The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Parrs House – Part Two: Abraham Illingworth

Brew a mug of tea, this is a long episode. we will meet Heaton Mersey’s most famous citizen, even if he is only remembered by a few here, his name lives on in Ecuador. On the way, we will also meet the father of modern aviation -the first person to engineer a successful manned flight.

The Manchester Mercury of 8 June 1790 advertised for immediate possession, the seven year remainder of a ten year lease, of a house in the possession of Abraham Illingworth, a bankrupt. This was offered either for sale or to let.

Also on offer was a cotton factory and warehouse nearby, at the time operated by the unfortunate Mr Illingworth.

Mr Ilingworth’s bankruptcy proceeded in 1794, and at 11 am on 18 December creditors gathered at the White Lion Inn in Stockport to prove their debts, this was a long process, invoices did exist but they were hand written, easily falsified, and both genuine and false creditors would assemble to extract money from bankrupts, the temptation for the latter was a share of any dividend, therefore some documentation had to be provided to support any claims.

Another cotton factory owned by Abraham Illingworth, the Top O’The Hill Mills, on High Street, were subsequently auctioned on the afternoon of 18 February 1795 at the Crown and Anchor.

As a testament to the far sightedness of the Georgians it was let on a 3,000 year lease which had commenced on 2 May 1756, and of which 2,982 years were unexpired subject to an annual rent of £1-2s-6d. (£1.12½) for the house and £7-5s (£7.25) payable on the factory buildings. Furthermore, there was chief annual rent on the land on which all these buildings stood (covering 1,598 square yards) of £6-13s (£6.65) payable to the land owner James Goulden or his heirs and assignees.

Top Of The Hills had a stable yard, the factory was 30 yards long and five stories high with ten rooms. The other part of the factory was 25 yards long, four stories high and six yards wide. It contained four rooms, which could hold upwards of 50 Carding Machines and 40 Jennies. Adjacent to that was an engine room containing a Patent Steam Engine capable of turning up to fifty of the largest carding machines. There was also a warehouse, fifteen yards long and five yards wide.

We know a little of Abraham Illingworth. He married Mary Hunt,who was born circa 1758. Mary was the daughter of William Roger Hunt and Elizabeth Foxcroft. He lived at Parrs House between February 1786 and 1790, after that we find him in 1792 on Great Underbank in Stockport in a house and Warehouse owned by John Lingard. moving that year to 2 Wallbutts on Higher Hillgate in a house owned by the Reverend Nicholson.

Between 1793 and 1804 he owned a cotton factory along with stable and house at Top Of The Hill. In 1801 he was also occupying space at Park Mill. His businesses were valued for insurance purposes at £7,100 in 1795¹, in 1793 he was declared bankrupt and such was the extent of the newly formed Stockport Bank’s investment in his business that it collapsed as well ². He had bought the engines for his factories from Boulton and Watt (a partnership between Matthew Boulton and Engineer James Watt) and it was these debts that had forced him into bankruptcy.³

The correspondance with Boulton and Watt is interesting. Between 1792 and 1793 he purchased two engines, the second of which never worked. In 1793 the account was docketed and B&W placed it in the hands of Mr Walker, the solicitor to the commission of bankruptcy. Abraham proposed in December 1793 that he pay off the debt in instalments and by the following November he had abandoned his plans to stay in business. The smaller of his two premises was mortgaged to the Stockport Bank, and he was planning to pay off his debts by selling the larger premises.

B&W wondered whether if the creditors accepted the small dividend proposed it would invalidate their claim to the remainder of the debt, and as B&W held a lien over the engines, any purchaser could not operate them until their debt was settled.

In 1793 the assignees of the debts hoped that a London Bank would step in and take the larger premises, allowing for the larger engine to be paid for, however, this would place the assignees of the smaller premises at a disadvantage. In Abraham’s proposal to creditors of January 1794, the B&W lien was mentioned, which meant that nobody was interested in taking on the smaller premises.

As often happens in cases like this (and I am sure Stockport residents may remember more recent examples) there was a convenient fire at the smaller premises in September 1794. The contents were insured, but to B&W’s dismay they were undercut on their estimates for repair, and the job went to Bateman & Sherrat.

In the end, B&W did not accept Abraham Illingworth’s proposal to pay off his debts and the matter went to bankruptcy.

Creditors were asked to gather at the White Lion Inn, Stockport on 7 January 1796 to prove the debts due to them from Abraham Illingworth and on 19 July 1799 his house on St Petersgate, together with its four stalled stable, plus the two associated cotton factories, as well as his house on Chestergate were put up for auction at the White Lion.

Again, generously there was a 3,000 year lease on the property, of which 2,857 were unexpired. Dividends on his bankruptcy were paid out in 1802 and still being settled in 1816.

He and Mary had upwards of fifteen children between them, at least five of which died in infancy. The paths of some of the children suggests that there was a certain amount of wealth in the family at the height of their success.

One of their daughters, Sarah Benskin Charlotte Elizabeth Illingworth was born around 1773 in Warrington. In July 1795 she married Sir George Cayley Bart, the 6th Baronet of Brompton, Yorkshire. They lived in Hertford Street, London, and Wyedale Hall in the North Riding of Yorkshire near Scarborough.

George is renowned as the father of aviation. He described in 1799 the concept of an airplane as a fixed wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion and control, he was the first to understand the forces acting on heavier than air machines.

Modern airplane design is based on his ideas, and the Wright brothers studied his works in great detail. He invented the first flying model airplane, and the first glider that could reliably carry a human in flight, this was demonstrated at Brompton Dale infront of Wydale Hall in 1853.

The name of first pilot is not recorded, but it is reassuring to learn that not all Victorians hurled themselves in vain from clifftops in avian guise.

Baroness Sarah Cayley died in 8 December 1854 in London, and Sir George three years later nearly to the day on 15 December 1857.

Three of the Illingworth brothers emigrated to Ecuador, Abraham Roger Illingworth, born in 1785 became a doctor and died in Guayaquil there, as did his brother George.

However, if Heaton Mersey ever needs to erect a blue plaque to one of its former citizens, it should start with the man who in South America is revered as Almirante Juan William Illingworth Hunt Foxcroft, Heroe De La Independencia Del Ecuador.

He was born simply as John William Illingworth on 10 March 1786 at Parr’s House, Heaton Norris, to Abraham and Mary Illingworth, and christened at St Mary in Stockport. In 1801,aged just 15, he entered the Royal Navy and his first voyage was in 1804 on the HMS Venerable. For a naval man, this was not an auspicious start, as that November 24 he was shipwrecked off Torbay in a violent storm.

By 1809 he had served on a number of ships and was posted to a ship carrying General Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) to Lisbon and he carried out several operations in the Bay of Biscay capturing warships and merchant ships as well as attacking coastal batteries, under the command of Captain George Collier.

He was promoted to First Lieutenant in 1811 and assigned to the HMS Cornelia commanded by Captain William Fitzwilliam Owen. Here he participated in the invasion of Java and its subsequent capture, sailing through the Philippines and the Chinese Coast

Between 1813 and 1815 he served under Captain Sir Samuel Warren, blockading the Island of Texel off the Netherlands, and then in the Mediterranean until Napoleon’s abdication in 1814.

The extensive travel put him in poor health and he was given permission by the Admiralty in 1815 to travel to the South of France and Spain where he recovered and at the time became fluent in Spanish and French. On his return to England, Captain Warren asked him to serve under him once more, but he felt that the peace now prevailing over Europe did not offer him sufficient opportunity for promotion and glory.

In 1817 José Antonio Álvarez, from the recently established Republic of Chile, asked him to help carry sailors to Chile on the Rose to serve in the Chilean Navy. He did this by the circuitous route of travelling to Prussia in the pretence of seeking immigrants for Columbia, so as not to alert Spanish spies of the plot. Having successfully duped the Spanish, he sailed back to England and on to Valparaiso in November 1818. This was his first command.

In 1819 the Chilean governement bought the Rose and renamed it La Rosa De Los Andes and John was hired to command it in operations to defeat royalist opposition. During the next few months he carried out several operations against royalist elements in Peru and Panama. On one of these sorties he met and protected Vincente Rocafuerte, the future president of Ecuador who was carrying a large fortune in gold. Rocafuerte would never forget this help.

At the same time he learned of the campaigns waged by Simon De Bolivar and resolved to collaborate with him to gain control of Gran Columbia. October 29 1819 saw him take Guapi, which was the defensive centre of the Columbian Pacific front and by December had control of most of the coast of the country. He worked with General Francisco de Paula Santander who was Bolivar’s Vice President, and with the support of Chile he defeated Spanish ships which had attacked from their Carribbean bases and was able to control much of the Panamanian and Ecuadorian coastlines.

The Spanish then came in force and in one battle he received a wound to the side of his face, which in future years was concealed with a metal plate, giving him the nickname Silver Face.

In 1821 he was made Colonel in the Columbian Army and settled in the republic of Guayaquil, who had declared independence from the Royalists the previous year. He joined General Sucre’s forces and marched on Quito which he conquered in September. However, Sucre hit trouble in Huachi and Illingworth returned to support his general and regroup. They called in forces from Peru and successfully defeated the royalist army absolutely at the Battle of Pinchincha on 24 May 1822.

Bolivar then appointed him Civil and Military Chief of Guayaquil and shortly after he was made mayor as well. He proceeded to found a nautical school which continues to this day as the Admiral Illingworth Naval School.

In 1823 he went native, castilianised his surname as Illingrot and married a Mexican girl, Mercedes Décima Villa y Cosío, the daughter of Spanish merchant Vicente Décima Villa and his wife Maria De Las Mercedes Cosío y Villamar. He settled down and they eventually had six children: Juana, Carolina, Juan, Carmen, Gertrudis, and Vicente. They tended a ranch, Hacienda Chonana on the river Daule.

Maria De Las Mercedes Illingworth Hunt

His retirement was short lived as in December 1824 he was called up to reinstate the naval blockade of Callao which had been lifted by Rear Admiral Martin Guise of England commanding the combined Columbian and Peruvian Navy.

By 1826 he had re-established the blockade, and in gratitude he was appointed Brigadier General by the government of Columbia and Rear Admiral by the Peruvians. He was even earmarked to liberate Cuba from the Spanish, but this never came to fruition, so he returned to Guayaquil where he was once more made mayor.

Duty called once more in 1828 when Bolivar declared war on Peru. His task was to defend the port of Guayaquil from Vice Admiral Guise’s navy. Guise’s flagship ran aground and Illingworth’s forces fired cannon upon it, mortally wounding Guise. However, his deputy , Captain Jose Boterin managed to blockade Guayaquil for several months, starving them of supplies, eventually forcing them to capitualate on January 19 1829. Illingworth was forced to move inland.

Bolivar eventually recaptured Guayaquil in September 1829. A military tribunal acquitted Illingworth of any guilt on learning the full story of the battle.

Further trouble was to come in 1830 when separatist movements lead by General Juan Jose Flores forced separation from the state of Columbia and established the Republic of Columbia. Illingworth sided with Bolivar to preserve Columbia, but after Bolivar’s death they failed and he was banished to Peru with his family, the Flores government seizing his hacienda at Chonana.

However his old friend Rocafuerte had power in Ecuador, and he allowed Illingworth safe passage back, to recover his property. He spent the next years devoted to the cultivation of cotton, importing gins from Europe, and steered clear of military or political activity.

Flores was overthrown in an 1845 revolution when Illingworth accepted general command of the Guayas province and command of the army. He was part of the powers that brokered the agreement that oversaw the end of the Flores regime.

Perhaps remembering his Heaton Mersey roots he established a brickworks as well as a foundry in his adopted town. On being appointed a deputy in Congress in 1848 he made sure that he received compensation for damages caused to his estate.

He was re-appointed deputy in 1852 but by now his health was failing, and he was nearly blind, and he retired in 1853, dying on August 4 that year. He was buried in the church at Daule.

After his death, the National Congress ordered that he be honoured with a statue in Guayaquil detailing all his victories. However, lack of funds prevented this. To add insult to injury, the bishop of Guayaquil, with whom he had never been on good terms, ordered that his remains be exhumed and buried in the town square as he was Anglican.

Juan’s widow successfully won an appeal against this, and Congress ordered a mausoleum be built, but once more lack of funds prevented construction, and his remains rested in a vault in the public cemetery.

This was put right as late as 2008 when the government ordered that he be buried in a monument in the Navy Park in Guayaquil. He was finally given the full military funeral he so deserved.

Maria died on 18 June 1879 in Ecuador.

Not only does our Heatons Hero warrant statuary and a naval school in Ecuador, he has streets and even a school named after him. He has illustrious descendants as well, not only the gentlemen pictured above, but noted Ecuadorian poet, journalist and historian Camilo Destruge Illingworth (1863-1929).

I think Juan deserves a plaque in Heaton Mersey. I hope you do too.

Copyright 2020 Allan Russell

¹ Fixed Capital formation in the British Cotton Industry 1770-1815 -Stanley D Chapman – Economic History Review Vol 23 No 2 (Aug 1970) P 257

² Urban Workers in the Early Industrial Revolution – Robert Glen 2019

³ INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY  Series One: The Boulton and Watt Archive and the Matthew Boulton Papers  from Birmingham Central Library  Part 13: Boulton & Watt Correspondence and Papers (MS 3147/3/286­404) 

The life of John Illingworth:

Pedro Pablo Figueroa, Album Militar De Chile (1810-1879), Tomo III, pages 192 to 200 , Santiago, Chile, 1905.

Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, Relaciones Históricas, Tomo I, pages 5 to 63 , Santiago, Chile, 1877-1878

Author: allanprussell

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

5 thoughts on “The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Parrs House – Part Two: Abraham Illingworth”

  1. Tracing family tree. I am Sherry Hant and this has come to light that we are connected to John Illingworth Hunt.
    So proud


  2. Sir George Cayley’s wife was Sarah Walker, daughter of George Walker, a dissenting minister, scientist and mathematician. There is a transcript and image of the parish register entry for their marriage on the Ancestry genealogy site at (subscription required). Wikipedia’s entry for Sir George Cayley,, gives there wrong wife for him. George Walker had been Sir George Cayley’s tutor. There is an image of a licence for their marriage on the genealogy site FindMyPast at

    Sarah Benskin Charlotte Elizabeth Cayley’s birth was registered at Newington, Surrey in the 3rd quarter of 1849, with her mother’s last name given as Hobbs: there is a transcript of the birth registration on FindMyPast at Her death was registered at Newington in the 4th quarter of 1854: see

    I am sorry to have to disabuse you.


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