The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Mersey Bank House – Part Three Sir Ralph Pendlebury

You would think with Pendlebury Hall standing proud on Lancashire Hill, that Sir Ralph would be widely documented, and that Pendelbury Hall on Lancashire Hill is a fitting monument to his legacy as a Victorian Philanthropist.

The story is not quite like that. Ralph Pendelbury was born on 14 February 1790 in Bolton Le Moors, Lancashire to Thomas Pendlebury (1757-1840) and Ann Lord (died 1801), he was the second son, but the first to survive, his brother Gerrard having died aged six months in December 1788.

Thomas, his father was a bleacher who moved to Heaton Mersey around 1800 to work as manager of the Heaton Mersey Bleachworks for Robert Parker. The young Ralph was nearly killed at the same works, he was arguing with a friend about the number of wheels on one of the works machines, and resolved to count them whilst in motion, his clothes were caught in the machinery and he was so severely injured and he narrowly avoided his shoulder being amputated.

At 15 years old he was apprenticed to a hand loom weaver in Bolton where he stayed a few years without making any mark on the business, after which he moved to Mr Jones’ warehouse at Acres Field where he learned the cotton trade. Thomas meanwhile had transferred to Peter Marsland’s (of Woodbank Hall) bleachworks in Stockport, and Ralph joined him there.

Ralph was now starting to rise in his profession and became partner in a threadmakers, and in January 1818 married Susan Wynne¹ of Stafford, whose father owned a shoe factory. Ralph and Susan set up a shoe shop for the sale of Stafford boots on Meal House Brow in Stockport, but sadly in 1825 she died in childbirth, along with their infant.

Ralph transferred the business of the shop to one of his wife’s relatives, whence it traded for the next half century.

Meanwhile in 1824 Ralph had entered a partnership with James Wilkinson as a cotton spinner at Palmer Mill in Portwood, Stockport, this was extremely lucrative for both parties, and they amicably dissolved their partnership in 1833, Ralph continuing his business at Wharf Street Mill in Heaton Norris (at the terminus of the Stockport Canal), and building Kingston Mill on Chestergate in Stockport.

Kingston Mill, Chestergate

The following year he married Ellen Brownhill (nee Stringer) who was the widow of Henry Brownhill, a corn merchant on the market place. Ellen and Henry had at least two children, one of whom Ann Ellen Brownhill married John Eskirgge, the brother of Thomas, and brother in law of William Roby Barr.

In 1838 Ralph became mayor of Stockport, and was living with Ellen on Dillow Grove in Heaton Norris. By this time he was a man of means, because he could afford to lend the council £6,000 (2020 £670,000) so they could purchase land to establish the new Gas works. He also advanced Lancashire Council £25,000 (£3m in 2020) in 1848 at 5% in order that they could build a lunatic asylum.

His tenure as mayor coincided with the height of Chartist riots and for his role in quelling them he was knighted on July 1st 1840.

In 1844 after John Hall’s death Ralph and Ellen were residing at Mersey Bank and they lived there for most of the rest of their lives.

Ellen died on March 20 1858, and Ralph moved then to Hope Bank in Heaton Norris, the Manchester Courier of 2 November 1861 reported that he had been confined to his bed and he died on 9 November at Hope Bank.

Sir Ralph Pendlebury (1790-1861), JP; © Stockport Heritage Services

Sir Ralph Pendlebury had no immediate issue, both his marriages had failed to produce living heirs, therefore in his will he made small legacies to surviving relations and left the balance of his fortune – £100,000 (£12m in 2020) for the support of a charitable institution, but I am prevented by a legal difficulty from doing so.

As he may have suspected, his troubles started here. Sir Ralph’s reputation can not have been good, the Liverpool Mail reported on 22 February 1862:

The late Sir Ralph Pendlebury…(who) rather resembled old Ralph Nickleby, and had the character in life of being a hardflated money grubbing mean stingy old bachelor….. reversed the natural order of things and left by will only one third , or some £50,000 to his next of kin ….. and he ostensibly left all the rest, about £100,000 to nine public spirited or philanthropic gentlemen².. we believe the next of kin will contest it to the uttermost, and thus the £100,000 instead of even tardily going to any Charitable or Benevolent Institution , bids fair…. to be long squandered amongst lawyers.

Not content with one battering, they followed this report up on the 1st March with

what a satire on human inconsitency that the parsimonious ex cobbler and thrifty millocrat, the late Sir Ralph Pendlebury, of Stockport, who, we are reliably informed would almost as soon as parted with his heart’s blood as with a ten pound note for any charitable purpose whilst living, should have bequeathed really for some so called charity £100,000, of which at one fell swoop a round ten thousand pounds must go for the Ten Percent Legacy Duty, whilst most of the remaining ninety thousand may go in endless Chancery litigation!

The newspaper was not off the mark and the lawsuits contesting the will continued for twenty years. In 1873 the courts awarded a further £28,000 to the next of kin, but now the problem was that in order to avoid the will falling foul of mortmain, Sir Ralph had given verbal instructions to each of the worthies of how he wanted the legacy to be distributed, and unsurprisingly they could not agree on our thrifty millocrat’s instructions. They therefore had to spend a further £11,000 in seeking advice from the Court of Chancery on how to proceed.

It was not until 1880 agreement was reached and a competition to design an orphanage on Lancashire Hill was announced in which JW Beaumont, of Manchester was the winning architect. The building cost was estimated at £6,000 and the building was to comprise a hall to accommodate about 400 people, day rooms for the children, apartments for the master and matrons. It was to be built in Tudor style with deep red bricks and an 80 foot tower over the main entrance giving (on a clear day) capital views over the surrounding neighbourhood.

Pendlebury Hall

By the time of its opening, the cost of build had almost doubled to £10,000, and a footnote in the Manchester Courier of 17 April 1882 states, after a long and detailed description of the fine and expensive architecture, The orphanage provides accommodation for only a few resident children…...

The hall was opened officially by Lord Vernon on 20 April 1882, and this was celebrated with a sumptuous banquet attended by Lord Vernon, the Governors, Frederick Pennington and Charles Henry Hopwood, MPs for Stockport, town councillors and the local gentry.

Whilst the charity did manage to pay out bequests to orphans (nearly 1500 orphans received a total of £18,000 in the first 8 years of its existence) there remains confusion and mystery what happened to the original legacy. The Stockport Express reported that the £76,641 6s 2d balance after the cost of building has never seen the light of day. It is doubtful whether an orphan has ever slept under its roof.

In the first world war it served as a military hospital, becoming Stockport Junior Technical School in the 1950s, becoming part of youth services for Stockport council in the 1970s and since has become a care home for the elderly.

The author (centre) attending a lecture on map reading inside Pendlebury Hall, 1975.

The charity suffered further misfortunes in 2010 when the Manchester Evening News reported that a rogue accountant had embezzled £180,000 from it. It continues today, but in a much reduced state.

They are even trying to change the name, however, I do not see that succeeding, Pendlebury Hall is too strong a landmark for Stockport to allow that, and Hilltop Hall, I ask you…

Sir Ralph’s legacy has been sadly misused by generations of his successors. Remember that next time you pass the Grade II listed building on Lancashire Hill.

¹ Susan’s nephew, William Palmer Wynne (1861-1950) went on to become Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield and was a pioneer in the study of napthalene. His goal was separating sulphonic acid isomers. This would lead to the determination of the orientation of napthalene derivatives. With hindsight, this is actually a form of determination of aromaticity and the activation and de-activation of rings. Someone will tell me what that means.

² Our nine public spirited gentlemen were:

James Kershaw Esq (MP for Stockport 1847-1864 and the father in law and business partner of our next Mersey Bank resident, James Sidebottom)
William Rayner Esq JP MD (Surgeon and Mayor of Stockport 1883-1884)
John Stock Esq
William Williamson Esq (Councillor 1843-1877, Mayor of Stockport)
Sir Thomas Bazeley Bart, MP (MP for Manchester, Cotton Manufacturer, recipient of the Legion D’Honneur)
Ernest Reuss Esq (Merchant and Trustee of the Manchester Deaf and Dumb Institute)
Edward Carrington Howard Esq ( Cotton Merchant, and inhabitant of Brinnington Hall)
Edward Walmsley Esq JP (Mayor of Stockport and Chairman of the River Committee for the Manchester Ship Canal)
Christopher Travis Esq JP
(Councillor, Trustee of Stockport Grammar School)

© 2020 Allan Russell

Author: allanprussell

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

3 thoughts on “The Big Houses Of The Heatons: Mersey Bank House – Part Three Sir Ralph Pendlebury”

  1. Thank you so much for this interesting read. My memory of Sir Ralph Pendlebury’s charity fir orphans was a bitter sweet one. My father died when I was nine and my Mother had a nervous breakdown. This was in 1965. I passed my 11 plus which meant I could attend Fylde Lodge High School for young ladies (before it became Priestnall school some years later). However, there was no money for my uniform and my Mum couldn’t afford school meals. A social worker referred my case to the charity for a GRANT. At the age of 10 I had to attend a board meeting! I was placed opposite about ten adults at a table in a daunting paneled, high ceiling room where they asked me questions about what my interests were, what I wanted to be when I grew up etc, in order, I presume to ascertain whether I was a worthy cause! I must have made a favourable impression as I was awarded clothing coupons for my uniform (to be purchased from Charlais in Heaton Chapel), and free school meals. I told them that I wanted to be a teacher. I retired last year after 42 years teaching in primary, special needs, offender learning and NEETS (not in employment, education or training) sectors. Thank you Sir Ralph Pendlebury! Please feel free to share.


  2. Very interesting to read about Ralph Pendlebury’s Orphange. You mention that it’s doubtful that an orphan ever slept under its roof, but my grandad is supposed to have lived there, at least that’s what he said. He would have been there after 1908. He was orphaned in 1908. The story is that his older sister was looking after the kids, but the vicar of St Mary’s intervened and told her that she couldn’t manage and that the boys should go to the orphanage. Not sure how much is true, but that’s the family story. I have to look at the records, in Stockport Library I believe. My mum once tried to find out what became of the orphans when the army used it in WW1, but she as unsuccessful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: