Cheadle Heritage Trail
The Hall which was originally called The Grove, when it was built for Alfred Orrell in 1847. Alfred Orrell was twice Lord Mayor of Stockport and one of the cotton barons, whose cotton spinning mill stood on the banks of the Mersey near where the pyramid now stands.
The Hall was built on the site of The Grove printing Works, which opened in 1760 and suffered a disastrous fire in 1847. When the print works was operating, they constructed a number of large reservoirs in the grounds to store water from Chorlton Brook. These were later filled in.
James Watts, another cotton baron, this time based in Manchester, bought the house when Mr Orrell died suddenly at the very young age of 33, two years after his marriage to Mary Louisa Broadhurst and before the house was finished. It was the first James Watts who finished the building works and extended the house, before renaming it, Abney Hall.
James Watts owned the large haberdashery wholesalers, S & J Watts, with his brothers, and their warehouse was in the building which now houses the Britannia Hotel, in Portland Street, Manchester. One of his brothers lived in Mauldeth Hall in Burnage.
Abney Hall is Grade 2* Listed building and the interior which was designed by Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin is protected. The first James Watts spent a fortune on the extension, alteration and decoration of Abney. It was said that he turned a Victorian gentleman's residence into a Victorian mansion. he commissioned Augustus Pugin, who designed the interior of the Houses of Parliament, to do the interior of Abney Hall. Unfortunately, Pugin died in 1852 before he completed the task. JG Crace, a disciple of Pugin, and well known then for his wallpaper designs and decors, was engaged to complete the work between 1852 and 1857. The interior of the hall still bears the signs of the Gothic influence so much favoured by both Pugin and Crace. Further extensions took place in the 1890s.
A description of the house during the time of Sir James Watts, boasts of "exquisite carvings, fine ceilings, richly ornamental plasterwork, beautiful woodwork and impressive panelled rooms." stencilling was removed from the walls but the huge painting of Oliver Cromwell dictating to his secretary John Milton (the poet), was left alone and still hangs on the wall of the staircase. The magnificent fireplaces are still a feature and brass lights still hang from the ceilings but are now fitted with electric lighting. The magnificent stained glass windows remain, particularly on the staircase, and an octagonal lantern tower stands above the landing.
The grounds of the Hall were already laid out and fully landscaped when Watts bought the Hall. The grounds now are only a tenth of their original size.
A succession of Watts had elder sons called James, and no fewer than four lived at the Hall during their ownership. The wife of the second of these James Watts, was the sister of Agatha Christie, the novelist, and Agatha Christie often stayed at Abney Hall. She used to base some of her descriptions of country houses in her books on Abney Hall and had a favourite spot to sit in the grounds under a strangely twisted tree (a western red cedar). Her short story, "After the Funeral" was based at Abney Hall and in "The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding" she describes a child's Christmas at the Hall.
The first James Watts was twice Lord Mayor of Manchester and the Art Treasures Exhibition hall at White City in Old Trafford while he was Lord Mayor. Prince Albert, when he visited the Exhibition in 1857, stayed at Abney Hall as the guest of James Watts. james Watts was knighted by Queen Victoria during this Exhibition.
Other famous visitors to the Hall were Lord Grey, Lord John Russell, the Right Honourable Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone and later visitors were King Edward VII and Winston Churchill.
The double-faced clocktower at the inner end of the drive stands at the entrance to what is now car park but when the family lived here, it was the vegetable and fruit garden. The walled garden also contained the stables, coach house and hot-houses. The two cottages at the far end of the car park were the Gardeners Cottage (on the left) and the Farm Cottage (right). The walls which completely enclose this area are double skinned and hot air was blown between these two skins from a boiler in the cellar of the hall. This heating allowed grapes and other tender fruits to be grown against the walls and the whole area was kept warm. The Gothic-style turret on the corner in the trees near the Hall, was a ventilation shaft.
The Watts family left Abney Hall in May 1958 to live at their London home and the Hall became the Town hall for Cheadle and Gatley UDC until 1974 when Cheadle and Gatley became part of Stockport MBC.
For a short time in the 1980s the hall was used by a language school for adults, the Scouts and Guides also used it as a training centre and then it was leased to Bruntwood Properties in 1983, who sub-let it as offices.
The grounds, which are open to the public, are much smaller than when the Hall was lived in, as land was sold to create the M60. The parkland is however, a local Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Biological Interest, as it contains the only remaining wetland area in Stockport.
The main drive with its beautiful trees, leads onto Manchester Road. The sentry boxes were sited here when Albert the Prince Consort stayed and in the late 1800s there was a lodge on the south side of the entrance.
**Leave Abney Hall grounds via the gates on the main drive, turn left, cross Manchester Road continuing left towards Cheadle Village. Turn right into Mill Lane. There are signs on the corner for the Alexandra Hospital.