Hough Hall – a patchy history

Patchy, because some epochs of this building’s past are lost in obscurity, and because in its present state it is in dire need of patching up.

If you are unfamiliar with its name, you are probably not alone; many Moston residents pass by Hough Hall Road, next to Moston Lane Primary School, and barely glance at the rather ramshackle building just behind it.

Yet this is a real piece of history, right on our doorstep. Given its age and sometimes unsympathetic usage, it is a remarkable survival.

Sketch of Hough Hall as it appeared in the 1850s

Almost certainly from the late Elizabethan period or earlier, the first documented reference to this hall is in an inventory of Robert Halgh (variously spelt Halghe or Hough) dated 1591, although the estate was considerably older. Though it is not certain that the building then was the same as the present one, it seems likely, given its general style and fittings.

The last of the line was another Robert, whose will was proven in 1685. Later owners included the Lightbownes, Minshulls, ‘Spanking’ Roger Aytoun and the Taylors, of Crofter’s Estate fame. Perhaps less well known is its subsequent history.

By 1838 it was held by farmer Thomas Thorp, a tenant of Samuel Taylor’s, and (typical of the period) was home both to Thorp’s family and his farm labourers. One of these, John Brundrett, had taken over the tenancy by 1850 and in 1851 it was stated to have 39 acres of land attached and “one house building” (possibly Hough House, on the opposite side of the road). Brundrett became the Poor Law Guardian for Moston the following year.Rear view of the hall from a newspaper clip in 1949

In 1863, the tenancy passed to Mary Mills, whose sister Ann took over the following year and farmed there until 1876, the land by then having been reduced to 30 acres.

The hall was purchased outright in 1877 by Robert Ward of Manchester, tanner and manufacturer of moleskins, cords and velvets, who used it for his workshop. By 1881 he was living there himself, with his wife Sarah and children, while his brother (and business partner) James lived at Hough House.

Robert evidently dabbled in property, since in 1884 he was renting out a butcher’s shop on Ashley Lane. At some stage during his occupation, the house was enlarged by adding a third gable at the western end. It seems he also sold off the parcel of land on which Moston Lane County Primary School was built, opening in 1899.Photograph of the hall around 1900. Note the added side door and right-hand gable

Robert died in February 1904, leaving the estate to his son John and daughters Elizabeth and Ann, but his widow Sarah and another daughter, Amy, continued living at the hall up to 1919.

In July 1921, the hall was sold to Dr. William Struthers Moore of Glasgow, who passed it on to Gerald Green, another medical practitioner, listed as resident from 1933 to 1939, and possibly longer. By 1944 it had been acquired by Eleanor Nesfield, a cosmetics manufacturer and distributor for Del Vost foundation cream. The hall seems to have served as house, office, works and warehouse. This company was advertised up to 1949, at least.Advertisement in the ‘Chemist and Druggist Supplement’  of 22 March 1947

The 1950s is another ‘patchy’ period, but the building changed hands again in March 1963, possibly to Peter Gobbi and John Leslie Clough, who were certainly there by 1968. These were brothers-in-law who ran a coal business from the premises and, in 1972, added further outbuildings behind the hall.

The rental from these offset the mortgage payments and gave space to other small businesses, such as CGC Services Ltd, car repairers. Later, Gobbi and Clough Ltd responded to changing fuel markets by selling bottled gas.

When the partners retired in 2003, it was sold to the present owner, who was resident until about 2016, but whose present circumstances are somewhat mysterious. Suffice to say the hall is currently lying semi-derelict, prey to urban explorers and vandals alike, and sadly becoming increasingly dilapidated.The hall today (2019)

Since the 1940s, notably in 2005, there have been repeated attempts to find interested parties who could help preserve and restore Moston’s own ‘hidden gem’, but so far to no avail, despite a Grade II listing by English Heritage in 1974.

Having survived over 400 years of weather, wars and woodworm, what a crying shame it would be if it were lost now, through neglect.

— further reading —

The early history of the hall is well documented in A History of the Ancient Chapel of Blackley (Rev. John Booker, 1854) and in Fr. Brian Seale’s excellent book The Moston Story (1983).

Moston ‘Diggy’

I once heard that children around the Church Lane area referred to themselves as ‘doggies’ or ‘diggies’, depending whether they lived at the end nearest the dogs’ home, or towards the Lightbowne end, close to former clay pits. By 1951, these had been worked out and infilled with shale, or used as a tip by the corporation, but the local name, the ‘diggy’, persisted. However, clay was still being dug out near Ashley Lane and north of Lily Lane to supply a huge, but now largely forgotten, local industry: brick-making.Map showing Kenyon Lane in 1933 with the brickworks on the left and Lily Lane school at the bottom

Moston, besides the peat mosses which gave it its name, also has extensive areas of clay, as many a gardener knows, and for centuries local potters had availed themselves of this resource. As the industrial revolution spawned a demand for workshops and housing, firms were established to produce bricks, tiles, chimney-pots and earthenware pipes. One such, the Moston Pottery, Tile and Brick Co, had been established by 1863 at the south end of St. Mary’s Rd, near the present-day Dean Brook pub.

Collieries such as Moston and Bradford also had brickworks: they were digging through clay to reach the coal, so why not use it, rather than dumping it? Other early names such as J H Charles and S & J Higham, came and went in the Victorian period, but by the end of the century, major players had arrived in the area.

Amos Reid Bullivant, a builder and joiner from Burgh-le-Marsh, Lincolnshire, came first to Blackley, then to Moston Lane, about 1873, and by 1900 his sons William, Amos and John had joined him in the business. Amos issued shares in 1903 to acquire land and establish a brickworks in an area roughly bounded by Moston Lane, Kenyon Lane, Lily Lane and Ashley Lane. In 1908, with an extended share issue by his son, John, it became the Moston Brick and Building Company Limited.Silton Street, towards Ashley Lane. Originally a cul-de-sac, the near end now connects with Minster Road, part of a 1996-2000 development, on former clay pits

As the name suggested, the firm not only produced bricks, but could undertake whole building contracts, from design (if required) to construction. An early example was the erection in 1909 of terraced houses on Silton St, Birchenall St, Hartley St and Penn St, on land close to the works and purchased by John’s brother, William. Some of these have recently been demolished, but quite a few remain.

In 1913 the Company purchased three 5-ton tipper lorries, demonstrating their expansion and modernisation, and by 1939 there were around seven clay pits in operation, some connected by narrow-gauge tramways to the works.

After World War II, they played a major part in the rehousing programme, all around Greater Manchester, such as 64 of the houses in the Greaves Estate at Rochdale. The scale of their business is revealed in a reply to a query about brick requirements, published in the Liverpool Echo in November 1945:-

“We have erected many thousands of houses, both for municipalities and private schemes. The total number of bricks for a five-roomed house is 15,000 to 18,000 and for a six-roomed house 20,000 – J.Bullivant, Director.”

As well as houses and flats, Moston Brick built many other commercial, educational and religious buildings. A few examples may give an idea of their range:-

Telephone exchanges at Collyhurst and Moss Side (1926), cinemas in Prestwich and Clayton (1928-9), Tuberculosis Dispensary (now the Sickle Cell unit), Oxford Rd (1931), Appleby Lodge, Fallowfield (1936), St.Patrick’s RC Church, Collyhurst (1937), Lansdowne House (shops and offices), Didsbury (1938), Woodthorpe flats, Victoria Park (1940), Regent Rd flats, Salford (1946), Higher Lane primary school, Whitefield (1953), the Central Synagogue, Jackson’s Row (1953), Moston Labour Club, Chain Bar (1955) and St.Clare’s Church, Blackley (1958).

Aside from the cinemas, most of these are still standing.

The company went into voluntary liquidation in 1931, during a depression in the building trade, but managed to revive and carry on until 1973 under John Norman Bullivant (John’s son), being finally wound up in 1976. I haven’t discovered whether brick production ceased during this period, or earlier, but the works was demolished in 1977 and replaced by light industrial units the following year.

There is now no trace of this once-important concern, but their legacy is still all around us. Collyhurst Exchange, Ryder St, built for Post Office Telephones in 1926 and still used by BTSt.Patrick’s RC Church, Livesey St, opened in 1937 as a replacement for the original (1832) building Manchester’s Central Synagogue, completed in November 1953. Moston Brick’s price for this was just over £63,400

The ‘Flicks’ in Moston

What might be regarded as the golden age of the suburban cinema was, with hindsight, rather short-lived, in fact barely fifty years. Moston joined in with its own trio, not counting the Princess (Conran Street) and Victory (Capstan Street), which strictly speaking were in Harpurhey and Blackley respectively, though not far from Moston Lane. The three Moston cinemas are mentioned below, in order of opening date.

The MIP Palace (Moston Imperial Picture Palace)

Opened as a theatre and music hall, with occasional film showings, on Hartley Street, off Moston Lane. An advert in ‘The Stage’ of 7 July 1910 announces “Vulcaris and his Speciality Piano Entertainment” appearing for two weeks, with “Humorous Songs and Excellent Sketches”. The following year saw the “Three Sisters Godfrey, Vocalists and Acrobatic Dancers”. After being acquired by Fred Severs of Little Lever, the MIP was refurbished, extended and reopened as a purpose-built cinema on 29 May 1916. It had a 22ft screen and seated 925. Six years later it became a limited company under directors Eliza Preston and W.H.Simcock.

A friend and neighbour, Carole Gausden, has an early memory of seeing “Mandy”, with Jack Hawkins, one summer’s evening in the 1950s.

The last film shown was “The Cruel Sea” (also starring Jack Hawkins) in 1959, after which the owners stripped out the seats and converted the building into an indoor market (they themselves had a carpet stall), in which form it will be remembered by many. More recently, it has become one large food hall, with the main entrance on Pym Street, and now renamed “Moston Superstore”.The well-known MIP Market, Hartley Street, in October 2007. So far, no photos of the MIP as a cinema have come to light.

The Adelphi

A tin hut named the Empress was opened on what was then Dean Lane (now Kenyon Lane) around 1914. It is not clear whether the Empress was renamed or replaced, but by 1918 Vincent Tildsley was disposing of the “Adelphi Cinema, which he ran at Moston”. At that time it could accommodate an audience of 900. A year later the company went into liquidation and changed hands several times up to 1932.The Adelphi in 2007, as Deanway DIY, on Kenyon Lane (originally part of Dean Lane, through to Oldham Road, Newton Heath).

By 1937, having been acquired by H.D.Moorhouse, a brand-new building was opened, seating 1312 and with a 36ft wide proscenium. In this form it lasted until 1962, when it became a bingo hall. After this closed, despite some fire damage while it stood empty, it was taken over by Deanway DIY, who still own it and whose manager very kindly allowed me to look round and take interior photos. The seating ranks and much of the original decorative plasterwork are still intact.Inside the Adelphi in 2019, looking from the back row towards the screen, still quite recognisable as a former cinema.

The Fourways

The “Four Ways”, as originally styled, opened on 17 October 1939 with a screening of “Submarine Patrol” starring George Bancroft and Richard Greene. Located at the junction of three roads, Moston Lane, Charlestown Road and Chain Bar, locals said the “fourth way” was into the cinema itself, but this may have been tongue-in-cheek. It had 1256 seats, a screen 38ft wide and was the only one of the three that I visited, as a cinema. The Fourways, from Chain Bar, in 1959. Inset: a similar view sixty years later.

My friend Steve Wilson has provided a personal glimpse into life behind the public view:-

My grandparents, Fred & Emily Booth, worked at the Fourways in the early 1960’s. Emily was an Usherette, evenings only, checking tickets, showing people to their seats and taking a turn with the ice cream and popcorn tray, while Fred was the Fireman, caretaker, handyman and Jack-of-all-trades. The box office and projection room had their own staff.

I once spent a day with my Grandad, helping him out. His first job was to stoke the coke-fired heating boilers, then clean out the seating area, which was usually littered with cigarette packets and dimps, empty ice cream tubs, toffee papers and popcorn bags!

He would also do any repairs needed, such as replacing damaged seats or changing lightbulbs. Another job was putting up posters and pictures in the display outside, for any new films being advertised.

In the evenings he would don his Fireman’s uniform and keep an eye on things generally. He was only 5’6” but he would not be messed about. He was known as “Fiery Fred” and if anyone misbehaved he would frog-march them to the door by the scruff of the neck and throw them out, no matter how big they were!‘Fiery Fred’ and his wife, Emily, outside the Fourways entrance in 1962 [Photo by Steve Wilson].

The Fourways lasted until November 1973, the last main feature being “Live and Let Die” with Roger Moore, but unlike the other venues it was demolished soon afterwards and replaced by flats named “Fourways Walk”.

Local history articles often end rather wistfully, lamenting what has been lost, but this one can sound a more optimistic note. Thanks to volunteers who came together with Miners’ Club owner Louis Beckett, the 70-seater Moston Small Cinema opened in 2012, so the tradition of communal film-watching in Moston can continue to be enjoyed by present and future generations.Inside Moston Small Cinema during a screening of “Round Here” (by Modify Productions) in March 2018


Related Stories