Manor Heath Park, Halifax

Manor Heath Park, Halifax

John Crossley Jnr, born in 1812, was the third son (of six) to John and Martha, the founders of the Dean Clough carpet empire and, since his father's death in 1837, had been the senior partner in the firm. A one-time owner of the Halifax Courier, he was elected Mayor of Halifax on four occasions and from 1874 to 1877 was one of the town's MPs. He was also instrumental in the building of Halifax Town Hall.

John, with his brothers Joseph and Francis, founded the Crossley Orphan Home, which later became Crossley Heath Grammar School. John was a well respected member of the local community and an active member of the Skircoat Gardening Club. He owned land in and around Halifax and grew vegetable crops locally on land known as South Grove situated in the Skircoat area of Halifax, which were then sold at auction.

The earliest map found of this area is dated from 1805 – 1850. Later maps show the area as Abbots Ladies Home, indicating that South Grove estate had been sold for development.

Situated across the road from the South Grove estate was South Grove Gardens, an area also used for agricultural purposes with an orchard and summer houses. When the Gardens were put up for sale, John Crossley bought the land and built his family home.

In 1851 he was living at Savile Lodge but in 1852 he moved to Elm Wood, at the top of Shaw Hill, and it was from there that he began the construction of his new mansion at South Grove Gardens, changing the name to Manor Heath.

After a competition by six eminent architects John chose a design by Alfred Smith, the architect of the Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall. He persuaded Smith to alter the design from an Italianate style to a very different decorated Gothic resulting in a comfortable and elegant gentleman's residence with a distinctive octagonal tower on the north side which became a conspicuous Halifax landmark. The house (known as Manor Heath Mansion) was built at the top of the nineteen acre estate encompassing magnificent views of the grounds and beyond. It was also built to make the most of the natural sunlight with an east facing morning room.

Crossley Mansion, Manor Heath

With the house being so large many servants were needed, some of which lived in the house and would have slept in rooms no bigger than a box room. Records show that there were four other properties belonging to the estate – two cottages and two lodges built on the perimeter and still standing today. These housed the coachman, the gardener, the butler and the watchman.

At the south east corner of the estate stands a villa, which at one time was occupied by a Mr Edward Hodgson, whom it is believed may have been the family doctor. The north entrance of the estate, next to the two cottages, shows there would have been a coach house, stables, cow houses, pig pens and a covered shed. At the rear of this was a paddock area where the horses were exercised.

A plan of the estate shows a kitchen garden (not uncommon in the Victorian period) where they had a cucumber house, a vinery and a peach house, which is an interesting indication of what was being grown at that time. There is also a propagating and potting shed.

Just 11 years after its completion on August 11th 1863, Manor Heath featured in the Illustrated London News. The reason for this great publicity was the two-day visit of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, to Halifax to open the new town hall. The Prince stayed with John Crossley, the Mayor. The London magazine described the mansion as "a truly magnificent residence. standing in a handsome and well-arranged domain and beautifully laid-out grounds about a mile from Halifax".

In 1871 John Crossley's daughter, Anne, married Giulio Marchetti, a talented Italian immigrant who had fought with Garibaldi in the struggle for Italian unification and had later settled in Yorkshire. He was employed by Crossley's, initially as manager of the firm's London warehouse, later settling in Halifax, and living at Manor Heath.

Twice in the late 19th century the estate was offered for sale but each time it failed to reach the reserve price. In May 1877 it was withdrawn at £27,000 and in July 1883 it was withdrawn at £19,000. At the latter sale the mansion had also been offered separately from the land but the highest bid was £7,400. Although the estate failed to sell, the contents of the house did not and were put up for auction at The White Swan Hotel, Halifax by David & Shoesmith.

Below is a small list of items that were for sale on 2nd May 1877:

20ft dining table

A sideboard with 72” glass back

A handsomely carved pedestal

8 cent cars

70 dozen wines and spirits

Fittings of 14 beds and dressing rooms in satin wood, walnut, oak, Spanish mahogany and fancy woods

The auction followed John’s resignation of his seat in parliament due to his failing health. On April 16th 1879 John Crossley died suddenly at Broomfield, the residence of his sister-in-law, Mrs Joseph Crossley. On Saturday 19th April 1879 the Halifax Courier made the following report:

“He walked very slowly upstairs and his daughter (Mrs Marchetti) and a nurse followed him as was the custom to help him in case of need. On reaching the top of the stairs he laid his hands with some force on the balustrade, breathed heavily and said words to the effect, “I have come up too fast, my heart is not as well tonight.” After a momentary rest he walked into the bedroom, where Mrs Crossley was seated, and took some little restorative after which he got onto the bed in his clothes. He asked that his tie might be loosened but said no more for in three or four minutes the life of this good man was gone.”

At the time of John’s death Mr and Mrs Marchetti were living at Manor Heath and had been for some time. There is conflicting information as to how this came about – some reports say that the house had been given to them and others that the Marchettis had purchased the property.

In 1912, almost 50 years after the Prince's visit to the mansion, another royal visit was paid. This time the Marchettis played host to King George V and Queen Mary.

After his wife's death in 1925 Marchetti left the house and soon he remarried, moving to the London area. In December 1929 his family sold the Manor Heath estate to Halifax Corporation for £18,500, who later adapted the grounds for use as a public park.

Unfortunately no practical use could be found for the house until World War II, when it was set up as the local headquarters for the National Fire Service. After the war, dry rot was discovered to be affecting much of the building's woodwork and in September 1950 the council paid £4,000 for repairs, in spite of its 'white elephant' status.

Various ideas were floated for the mansion – a museum, an art gallery, a hospital or a home for the elderly. In 1942 there were plans to turn the estate into a base for the Civil Defence Department and plans were drawn up for a new building to replace the old house but these were never used. After many meetings and much debate at the end of 1957 the town council agreed that the building be demolished. As well as being seen as a 'white elephant' it was considered to have no historical value and was generally acknowledged as a 'freak of architecture'. Although one member of the council did not support this decision and claimed that the dry rot was not as substantial as they had been led to believe.                          

In January 1958 the council accepted the tender of Francis Fascione, a local demolition contractor who had lately overseen the demolition of the Grand Theatre and old buildings in the Northgate area. He agreed to pay £150 for the right to demolish and retain the building materials from the mansion.The demolition work went on for five months and it took 100 sticks of gelignite to bring down the 70ft octagonal tower. Much of the high-quality stone was used to build houses and other buildings. 

Demolition of Manor Heath Mansion

In 1959 a design was drawn up for a floral landscaped garden to be laid on the footprint where the old mansion had stood. A stone sundial was donated by Halifax Gardens Guild (who opened the garden in August 1961) and placed in the centre of the  sunken garden, which still stands today. You can see the sunken garden in the photo at the top of this blog.

Later a paddling pool was added along with a children’s play area, a pitch and putt and six tennis courts. By this time most of the estate was open to the public, although the greenhouses and the kitchen garden were out of bounds

The nurseries at Manor Heath were owned by the council (amongst many others) and were used to grow all the summer and winter bedding. Mrs Sylvia Noble of Holywell Green who was one of the gardeners in the early 1950s wrote “the gardeners were sent into the old manor house to chip plaster off the walls to use for the carnation compost”.

Eventually the wooden glasshouses that filled the kitchen garden were pulled down. The kitchen garden was opened to the public and parts of the remaining greenhouses were turned into a tropical plant area.

On Saturday 29th July 1989 the ‘walled garden’ and ‘Jungle Experience’ were opened by the Mayor of Halifax, marked by the planting of a tree in the garden and the cutting of a red ribbon in the Jungle Experience.

 In 1992 the future of Manor Heath was uncertain. Calderdale Council had decided it was not financially viable to run two nurseries and recommended that the work was transferred to Woodhouse nurseries in Brighouse. Though at the last minute there was a change of heart – Manor Heath was saved and plans were made to improve the whole of the estate. The Jungle Experience was to be extended and was later planted up by Tony Hardacre, one of Manor Heath’s gardeners and opened to the public in 1998.

The Time Zone was created in 2005 using the bottom greenhouse, which was known as the old Stove House and is now a walk through time featuring dinosaur history.

Manor Heath Park is now one of the main visitor attractions in Calderdale with thousands of people flooding through the gates every year. The park has gained and retained the prestigious ‘Green Flag Award’ for achieving the national standards for parks and green spaces in England and Wales.

Today, you can visit the Jungle Experience, a tropical greenhouse filled with a wide range of plants from all over the world, including Bird of Paradise, Tropical Water Lillies, Orchids, Banana Plants and many more. Wooden walkways in the greenhouse take you over streams and past ponds containing fish and terrapin, with information boards explaining the different varieties of plants. The Time Zone takes you back 400 million years with specimens of plants dating back to the days of the dinosaurs and then bringing visitors back to the 21st century. Butterfly zone with tropical butterflies flying freely around you as they gather nectar from the tropical flowers. Insect eating plants in our Savage Garden.

The Walled Garden contains colourful display gardens, from a pergola covered with white climbing roses to a Mediterranean garden.

The Walled Garden at Manor Heath Park

The nineteen acre park contains a woodland walk and wild flower area, planted with over thirty species of wild flowers and bulbs; a well-equipped children's play area for all abilities; water park and sand pit (from April to October); outdoor gym; plenty of spots for the perfect picnic and the Flutter Bites Cafe, where you can recharge with coffee and cake and choose from a range of hot & cold drinks, cakes, sandwiches, paninis, jacket potatoes, chocolates, crisps and soups.

Events held throughout the year at Manor Heath Park including the annual Halifax Charity Gala and fun fair.

Entrance to Manor Heath Park and the Walled Garden  is FREE. Entrance to the Jungle Experience is £1 per person, for everyone 3 years old and over.

All year round opening times for The Jungle Experience and Walled Garden are:

Opening time:10 am every day.

Closing times: last entry 3.30pm, closed 3.45pm every day except Friday.

Friday closing: last entry 3pm and closed 3.15pm.

Email enquiries to parks@calderdale.gov.uk

Published at 7 Aug 2017 | Posted by Calderdale Parks

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