The next few residents in Bank Hall were tenants not owners, the Philips family appear to have retained ownership. It is not until later that for sale notices appear in the press.
In 1868 John Leech is living at Bank Hall. He was the son of a successful family of Cotton Spinners.
The Leech family obtained their wealth in the cotton industry. Upstream of the Mersey in Stockport, the Tame provided power for the cotton mills which sprang up in the centre of Stalybridge.
Around 1795 John Leech (c1754-1822), our John’s grandfather, along with his partners had a mill in Castle Street nicknamed The Bastille (the French Revolution was still fresh in people’s minds). In 1801 they installed a steam engine (one of the first in the area) but in 1804 it burnt down. The partners then each decided to build a new mill.
In 1805 John Leech bought land next to the newly opened canal and built his mill.
In 1818 he became the first in the area to construct a gas making plant that would light up his factories, (it is recorded that people would come from miles around to see his mill lit up at night). The surplus gas produced he would sell to other mill owners throughout the town. After dying in 1822 at the age of 68 the family business was taken over by his son John.
The second John Leech (1801-1861) had many successful business ventures from an early age. He was known locally as Ready money Jack
John had his mill built seven stories high which made it the tallest in the area. Asked why he had the mill built so high, he replied There’s no ground rent to pay up there He also developed a large shipping business with boats sailing from Manchester and Liverpool, importing and exporting goods he bought on the Manchester Exchange, bringing and despatching goods up the canal to Stalybridge.
John bought the Gorse estate 1835. Using stone from nearby quarries he built a mansion which he called Gorse Hall.
He made continual improvements and alterations to enhance the estate and make it one of the finest in the area. The stables were fitted with wooden panelled stalls, there were living quarters above for the coachmen. A fountain was placed facing the road to impress both passers by and visitors, and he had a tunnel built under the estate so his view was not spoiled by the unseemly sight of his workers going to the mill.
John married Jane Ashton (1809-1884) in January 1832, and they lived together at Gorse Hall. Between them they had eight children.
In 1851 he took his Jane, six of his children, his sister and mother in law and eight servants on holiday to London. Being a man of means they installed themselves at 16 Palace Gardens in Kensington for the duration, which remains to this day a prime residence.
John died in 23 April 1861 leaving £200,000, the equivalent of £24m today.
John and Jane had eight children. The eldest, Jane (1833-1876) was born and lived all her life at Gorse Hall. The second child, Harriett Leech (1834-1901) married Frederick Burton in 1870. She died in Stockport in 1901.
John Leech was the eldest son and heir apparent. He was also born at Gorse Hall and in 1860 he married Elizabeth Ashworth at Bolton Le Moors.
As his mother was still alive, and living there with other family, they needed a temporary residence, so around 1861 they rented Bank Hall from the Philips family. He worked in his father’s trade and described himself as a merchant.
He died on 29 October 1870 at Bank Hall. He was markedly more successful than his father, amassing a fortune of £300,000 which equates to £38m in 2019.
Elizabeth returned to her family, and in 1871 was living at the Oaks, Turnbolton, her birth home with her three children.
The eldest child, Ethel Leech, was born in 1861 at Bank Hall. She moved from Bank Hall to The Oaks, Turnbolton, with her mother and siblings.
On 10 September 1890 she married Sir William Hyde Parker, the 10th Baronet of Melford Hall in Suffolk, son of Sir William Hyde Parker, the 9th Baronet of Melford Hall. Naturally their eldest son was Sir William Hyde Parker, the 11th Baronet of Melford Hall.
Ethel had a regular visitor, an Aunt Beatrix who would come regularly to Melford Hall, and tell stories she had made up. We will meet her shortly.
Their eldest son, John Henry Leech was born at Bank Hall on 5 December 1862. He studied at Eton and Trinity Hall Cambridge, losing his left hand in an accident whilst on a partridge shoot in Cambridge.
In 1889 he married Beatrice Ellen Leatthias, daughter of Philadelphia businesman, Henry Leatthias in Manhattan New York. They went to live at Hurdcott House in Wiltshire, where he died on 29 December 1900 aged 38.
Their youngest son Sir Stephen Leech (1864-1925) was by no means an underachiever in this company. Born in Stockport on 8 July 1864 he was educated at Eton and Magdalen College Oxford.
He entered the diplomatic service, becoming an attache in 1888 in Berlin, then rising up the ranks serving as First Secretary to Denmark, then Norway and China. Between 1909 and 1919 he was Minister to Cuba in Havana, as well as Minister Plenipotentiary to the Republics of Haiti and San Domingo. He was knighted in June 1919 and retired in 1920. Between 1921 and 1925 he was a regular guest at St James Court for official functions, attending Buckingham Palace in November 1921 when the Cuban delegation visited London.
He lived at Parkhill in Hampshire and died there on the 16 May 1925. His sister, Lady Hyde Parker thanked people for their conlences in the Times in May promising to answer all letters after her return from Le Mont Dore.
Returning to John Leech and Jane Ashton. The next child after John of Bank Hall was William Leech. He was born on 24 August 1836 at Gorse Hall, and married Rosalie Andsell in Moy, Inverness on 4 March 1873. They moved to Withington, and lived at 122 Wilmslow Road, he died in 1887.
After William there was Elizabeth (1834-1865) She married Walter Potter, the son of Edmond, who owned Dinting Vale Printworks. She died young on 14 January 1865.
Helen Leech was born on 15 April 1839 at Gorse Hall, she married Rupert William Potter on 8 August 1863 in Hyde. Rupert was Walter Potter’s brother and a Barrister at Law with a practice in London. They lived on Upper Harley Street, then Bolton Gardens in Kensington.
Walter was a keen friend of William Gaskell and he was a regular visitor to see him and their daughter, Beatrix, who of course was the visitor to Melford Hall to tell her stories to Ethel.
Helen Potter died on 20 December 1932 in Westmoreland and Beatrix Potter found world fame with her children’s stories. Beatrix had strong connections with Hyde, and visited Gorse Hall several times, the last time was just after her grandmother’s death, when she wrote in her diary on 28 March and 2 April 1884:
It is the last chance of seeing the old house. Not that I look forward to it as an unmixed pleasure. I have a very pleasant recollection, which I fear may be changed. I have now seen longer passages and higher halls. The rooms will look cold and empty, the passage I used to patter along on the way will no longer seem dark and mysterious; and, above all, the kind voice which cheered the house is silent forever. It is six or seven years since I have been there, but I remember it like yesterday. The pattern of the door mat, the pictures on the music box, the sound of the rocking horse as it swung, the engravings on the stair, the smell of Indian corn and feeling on plunging one’s hand into the bin, the hooting of the turkeys and the quick flutter of the fantail’s wings. I would not have it changed.
(It was): a painful and dreary visit. My first feeling on entering was regret that I had come. How small the hall had grown, there was a new doormat-but in a minute or two it had come back. It was the same old place, the same quiet light and the same smell.
Such an extraordinary collection of lumbar I never saw … the old grey rocking horse on whom I sat down instead of climbing, and a kind of hooped stool for holding a baby … the … strange old piece of furniture belonged to great-grandmother Ashton
There is a memorial to Beatrix at Gee Cross Chapel in Hyde, although her ashes were scattered on the waters of Windermere at Sawrey.
John and Elizabeth’s last two children, Mary and Ashton both died in infancy in 1840 and 1841
After that Gorse Hall remained empty until 1891, when it was bought by George Harry Storrs who was murdered there, despite having erected a large alarm on its roof. People who came to his aid believed he could have identified his attacker, but never did. The case scandalised England for months, and the intruder was never brought to justice.
Gorse Hall was demolished in 1910. Bank Hall awaited another tenant.
Copyright 2019 Allan Russell