The second instalment as part of an ongoing series for Haunt Manchester by Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA, exploring Greater Manchester’s Gothic architecture and hidden heritage. From the city’s striking Gothic features to the more unusual aspects of buildings usually taken for granted and history hidden in plain sight, a variety of locations will be explored and visited over the course of 2020. In this article he explores Salford's Ordsall Hall

Fig 1Above - Fig.1: Ordsall Hall, Salford, South East Façade. © Peter N. Lindfield. (also featured image)

Dr Peter N. Lindfield FSA is a Senior Research Associate in the Departments of English and History at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has published widely on Georgian Gothic architecture and design broadly conceived, as well as heraldry and the relevance of heraldic arts to post-medieval English intellectual, cultural, and aesthetic culture. Last year, as part of Gothic Manchester Festival 2019, he co-organised an event at Chetham’s Library Baronial Hall with Professor Dale Townshend titled ‘Faking Gothic Furniture’. This involved discussing the mysterious George Shaw (1810-76), a local Upper Mill lad who developed an early interest in medieval architecture and heraldry, going on to create forgeries of Tudor and Elizabethan furniture for a number of high-profile individuals and places at the time, including Chetham’s!

Currently Peter is completing his Leverhulme-funded research project exploring forged antiquarian materials in Georgian Britain, and also working on the recently re-discovered Henry VII and Elizabeth of York marriage bed, which itself was the inspiration behind many of Shaw’s so-called ‘Gothic forgeries’.

Ordsall Hall, 322 Ordsall Ln, Salford M5 3AN


Ordsall Hall (Fig.1), like a number of houses dating to the medieval and Tudor periods, including Speke Hall on the outskirts of Liverpool (Fig.2),[1] is stuck on a limb and surrounded by less illustrious products of modern urbanisation and industry. Despite this encroachment, Ordsall Hall is an incredible survival from the medieval and Tudor periods, and it has an interesting and multi-layered history of Gothic and architectural development. Its significance is such that English Heritage listed it Grade I—the highest category demonstrating the building’s historic importance—on 31 January 1952 (1386169).[2] This incredible building that today is free to visit by the public, has been explored a few times by Haunt (here), but this article offers something new by considering the building’s relationship with medieval and Gothic Revival design.

Below - Fig.2: Speke Hall, Liverpool, Entrance Façade. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 2


The house has a long history dating back to around 1251 when William de Ferrers (c.1200–54), Fifth Earl of Derby, exchanged a house on the site for land in Pendleton, Salford. This structure is not the house that we see today; the property was left in 1335 to Sir John Radclyffe (d.1362), and he began a programme of expansion and redevelopment. By 1380 it had a hall, five rooms, a chapel, and a kitchen. The hall continued in the Radclyffe family for centuries, however even Sir John’s Ordsall Hall is not the building that we see today; large parts of it were yet again redeveloped around 1510 by Sir Alexander Radclyffe (d.1549), High Sheriff of Lancashire, with the notable addition being the Great Hall that was, and today remains, at the centre of the country house. Dating to the Tudor period, this building is from the last distinct phase of England’s medieval architectural style now described as Gothic.

Fig 3Above - Fig.3: Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire. Christine-Ann Martin (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Gothic design

Whilst removed from the cut and thrust of stone-built ecclesiastical buildings—churches and the great cathedrals of England with a large amount of pointed-arch windows filled with stained glass and structural armatures (tracery)—and instead made from wattle and daub (that the Victorians painted black and white as seen, today, at Speke, and Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire (Fig.3), Ordsall Hall is nevertheless a robust example of Gothic. This can be seen particularly on the Great Hall’s interior (Figs 4–5) and the surviving Tudor exterior façades of the house (Fig.6): large, very simple four-lobed shapes, known as quatrefoils, cover the elevations and even the roof of the Great Hall. 

Fig 4

Above - Fig.4: Interior of the Great Hall at Ordsall Hall, Salford. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 5

Above - Fig.5: Interior of the Great Hall at Ordsall Hall, Salford. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 6

Above-  Fig.6: Exterior Façade of the Great Hall at Ordsall Hall, Salford. © Peter N. Lindfield.

This exaggerated application of a motif from Gothic architecture was applied liberally throughout the structure, offering a simple, yet clearly medieval aesthetic that would not have in all likelihood been found in pre-Tudor architecture; church exteriors and interiors, instead, would have adopted the Gothic window ‘panel’ as a decorative form, as seen applied to the Choir of Gloucester Cathedral. In this instance, the Gothic panelling creates the impression that the walls and windows are almost identical (Fig.7).

Below - Fig.7: Interior Elevation of the Choir, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucestershire. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 7

Ordsall’s unusual application of quatrefoils across its exterior and interior structure may have something to do with the relative remoteness of its construction from earlier medieval buildings that today come to define the Gothic style, or that the construction technique encouraged the reproduction of such decorative forms on a large scale. A more mature and sophisticated application of such a scheme can be seen on the interior of the Great Hall at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire, made later in the sixteenth century (Fig.8), and which features far more ornate Gothic architectural elaboration than found at Ordsall Hall, particularly in the decoration of the lintels, and the octagonal piers supporting the Tudor-arch screen.

Below - Fig.8: Interior of the Great Hall at Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire. Francis Franklin (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Fig 8

Layers of Gothic: Victorian improvements

Having passed into the possession of the Egerton family of Tatton in 1758 and then divided up and rented out to multiple tenants before becoming a Working Men’s Club in the nineteenth century, Ordsall Hall had a remarkably turbulent time in the Georgian and Victorian periods. In 1896 Earl Egerton had Ordsall Hall converted into a training school for Church of England clergy; for this, and to repair all the damage to the house, the very local architect Alfred Darbyshire (1839–1908)—born in Salford—was hired.

Below - Fig.9: South-East Façade of Ordsall Hall, by Alfred Darbyshire, from 1896. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 9

Below - Fig.10: Perpendicular Gothic church windows (Manchester Cathedral). © Peter N. Lindfield.

Of his interventions, perhaps the most interesting is the insertion of a pair of Perpendicular-style windows on the south-east side of the Great Hall (Fig.9) taken almost directly from medieval church windows (Fig.10), seen, for example, at Manchester Cathedral. This example of revived Gothic architecture adds a new laver of medieval design to a hall that was nearly 400 years old at time, and, indeed, is far closer to what we commonly recognise Gothic to be. The late Victorian interventions were recorded in a memorial banner above the central doorway on the north-east end of the hall in a suitably Gothic script, which adds to the Gothic veneer of the house’s refurbishment (Fig.11). A notable addition to the exterior from Darbyshire’s work is the Eggerton family coat of arms; this complements the Radclyffe arms found elsewhere in the house—discussed in the next section—and adds to the record of the Hall’s owners throughout history (Fig.12).

Below - Fig.11: Inscription concerning the Darbyshire restoration of Ordsall Hall, over the centre doorway of the Great Hall. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 11

Below - Fig.12: The Egerton of Tatton coat of arms inserted between the Darbyshire windows on the south-east façade of Ordsall Hall, from 1896. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 12

A remarkable survival

Fig 13Above - Fig.13: Throne for the Great Hall, featuring the arms of John Radcliffe (1582–1627), taken from a moulding in ‘The Coat of Arms Room’ at Ordsall Hall. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 14

Left- Fig.14: Arms of John Radcliffe (1582–1627), taken from a moulding in ‘The Coat of Arms Room’ at Ordsall Hall. © Peter N. Lindfield.

It isn’t surprising to hear that Ordsall Hall’s interior, like so many ancient country houses, lost its historic furniture over the centuries. There has been an attempt to replace some tables and chairs in the Great Hall with both Elizabethan and modern examples (the c.1600–50 table on the dais, or raised platform, being on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, London).[3]

Whilst lacking any overtly Gothic architectural forms, this furniture is suited to the building and the room given their roughly similar age. One striking new-made piece for the Great Hall is the armed chair—'throne’ (Fig.13). This attempts to counteract the lack of furniture specifically associated with the house and its owners by featuring the quartered arms of John Radcliffe (1582–1627) that are found in ‘The Coat of Arms Room’ on the second floor of Ordsall Hall in moulded plaster above the room’s chimneypiece (Fig.14).

Like the Egerton arms on the exterior of the property, this chair and the arms add a sense of history, family, and ownership to the historic property.

Below  - Fig.15: The Radclyffe Bed. © Bonham’s.

Fig 15

Below - Fig.16: Detail of the tester showing the Royal arms, from the Radclyffe Bed. © Bonham’s.

Fig 16

More significant is the return of the ‘Radclyffe Bed’ on loan to the house. The bed, sold by Bonhams in Oxford on 30 April 2014 for £62,500,[4] includes the Royal coat of arms on the underside of the canopy (tester), and the arms for the Radclyffes of Orsdall Hall, c.1580 (Figs 15–17) are also woven in lavishly into the bed. Unlike the early sixteenth-century Gothic design of the Great Hall, the bed is designed in an Elizabethan style that makes use of the forms and motifs derived from Classical architecture—especially the round arch and columns. More significant is the fact that the bed had, during the nineteenth century, been in the possession of George Shaw (1810–76) of Uppermill, Saddleworth—an antiquary, collector of ancient woodwork, architect, designer of church furniture, and forger of supposedly ancient ancestral relics. The clearance sale from his house, St Chad’s, on 27–30 July 1920 lists and depicts this bed (Fig.18) in the ‘Bedroom over Dining Room’, and its description (lot 509) is as follows:

An exceptionally fine OLD OAK "ELIZABETHAN" BEDSTEAD, richly carved and inlaid, with canopy supported on massive columns emblazoned with the 'Radcliffe' coat of arms. A very rare specimen.[5]

Fig 17Above - Fig.17: Detail of the headboard showing the Radclyffe arms, from the Radclyffe Bed. © Peter N. Lindfield.

This bed has clearly been interfered with, particularly in the design of the foot pedestals and their inlayed marquetry. It is significant, nonetheless, as a surviving relic, almost certainly from Ordsall Hall, and it reveals the characteristics of sixteenth-century furniture that was suitable to, and decorated such country houses. The prominent use of Classical architectural forms, in particular the Ionic column supported by term figures, owes nothing to the Gothic characteristics of the remainder of Ordsall’s Tudor construction. Nevertheless, it works in tandem with the house’s architecture to signal the age, importance, status, and wealth of the Radclyffe family. With the Royal and Radclyffe arms, this bed was a marker of estate.

Below - Fig18: The Radclyffe Bed, for sale as Lot 509 in the 1920 sale of property at St Chad’s Uppermill. © Peter N. Lindfield.

Fig 18

Ordsall Hall is free to visit and for more information and opening times, visit the website. Read Dr Peter N. Lindfield's previous Haunt Manchester feature on 'A Mancunian Gothic Sunday School: St Matthew’s' here

Image credits: located within the captions 

[3] Victoria and Albert Museum, London, W.45-1914.

[5] Allen Mellor & Co, “St. Chad’s,” Uppermill, Saddleworth, Yorks.: Catalogue of the Valuable Antique & Modern Furniture Etc., Including a Very Fine Collection of Old Oak (Oldham, 1920), p. 22.