Grants Tower is built at Top o’ th’ Hoof, Ramsbottom. It stands on the spot where the Grant family are said to have first looked down on the Irwell Valley, on their arrival in 1783. They had embarked on an epic trek in search of work from Morayshire, in Scotland, to Lancashire. The tower they built is a well known local landmark but in recent times it was about to fall into absolute ruin. However it has just had a last minute reprieve. Before we get to that, a little history…
The family set up the firm William Grant and Brothers some time around 1800, and became a very successful calico printing business. (Calico is a plain-woven textile made from unbleached cotton). The four brothers William, Daniel, Charles and John were all involved in the running of the firm. In 1806 they bought Peel, Yates & Co. Printworks (owned by the future Prime Minister Robert Peel) and just six years later purchased Nuttall spinning factory, which they extended. They also had a warehouse on Cannon Street in Manchester.
By 1827 they had accrued enough money to buy the Park Estate on which they would construct Grants Tower. Here are the facts: built 1829, 50 feet high, 800 feet above sea level, 4 flights of stairs, 84 individual steps, 8 turrets at the top (two of which were disguised chimneys for fireplaces below.)
The day the tower opened there was a fair-like atmosphere, with their employees given the day off. Refreshments were laid on and entertainment took the form of races, games and singing. From then on the tower was regularly opened on Good Friday and other special holidays.
In 1838 Charles Dickens published the novel Nicholas Nickleby. In the book are two characters called the Cheeryble Brothers, good hearted and kind employers of Nicholas. There has long been speculation that they were based on William and Daniel Grant. In 1893, Reverend W. Hume Elliot of Ramsbottom published The Country and Church of the Cheeryble Brothers to put the case forward. You can see a link to this book and read it for free at the excellent Internet Archive website here. There is also plenty of discussion as to whether the Cheerybles were really based on the Grants on the Ramsbottom Heritage website here. It would be nice to think that these local factory owners were like the Cheerbyles in“…liberal charity…, noble nature and unbounded benevolence”, in a time when so many owners were fairly ruthless exploiters of the people they employed.
The tower has also been lived in as a house. In the 1850s, the steeplejack James Wright stayed there with his family. He had a unique method of setting up his ropes that did not involve ladders or scaffold, but by flying a kite in order to fix them to the top. It was said that he could descend his ropes at 100 miles an hour. Something of a showman, his perilous drops would draw large, appreciative crowds. He was much in demand not just nationally but as far afield as Belgium and America. Perhaps our most famous Lancashire steeplejack Fred Dibnah would have had something to say about his methods! (See our page on Fred’s statue here).
In 1880 it was lived in by the family of Mr. Nightingale, a forester who worked for the Grants. After a severe storm one night they thought it would collapse, and so were forced to abandon it, not to return. The last person to live there was Edwin Waugh, the dialect poet, sometimes referred to as the Lancashire Robert Burns. Whilst convalescing from illness at the tower it is claimed that he wrote Little Cattle, Little Care with the refrain “Lie thee down, laddie !” in which he is speaking to his dog at the end of the day. Here’s a snippet: “We never owned a yard o’ ground/ We’n little wealth in hand/ But thee an’ me can sleep as sound/ As thi’ richest folk it’h land”. Read the full text here
By 1914 it was in need of restoration and so a fund was set up. By then the local farm at Top o’ th’ Hoof had become a pub called the Tower Inn and no doubt Grants Tower was still a draw. It was used by the Home Guard during the second world war as a look out point, but during the war years the council closed it as it badly needed repairs. They also entered into negotiations with Peter Grant Lawson to buy it. This was all in vain, for on 21st September 1944 the tower suddenly collapsed. No efforts were made to restore it and so it has lain, falling more and more into ruin as the decades have passed.
When we visited the site recently, we wanted to photograph what was left and from what we had seen in recent pictures, there really would not be much to see in a few years hence. However, we were surprised and delighted to see that the owner Mr. Buckley has decided to restore the building. The aim is to make it a partial but stable ruin. Much of the stonework on the site has been sorted, cleaned and put back into place at the ground floor level. This has been repointed and the windows restored on the front and side. There will now be only one ground floor room and this has had a new zinc roof to cover it to prevent further water damage to the remaining structure.
In the sole remaining room a wood burning stove will be fitted to the pre-existing fire place. The original flag floors have been restored, and the original staircase has been repaired leading up to the first floor. Although this will all presumably be for the owner’s private use, Grants Tower is on a public footpath so passing ramblers will be able to inspect the restoration work, and see a piece of local history that could have all too easily have been lost for good. It will never reach the heights of its former glory, but we’ll settle for a picturesque ruin that will last for years to come.
A final word on the site. Top o’ th’ Hoof is very like some Iron Age hillforts we have visited, similar shape, similar aspect. We’re not saying it is one, but a good site is a good site. This one has a prominent folly on, and now has a telecommunications mast. It would have been an excellent look out point in prehistoric times, and a defendable position too. Not so very far away is the Iron Age site at Burrs, which will be the subject of a future page on Lancashirepast.com.
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2018
Grants Tower is at Grid Reference 803 157. It is on a public footpath. The quickest way up to it is to park in the small layby (more of a little scrape that can fit two cars in) on Manchester Road and head up to Top o’ th’ Hoof farm.
Manchester Oddities, Keith Warrender (2011) Willow Publishing
Ramsbottom Heritage Society News Magazine No.53 Autumn/Winter 2017