Bank House or Number 5 Market Place as it is known today, is a striking-looking building which could easily fit into the setting of Dickensian London. The building is currently on the cusp of redevelopment, so this presents the perfect opportunity to explore its hidden history.

Conflicting Addresses

Although the current address of the building is 5 Market Place, throughout history the address of the building changes. In some cases this is decade by decade. In the early-nineteenth century it was simply listed as being on Church Street as door numbers were not introduced into Atherton until 1869. It was later known as 3 Church Street and then as 7 Market Place before the addresses was finally setteled on 5 Market Place.

Why the confusion? Well, firstly as the town expanded buildings were frequently knocked down and new ones replaced them, resulting in a change of door number. The other issue arises from the fact Church Street runs seamlessly into Market Place, which then splits into Market Street and Dan Lane (now Tyldesley Road).  Therefore, depending on the boundaries decided by the census enumerator, the building could appear recorded on any of these streets! It is fortunate that historically, the building was sandwiched between two pubs, the Queen’s Head and the Red Lion, which makes it easier to identify it in historical records.

A bit about architecture

Although the name of the building for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was “Bank House” it did not always have connections to a bank. The period of construction is hard to date exactly but the architecture denotes it as an early-nineteenth century building and certainly one of the few surviving examples of an unchanged historic shop front in Atherton.

Bank House (No. 5 Market Place), 2018 (Source: Own Photograph)

The building has a double-fronted façade built in an English Garden Wall bond, meaning three rows of stretchers (the length of the brick) to one row of headers (the short edge of the brick). This style of brickwork was very popular in the north from the late-eighteenth century until the mid-nineteenth century. After this the more common stretcher bond took over as it uses less bricks. The building retains its unusually large projecting-bay window and door casing, topped with a decorate cornice at first-floor level. This would’ve been ideal for displaying goods to the public.

There are three decorative ventilation grills and evidence of a former cellar in front of the building as there’s a lightwell on the pavement. The front door, whilst perhaps not the original door to the building, has six panels and is hung on the right, as all front doors were traditionally.

The Norbury Family

The first occupants of the building was the Norbury family. They used it as their grocer’s and draper’s shop and as the family’s living accommodation. John Norbury (b.1803) is first recorded on Church Street as a grocer and draper in 1834, so the building may date from the early-1830s. The 1841 census revealed that within his household was another John Norbury (1820-1860) along with John Unsworth and James Hilton (shop assistants) and Jane Bradshaw, a servant.

The story continues with the younger John Norbury who was in sole control of the business from 1848. It is not known how he was related to the older John Norbury. They were not father and son but perhaps he was an uncle or other relative. By the 1840s Norbury was also recorded as a tallow chandler. This means he certainly sold and perhaps even made, tallow candles. These candles were made from animal fats and were the cheaper alternative to beeswax candles. Tallow was gradually falling out of favour by the late-1840s as the introduction of gas lighting (in middle-class homes anyway) made ordinary candles cheaper.

John Norbury married Rebecca Hodgkinson (1821-1850) on 8 May 1844 at St. Mary’s Leigh. They had two children; Mary Jane (b.1848) and John (b.1849). Sadly, Rebecca died in 1850 aged 29. In 1851 John Norbury was not at his Atherton address during the census, instead he was staying at a hotel in Liverpool. He was possibly at a conference or business meeting as he was travelling with Johnathan Hesketh (a corn merchant) and James Warburton ( a land agent). Both Hesketh and Warburton were prominent residents of Atherton which means Norbury was well-connected within local society.

A Tragic Accident

John married for a second time to Nancy Unsworth (1825-1905) and they had three children who lived to adulthood; Ralph (b.1854), Margaret (b.1857) and Ann (b.1858). Sadly in February 1860 they had a fourth child who died at birth. That same Sunday evening, just before 9pm, John Norbury went to the bell tower of Atherton Parish Church to have a capped-bell tolled to announce the death of his child. John had previously suffered from a fractured leg which left it lame. He was about half-way down the stone steps of the tower after having the bell rung when he slipped and fell to the bottom. He was carried home and died some hours later, it appears having never regained consciousness. The Leigh Chronicle reports on the tragedy of Norbury’s death:

“As a tradesman Mr Norbury had the brightest prospects, and as a citizen he enjoyed the esteem and admiration of his fellow-townsmen. In his business transactions he was always courteous and honourable, and in his private relations he was amiable and trustworthy. His affability of disposition was a pleasure which all classes of the inhabitants of Atherton had long since experienced, and his generosity and sympathy were virtues to which there are many silent though earnest witnesses.”

Nancy Norbury continued to run the family business for the next 21 years, as well as raising her step-children and children. During the 1860s she was assisted in the business by Thomas Ridgway who had been an apprentice with the business for a number of years. By the 1880s she was no longer living above her shop, instead she resided at a newly built terraced house, 8 Bolton New Road. By 1887 she had retired from the business altogether and Slater’s Directory for that year listed her in “gentry and clergy” section, which is evidence of the esteem which was held for her locally.

atherton church
The original Parish Church of Atherton, built in 1810 and demolished in 1877. It was the tower of this church (seen on the left of the photo) which John Norbury fell down. (Source: PC2010.2044 Wigan Archives & Leigh Local Studies)

The 1880s: from Retail to Banking

In April 1881 the shop was unoccupied, but it was subsequently taken over by the Bank of Bolton, which was a branch of the Manchester and Salford Banking Company. They also had branches in Tyldesley and Farnworth. They had established their first branch in Atherton at St. John’s Place. However, they soon outgrew this space as the building was originally designed to be a house.

In August 1881 the Bank of Bolton submitted plans to Atherton’s Urban District Council to alter their new premises from a grocer’s shop to a bank. This would have included the removal of the bay window but the plans were rejected. In September the architect, Mr. Woodhouse, submitted another plan, asking if the council would fund the cost of a new building which was inline with existing buildings. Again this was refused. Ultimately the arrangement between the council and the bank was to construct a new building on the left hand side of the old shop, with an internal connection established between the two. The new building was used as the banking hall and the old shop became Bank House, and it was used a domestic residence for the bank manager and his family.

Bank House

The first manager of this new Atherton branch of the Bank of Bolton Thomas Pickering. Pickering was born in 1849 in Bolton and he married Mary Reed, who was originally from Dublin. They had a daughter, Elsa (b.1880) and a son, Gilbert (b.1882).

By 1891, Pickering was still the bank manager but he moved from Bank House. It was occupied by another employee of the bank, John McMillan, his wife, Sarah Elizabeth, their four children; Jessie, Katie, Elsie and Alec and two domestic servants. McMillan later rose to be manager of the bank, a position he held until 1896.

Market Street, Atherton, c.1960 Bank House and the bank can be seen at the centre of this photo, taken near Christmas. (Source: Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies)

The Twentieth Century

Mr Richard Kitchen Greenhalgh (b.1854) was appointed as the next bank manager at the start of the twentieth century. At this point the bank was a branch of William Deacons Bank. Before moving to Atherton, Greenhalgh had been closely involved with Bolton Parish Church and he acted as superintendent of the Sunday School. In 1896 when he left Bolton for Atherton, the church and school presented him with an illuminated address, a pipe, a gong and a set of silver fish knives. His wife, Elizabeth Alice Greenhalgh was presented with a bible.

Unfortunately, despite his occupation as a bank manager Mr. Greenhalgh made terrible financial decisions. In 1905 he had to declare himself bankrupt. In 1903 he had purchased The Laburnums, a large house near St. Philips School in Atherton which also had a substantial amount of land. Greenhalgh had the intention of turning this into a new, exclusive housing estate. He paid £4,300 (around £465,000 today) for the house and land but the majority of the money was raised by local residents who expected to live on this new estate. The plans never came to fruition and clients began to demand their money back. Greenhalgh then purchased Marklands Farm in Astley in an attempt to raise money through dairy farming to pay back his creditors. This also proved to be a financial disaster and Greenhalgh was eventually fired from the bank and he owed £21,191 (over £2 million in modern currency). He did not attend his final meeting at the Bolton Bankruptcy Court in April 1905. In the 1911 census, Elizabeth was once again living in Bolton with her son and her sister. She still listed her status as married but her husband cannot be traced.

Bank House was then occupied by Harry M. F. Ingham (1864 – 1906) akong with his wife and son. Mr Ingham was also treasurer of Church Day School and manager and treasurer of the Atherton Sick Nursing Association. He died aged 42 in 1906. The next manager and resident of Bank house was John Ellis R. Hall until 1909.

In 1908 Hall successful prevented a case of fraud.  Mrs. Royalance falsely claimed a cheque book under the name of Richard Mather, a farmer at Hatton Fold. From Mather’s account she withdrew £11 4s. (Around £1,200 today). Hall was suspicious and caught Royalance in the act. In newspapers Mrs. Royalance was described as an “elderly woman”, but in fact she was only 48 years old! She was sentenced at Liverpool Assizes Court and imprisoned for two months. The following bank manager was William Marshall Horrocks who lived at the nine-roomed Bank House with his wife Frances, two daughters and maid.

A New Bank

In the 1920s there was several changes to the bank in Atherton.  The Queen’s Head pub which stood on the right hand side of Bank House was demolished and it was replaced with a modern bank building. Also at this point Bank House was separated and isolated internally from the two bank buildings either side of it. However, these two bank building were still connected through internal corridors.

Bank House was still used as the domestic premises for the bank manager. From the early 1930s it was home to the Morris family. Kenneth Morris (b.1895) and his wife Julia (b.1898) were still recorded at the property at the outbreak of war in September 1939. Their son was a pupil of Leigh Grammar School and as the letter below from October 1934 testifies, holidays during term time have always been a problem!

Letter to Kenneth Morris from the John William Major, Headmaster of Leigh Grammar School, 1934. (Source: Wigan Archives and Leigh Local Studies)

By the mid-1950s the bank was still known as William Deacons. This later changed to Williams and Glynns before eventually becoming a branch of the National Westminster which commenced trading in 1970. The name of this bank was later shortened to NatWest.

The 21st Century

The NatWest branch in Atherton always had a dignified air about it compared to other modern bank branches. The interior was light and airy with high ceilings and decorative features which was reflective of the period of construction in the 1920s. The end of this bank branch came in 2015. A succession of robberies coupled with the rise of online banking was the final nail in the coffin.

The former banks, along with the eighteenth century obelisk, 2018. (Source: Own Photograph)

Between 2015-2018, the old NatWest, Bank House and the older banking hall all stood empty. Fortunately, in February 2018 plans were put in place to convert the derelict properties into a new restaurant and bar. The older Victorian banking hall has become ‘The Cabinet’, a popular restaurant and bar. It’s name comes from surviving internal features.  The building known as Bank House, which is separate from The Cabinet, has also recently been renovated and the used again as living accommodation. Hopefully in the not too distant future, the old NatWest building will also come back into use and the three buildings will continue to play a central part in the community of Atherton.

Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath