In our town we have a house which was built four hundred years ago. It stands out like a battered thumb midst the Victorian school buildings, the Seventies ‘boxes’ and the dark Edwardian terraces.
I say standing like a ‘battered thumb’ reluctantly because such a treasure should be standing with pride and treated like a much-loved elderly uncle.
Here, behind the big school which still has the Victorian the Boys and Girls entrance signs, and where a Technical College was built later in 20th century, down a barely noticeable side street, there is Hough Hall. Opposite there are still ancient mounting blocks.
There are car fumes on the wind today but back then wheat swayed in the breeze. I have come across records that go back as far as the 13th and 14th centuries. it seems that Moston, our town, was then a quite desirable piece of land which was bought and bequeathed again and again by various ‘lords’.
Not lords with a capital ‘l’. Just seriously rich landowners acquiring more and more assets to leave to their sons. Around the turn of the 14th century it seems that the first mill was opened and gradually cottages were built to house the workers.
In 1666 the ‘Hearth Tax Return’ shows there were eighty-nine hearths liable to pay.
Less than two hundred years later, around 1832 the place was inhabited by farmers and silk workers and by 1854 there were fifteen landowners in the township.
This was the year that the church of St. Mary’s was built, and also chapels were springing up in the Methodist denominations. It was in 1875 that a large Catholic Cemetery (now known as St Joseph’s Cemetery) was opened.
A little further down The Lane an imposing community building known as The Simpson Memorial was built.
But back in the sixteen hundreds for now, a house was erected for the residence of the Halgh family. It appears that a derivation of Halgh accounts for the title Hough Hall. This was a picturesque timber and plaster house, two storeys high. The original outer door made of thick oak, and nail studs, still survives. There is also ancient oak panelling in the dining room.
This two gabled (later three gabled) proud home for ‘the gentry’ was sitting in the middle of Moston and all around it the rural life was being imposed upon by the beginnings of the silk trade in our town.
Queen Victoria died in 1901 and Moston had become a mill town with small farm businesses selling their produce and schools, churches and a community centre being built.
Hough Hall has been purchased and sold many times, some of the families, Lightbowne, Minshulls of Chorlton, Chaddertons, will began to draw a thread through the growth of districts we all know well today. The list of such evocative family names is endless.
The building has been restored, sometimes in modern brick and plaster but in spite of new windows and staircase it has struggled to keep its original ancient appearance. Its whole presence as you walk past Moston Lane School amidst traffic and hurrying humanity is strange and worthy of a second look.
If you have grown up passing this often misused,(in spite of its Grade 2 listing) creature of the past and the almost forgotten mounting step opposite its front door – you will rarely give it a thought.
You will have seen it surrounded by broken fireplaces and builder’s rubble during the fifties’ fashion of tiled surrounds and before that the land surrounding it was used by a coal merchant who owned the house.
His family eventually inherited it and carried on the business until we no longer had coal fires. They then started up selling bottled gas to the building trade, caravan owners and it was generally in demand at the time. These are merely touching on the indignities that the land surrounding the illustrious Hough Hall has been subjected to.
Much closer to the present the house was purchased by a family who made it their home. The interior had not been touched to any degree by all the businesses. Afternoon tea and a tour of the house was on offer.
When this ended our houseful of history continued to stand unloved and increasingly derelict. Campaigning bodies have so far saved it from the final blow. Hough Hall needs some tender loving care, its pride and its soul are crying out for help. The threat of demolition is never far away.
Why, I ask myself, would anyone who doesn’t live in my neck of the woods, be interested in all this. Because, I answer, this is typical of so many ‘Hough Halls’ fighting for their existence and not untypical of thousands of plots of land acquired by the gentry, which became hamlets and then thriving, working towns.