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Bolesworth Castle, Cheshire, England

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Bolesworth Castle, Cheshire, England

Bolesworth Castle has been the home of the Barbour family for over 150 years. Bolesworth Castle, stands on the site of a previous very gothic house built in the 1750s. Today, the only 18th century features to have survived are the lake, with its bridge and boathouse, created by the owner John Crewe in 1780 and known as Mr Crewe’s New River. He employed the Scottish architect and civil engineer Robert Mylne, well known in his day for designing Blackfriars Bridge over the River Thames.

In 1826 George Walmsley bought the Castle and rebuilt it at enormous expense, employing architect William Cole, a pupil of the famous Chester architect Thomas Harrison. This enterprise ruined Walmsley and he was forced to sell up in 1836 to Thomas Crallan, whose family had made a fortune in brewing and owned The Sun Brewery in Ardwick, Manchester. Crallan spent much time and money on improving the estate but died before being able to enjoy his retirement there. Following his death in 1856 the Castle and Estate were put up for auction and bought by Robert Barbour (1797-1885). The Barbours, originally from Glasgow, were cotton traders in Manchester.


Robert Barbour was succeeded by his son George Barbour, and duly by his grandson Robert (1876-1928), who employed Clough Williams-Ellis (of Portmeirion fame) to modernise and remodel the Castle in 1921. The structure of the present garden was also laid out by Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1984). The terracing and steps in front of the castle were built (replacing sloping lawns) and the large stone garden seat was put at the end of the broad gravelled path running along the terrace.

He also put the Temple of Diana on a rise beside the drive, so that it can been seen from the Drawing Room windows.

The front door was relocated from the side of the house to the courtyard at the back of the building, putting a canopy over the door reminiscent of the entrance to Claridges in London. He redesigned the principal rooms using many of the motifs in the plasterwork, on the lights and on the mantelpieces, which he used later in his Italianate village at Portmeirion. He turned what once had been a rather dark house, into a light and airy place. My father-in-law, Richard Barbour, told me that when he went to the house to see his grandparents before the alterations in 1921, he was nervous about going upstairs because it was so dark and scary. Clough put in electricity (prior to this the house was lit by gas piped up from the gasworks in Tattenhall), modern plumbing (1920's style, with wonderful large baths with lion's claw feet), heating (we use the same radiators today) and a telephone. This was a new innovation, and was housed in a special telephone box in the hall at the foot of the main staircase. It had a patent mechanism so that when you stepped on to its floor, a little window closed to ensure privacy. The first floor was made into suites of bedroom, dressing room and bathroom and a splendid Servants' Hall was made in the Round Room on the front corner of the house overlooking the view. When Anthony and I came to live here in 1986 we made no structural alterations to the house, but did reroof it (last done in the 1890's), rewire, and redecorate. It remains a much loved family home, but also houses the Bolesworth Estate Office and the Bolesworth Team. Bolesworth is a wonderful place to live and work in, and we are all delighted to be sharing it with you tonight.

James TIlson

The first castle ever to be built at Bolesworth was created by James Tilson, an Anglo-Irishman from Co Offaly. By profession a barrister and diplomat, James was an ambitious and flamboyant man who lived life to the full and enjoyed the company of his many influential friends in London.

In 1750 he married Gertrude Countess of Kerry, a very wealthy widow. Soon after marrying Gertrude he began to build a gothic style castle on land he had previously bought in Bolesworth. It is quite possible he copied the style of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill castle in Twickenham, which was then at the cutting edge of fashion.

Enormous efforts had to be made to cut through the sandstone outcrop before building work could begin at Bolesworth. Altogether it was a very costly enterprise and quickly swallowed up all their available money, which meant he had to start borrowing. Five years later and hugely in debt James reluctantly had to admit defeat and so his beautiful castle was put up for sale.

Despite his health being very poor (he suffered from gout and asthma) he pleaded with his friend and patron Lord Egremont to find him a lucrative post somewhere, as quickly as possible. He was eventually given the position of Consul at Cadiz.

Meanwhile his wife and their young daughter moved to live in London. Sadly, only twelve months later they were told that he had died. At the time of his death Bolesworth Castle and its small estate were rented out to a young man named John Crewe who fell in love with it and subsequently bought it – despite his father’s disapproval.


Robert Barbour

b. Kilbarchan 1797 - d. Bolesworth 1885
Robert was the first member of the Barbour family to live at Bolesworth Castle. He was born in Kilbarchan, Scotland, one of eleven children of Humphrey and Janet Barbour. His father was a Bleacher and Linen Threadmaker who died in 1817; his mother a committed member of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, who Robert acknowledged as being a strong influence throughout his life. Soon after graduating from Glasgow University, Robert was appointed by fellow Scotsman John Macfarlane to act on his behalf as a commission agent in the textile industry, “for the sale of Scotch goods and purchasing of Manchester goods on Commission”.
He arrived in Manchester in 1816 to find that trade there was in the doldrums and the business struggling to survive. However, Robert was a man of tremendous energy and determination, so despite these initial problems, he and Macfarlane became partners and very successful merchants. When Macfarlane retired around 1828, Robert invited his younger brother George to join him. They formed the partnership of Robert Barbour and Brother, commission agents and merchants, trading with other textile merchants and manufacturers at home and abroad - especially India where there was a great demand for English cotton fabrics. In 1827 Robert married a young Scottish girl, Elizabeth Allan, whose uncle was a business colleague. They lived in Mosley Street where Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter a year later. Robert was no stranger to grief, Elizabeth died shortly afterwards and their daughter, also named Elizabeth, died six years later. He married again in 1836 to Janet Fleming, another Scottish woman. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy. The Robert Barbour and Brother partnership flourished and, as it grew, more warehouses were acquired to store and process the cotton fabrics. In 1839 they settled into larger premises in Portland Street, with Robert and his family living at No. 1. In 1862 a huge new warehouse was built around the corner in Aytoun Street (now all demolished). The cotton trade was not Robert’s only business concern. He quickly saw the need for a better form of local banking. A new bank, known as the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank, opened on 1st December 1829, issuing thirty thousand shares at £100 each. The Bank issued its own notes for a few years but stopped doing so in 1834. Initially operating from a house in Norfolk Street, in less than five years a new head office was built in Spring Gardens. Robert was a large shareholder of the Bank and one of the longest serving directors. Now a very wealthy man, Robert moved his young family to Rusholme (at that time a very pleasant suburb of Manchester). He purchased a large house in Victoria Park and lived there until 1857 when he bought Bolesworth Castle and estate of 2,000 acres, retiring there in 1866. With his usual energy and enthusiasm Robert immediately set about improving and expanding the estate. He called in architect James Harrison to design two ‘model farms’. The first was the complete reconstruction of the farm buildings alongside Tattenhall Hall, and the second was a new farmhouse and outbuildings on the Bolesworth Hill Road – now known as Mountbatten. Much needed improvements were also carried out on the other estate farms and cottages. It would be a disservice to finish without mentioning Robert’s great passion throughout his life which was the Scottish Presbyterian Church. His strong faith and deep commitment led him to fund the building of churches and schools in and around Manchester and further afield. It was his firm belief that by providing the means for the spiritual and educational development of the poor he could help improve their future lives. Robert died at Bolesworth Castle on 17th January 1885. His only son George continued to manage and develop the estate which at this time amounted to 4,500 acres.


(With additional research from Wendy Bawn, Bolesworth Archivist).


Oswald Mosley


While the Mosley family were not resident in Cheshire, like the Traffords they were a significant family in the region just outside North East Cheshire and I include them here for their general interest. Sir John Parker Mosley in generation 9 below owned Bolesworth Castle. Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the Blackshirts in Britain in the 1930s was from the Staffordshire and Lancashire Mosley family. This family tree is taken from two sources. Croston giving a more traditional family tree while Baines and Harland focus on the tortuous descent of the manor of Manchester until its sale to the City in 1845.

The family has its origins in Staffordshire. Near Wolverhampton lies the village of Mosley where there was a half timbered hall. Charles II is reputed to have taken temporary shelter there after the battle of Worcester. Ernold de Moseley lived in the reign of King John and from his second son, Oswald, the Lancashire branch descended. This branch is first mentioned in the reign of Edward IV with Jenkin Moseley in 1465. In 1473 a Robert Moseley is mentioned with a tenement believed to be near Deansgate and Victoria Street. He had a coat of arms quartered with that of his wife, which was eventually allowed by the Visitation of the Heralds in 1613 (Richard St. George).

The family tree is very complicated because of the failure of male lines and the transfer of property to cousins. In generation 4 below, Nicholas and Anthony became wealthy cloth merchants with Nicholas handling trade in London. Anthony was the eventual ancestor of the Moseley families of Ancoats and Hulme; the latter became extinct in the early 18th century.

In 1579, Nicholas Moseley, with a friend John Layce, advanced £3,000 on the security of the manor, lordship and seignoury of Manchester to Sir William West. When Sir William failed to comply with the conditions for redemption he lost these assets. Lacye was Lord of the Manor from 1582 to 1596 but then Nicholas Moseley bought him out for a further £3,500. The Moseleys then held the manor until they sold it to the Manchester Corporation in 1845 for £200,000. Nicholas was Lord of the Manor from 1596. Nicholas became Lord Mayor of London in 1599. He was knighted by Elizabeth I for his efforts in raising money and men for a campaign in Ireland. He built a new house at Hough End and in this generation the spelling became Mosley which suited the motto mos legem regit. In his final years, Nicholas lived at Withington. He was sheriff of the county in 1604 and died at Hough End aged 85 in 1612. He was buried at Didsbury on 8 December where there is a monument in the Mosley Chapel.

Nicholas married twice. With his first wife he had six sons, some of whom died in infancy. Nicholas enclosed part of the common land, leading to a dispute with the local people which was not settled until his son Edward succeeded him. However, the line from Nicholas died out three generations later, with the death of his great grandson, Edward in 1665. Thus it was the line of his brother Anthony that provided the next heirs.

Sir Edward Mosley* in generation 6 below was involved with a minor skirmish of the Civil War at Middlewich in 1643. Colonel Sir Thomas Aston and Royalist forces took refuge in the church tower but the town was later captured by Sir William Brereton of Handforth, the Parliamentary commander. His relative, Sir William Brereton of Brereton was a Royalist. The church was damaged by cannon fire. At the time of the action, Sir Edward Mosley was captured. He had estates at Rolleston in Staffordshire and in Manchester. He had been made a baronet in 1640. He was released on condition that he took no further part in the war. His estates were sequestered and recovered on payment of £4,874. In other payments and loans he provided the Royalists with about £20,000. He died aged 41 in 1657 and is buried at Didsbury in the Mosley Chapel.

Sir Edward Mosley, in generation 7 below, died in 1665. He had made a will in 1660 which he revoked a few days before his death, leading to a prolonged dispute. Eventually an agreement was reached under which the Rolleston estates in Staffordshire went to Oswald, eldest son of Nicholas Mosley of Ancoats, who also inherited from his uncle Sir Edward Mosley of Hulme, the manor and lordship of Manchester.

Part of tree as shown in The Mosely Family

8.[Nicholas Mosley '''Nicholas Mosley'''], woollen merchant and draper, died 1734. 

9.Sir John Parker Mosley, created a baronet on 24 March 1781 was 4th and youngest son of Nicholas Mosley of Manchester, succeeeded to all the family estates. He died in his 67th year on 20 September 1798 and as his eldest son, Oswald Mosley of Rolleston and Bolesworth Castle, Cheshire had predeceased him he was succeeded by his grandson Oswald.

10. Oswald Mosley, died before his father on 27 July 1789.

11. Sir Oswald Mosley, bart., DCL, of Rolleston Hall, was the last lord of the manor of Manchester. By an agreement dated 24 June 1845, he sold the manor and manorial rights to the mayor and corporation of Manchster for the sum of 200,000 ( the inhabitants of Manchester had refused to give 90,000 in 1815 and they were finally conveyed on 5 May 1846, 250 years after their purchase by Sir Nicholas Mosley for 3,500.

6. Sir Edward Mosley of Hulme, 2nd son of Oswald Mosley of Ancoates, received Hough End from Sir Edward the 2nd Baronet (generation 7 above) with lands in Didsbury, Withington, Heaton Norris, Chorlton, Hulme Hall, Cheadle Mosley, and Breadsall Priory in Derbyshire. He was a barrister and aftewards an Irish judge. He died in 1693 aged 76. All his sons died but one daughter, Ann, survived.

7. Ann sole heir who married Sir John Bland and had no issue. She had a life interest in the manor. She lived at Hulme Hall and entrusted management of the estate to her second cousin, Sir Oswald Mosley, Baronet, (generation 8 above) who under her father's will succeeded to the estate on her death in her 70 year in July 1734.

4. Oswald Mosley married at Collegiate Church, Manchester. 10 June 1589. He became a successful clothier and in 1595 purchased Garratt Hall a mansion on the banks of Shooter’s Brook which had formerly belonged to the Traffords but through an heiress came into the possession of Thomas Gerard of Bryn. Oswald married a second time on 13 Feb 1616/7 at Stockport to Elizabeth, dau of Rev. Richard Gerard, Rector of Stockport an offshoot of the Gerards of Ince, descended from the the Gerards of Bryn. No children from the second marriage. Oswald died in 1622.