Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The rectory the Reverend William Birley built on Edge Lane in 1845


The rectory, looking from the direction of Edge Lane, 1959
I can never make my mind up about the old rectory on Edge Lane which had been built in the 1840s and just managed to limp beyond its century before being demolished for a much smaller property in the 1960s.

It was the creation of the Reverend William Birley who of all our incumbents seemed to make things happen.

During his sixteen years in the township he had lobbied and been successful in building the new village school and the Rectory from subscriptions.

The school was a fine looking building and would serve the community for over thirty years.

As for the rectory opinions may have differed.   It was a large brick built house on three levels with an impressive stone porch facing north east.  The ground floor had tall windows which looked out on a garden screened from casual observers by a row of trees.

Inside, the rooms had lofty ceilings and were always gloomy and a touch too cold.  But this at least is how they appeared in the mid 20th century to my old friend Ida, by which time the building was suffering from damp and wood rot.

It was a place of solidity with a degree of splendid isolation which marked the Reverend Birley off as something apart from most of his flock.  Indeed the rectory stood beyond the village, so that anyone wishing to call would first have to take the road north from the green, past the Horse and Jockey out to Pitts Brow.

In his defence William Birley had brought his home close enough to the heart of the township.  Before this new rectory had been built he had lived on Upper Chorlton Road at the corner with Wood Road and before that at Irwell View, Old Trafford.*

The front of the Rectory, 1959
I look at the last pictures to be taken of the place in 1959 and I am not sure I would have liked to live there.  It is a heavy ponderous sort of building  and despite that impressive stone porch the front is less than elegant.

The bay window is too close to the front door and the windows on the top floor too squat and ugly.

But even given the winter sun perhaps we are not seeing the place at its best.  By 1959 it was surrounded by other houses and there is evidence that it has been neglected.

How much more impressive might it have seemed in the first decade after the Birley’s moved in.

Back then it commanded views across open countryside in all directions, and only if you looked to the south east was the view partially obscured by the home of William Chessyhre at Pits Brow,** which was reckoned by contemporaries to be a fine example of an old wattle and daub house.

The Rectory and Pits Brow, 1845
While the cottage of William Holland to the north was hidden by the trees of his orchard and garden.***

All of which meant there was ample room for the Birley’s four children to walk the countryside.  As to whether they ever felt at home in this big pile of a building I guess we will never know.

But the Birley’s did live in style employingfive servants including a nurse, cook and footman as well as two maids.

And yet not more than a decade and a bit after it was built they left the Rectory for Salford which is a story for another time.

As for the rectory it came down in the 1960s to be replaced by a more modest home and all that remains apart from the entrance to the grounds are a sunken garden which marks the cellars of the old property.

Picture; views of the rectory in 1959 by A.E.Landers, m17789, m17790 and m17, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, http://images.manchester.gov.uk/index.php?session=pass and detail of Pitts Brow and the rectory in 1845 from the Tithe map of 1845

* adapted from THE STORY OF CHORLTON-CUM-HARDY, http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/the-story-of-chorlton-cum-hardy.html

Entrance gates to the grounds, 1959
** Pits Brow was that bit of land on the corner of Edge Lane and Manchester Road, directly opposite the new parish church of St Clements and now where Stockton Range stands.

*** Thomas Holland lived on Manchester Road just a little before it joins Wilbraham Road.

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