Archive for September, 2017

By Margaret: Our first question was: ‘Where is Clayton Hall?’ the answer was: ‘In Clayton’. A few members admitted to knowing where and what it was but we concluded it must be Manchester’s best-kept secret.  That’s a pity because we had a thoroughly enjoyable and informative trip, hosted by friendly volunteers, who also provided home-made cakes and soup.

To begin with, a few facts.  In the 12th century the Byron family built a moated manor house and farm by the village of Clayton.  The moat was for self-defence in turbulent times and it is still there today, though a little overgrown.  The drawbridge has been replaced by a stone bridge, which now gives access to the building.  In 1620 the Byrons sold the property to Humphrey and John Cheetham, who were wealthy fustian manufacturers, staunch Protestants and Parliamentarians.  John died soon after but Humphrey became High Sheriff of Lancashire, refused a knighthood (for which he was fined £25!) and left plans and money in his will for a school and library.  Cheetham’s School still flourishes today and is named in his honour.

In 1896 the property was transferred to Manchester City Council.  However, it was not well maintained and even threatened with demolition.  Then along came an enterprising and committed group of local volunteers, who became the Trustees.  With the help of local residents and businesses and a few modest grants they rescued the building and created a museum full of interesting objects and activities.  Archaeologists and archivists have been involved throughout the process and are still unearthing more of the history.

We went on a private tour but the Hall is open to visitors on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Details on their website.

By Margaret: Beatrix Potter was the subject of a detailed talk by Pat Osborne.  She explained that Beatrix’s father Rupert had rejected the family calico printing business, trained as a solicitor, set up his own law firm and left most of the work to his employees, while he enjoyed meeting friends at his Club and attending art galleries.  Beatrix therefore was brought up in an affluent family, but she was a delicate child and was prevented from mixing with other children for fear of infection and ‘bad influences’.  Both she and her brother, six years her junior, enjoyed painting and Beatrix was especially fond of her terrier dog and a rabbit called Benjamin.  Pat showed us a photo of Beatrix taking her rabbit for a walk, complete with collar and lead.

As she got older, Beatrix sold some of her paintings for greetings cards and then published her first book herself, so that she could keep the cost down to one shilling, which she thought children could afford.  But most of her books were subsequently published by Warne Brothers, the youngest of whom, Norman, eventually proposed marriage.  But her parents, apparently oblivious to the origin of their wealth, refused consent to her marrying into trade!  Reluctantly Beatrix and Norman agreed to separate temporarily during the Potter family summer holiday in the Lake District.  But sadly Beatrix was to lose the man who remained the love of her life when Norman died suddenly from leukeumia. By the time she had received the news and travelled to London, she was too late for the funeral.  She had to console herself by visiting his grave in Highgate Cemetery, together with his sister Millie, who remained her friend for the rest of her life.  She continued to produce a book for Warnes each Christmas for most of her life, though her enthusiasm for the projects gradually faded.

She returned to the Lake District and bought Hill Top Farm.  She appointed a farm Manager to continue with traditional methods of farming.  Encouraged by the local vicar, Beatrix continued to purchase more land.  The local solicitor, William Heelis, acted for her and eventually the two married.  Again her parents opposed the match; they were getting older and thought Beatrix should devote herself to them!   In fact Beatrix devoted more and more of her time to her Lake District life and became a local expert on Herdwick sheep.  When her father died, her mother reluctantly moved to the Lakes, but lived separately from Beatrix.  The two were never close and she only visited her mother occasionally.

Eventually she sold 2000 acres of land to the National Trust and on her death bequeathed the rest of her substantial estate to them.  William had the right to stay in their home for his life, but after his death no one was to live at HillTop. She further insisted that there should be no hunting on the land she gave to them.  Hill Top remains open to the public and William’s office in Hawkshead now houses many of Beatrix’s original drawings.

At their next meeting, Glossopdale WI will be staying nearer to home when local trader, Wendy Wilkie, will be talking about vintage clothing.  Members are invited to take along their own example.  The meeting will be at the Labour Club on Chapel Street on Wednesday 18th October at 9.30am and all ladies are welcome to come along.