The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Highfield House – Part Three Thomas Hornby Birley

After John Marsland’s death in 1852 the House was put up for sale once more, and on 23 June 1855, the following advertisement appeared in the Manchester Courier. The advert could have been written by a present day Estate Agent, the concerns of the Weatlthy Victorian are little different from those of present day inhabitants of Heaton Mersey. There was even a regular bus service from Parrs Wood into Manchester! :

To be sold, a MANSION, Highfield, Heaton Mersey, near Manchester, situate one and a half miles from Heaton Norris Railway Station, one and a quarter miles from Heaton Chapel Railway Station, and one mile from Parr’s Wood Barr, from whence there is an omnibus several times during the day to Manchester. The church and post office are within a quarter of a mile of the house. Excellent roads in every direction. The house has been built of the best materials, regardless of expense, and completely fitted up with the necessary fixtures; and comprises entrance hall, large dining and drawing room, breakfast and billiard room, which may be converted into a library; butlers pantry, housekeeper’s room, store room, kitchen, back kitchen, two waterclosets &c ; seven bedrooms, two dressing rooms, lofty and dry cellars under the whole, and three excellent rooms in the attic storey for servants. There is also a conservatory and hot house fitted up with the latest improvements. There are stables for five horses, two loose boxes and large coach house capable of containing four carriages. The water is excellent, and there is a force pump for supplying any part of the premises. The garden, plantation, leisure grounds and land thereunto belonging, contain 5 1/2 acres, part of which is most tastefully liad out in ornamental shrubberies, grass plots, walks and terraces, and the remainder forms a large, and very productive kitchen garden well stocked with fruit trees; together with a small paddock. The land is subject to the yearly chief rent of £111 11s 7d. – The situation of this propery cannot be surpassed for salubrity and beauty; it stands in an elevated position, commanding very extensive views over a very picturesque vale, and also of the Derbyshire hills. – For orders to view the property, and for further particulars, apply to Messrs HAYLEY, SON and HALL, Architects, 45 Cross-street, Manchester.

It was Thomas Hornby Birley who bought the house.

The Hornby and Birley families hailed from Newton With Scales near Kirkham in Lancashire. They had for centuries been lords of the manor there, marrying into each others families to maintain the bloodline, and marrying into other families where power was required to further their wealth and influence.

They were related to the Stanleys, Earls of Derby, who lived at Knowsley Hall in Liverpool, and had produced Edward Smith Stanley (married to Charlotte Margaret Hornby) who was three times Prime Minister of England.

Thomas Hornby Birley’s grandfather, Richard Birley had eight children, the two most prominent being Joseph Birley (father of Thomas Hornby Birley) and Hugh Hornby Birley.

Hugh Hornby Birley is reputed as the man who led the charge of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry at Peterloo in June 1819


Hugh Hornby Birley, People’s History Museum, Manchester

Joseph Birley (1780-1847), and his brother, Hugh Hornby Birley, went into business in 1814 in Cambridge Street in Manchester setting up a cotton mill,

Meanwhile, Charles Macintosh in Glasgow found that coal tar, a by product of the new gasworks which provided the street lighting there, could dissolve India Rubber. In 1797 he started an Alum works to make a dry bleach and became rich doing this. This allowed him to perform further research, and by 1818 he had found that a rubber solution used between two pieces of cloth made it waterproof, he persuaded the Birley brothers to build a factory next to their cotton mill to capitalise on this process and make waterproof rubberised garments. The finished product initally had an unpleasant smell, and was hard to market into the general public, although he did good trade with the armed forces and merchant navy, who naturally valued dryness over personal hygiene.

In 1825 Thomas Hancock discovered how to increase the rubber content, and therefore reduce the odour. The companies worked initally in tandem sharing research, but by 1831 had merged into Thomas Macintosh and Co.

The Birleys and the Macintoshes were thus well placed to protect the folk of Manchester from incessant rain with the introduction of the eponymous coat.


Macintosh India Rubber Works Photo © David Dixon (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Both brothers became incredibly rich from cotton and rubber and Joseph built Ford Bank in Didsbury in 1823, this is probably the largest house that ever existed in Didsbury, although it is now gone and part of the Ford Bank Estate.


Ford Bank , Copyright Manchester City Council Photograph Archive.

In 1809 Joseph Birley married Jane Hornby, They certainly needed a big house, as they had 14 children between them, of whom 13 survived into adulthood. In 1815 he became Deputy Lieutenant of Lancashire.

Of his children, Hugh Hornby Birley (1817-1883) went to India and set up Birley Corrie and Co, East India Merchants, before returning to join his father into the Macintosh rubber works, and served as MP for Manchester between 1868 and 1883. He lived at “Moorland” which stood near Wilmslow Road in Didsbury.

Thomas Hornby Birley was born in 1815 in Blackburn, moving to Ford Bank in 1823 with his father. He was educated at Winchester School.

He married Ann Leatham in August 1843 and entered his father’s India Rubber business. In 1851 they are living at 12 York Place in Manchester (David Lloyd George was born at number 5 in 1862), and after 1855 they moved to Highfield.

They only stayed there a short while, the 1861 census shows them there as does the 1863 electoral roll, but they put the house up for sale in 1864 so they could move to Hart Hill Mansion in Pendleton (which was demolished in 1926 to make way for Buile Hill Park) , where they are on the 1871 and 1881 census returns.


Hart Hill Mansion, Pendleton

Along with his brother Hugh, Thomas was a staunch conservative and was voted the first Vice President of the Manchester Conservative club, rising to Chairman, a post he kept until his death.

He continued to be a partner in Macintosh & Co, and also took other positions, such as the Vice Presidency of the County Palatine Permanent Building Society.

Thomas died at Seedley Terrace, Irlams O’Th’Height on 26 January 1885, and was buried at the family vault in Didsbury Parish Church. Although he only lived for a brief while in Heaton Mersey, he maintained connections with the area, being a trustee of Heaton Reddish church (now St Mary, Reddish) and a trustee and member of the Board of Management of the Barnes Samaritan Charity, which founded inter alia, the Barnes Hospital.

Jane and Thomas had five children,

The eldest, Ann Katherine Birley (1845-1923) never married and appears to have lived with her parents for most of her life, dying at Seedley Terrace. The second child, James Leatham Birley was born in 1848 and sadly died whilst studying at Trinity College in Oxford.

Their second son, Francis Hornby Birley attended Winchester school, in his father’s footsteps and studied law at Oxford. He was an excellent all round sportsman, playing for Oxford University in the second ever FA Cup Final, they lost this to the Wandrerers, but he returned the next year on the winning side against the Royal Engineers, winning 2-1, he went on to join the Wanderers and won the FA cup final twice more with them, he was also capped for England against Scotland in 1875.

Francis was also a cricketer, appearing three times for Lancashire and once for Surrey, but most of his cricket was played for Cheshire.


Francis Hornby Birley, copyright University College Oxford

Qualifying as a Barrister, he was called to the bar in 1876, but rarely practised, becoming a JP in Surrey, and living with his wife at Claridge House in East Grinstead.

Caroline (1851-1907) remained unmarried, like her sister, and lived with her. She became a geologist and renowned ornithologist as well as writer of Children’s books. She travelled widely with her friend and companion Louisa Coupland between 1887 and 1905 to places such as Egypt, Denmark, Malta, the Faroes, Algiers, Corsica, Italy, France, The Azores, Canada, Cape Town and Colorado. In Denmark she discovered two new species of fossilised crustaceans.


Caroline Birley, thanks to

Initially her fossils were on view in an iron shelter in her garden at Seedley terrace, called the Seedley museum, which was opened to the public in 1888 but she left her collection to the British Museum, with the proviso that what the curators did not require could be passed to the Manchester University Museum, asking that it be named the Caroline Birley collection, and it not be handled by students! The bequest actually was dispersed over a wider area in the North West, ending up in places such as Bolton Museum.

Caroline died at Seedley terrace of influenza on 15 February 1907. She achieved much, in a male dominated world of Geology, and was recognised as a great contributer to the science by Dr Henry Woodward of the National History Museum in London, who named two new species Dromiopsis birleyae and Dromiopsis coplandae after her and her companion, writing:

I dedicate this species to my friend Miss Caroline Birley, who has given so much time and attention to the study of geology and palaeontology both at home and abroad, and whose private collection bears testimony to her devotion to science

The last son Walter, died in the month he was born.

The Birleys have been a successful family through the ages. Even today they continue to contribute to all areas of society. James Leatham Birley, the son of Francis Hornby Birley pioneered the study of stress amongst pilots in the first world war, his son James Leatham Tennant Birley, became a CBE, a fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians

Arthur Birley, another son of Joseph Birley (1780-1847) had a grandson Sir Robert Birley, who was Headmaster of Eton and Charterhouse, and a prominent Anti Apartheid Campaigner, known as Red Robert. Oswald Birley, the grandson of Hugh Hornby Birley, the Peterloo campaigner, became a prominent watercolourist and Royal portrait painter, Oswald’s son Mark Birley married Annabel Goldsmith and founded the nightclub Annabels in London. His son Robin Birley is a prominent UKIP donor, and was married to Bryan Ferry’s ex wife Lucy.

Wherever you look you will find a Birley.

Copyright 2019 Allan Russell

Author: allanprussell

Big houses in the Heatons and others that take my interest.

3 thoughts on “The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Highfield House – Part Three Thomas Hornby Birley”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: