The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Priestnall Hey – Part Five William Nelson

Mrs Banks wrote the Manchester Man in 1876. In Chapter One, she describes an area around what is now Ducie Bridge at the turn of the 19th Century, that even in those days few people remembered

To this sinuous and picturesque line of houses, the streams,
with their rocky and precipitous banks, will have served in olden
times as a natural defensive moat (indeed, it is noticeable that
old Manchester kept pretty much within the angle of its rivers),
and in 1799, from one end of Millgate to the other, the
dwellers by the waterside looked across the stream on green
and undulating uplands, intersected by luxuriant hedgerows, a
bleachery at Walker’s Croft, and a short terrace of houses near
Scotland Bridge, denominated Scotland, being the sole breaks in
the verdure.

Between the tannery and Scotland Bridge the river makes a
sharp bend ; and here, at the elbow, another mill, with its
corresponding dam, was situated. The current of the Irk, if not
deep, is strong at all times, though kept by its high banks
within narrow compass. But when, as is not unseldom the case,
there is a sudden flushing of water from the hill-country

Mrs G L Banks , The Manchester Man 1876

In those days the Irk was perilous and prone to flooding, and the area of Scotland Bridge was where the leather industry was built. Under Victoria Station is a bridge, known as the cattle bridge. Farmers didn’t take cows to market, they took them to the tanneries to be slaughtered for their hide.

Former cattle bridge, c.16th century, Irk culvert under Victoria Station, c.1900

The Cattle Bridge, Copyright Paul Dobraszczyk

Of course in those days it was above ground.

Scotland Bridge was a different place at that time, today there is little to no trace of the tanneries and the area was much more open at that time.

Scotland Bridge, Manchester City Art Galleries, and now

William Nelson was one such tanner. He was born in Durham in 1815 to John and Elizabeth, but by 1839 he is living on Cheetham Hill and marries Jane Walker at Manchester Cathedral. By 1851 they have moved to Rose Hill in Crumpsall and he is trading as William Nelson & Co, Hide and Leather Factors. He buys in leather from all over the country, often from bankrupts to sell at substantial profit, as this advert from the Carlisle Journal of 12 February 1858 shows


He is a well to do in society, serving on the grand jury in the 1860 Manchester Court Sessions. His tannery is described in 1862 when we read the report of a fire there. He occupied the Red Bank Tanyard, in a building which consisted of two parts, the original and an extension. It was four stories high and eight windows long. The building stretched from Horrock’s Lane to the Railway Arches.


Pigots 1819 Map Manchester, Manchester Central Library

Horrocks Lane can be seen on the top right and Scotland Bridge will be the site of the Viaduct.

The fire started at 2am on 14 February and lasted three hours, even in those days the Fire service was efficient and skilled to bring it under control so quickly, nevertheless, there was a large stock of hides drying and there was £7,000 worth of damage (£850,000 in 2019). Fortunately (Manchester had 2 Fire Service since 1826, but it was not until 1929 that the last insurance service was disbanded) he was insured with the Royal Exchange and London and Liverpool Insurers, but he may have been charged for having the fire put out.

He moved to Heaton Villa around 1861 as John Douglas was only a temporary tenant whilst Bruntwood Hall was built. He was not there long as he died on 16 September 1865 at the now renamed Priestnall Hey, as reported in the Manchester Courier. It was not a good year for the Nelson family as their son, William Junior born 1849, died that November at the age of 16 at Priestnall Hey. They are both buried at St John in Heaton Mersey


The Graves of William Nelson Senior and William Nelson Junior in Heaton Mersey

William Nelson was a very rich man by the end of his life. He left a substantial sum in his will, £99,000, which equates to £12.3m today. Jane was still living at Heaton Villa (its name not yet settled) in 1871 on an annuity from William.

They had five children between them, the eldest, Thomas Walker Nelson was still living in Heaton Villa in 1871, but undertook a life of luxury alongside the tanning business, for which he trademarked an Ox as the symbol. He rose to Lieutenant in the 1st Royal Lancashire Volunteers in 1863 but resigned his commission to move to Warrington and also 7 Cambridge Gate in Regents Park. He took up Yachting as a hobby, sailing from Falmouth to Gibraltar in 1874.

He married Betsy Joy in St Pancras in 1881, and lived there with his four stepchildren until his death on 5 May 1888. He left £45,725 1/6 in his will, almost £6m today. In 1894 it was reported that Edward Davies, the managing partner of Nelson & Co, Tanners of Mersey Street, Warrington, shot himself through the head with a five chambered revolver. No cause was determined.

William Nelson’s first daughter Elizabeth Jane, was born in 1841 and lived on in Heaton Villa with her mother after her father’s death, before marrying Robert Miller in 1875 at St John, Heaton Mersey.

His second daughter, Margaret Nelson, of Priestnall Hey, as she called it on her marriage was born in 1843. She married Richard Curtis of Thornfield, we will meet them later when we visit Bank Hall and Thornfield in a future episode. They went on to live at Plymouth Grove running his father’s engineering works.

Richard Curtis also went into business with Thomas Walker Nelson and was executor of his will. Margaret died on 1 January 1895 at Limehurst in Bowdon.

Finally John Nelson was born in 1845. He married Alice Campbell Rowley on 15 October 1868. He too became a leather factor, and also specialised in producing the raw material, the census of 1881 describes him as a leather factor and farmer, whilst taking the waters at Buxton with his family. They moved to Harefield Hall in Wilmslow.

John and Ann had six children, William (born 1870) became a tanner like his father, Alice Rowley Nelson (born 1871) married Charles Leonard Agnew in 1897.

John Nelson, Junior (1878-1917) emigrated to Calgary in Canada, where he volunteered to fight in France in 1916, getting a gunshot wound in his right shoulder in February 1917. He returned to his unit in April, but on June 3 1917 he was reported missing in action. He is commemorated on the Vimy Memorial for the Canadian Expeditionary Force soldiers.

Winifred Nelson (born 1872) married Surgeon & Physician Robert Joseph Brown of Chester in 1895 and went to live in Surrey.

Arthur Campbell Nelson was born in 1873, he emigrated to South Africa and joined the South African Field force in Natal, as Troper 1837. He was killed at Mahlabatini in 1901 during the second Boer War.

Herbert Nelson (1876-1917) became a Captain in the Army in 1906 when he married Edith Francis Wright Corey (1884-1964). They had two daughters, one of whom was born in India, they lived at Etterby House in Carlisle. In 1911 as Major he won the DSO with the Border Regiment becoming temporary Brigadier General. He entered the Great War, fighting at the Somme in 1916 with the the First Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

He was lost in Action at Vimy ridge at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 whilst commanding the 88th Brigade. This was the same place his brother John had been lost a few months earlier

Edith Francis Wright Corey became a Pensioner at the Mary Tudor Tower in Windsor Castle, and died there in 1964.

John divorced Alice Campbell Rowley in 1883 and married Mary Elizabeth Davies in 1885 living at Toft Hall, and then moving to Sherbourne in Malvern Wells. They had two further children, firstly Rosamund Constance Nelson, born 1889, who married Frederick George Waites Pearson a second Lieutenant in the First Middlesex Royal Engineers. He had a safer war, becoming a Major in the Ministry of Munitions in 1915. Their second son was Wyndham Ivor Nelson (1887-1895) who died in infancy.

Let’s not forget Alice, who John divorced, she married Carl Friederich Claus who invented the Claus process for separating sulphur from Coal Gas, and had two more children by him.

Copyright 2019 Allan Russell

Author: allanprussell

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

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