Wythenshawe Park

If Wythenshawe Park had a different name, I bet more people would go there.

Wythenshawe is notorious for being one of the largest housing estates in Europe; 7 miles south of the city centre, it’s as far away from town as you can go while still being within city limits. The millions of tourists who pass through Manchester airport don’t generally linger to admire the local sights. And yet Wythenshawe Park has a lot in common with Tatton Park, which is Cheshire’s biggest tourist attraction.

The Wythenshawe and Tatton estates were both the property of the Tatton family for centuries, although paradoxically, a Tatton had to change his name to Egerton to hang on to Tatton Park because of inheritance law.* Both parks contain a great house, though the house at Wythenshawe is older; both have gardens, a playground and acres of parkland. The obvious difference is that Tatton is managed by the National Trust and Wythenshawe Park is managed by Manchester City Council.

Robert Henry Grenville Tatton inherited the Wythenshawe estate in 1924 and sold it to Manchester Corporation in 1926, for the development of their ‘Garden City': 2,569 acres for £205,520.

At the same time, Ernest Simon, son of a Victorian industrialist and husband of Shena Simon, bought Wythenshawe Hall (the Tatton family home) and 250 acres of land around it “to be kept for ever as an open space for the people of Manchester.” This is Wythenshawe Park.

Articles on the internet say that R.H.G. Tatton ‘yielded to pressure’ to sell Wythenshawe; the Tatton family then moved to Wybunbury in south Cheshire.

Shortly after Wythenshawe was sold, Robert’s eldest son, William Grey, died at Eton on 25th February 1926, aged 14. He had only started at the school the previous September; he died of an illness which lasted 5 days. Robert’s younger son subsequently died on the HMS Prince of Wales in 1941, aged 19, leaving him without an heir. After the war, the Tattons moved to Kent, where Robert died in 1962.

The Tatton family name had been linked with Northenden, Rostherne and Tatton in Cheshire since Anglo-Saxon times although the Massey family controlled these areas from 1066 onwards.

The Masseys gave the Manor of Northenden to St Werburgh’s Abbey (now Chester Cathedral) as a political/diplomatic gift and then received part of the land back through a lease. This is how Wythenshawe eventually passed to Robert de Tatton in 1370, when he married the last of the Massey family, Alice.

The Wythenshawe estate was then passed down through the Tatton family. They built Wythenshawe Hall, the half-timbered Tudor house which still stands, around 1540.

The hall has been closed since 2010 due to repair work and financial uncertainty caused by the global banking crisis. However it is due to open to visitors free of charge, from June – September 2011; opening times will be 11 a.m. – 5.30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. See www.manchester.gov.uk for further details.

A statue of Oliver Cromwell stands opposite Wythenshawe Hall. There is no plaque to explain why it’s there or where it came from, but the link between Cromwell and the Tattons is that they opposed one another during the English Civil War.

Cromwell’s forces came into direct conflict with the Tattons when they attempted to capture Wythenshawe Hall in winter 1643. Robert Tatton defended the house for 3 months, with the help of friends and servants, until two cannon were sent by road from Manchester (a Parliamentarian stronghold) and the house was captured. The Tattons fled to Chester. Wythenshawe Hall was returned to the family several years later in return for the payment of a large fine.

Oliver Cromwell

It seems there was a historic enemity between the Tattons of Cheshire and Manchester’s civil authorities, which dates back to the seventeenth century and was still going strong in the twentieth. The Tattons represented the old feudal order and the Manchester authorities, whether capitalist or left-wing, aggressively opposed that tradition.

The placement of the Cromwell statue opposite the hall could be interpreted as the final insult. (The Cromwell statue originally stood in central Manchester at the junction of Deansgate and Victoria Street but was moved in the 1970s so that the road could be altered.)

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When you come into the park from the main entrance on Wythenshawe Road, there’s a large crazy golf course on the right which is free to use if you bring your own golf equipment.

The carpark is at the end of this drive on the right, and is close to the playground, the city farm and the greenhouses full of exotic plants.

The ‘Postal Museum’, just behind the carpark, is the weirdest museum I’ve ever come across. There are toilets here, just opposite, but they were locked when we visited over Easter. The Tea Rooms were also closed. Hopefully these will all be open from June onwards.

Manchester Postal Museum

The irony of Wythenshawe is that the aristocratic associations of the name have been so completely forgotten even though the stately home is still standing there in plain view!

I really hope Manchester City Council finds a way to make full use of the park in spite of all the cut-backs. I suspect that they are not allowed to charge people entrance to the hall because of rules laid down by the Simons when they donated the park to the city.

I like the fact that the park isn’t like a National Trust estate, because they are so predictable and expensive to visit… but Wythenshawe Park could be used more effectively to increase the prestige of the Wythenshawe area.

There’s more information about the Tattons of Wythenshawe at www.thornber.net and www.wythenshawe.btck.co.uk.

*The Egertons of Tatton, were really Tattons. William Tatton married the Egerton heiress, Hester, in 1747, who was the last of the Egerton family. Their son William changed his name to Egerton so that he could inherit Tatton Park. His two oldest sons divided the Tatton and Wythenshawe estates between them… the elder Wilbraham kept the surname Egerton and inherited Tatton Park, while the second son Thomas changed his surname back to Tatton and kept Wythenshawe. The last of the Egerton family also died without an heir in the middle of the twentieth century.

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3 Comments

  1. I have to remember Tatton, nest time I visit. It has a very interesting history.

  2. Mark Livsey

    So Wythenshawe dosnt attract many tourist ??
    Well you obviously don’t live here.
    Last year 12 million people dashed to Wythenshawe to catch their plane to go on holiday, thousands come to the surrounding pubs every week to watch the planes and now every year industry grows bigger and better, 23,000 new jobs at airport city and a new tram system to get people around….go and write about scapa flow or something.

    • hi mark – thanks for the comment – you’re absolutely right – i should have made the vital distinction between the tourists who pass through the airport and the ones who actually stop in wythenshawe to have a look round! i’m sure you do agree that not many make it to the local park!

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