Past and present of Ordsall Hall

Our reporter Gill gives us a whistle-stop tour of the history of Ordsall Hall, a large former manor house in Lancashire and tells us how and why you should make a visit today.

A group of school children are playing on the lawn as I make my way from the car park through the colourful gardens to this fine Tudor building that sits on the edge of the Ordsall estate and is a short walk from the Exchange Quay Metrolink station. It’s good to know that young people are enjoying this lovely place.  

Ordsall Hall and I are old friends. The Ordsall A Cappella Singers , a choir I belong to, used to rehearse here before it was refurbished in 2011. The University of Salford where I used to be a lecturer holds events here, including the assessment of one of their Drama modules where student put on a theatrical performance in the Great Hall.  

Today I talk to Jennifer Holland, Commercial Manager, Salford Museum and Galleries. She tells me much about the hall.  

Ordsall Hall is Salford’s oldest building and dates back to 1177. Its most interesting period of history however was in the last 300 years when it had a less grand but vivid history. In 1814, it was rented by a local cotton merchant Joseph Ryder, who shared the home with Richard Alsop, an innkeeper.

It was then taken over by the Mather Family, who were cowkeepers. It then became the home of the Markendale Family, a local middle class family of Butchers who leased the property from the Egertons of Tatton. After that in 1872 it became a studio for local pre-Raphaelite Frederick Shields who wrote to John Ruskin that it was “the happiest refuge I have ever nested in”. It then became a working men’s club in 1875 for Haworth’s Mill. The Great Hall became a gymnasium.

Volunteer and staff at the shop

When the lease ran out it was turned into a Clergy Man’s Training School. At this point the Great Hall was redesigned with a brick frontage replacing the wooden frame to the back of the property and church windows installed into the building.

It stayed a social club until the 1940s with rooms rented out to families and in WW2 was used a radio listening station and dig for victory allotments. When visiting make sure to pay attention to doors, windows and floors which all hint at the changing purpose of the Manor House.

Ordsall Hall runs a seasonal programme of events for families at the Hall with activities taking place most days in the school holidays such as candle making, soap ball making, lavender bags and paper crafts. Most of these need to be prebooked on their website.

The Museum was designed to be a tactile museum so there is a play food banquet in the Great Hall, three areas for fancy dress as well as puzzles, games and reading corners across the building. There is an annual Outdoor Theatre programme including Alice and Wonderland and Rapunzel productions this summer. 

The Hall is said to be one of the Most Haunted Houses in the North West of England. Paranormal groups hire the venue each winter for Ghost Night investigations for the public. There have been sightings of the White Lady in the grounds and staircase of the Great Hall, rumoured to be Margaret Radclyffe, Lady in Waiting to Elizabeth I and Cecilia Radclyffe, a child ghost who is meant to dance around visitors with a scent of lavender. 

Jennifer admits: “I am afraid I personally haven’t felt anything at the Hall and in actual fact find it a warm and comfortable place to work, so if there are ghosts, I always think they are friendly ghosts who are happy we are there helping the building stay alive and full of noise.” 

I too can confirm that when my choir rehearsed here there was always a pleasant atmosphere even if it was chilly on winter evenings. We felt pulled into the history of the place and it was difficult to remember we were in modern Salford. Our musical director, on the other hand, faced the window and on summer evenings he might have seen a 21st century city being built. 

Wooden swans decorate the lawn

As with many buildings of this nature, Ordsall Hall runs a volunteer programme and in 2019 was granted a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.At the moment there is a team of six house volunteers who support the regular staff each day.

Around fifteen local residents help the Head Gardener with maintenance of the three acre formal gardens. I enjoy wandering round the rooms inside the hall.  Much is familiar to me but as ever, I discover something I’ve not really noticed before. This time I become fascinated by the windows in the Great Hall. I find it’s always best when visiting a museum to concentrate on just a few details rather than to try and take in everything. Especially if it’s local and you can visit time and time again. Admission to Ordsall Hall is free but you are invited to make donations and £3.00 is suggested.  

I start to think about ideas for my U3A creative Wring group I’m going to bring here soon and I find much to inspire me. I hope they will too. And of course, I have to sample something from the café. The ginger cake is delicious and that could be the best cup of tea I’ve ever tasted.    

A soft summer rain is falling as I take a walk around the gardens. It’s actually quite pleasant. There is a strong scent of lavender. Is that Cecilia Radclyffe playing tricks or is that just normal for a summer garden in the rain? 

New volunteers are welcome so please email [email protected] if interested.

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