The manor of Astley has existed for some 800 years, at the heat of the estate is the manor house, Damhouse which was built between 1595-1606. During the 18th and 19th centuries the original Elizabethan building was expanded and altered, from the 1840s onwards the manor house became known as “Astley Hall”.
The grounds around the house were landscaped in the 18th century by Richard Hodgkinson to create a pleasure gardens which featured the small lake and a 17th century Yew tree. By the mid-19th century a small cottage, or lodge, was built at the entrance of the estate. Over the next hundred years it would play an important role in the history of Astley.
The Gatekeepers Lodge 1850s-1890s
The Lodge does not appear on the 1845-49 Ordnance Survey map and it doesn’t seem as though it is listed on the 1851 UK census either. However by the time of 1861 census the lodge has been built and James Greenwood (b.1802) and his wife Margaret (b.1823) are living there. The Lodge consisted of five rooms and a picturesque steep gabled roof and entrance porch. James’ occupation is listed as gardener and Margaret is recorded as a housekeeper. The family who owned Astley Hall was headed by Lord of Manor, Malcolm Nugent Ross who lived at Astley but often travelled abroad. Two years before the census, in 1859 the former housekeeper, Ann Gray had taken advantage of Ross’ absence from the estate and stole a great number of items from the family whilst regularly changing the staff to avoid detection. Therefore having the Greenwood’s living at the entrance of the estate was added protection, to keep an eye on who and what was going in and out of the grounds.
By 1871 the Lodge is inhabited by the Hill family. Timothy Hill (b.1815) is employed as a gardener on the estate. He lives at the Lodge with his wife Matilda and their three adult children Samuel, Annie and Henry. Samuel and Henry Hill have not followed their father into domestic service, Samuel is a compositor printer (who would set and arrange type ready for printing) and Henry is a bookkeeper at coal and iron works.
By 1875 the Hill family have left and Thomas and Mary Ellen Clarke are living at the Lodge. Thomas and Mary Ellen had previously worked at Hawarden Castle the home of Prime Minister William Gladstone. It is not known how the couple came to Astley Hall however there is a connection between the inhabitants of the manor house and Hawarden. Katherine Wetherall was the heiress of the Astley Estate and her husband, Sir Edward Wetherall was Under-Secretary of Ireland in Gladstone’s Government.
Like his predecessors Thomas Clarke was a gardener on the estate, his duties also including looking after the large glass conservatories which were around 130 feet long in which an array of flowers and vines were grown. Mary Ellen was also a domestic servant and worked as laundress for the family. Unusually for the time, the couple were married and continued their own private life whilst living on the estate. Their eldest son Thomas (b.1873) was already born before they moved to the Lodge. In 1875 their only daughter Mary Ellen was born. Lady Katherine Wetherall was so pleased at the birth of a child at the Lodge she commissioned two cotton nightgowns for the child. The Clarke’s also had James (b.1876), Alfred (b.1880) and Jesse (b.1881).
By 1889 the Wetherall family had fallen on hard times and the entire Astley estate including Astley Hall and the majority of its contents were sold at auction. It was purchased by a syndicate. The Clarke family continued to reside at the Lodge. Without the watchful eye of their former employer, the gardens became the new playground for the Clarke children. One of the boys even carved his initials into a tree trunk in 1891 (see below).
In 1893 the house and grounds were sold to the Leigh Joint Hospital Board, who planned to turn the site into a hospital for infectious diseases. The local population was horrified at the thought of having such diseases so close to their homes. The Clarke family must have agreed and they left the Lodge after some twenty years there. Their new home was situated just yards outside the walls of the former estate at Gatley’s Farm. In a twist of fate their great granddaughter, Elaine Hurst, would be a founding member of Morts Astley Heritage Trust who would save and restore Damhouse (Astley Hall) in the 1990s.
The Lodge: Astley Sanatorium 1890s-1950s
The new Astley Sanatorium was used as an isolation hospital to treat infectious diseases, mainly typhoid and scarlet fever. Patients were mainly children, although there were some adult cases. They were treated originally in the former manor house itself before separate ward blocks were built in the grounds.
The Lodge continued to be inhabited, but now by employees of the hospital. In 1901 laundry superintendent Charles W. Speakman is residing there with his wife Elizabeth and their seven month old son. In 1911 Ralph and Mary Ann Mort, who both worked as porters at the Sanatorium are living there with their two adult sons. All three of the Mort’s sons joined up to fight in the First World War. Sadly Harold, who joined the army in September 1914, died in January 1918 aged 26 when their trenches were shelled. His brother Fred Mort was also wounded in France.
As the Sanatorium was closed off from society, the Lodge became a focal point for the community, as it was the only contact between the hospital and the outside world. All staff and other authorised persons had to register at the Lodge first. Nursing staff would also have to report back at the Lodge before the iron gates were locked at 10pm. Quite often nurses who missed this strict curfew would have to climb over the wall instead!
Unfortunately patients were forbidden to have visitors. Anyone who wished to know the progress of a patient would have to check lists published daily at the town hall, or if they were lucky they could try to catch the attention of someone at the Lodge and make an enquiry. Any messages or gifts had to be left at the Lodge and even today, children who were patients at the Sanatorium in the 1930s recall their disappointment as gifts of chocolate and sweets were shared amongst all the children on the ward or they would receive colouring books but no crayons (as nurses feared they’d make too much mess).
From the late 1910s onwards Herwin and Margaret Jones lived at the Lodge and worked as porters. Herwin was also an ambulance driver, which was originally a horse-drawn vehicle. The nurses in the back of the ambulance would have a different coloured blanket depending on the illness of the patient they were to pick up.
After the death of Margaret Jones in the 1930s, Jimmy (the Jones’ son) and his wife Doris came to live at the Lodge with Herwin. Doris took up the duties of a porteress, which her mother-in-law had performed. She was responsible for cleaning the mortuary and discharge block, manning the gates and booking-in staff and visiting clergy between 7am-10pm. For this Doris was paid 6s 5d a week (£18 in modern money), however this was actually a great help to the family, as Jimmy later explained:
” The money was just a token payment because we were living house, coal and light free with my father… My wife’s 6s 5d meant a lot in the hungry thirties, for we had daughters Doreen and Patricia and son Trevor to bring-up at the hospital lodge, the younger two being born there.”
In 1948, after Herwin’s death Jimmy and Doris moved out of the Lodge, as rumors were circulating locally that they should not be living there as Jimmy was not a hospital employee. Although in later decades, the Jones’ eldest daughter Doreen would return to Astley Hospital as a nurse.
Astley Hospital 1950s-1970s
Also in 1948 the National Health Service was formed and the Sanatorium became more of a general hospital dealing with minor surgeries and geriatric cases. In the 1950s Albert Shepard’s uncle lived at the Lodge. He visited his uncle and aunt there as a teenager, he remembered the Lodge as:
” A weary place, lots of low ceilings and little rooms…nothing modern there. There was no paper on the wall, it was all just painted over the plaster. It would have been lit by gas… There was a bathroom upstairs, yes and a toilet downstairs.”
Sadly the Lodge was demolished in 1972, the last family to reside there was the Harrison’s. Frank Harrison was a painter and decorator. Presumably the permission for demolition came from both the hospital and the local council. By this point the hospital was a much more open place, patients and visitors could come and go and enjoy the grounds. The Lodge therefore had ceased to play its important role as the figurehead of the hospital and of the estate before it.
Fortunately the manor house was saved in the 1990s after the closure of the hospital. As I mentioned the manor house was saved (and its named was restored to Damhouse) by a group of local people who formed a trust, including Elaine Hurst, a descendant of the Clarke family. Therefore even though the Lodge is long gone its legacy is curated through the hardwork of Elaine and the other trustees at Damhouse.
- John and Sylvia Tonge, Astley Hall (Damhouse), (Self Published, 2002)
- John and Sylvia Tonge, The Second Pictorial Astley, (Self Published, 1992)
- Leigh Journal, 12 February 1918, p.14
- Leigh Journal, 8 September 1994 “Memories of hospital’s past”
- Leigh Journal, 22 September 1994 “Insane to destroy the ‘sanni’-Jimmy Jones”
- Albert Shepard, Unpublished Audio Recording, 2002