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).

Street Life: Sugar and Spice (and all things nice)

If 1963 was Philip Larkin’s ‘annus mirabilis’, we baby boomers had ours in 1953. On the 5th of February that year, along with butter and sugar, sweets came off ration. Suddenly all that governed our purchases was how much we had to spend.

Although it wasn’t the closest to home, the sweet shop of choice was known to us kids as ‘the old man’s’. As I went to school with his daughter, he must have been considerably younger than I now am.The shop’s attraction was that while the front window displayed packets of dried peas, Kingpin flour and custard powder, the side window was a child’s box of delights. Standing outside discussing what we should choose was almost as enjoyable as the sweets themselves.

Glass jars of 6d a quarter items such as sherbet lemons, pear drops or cinder toffee were ranged along the back. These sweets were not individually wrapped as they are today; on the rare occasion we laid out 3d for 2 ounces, they were weighed out into a triangular poke bag. A few minutes in a warm pocket soon bonded the sweets into a solid mass which stuck to the paper more effectively than any glue.

Immediately In front of the jars were display cartons of the more expensive toffee bars and packet sweets such as spangles and fruit gums that mostly cost 3d. In my humble opinion, the banana split Palm toffee was well worth the investment.

The very front of the window had the cheap and cheerful stuff like ‘all day sucker’ lollies, arrow bars or 4 for a penny fruit salads, mojos and blackjacks.Photo compliments of Brian Winstanley

I seem to recall tuppence (less than 1p) being regarded as the amount grown ups were likely to part with on an ad hoc basis. The most popular tuppence worth was Kali and Spanish. I searched for Kali on the internet and was surprised to find it still available under that name. Kali is tart lemon crystals not at all like sherbet or the insipid rainbow crystals also available at 6d a quarter.

For tuppence you got a poke bag containing an ounce of Kali and a halfpenny Spanish to dip in. The Spanish was hard with a bitter taste and should not be confused with the soft sweet liquorice whirls, pipes and shoelaces sometimes also known by the same name.

The Kali/Spanish combination was one of the finest taste sensations ever. By the time the Kali was finished, there was usually about 2 inches or so of Spanish left. Without the Kali, the taste was too strong for me and I generously donated what remained to my granddad who loved it.

Another treat was penny ice lollies. They were made in flat aluminium moulds and came from a freezer whose large cabinet belied the smallness of its interior. Our favourite flavour was Vimto, but there were a minority of kids who favoured milk lollies.

And then there was ice cream. In the early years of Victoria’s reign, Manchester began to attract Italians who were skilled workers in stone or glass. Musicians and peddlers followed and swelled their numbers so much that part of Ancoats was known as ‘Little Italy’.Photo of J Burgon’s horse drawn ice cream cart (with the kind permission of Mr Ray Boggiano)

Fortunately for us, some Italians turned their hand to the manufacture of ice cream. Originally it was dispensed in licking glasses which gave it the nickname ‘hokey pokey’. The derivation was hocus pokus because the thick glass magically magnified the small amount of ice cream it contained. This unhygienic method of service was replaced by the variously shaped and uniquely textured biscuits known as wafers.

The family preference was for twists, but sometimes my granddad would ask me to bring him what he called ‘a shutter’ (an ice cream wafer to the rest of the world).

There were no electronic chimes for us. It was a brass hand bell that summoned us to Bertaloni’s cart that was pulled by a beautiful white horse (similar to that pictured). The driver was known to everyone as Tony – which might have owed more to our stereotyping of Italian names than his birth certificate.

Another of my all time favourites was a scoop of Tony’s ice cream collected in a bowl taken for the purpose. Back home I dropped it into a glass of Limeade. This was a double treat as fizzy drinks were a rare luxury in our house.

I wonder if you can still buy that hard Spanish at the chemist’s, because the thought of that on-line Kali is making my mouth water.