The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Highfield House – Part Seven Joseph Duckworth

Samuel Lamb’s attempts to sell Highfield took a while, on 29 June 1904 The Manchester Guardian reports that the sale was withdrawn with no offers, however by 1909 one Joseph Duckworth is living there.

Joseph was born to Bernard Duckworth and Martha Hibbert. Bernard was born in 1816 in Blackburn. The Manchester Times on 4 November 1843 reports a Bernard Duckworth, warehouseman at Burd & Sons, giving evidence in an embezzlement trial. Bernard had started as an Errand boy at a Cannon Street Warehouse, but because of his “own ability and irreproachable character” he was taken on as staff.


Bernard Duckworth Copyright Victorian Clerks by Gregory Anderson

On 9 April 1844 Bernard and Martha marry at Manchester Cathedral, and in 1851 they are living at 21 Peel Lane, Cheetham HIll. Bernard is still employed as a Warehouseman.

However, soon after that Bernard’s fortunes start to rise, and in 1861 he is a Cotton Fent Dealer. Fent is waste cotton, so Bernard was an example of the Victorian trend of recycling everything. By 1871 he is a Fent Merchant, employing 14 people at Turner Street in Manchester, living at Hope Terrace in Harpurhey, by 1881 he describes himself as a General Merchant at the same address. He eventually heads the firm of Bernard Duckworth & Co, Calico Printers and Shippers operating from Turner Street (the current site of the Buddhist Centre) and George Street in Manchester. This became one of the largest such operations in Manchester.

In 1891 he is living at Ventnor Villa, 102 Heaton Moor Road. He died in the second quarter of 1891, leaving a fortune of £18,784 16s 6d (£2.4m in today’s terms).

Bernard and Martha had ten children. Two were born before 1844, therefore Bernard may have been previously married. Of these, Cephas was born in 1841 in Stockport, He went to Manchester College, and married Elizabeth Needham in 1862 in Moston.

Bernard Duckworth maintained strong links with Moston and Harpurhey having lived for over ten years there and so did many of his family. Cephas became secretary to the Harpurhey Building Society and an Estate agent, living first on Moston Lane, then moving to Park Place in Salford. He died in 1920, between them Cephas and Elizabeth had eight children.

Of Bernard’s other children Mary Duckworth was born in 1842. Edward Duckworth was born in 1844 and followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming first and errand boy, then a warehouseman. He married Elizabeth Jones in September 1872 in Harpurhey.

Charles born 1849, became a merchant like his father, he married Marian Cumberbeach Mills at Christ Church in Harpurhey in May 1876, and lived there on Smedley Lane. Thomas (b1851) also became a General Merchant, marrying Annie Owen, at St Thomas Heaton Norris in 1884 Cecily (b 1853) married Stuart Knowles at St Paul, Chorlton in June 1878.

Martha Ann Duckworth was born in 1854, and again married at Christ Church Harpurhey to Samuel Lord Shepherd in 1878. By 1901 she was widowed and living on an endowment in Prestwich. Annie Duckworth was born in 1861.

Lydia Jane Duckworth (b1856) married one Charles LeCourt, some 20 years older than her in Heaton Moor in 1892. Charles was the son of John Victor Magloire LeCourt, who was born in 1798 in Cherbourg, France. He was a Professor of Languages and married to Mary Ann Cooper, who was born in 1805 in St James’ Piccadilly. The LeCourts lived on Howard Avenue, off Manchester Road.

We then come to Joseph, born in 1859, who although the second youngest appears to have been the most loyal to his father, living with him whilst all the other children got married. In between 1891 and 1905 he is living with his father at Ventnor Villa. By 1909 he has moved into Highfield and describes himself as a Cotton & Woollen Goods Merchant.

In his private life he was an International Lacrosse player, Heaton Mersey having had a strong team in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and he turned out for many games, there are numerous reports of him playing for England in the 1880s and 1890s, the Heaton Mersey team also included at that time, an Eskrigge whose family we have met before being the brothers in law of William Roby Barr, and living at West Bank. Joseph was also a keen Lawn Tennis player and member of the Northern Lawn Tennis Club.

Where he met his partner, Walter Brownsword, it is unclear, but in the 1911 census they are staying together at Highfield. Tellingly whilst Joseph is an employer, Walter is noted as a worker, which raised my curiousity as to whether there was a relationship


Whilst not confirmed, reading the history of St Paul’s Heaton Moor, Walter is coyly referred to as Mr Duckworth’s “friend” and by his death in July 1931 Joseph has moved to 134 Heaton Moor Road, next door to 132 Heaton Moor Road, which happens to be the residence of one Walter Brownsword. In those days a same sex relationship may have been tacitly acknowledged, but they still had to take care as they were still outside the law.

As is common with these new middle class riches, they are often quickly spent, the children have faded into history.

Joseph left £1,036 2s 11d in his will (£72,000 in 2019), a substantial amount, but far less than his father left. Walter Brownsword was granted probate in the will (Cephas Duckworth had also spent most of his fortune, leaving £440 2s 3d in his will of 1920).

Walter was the son of Harry Brownsword, an Iron Founder. The family had lived on Wellington Road, before moving to Thorn Villa on at 132 Heaton Moor Road, Walter became famous for his involvement with Lawn Tennis, and was a key official of the Northern Lawn tennis club, becoming secretary, and being awarded the MBE for his services to the sport. After Joseph’s death, he married Catherine McGee in 1927.

Catherine McGee had been Matron of the Manchester Auxiliary Hospital in Heaton Mersey and also the Reform Club in Heaton Moor and was decorated by King George V on 24 October 1917 at Buckingham Palace, being awarded the Royal Red Cross. Catherine later ran the Lorca Nursing Lodge on Barlow Moor Road and a Nursing home on Wilmslow Road.

Walter and Catherine had a long and happy marriage, only marred by the death of an infant son, Norman aged 15 months in 1930. Walter passed away in December 1955, and was fondly remembered by members of the Northern Lawn Tennis Club

Copyright Allan Russell 2019.

Author: allanprussell

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

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