success, even running at full capacity during the ‘cotton famine’ of 1861-65 when many mills closed due to a lack of cotton imports from America during the Civil War.
The wealth of the Hayes family is reflected in their home at Fairfield. In the 1861 census the family employ four domestic servants; a cook and three house maids. The oldest servant is Ann Jump who is aged 77 in 1861. Ann never married and she passed away at the age of 87 in June 1870. A notice of her death appeared in the Liverpool Daily Post and it recorded that she worked for the Hayes’ for upwards of 50 years and no doubt she was a trusted servant and almost part of the family having lived with them as they moved from Bethesda House to Fairfield.
The Hayes Family: Late 19th Century
William Hayes passed away in 1869, leaving everything to his son Thomas Travers Hayes. By 1874 Thomas was the sole owner of the Kirkhall Lane cotton mill. Thomas married Elizabeth Johnson and they had three children: Thomas Travers Hayes (junior) (1850), Marion Elizabeth (1852) and Edith Sarah (1856-58). When Elizabeth passed away in 1867 the Leigh Chronicle reported she was “Universally esteemed in the neighbourhood” and many businesses closed their shops as a mark of respect to her passing.
In 1870 Thomas married again, to Elizabeth Sharp and they continued to reside at Fairfield. Thomas was recorded as having a somewhat nervous temperament but despite this he was active in civic life. He was an appointed Justice of the Peace and also the one time elected treasurer of Leigh Union. He was also a keen diarist from the age of 15 right up until days before his death and he would often write as a columnist for the Leigh Chronicle too. He died in November 1883 at the age of 59. His estate was valued at £12,821 (the modern equivalent would make him a millionaire at £1,153,000).
Living at Fairfield in the last few decades of the 19th century was Thomas Travers Hayes (junior), his stepmother Elizabeth and a few servants. Like his father Thomas T. Hayes was very active in Leigh’s social circle. He was president of Leigh Liberal Club and responsible for the election campaign victory of Caleb Wright as Member of Parliament for Leigh for 1885, 1886 and 1892. Thomas T. Hayes was also a County Councillor, Justice of the Peace and a member of the School Attendance Committee and the Literary Society.
Although he was at one time a keen athlete and cricket player, he had suffered from gout since his twenties and he passed away at Fairfield after a short illness in 1893 aged only 43. Elizabeth Hayes continued to reside at Fairfield until her death in 1896.
Fairfield: The 20th Century
Fairfield was then owned by Johnathan Cordukes McKibbin (the husband of Marion Elizabeth Hayes). In 1896 he let the house, coach house,stables and greenhouses to Doctor William George Gray for 14 years for the annual sum of £67’2’0 (around £6,975).
William George Gray (1862-1918) was born in Knockcloghrim, Londonderry, Northern Ireland and came to Britain as a young man. He was a fully certified physician and surgeon. In 1888 he married Emily Victoria Openshaw at Thornton in Lancashire. Together they had several children: Leonard (1889), Bertha (1891), William (1893), Doris (1896), Kathleen (1898), Mary (1900), Emily (1902-02).
The photograph above shows Dr Gray and his family posed on their motor car outside of Fairfield. The photo is often dated at c.1910 however assuming the lady in the picture is Emily Gray we can date it to before 1908, as she passed away in January that year following a prolonged illness. Judging from the style of clothes and the age of the children in the photograph, I’d assume it was taken about 1905. The Gray’s must have been amongst the first few families in the locality to own a car.
The 1911 census records William George Gray, his children and two domestic servants; Alice Clark and Nellie Hodgkinson at Fairfield. It also records that the house consists of an impressive 15 rooms. The house is red brick built in a Flemish Bond pattern with a Welsh slate roof. The facade of the house is richly ordained with a central porch and overlight, cornicing, moulded window sills and an impressive central archivolt. The servants quarters were rooms over the driveway accessed by a staircase in the kitchen. The cellar had three rooms; a cold room with stone slabs and hooks for storing meat, a room with wine racks and a coal room with a ‘robin hood’ boiler. Another robin hood style boiler heated the greenhouses.
William George Gray is still recorded there in the 1913 Trade Directory and on the 1913 electoral register, which suggests he renewed his lease on the property or perhaps bought it himself. However upon his death in 1918 his residence is in Rusholme, Manchester.
By 1922 Fairfield is owned by Hugh James Yates (1862-1942). It is very likely that the Yates family owned Fairfield right from the departure of the Gray Family but how did they come to be there? In 1911 John Yates (the father of Hugh) is living at Pennington House, which was next door to Fairfield. In May that year his granddaughter, Elizabeth Hope Yates married Doctor Thomas Gray at Christ Church, Pennington. Thomas Gray was the younger brother of William George Gray and he followed in his footsteps of a career in medicine and living in Britain. Thomas and Elizabeth Gray set up their home at The Thistles, Wareing Street, Tyldesley. Therefore there is no doubt that there is a family connection between the Gray’s and the Yates’ and somehow this ended up with the Yates family occupying Fairfield.
Hugh James Yates was born in Leigh in 1862, the son of a miller John Yates and Elizabeth Ann. He married Elizabeth Hope (1864-1955) and they had; Elizabeth Hope (1889), John Leonard(1892), Sarah Kathleen (1899). Hugh’s father built up a successful cotton manufacturing business and Hugh followed him as a Mill manager and later as a chairman of the Directors of Pennington Mill. He was also President of the cricket club. The Yates’ were an extremely wealthy family and had modern luxuries such as a telephone installed at Fairfield from at least 1922. When he died in 1942, his estate was worth £43,533. Which again, like Thomas Travers Hayes before him, meant he would have been a millionaire in modern terms (£1,735,000).
Elizabeth Yates passed away in 1955 and her unmarried daughter Sarah Kathleen Yates continued to live at Fairfield until her death in November 1965. It was then in the middle of the 1960s that Fairfield took on a completely new lease of life.
Fairfield Private Hotel: 1960s-1990s
In the late 1960s Joseph and Gladys Lea purchased Fairfield and turned it into a private hotel, with a bar and restaurant. This forward thinking move saved Fairfield from the fate that befell many large old houses at the time. In Post-War Britian hundreds of old houses across the country were demolished because they were too old or needed to much repair to run or quite simply were unfashionable. Indeed Pennington House, next door to Fairfield and also Stone House on St. Helens Road were demolished at this time. Fairfield eventually received a Grade II listed building status in 1991.
The building was altered to suit its new status and the wooden staircase was replaced with a more contemporary design of the time. However on the top floor there was still a full length billiard table which was a throwback from decades earlier. For the first time in its history the doors of Fairfield were thrown open to the public and many local residents have fond memories of staying there or dining there over its 30 year period as a hotel.
After the closure of the Hotel in the late 1990s the building was used as office space by Carelink Ltd. Today, as is often the case with many large former domestic properties, Fairfield is a private day nursery for young children. The airy, spacious rooms which were once the backdrop of 21st birthday parties or large ornate drawing rooms are now ideal recreational spaces for small children. The use of Fairfield as a nursery creates a 21st century use for this historic building and allows it to continue to play an important role in the life of local people.
- John Lunn, Leigh: The Historical Past of a Lancashire Borough, (Leigh: Borough Council, 1958)
- Tony Ashcroft & Nicholas Webb, Around Leigh, (Gloucestershire: The Chalford Publishing Co. Ltd. 1996)
- Thomas Boydell, A Diary of Old Leigh, (Cheshire: P&D Riley, 1996) (First published as Notes on old Leigh, 1916)
- https://www.facebook.com/groups/oldleighphotos/ (post by Michael J. Oakes 28th January 2016 & David Fairhurst 4 February 2015)
- Leigh Chronicle, 28 December 1867
- Liverpool Daily Post, 1 August 1870, p.10
- Leigh Chronicle, 23 November 1883
- Leigh Chronicle, 5 Janaury 1893
- Leigh Journal, 28 September 1896
- Leigh Journal, 10 January 1908
- Liverpool Daily Post, 26 February 1942, p.2
- Liverpool Daily Post, 31 August 1942
- Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies