Ribbleton Hall was a Victorian mansion built in 1865 by Thomas Birchall on land previously purchased by his father. Birchall was a mayor of Preston and a partner in a firm of solicitors based in the prestigious Winckley Square. As well as being a prominent member of Preston’s wealthy professionals, he was also a keen collector of art. He owned two paintings by artist Richard Dadd, one of the most celebrated fairy painters of Victorian times. One of these – ‘Puck’ – now hangs in the Harris Museum in Preston, and an indication of how important it is is that its companion piece is to be found in The Louvre, Paris. (Dadd had a very difficult life, and did much of his painting incarcerated in Bethlem and Broadmoor).
While Thomas Birchall may have appeared to be a family man and a pillar of local society, he had a hidden dark side. In his lifetime he had multiple mistresses and numerous illegitimate children. Suspect financial dealings were also uncovered following his death.
After Birchall died, Ribbleton Hall went through a number of uses. It was a private boys’ preparatory school in the 1920s. During the Second World War, like so many grand houses, it was commandeered by the military. The building was used by the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the women’s branch of the army) and American troops as a base.
In 1955, the hall was demolished and Grange Park created. The grounds were laid out under the supervision of Jack Billington, the park foreman. Features included a bowling green, with its own pavilion, and tennis courts. Rose beds, shrubberies and trees were planted.
In the 1980s, widespread government cuts to the funding of parks meant Grange Park went into a period of neglect and decline. However, by the late 1990s, the local council responded to the concerns of local residents groups and bid successfully for lottery funding to renew the space. An interpretation centre was put in place and an archaelogical excavation of the hall was carried out. This discovered the footprint of the building, and the adjacent kitchen and garden.
The main remaining feature of the hall is the old entrance way, which is the only substantial part of the building still standing. The footprint of the outer foundations has been conserved, so the overall size of the hall can be seen. Some of the original floor tiles and carved masonry discovered during excavation are still in place. However, the site is looking a little neglected and could do with some new boards explaining the history, and a tidy up. The interpretation centre is no longer open and the walled kitchen garden is fenced off. There are signs of hope though. Recently, just next to the hall ruins, Preston Council have installed an adventure playground for children. Hopefully, the historical remains will be similarly improved in the near future.
The grounds of Grange Park remain well looked after. The planting is varied, and parts of the old features of the garden can be made out, such as the circular rose garden (sadly with no roses in), the ice house ruins and ha-ha wall.
The Hesketh Family of Rufford: Their Ribbleton Connection
There was an earlier hall in the Ribbleton area before Thomas Birchall’s Victorian creation. Exactly where this building was is not clear, but the History of the County of Lancaster states that Birchall “built the present Ribbleton Hall not far from the old house”.
A Thomas Hesketh (1677-1721) lived at the old Ribbleton Hall for much of his married life. His father had purchased the land in 1670 as part of the Farington estate. The year Thomas Hesketh died, his son (another Thomas) became an MP for Preston at the young age of 24. He did not want to live at Ribbleton though, but rather had his eye on his family’s manorial seat at Rufford. He rented Rufford Old Hall off Elizabeth Bellingham, his uncle’s widow, on a 99 year lease. Once in possession, he removed part of nearby Holmeswood Hall and added it to the east wing of Rufford. He died, age 36, in great debt.
Interestingly, there is still a Hesketh Arms pub at both Ribbleton and Rufford. To see more on the history of Rufford Old Hall, see our page here.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2019
Grange Park is open during daylight hours. Park on the road at Glenview Close in front of the park.
Just a short drive away
An Introduction to Puck by Richard Dadd, leaflet available from Harris Museum Preston
Rufford Old Hall, Richard Dean (2007) National Trust
Rufford Old Hall Lancashire, (1998) National Trust