If you could travel back in time and ask the former residents of Astley – “what is Lark Hill?” – you would get a different answer depending on what decade it was and in which century.
Lark Hill in 2019 is the name of a relatively new housing development. A hundred years ago, you would be told it was the name of a large Arts and Crafts style house and the general area around it. Further back in time, 140 years ago, you would be pointed to a different house. This is the hidden history of Lark Hill and all its various connections.
Lark Hill is situated in between two areas known as Blackmoor and Town Lane in Astley. Whilst the name of Blackmoor survives into present times, Town Lane has been lost and this area comprised of the land surrounding Farnworth House (now the Cart and Horses).
The story starts with a group of cottages named “Poplar Temple”, which stood on the site. Poplar would probably have related to poplar trees in the ground. The use of the word ‘temple’ is a little different, although there was a farm just further down the road in Astley called Solomon’s Temple. In 1861 the cottages were occupied by: John Hampson, a coal labourer, his lodger Ellen Ward, a washerwoman and her two children, Peter and Margaret and another lodger, Reuben Grundy. Next door was Alice Mann and her son Thomas.
The 19th Century: The First Lark Hill House
By 1878, Poplar Temple cottages had been demolished and in their place a large house was built, known as Lark Hill House. The house still stands. It is now two properties; Number 297 Manchester Road and Number 1 Hope Street.
The 1881 census recorded two households. One household was headed by James Latchford (1836-1885) and his wife, Mary (b.1839). The other household consisted of Mary’s sister; Elizabeth Lythgoe (b.1835) and Elizabeth’s daughter, Eliza (b.1873). As Elizabeth and Eliza are listed as a separate household at the address and not as lodgers, I believe Lark Hill House was subdivided not long after its construction, or it was built as two residences under the title of ‘Lark Hill House’.
Elizabeth Lythgoe was recorded on the census as an unmarried woman, which meant her daughter, Eliza, was born illegitimately. This would have been a huge taboo in the nineteenth century. Elizabeth herself was born Lowton, the daughter of Joseph and Betty Lythgoe. The family moved to Astley in the 1840s and they lived Morley’s Hall. They had a substantial farm there, comprising of 128 acres. Despite the large farm, there were no additional servants and the six sons and three daughters would have been expected to help. Elizabeth worked as a dairy maid.
Her daughter Eliza was baptised on 23 April 1873 at St. Stephen’s Church. The fact Elizabeth was living next door to her sister and brother-in-law at Lark Hill House is perhaps telling about how her family reacted to her pregnancy. Clearly Mary supported her sister and niece. Elizabeth and Eliza left Astley in the late 1880s and moved to Leigh. In February 1892, Eliza married Frederick Nuttall, a draper from Leigh. Eliza lived on Railway Road, not far Frederick’s shop. The marriage was reported in the local newspaper reflecting the position of the new couple in local society. Eliza wore a white silk dress and a crown of flowers and the couple honeymooned in Southport. Sadly, Eliza died just two years later aged 21, not long after the birth of her son, Frederick Harold Nuttall, in June 1894.
The loss of her only child must have been heartbreaking for Elizabeth, who lived with her daughter and son-in-law in their home on The Avenue, Leigh. Elizabeth stayed at the property until 1895 and then she moved to Guest Fold in Bedford, where she was recorded as “living on her own means”. In 1898, her four year old grandson Frederick Harold Nuttall died. By 1900 she had moved to 14 Moss Houses in Tyldesley where she later died aged 74 in 1909. At the time of her death Elizabeth owned property in both Tyldesley and Leigh and her estate was valued at £130/8s/11d (modern equivalent is £156,000), which is quite remarkable for an unmarried, working-class mother in the nineteenth century.
A Tragic Event
As mentioned above, the other residents of Lark Hill House at the same time as the Lythgoes were the Latchfords. James Latchford was a boot maker and he lived with his wife, Mary who was the sister of Elizabeth Lythgoe.
James and Mary married in 1871 at St. Stephen’s in Astley, despite marrying at this Protestant Church, James was involved in with Unitarian Chapel in Astley. He had been married previously but his first wife died.
On Saturday 21st March 1885, James and Mary had to go into Manchester to see an eye specialist. James was told he had cancer in his eye and that the cancer would have to be cut out. On Tuesday 24th March, James sent Mary to Tyldesley with a package to post. When she came home, she found James dead, aged only 49. Here is her own testimony:
“It was about quarter to twelve when I got home. I found the door fast and was unable to open it. I then picked up a coal shuttle which was in the yard, and taking it into the shed near at hand, saw my husband hanging from an iron bar in the roof…He had been low-spirited and quiet for some time but I did not perceive it much until last Saturday. I asked him what ailed him and he said he was not so well, but he did not give any specific ailment. We had been to Manchester on that date…that I think preyed on his mind.”
The children of the Unitarian Chapel later wore black armbands with “fond remembrance” stitched on to them in memory of James Latchford. Clearly he was a well-respected member of local society.
Following from the Latchfords and the Lythgoes were two more families. By this point the Lark Hill House had been formally split into two properties. Number 1 had just two rooms and Number 2 had three rooms, naturally this mean that they were generally favoured by the poorer working-classes, who were unable to rent more than a couple of rooms.
In 1891, Mark and Hannah Stringfellow and their two sons lived at the property as did William and Elizabeth Marsh and their daughter. Both Mark Stringfellow and William Marsh worked in the collieries. Mark was a miner and William an underground fireman, a dangerous role which involved blasting the coal face to break it up. The Stringfellows son, Thomas, died not long after the census was taken in 1891, he was just 21 years old.
By 1911 the properties have been renumbered and renamed as 169 & 171 Manchester Road. Also, a row of terraced houses (Hope Terrace) were built next to them. Newly married Fred and Florence Speakman were living at Number 171, along with Fred’s six year old nephew. At Number 169 was Peter and Martha Ward. Peter was 67 years old and still worked as a labourer on the highways for Leigh Rural District Council (Astley remained a part of Leigh Rural until it was amalgamated with Tyldesley in 1933). Fred Speakman was a wagon painter at a colliery. Some 28 years later in 1939, Fred Speakman was still at the same house, now numbered 1 Hope Street.
The 20th Century: The Second Lark Hill House
The second Lark Hill House was built on the opposite side of the road from the first around 1910. By this point, the area around the two properties was known as Lark Hill by local people and as mentioned above, the former Lark Hill House was renamed and renumbered to fit in with Manchester Road. This meant the new property, which was detached and much larger than neighbouring houses, could claim the title of Lark Hill House, without any confusion with its predecessor.
The house was built in a very distinctive Arts and Crafts style, evocative of the era and it would have appeared very modern at the time. An unusual distinction about the property is that it is constructed on a 90-degree angle, with the front door and hall way being in the middle.
The property was first occupied by John Walshaw (1847-1917) and his family. Walshaw was born in Middleton and married Sarah Lythgoe (1845-1935) in 1868 at St. Stephens. Sarah had been born and raised in Astley. Her father, Thomas Lythgoe was a farmer at Starkie Hall Farm and the site of her future house would have been fields in which she played. Starkie Hall Farm itself was located on Manchester Road, eventually consumed by the site of St. Mary’s School and it was demolished sometime in the 1970s.
John and Sarah had six children, but by 1911 only five were still alive. Two of their children, 31 year old Frank and 30 year old Ethel were living them at Lark Hill House. The house in 1911 comprised of around 8 rooms (not including bathrooms or sculleries). The house had large gardens and grounds surrounding it. There was a glasshouse and fruit trees. In 1913, a former employee of Walshaw was charged with criminal damage when he attacked the trees at the property after being told there was no work.
For some 46 years John was the manager of Astley and Tyldesley Collieries. On 13 August 1886 he had helped in the recovery efforts at Bedford Colliery (also known as Wood End Colliery). An explosion of fire-damp had killed 38 men. Walshaw did not work at Bedford but he joined other colliery managers and they descended into the Number 2 pit to see if they could bring up any survivors. By the time of his death in 1917, the family had moved to 21 St. George Street in Tyldesley.
A lady called Mary Cooke later lived at the property and she died on 24 August 1931 aged 83. Following her was the Smith family. Daniel Chadwick Smith (1892-1941) was the son of Thomas Smith, the managing director of Astley and Tyldesley Colleries Ltd.
He grew up in Astley, living at Park House, Peel Hall and The Lingards in his youth. During the First World War, Daniel served as 2nd Lieutenant in the North Staffordshire Regiment. He was awarded the Silver War Badge in October 1916. His brother James also survived active service during the war but sadly his other brother, Willie, did not. His sister, Margaret, married George Holden and she twice served as Mayoress of Leigh 1920-1922.
Daniel’s other brother, John Smith, died in a shooting in a boathouse on Lake Windermere on Christmas Day 1937 (a link to more on this can be found at the bottom of the page).
Daniel Chadwick Smith lived at Lark Hill House with his wife, Amy Bewick whom he married in April 1939. The couple were still living at Lark Hill, along with their maid Edith Green, when Daniel retired from his position as manager of the Astley and Tyldesley Collieries in October 1939. He had started work with the company some 31 years earlier at the age of 16.
Daniel did not stay out of work long and he later worked at the Bury Road Colliery in Radcliffe. The change of job proved to be fateful. He and Amy left Lark Hill House and moved to Chorley New Road. Sadly, on 1 December 1941, Daniel was accidentally crushed to death by one of the tubs in the mine. His estate was valued at £25982/5s/2d which would mean he was the modern day equivalent to a millionaire with £1.2 million.
Lark Hill House continued to be used as a domestic property until 1997. Plans were put in place to turn it into a fitness and leisure centre but these were rejected. Subsequent plans to turn the property into a children’s nursery were approved and this has been the building’s role of the last 22 years. It is better known today at Holyrood Nursey.
The 21st Century: The Third Lark Hill
The most recent use of the Lark Hill name has come in the form of the housing development, which has sprung in the last couple of years. The street is located across the road from Holyrood Nursery (Lark Hill House) and it runs alongside the original Lark Hill. As with the construction of Lark Hill House in the 1910s, there is less confusion will all these names than one would imagine, as Lark Hill House has been known as Holyrood for the past two decades.
Lark Hill itself runs into two further roads, Lark Mead and Lark Field Close. The houses here are only a few years old. Who knows what stories they will tell in the future, if those walls could talk.
Researched and Written by Thomas McGrath
- (Link to The Lingards, with more information about the Smith family -https://ifthosewallscouldtalk.wordpress.com/2018/10/31/hidden-histories-the-lingards-astley/ )
- John Lunn, A Short History of the Township of Astley (1968)
- John and Sylvia Tonge, Pictorial Astley (1988)
- John and Sylvia Tonge, The Second Pictorial Astley (1992)
- Leigh Chronicle, 22 June 1883, p.5
- Leigh Chronicle, 4 July 1884, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 27 March 1885, p.6
- Leigh Chronicle, 3 July 1885, p.5
- Leigh Chronicle, 20 February 1891, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 12 February 1892, p.5
- Leigh Chronicle, 11 June 1909, p.3
- Leigh Chronicle, 28 February 1913, p.2
- Manchester Evening News, 19 October 1939, p.5
- Manchester Evening News, 2 December 1941, p.3