The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Bank Hall – Part Two: Francis Philips

John and Sarah Philips had thirteen children. Their eldest son and child was John Leigh Philips born on 23 November 1761 at Longsight Hall and baptised at St Ann in Manchester. He worked for a while with his brother Francis in J&N Philips. On 23 April 1787 he married Caroline Penny and in 1803 he was given command of the First Regiment of the Manchester & Salford Corps, Britains Home Guard during the Napoleonic wars.

Like his onetime successor Captain George Mainwaring he had a somewhat elevated view of his rightful position and declared himself Lieutenant Colonel Commander over all Manchester Volunteer Corps. This upset the established commander Joseph Hanson of the Salford & Stockport Rifles, who had authority from the Lord Lieutenant of Derby, and Secretary of State Lord Hawkesbury.

It eventually came to blows with a duel on Kersal Moor, where both men were arrested and released under caution that they kept the peace. This did not deter Philips who entered a lengthy correspondance with Derby and Hawkesbury, which he eventually lost, resigning along with all 53 officers of his regiment in a fit of pique.

On the positive side, he was an early adopter of gas lighting, introducing it to the family firm in 1803. He was also instrumental in the construction of the Manchester Royal Infirmary in Piccadilly, and he was a keen naturalist, his entomological collection formed the basis of what became the Manchester Museum.

He died on 23 June 1814.

He and Caroline had three children, John (1791-1835), Henry (1792-1818) and Nathaniel George Philips (1795-1831) Nathaniel was a relatively successful painter who was educated at the Manchester Grammar School. He settled in Liverpool, and exhibited at the Liverpool Academy and Royal Manchester Institution. His best known work was a series of copper engravings of old halls in Lancashire and Cheshire (Views in Lancashire and Cheshire of Old Halls and Castles, Intended as Illustrations to the County Histories) , he is therefore close to my heart on old houses. He died young, at his house in Rodney Street, Liverpool after a long illness.

Nathaniel George Philips, Portrait Of A Young Gentleman Seated, and Cluworth Hall, Lancashire

John Philips and Sarah Leigh’s next two children, Nathaniel (1763-1763) and Elizabeth (1764-1768) died in infancy.

Henry Philips (1767-1800) emigrated to the United States and founded the town of Philipsburg Pennsylvania. He married Sophia Chew in Philadelphia PA. in 1796. Sophia was the daughter of Benjamin Chew. Henry had gone to the USA to run the Philips export business in the newly independent country.

Benjamin Chew and Henry & Sophia Chew

If you want to marry power, this was the right choice. Benjamin Chew was the head of the Pennsylvania Judiciary under Colony and Commonwealth, having been trained by Andrew Hamilton. He was a close friend of George Washington, and the Penn family. George Washington is said to have treated Benjamin’s children, as if they were his own. Sophia and her sister Harriet were his favourites. She was a celebrated beauty, and it was considered social suicide not to be at home when the Chew daughters came to call. Sophia’s niece, Sophia Chew Nicklin, daughter of Juliana Chew, married George Mifflin Dallas, who was Vice President of the USA from 1845-1849.

Henry died in 1800. He and Sophia had one child, Elizabeth Henrietta, born 1797.

The next child, Ann Philips, married the Reverend George Hulme, and they went to live in Arley Regis, Worcestershire. Nathaniel George Philips (1770-1793) also went to the USA, to help his elder brother, but died young in New York.

We now come to Francis Philips, who was the next inhabitant of Bank Hall. He was born on 27 September 1771 at St Ann’s Street. The Manchester Courier in 1850 said this was one of the handsomest dwellings in Manchester at the time. He moved to Longsight Hall with his father, living there when his father had Bank Hall. He married Beatrice Aspinall on 13 September 1792 at St George in Liverpool. Like his brother John Leigh Philips with whom he went for a while into business, he was a supporter of the foundation of the MRI.

He was a good employer, some of his men stayed with him for 50 years, and the average tenure was 13. On the Coronation of George IV, his workers presented him with a silver salver.

Francis was a successful businessman, and was naturally against excessive taxation. He published pamplets arguing against the power of the council to tax excessively, but also, how this led to corruption and Manchester councillors lining their own pockets.

Thousands may exclaim without thinking What can an individual effect against the immence population of this Parish united But a moment’s reflection will convince them that in this free and happy country the legal rights of an individual cannot be overpowered by the influence of thousands and if the present Farmer of the Tythes can prove that the law entitles him to twenty thousand pounds a year twenty thousand pounds a year will he receive Such is the case in the Manor of the present Lord rules us his vassals……

….let us turn to a few that have actually occurred within the period of a few years We had a very few years ago one of the best Flesh Markets in the kingdom it was centrical free from dust and abounding with safe avenues for foot passengers this excellent market has totally disappeared and in its place we find one of inferior size in a situation remote dusty and dangerously annoyed with carts But surely some grand object some public improvement led to the change So far from this being the case the old site is crowded with newly erected warehouses a bar to all improvement and with avenues contemptible

But there must have been some advantage gained which you don’t fairly state. Very true the agents of the Lord of the Manor then a Minor sold this excellent Market for his advantage at seven shillings a yard and bought one for the Town at Two shillings a yard or less and if the Town neglect to avail itself of the present opportunity of avoiding future greater evils we may thank ourselves if the next Lord of the Manor should sell the present plot and gives us land still more remote threepence or sixpence a yard.

Francis Philips “Murder Is Out or Committee Men Fingering Cash” March 10 1809

Thank goodness the current council does not favour unbridled development for their own advantage.

He was a skilled road builder , and became a trustee of the Manchester and Buxton Road in 1798, and in 1826 he designed the route of Wellington Road, Stockport, of course it was named after the revered Prime Minister. We overlook and curse that road these days, but never consider what a feat of engineering it is. The old turnpike through Stockport went down Higher Hillgate (by the Blossoms pub) and then back up Lancashire Hill along to Manchester Road where it now rejoins the A6 near McVities.


Stockport Johnson 1819, before Wellington Road

Francis built a road that bypassed congested Stockport, thus speeding up through traffic , but still allowing it to easily access Stockport centre. A new bridge had to be built over the Mersey, Wellington Bridge, with 11 arches and a 27 metre arch over the river itself. The cost of the road and bridge was £36,000 (£3.5m 2019) and it opened on 3 July 1826.

The new road gave weight to the arguments to build the Manchester to London rail route through Stockport, and therefore gave us our most important landmark as well as a vital travel and business link, which has served us for nearly two centuries, stopping us from being at the end of a branch line, feeding from the originally proposed route near Didsbury which was mooted to avoid the insane cost of building a massive viaduct across the Mersey Valley.

The Early 1800s were a troubled time in England, there were Luddite risings and the Napoleonic Wars had caused hardship as a result of the trade embargo raised against the France.

This caused unrest and poverty in the trading towns of the North. Parliament was consequently afraid to prorogue (in 2019, plus ca change) and adjourned daily.

In May 1812 Francis Philips went to London to petition the House of Commons, most likely to gain support for further action against the Luddites.

On Monday May 11, parliament was debating the embargoes, and a Liverpool merchant, John Bellingham, entered the Commons. He was a regular visitor and his grievances were well known to Parliament. It was a fine and warm spring evening, and the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval had decided to dispense with his carriage, and walk from 10 Downing Street to the Commons.

He was late for the debate, and this caused some impatience, and a messenger was sent to hurry him up, he therefore quickened his pace and arrived at the House at approximately quarter past five. He entered the lobby but nobody noticed Bellingham approach the PM calmly and fire his pistol from close range into the chest of Perceval.

The Prime Minister staggered forwards a few steps and fell to the ground calling out, I am murdered, murder!

Francis Philips was next to the PM at this point and rushed to him, bent down supported him on his shoulder, by this time Perceval was bleeding profusely from his wounds, and he was carried by Francis and others to the Speaker secretary’s room where very shortly later he died in Francis’ arms without having uttered a further word.


Francis Philips cradling the dying Spencer Perceval, Bellingham is at the far right

Bellingham was immediately arrested, tried and convicted, and on the 18 May he was hanged at Newgate. Parliament immediately awarded annuities of £2,000 pa (£140,000 in 2019) to both his widow and eldest son, and erected statues to the fallen Prime Minister, whilst quietly reversing his unpopular legislation.

Francis Philips deposition to Parliament May 1812, Public Ledger & Daily Advertiser 13 May 1812

John Bellingham’s descendant, Sir Henry Bellingham, now sits in Parliament for North Norfolk. In a reversal of roles he lost his seat temporarily in 1997 when Roger Percival, who claimed descent from Spencer Perceval, stood for the Referendum party and allowed Labour to temporarily gain the seat.

A man with Francis Philips’ manufacturing interests who was seeing the tide of revolution and dissent sweeping the country, and who had seen at first hand how government could be shaken by such anger, was clearly not one to support the protests at Peterloo, and in 1819 he published An Exposure of the Calumnies Circulated by the Enemies of Social Order…. against the magistrates and the Yeomanry Cavalry

In this he acknowledges the dangers of rebellion he has witnessed:

My Lord Once and only once I had the honour and the gratification of an interview with your Lordship it was in the Spring of 1812 at a time when the manufacturing districts were in a state similar to the present less dangerous to the nation because less systematic but the external signs of riot of public plunder the seizure of arms the demolition and the burning of houses and factories the dreadful crime of assassination had extended farther no preventive measures having been adopted

And continuing his theme, he rails against fake news, which is stoking dissent:

Among the distress inseparable from such events the people must naturally complain &c &c Extract from the Morning Chronicle of November 4

To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle

Sir-In your paper of the 4th instant we observe it stated that the weavers employed by and had their wages reduced on Saturday last and this measure is supposed to be the preliminary to a general reduction throughout the town Now Sir as we have not lowered wages nor intend doing so but on the contrary have advanced them we in justice to ourselves call upon you to contradict in the same public manner such an infamous falsehood and must require from you the names of the parties who furnished you with the information in question in order that measures may be taken to prevent the public being imposed upon in future by such unjust and improper statement Relying on you giving every publicity to this letter we are Sir your most obedient servants

From An Exposure Of Calumnies – Francis Philips 1819

In 1824, on the death of his father John, he moved to Bank Hall with Beatrice. At the age of 53 he applied himself to his estate, becoming a keen agriculturalist, and if we may return to the plans of Bank Hall we saw last time, reimagined his estate as a country home, and designed the parks and lakes we saw in the 1848 plan. Compare 1819 with 1848:

Johnson 1819 and OS 1848 – the change in 30 years is significant, The hamlet is no more, there are extensive and well designed grounds

He was still actively involved in his business, Pigot’s Directory for 1829 shows Francis Philips & Sons, Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers at 32 Cross Street and King Street. However, he was by now a wealthy man, and in 1837 he purchased the Abbeycwmhir Estate in Radnorshire.

The Hall, was built in 1834 by Thomas Wilson but Francis once more applied himself to the task in hand, carrying out several improvements and doubling the size of the house.


Abbycwmhir Hall – Copyright Visit Mid Wales

He built a school for the locals, when he arrived the nearest place of education was six miles away over the mountains.

His last years were more peaceful, spending time at Bank Hall and Abbeycwmhir. He became Deputy Lieutentant of Stockport in 1841, and in 1843 the Chairman of the Trustees of Stockport Infirmary. He also like his brother John Leigh Philips a keen entomologist, and his collection also went to form the nucleus of the Manchester Museum, as well as possessing one of the foremost private libraries and print collections of the time.

Beatrice died in 1844, and on the 6 May 1850, he passed away, of a severe cold, still an active man, committed to outdoor pursuits. He is buried in Didsbury. His son Francis Aspinall Philips succeeded him at Bank Hall, and we shall meet him next time.

John and Sarah Philips’ next child was James Philips (1772-1774) who died in infancy. Elizabeth Philips (1775-1843) who we briefly met last time, as patron of the Ball in support of Stockport Dispensary, married George Edward Leigh at Kings Areley in Worcestershire on 4 June 1798, to become Elizabeth Leigh Philips.

James Philips (1777-1808) as another emigrant to the USA to support his brothers in business. He spent some time exploring the new country and published a book Exploits In The Wilderness Of North America, before setting up as a Flour, Sugar, Indigo and Tea Merchant in Philadelphia. His pretty boy portrait belies a man who explored the wilderness


James Philips 1777-1808

Sarah Philips, born Bank Hall 1779 possibly died in infancy, as we know nothing about her. Hardman Philips (1783-1783) did expire as a baby.

Finally there was Thomas Philips who was born at Bank Hall on 24 January 1781 and died young in Liverpool on 13 July 1806, aged only 25. He had embarked on a pleasure cruise on the Mersey, when at 8:00pm a violent squall hit the boat as it was tacking into the George Dock Basin. The boatman, abandoned his post, grabbing a loose board at the bottom of the boat, sinking it immediately, Thomas was amongst one of three who drowned. He is recorded as being of an amiable and generous disposition, a manly heart, and irreproachable honour (which) led him to the paths of goodness and rectitude from which he never swerved – he was an ornament to society, and beloved by all that knew him.

Francis Philips was a man whose politics may not be in line with the accepted view today, but he was someone who tackled the same political dilemnas as we face today, and took an understandable line on them, given his experiences. He also created a lasting, if unsung monument to Stockport in Wellington Road. His other great work, the grounds of Bank Hall, are alas no longer with us, but we can visit Abbeycwmhir.
Copyright Allan Russell 2019

Author: allanprussell

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

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