Abney Hall by Ian O'Brien, 2014
(Grade 2 listed building)
Cheadle Grove Printworks was built in 1760, and whilst it was in operation, a series of reservoirs were constructed in the grounds to store water from Chorlton Brook, however, these were later filled in. unfortunately, 87 years later, in 1847 there was a huge disaster, the printworks was razed to the ground, as bad as this was at the time, an Alfred Orell, former mayor of Stockport, seized the opportunity to build what is today, one of Cheadle's grandest buildings, Abney Hall.
However, it wasn't named Abney Hall to start with, it was named 'The Grove' by Alfred Orell. After his death at the tender age of 33, only two years after marrying Louisa Broadhurst and with the Hall still not fully constructed, it was bought by a James Watts, who owned the large haberdashery wholesalers, S & J Watts with his brothers, and their warehouse was in the building which houses Britannia Hotel in Portland Street, Manchester.
James Watts finished the building work and extended the house. It was at this point that James Watts was responsible for renaming it 'Abney Hall' after in the words of his son, "Sir Thomas Abney who entertained Sir Isaac Watts for thirty years".
Built as a private home, the hall has reception rooms dating from the 1850s designed and decorated by A.N.N. Pugin and J.G. Grace. These were the most fashionable interior designers of the time and worked on the Houses of Parliament and other aristocratic residences throughout the British Empire. Unfortunately, Augustus Pugin died in 1852 before it was completed, so it was handed over to J G Crace, a disciple of Pugin, who was well known for his wallpaper designs and decors, to complete the task between 1852 and 1857.
The interior of the Hall still bears the signs of the Gothic influence so much favoured by Pugin and Crace. Further extensions took place in the 1890s.
It was 1857 in fact, that the Hall was considered ready for the arrival of Prince Albert, who was visiting Manchester on a two-day visit, and the building was described as one of the most princely mansions in the neighbourhood!
The grounds of the Hall were already laid out and fully landscaped when Watts bought the Hall. The walled garden in the grounds hides an ingenious but extravagant invention which kept the orchard and vegetable garden warm and healthy throughout the year. The walls contain cavities and during the heyday of the hall, warm air was blown from a furnace in the cellar, through the cavities and out of a gothic style ventilation shaft so there was very little to do, and the grounds are now only a tenth of the original size.
Abney Hall has accommodated to name but a few....Benjamin Disraeli, King Edward Vll, William Gladstone (1862), Prince Albert (1857), and Agatha Christie. It also became the Cheadle & Gatley Town Hall in 1959 to replace Bruntwood Hall (built 1861, which previously acted as town hall 1944-1959).
A succession of Watts had elder sons called James, and no fewer than four of them lived in the Hall during their ownership.
The wife of the second of these James Watts was the sister of Agatha Christie, the novelist Agatha Christie was said to have written the short story 'After the funeral' which was based on Abney Hall, and 'The adventures of the Christmas pudding' she describes a child's Christmas at the Hall.