A Walk around Gorse Hall
This short walk around Gorse Hall Estate starts at the junction of Grosvenor Street and High Street Stalybridge.
At these impressive gates is the main entrance to one of the few remaining green spaces in the area. It has a coach road of more than a mile leading to the impressive site of the Gorse Hall mansion which was built by John Leech, a wealthy cotton mill owner, the place where the murder of another wealthy industrialist, George Harry Storrs, took place in the year 1909.
Directly to the left of the entrance once stood Leech’s Mill one of the largest and tallest mills in the area standing some seven storeys high.
Continue up the coach road, over a tunnel that was built to join different parts of the mill’s workings, turning right, slowly winding up the first steep part known as Hob Hill. After the bend and on the right-hand side would have been the worker’s allotments, hen cotes and pigeon lofts a popular pastime of years gone by. About a quarter of a mile further on was another tunnel, built by John Leech, runs under the coach road.
This passageway, with its high bank walls, allowed workers living in Dukinfield and Newton to pass through the estate to work without trespassing over his land and coach road. To the left below stands the Unitarian Church which was part-funded by John Leech and his brother William and built by the Unitarian members who wanted their own church in Stalybridge. Twenty metres on we now arrive at what would have been the start of the gardens of Gorse Hall. There are rhododendrons, hawthorn and holly bushes on both sides of the coach road which was constructed with pebbles and broken quarry stone to give a firm surface for coach and horses but at the same time allowing rainwater to drain naturally away. To your left beyond the Hawthorn Hedge lied a wooded clough with a drop of over 25 metres so be careful not to stray!
We have now walked over half a mile and reached a stone sculpture of a rabbit, the first of the eight sculptures on our nature trail around the site. These stones depict the link with Beatrix Potter, the famous children’s author and illustrator, who was the granddaughter of John Leach. After leaving the rabbit behind, travel one hundred metres further still climbing, and you reach the path that leads to the ruins of old Gorse Hall.
This building was already in existence when John Leech bought the site in 1835 and dates back to the early part of the 16th century. There was no running water, gas or electricity but with views of the Pennines it was an idyllic natural setting for a large house of the period. It was inhabited until the late 1950s after which the building fell into ruin. The estate was bought by the then Dukinfield council in 1973 and old Gorse Hall was demolished.
Walk back to the coach road and turn right as if you had carried on without the detour to old Gorse Hall. Walk another quarter of a mile and you are now reaching the top of the coach road. Pause awhile and imagine! To your left stood a magnificent ornamental pond and fountain, approximately seven metres wide, which would have impressed visitors arriving at the hall in one of John Leech’s Brougham horse-drawn coaches. Behind the water feature and cut into the hillside, stood another garden feature, a round summerhouse. Unlike our modern conservatories, this round building was constructed here to keep the sun out. Here the ladies of the house would sit on warm sunny days, completely in the shade so that the sun would not affect their pale, delicate complexions. Follow the coach road to the right leaving behind the woodland and after travelling fifty metres you enter a clearing where the large mansion known as Gorse Hall once stood. This impressive building was constructed for John Leech and his growing family. It housed himself, his wife, and six children and an array of servants and maids. It had large bay windows through which views of the Pennines and Saddleworth moors could be seen. Carry on past the site and the second and third sculptures of a squirrel and a picnic basket can be seen.
In approximately 100 metres the road forks. Stand awhile. To your right stood the stable area and a courtyard. This consisted of five or six buildings including stables to house the Hunter horses used for regular hunt meetings, which took place over local moorland. Other buildings being feed stores and living accommodation for the grooms etc. The laundry was also here. Take the left fork and continue up the hill and you arrive at a large level area surrounded by rhododendron bushes on three sides. This was once a bowling green. Originally oblong then altered to become oval with an impressive curved stonewall along the back. From here you would have panoramic views, even better than the ones from the new Gorse Hall. Hiding in the front wall we find the fourth sculpture, a cheeky little dormouse.
This bowling green has now been converted into an open-air classroom for local schoolchildren. Carry on uphill and after 100 metres turn left and follow the path leading to a pond. Here you will find the fifth and sixth sculptures depicting frogspawn and a hedgehog.
This pond was originally built to provide water for the cultivated areas, the entrance to these can be seen by the steel gateposts on your left. Follow the path up the hill in order to reach the Millennium Viewpoint. This vantage point gives the best panoramic views of the surrounding area. Starting from the east you will see Wildbank, Harridge Pike, Buckton Moor and Saddleworth Moor. Moving westwards you will see Stalybridge, Hartshead Pike, Ashton, Oldham, Winter Hill, wind turbines on Scout moor and Manchester. On a clear day you can see over the Cheshire Plains all the way to Runcorn.
After taking in these impressive views you can rest awhile on the seats provided which have been constructed to resemble railway sleepers in keeping with Stalybridge’s industrial past. Travel down the hill towards Stalybridge. Go through the gap in the hedge and turn left. Here you will find the next sculpture a ladybird.
Travel down the steps to find the last animal sculpture, a snail. You are now back at the top of the coach road where the ornamental pond once stood. Turn right and return back down the coach road to the town and the trappings of modern times.
We hope you enjoyed your historical nature walk around Gorse Hall Stalybridge.