The Bellhouse Building is currently part of Manchester Metropolitan University’s All Saint’s Campus on Oxford Road. It is a building which I have walked past many times throughout my years at MMU and it holds a unique position as it demonstrates both a hidden history and a long lost history.
Grosvenor Square is located on Oxford Road in Manchester. A more definitive version of its address would be Chorlton-on-Medlock (also recorded as Chorlton-upon-Medlock). Historically Chorlton-on-Medlock was known simply as “Chorlton Row”, however the rapid urbanisation of the area in the late eighteenth century led to its development as a substantial township, located just outside Manchester hence the change of name. In 1838 the township ceased to exist when Chorlton-on-Medlock was absorbed into the Manchester Borough, later developing into the South Manchester area in 1896.
The first traceable mention of Grosvenor Square I can find is on William Green’s map of Manchester dating from 1794. The map shows Manchester at an exciting time, just as it is about to grow and expand with the industrial revolution. Green’s map shows that there are almost no buildings beyond the Medlock, although the streets (including Grosvenor Square) have already been laid out. As Derek Brumhead and Terry Wyke explain in their book A Walk Around All Saints, the streets were given aristocratic names to reflect the type of development this was supposed to become.
The next mention of the area is from the Manchester Mercury a decade later in 1806. At this time, this area was still largely rural, although some building work has taken place. Given the picturesque landscape of open green pastures, Chorlton-on-Medlock quickly became the place to live for Manchester’s emerging middle classes. Previous well-to-do residential areas had drastically declined as Manchester’s attempted to establish itself as a northern powerhouse and this brought with it heavy industry and of course, poorly paid workers. For instance, by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Georgian townhouses on Mosley Street had been swept away and replaced with warehouses; King Street retained its fashionable status from previous decades but the houses were replaced with banks and retail premises and the smart terraces at St. John Street backed onto slum housing.
Grosvenor Square itself remained in an undeveloped state, similar to the map above dating from 1813. However, by 1820 large houses had started to be constructed around the edge of the gardens at the heart of Grosvenor Square. The influx of people into houses in neighbouring streets also resulted in the need for a church to serve the local community. Therefore, in 1820 All Saints Church was built in the middle of the public gardens at Grosvenor Square. This in turn added a prestigious air to the area and the intention was to develop the square as a beautiful, residential area, much like St. Ann’s Square had been a century earlier.
The Bellhouse Family
One such family who controlled much of the construction in Chorlton-on-Medlock was the Bellhouse family, for whom the building is named after. David Bellhouse (1764-1840) was the archetype of self-made man who benefited from the industrial revolution. David was born in Leeds and received no formal education, instead he was self-taught. He moved to Manchester in 1786 and commenced business as a joiner with the firm Thomas Sharp, which was later left to him after Sharp’s death. This made Bellhouse a very wealthy and influential man, he had a timber yard and iron foundry on Oxford Road. His legacy includes the construction of the Portico Library (of which he was also a founding member), introducing the steam saw to Manchester and he was also a founding member of the Art Gallery.
David Bellhouse married Mary Wainwright (1761-1837) on 8th June 1786 at the Collegiate Church (now Manchester Cathedral). Together they had several children; Ellen (b.1787), Henry (b.1789), David (b.1791), Hannah (b.1792), Mary (b.1794), James (b.1796), John (b.1798), Wainwright (b.1800) and William (b.1803).
All of the sons, with the exception of Henry, followed in their father’s footsteps. David Bellhouse Jr. took over his father’s business as a builder and contractor, John and William Bellhouse became timber merchants, James and Wainwright Bellhouse became cotton spinners and the foundry business was inherited by a grandson, Edward Taylor Bellhouse.
In 1821 David Bellhouse Jr. had commenced building his own house on Grosvenor Square and later in 1831 he started to build a new house (now the Bellhouse Building) on land at the corner of Grosvenor Square on Lower Ormond Street. He had purchased the land from his brother John for £650 (about £53,410 in modern terms) and the house was constructed for his other brother, Wainwright Bellhouse. In the early 1830s, the majority of the Bellhouse family continued to reside around Grosvenor Square and All Saints, on Nicholas and Faulkner Streets, as this is where their businesses were still located. The Mynshull Cotton Mills, a joint business venture of Wainwright and James Bellhouse was located in the curve of the River Medlock just behind Charles Street (the mills were demolished in the 1950s and the site is now a car park).
From contemporary accounts, the Bellhouse’s were fair employers to work under; at the Mynshull Mills they offered the highest pay in Manchester and were among the highest wage-payers in the country and they did not believe in corporal punishment. However, like many mill owners of the early nineteenth century, they opposed the introduction of a 10 hour working day, and the bill ultimately failed in Parliament. Nonetheless, the Bellhouse’s instead offered their workers an extra hour break for lunch in addition to the requirement of a half hour break for breakfast.
The family enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle, Wainwright was a member of the Manchester Athenaeum, sang tenor at the Manchester Gentlemen’s Glee Club and was heavily involved in the Manchester Literary Festivals of 1828 and 1836 (including taking part in the fancy dress balls). David Bellhouse Jr. also held musical evenings at his home in Grosvenor Square and in 1838 he invited all the joiners who worked for him to his home for the Coronation procession to mark Victoria’s accession to the throne.
In 1829 Wainwright Bellhouse married Sarah Ward Hamilton (1811-1851), daughter of the Manchester surgeon Gavin Hamilton and granddaughter of the famous actress Sarah Ward. They had three daughters; Letitia (b.1830), Katherine (b.1832) and Emily Jane (b.1835). The whole family was residing at their property in Grosvenor Square in the 1841 census, along with three servants; Jane Cooper, Margaret Read and Sarah Leicester. In 1843 a maid at the property, Martha Grimshaw took tea with her friend Jane McCracken in the kitchen, afterwards Grimshaw obtained permission from Sarah Bellhouse to go out with her friend. Whilst Grimshaw went to change, McCracken went into Sarah Bellhouse’s bedroom and stole a brooch worth £5. Afterwards, McCracken coerced Jane Beckett to pledge the brooch for her in a pawnbrokers by claiming she was an out-of-work servant. The women were caught the next day, Beckett was acquitted but McCracken sent for trial.
A Changing Scenery
During the Bellhouse family’s occupancy of the property, Grosvenor Square and Oxford Road changed rapidly. The area retained its dignified status when the Chorlton-on-Medlock Town Hall was built facing All Saints Church in 1831. It was designed by architect Richard Lane and built by David Bellhouse Jr. However, by the late 1840s this area was becoming increasingly less desirable as a residential area, as Manchester expanded and grew. Numerous cotton mills, dye works and other industrial buildings sprung up, bringing with them the railways and slum housing. The infamous slum of Little Ireland was located only a ten minute walk away from Grosvenor Square. The square itself took on an increasingly civic role and St. Andrew’s Chapel was built adjoining the town hall in 1844 and in 1845 the Welsh Methodists built a chapel alongside Wainwright Bellhouse’s house and subsequently a Presbyterian Chapel appeared on the other side.
The changing nature of the area resulted in many middle-class families, such as Wainwright and Sarah Bellhouse to retreat further and further to the South of the city, away from the noise, pollution and population. In 1845 they moved to 48 Plymouth Grove, where they were the neighbours of Rev. William and Elizabeth Gaskell. In 1855 after the death of Sarah Bellhouse and Wainwright’s remarriage, they moved to a large detached villa in Victoria Park. The Bellhouse brother’s invested and constructed several of the properties in this affluent gated-community.
The Mid-Nineteenth Century
After the departure of the Bellhouse family, the local newspaper The Manchester Times tells us what happened to the house next:
“To be LET or SOLD, a Good Family HOUSE, in Grosvenor Square, Oxford Road, containing dining-room, drawing-room, breakfast-room and kitchens on the same floor; seven bedrooms with two others (at present unfinished) if necessary. The house is well adapted for a large school or boarding house.”
The last line of the advertisement alludes to the future role of the house over the last few decades of the nineteenth century. In 1864 the building was operating as a “middle-class school” for the education of Catholic boys. It was known as the Catholic Collegiate Institute and ran by the Xaverian Brothers. In 1863, 72 boys successful passed their examinations there, the following year another 60 pupils completed their education at the school. In 1876, the school was reopened as St. Bede’s Catholic High School by Cardinal Manning, although the majority of the teaching was still conducted by the Xaverian Brothers. At the same time the Catholic Church also purchased the former Welsh Baptist Chapel as a new place of worship for the school. The pupils took part in many extra-curricular activities and they frequently took part in sporting matches against other schools, namely in cricket, football and lacrosse. The school was extremely popular and within seven months of its reopening, it was found to be too small and a new site was opened in Alexandra Park. In 1907 the Xaverian Brothers sold the building at Grosvenor Square when they moved to new accommodation in Victoria Park.
The Ear Hospital
The Manchester Institution for Diseases of the Ear had been founded in 1855 and was located at 23 Byrom Street. In 1896 the facility was renamed the Manchester Ear Institution and in 1910 it moved to larger premises in the former school in Lower Ormond Street, the building being adapted for its new purpose by Thomas Worthington. The cost of converting the former school was £7,666 (about £718,000 in modern terms) and a large proportion of this was donated by a Miss Hoyle of Southport, who also paid for the fitting out the operating theatre. Mr Frank Donner paid for the 24 beds and equipment, doubling the capacity of the hospital from that of its previous location.
The hospital was frequently busy, treating the men, women and children of Manchester. In 1915, for example, the hospital treated 4,937 out-patients and 1,088 in-patients. By this point, Oxford Road had become the heart of Manchester’s medical district with other specialised hospitals operating along the road, such as the Eye Hospital and The Christie. By 1939 the Ear Hospital was formally known as the Manchester Hospital for Diseases of the Ear, Nose and Throat and it narrowly survived the Manchester Blitz of December 1940, which destroyed All Saints Church. The Ear Hospital closed in 1974.
The Bellhouse Building
Also in 1974 the building received a Grade II listed building status, however this did not stop the demolition of the hospital in 1987. Everything except the facade of the building was demolished, although Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University) did rebuild the rear of the property in a sympathetic style, including recreating the decorative interiors of an early nineteenth century home. To the casual passer-by, you would never guess that only the front of house was original. Today it is known as the Bellhouse Building and operates as administrative offices for the university.
Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath
- Manchester Mercury 4 November 1806
- Manchester Courier, 18 March 1843, p.8
- Manchester Times, 21 April 1849, p.4
- Manchester Times, 16 July 1864, p.6
- Manchester Times, 28 August 1869, p.8
- Manchester Courier, 6 July 1902, p.2
- Manchester Courier, 16 February 1911, p.3
- Manchester Courier, 1 December 1915, p.5
- http://www.stats.uwo.ca/faculty/bellhouse/bellhousehistory.htm – A very detailed history of the Bellhouse family (please refer to this for much more information about this prominent Manchester family)