Articles, History, Places

A Visit to Kersal Cell

Charles Henry Stott was my 2 x great Grandfather and visited places around Manchester. He wrote articles for the Oldham Express and put them into a book called Various Subjects which was printed in 1889. The style of writing is very different from today, and have kept it just as he wrote it.

What is fascinating is how he talks about the past and records it through modern-day eyes’. Charles was a well-travelled man and often refers to we in his stories. I believe he travelled with his wife and we’re fortunate to have a glimpse into life in the 1800s, not only what he saw, but his interpretation of it.


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In the immediate neighbourhood of large cities and towns ancient residences are only few; old churches and other ecclesiastical buildings may be seen in almost every locality. But the march of modern progress with constantly extending railways and other wonderful and progressive achievements make ancestral residences, when the moderniser has so decided, to instantly disappear.

One of these is Kersal Cell, at Higher Broughton, near Manchester, which was originally built on the site of an old monastery of Cluny monks, which being one of the richest monastic establishments in Lancashire was sequestered, with many others by King Henry the Eighth. It was rebuilt in the year 1600, and is now used as a ladies’ boarding school, under the direction of Mrs Mary Barbour.

Kersal Cell is within four miles of Manchester Royal Exchange, yet its rural surroundings make the distance very deceptive. The boarders, however, have the advantage in their juvenility of the rural surroundings and as this ancient building is the centre of an area of six acres of garden and meadowland, with a dairy farm, the produce of which is for the use of the school, the pupils have an additional advantage. As we are writing of the Cell as we found it, its olden history is best told in the following lines:

Dear famous, time-worn Kersal Cell,
That nestling lay in woodland dell
For years, far more than we can tell,
When monks of Kirkshaw loved it well,
And under these ancestral trees,
Feasting on mead, black bread and cheese,
Spent far more time than on their knees.
Here scarce three hundred years ago
Brave cavaliers marched to and fro
To guard these homes from Roundhead foe.
And Bonnie Charlie Scotland’s pride,
His royal head came here to hide,
In Kersal Cell, when fortune’s tide,
Scattered his followers far and wide,
Some on the clock, other in dungeons died.

Kersal Cell has even now an attractive appearance. It’s blank and white, seems to be of special interest to photographers, who doubtless well know what is pleasing to their friends and the public; but the greatest attraction is the inside, which although it has in many places been modernised by the introduction of gas, etc, there is sufficient left of the Cell to make it interesting. The house contains thirty rooms, the entrance hall having a staircase that we much admired. It reaches to the top of the house; the handrail and twisted balusters, the colour of which indicates old age, are particularly interesting; their polished and well preserved condition struck us very much. This entrance hall is well filled with old furniture, which although it had no connection with the house, is nevertheless remarkable for its antiquity. An old clock commands attention the oaken case of which bears the following motto: “Lose no time,” with a carved bird indicative of the flight of time, George and ye dragon, etc. The small chapel, however, which is very interesting is perhaps the most antiquated part of the house. In it may be seen on the walls the armorial bearing of a Prince of Wales (period unknown), the arms of the Stanley family, those of Byrom, and also of the Redcliffe families, and on one side of this sanctuary may be seen the place where stood the altar. The oak and other rooms contain old bedsteads, the property of the present occupier, and although not connected with the Cell, as they are in a building of antiquity, are in a very suitable place. It is here where the late John Byrom, Esq, M.A., F.R.S., formerly fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, resided during his late years, and whose poems and system of shorthand have given a well-earned celebrity to his name:

This poet, whose carol sung round the earth –
Did he claim the Cell as the place of his birth ? –
Will rouse us for aye with his “Christian Awake,”
Till eternity’s morn on the ransomed shall break.

 The extent of Mr Byrom’s library may be learned by the perusal of a catalogue of 249 pages, small quarto, which was printed in the year 1848, for “private distribution”, a copy of which may be seen in the King-street Free Reference Library, at Manchester, press mark 299, E79. As this catalogues states the library is in the possession of his lenient descendant and is preserved at Kersal Cell, Lancashire. We think it well to say that it was removed or dispersed on the death, about seventeen years ago of the late Miss Atherton, a descendant of the Byrom family. At the commencement of this catalogue we learn that it was prepared under the superintendence of Mr Rodd, as the library was “thought so curious and valuable as a transcript of his (Mr Byrom’s) mind studies, and many of his books contained in it are now seldom to be found, even in the most extensive libraries, that a catalogue of them has been prepared of which we view copies are now printed for the private distribution. Perhaps a more appropriate tribute could not be paid to the memory of one who was so learned, gifted, and benevolent than by exhibition to the world the varied stories from whence he drew the cultivation of his mind, the formation of his character, and the inspirations of his genius.” The catalogue is printed by Compton and Richie, Middle-street, Cloth Fair, London. A capital engraving of the Cell is given, but without the modern addition. (Here Charles Henry Stott lists many of the books kept in the library.)

Byrom, we are told in Lancashire Worthies, by Francis Espinnage, died in ripe old age on the 9th September 1766 and was buried in what is now the Byrom Chapel of Manchester Cathedral.

But to return to the present of the Cell, being surrounded with curiosities, Mrs Barber seems to have acquired a taste for things that were current in the past, and which, when seen, make us almost imperceptible exclaim, Nous avons change tout cela! As, in addition to the old furniture, the ancient bedsteads, etc, this lady, the present tenant of Kersal Cell, has collected several hundred pieces of old china, and as each piece belongs to past ages, it is in itself full of interest, but to admirers of antiquity, what may seem to be a mistake may be seen in the drawing-room, where the old china is kept.

It is some work in oil, the operations of Mrs Barber’s former pupils, who have painted on the oak floor of this room a border illustrating well known nursery rhymes, but although this work does credit to the pupils, and is worth inspection, some people may liken it to gilding gold. At some distance from the house there is a notice board, with the words “No Road,” but we have no doubt that those who have a particular desire to see this ancient residence, and to know something more of it than that which we have written, on a suitable application by letter, would obtain the requisite permission to view the place.

Mrs Barber, we may add, has made a very creditable translation from the French of Geraldine, un incident de la Revolution Anglaise, petit drame en deux actes pour la heuness, which we have had much pleasure in reading, and which we can recommend to managers of high schools and ladies’ colleges from dramatic entertainments, either in the English or the French language. It contains part of six young ladies and three boys.

It may not be without interest to say that Mrs Barber, to whom the school belongs, is the mother of the late Doctor Barber, who lost his life in the Transvaal war a few years ago, and which at the time caused much sensation. The doctor, who, with his assistant, was on his way to the field, under the auspices of the Red Cross, to attend to the wounded after the battle of Majuba, was arrested as an English spy, and was shot by an escort of the Boars.

More information from Kersel Cell can be found here 






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