Desirable Dwellings – Chapter Two: Grand Mansions

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See also: Nigel Morgan’s Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60

When John Horrocks came to Preston in 1791, at the age of 23, he lived close to his workshop in Turks Head Yard – where his banker discovered him one day lying on his back oiling machinery. Ten years later he and his brother Samuel owned five cotton spinning mills and two mansions: built by their own enterprise but founded on the steam engine and the spinning mule. They had become the wealthiest men in the town.

This short chapter will show how a few of those who benefited most from the Industrial Revolution in Preston used their wealth in their houses and homes. It takes as examples the cotton manufacturers John and Samuel Horrocks, and two local bankers, John Lawe and Edward Pedder. Such people set a standard to which others aspired, with varied degrees of success.

1. Lark Hill and Samuel Horrocks

Early in their rise to fortune the Horrocks brothers built a pair of 3-storeyed houses for themselves right beside the entrance to their newly-built ‘Yellow Factory’ (soon to become the ‘Yard Works’) at the east end of Church Street – the houses facing onto a little cobbled area appropriately named ‘Golden Square’, with a garden backing onto the mill. They did not stay there long, for by 1801 each had built a mansion for his own use, leaving the houses in Golden Square to be occupied by their manager and later partner, Thomas Miller. (The houses were eventually demolished about 1964.)

Fig 1. Lark Hill, apparently from a lithograph of a sketch by I. Shaw’s of c.1850 held at Harris Reference Library. The image appears on Flickr ( It is published here on a ‘fair use’ basis. If a copyright holder objects, it will be taken down.

The large house known as Lark Hill (now the core of the Catholic 6th Form College) was built for Samuel Horrocks in 1797, judiciously sited at the southern end of the developing handloom-weavers’ colony immediately south of the Yard Works (see Vanished Dwellings, chapter 3), and close to their Frenchwood Factory – its entrance gateway with two little lodges faced Leeming Street (now called Manchester Road), with Frenchwood Factory on the opposite side; and the symmetrical south front with its central bow overlooked a large garden in a glen with fishponds fed by a stream. The roof was provided with a flat deck surrounded by railings which afforded Mr Horrocks and his guests spectacular views over the Ribble Valley to the south, and a commanding view of the town to the north. This was described by a visitor in 1821:

To the north, there is a fine view of the town, interspersed with its numerous lofty chimneys belonging to the different steam engines – the windmills, some of which are nearly always in motion – the two churches with their square towers and Gothic pinnacles – The loftiest object in this part of the view, is the new chimney at the works of Horrocks, Miller and Co. . . 137 feet in perpendicular height. (The Lonsdale Magazine July 1821)

(A Full description of the inside of this house, with many insights into the life of its household. is now available in Margaret Burscough’s History of Lark Hill 1797-1989, published 1989).

From the roof of Lark Hill it would have been possible for Samuel Horrocks to observe the progress of his brother’s house across the river at Penwortham, and about this we have much more revealing information, recalled later in the century by one of John Horrocks’s grandsons.

2. Penwortham Hall and John Horrocks

Fig 2. Penwortham Hall. Photo: Martin Evans

John Horrocks, MP for Preston, died in 1804 at the age of 36. Within thirteen years of his arrival in Preston, he had raised his family to such wealth and style as must have been beyond the understanding of the poor weavers he employed. His younger son (also called John) inherited the bulk of his fortune, and was later described a living ‘in great style’ in his castle on Loch Lomond in Scotland. His elder son, Peter, educated at Rugby School and Trinity College, Oxford, inherited Penwortham Hall and £60,000 and became a ‘keen sportsman and rider to hounds. the beau ideal of an English gentleman and country squire’. Writing many years later (in Australia), Peter’s son Arthur described ‘the splendid style’ of his childhood life in Penwortham Hall with distinguished guests at dinner parties and Balls in the ‘jolly old mansion’. He recalled (slightly inaccurately):

the grand front entrance, where visitors rolled in their carriages under its splendid arches, its handsome entrance hall, large dining room, library of 30.000 volumes, with massive mahogany folding doors, leading into the elegantly furnished drawing room . . . its fine winding marble staircase. Underground were kitchens, lobbies. storerooms, cellars, scullery pantry and gunroom. The stabling, a massive building of brick, extended in a line a considerable distance, containing stables for 12 horses, loose boxes, harness room, large hay loft, coach house, brewery, laundry, wash house, drying room, fowl houses, and cow house for 6 cows. (A. Horrocks, A Brief History of the Horrocks Family)

Transport consisted of a hunting hack and ‘park horses’ for the father, carriage horses for the mother, two ponies for the sons and three fillies for their sisters, two extra ponies, and ‘an old horse’ for the stable boy to go on errands: at least thirteen animals. Unfortunately I do not know how many human servants they had.

3. The Larches and John Lowe

Fig 3. The Larches. Image in the Preston Historical Society collection ( It is published here on a ‘fair use’ basis. If a copyright holder objects, it will be taken down.

The Horrocks brothers were in a class of their own, but they set an example of what could be achieved by determination and far-sighted – not to say reckless – investment in the cotton industry. Others benefitted indirectly from such achievements and from the growth of the town as a whole, not least the owners of local banks. A modest example is John Lawe, who established a bank in Fishergate shortly after 1825. In 1832 he was living off the west end of the street, but in 1837 he bought land with a small farmhouse in the township of Ashton-on-Ribble, overlooking the river to the west of the town, and began building. The old house became the rear service wing of his small mansion ‘The Larches’, which, although architecturally boring from the outside, was large and extravagantly decorated inside. In 1841 the house accommodated John Lawe’s widow, his son and heir Robert, six other offspring, and three servants; and in 1851, Robert, his wife and infant daughter, and five servants.

4. Ashton Lodge and Edward Pedder

Fig 4. Ashton Lodge – a print facing page 508 in Charles Hardwick’s History of Preston, dated 1855

Less modest but more interesting is the story of the banking family Pedder. The Pedders were an old-established Preston family: drapers in the l7th century, landowners in the 18th century, and founders of Preston’s first bank in 1776 – ‘the Old Bank’ or Pedder, Newsham and Pedder. Pedder’s bank was so well respected and so powerful that in 1840 it bounced one of the Corporation’s cheques, ‘stating that they did not wish the corporation to stand indebted to them in a greater sum than £5,000.’

One branch of the Pedder family lived at No. 10 Market Place in 1818, another in Fishergate; but both had moved out by 1825; one to Clifton Hall, and the other to Ashton Lodge. Edward Pedder inherited Ashton Lodge in 1845. He had been elected a councillor in 1844, and in 1850 he was raised to the dignity of alderman. At about this time he set about improving his home. He built a large coach house (with his initials and the date above the inside of the entrance archway).

He added a porch to the front of the house, enlarged wings at the sides and he enclosed the rear courtyard to make a magnificent stairwell. He spent lavishly on furnishings, which in 1861 included:

Drawing Room suite in French rosewood and amber satin damask; Dining room in Spanish mahogany with 22 ft. long table, sideboard and chairs in scarlet morocco; Boudoir in French bird’s eye maple and chintz; Billiard room fitted with superb table by Burroughs and Watts; and 12 first class bedrooms luxuriously furnished. (Quoted by F. S. Moxon, A Brief History of Pedder & Co).

Life for a few people in Victorian England was easy. To Edward Pedder, watching people walk through the doors of his bank to give him money, it was deceptively easy. When he died in 1861 deposits in his bank totalled £700,000: but it was discovered that he had overdrawn his own account £70,000, and that he and his brother between them owed their own bank £200,000. The bank was immediately closed, Ashton Lodge and its furnishings were sold by auction; and the family departed from Preston, like the Horrockses before them but for different reasons

Otherwise, few of the new ‘gentry’ of the fast-growing industrial town moved out of it. The heart of the new class was in Winckley Square.

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