By Dr Hannah Priest, Associate Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University

Bailey’s Wood and Boggart Hole Clough are two green spaces in Blackley, North Manchester. These two areas of are in many ways quite different, though they are only separated by a single road (Charlestown Road), which was constructed in the 1930s.

Bailey’s Wood is one of Manchester’s last remaining semi-natural ancient woodlands, part ancient forest and part former farmland, surrounded by housing estates. It runs through a steep ravine, carved out over millennia by a little brook, and it is a regional Site of Biological Importance.

Boggart Hole Clough is a council-maintained public park, once host to meetings of the Independent Labour Party and allegedly haunted by a mischievous boggart, with cloughs, patches of ancient woodland, (manmade) fishing ponds and Local Nature Reserve designation. It also has children’s play areas, a running and athletics track, football pitch and a community café.

But despite their differences, these two quirky and unusual places share a fascinating history, dating back to the Middle Ages.

Baileys Wood

Blackley Deer Park

In the centuries following the Norman Conquest, the township of Blackley was a deer park, an enclosed area that was regulated by forest law and kept by the nobility for the purposes of hunting. Medieval deer parks were enclosed by wooden fences (known as ‘park pales’), and often included pastureland and woodland, as well as hunting grounds. In 1322, there is a record of the Blackley Deer Park that measured it at seven miles in circumference (it took in what is now Blackley, but also much of Crumpsall, Harpurhey and Moston, and also Heaton Park and Alkrington Wood). There was pastureland for 240 cattle, and rich wildlife including eagles, herons and hawks. It was also still partially wooded, staying true to its name – ‘Blackley’ probably derives from the Old English words blaec and lēah, meaning ‘the dark clearing in the woods’.

In the early fourteenth century, Blackley was in the barony of Manchester, so the deer park would have been a hunting preserve for the lords of Manchester. But this wasn’t to last. By 1355, areas of pastureland in the park had been granted by indenture, and the forest was cut back to make room for farmland. In the following century, John Leland would bemoan the deforestation of what had been the Blackley park, writing:

‘Wild bores, bulles, and falcons, bredde in times past at Blakele, now for lack of woode the blow-shoppes [forges] decay there.’

The Byron family acted as subinfeudatory lords of Blackley until the beginning of the seventeenth century. Sir John Byron inherited the Blackley lands in 1566, but faced with financial difficulties he sacrificed the Blackley Park so that the family could afford to keep their properties elsewhere. By 1603, the Blackley estate was vested in the hands of Peter Legh of Lyme, Richard Assheton of Middleton (and his son) and John Holt of Stubley, and it began to undergo an alienation (i.e. it was now possible for the lands to be carved up and sold from one party to another, rather than remaining as a hereditary estate).

Baileys Wood

Booth Hall

The alienation of the Blackley estate saw it divided up between a number of well-to-do families. Blackley Hall and its demesne was owned by the Asshetons, and then sold to the Leghs of Lyme. Alkrington Wood was sold to the Lever family in 1627, who erected Alkrington Hall on the estate. The Heaton estate (including Heaton House) was owned by the Hollands, and then inherited by Thomas Egerton (later 1st Earl of Wilton), who swelled his estate by marrying the daughter of Sir Ralph Assheton and acquiring most of the Crumpsall portion of the old Blackley estate (and, most notably, Heaton Park, in which he constructed Heaton Hall).

In the early 1600s, Humphrey Booth of Salford, a wealthy fustian merchant, purchased a portion of the Blackley estate, around 180 acres uphill of Blackley Hall and bordering the Rochdale Road. As well as being a successful businessman, Humphrey Booth the elder was also a philanthropist. During his lifetime, he made several grants of land for the benefit of the poor in Salford, and his legacy lives on in the various charities he and his grandson set up. Booth endowed a chapel-of-ease in Salford, which is now the Sacred Trinity Church (where Gothic club-like night ArA is held). Before his death in 1635, Humphrey Booth the elder made over the estate to his son (also called Humphrey), who built a mansion house on the site of an older farmhouse – the house was probably completed in 1640, as there was a timber beam bearing the legend ‘HB AB [Ann Booth, wife of Humphrey-the-son] 1640’ on the front of the original building.

The original Booth Hall was a two-storey gabled house, built in brick. One description of the house stated that it stood ‘on a beautiful site which is screened from the waggon way which passes its garden boundaries by prosperous woods’. William Crabtree’s ‘Plan of the Booth Hall Estate’ (1637) gives an indication of what the site looked like just before the construction of Booth Hall – two buildings form a farmstead, which is surround by pasture land and bordered by a line of woodland at its northern-most edge. Comparison with William Johnson’s later ‘Plan of the Parish of Manchester’ (1818-19) shows that the woodland follows the line of a small brook, which sits in a deep, unfarmable ravine.

Baileys Wood 2

Between 1640 and 1700, Booth Hall and its estate were owned by the Booth family. At the end of the seventeenth century, a Humphrey Booth (the son of the cousin of the grandson of the original Humphrey) sold part of the estate to Reverend John Legh of Tyldesley and leased another portion to John Knowles before dying childless. When Rev. Legh died in 1714, Knowles acquired the entirety of the estate, but it passed through several changes in ownership over the next three years.

By 1719, John Diggles, linen draper, owned the estate (including the hall). He bequeathed it to his son Thomas, who bequeathed it to his nephew John, who bequeathed it to his nephew Thomas Bayley (along with a gold watch, an amethyst ring and a chamber organ with eight barrels). Thomas Bayley died on 22nd November 1817, leaving his property to his three sons. They promptly put the Booth Hall estate up for auction. There were no takers, but the estate was later sold to Thomas Bayley’s son-in-law, Dr William Henry, for £9000. (William Henry was a chemist who studied gases and formulated Henry’s law, as well as being a co-founder of the Mechanics’ Institute that went on to become UMIST.) Henry sold the estate to Edmund Taylor of Salford within a couple of years.

The Taylors and the Sale of Booth Hall Estate

While the hall continued to be named for the Booth family, and the woods (probably) for Thomas Bayley, in fact the family with the longest ownership and residence at Booth Hall were the Taylors.

The Taylor family owned the Booth Hall estate for the rest of the nineteenth century, and expanded the estate by purchasing more of the surrounding land. By the 1870s, it was the property of John Taylor (the grandson of Edmund). However, at some point, John also acquired an estate in Wiltshire, and began to split his time between Booth Hall and The Rocks in Marshfield, where he was known as ‘Squire John’.

John Taylor died in 1881, aged just 37, and his estate passed to his son Darcy Edmund, who was still only a child. The family had pretty much decamped to Wiltshire by then. When Darcy had his coming-of-age party in 1890, the papers reported that he and his mother had ‘resided wholly’ in Marshfield since John’s death. That same year, Darcy and his mother auctioned off all the furniture at Booth Hall and announced their intention to let out the hall.

In 1893, the whole estate, including the mansion house, was put out to auction. And a surprising customer came forward: Manchester Corporation purchased 145 acres of the estate for £10000, with the intention of turning the land into a ‘pleasure ground’ and ‘health resort’ for the people of North Manchester. This portion of the estate was named Boggart Hole Clough, but the Corporation declined to purchase the northern portion of the estate (which contained the mansion house).

Boggart Hole Clough

Darcy Edmund Taylor continued to own the now-empty Booth Hall until 1902, when the Prestwich Poor Law Union (or Prestwich Guardians) purchased the house and 33 acres of land for around £8300. The Prestwich Guardians bought the land for the construction of a new infirmary to care for the sick of the Prestwich Union Workhouse (now North Manchester General Hospital). Humphrey Booth’s house was pulled down, and a new hospital building (costing around £71000) was erected and opened in 1908.

This hospital, which went on to become Booth Hall Children’s Hospital, was a significant part of North Manchester life for almost a century. Sadly, the hospital was closed in 2007, and the main buildings were demolished in 2014. The hospital’s gatehouse was the last building to be removed (in 2017). There is now a Taylor Wimpey housing estate on the site.

For all these changes of ownership and purpose, the presence of woodland around Booth Hall has been a constant feature of its history since the 1600s. Early maps show a sprinkling of woodland around the hall, particularly around the banks of the brook that sits in its steep ravine. When the Ordnance Survey first charted the land, the wood was more clearly defined. The 1845 OS map of the area shows a line of trees sitting along the brook that rises at Dam Head farm (one of the longest-surviving farms, which was finally cleared for a new council estate in 1974), and a thick semi-circle of forest that surrounds the fields at the back of the hall. To the west, you can discern the attempted encroaching of industrialization to the west – there’s a bleach works next to the Rochdale road on the far edge of the estate.

The coming of the hospital did little to change Bailey’s Wood, and you can catch a glimpse of the forest in some early pictures of the nurses hostel (which was built much closer to the treeline than the main infirmary buildings). On the other side of Rochdale Road, Manchester Corporation planted trees and laid out paths in Boggart Hole Clough, turning the southern end of the estate into a Local Nature Reserve and public park (adding wooded parkland on top of now-vacant farmland).

In the second half of the twentieth-century, the remaining farmland on the northern side of the estate was given over to council housing. A school (St John Bosco’s RC Primary School) now sits at the edge of the forest, bordering the remnants of the old farms. Booth Hall is now a new-build housing estate. But Bailey’s Wood remains where it has always been… in fact, after the demise of the bleach works (and its afterlife as a mill and then a factory), the forest has swallowed up even more of the land. Bailey’s Wood now stretches out to Rochdale Road and is bigger than it’s been for centuries.

While the names Boggart Hole Clough and Booth Hall are undoubtedly familiar to most people in North Manchester, these sites sit on a rich history stretching far beyond the children’s hospital and municipal park. It is a history that encompasses aristocratic hunting grounds, rich fustian manufacturers, farmers, philanthropists, chemists and the Corporation. For all this, some areas of the woodland remain remarkably unchanged, a stubborn little echo of a medieval forest, right in the heart of Blackley.

Dr Hannah Priest is an early career researcher, writer and small press publisher – with Hic Dragones publishing dark fiction from across the UK. With research interests including horror film, monsters and werewolves, as well as currently being based in Manchester, Hannah often explores the alternative aspects of place.

Just some examples of her varied work include how she has spoken on werewolves at various Pagan Moots in the area, talked about Medieval Monsters at the Whitefield Halloween Festival and she is currently treasurer of the Friends of Crumpsall Park and the secretary of the Friends of Bailey's Wood. HAUNT Manchester has earlier covered her work as writer-in-residence at Clayton Hall (when writing creatively, Hannah goes under the name of ‘Hannah Kate’) and she also presents two shows on North Manchester 106.6FM: ‘A Helping of History’ and ‘Hannah’s Bookshelf’. All images provided thanks to Hannah Priest.