It took a train and two trams to get to Ordsall Hall. I looked up through the clear roof of the tram stop to the high rise buildings of Manchester.
Getting off the tram at Exchange Quay I found myself in the middle of a housing area, many new builds squeezed between Victorian terraces. It felt a million miles from the photos I’d seen of Ordsall Hall, with its half timbered facade and ancient brick additional wings. And then I saw it, separated from the main road by a fence and a small but pretty formal garden with deck chairs emblazoned with ‘Ordsall Hall’ gracing the patio. It wasn’t what I expected, and I think that was its location rather than its actual appearance that surprised me.
The wood carvings on the facade had been lovingly restored where necessary but it was interesting to look closely at the originals and see how they had weathered through the centuries, the wood cracking and contracting so that there were vast gaps in its appearance. The history of the hall: https://ordsallhall.com/about/history-2/
Entering (free) I was greeted by a volunteer who suggested the directions I should walk through the house in order not to miss any rooms. Many of the displays in the various rooms were aimed at children and the guide mentioned that I was lucky not to have arrived on a day when school visits were happening. As the oldest building in Salford it’s a favourite for school visits. As it was I was one of less than a handful of people exploring on this Thursday afternoon.
The Great Hall with its leaded windows provided opportunities to look out, no longer at farmland as the original residents did but at modern housing developments – quite incongruous.
From upstairs there was an interesting view of the Great Hall with its long table set for a banquet – again, primarily aimed at educating the young.
The Star chamber dates back to 1360 and the amazingly carved Radclyffe Bed is the only original piece of furniture in the Hall, belonging to Sir John Radclyffe and Lady Ann Asshawe in 1572 at a cost of £20 (£4,800 in today’s money). There was even a replica Tudor bath that visitors could sit in, and armour to try on.
Many of the rooms held wardrobes with period costumes for children to try on and it reminded me of my own children trying on the costumes at Gibson mill and Dean Clough – not SO long ago!!!
Though the hall was lived in by members of the Radcliffe family for over 300 years it eventually passed on to other families. Between 1872 and 1875, the artist Frederic Shields (1833-1911) lived in the Hall. He painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style and was friends with John Ruskin. He a letter to Ruskin he described the Hall as “the happiest refuge I have ever nested in.” Later the building was used as a working mans club and then as a training school for clergymen. It was purchased by Salford Corporation after a narrow victory and opened to the public in 1972, undergoing major renovations 2009-2011.
From a selection of short films in the audio/visual room I watched a movie about Salford in 1968 with original footage of the slum dwellings and the beginning of the clearances. I remember it being classed as a place not to visit by my mum who had friends close by.
I was disappointed that the cafe, highlighted on the online searches I’d done previous to my visit, had only cake to eat – perhaps it had been a favourite with Marie Antoinette. I was certainly ready for some lunch. I did managed to spot a teacake though, and I sat outside with a pot of tea and my toasted teacake, while the peacock kept me company.
Feeling somewhat refreshed I now had a decision to make – what to do next, and so I opted for a quick visit to Salford Quays and the Lowry Centre, which was the next stop on the tram route to Eccles. It was lovely to walk along the waterfront but I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. There were hardly any people around at all – very strange. On previous visits it had always been bustling with visitors.
I popped into the Lowry centre to purchase a sandwich and drink planning to get the water taxi back into the centre of Manchester and have a picnic on the boat.
While I waited for the boat I wandered along the bridges at the Quays enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sunshine. The boat was being well utilized and I just managed to get the last empty seat on the upper outside deck – a perfect spot for my picnic.
Arriving back at Spinningfields in Manchester was like landing on a different planet. The offices were just closing the the place was abuzz with people beginning their commute home.
I wandered back down towards Victoria Station. The outdoor tables at the bars and restaurants around Exchange Square were doing a roaring trade and it took me a while to find an empty table along the side of The Banyan Tree – empty because it wasn’t in the direct sunlight that the British seem to favour 🙂 There were no seats available outside The Old Wellington but then I’d already spent enough time in an half timbered building. Built in 1552, The Old Wellington is the oldest building of its kind in Manchester. Originally built next to the Market Square on what is now Market Street, our half-timbered and traditional building was moved 100m from its original site in a redevelopment programme in 1998.
A rather good band, The Gulls, was playing in the square and from my perch I could enjoy the music as I people watched and waited for my train.