History tour

A walk through the history of Withington
Withington history tour
This is a walking tour of Withington village giving a history of what you see around you as you tour the village. Direction are printed in red. You may start the tour at any point by finding your location in the text. This account starts at Withington Green, at the corner of Cotton Lane and Wilmslow Road. The tour has been published by Withington Civic Society as a guidebook on sale in Withington Library.

The setting
Withington was a small rural village until the mid-1800s. It was mainly agricultural - the main crops, as recorded on the tithe map [6], were wheat, oats, turnips, potatoes, onions, cabbage and grassland. Most of the population was employed as farmers and farm labourers. Although undeveloped in many ways, Withington did have a mains supply of both gas and water from an early period: Gas was laid on from Manchester in 1852 and water, as far as the White Lion, was turned on in 1854. The 1801 census showed the population of Withington to be 743 in 133 dwellings. By the time of the 1851 census, this had doubled to 1,492 in 265 dwellings, and in 1891 increased tenfold to 14,213 in 2,541 dwellings [2].

Travelling along what is now Wil
mslow Road in the mid 19th century, one would see some cottages and farm houses, together with a few, more substantial, houses, as well as several public houses, the newly-built parish church and parsonage, and, on Burton Road, a smithy and wheelwright's shop. Apart from this, on both sides of the road, the land was almost entirely agricultural. See old maps of the area [6] for details.

Withington and West Didsbury Railway Station opened in 1880 on Lapwing Lane/Palatine Road. Its history is summarised in [8]:

Withington & West Didsbury railway station opened in 1880 as "Withington" when the Midland Railway opened its new Manchester South District Line out of Manchester Central Station (what was the GMEX Centre and is now called Manchester Central). Withington station was renamed "Withington & Albert Park" in 1884, and then "Withington & West Didsbury" in 1895.The Manchester South District line, and consequently Withington & West Didsbury station, closed in July 1961. By the 2000s, the original cobbled station approach road and wall were still visible off Lapwing Lane, and the remains of the station platforms could still be seen at the bottom of the overgrown embankment.

The opening of the station heralded a new era and much of old Withington disappeared as urbanisation continued. The rural village developed rapidly into a large, bustling suburb of Manchester. However, even as late as 1886, cows and sheep were still being driven through the village and pigs were kept on Burton Road [2]. The rural origins of Withington are recalled in the continuing tradition of calling the centre of Withington "The Village". 

From 1876, Withington was run by a Local Board with an extensive area of governance. Between 1894-1904, Withington became an Urban District Council. The former Withington Town Hall (1881) still remains as a rather ornate building on Lapwing Lane, near the junction with Palatine Road. In 1904, Withington was incorporated into the City of Manchester. See [6], [9] and [2] for more details of the Victorian and Edwardian development of the area.

At a later period, in 1915, Withington was described as:
"Wealthy, a kind of upper-class Olympia, with a rather pronounced air of 'culture' and the higher life." [4]
and Moss-side as "middle class" and "clerky" with "ambitions inclining to the semi-detached" [4]!

History tour
  • We begin a walking tour of Withington, starting from Withington Green.
Withington Green

Withington Green is a roughly triangular piece of land at the junction of Wilmslow Road and Cotton Lane. William Johnson's Plan of the Parish of Manchester (1820) [6] records the settlement over a wider area as "Withington Green", suggesting that the Green itself is considerably older. Withington Green is also marked on the Withington Tithe Map of 1845-48 [6] occupying the same land as now and marked as public land. The Green is known locally as "the diamond".

In the Victorian period and later, ornamental trees and flower beds were introduced with a variety of designs over the years. Old photographs and postcards record many of these designs. See the Civic Society website, History Page: Withington Green, for pictures and more details.

Cotton Lane

Cotton Lane runs east from the Green. It is an ancient thoroughfare, recorded on Johnson's 1820 Plan of the Parish of Manchester [6] but is likely to be much older. 

The area to the east of the Green, variously called Cotton Tree Field, Cotton Field or Cotton Doles, is a remnant of one of the fields of the ancient open field system for Withington. The origin of these names is not clear. Kenneth Whittaker (in A History of Withington) suggests the name probably comes from "co-town strips making up the fields at the far end [of Cotton Lane]" - part of the old open field system. (This may well be correct, but "cotton tree" suggests poplar trees which are occasionally known as "cotton trees" ("cottonwoods" in the US) from the downy covering of the seeds from female trees.) See old maps [6] for the development of this area through the ages.

The Cotton Tree public house, whose name recorded the old Cotton Tree Field, was demolished in 2011 and replaced by flats on Cotton Lane.

Christie Hospital and the Holt Radium Institute

The original Christies building was opened in 1932 by Lord Derby. This one building brought together two previously separate institutions, the Christie Hospital, named after Sir Richard Copeley Christie, once chancellor of Manchester University; and the Holt Radium Institute, named after Sir Edward Holt, a former Lord Mayor of Manchester. The hospital is now (2012) one of the largest cancer  treatment and research centres in Europe. For a fuller history, see [13].

The Grange and Tatton View

The Grange (at the north corner of the junction of Wilmslow Road and Cotton Lane) now (2012) houses a Muslim Preparatory School and previously was a 'rest home' and before that the property of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers - see the ASW initials on the gatepost. The present building is depicted on the 1892 OS 1:2500 map. The former building on this site was a farm called the 'Old Mill Dam Farm', belonging to the then Lord of the Manor, the Egertons of Tatton. More recently, a family of textile merchants, the Baerleins, who originated from Germany, lived here.
  • Cross Wilmslow Road at the pedestrian lights to Tatton View (off Tatton Grove).
The date of the houses in Tatton View is 1879. All the house numbers are even. In the gardens of the present houses, there were supposed to be similar houses built, taking the odd numbers. However, when the ground on this side was surveyed, it was discovered that a brook ran underneath (Shaw Brook or a tributary of it [10]), and so houses would be likely to suffer subsidence. Tatton View forms the southernmost part of Withington Conservation area and the houses here are some of the best examples of Victorian terraced houses of this size in the area.
  • Walk to the Red Lion.
The Red Lion

The Red Lion is Withington's oldest building and is Grade II Listed. The present building is believed to be at least 200 years old and the site possibly older. It was the location for a local court, the Withington Court Leet, until 1841, and the meeting place for the Trustees of the Turnpike Trust for (what is now) Wilmslow Road.

The Red Lion also used to be the focus of the Rush Cart procession on St. Oswald's Day. The Rush Cart procession is recounted in Kenneth Whittaker's A History of Withington [2]: "This took place on St. Oswald's day, the fifth of August. The rushes, which Withington provided to strew on the floor of the Parish Church at Didsbury, were piled onto a large waggon and escorted with mime and dancing. The procession was held for over six hundred years, surviving well into the nineteenth century. In later years the rush cart was made up at Mee's Farm, at the rear of the 'White Lion'. Sometimes the date 1603 was designed in marigolds on the cart. Fletcher Moss suggested that this date indicated when a cart was first used to carry the rushes. Before it, men or pack horses would have been used.

It is recounted that, around 1872, Wilmslow Road was flooded outside the Red Lion and apparently the inside of the pub became flooded too. Some ducks made their way inside from a nearby pond and swam around for a while quite contentedly [2]. Shaw Brook which runs under the gardens of Tatton View also runs under the Red Lion, and indeed, from here westward, it is sometimes called the Red Lion Brook [10].
  • See opposite on Arnfield Road.
In Arnfield Road, on the south side, the first house (No. 4) is a more recent replacement. The original semi-detached house (No. 2 and No. 4)  was hit by a bomb in 1940, badly damaged, and then demolished [3].
  • Walk across Wilmslow Road to the corner of Arnfield Road.
Old Police Station, Fire Station and Forge

The present fire station once housed a Police Station as well. The combined building was constructed in 1931. There was, however, a smaller police station here before this building. The original had no cells and any detainees had to be taken to Didsbury. The police station moved from here to Copson Street/Hill Street and operated as a 9-5 Station from 1981.

Look out for the old milestone nearby. In 2013, it was listed (Grade II) as a Monument of Special Historic Interest. There was, at one time, milestones and mileposts at 1/3-mile intervals along both Palatine Road and Wilmslow Road in Withington. This is the only remaining example. It has been suggested by English Heritage that the milestones and mileposts were erected by the Turnpike Trust (see below).

Before Withington Fire Station was built, there were no fire-fighting facilities in Withington. The nearest Fire Station was in Manchester. The current building has flats for accommodating fire-fighters.

The next building is the forge. This was owned by the Priday family, and founded by William J. Priday - see the initials "WJP" on the left hand side of the entrance, and the foundation date of 1881 on the right-hand side. William Priday is buried in St. Paul's churchyard where you can still see his gravestone. The Priday family ran a forge on Burton Road (see below) long before 1881. The last surviving member of the family, Jack, lived in Gatley until his death in October 1991 at the age of 88. Jack Priday was awarded the BEM in the New Year's Honours in 1988. Until a few months before his death, as the official farrier to the Manchester City police force, he used to attend regularly to the horses at Hough End Farm in Old Moat Lane. Upstairs in the forge there used to be a loft which housed a collection displaying the coach-builders craft. The forge Yard once housed the village pump and the schoolmaster's house was nearby. [3] Behind the forge frontage, the building has been replaced by modern flats. Shaw Brook [10] runs past the forge, and can be seen in the courtyard at the rear. The brook rises in Heaton Moor, flows through Burnage and Withington, passes under Wilmslow Road (the culvert is visible here), reappears at Hough End and eventually runs into the Mersey. 

Wilmslow Road

Across the road is the Turnpike Public House. This reminds us of the one-time status of Wilmslow Road. What we now call Wilmslow Road was previously called Turnpike Lane and earlier still High Street. This was one of the ancient routes south from Manchester (see old maps of the area [6]). Between 1753 and 1881, this road was a turnpike road run by the Manchester and Wilmslow Turnpike Trust, created by an Act of Parliament. The Trust upgraded the road and built Northenden Bridge over the Mersey in 1867. These improvements were funded by tolls charged on road users. Before the bridges were built over the Mersey, the road forded the Mersey at Ford Lane in Didsbury, where it crossed by a diagonal route. Toll bars prevented people getting free access to the turnpike road, and at various times these were at Mauldeth Road, Burton Road, Cotton Lane and Fog Lane, but no remains of these are now visible. [2]
  • Walk northwards along Wilmslow Road towards St. Paul's church.
St. Paul's Church

Before the mid-19th century, Withington did not have a parish church. It was part of the large Parish of Manchester. There was however a chapel in Didsbury (now St. James' Church) which served as the local place of worship. St. Paul's parish church was consecrated on 21st October 1841. There were churches in Withington prior to this, for example, the first Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Withington was built in 1832. Originally, St. Paul's church served the people of Withington, Fallowfield, Ladybarn and Burnage. It cost £2,790 4s 4.5d to build (notice the ha'penny, half of an old penny!) and had seating for 649 people. In 1843, the church's first organ was played by the composer, Felix Mendelssohn, who was staying nearby. Mendelssohn described it as "an excellent instrument" [11].

An incident took place here one Sunday in 1855. At this time, sabbaths were strictly observed. This particular Sunday, the churchwardens, sidesmen and duty constable, after the first lesson had been read, left the church to parade around the parish to check that there was no disorderly conduct during the time of the service. On this occasion, they picked up two men and brought them back to the church just before the sermon. Their crime? Gathering nettles from the fields into bags to make nettle wine! The bags of nettles were confiscated, but when the service was over, they were returned to the men and they were sent on their way with an admonishment from the vicar that they should, in future, treat the sabbath as a day of rest. [2]

In December 1940, a landmine fell by parachute and got caught in a tree in the churchyard to the left of the church. Everybody in nearby buildings was evacuated, but it failed to explode and was later defused.

Before its enlargement to its present size, the church had no lady-chapel or choir vestry. These were added in the late 1850s as was the clock in the tower. The church was re-opened after the construction work in 1863. In 1894, the old lych-gate was replaced with the current one. In the early days of the church, church-goers paid annually for pews: side pews cost 5 shillings p.a., chancel seats 15s p.a. and front seats 17s 6d p.a.

For more details of the church's history and place in Withington life, see the church website [11].

St. Paul's School

Adjacent to the church is what was once St. Paul's School. On the wall is a plaque recording the dates: Erected 1844, Enlarged 1865, 1878, and Rebuilt 1896. The headmaster between 1896 and 1926 was Herbert Thomas Scholes. He is reputed not to have practised corporal punishment. Instead, he would send misbehaving children next door to the forge, with a note to Mr. Priday to allow the child to pump the bellows for him during playtime, which apparently, in those days, lasted 30 minutes! 

Behind the school was the playground and, at one time, there was a corrugated-iron hut in a corner in which the 1st Withington Girl Guides used to meet. This company was founded in November 1918 by Elsa Carroll when she was a pupil in her last year at Manchester High School for Girls.
  • Go down Marriott Street (the terraced houses here are c1880) to Palatine Road.
Palatine Road

Palatine Road was originally called Northenden New Road and was built as a turnpike road in 1863 (a late development of a turnpike road, which were all abolished in 1881). In the late 1880s, the Post Office requested that the section as far as Northenden village was renamed Palatine Road (it runs between what were two Counties Palatine - counties which, in the past, had a degree of autonomy from the Crown and Government - the counties Lancashire and Cheshire). 

This road provided the tram service to Manchester. Electric trams replaced horse-drawn trams in 1902 on this route. For the horse-drawn trams, Whittaker [2] says "The fares from Withington were 6d [old pence] inside, and 4d outside". Alternative means of transport at the time were horse-buses and horse-drawn cabs and, of course, trains from Withington Station (see above) and from Fallowfield Station which opened in 1891. Trams were replaced by buses on the route in 1938.

St. Cuthbert's Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic church of St. Cuthbert's on Palatine Road was originally dedicated to "The Holy Ghost and St. Cuthbert". The church was established in 1874 and the nave opened in 1881. The building was extended in 1902. Some of the extension work was designed by the architects W. Telford Gunson and Sons, see the foundation stone (the style is said to resemble that of the Catholic Cathedral in Westminster but this needs corroboration). 

Before the opening of this church, the Catholic community in Withington worshipped in a large room loaned to them by one of the householders living in Marriott Street. Earlier still, Mass was held in another private house called "Mount Street Joseph", which was on the site of the current Withington Library (between Wilmslow Road and Wellington Road). 

Provost/Canon Rowntree was appointed as rector of St. Cuthbert's in 1896 and served the Catholic community until his death in 1952. He was followed by Canon O'Leary 1952-1974. For more details of the history see [17].

St. Cuthbert's School (1891) was adjacent to the presbytery until approx. 1908, when it moved to its present position on Cotton Lane. The former school building is still there.

Candleford Road and Passage

Candleford Road and Passage, leading to Burton Road, was locally known as Boggart's Entry. 'Boggart' is a Northern dialect word, related to 'bogeyman', meaning a ghost or spectre ("especially a local goblin or sprite supposed to ‘haunt’ a particular gloomy spot, or scene of violence"- Oxford English Dictionary). The passage is a former farm bridle path.
  • Walk towards the junction of Palatine Road and Wilmslow Road and turn into Burton Road.
Burton Road

Around the 1880s, Burton Road was known as White Lion Lane, then became Burton Lane. It was also known at various times as Back Withington Lane and Burton Farm Lane. Priday's old forge or smithy, founded 1800,  was at No. 3 Burton Road, directly opposite Withington Public Hall [3]. It is believed that a family called "Burton" lived here after the Pridays left to go to the new forge building in Wilmslow Road.

A group of interesting buildings stands on Burton Road between the junction with Wilmslow Road and the Baths. These include, on the north side of Burton Road adjacent to the White Lion, an unusual small building which is Withington Public Hall and Institute. It has the date of 1861 in the brickwork and was a gift of Lord Egerton of Tatton.  The Hall has functioned officially as a members club since 1906 [2], and in the 1990s, it had a membership of some 400. It housed an early lending library for Withington (see below) (1861-1911) and, in the main room, there used to be a large fire in the winter for members and visitors.

The Orion Hotel is a public house on Burton Road. On December 18th 1867, John Hamnet Norbury, a stonemason and builder, bought the plot on which the Orion stands for an apportioned chief rent of £16/18/6d and built two houses on it, one of which had the stonemason's yard adjoining. The second house became a public house called the Orion and John Norbury became the first landlord and licensee. On 22nd June 1875, John Norbury sold the plot with the two houses to Broadbents, the brewers, and the second house became a storehouse for beer barrels. The Orion is named after a 19th century HMS Orion on which John served. See [14] for John Norbury's life and naval record. The ship depicted on the sign is a more recent warship. 

What used to be a Primitive Methodist Chapel stands on the corner of Old Moat Lane  and Burton Road. It is now (2012) an Adult Learning Centre. Primitive Methodism was a movement in English Methodism from about 1807 until the union with Wesleyan Methodism and United Methodism in 1932 to form the Methodist Church of Great Britain. A previous place of worship for the Primitive Methodists from 1880 to 1890 stood on Old Moat Lane - there are reports that this took place in a room above what is now Walsh's DIY store, between Hill Street and Old Moat Lane. The church's foundation stone (much defaced) is dated 1891 and worship continued here until September 1954. Since then, all Methodist worship has taken place at the Methodist Church in the village centre. Walsh's DIY Store was previously a plumber's shop owned by Peter Donnet. [2]

Withington Baths has a datestone of 1911 and was built immediately to the north of a cricket ground on Burton Road. The building was designed by Henry Price (1867-1944), City Council architect, who, at a later date, designed Withington Public Library. The style combines elements of Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts movement. The Baths had separate entrances for men and women. Despite this, it was the first Baths in Manchester to allow mixed bathing (in 1914). For an account of the centenary celebrations of the Baths in 2011, see the Withington Civic Society's Events webpage. In the Second World War, an air-raid shelter in front of the baths took a direct hit in December 1940 on New Year's Eve. Seven ARP wardens were killed. 

Facing the Baths is the site of the Waterloo Inn/Hotel, now Brigadier Close. The name of this public house is that of the well-known annual dog coursing event, the "Waterloo Cup". William Foulkes, who lived in a house which was previously on this site, picked up a stray dog, which he called "Brigadier". The dog was trained by a Mr. Gordon and, in 1866, it won the Waterloo Cup. When the dog died it was buried in the grounds in a marked grave. The tombstone read 
"In Memory of a Faithful Friend, Brigadier, Winner of the Waterloo Cup, 1866. Died September 18th, 1877, aged 14 yrs 3 months". [2]
The pub has been replaced by a housing development but the dog's name lives on in Brigadier Close. A plaque commemorating Brigadier's achievement disappeared, but has since been reinstated. There is photograph of it on the Gallery Page [15] of the Civic Society website.
  • Cross over Burton Road and cut through Patten Street, by the Orion Hotel, into Copson Street.
Copson Street and the Withington Trough

Copson Street was originally called Cooper Street, and used to house two well-known family shops: Hope's, a butchers, and Gough's, a greengrocers (which may also have sold fish and poultry). 

Withington trough now stands here beside the supermarket. It started its life outside what is now Withington Public Library in 1876. In 1927, it was moved to the junction of Palatine Road and Wilmslow Road, opposite the White Lion. The peripatetic trough then was moved several times:
"At the White Lion stood the Horse Trough where the horses which drew the milk floats, the bread vans and the coal carts could stop for a refreshing drink."
K. Glyn Jones in Bygone Withington [18]
"At the junction of Wilmslow Road and Palatine Road there was a large horse-trough, and a drinking fountain with a drinking cup fastened by a chain. This was later moved to a new location in front of Withington Library, but disappeared from there many years ago."
Jack Jordan in Bygone Withington [18]
At some point, it was moved to the Cotton Lane/Wilmslow Road corner. One of our correspondents, Steve Partington, remembers that 
"the horse trough was at the bottom of Cotton Lane alongside Withington Green from my earliest memory in 1953, until we left in 1968. My Dad used to take a drink from the enamel cup that was attached to a chain at one end, so it was plumbed in with fresh water, at that location."
The trough then disappeared without trace for some years. The story of its rediscovery is of interest: A local free paper called the "Withington Reporter", published by a volunteer group, advertised for any information about its whereabouts. Many sightings were received! It was Mrs. Tidmas (of 2, Old Moat Lane) who reported finding it, quite neglected, in a field at Chamber Hall Farm, Heald Green. The farmer asked for a tin bath as replacement and this was provided! The trough was then returned to Withington in 1985, thanks to the efforts of Withington Civic Society which arranged for its removal in sections to the current site, the planning permission for its installation and the restoration of the area around the trough.

The inscription on the water trough
"... that ye may drink, both ye and your cattle and your beasts" [2 Kings, 3:17]
is appropriately chosen - the trough provided water for people (a drinking fountain), for horses and, at the side, for dogs. Pictures of the trough may be found on the Civic Society website.

Old Moat

Old Moat Lane was originally called Old Hall Lane. The road used to have a different alignment (see old maps of the area [6]) and led to Withington Old Hall, near the old moated house which gave the area its name of Old Moat. See the Old Moat page [16] on the Civic Society website for details of the history of the area.
  • Walk up Hill Street.
Hill Street

In the early part of the 20th century, Withington was perceived as exemplifying a wealth divide, two populations separated by Wilmslow Road, with the poorer area in the west and the richer area in the larger houses to the east in the Parsonage Road area. The divide is no longer so evident as there have been considerable new developments on both sides of the road and a good deal of renovation.
  • Look down one of the entries at Hazelbank Road.
Notice the central drain and the back view of the houses which are, for the most part, unchanged since they were built in the late 1880s.
  • Walk down Davenport Avenue.
Davenport Avenue and Old Moat Park

Davenport Avenue was named after a Mr. Davenport who owned a house on part of the land on which the avenue stands. In 1817, he allowed the Wesleyan Methodists to use the harness room attached to his house, which they did up to his death. 

In 1908, there was a land dispute between the Egertons of Tatton Hall, who used to own considerable land in this area, and a local grocer, Mr. McMinn. A strange consequence of this is that a wall was erected dividing Davenport Avenue at Moorfield St/Ave. This was referred to as "Waller's wall" - Frank Waller was a local electrician working for the builder, Harry Surtees Emery. Old photographs of the wall show it as a substantial barrier across the road [3].

The streets around here are essentially unchanged since they were built between 1862 and 1892 [6].
  • Walk along Rippingham Road eastward to Wellington Road and the Public Library.
Rippingham Road is named after Mr Rippingham, the builder of the houses in this road, and possibly nearby roads. There used to be a pickle factory called "Olde Farm" on Rippingham Road, which was founded in 1919. The owner retired in 1989. Notice the hand-carved street sign dated 1895, and the signs for Claremont Terrace (1890) and Oak Bank (1891).

What is now Old Moat Park (5.6 acres) between Rippingham Road and Hill Street was a recreation ground with a bowling green and bandstand recorded as far back as 1916 [6] when it was bordered by agricultural land with fields on two sides.

Wellington Road and Withington Public Library

At the junction of Wilmslow Road and Wellington Road once stood the village stocks!

Kenneth Whittaker (in A History of Withington [2]) describes the history of Wellington Road: "The road was previously called Raspberry Lane but John Baird, writing in the 1896 Bazaar Handbook, suggested that this was a corruption of Raspere Lane. The name Raspere' had been taken from a Frenchman who resided there. Whatever the correct explanation, the Ordnance Survey sheet of 1848 gives an added twist by naming it Rassbeaur's Lane."

Two streams cross Wellington Road. At the bridge, Fallowfield Brook is visible to the west of the road. Further south, Leigh Brook is culverted under Wellington Road at Victoria Road. This is marked as Leigh Brook on the 1862 OS map [6], Ley Brook on the Tithe Map (1845-49). On both maps, the crossing is named as "Rassbeaur's Bridge". Visit the Watercourses page [10] on the Civic Society website for pictures and more details.

Withington Public Library: Before this purpose-built library, there was a lending library as far back as 1861 in Withington Public Hall, which stands on Burton Road (see above). This had 1,200 books in 1895 [5] - a considerable number at that time. Fletcher Moss, of the Old Parsonage, Didsbury, campaigned for a library for Withington during his time as alderman. Nothing resulted. The following quote from Fletcher Moss's Fifty Years Public Work in Didsbury [5] indicates the state-of-mind of some at the time:
"In 1895 and several succeeding years, I moved a resolution for the adoption of the Public Libraries Act and was always sat upon by the conservative majority. Mr Joe Lunn (Conservative builder) of Withington told us that there was a library in Withington in an upper room somewhere behind the White Lion and all the folk that ever went into it were a few women a week. What was the good of having another library?"
On 13th October 1911, a library service was set up by the City Council in a house on the site of the present building. This had a stock of 1,861 books, as well as a newsroom. It soon became clear that a more substantial service in a purpose-built building was required (details here and below from Manchester Library Services: Seventy Years of Withington Library 1927-1997.)

The present building was designed by Henry Price (1867-1944), a council architect who also designed, at an earlier date, Withington Baths. The library is one of the many "Carnegie libraries" in the UK, partly financed by a fund set up by the Scottish-American industrialist, Andrew Carnegie (the donation was £5,000, from a total cost of £15,500). The building was opened in 1927 by the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine (Treasurer of the Carnegie UK Trust and President of the Library Association) who then borrowed the first book, a copy of James Tait's Medieval Manchester and the Beginnings of Lancashire (1904). Initially, trees were planted at the front of the building. However, in a few weeks they had disappeared and were never recovered. A one-time librarian, Miss Starkey, used to encourage Robert Donat, before he became the famous actor and film-star, to use the library to improve his chances in the profession by practising reading. Withington library was one of the first in Manchester to have a young people's reading room. You had to be at least 9 years old and in Standard 3 to join. There was a specially-appointed librarian for young people available at certain times. If you qualified to join, she would give you a ticket saying when you could use the library to read books, but not to borrow them.

Across Wilmslow Road from the library, there used to be Withington's first Post Office and Sorting Office until they both moved to purpose-built premises, the Post Office to Egerton Crescent. 

Between 1907 and 1919, Ernest Rutherford, later Lord Rutherford, the atomic physicist, working at Manchester University, used to live on Wilmslow Road, north of the Mauldeth Road junction on the east side, in a substantial house now called Rutherford Lodge. There is a blue plaque on the building recording his residence here.
  • Cross over the road to the bank building.
NatWest/National Westminster Bank

The National Westminster Bank building is Grade II Listed. A branch of the Manchester and County Bank opened across the road from the present bank on 1st August 1877 in Oak Bank Buildings. This building, which has a datestone of 1876, has ornate, rather Italianate, brickwork and stands on the south side of the junction of Davenport Avenue and Wilmslow Road on a site that was formerly gardens.  The bank moved across the road to the present building (1890) designed by architects Mills and Murgatroyd, which was purpose-built and had an attached house, on Swinbourne Grove, in which the manager was required to live. This house became offices sometime after WWII. Although purpose-built, the southern half of the ground floor frontage was originally a shop (there are photographs of this shop). From 1903/4, G.F. Leather Draper and Outfitter held the tenancy of the shop, trading there until 1912 when it moved across the road to 416 Wilmslow Road. This shop had been trading at other premises from 1898  and continued to trade until 1978, thus making what is likely to be a record of 80 years continuous trading in Withington. No sign of the shop remains in the present building. The original banking company has been taken over several times: it became the District Bank in 1935, The National Provincial in 1963, and the National Westminster in 1970.  However, this branch never traded as the National Provincial, continuing as the District Bank until it became National Westminster in 1969/70. [Details of the bank's history from Gerald Peacock and Cliff Pelham.]

Opposite the bank, there used to be a bread and cake shop whose first owner, at the turn of the century, was an immigrant from Germany called Mr. Schule. In 1935, this shop was bought by a Mr. Duwe, also German, and it closed in 1969. His grandson used to own a shop in Burton Road, Didsbury, which latterly held the bakehouse.
  • Walk southwards along Wilmslow Road looking out for the following buildings:
Methodist Church

The Methodist Church in the village centre was built in 1865. Extensive redevelopment work was undertaken in 1992. 

The origins of the church are recounted on the church website [12]: "Withington Methodist Church owes its origin to the vision of two twelve-year-old girls, Hannah Hesketh and Hannah Langford, who, in the 1790s, heard the gospel in neighbouring Burnage and asked that a bible class be run for them in Withington. From this class, held originally in farmhouse kitchens, a worshipping community developed who, in 1832, erected a small chapel in old Moat and subsequently built the present building in 1865." 

The original Methodist services were held in a private room hired from a handloom weaver in the village, called Cash, services being held as early as 1801. A Wesleyan Methodist church was built on Old Hall Lane (now Old Moat Lane) and was in use from 1832 to 1864 until the congregation moved to its present site. See also the description of the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Burton Road (above).

Victoria Hotel

In 1862, the land on the site of the present Victoria Hotel was sold. In 1905, Hydes brewery bought the site from Mr. W.M. Kay. The pub, at the time, had a basement below, a flat above, a small stable behind and, in the yard, there was a small cottage. In 1906/7, Hydes demolished the cottage and stable, extended the public house at the rear and built the single storey side section now fronting Queen Street. The interior was renovated in 1984, but the exterior has remained unaltered since those early times.

Albert Hotel

The Albert Hotel and the shop next door are the oldest surviving buildings in the centre of Withington. On the 26th October 1793, John Rigby (yeoman of Withington) sold to John Bowker three acres of land known by several names: Lower End Pasture Field, the Hay Meadow, or the Croft. In 1824, Edward Langford, a joiner, acquired a dwelling house, gardens and premises probably on this site. Between 1824 and 1829, he remodelled the site and built three cottages,  which, in 1852, he sold to Thomas Holt, a cashier. During the next ten years, Thomas Holt converted the three cottages into two tenements to form a beer house, a shop and a dwelling house. The first mention of the public house by the present name was in 1897, when it was called the "Albert Inn".

Queen Street West

This is a short street running off Wilmslow Road and retains several old buildings. Towards the end on the right is a building that was recorded as a smithy on the 1916 OS map (Sheet 111.07)  [6] and is now a car repair shop. On the left is a former stable building with hayloft and hoist. Both buildings are adorned with horseshoes! Stables and smithies were a common sight throughout the country when horses were the principal means of transport. Most have now been lost.

The former Barclays Bank building

The former Barclay's Bank building, on the east side of Wilmslow Road (opposite Greggs), is the second of the prestigious bank buildings in the village. The Bank acquired the freehold interest on this property on 26th May, 1903. The branch opened on 5th September, 1904, and cost £5,100. 

Egerton Crescent

On the left-hand side of the entrance to Egerton Crescent, in the 1930s, there used to be a chemist shop. The pharmacy operated from a cottage on the site. When a prescription was required, one had to walk down the garden path and knock at the door!

On the right-hand side of the entrance to Egerton Crescent, is what is now the Royal Bank of Scotland and was originally a branch of Williams Deacon's Bank. In 1801, there was a private house on this site belonging to Mr. Cash, a handloom weaver. Methodists held services here and founded the first sunday school in Withington in 1829 and also a day school.

Opposite the bank, there used to be a high-class grocers shop, owned by T. Morley Brook, which later became a contact lens/spectacle shop.

The Site of the Scala Cinema (Cine City)

Standing besides the White Lion is the currently (2012) empty site of what was Withington's only cinema. The Scala Cinema (which later became Cine City) opened in 1912 and was one of the longest surviving cinemas in the country [7]. Before sound pictures, the Scala had a woman pianist and many people came to hear her as well as watch the silent movies. The steps outside the cinema were often used to announce election results. The building was hit by a small bomb in October 1940. The cinema closed in July 2001, and was demolished in 2008 [7].

In the mid-1930s, there were 109 cinemas in Manchester and frequently people visited cinemas 3-4 times per week. Teachers used to complain that homework was left undone and schoolchildren too tired at school because of excessive cinema-going! By 1965, however, the number of cinemas in Manchester had fallen to 40 [7].

Across the road from the site of the Scala, there is a big house on the corner of Parsonage Road. The house previously on this site was the original St. Paul's Rectory/Parsonage, hence the name of the road.

White Lion Hotel

The large building on the north corner of Wilmslow Road and Burton Road is what was once the White Lion Hotel (see the white lion on the tower), otherwise called the Withington Ale House. It is a Grade II Listed building. There was a previous building on this site, built sometime in the C18th, also called the White Lion, which was probably altered or rebuilt in 1840. The present building has an inset on the north wall (chimney exterior) with a date of 1880. The architect unfortunately died before the building was finished. The renovations to incorporate a mini-supermarket took place in 2010/11. Much of the old interior has been preserved including some fine stained glass and, in the basement, a well. There is a yard at the rear with a coach-house.

At one time, it was the custom for the White Lion to present the prizes on May Day to the best double teams, the best single team and the best single lorry horses - all horses! A prize of a curry comb (an instrument for grooming horses) was awarded to the most untidy entry! [2]

For more information on the history of Withington, see the History Page on the Civic Society website (www.withingtoncivicsociety.org.uk) and the links and other resources listed there.


This "Do-It-Yourself" History Tour originated in typewritten notes by Louise Kane, an MCC Blue Badge guide and a member of the Civic Society. Louise arranged Withington Walks for several summers – they were well-attended and much appreciated. The original material has been reorganised, brought up-to-date and substantially expanded for this tour. References and links have been added so that you can find further details about the history (David Rydeheard, 2012). 

Thanks to Cliff Pelham for reading through the notes and responding with suggestions, to Steve Partington for some details of the Withington trough, and to Gerald Peacock for some historical details. 

Thanks also to Kenneth Whittaker for reading the published booklet and suggesting changes which have been incorporated in this article.

Comments to the Civic Society webmaster are welcome.

The tour is also available as a published book, which is on sale in Withington Library.
If you wish to use this material for commercial purposes, please contact the Civic Society.


[1] Illustrated History of Manchester's Suburbs. Glynis Cooper (2002). Breedon Books, in association with Manchester Libraries, ISBN: 1-85983-292-X. Website: www.breedonbooks.co.uk.
[2] A history of Withingon. Kenneth Whittaker, (1957, Rev. Ed. 1969). E.J. Morten Publishers.
[3] Looking Back at Withington and Didsbury. Gay Sussex and Peter Helm, (1988, Reprinted 1993). Willow Publishing.
[4] 100 years of Manchester High School for Girls, 1874-1974. MHSG. K.L. Hilton (Compiler).
Fifty Years Public Work in Didsbury: The Evolution of a Village from 1500 to 15,00 People. Fletcher Moss, The Old Parsonage, Didsbury (1915).
[6] Old maps of the area, including those at the website https://sites.google.com/site/withingtonhistory/old-maps, Tithe Maps and the OS maps of Withington, especially Withington (1892) and Withington and Burnage (1916) both 1:2500.
[7] Wikipedia page on Cine City, Withington. Retrieved Nov 2012.
[8] Wikipedia page on West Didsbury Metrolink station. Retrieved Nov 2012.
[9] The Suburban Growth of Victorian Manchester by H.B. Rogers (http://www.mangeogsoc.org.uk/pdfs/centenaryedition/Cent_17_Rodgers.pdf).
[10] Watercourses: Streams and brooks of the Withington area (2012). Withington Civic Society website at https://sites.google.com/site/withingtoncivicsocietygallery4.
[11] St. Paul's Church, Withington. Church website (2012).
[12] Withington Methodist Church. Church website (2012).
[13] Wikipedia page on Christies Hospital. Retrieved Nov 2012.
[14] The RootsWeb website (http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com), The Norbury family tree (2012)
[15] Gallery pages on the Withington Civic Society website: https://sites.google.com/site/withingtoncivicsocietygallery8 (2012).
[16] The Old Moat page on the Withington Civic Society website: https://sites.google.com/site/withingtoncivicsocietygallery6 (2012). 
[17] Extract from Salford Diocese and its Catholic past by Charles A. Bolton, (priest of the Diocese). Published 1950 on the First Centenary for the Diocese of Salford. Reproduced on the GenUKI website, 2004.
[18] Bygone Withington: Essays by local residents. City of Manchester Cultural Services, 1977. Available at https://sites.google.com/site/withingtonhistory/withington-memories.