Jonathan Schofield starts a new column giving a weekly recommendation for a great day out
Ordsall Hall sits lost in a sea of housing between Manchester city centre and the Quays. To most people it doesn't offer its best side displaying a brick heavy rump to tens of thousands of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians passing by on Ordsall Lane; probably few of those hurrying past are aware of what lies on the other side.
Anybody who does get round to the front of the building normally goes “wow”. This side is both impressive and pretty, a mix of a timber-framed central section and brick wings. The bay windows that allow light to flood the building are especially lovely as is the timber four leaf, quatrefoil, decoration. This decoration dates from the early 1500s and is said to have started a regional trend with Speke Hall, Samlesbury Hall and Rufford Old Hall following suit.
Inside, the impressive Great Hall has splendid oak spere trusses on stone bases supporting the roof. There is a dais at one end and a minstrels’ gallery above. The Great Chamber features rare 1360s wall paintings of pomegranates, a symbol of fertility and unity, an excellent choice for the marital bed.
Behind the hall is the Star Chamber with its star patterns in the ceiling, one of which could be removed so people could spy on those below. This is where the Radclyffe Bed is located, the only original piece of furniture in the house.
The Radclyffes occupied Ordsall Hall from 1335 to 1658. They were a lively lot with some turbulent extinctions. Two died of the plague, one drowned, one was murdered and another was killed in battle. They were a very martial family.
When Sir Alexander Radclyffe was killed fighting in Ireland his devoted sister, Margaret, pined away but not before she had been tended to in person by Queen Elizabeth I. The Queen then asked the renowned poet and playwright Ben Johnson to pen some verses in memory of Margaret. He wrote an acrostic, a poem that spells out a word or words with the first letter of each line: in this case the first letters of the poem spell out Margaret’s name. The first two lines are “Marble weep, thou dos’t keep/ A dead beauty underneath thee”.
It is Margaret’s ghost, “The White Lady”, who is said to haunt the building.
The Radclyffe Bed was made around 1570 as a wedding present for Sir John Radclyffe and Lady Anne Asshawe. It is a four-poster bed full of lively carvings of coats of arms, fantastical beasts and fruit and plants. It’s raised high off the floor so another truckle or trundle bed could be rolled underneath it. Here a servant might sleep to be called upon if the master or mistress required something in the night, a snack maybe or a chamber pot. The servant would be well aware of what was going on above. The past can be a strange place.
After the Radclyffe family sold up there were several changes of ownership. In 1875, Ordsall Hall became a working mens’ club for employees of Haworth's Mill in a suburb that was now solidly industrial. There was a billiard and a skittle alley in the Great Hall. In 1896, Earl Egerton rescued and restored the building adding a church, St Cyprian's, and turning the hall into a training college for the Church of England. That rather featureless brick wall facing Ordsall Lane dates from this period. After WW1 there were various community uses, Salford Corporation bought the place in 1959, demolishing the church.
There is a good exhibition area above the Hall's café including a short section on the Pre-Raphaelite artist, Frederic Shields, who lived in part of the hall between 1872-1875. There is also a huge roster of events.
A really special feature of Ordsall Hall is the grounds. These are cared for by Jo Green and volunteers and are a model of their kind. The designs of the various parts have displays highlighting elements which might have been a feature of Ordsall Hall's gardens over the ages. The Tudor knot garden in front of the house is a real joy.
All in all Ordsall Hall is a credit to Salford Council. Just make sure you turn off Ordsall Lane and view the place from the front.
Ordsall Hall 322 Ordsall Lane, Salford, M5 3AN
0161 872 0251.
Free. Mon-Thu 10am-4pm, Sun 11.30am-4pm.
This piece is taken from Jonathan Schofield's "Manchester: The complete guide to the city." This 336 page book is lavishly illustrated and the most comprehensive guide to the city and the region ever produced.
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