First an admission, a lot of what is here is derived from the excellent book, Cattle Droving and Land Ownership, A Cumbrian Family Saga by Peter Roebuck, published by the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian & Archeological Society in 2014. Normally I collect adequate information from both primary and secondary sources and gather them to paint a picture of my subjects and their connections. Professor Roebuck’s book is a very detailed and well written account of the Parker brothers and obtained from a variety of sources to which I do not have easy access. The links above and at the bottom lead to Books Cumbria, should you wish to learn more about this remarkable family.
My own research covers the first house they inhabited in Heaton Mersey, the connection with Parr’s house, history on the Heald family, Calico printing and Parker examples from the 1820s, the development of Heaton Mersey, Pickfords and although it is a very minor point I am not convinced on his theory surrounding Robert Parker’s wife Sarah.
With that caveat, let’s look at the Parker family. Christopher Parker died in 1686 in Carleton, near Carlisle. He owned two houses, yet was a yeoman farmer. He had therefore a source of wealth, and that was the fact that both of his properties happened to be on the on the cattle droving routes from Scotland, one was on a junction of two of these roads.
The larger of his properties, the Old Townhouse had been adapted to serve passing trade, the large barn served as a Regency era motorway services, providing a place for drovers to rest cattle on the way across the border to the south, and also sleep above the livestock. At three stories high, and larger than the house it is more than is required for a simple farmer.
The family continued to prosper over the next generations. Our Robert’s father, also named Christopher, had four sons (Thomas (1732-1807), Anthony (1735-1820) John (1737-1779) and Robert (1744-1815).
Christopher left his properties to Thomas and Anthony, John became a curate , however Robert inherited his personal estate. This gave him enough funds to follow his nephew, Christopher (who had established himself as a wool merchant in London) down south and towards his fortune. He saw the success of his cousin and persuaded Thomas to mortgage the Old Townhouse to fund his plans.
Robert soon had dealings outside Heaton, as it was known then and by 1784 he is senior partner in Parker, Topham and Sowden Linen Drapers and Warehousemen¹ of 71 Watling Street in London. At this time, Parker and S & W Salte in London are buying over 2/3s of Samuel Oldknow’s production which they viewed at his premises on St Ann’s Square, Manchester.
Parker seems to build the stronger relationship with Oldknow, and in 1786 the Saltes complain:
Yesterday we sent you £200 by Pickford We rec’d your Invoice by post this day. The aprons came yesterday. only are a drop in the buckett. The low priced goods make but few. Some Complaints we have had, & many spies. Parker Topham & Moore sell all your goods cheaper than we do, or else folks tell lyes. We take up with little profit, and some not well made a very trifle ²
This is to little avail, whilst in July 1786 Saltes took £3,186 of Samuel’s sales of £5,397, to Parker’s £1,866, in July 1789 Parker had nearly 50% of the output of £9,290 as opposed to Salte’s £2,112 and upstarts such as John Phillips, brother of Francis were catching up at £1,310².
Oldknow got into financial trouble and this gave Robert a chance to up his presence in Heaton Mersey and in November 1793 the Heaton Mersey Bleachworks were taken over by the Parker Brothers. By 1798 he gained possession of Oldknow’s factory on Hillgate in Stockport.
Lot 1 All those extensive PREMISES, late in the occupation of Mr Oldknow and now occupied by Messrs. Parker, Sykes and Co., pleasantly situated in the Higher Hillgate, Stockport; consisting of a good House, Stabling, Offices, Garden, and commodious Buildings five stories high, now used for Spinning, and the Manufacture of Muslins and other Piece Goods and has every necessary Convenience for making One Thousand Pieces per week ; the site of which contains about 7640 square yards, part freehold and part lease-hold for long terms of years. Together with an excellent STEAM ENGINE of Messrs Boulton and Watt’s constructing ; and many valuable Fixtures which will be sold therewith. Lot 2.-Five good, substantial BRICK DWELLINGS, with a picking-room and loom-House standing on lands held for ninety-nine years under the Rector of Stockport, adjoining the above. The first of these lots is let for £520 a year and the second for £80 ; making together a neat rent of £600 a year ².
Around this time Thomas, in Cumberland joined his brother Robert in Heaton Mersey, along with his three sons (Thomas (1784-1828), William (1789-1856) and Robert (1787-1850) as well as nephew Thomas. It is possible there was another relation joined as well, not mentioned by Roebuck, another Robert Parker. All we have in history is the awfully sudden (death), he he having dropped down without a moment’s apparent illness on 10 June 1811 and burial three days later at All Hallows, London, of Robert Parker, a Calico Printer of Manchester reported in the Manchester Mercury of 18 June.
We find our Robert in 1804 at Parr’s Fold, when the Manchester Mercury advertised the let of a genteel country residence with land ….eligible for a respectable family. From the description this is most likely Parr’s House. It is the same house as occupied by Abraham Illingworth, so he had likely been here since 1793-4 when he purchased the Bleachworks.
A good double built brick messuage with a stable, coach house and all other suitable outbuildings, together with an excellent large garden, well stocked with choice fruit trees and shrubs in high perfection. And a good pasture field adjoining the house containing two acres..
Also a large new erected building, situated not far from the said premises, lately used as a warehouse [Samuel and James Goolden] together with every convenience for a cotton Manufacturer...
..This house and premises are on a most delightful eminence within half a mile of the river Mersey, by the side of a good road within less than 2 miles of Stockport, one mile only from Didsbury church… command very extensive and picturesque views of the surrounding hills and fertile vallies, and having lately undergone a compleat repair are ready....for the habitation of a genteel family
Robert put Samuel Stocks in charge of the bleachworks at a substantial salary of £750pa (£110,000 in 2020)³.
It’s probably a good idea at this point to consider why Heaton Mersey was a good choice for a works such as this. Firstly there was a good flow of clean water from the Mersey, at that time it was not the polluted cesspit it became later, secondly, the improved road systems meant that the communications between London and Manchester road were greatly improved.
Companies such as Pickfords of Poynton entered the carriage trade. Starting with a rather unconvential entrance into carriage via Thomas Pickford who in 1646 was gun running for the Cavaliers. By 1777 a slightly more law abiding Thomas Pickford is running a flying waggon from the Swan and Saracens Head on Market Street Lane every Wednesday and Saturday evening to arrive at the Swan Inn, Lad Lane London in just four and a half days (in reality five and a half days when you count the fact that Sunday was a day of rest).
However, coaches started covering the ground more quickly and more reliably with sums of money being sent safely, without fears of highway robbery, and therefore allowing trade to flourish. Pickfords quickly moved into the canal trade. In 1797 Stockport was connected with the canal network at the Top of Lancashire Hill, where the Navigation Inn stands (hence the name). From here a branch of the Ashton Canal allowed supplies of coal to be brought in from Werneth, and exports and imports were facilitated by overland carriage to Carrington, where the Mersey and Irwell Navigation gave access to Liverpool and beyond.
Manchester was a centre for the cotton industry, Heaton Mersey with its south facing banks, on a hill above the grime of the surrounding towns was a good place to for the bleached cotton to dry in the fields.
The London carriages stopped at Stockport, giving the town communication with the capital, and encouraging commerce further.
As a result all the above factors, the Heatons became a fashionable place to live for the new merchant middle classes, the high ground looking out to the Derbyshire Hills and Pennines were the place to build a mansion for the nouveaux riches, well away from and high above the grime of the mills of Stockport. From Parr’s Wood there was a regular carriage service into Manchester which attracted merchants, and enabled people like Robert Parker to commute (although the word did not exist until the advent of the railways when people commuted their daily fares into one season ticket) into Manchester.
A typical calico works had a millhouse for washing calicoes, then a one for preparation of dyestuffs. The surrounding fields were used for bleaching in the whitehouse. Preparation of the chemicals for etching was in iron liquor houses, cutting blocks engraved in a cutting shop, whilst printing was carried out in copper or blue houses (which contained the tables for indigo work). There was also a counting house (where naturally the adminstration was carried out), a warehouse and transport facilities – stables and horses.
By 1807 the Bleachworks was 7 storeys high, powered by a steam engine, and dealt with the entire manufacturing process, from the receipt of raw cotton to the despatch of finished calicoes, which were displayed in their counting house at 47 High Street, Manchester where merchants, agents and dealers could strike deals³.
After the Napoleonic wars, over half the output was exported. Goods went as far afield as France, the US, West Indies and Central and South America. The risks in these ventures need understanding. Not only did they have to establish connections in the ports, but they had to be able to trust the local agents to remit funds back to them, goods had to be safely despatched, undamaged, and funds remitted back to Heaton Mersey safely. In the example below, Hedlam and Conway insured a consigment of £2,000 from Liverpool to Bahia and any Brazilian port at the premium of one percent against perils of the seas, men of war, fire, enemies, pirates, rovers, thieves, jettisons…surprisals, takings at sea, arrests, restraints and detainments of all Kings, Princes, and people of what nation, condition or quality soever...
The trust of the local agent was ascertained by seeking references from fellow merchants. One communication was received from Baring Bros in 1814 We have much pleasure in bearing satisfactory testimony in favour of Messrs Bogles & Co of Jamaica.. it is an establishment of solidity and we are of opinion you run no risk in confiding your concerns to their management ³.
The business was good, and the works was turning over £20,000 per week by 1814, and sometimes as much as £38,000 (£3m in 2020)³. Of course, not all bills were paid but we can an account which lays out the despatch of goods to Mexico on 3 May 1827 (the currency is Spanish dollars, or pieces of eight).
Robert concentrated on the Heaton Mersey works, whilst Thomas took care of the merchant side of the business. In 1809 Thomas married Mary Heald, the daughter of James Heald of Portwood and Disley, himself a calico printer. Mary’s brother James went on to live at Parrs Wood Hall in 1825 and became MP for Stockport between 1847 and 1852 as well as being a Methodist Preacher. He also in 1867 contributed to a training institution for Methodists in Healdtown South Africa, whence Nelson Mandela matriculated nearly a century later.
Robert by now had moved to Tithe Barn House in Heaton Mersey. This property stood somewhere near Mauldeth Hall, near the site of Tithe Barn School and Andrew Lingard was living there in 1841. In 1800 wanting some wholesome pastime for his millhands he founded the Heaton Mersey Sunday School, and became heavily involved in Stockport Sunday School (the largest in the world).
Up to this time Robert was unmarried, and then in July 1808,at the age of 64 perhaps sensing his mortality, and desiring an heir, he married Sarah Pollitt, aged 33. Manchester was in the middle of a heatwave at the time. Contemporary reports from the Lancaster Gazette of 23 July 1808 put temperatures at 33 degrees celcisus and a low of 21 at midnight. The temperature in direct sunlight was recorded as high as 49 degrees.
Peter Roebuck traces Sarah to James and Sarah Pollitt of the Black Boy Inn, Stockport. However, the Lancaster Gazette reports that the marriage took place at the Collegiate Church and that she was Sarah Pollitt of Ardwick.
Around that time the firm of Pollitt and Stevenson of Cotton Court Manchester is involved in the sale of a Brewery, and over subsequent years there are a number of Pollitts in the area. After Robert’s death Sarah initially retired back to Ardwick, possibly to her parents (Pigot & Sons directory 1829).
Whatever her roots, Robert did not get an heir and on 21 July 1815 in consequence of falling down from his gig, the horse having taken fright he was killed in the centre of Stockport at the ripe age of 71 yet still active, perhaps testimony to marrying a younger woman. His will left an annuity of £1,000 (£90,000 today) to his wife along with the property at Tithe Barn. She enjoyed this income for the next 41 years, dying without remarrying on 1856 at her house on Stockport Road in Longsight.
The total value of his will was £175,000 (around £17.4m) and his business interests were devolved to his brother and nephews, on the proviso that they could only split up the business after the expiry of seven years. This had the effect of making them work together and grow the assets for future generations.
Robert Parker, his brother Thomas’s son stayed in charge of the bleachworks, living at Tithe Barn, but sadly succumbed to the stress of running the enterprise and in 1828 a commission of lunacy was declared against him and he went to live with his brother William at Skirwith Abbey in Cumberland, where he lived with his illness until his death in 1850.
Thomas (son of Thomas) who had married Mary Heald moved to a house on Ardwick Green to be closer to the business in Manchester. He started to buy up properties and soon had not only the counting house at 47 High Street, but also 1A High Street. Over the next few years other buildings fell into his possession, at Pall Mall, Stable Street, Oldham Street, Dale Street and Spear Street. Those who know Manchester will see that these are all in a small area to the back of Piccadilly. He engaged on a comprehensive redevelopment of these buildings, and expanded into Moseley Street³.
Thomas carried out most of his work remotely, unusual for the time, but quite often he worked either from his home at Ardwick Green or his home in Cumberland, Warwick Hall, where he died in 1828.
Thomas Parker’s last son William lived in comparison a quiet life. He did not become greatly involved in the family business, lived the life of a country gentleman farmer and died unmarried at Skirwith Abbey in 1856 aged 67.
Next time we continue with our look at the residents of Parr’s House.
¹ Kent’s Directory of London 1794
² Samuel Oldnow and the Arkwrights George Unwin Longman Green 1924
³ Cattle Droving and Land Ownership, A Cumbrian Family Saga by Peter Roebuck, Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian & Archeological Society 2014
Copyright Allan Russell 2020