Many Greater Manchester residents as well as visitors to the area may well have visited Heaton Park, after all the biggest municipal park in Europe—but what about the intriguing building which lies within it; the impressive Grade I listed Heaton Hall?

Heaton Hall This fascinating building, given its Grade I listing in 1952, was constructed in stages—and certainly makes a profound impression on the eye. The architect behind it was James Wyatt; a man known by many in his time as one of the country’s leading Gothic Revival architects, responsible for buildings including Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire—created for the author of the novel Vathek, William Beckford. However, Wyatt was also recognised for his Neoclassical designs—and set to work on the design of Heaton Hall in 1772, for Sir Thomas Egerton.

Who was Sir Thomas Egerton? He was a descendant of Sir John Egerton, the man who married into the Holland family in 1684; this being the family that had owned the Heaton estate since the mid-17th century. There had even been a previous Heaton Hall in place before the one seen today! However, in 1772 Sir Thomas Egerton decided he wanted a more fashionable, tasteful, and up-to-date place to live—and hence his decision to choose Wyatt, one of the leading and most fashionable architects of his day, to create a new pile set within significant grounds.

Heaton Hall 2Wyatt clearly had grand aspirations for Heaton Hall, and the building took shape over time—first the central block and West Wing in 1778, and later the East Wing in 1789. The impressive sandstone and stuccoed brick give the building its characterful light colouring, and it is an example of Neoclassical design. This type of design takes its inspiration from Classical architecture from Italy and further afield, a style that throughout eighteenth-century Britain had been revived in quite distinct ways. The Heaton Hall that can be seen today is the product of later and more informed interpretations of Classical architecture.

It places an emphasis on light decorative ornament informed by ancient classical sights, but also imaginatively recomposed; on the outside this is monochromatic, but changes in light and shade create movement; on the inside Wyatt, the Georgian architect, deployed these forms in a colourful, yet pastel palette.

Heaton Hall

Much of his work emphasised the use of perspective and symmetry—as he himself was inspired by and interpreting the Classical architecture of the Greeks and Romans. His approach was in turn mimicked by European designers, aware that classical recreations would be well received—especially as lots of the nobility were embarking on the fashionable ‘Grand Tour’—and they would have understood this style, and hence the Classically styled English country house, such as Heaton, as fashionable.

Heaton Hall therefore has been designed with close attention to detail, with a number of specific features. Its entrance is located on the North side, leading onto a semi-circular bow. On the ground floor, this is connected by a single corridor allowing for colonnaded wings with octagonal pavilions at each end; with the kitchen area in one and the library in the other. There is also a smaller library area (The Ante-Library) which would have been reserved for the ladies—and is arguably a more comfortable, snugger space with the original fitted bookcases still intact.

However, this was a country house just as much about entertaining as it was education—and a number of the design features of the building indicate that was primarily a building used for parties and guests! The colonnaded wings mean that all the rooms are connected, making it easy for guests to pass through and circulate. In addition, the downstairs dining room is located intentionally close to the kitchen—whilst many buildings of his time still had their kitchens and dining rooms at a distance from each other, meaning that food was often cold by the time it was served! The design of Heaton Hall allowed for piping hot food to be quickly transferred from the kitchen and put onto serving tables in the dining room.

Samuel Green Organ

Another engaging feature of downstairs is the 18th-century chamber organ that fills a whole wall in the Music Room (pictured above), built by Samuel Green in 1790 and complete with a beautifully ornate case with decoration from Biagio Rebecca, the respected Italian artist. The room itself is resplendent in detailed plasterwork, created by the Joseph Rose II of York firm. Original artwork and furnishings still exist in many parts of the building, with a number of features thanks to Gillow's of Lancashire; the craftsmen behind the sturdy mahogany doors, for example.

As is a usual feature of Classical design, an attention to symmetry is clear throughout the building—with doorways mirroring each other in a number of places. Yet it is also sensitive to its position in the landscape, and long, floor-length windows throughout much of the ground floor indicate a desire to highlight the building’s proximity to nature—looking out over landscaped gardens, intentionally designed in awareness of the views out to the Pennine hills.

Falling beyond this symmetry, as built as a later date, is The Orangery (pictured below) - a remarkably ornate structure that would have originally had a glazed top, added to the house about 1823. This would have in effect been one of the most glorious greenhouses of its day—and although the building still stands now, it no longer has such a roof; this being removed when the park was taken over in 1902. It now stands as an atmospheric relic, displaying the building’s closeness to nature.

The Orangery

Heaton Hall demonstrates a strength and depth in the range of Georgian architects’ vocabularies; Wyatt, the most fashionable architect of the day who, like the Scottish architect Robert Adam before him, would happily work in a confident manner across different styles, or architectural modes. Egerton’s home, like Beckford’s, demonstrates Wyatt at his best; imaginative, yet grounded firmly in historic architectural models. As such, it is a relatively forgotten jewel in his Neoclassical ‘crown’.

Today, the public can still visit Heaton Hall at select times (for more information, see the website), with most of the rooms available to visit lying in the central part and East Wing—what would have been the family quarters of the building. Much of the maintenance and continued celebration of the building is thanks to the hard work of The Friends of Heaton Hall, a group established to promote public awareness of the Hall and its heritage.

Heaton Hall certainly has experienced some unusual stories and alternative uses over the years too. During its time as a country home, especially under the Egerton family, prominent individuals gathered to be entertained there—including the likes of Charles Hallé, of The Hallé Orchestra! Live classical music would have been a regular feature through much of the Victoria era, though it was no longer used as a family home by the late-19th century. In turn, the hall and park faced an uncertain future—and it was thanks to the goodwill of the public that a pressure group was formed, including the antiquary (and namesake of Fletcher Moss Park in Didsbury), Alderman Fletcher Moss—persuading Manchester City Council to purchase the site as a museum and parkland when it went up for sale in 1902.

Heaton Hall Stairs Since then, the hall has spent some time unused, it functioned as a Military Hospital during the First World War, in the Second World War was surrounded by a Royal Air Force camp (and an area of anchorage for barrage balloons!) and has since seen even more intriguing uses—including as a location for music and theatrical productions!  From 1998, the local Feelgood Theatre Productions has brought a range of performances to the park and hall area including The Wizard of Oz, Macbeth and most recently ‘Dracula—The Blood Count of Heaton’, using the hall as an atmospheric backdrop.

But what else about inside the building? There is plenty to see. Downstairs, the colour scheme could be seen as more reserved. Another feature of especial intrigue is the central stairwell (pictured above) which boasts an expansive, two-sided iron staircase—this itself testament to the Industrial Revolution and highlighting the evolution of the building and its interior over time.

The varied content of Heaton Hall certainly lends it a fascinating quality—and this continues upstairs on the first floor, which is home to one of the rarest features of its kind: a room in the Etruscan design with a domed ceiling and mirrored walls, one of only three like it in the entire UK. This is the Cupola Room (pictured below). The original Etruscan architecture from which it takes its inspiration was a style coming out of Ancient Roman culture between 700Bc and 200Bc—again highlighting the Italian influences that persist within the design of the building and would have made it one of the most fashionable of its day. As well as its extravagant beauty and rarity, the upstairs Cupola Room also holds its own stories—a place seemingly used by Lady Egerton during the period of mourning for her deceased husband, and as the haunting mural on the wall suggests.

Visitors to Heaton Park today can look onto the hall as a relic of life in the 18th and 19th centuries. From Easter, through to the Heritage Open Weekend in September, it is accessible to the public for tours, and there is a wider events calendar for the park also.

The Cupola Room

By Emily Oldfield and Dr Peter Lindfield (Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies)

With thanks also to The Friends of Heaton Hall (also on Facebook), David Blood and Dave Clegg who helped to inform this article

Photography: with thanks to Michael Denham and The Friends of Heaton Hall