Bradshaw Hall was built in the 1600s, a grand house in a rural setting. By the latter part of that century, its owner, John Bradshaw, was struggling financially. His estate was not generating the amount of income he required. With a large family to take care of, (eight daughters, who would all need dowries for marriage, and three sons) he was in need of money. At first, he took out a loan from the Chethams of Turton Tower, mortgaging his estate to do so. However, in the end, circumstances forced him to sell up and the Bradshaws of Bradshaw severed their connection to the land and hall.
It was all bought by a distant relative, Henry Bradshaw, from Marple in Cheshire. The Marple Bradshaws would own the hall and estate and be lords of the manor for the next three hundred years. They were always absentee landlords, and so the hall would be occupied by a succession of tenants.
Bradshaw Hall started off as a three-storey house, some 60 feet long. In the middle was a central porch, with bay windows flanking either side. Successive wings and extensions were added on over the years by its tenants.
The Beginnings of Bleaching at the Site
The first dealings with the bleaching business on the estate occurred in the late 1780s. The Lomax family were tenants at that time. They used the meadows behind the hall to lay out cloth to bleach naturally in the sun.
It was the nearby Bradshaw Brook, a large and steady source of water, that led to the establishment of a more industrial process. In 1834, the Bradshaw family sold 60 acres of land to Thomas Hardcastle for his bleaching and dyeworks operation. The Hardcastle family business took out a very long lease on the site, intending to build a considerable works. Thomas moved into Bradshaw Hall as the latest tenant and would spend a large amount of money restoring it.
At this time, the owner of the land and hall, Thomas Bradshaw, suffered from emotional instability. This meant he was unable to manage the estate, and this was done instead by a committee. His wife, Mary Ellen, was his representative on the committee, and this state of affairs continued up until his death, in 1849. Thomas and Mary’s son, John Henry Bradshaw Isherwood, inherited the estate and would be the last lord of the manor.
The Hardcastles Consolidate their Hold on the Bradshaw Township
The Hardcastle family came to have a major influence in the area. Over the years, they built a new school (now the site of the Old School House restaurant), funded the building of the new church of St Maxentius, constructed a mission hall and opened Bolton’s first bank. New worker houses were erected, including the terraces still standing at Lee Gate, King Street and Church Street. They bought up smaller bleaching operations at Rigbys, Bridge End and Lea Gate.
The site grew to be the largest bleach and dyeworks in Bolton. It included a print works that would produce an impressive 2400 different patterns, all engraved onto copper printing rollers by local professional engravers from Salford and Manchester.
A snapshot in time comes from a list of rules printed in 1875 for the workers. Fines were imposed for smoking, drinking, being in a portion of the site where you were not employed to be, bringing in ‘strangers’ who didn’t work on-site and being absent without permission. All the fine money went into a sick club fund for the employees. Directives included keeping the workspace clean, including the windows and machinery. Pay was given out on a Friday and this was also the day that rent was due for the tied housing.
In 1900, the bleach works was taken over by the Bleachworkers Association, along with the hall. However, the Hardcastles continued to reside at the hall, with Colonel Henry M. Hardcastle the fourth and last generation to live there. He was a keen historian and took an interest in local historical matters such as the repair of Affetside Cross and the sale of Smithills Hall. His hall was filled with antiques, including paintings from old masters such as Jan Van Os, Jan Van Huysum and John de Heem. The furniture dated from the 1600s, and he had various suits of armour about the place. The interior had fine marquetry work. To view some photographs of the exterior and interior of the hall, see the Bolton Libraries and Museums page here. (Click twice on the photographs to enlarge them).
The End of an Era
In 1948, the colonel died and, the following year, the Bleachworkers Association published their findings from an extensive survey of the hall. They stated that it had a large amount of dry rot, and portions of the stonework were unsafe. They claimed that they would not be able to sell it as a residence or for use by the council, and so the only alternative was demolition. A decision was taken that the porch would be saved, and it stands to this day in the grounds for visitors to see.
Some of the Colonel’s possessions were transferred to nearby Turton Tower and are still on display for visitors today. As well as there being a Bradshaw Room with a tester bed and fireplace from the hall, there are suits of armour and furniture. The most intriguing items are the Timberbottom skulls which still rest on the large bible from the hall. For more details see our page on Turton Tower here.
The bleach, dye and print works carried on in existence for a few more years. Before World War Two, it had employed around 700 people. In 1955, it was down to 300 people. Long service certificates from that time show that some men had begun work there as boys before the age of 14, and were still working at the site in their 70s.
Further investment into the works occurred, with new buildings starting to be constructed in 1960. However, three years later, just weeks after the new buildings were opened, the whole site was shut permanently.
For the next 30 years, the buildings were rented out to different businesses. Eventually, the larger businesses moved out, to be replaced by smaller ones. Many of the buildings were by now showing their age and were proving unsuitable for use.
Turton Local History Society published their booklet The Bradshaw Chapel History Trail in 1988. In it, they described the buildings that were still standing. This included the bleach croft, which was said to be a large low structure with a small square chimney. The grey rooms were still present, as was the three-storey printing building at the centre of the site. The joiner, millwright and blacksmith shops were also still in evidence.
In the years 1989-90, Andy Marland, author of The View from the North website, photographed various of the standing buildings. These pictures are displayed on his website and you can scroll through a selection of them here.
In the late 1980s, the buildings were derelict and the land was sold for housing. It was hoped that a couple of the three-storey buildings could be saved and converted into housing, but they were in such bad repair that this was not possible. One of the new constructions, though, does contain some features reminiscent of one of the demolished buildings.
Unfortunately, during the demolition work a chimney toppled the wrong way and severely damaged the Bradshaw Hall porch. This was subsequently rebuilt, and stands as we see it today. In 1996, the completed residential development won a Civic Trust Award.
What is to be Seen Today
The historical remains of Bradshaw Hall and its gardens and waterways all lie within Upper Bradshaw Valley Local Nature Reserve. The garden paths, some lined with small stones, are still present, snaking their way through the vegetation. Mature trees and Rhododendron bushes grow in the garden area, the latter always a key indicator of a stately home in Lancashire. A modern irregular stone circle is hidden within the trees.
Following the paths will lead you to the old entrance driveway, flanked by two large stone gateposts and (probably modern) iron gates. Close inspection of the large stone steps leading to the main road reveals that they are inscribed with Roman numerals. This stone work has clearly been reused here, although what its original function was is not clear. It has presumably come from the bleachworks and been placed here at some unspecified point.
Bradshaw Hall porch is in good condition and can be inspected at close quarters. It is said to date from the original part of the 1600s house. Two columns flank the archway entrance, and spiked finials adorn the top. Looking into the interior reveals benches set against two of the walls. There are two coats of arms, one above the external archway and another above the internal doorway.
Close to the porch, now converted into housing, is the hall’s old timber-framed barn. Blocked archways at one end, set at right angles to each other, may have led to a stable and a cart shed. Windows now replace the space where the very large barn doors would have stood. At the far end, there could have been accommodation for workers.
The industrial buildings of the bleachworks may now be long gone, but the water features are still present. The largest of the lodges are part of Bradshaw Hall fisheries. In the nature reserve there are a number of small lodges, now overgrown as nature reclaims the site. The management of Bradshaw Brook is still very much evident though, with the mill race and small weirs easy to find.
There is public access to the site of the hall, gardens and Bradshaw Brook because the area is now part of the Upper Bradshaw Valley Local Nature Reserve. For more information on this, click the link .
Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2020
Bradshaw Hall porch is situated very close to Bradshaw Hall Drive, which is itself just off the A676 Bradshaw Road. There is no official parking here, and no obvious place to park on the housing estate. The porch, gardens and brook are all part of the local nature reserve and there are paths into the reserve from the housing estate.
The nearest official car park is at Jumbles Reservoir. From there head south on the Kingfisher Trail. This is a linear walk that will take you from the reservoir to the hall porch, garden remnants and some of the overgrown lodges, by the side of Bradshaw Brook. To view the trail map and for a link to download a copy, click here.
The Bradshaw Chapel History Trail, J.J. Francis (1988) Turton Local History Society (publication 10). For availability see Turton Local History Society website here
Jumbles- Bradshaw Valley, (1988), West Pennine Moors Area Management Committee. Available from Jumbles Country Park Cafe. See their website here