For a very brief period in early 2019, part of Leigh’s history was uncovered on the junction of Etherstone Street and St. Helens Road. The cellars and cobbled courtyard of Stone House were excavated for the first time in four decades. They are now hidden again under a new development but what is the long lost history of Stone House?
A Little Bit on Leigh
Historically, Leigh was a Parish covering around six townships, with the area around the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin being known as Leigh. In 1875, three of the townships; Bedford, Pennington and Westleigh merged to form the Leigh Local Board District. In 1894 the Local Board became Leigh Urban District when large parts of land belonging to the Atherton estate were incorporated into it. Finally, in 1899 Leigh became a Municipal Borough and the people could elect their first Mayor (who, it turns out, had a very strong connection to Stone House).
Stone House stood on the corner of St. Helens Road and Etherstone Street in Pennington. As the property fronted onto Etherstone Street this would have been its proper address for most of the buildings history. However, Etherstone Street was only laid out after Stone House was built (the street laid out by Thomas Jones who built Etherstone Hall in 1826). Therefore, for the early part of its existence, the house would have been identifiable on St. Helens Road, and certainly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it formed one of Leigh ‘three graces’ on St. Helens Road: Stone House, Pennington House and Fairfield House. In this same period St. Helens Road became a very fashionable place for the wealthy middle-class residents of Leigh to build their homes. St. Helens Road itself was known as Warrington Road in the early nineteenth century before becoming Pennington Road and eventually the name it is known as today.
The Fairclough Family
Stone House was built in 1825 by William Fairclough. There appears to be very little information about William Fairclough beyond the fact he had a son, John, in 1792 who was born in Upholland. It is this John Fairclough (1792-1867) who we can tie more closely to Stone House.
John was a flour, corn and stone dealer and this latter part of his occupation may suggest where the name ‘Stone House’ originated from, either that, or it was a variation of ‘Etherstone’. In December 1815, John married Ruth Glover at All Saints Church, Wigan. Like John, Ruth (1794-1860) was also born and raised in Upholland.
John and Ruth’s first few children; Mary (b.1821), Harriet (b.1823) and William (b.1825) were all born in Upholland. But by 1827, the family had moved to Leigh, probably joining William at Stone House. Their next few children; Francis (b.1827), Frances (b.1829) and Elizabeth (b.1831) were all baptised in St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Bedford.
The 1841 census showed John, Ruth and their children living at Stone House, their son Francis had died by this point and their daughter Harriet died later in 1846. By the 1851 census, only William remained at home, likely helping his father with the business.
The year after the 1851 census, William married Lucy Eckersley. The newly married couple continued to live with John’s parents at Stone House, even as their own family grew. They had Harriet (b.1852), John (b.1854), Joseph (b.1856), Frances (b.1858) and Thomas (b.1860).
Unfortunately, the 1860s were not a kind decade to the Faircloughs. In 1860, Ruth Fairclough died. In December 1861, William died aged 36 and in 1863, 3 year old Thomas died. John Fairclough himself died in 1867. After this, Lucy Fairclough and her children left Stone House. However, the did not move far and lived on King Street, where she and her children continued to run the Fairclough’s grocery business. Her son, John Fairclough would be elected Leigh’s first mayor in 1899.
What did Stone House look like?
Stone House was a grand house and photographs show it with mock-Tudor panelling on the exterior. Whether this was added when the house was built, or by a later resident, it is not known. Either way, this mock-Tudor effect tells us that the residents of Stone House were attempting to make their home look older which thereby gave it a more distinguished status. Especially when compared to neighbouring Pennington House and Fairfield House, which were both constructed in the symmetrical, neo-classical fashions of the 1830s.
The house consisted of three reception rooms, kitchen, pantry, cellars, five bedrooms and from the 1870s, a W.C. and bathroom. The grounds around the property measured three statute acres and within this were a pleasure gardens, vegetable patches, a three storey warehouse, wash house, stable, shippon and other outbuildings.
In 1867, when John Fairclough died, the house was advertised to be let and its contents were sold at auction. This was a very common practice of the era. Of course, not all possessions would be sold at auction, the family would have kept some but what was sold paints a vivid picture of how Stone House looked in the mid-nineteenth century.
The Parlour (used as a dining room):
Mahogany dining table with clawed feet (11 feet long), 6 chairs, mahogany chiffonier, mahogany half-seat sofa, two armchairs, Brussels carpet (15 feet by 14 feet), matching hearth rug, brass fender and fire irons, crimson damask curtains, a Venetian blind.
Mahogany Pembroke table, mahogany sofa, 6 chairs, an easy chair, mahogany half-leaf dining table, mahogany bureau with bookcase above and drawers below, a barometer, a writing desk, Brussels carpet (14 feet by 11 feet), matching hearth rug, scarlet moreen curtains, a Venetian blind, cast iron fender and steel fire irons, chimney ornaments, books.
Four-post mahogany bed with carved headboard and damask curtains (‘nearly new‘), wash stand with toilette ware, dressing table, large mahogany swing mirror, mahogany card table, feather bed, bolsters, pillows, straw mattress, blankets, sheets, window curtains and pole.
Four-post bed with moreen curtains, feather bed, bolsters, pillows etc., 4 bedroom chairs, two sets of mahogany drawers, mahogany swing mirror, wash stand, dressing table, oak linen chest, bedroom carpet
Four-post mahogany bed, feather bed, pillows, sheets etc., ladies’ wardrobe, mahogany drawers, wash stand, dressing table, towel rail, mahogany swing mirror, painted night commode, 6 bedroom chairs, cane armchair, carpets, curtains etc.
Set of brass camp beds, bedding, wash stand, dressing table, clothes box.
Large dresser, fall-leaf table, eight-day clock, 6 rush-seated chairs and arm chairs to match, several pairs of brass candlesticks, gold and white tea service, a china tea service, wine and spirit decanters, wine, spirit and ale glasses, ivory-handled knives and forks, ordinary knives, forks and spoons, coloured and white table cloths, oil cloth, door mats, trays.
Pantry and Cellar:
Cream mugs, pan mugs, milk pans, sieves, coffee and pepper mills, two copper kettles, preserving pan, iron pots and pans, a dinner service and other mugs.
An office desk, three churns, brewing tubs, a large weigh beam, scales and weights, ladders, three large and two small trucks
Washing, wringing and mangling machine, large square table, pig trestle, mangle, two large clothes horses
One cow (‘milking well‘), buckets, forks, spades, pickets and garden tools
Three tonnes of hay, a quarter of an acre of potatoes, a cucumber frame and ‘other effects too numerous to mention’
The auction list also reveals little clues about comfort and conveniences in the home. The four-post beds in the main bedrooms may have been an aesthetic choice of a bygone era by the Faircloughs, but it is likely these large heavy beds had been in the house since it was built. The fact each bed was advertised with its curtains and that the curtains in the first bedroom were described as ‘nearly new’ suggests the four-post beds were retained for practical reasons to keep out draughts on cold nights. Likewise, the cow in the shippon was a reminder of the semi-rural nature of Pennington at this time and that keeping a cow was a useful way of always securing fresh milk, especially in homes with young children.
Between 1868-69, Stone House was partly used as a boy’s school by Thomas Hall. Hall also lived at the house with his family. However, it seems as though the school was not a success, as Hall left Leigh after just a year and his furniture was auctioned off. Comparing the two advertisements, Hall’s Stone House would have appeared striking and modern compared to how the house looked two years earlier. Stone House would have appeared much lighter because the Faircloughs favoured dark mahogany furniture and crimson and red furnishings. Hall had furniture in rosewood and walnut, covered in green damask. In the bedroom the beds were ‘birch, Tudor, iron and French’ and there were maple-painted wardrobes.
The next residents of Stone House were the Thorps. James Thorp was born in 1840 and was raised in Pennington in a property known as The Homestead. His father died when he was young and he was brought up alongside his older brother by his mother, Mary. Fortunately, the family were not short of money. Mary’s husband had been a cotton spinner and her three brothers William, James and John Hayes were all also cotton spinners (the term given to the owners of cotton mills, these men did not actually operate the machines). William owned Kirkall Lane Mills, whilst James and John owned Victoria Mills, more commonly known as Hayes’ Mills.
After a time as the assistant master of Leigh Grammar School, James Thorp followed in his uncles’ footsteps and he also worked in the cotton industry. By the time he was living at Stone House in 1870, his cousin Thomas Travers Hayes lived next-door-but-one at Fairfield House. It its important to note here that the mill owners lived in Pennington, whilst their mills were located in Westleigh, so there was some degree of separation between home and work.
James married Sophia Howarth, the daughter of William Howarth who was agent to the Bridgewater Trust. By 1871 they had a one year old son, Harold and a nine month old daughter Eva. They later had another son, Percy in 1873 and a daughter, Margaret in 1882 alongside two other children who died.
Thorp was an enthusiastic member of local government in Leigh. He was part of the team responsible for the widening of Market Street, Bradshawgate and Bridge Street. He was also on the Leigh and Atherton Joint Sewerage Board and the first representative of Leigh on the Lancashire County Council. He was also involved with the Wesleyan Church. Upon his death in 1914, his obituary stated:
“He will go down in prosperity as a man who tried to do his utmost for his native town, and one who was always straight-forward, honest to the core and incapable of meanness.”
The Thorps lived at Stone House for less than around a decade, as Charles Freeman was recorded as living there in 1878. James, Sophia and their children had moved to top end of Orchard Lane. Here the various members of the Hayes family had managed to create an elite residential location. At The Limes lived John Hayes and his family, on the plot next door a large semi-detached house called Holly Bank was built by the other brother, James Hayes in 1873. James, his wife and servants lived in one side and James and Sophia Thorp and their family lived in the other. By the early-twentieth century, the Thorps had turned Holly Bank into one huge house, consisting of around 25 rooms.
Following on from the Thorps and Charles Freeman, Stone House was occupied by Phoebe Leigh, her widowed daughter Hannah Chadwick and her son, Richard Leigh, a Captain in the Royal Engineers. Despite their comfortable position at Stone House in 1891, this was not always the situation for Phoebe.
She was born Phoebe Richardson in 1825 in Leigh, the daughter of a wheelwright. In 1851 the family lived on Bradshawgate, where her mother had a shop. Phoebe and her sister were both dressmakers. At the time of her marriage in 1855, she was apparently living on St. James Street in Liverpool. She married Richard Leigh, who was 22 years older than her, at St. Nicholas’s Church in Liverpool. On his marriage certificate, Richard described himself as a gentleman and he could perhaps be classed as a ‘gentleman-farmer’ as his farm, Firs Farm in Westleigh was 110 acres in size and he employed six men to help him. Phoebe ran the farm after her husband’s death in 1875, this included dealing with a terrible outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the 1880s.
Richard and Phoebe had several children together and she was always recorded as his wife in the censuses. However, on Richard’s probate record, Phoebe was listed as ‘Phoebe Richardson, spinster, one of the executors’. In her own probate record she was recorded as ‘Phoebe Leigh otherwise Richardson’. Why the couple chose to get married in Liverpool is something of a mystery. It seems unlikely that Richard who was already farming at Firs Farm prior to his marriage, would have made a permanent move to St. James Street. However, the marriage was performed by banns and Phoebe’s sister was a witness, so some of her family knew of it. Something was going on with Phoebe’s status, but it seems it shall remain a mystery.
Phoebe Leigh died in 1891 and by 1893, James Thorp’s cousin, James Hayes was living at Stone House. James (b.1856) was the son of John Hayes and he grew up at The Limes, on Orchard Lane. Unlike his father and cousin, James Hayes did not go into the cotton industry but instead he went into medicine.
James lived at Stone House with his wife, Jessie. The couple had no children but the household was busy as they had three maids. They also threw themselves into their local community work. Both James and Jessie were involved with the Wesleyan Church and in 1910 they held a garden party for the church sewing class at Stone House, complete with a tea party, tennis and croquet.
In 1919, the Hayes’ left Stone House and moved to Tunbridge Wells. Across the 1920s, Jessie travelled extensively going to Bermuda, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Italy, Jamaica and Panama. Dr James Hayes died in 1939.
A New Use
Stone House was purchased by Leigh Council for £1,700. It was subsequently converted into a mother and baby clinic in 1920. The clinic was held on Monday afternoons, when women would bring their babies to be weighed. That first year there were 324 babies recorded on the books, by 1921 the number had more than tripled and 1,922 names were recorded.
In 1927, the first floor at Stone House was opened as a maternity home, with five beds available to expectant mothers. In 1931, the population of Leigh stood at 45,317 persons and the demand for the maternity facilities in the town was so great that the home had to move to larger premises. The Firs, the former home of industrialist Joseph Tunnicliffe, was chosen. Incidentally , The Firs Estate also included Firs Farm, former home of Phoebe Leigh.
Stone House was retained by Leigh Council as a Child Health and Welfare Clinic. In the 1940s, some prefabricated buildings were built in the grounds and a day nursery was opened, catering for 50 children. However, Stone House is prominent in the memories of many of Leigh’s residents as it was also a dentist’s surgery. Former patients can still recall the nauseous (and terrifying) smell of gas when thinking about Stone House.
The Clinic was closed in 1968 and Stone House was demolished in 1970. However, the site was retained as a day nursery, serving more generations of Leigh’s residents. In 2018 it was announced that planning permission had been granted to demolish the nursery and replace it with a block of apartments, which would specifically cater to people with disabilities, including dementia. It was during the excavation of the site that the remains of Stone House were once again visible.
Written and Researched By Thomas McGrath
- John Lunn, Leigh: The Historical Past of a Lancashire Borough, (Leigh: Borough Council, 1958)
- Leigh Chronicle, 24 September 1859, p.1
- Leigh Chronicle, 26 July 1867, p.1
- Bolton Chronicle, 25 July 1868, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 13 March 1869, p.1
- Leigh Chronicle, 28 September 1878, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 30 July 1881, p.4
- Leigh Chronicle, 26 February 1892, p.5
- Leigh Chronicle, 12 August 1910, p.5
- Leigh Chronicle, 13 February 1914, p.6
- Old Leigh Photographs, Jonathan Coombes’ Post, 5 February 2016
- Old Leigh Photographs, Michael Caine’s Post, 2 July 2018
- Old Leigh Photographs, Geoff Senior’s Post, 9 December 2019