The gardener’s cottage is one of the few surviving reminders of the great estate at Worsley. It is an enchanted, fairy-tale looking building and it will soon be undergoing renovations as part of Royal Horticultural Society’s new garden: RHS Garden Bridgewater. This is the hidden history of the cottage.

The Head Gardener’s Cottage, Worsley (Source: Own Photograph, 2017)

The Bridgewater Estate, Worsley

Worsley is located in the Borough of Salford, some eight miles from Manchester. Worsley was part of an Estate originally created by William I, the Worsley family held land at Worsley and also part of the nearby Hulton Estate until it passed to the Massey family (of Tatton) in the 14th century and later to the Brereton family of Cheshire. In 1572 Richard Brereton married Dorothy Egerton and upon Richard’s death in 1598, the Estate passed into the Egerton family.

The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton (1736 – 1803) inherited the Estates from his father and in 1761 he commenced with his inland waterway project; the Bridgewater Canal, the first canal in Britain. The canal was used by the Duke to transport coal from his mines at Worsley to Manchester, it was later expanded to connect Worsley to Runcorn and Leigh in the late 18th century. This brought the industrial revolution right to the heart of Worsley and upon the 3rd Duke’s death in 1803, the Estate passed to his nephew, George Leveson-Gower (1st Duke of Sutherland) and in 1833 it was inherited by his son, Francis Leveson-Gower (1800 – 1857) who that same year changed his surname to Egerton (later in 1846 Francis became the Earl of Ellesmere).

A New Home

Egerton was not entirely over-joyed with his new Estate at Worsley and he was recorded as describing the place as “a God-forsaken place, full of drunken, rude people with deplorable morals.”  Nonetheless he commenced with a new building project, to replace Brick Hall (the 18th century family seat) with Worsley New Hall. The foundations were laid in 1839 and the Gothic-style hall was complete in 1846. It must be noted that he also set about the construction of schools and churches in the vicinity too.

There has been much already written about Worsley New Hall, including the visitations by both Queen Victoria and Edward VII and the building’s role as a Red Cross hospital during the First World War. The Hall was unfortunately completely demolished by 1949; a sad fate which befell many of Britain’s country houses in the post-Second World War period. At the bottom of this page, as usual, will be additional links to find out more about the long lost history of Worsley New Hall.

The Gardener’s Cottage

At the same time Egerton began his plans to build a new country house, he also redeveloped the gardens and grounds of his Worsley Estate. This included using Edward Blore (1787 – 1879), the architect who designed Worsley New Hall to design a gardener’s cottage in a sympathetic Gothic-style. Blore was a leading architect of the early nineteenth century and was perhaps most famous for his restoration of Lambeth Palace and the completion of Buckingham Palace. By choosing an architect to design his servants living accommodation we can summise that Egerton was image-conscious and determined to assert his status and legacy through tangible, physical structures and that he was also at least partially invested in the lives of his staff and perhaps had a paternalistic element to his character.

A sketch of the Gardener’s Cottage, c.1830/40s (Source:

There is some debate over the age of the head gardener’s cottage; it was originally presumed the cottage was completed in 1834, however more recent archival research by the Archaeological team at the University of Salford reveals the cottage was more likely constructed around 1840, and this ties in more with the construction of the New Hall itself.  The cottage is constructed of rock-faced stone and brick with a slate roof. It is an L-shaped building of two-storey with an octagonal tower with a conical roof. The elaborate-looking building is clearly inspired by Tudor architecture; this includes the gabled-porch, mullioned windows, diagonally set windows and hoodmoulds above the windows. It was extended and altered over the course of the nineteenth century.

The 1840s

The first gardener to occupy the cottage was Peter Clare (b.1773) who lived there with his wife, Alice (b.1774). During this early tenure of Peter Clare the kitchen gardens were constructed along side the cottage around 1840-42.

By 1846, the elderly Mr and Mrs Clare have left the Cottage and the property became inhabited John Mitchell (b.1801). The 1851 census records that Mitchell was born in Scotland, as was his wife Margaret (b.1798) and their two daughters Margaret (b.1832) and Jane (b.1836). The family was already living in Worsley in 1841.

In these early years it appears it was common for all the under-gardeners to reside in the same house at the head gardener and his family. So alongside the Mitchell’s in 1851 are: James Wise (b.1826 in West Lothian), Andrew Clarke (b.1825 in Aberdeen), Peter Finley (b.1828 in East Lothian) and George Thompson (b.1834 in Fifeshire).

Where there’s muck, there’s brass

The above title is a saying most commonly heard in northern England, referring to the rewards of a seemingly unpleasant job. This saying can certainly be applied to John Mitchell’s tenure as head gardener at Worsley New Hall, as he frequently appears in the press, writing about his successes with liquid manure.

In October 1849 a letter appears in the North Devon Journal which was written by Mitchell himself in response to a query he had received:

“DEAR SIR, I am sorry I have been so long in answering your letter of the 9th instant.
In answer to your question, first – what quantity of land has been manured? In the year 1847, 150 acres; 1848 20 acres and 1849, 130 acres. The 20 acres that were manured in 1848 was done as an experiment, to prove the fertilizing power of the liquid manure… The results proved very much in the favour of liquid manure. The produce per acre from the green land dressed with the liquid manure was 1,108 stones per acre. The produce of green grass per acre from the farm yard manure was 880 stones per acre…

The letter goes on to describe further details about the experiment and details about the pros and cons of liquid manure in farming. Later in 1852, Mitchell again was in the newspapers stating “he has never seen any manure produce so good a crop of strawberries” (again about the benefits of liquid manure).

Worsley New Hall
Worsley New Hall (

During the 1850s George Egerton (the 2nd Earl of Ellesmere) and his wife, Lady Mary Campbell Egerton used the gardens at Worsley New Hall to provide a recreational day out for the children of their Estates. One such annual outing was described in September 1859; the children from schools in Worsley, Walkden and Ellenbrook walked in a procession headed by a pipe band to the gardens at the hall. There they were given a tour of the more interesting parts and then treated to an outdoor tea party in front of the hall provided by the Earl and Countess. After the children and their teachers were allowed to use a field near the hall for “several interesting and innocent games“.

The Mid-Nineteenth Cetury

By 1857 Mitchell has left Worsley New Hall and another Scottish gardener has taken up residency there. James Davidson (b.1816), his wife Helen (b.1811) their daughter Mary Ann (b.1837) and extended family; sister-in-law Margaret and nephews John and James Davidson are all recorded at the property in the 1861 census. Again there are several of the under-gardeners also residing at the house; Frederick Scott (b.1833), Thomas Hulme (b.1841), Alfred Idle (b.1841) and William Heywood (b.1844).

Davidson stayed at Worsley for just over a decade, until 1869. During this time he was responsible for the laying out of the formal terraced gardens, which vastly added to the atmosphere and sense of grandeur of the Hall.

12 may 1866
Advertisement for bedding plants (Sources: Leigh Chronicle, 12 May 1866)

William Barber Upjohn

Around 1870, William Barber Upjohn (1843-1939) arrived as the new Head Gardener at Worsley New Hall. The 1871 census reveals he inhabited the cottage with his wife, Mary (b.1848) and his mother Susannah Upjohn (b.1816). William and his mother originated from Norfolk and Mary was from Edinburgh, Scotland. The census also shows that the cottage is known as “Garden House”. William and Mary’s granddaughter, Ruth Campbell (b.1921) was interviewed in 2012 about her grandparents, with whom she lived with as a child:

“Well I had a wonderful childhood as you can imagine, because the family were not living in the hall when I grew up, so the hall grounds were our playground… My Grandfather went to train as gardener with Lord Dalkeith at his estate in Edinburgh. The story goes that the 3rd Earl of Ellesmere wanted a head gardener and how the word got up to Grandfather in Dalkeith I don’t know. Anyway he came down for an interview for the job of head gardener and after the interview I understand the Earl said ‘Well Upjohn, we’re very pleased with everything you said and very impressed, the only thing is I was looking for a married man and someone a little bit older”. My Grandfather said ‘Sorry M’Lord but I can’t do anything about my age, but I can get married!’ So he went back to Edinburgh and proposed to Mary Mathieson Robertson and they married two or three years later, they didn’t get married immediately and he grew a mustache to make himself look older.”

In 1876 The Journal of Horticultural, Cottage Gardener and Home Farmer visited Upjohn at Worsley New Hall. The reporter described the cottage as “comfortable in appearance and elegant in design” and he describes the kitchen garden which was ten-acres in size and surrounded by fourteen-feet walls. He also described the glasshouses containing vines, fruit trees, beets, beans, pines and figs in great detail.

By 1881 William and Mary have started their family; Thomas (b.1872) , Ruth (b.1873), William (b.1875), Frank (b.1880) and they subsequently have a large family: Marjorie (b.1882), Arthur (b.1884), Walter (b.1885), Percy (b.1886) Marion (b.1888), Florence (b.1891) and Constance (b.1893), although sadly three other children died. In the 1891 census Florence is just one day old and has not yet been named by the time the census was taken. As there was a new baby in the house, Sarah Robertson (Mary’s sister) and Ann Morton (a midwife) are also both recorded in the census as they would have been staying there to assist with the birth and to help run the house.

In 1901 William’s elderly father, Edward Upjohn (b.1816) and his brother Arthur Upjohn (b.1842) are both living with the family at the cottage. Completing what must have been a rather crowded household was Eliza Beswick (b.1844) who was working for the Upjohn family as a housemaid. The fact a member of staff was able to have his own servant reflects his respected position among the Estate workers. By 1911 only William, Mary and three daughters are recorded at the cottage; Marion, Florence and Constance. The form reveals the cottage consists of nine rooms, but this does not include the cellar.

G cottage 1905
The Gardener’s Cottage, 1905 (Source:

His son Arthur followed his father into the same profession, he took the gardens over from his father in later years used them as a market garden, he lived at the Bothy. The other Upjohn siblings had very modern jobs for the late nineteenth century/early twentieth century. William Upjohn was clerk, Walter was a telegraphist and Marjorie was an assistant school teacher. William himself retired in 1914 after over forty years service to the Earls of Ellesmere. By this point the gilded era of the Edwardian period was coming to a close and the First World War broke out in August that same year, forever changing society. William was allowed to stay at the cottage for an annual rent of £30 a year (£2642 in modern terms).

In August 1916 William Upjohn attempted to appeal his son, Arthur Upjohn’s, call-up notice into the army (conscription was enforced that year). William stated that due to the depleted staff at the Worsley Estate, Arthur’s work on the kitchen gardens was vital, as they supplied the Red Cross hospital which had been set up in the Hall. Arthur was taken to a tribunal, but a letter was received from the Earl of Ellesmere stating his disapproval of the appeal and bowing to the pressure of his social superiors, William Upjohn removed his appeal for Arthur. In the end Arthur was granted adjournment until October 31st 1916 and fortunately he survived the First World War.

In the early 1920s the Earl of Ellesmere severed his links with Worsley and the Estate was taken over by the Bridgewater Estates Ltd, who continued to allow William to live at the cottage. In 1930 William Upjohn gave a newspaper interview about his time as Gardener at Worsley New Hall. By this point the Hall itself had been empty for some years and the whole Estate was a shadow of its former self, as the reporter describes:

“To-day Worsley Hall, a fine handsome structure in the Tudor style, stands grim and deserted (surrounded by miles of neglected gardens). The many striking fountains on the terraces, which have long grassy fronts, sloping steeply towards the lakes, have ceased to play. On the crisp November morning when I visited it there was almost a ghostly stillness about the place. Nature itself appeared to be dead.”

However William Upjohn (described as a “quiet man of genial temperament and unquestionable ability) talked fondly of the Estate in its hey-day. He described the variety of flowers, fruit and vegetables which were grown there including; lilies, phloxes, rhododendrons, delphiniums, poppies, anemones, asters, pinks, sweet scented stocks, fragrant mignonette, grapes produced by eight vineries, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes, apple, plum and pear trees. Upjohn was the Head Gardener of a team of 34 other gardeners and he recalled fondly his meetings with royalty, including sharing a joke with the Duke of York (later King George V) when he planted a sycamore tree in the grounds in the 1890s.

William Upjohn (Source:

It must have been very hard for William to witness the decline of the Estate and gardens which he had spent so much of his life working on and where he had made his home. However it appears he still was able to create his own happiness, as the description of the cottage in 1930 reveals:

“The Gardener’s Cottage – an extremely pretty and roomy house is in a little world of its own. Even during these hard days of winter nothing is out of place. Mr Upjohn’s son continues to tend, with meticulous care, the charming surroundings of the cottage. During summer it is clothed in climbers, with sweet-scented roses peeping in at the windows and the long streamers of the Virginian creeper twisting about the tiny tower and veil from the porch. The love of nature has been passed on undoubtedly from father to son.”

The Twentieth Century and Beyond

During the 1920s and 1930s, the children of the Earls of Ellesmere continued to visit William Upjohn and his granddaughter, Ruth, recalled her grandfather was very popular with the family. She remembered two daughters of the Earl, Lady Mabel and Lady Rochdale visiting the cottage whilst she was there. In 1938 the cottage had electricity installed, rather late considering by 1939 two-thirds of all British homes were connected to the National Grid. The following year William Upjohn passed away aged 96, and his family had to leave the cottage. It was a sad time for the Upjohn family; his daughter Marion had lived there all her life. In August 1939 there was a sale of furniture and other household items belonging to William at the Cottage itself (see below).

15 aug 1939
Auction at the Gardener’s Cottage (Manchester Evening News, 15 August 1939)

The cottage was then let to a Mr J. Wittingham for the annual sum of £21 per year (£1,131 in modern terms). He stayed there until 1948, when the cottage was in a state of disrepair and was suffering from dry rot. Fortunately it was decided to restore the house rather than demolish it.

Late in 1948 Richard and Herbert Cunliffe, of Chaddock Hall in Boothstown, purchased the property and developed their business from there; Worsley Hall Nurseries and Garden Centre. They used the cottage as office space and living accommodation. From the 1960s at least the building was split into two flats but fortunately it received a Grade II listed building status in 1987, thereby protecting the historical structure from any further damage.

In 2008 the cottage was purchased by Peel Investments Ltd and in 2011 Lilliput Lane Models created a miniature version of the Head Gardener’s Cottage to be sold. In 2019 the Royal Horticultural Society are opening the former Estate as their fifth gardens; RHS Garden Bridgewater. Among their immediate plans is to restore the 11-acre walled Kitchen Garden; which was a prominent feature in both the history of the hall and the history of the cottage. After decades of neglect and decline the gardens will be restored to their former glory which were created by the gardeners of the little cottage.

Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath