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The Good, The Standard and The Ugly: Ordsall Hall

Jonathan Schofield on a wonderful building and stupid opening times

Written by . Published on June 1st 2011.

The Good, The Standard and The Ugly: Ordsall Hall

Category: Excellent


Ordsall Hall


Lost in a sea of social housing opposite a demolition site - yet glorious. Here in the depths of the urban jungle lies a dream of Ye Olde Merry Englande. It's an almost absurd juxtaposition, a proper 'then and now'. 

Front.jpgWhat's so good then?

Let's start with the north west front. This is not so much good as nigh perfect. Look at it on these pictures. The sweet dwelling place says, 'I might be old but come and live in me'. Ordsall Hall was built for the wealthy Radcliffe family but it was built before the rise of the large manor house, it was also built from local materials to a relatively modest scale. Coming down lanes and through woods and seeing this structure would have seemed natural and naturalistic as though the place had grown out of the soil. We don't know the name of the architect that worked on the earlier building and the ones that worked on its earlier enlargements but they did well. The bay windows that allow light to flood building are especially lovely.

What are the shapes on the front?

These are called quatrefoils, old French for 'four leaf'. This wall and the hall behind it date from the early 1500s, the oldest parts of the building are 1300s. The Tudor Radcliffes liked the simple grace of the quatrefoil. The box hedges here are also laid out in quatrefoil designs as part of the lovely garden re-creation. The guidebook claims that the quatrefoil patterns may have created a fashion across the North West at Rufford Old Hall and Speke Hall for this type of decoration. By the way look at the foootings on this part of the building. 

Front1.jpgThe stone parts at the bottom?

Yep those. The stone is local Manchester and Salford red sandstone, it could have been quarried from nearby on land, or the river bank a 150 metres south east were there are plentiful sandstone outcrops. Thing is, if the stone was so easily available then why not rebuild the whole building in it? Stone is stronger, more permanent, and by the 1500s was becoming a well-used building material elsewhere in the kingdom. Maybe the locals in Lancashire and Cheshire liked wood for the way it could be moulded and shaped relatively easily into the fanciful shapes and facades they favoured. In otherwords wood was an aesthetic choice not just one of convenience later in this region than elsewhere. Or maybe it was just cheaper.

Ordsall hall.jpgAnd inside what's the best feature?

There are many but the Great Hall is the jaw-dropper. This has, rare for the region, splendid spere trusses on stone bases supporting the roof. The trusses are the magnificent soaring oak pillars horse-shoeing from one side to the other complete with fancy carving. There's a dais at one end where the bigwigs would sit. Three doors came in from the kitchens. The bay window in the hall is a mighty pleasant place to sit and there's a minstrels gallery too. 

And elsewhere?

Paint detail.jpgThere's the Star Chamber with it's star patterns in the ceiling, one, apparently, of which could be removed so people could spy on those below. There's the Great Chamber with its rare 1360 wall paintings of pomegranates, a symbol of fertility and unity, an excellent choice for the marital bed. Some of the pasterwork is worth looking at too in other rooms. As are the exhibitions in the kitchen (which also sports a smokeroom for eels and the like caught in the Irwell), and the story of the hall as shown in the Frederic Shields room.

Who he?

Shields was an artist from Hartlepool who's Pre-Raphaelite influenced, sentimental art was loved by Manchester Victorians. He lived in part of the hall between 1872-1875. He did book designs, grand painting schemes and stained glass designs: the colourful, vivid figures in the apse at St Ann's Church are his in the city centre - religion was a big theme with Shields. It was during his time at Ordsall that he married his former child model Matilda Booth. 

Could you do us a potted history in very few words of the building?

It's part of an estate more than a millennium old, in the 1300s it becomes part of the Radcliffe family estate and their home from the 1350s. The Radcliffes are fighters and take their bowmen to victories in France. One of them, Margaret, becomes Queen Elizabeth 1's maid of honour. During the Civil War they support the Royalists, attack Parliamentarian Manchester and lose. By 1662 the hall is in the hands of the Puritan Colonel, John Birch. 

From 1758, after several changes of ownership, it is passed to Tatton Park's Egerton family, is divided up and let out. In 1875 it becomes a working mens club for employees of Haworth's Mill in an Ordsall that was now solidly industrial. There was billiards and a skittle alley in the Great Hall. In 1896, Earl Egerton restores the building adds a church, St Cyprian's, and turns the hall into a training college for the Church of England.

After WW1 there are various community uses, Salford Corporation buys it in 1959. After further neglect and the demolition of the church, it opens to the public in 1972 after restoration. The present splendid restoration is the result of £6.5m Heritage Lottery Funding. 

And the name?

Ordsall comes from an Anglo-Saxon personal name, Ord, the original owner no doubt. Mr Ord to you. Ord's Hall so to speak. Apparently, translated Ord means, 'This hall is not open on Saturdays'.


No of course not. But for me the fact Ordsall Hall opens all week from 10am-4pm, but only for three hours on the weekend, on a Sunday afternoon from 1pm-4pm is disappointing. Aren't we supposed to be encouraging tourism?

That sounds odd.. or Ord as a posh person might say.

John Scully, Museums, Heritage and Arts manager, Salford Community Leisure Ltd, doesn't think so.

He says, "The weekend opening is to do with the conservation of the property, it needs to be rested, it is fairly small and very old, very fragile." The reason he says that the property doesn't close on say Monday, for resting is that they work very hard with the schools in the area, he doesn't want to 'discriminate against schools'. Weirdly he says there's a ceiling of 30,000 visitors a year dictated by Salford and the Lottery people - average of 95 a day. Not many at all. 

Scully also says the fact they are going to make money - £1000 a shot at least - on Saturday weddings has nothing to do with Saturday closing and such use won't be an issue in 'resting' the property. He says that there's no issue over employing people or paying wages either, but there may be an issue with people getting to the Hall on a weekend if United are playing at home. 

You don't agree, do you?

Nope. The wedding thing is a bit suspicious. The United excuse spurious in 2011 with the dirth of 3pm Saturday kick-offs. I say maybe charge every guest £1 or £2 to get in, make some money that way, let Salford residents in for free if need be. Close on Monday, rest it then. Remember this is the only half-timbered medieval hall in the central areas of Manchester, remember none of Salford's other attractions, the Art Gallery and Museum at Peel Park, the Lowry, only open for three hours on a weekend.  

Anything else - now your rant's over?

The hall is allegedly very haunted, sodden with spooks. There's even a ghost webcam at www.salford.gov.uk/ghostcam that lots of people, especially Americans, study for ages and find spooky faces. Oh and there's a shop and tearoom on site as well. Asked whether the cakes were homemade, the lad serving said, "They get them from some supplier." Bless his honesty.  

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

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14 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Eddy RadcliffeJune 1st 2011.

Considering Salford's track record in protecting old buildings i think we should be glad this thing is still here never mind only open occasionally. Two other things - when was the last time United played on a Saturday and doesnt Manchester Gallery, which is always heaving with school parties, close on a Monday? Me doth think that treachery is afoot

Jonathan Schofield - editorJune 1st 2011.

Eddy it's beyond my understanding. Mr Scully said it's about preserving the building for future generations, I pointed out the lamentable record of Salford in preserving its built heritage.....then we get news of Heaton Hall and Wythenshawe Hall and their potentially dire fate in Manchester.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Eddy RadcliffeJune 1st 2011.

What little i know about HL funding tells me that it usually comes with the caveat of widening access not restricting it. Why cant they be honest and i for one would be glad if it was raising money of a weekend for private do's. Good luck to them for that. Have you ever done a bit on this esteemed website about Monks Hall in Eccles Jonathan? Its a fascinating building and is also a lesson in how Salford manages to help destroy its heritage assets.
Talking of ill managed heritage assets - i actually sighed with relief when Manchester said they wanted to off load Heaton and Wythenshawe halls - at least they could give them to someone who might look after them properly. If there is one thing i have learnt its never let a local authority have nice things. They only break them.

AnonymousJune 1st 2011.

Sodden with Spooks - love it!

Kate ScottJune 1st 2011.

Since when has 1-4pm constituted four hours? (I hate myself for posting this...)

Hannah Ord CavenorJune 1st 2011.

That whole wedding thing and 'resting' stinks of lying to me. Keep this type of investigation up please.

Angela DunnJune 1st 2011.

My brother spent a night 'ghost hunting' here - he is part of the Worsley Paranormal Group, needless to say after 8 hours scouring the place with a camera and his torch he didn't see a ghost. What a Jape!!!

tblzebraJune 1st 2011.

The forum for spooky goings on is hilarious, especially this post about the Royal Wedding, when someone has 'seen' phantom guests in the walls of Buck House.


1 Response: Reply To This...
MarkJorgyJune 1st 2011.

I saw the image of a piece of toast in a picture of Jesus once. Changed my life.

Julieanna FierroJune 2nd 2011.

I'm a bit disappointed that there is no mention of Viviana Radclyffe, Girlfriend to Guy Fawkes in your article. Isn't that what the hall is famous for?
It does look great and it is a shame it's closed on saturday's as I haven't been to see inside yet, but on match days it is a traffic nightmare - and yes united do play a hell of a lot of Saturday matches - specially at the start of the season.

tblzebraJune 2nd 2011.

Julieanna, the Guy Fawkes link is a legend, based on Harrison Ainsworth's 1841 novel 'Guy Fawkes or The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance'.


SquirrelitoJune 2nd 2011.

I aim to be one of the 95 one day very soon.

Contrast the glorious pictures published here with the absolute bloody stinking disgrace of Heaton Hall. How long has that poor old girl been boarded up now? I actually got to go in a while back (was it the late nineties) - they had a string quartet in one of the rooms and while, even then, there were severe signs of neglect, the atmosphere in there was pretty special -it seemed authentically, elegantly, Georgian in an "I bet its flaming cold in here in the winter" kind of way.

MCC have money to spend on those utter pants, plasticy circus figures on Central St (or whatever they call it) but what could and should be a treasured moneymaker and cultural tourist trap is left to rot.


J MadeleyJune 3rd 2011.

Heaton Hall's closure is disgusting. The city is neglecting what should be it's finest treasure

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