Find out about Astley Bank’s significance in the history and life of Darwen
Apart from being a beautifully preserved 19th Century Mansion House, Astley Bank has played a very important part in the history and life of Darwen, with three Members of Parliament, three Mayors and various social benefactors having lived there.
It seems probably that Astley Bank was built about the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was built by Richard Kershaw Smalley, son of Robert (‘Young Parson’) Smalley, a well-known figure in connection with Lower Chapel Congregational Church, and Ann Kershaw of Astley Bank, Little Bolton, after whom the house was named.
In 1827, the house was sold by R.K. Smalley to a Mary Finch and in 1836 was resold to William Woods, about both of whom little or nothing is known. However, although R.K. Smalley sold the house, it appears that he continued to live there until his death in 1839, since he appears in the electors’ list of that time as being of Astley Bank, and in the Directory for Darwen of 1825 as being of “Sough and Astley Bank”, as a Coal Proprietor.
In 1855, the house came into the hands of the Shorrock family, who were well known in Darwen. Indeed, Eccles Shorrock, who bought the house from Ralph Shorrock Ashton in 1869, has been referred to as the “Founder of Darwen”.
He was the son of a small tradesman, who having acquired some education, became manager of cotton mills in Hoghton and Chorley, and was later taken into partnership by his cousin Bannister Eccles, a large spinner and manufacturer in Blackburn. In 1830 he severed this partnership with his cousin when he bought the Bowling Green Mill, often referred to as ‘Th’Top Factory.’ With great energy and industry, he proceeded to convert Darwen into a cotton manufacturing town, and built mills at Tockholes and Waterside; he also built “New” and “Darwen” Mills, and purchased Brookside Mill shortly before his death.
During this period of the town’s industrial growth, Samuel Crompton established a business in 1822. He built a house at Low Hill, quite near Astley Bank, which was later occupied by Eccles Shorrock.
Although Eccles Shorrock owned Astley Bank, he did not live there himself. During this time the house was occupied first by James Shorrock, his brother, and then by Charles Kendall, a local solicitor to whom Mr. Charles Costeker (Darwen’s first Town Clerk) and Mr. F.G. Hindle, who will enter our story later, were articled.
In 1872, the more important part of this history begins, when Eccles Shorrock sold the house to James Huntington. James Huntington came to Darwen in 1864 to work for C. and J.G. Potter, a paper manufacturing concern (now Belgrave Mills, Crown Wallpapers). At this time, he was a well-known freelance designer, and it was quite a feat to induce him to come to work at Darwen.
After he bought the house, he quickly began to form the estate, as is shown by the following transactions:
20th January 1873: Purchase of the field to the north of the house from Richard Eccles for £1,950.
2lst April 1873 Purchase of land to the east (where Moorside now stands) from Richard Eccles for £1,225.
21st May 1873: Purchase of yard and outbuildings opposite Kebbs Farm from Eccles Shorrock for £100.
Apart from Ashdale, built in 1864, Astley Bank stood alone; but in the next three years, Heatherby and Thorncliffe were built and on the 30 December 1876, James Huntington sold the Moorside to F.G. Hindle, solicitor of Darwen, expressly for building purposes. It is also probably that, in addition to building Moorside, which he sold to a Charles Bullough, cotton manufacturer, F.G. Hindle also built Thorncliffe, where he himself lived, and Heatherby, which was the home of a family named Walsh. James Huntington was a well-known figure in Darwen, which was then a Liberal stronghold, and on his arrival, he began to organise the Conservative Club, in spite of great opposition. He was always interested in social and political problems and during the ten weeks’ strike in 1878, he held a meeting of the traders to organize a relief scheme for the workers to alleviate the suffering. They distributed tickets for the worst hit workers for food and fuel. Three days after the end of the strike, on the 24 June 1878, James Huntington died.
On his death, he left eight weeks’ wages to all employees who had completed one years’ service and his younger brothers C.P. and W.B. Huntington, supplemented this by making a gift in memory of their brother of from one to six weeks’ wages to those with less than one year’s service. The total sum thus given was £7,000, and in appreciation of this generosity, the employees gave 5% for the erection of a fountain in Bold Venture Park in his memory.
The house and estate passed to the younger brother, Charles Philip Huntington, and the next development of note takes place in May 1888, with the purchase by him of five acres or so of land lying between Bolton Road and the Moorside plot. With this purchase, Astley Bank estate reaches its maximum size.
Having achieved a sizeable estate, Huntington decided to improve and enlarge the house. First of all, since Darwen had become quite important as regards the manufacture of cotton and paper, he built the top storey of the house to accommodate the many visitors. The roads in those days were so bad that most people had to stay at least overnight. The butler’s pantry, kitchen, back kitchen, and pantry were also added to cater for the visitors’ needs.
What is now the small dining room used to be Charles Philip’s study and had a beautiful glass roof, which, unfortunately, because of its age and neglect, has had to be covered in.
Because of all the entertaining that they did, the ballroom was built and this used to have a glass-covered passage leading from the “Italian Terrace”, which was a paved garden outside the large and small dining rooms. Thus, guests used to dine in the large dining room, go out through the French windows on to the “Italian Terrace”, up the passage and into the ballroom to dance. There also used to be a beautiful vinery leading up from the ballroom door along the now ivy-covered wall to the greenhouses at the top, in which the dancers used to rest between dances.
The Huntingtons were quite a “go-ahead” family and were among the first to have electricity installed, generating their own in the wash house from wet cells.
The servants were all well treated and before the war, when tea breaks were unheard of, a jug of tea was always provided for the gardeners. Cottages used to stand at the south end of the garage, and these were the quarters for the gardeners, groomsmen, and coachmen. The garage used to be the stables where quite a few horses were kept, both for riding and carriage work, and there are still one or two large rings on the wall. The cottages, which are now privately owned, used to be the coach house. Each Sunday, the Huntingtons used to drive to St. John’s Church in their carriage and pair, leaving the footmen outside to tend to the horses ready for their return to Astley Bank.
Astley Cottages were then lived in by workers on the estate. At that time there were eight gardeners, who used to start at 6.00 am and finish at 8.00 pm for 5/-d. a week. They grew all their own produce, including melons, grapes, and flowers for decoration in the house. Despite the very full life led at Astley Bank, the house was kept very private. The lodge, of course, was occupied, and no one was allowed to pass without first stating their name and business. All the gates were kept locked, including the ones into the yard and the now non-existent ones at the top of the drive facing Ashdale.
It was Charles Philip’s wife who started and developed the Darwen and District Nursing Association to which she bequeathed £3,000 on her death.
In 1892, C.P. Huntington successfully contested Darwen and was returned as Liberal Member of Parliament. In 1898, he was Mayor of Darwen, and in 1906 he was created a baronet, but only lived six months to enjoy this honour.
On his death, Sir Charles left his estate in trust for his family, which consisted of his widow, Jane and his five children, Amy, who recently died, Sylvia, Marguerite, Henry Leslie and Charles Philip. Henry Leslie Huntington — now Sir Henry — died a few months after his father and was in turn succeeded by his younger brother Charles Philip. On his succeeding to the title, the other beneficiaries of the Huntington Trust granted Astley Bank to the new Sir Charles “out of their natural love and affection for him”.
In 1910, after Astley Bank had belonged to the Huntington family for almost 5O years, they sold it to Mr F.G. Hindle, also a well-known figure in Darwen.
F.G. Hindle was born in 1848 in Hoddlesden and, on leaving school in 1865, was articled to Charles Kendal. In 1870, he passed his final law examinations heading the honour’s list, being first in all of England. This was an intellectual feat repeated by his son, Sir Frederick in 1898.
From his early days, he led a very active political life, acting as agent, supporter, and spokesman for the Liberal parliamentary candidates. In 1879, he was both personally and professionally concerned with the local Act of Parliament, authorising the construction of the steam tramway between Darwen and Blackburn. This created quite a stir and provoked a division in the House, since this was the first time the trains would run in two well populated towns. In 1897, he was largely concerned with gaining for the people of Darwen the freedom of the Moors, which visitors to Astley Bank may also enjoy.
He had much to do with the library, where he acted as unpaid clerk for about five years. He took a great part in education, and it was mainly due to his efforts that the old Grammar School, now the Technical School, was built. Moreover, he was also president of the Literary Society. In 1881, he was appointed Magistrate’s Clerk, which prevented him from being Town Councilor.
In 1906, he stood as Liberal candidate for Darwen, but was beaten by 25 votes. He stood again at the next election in 1910, and this time became a Member of Parliament.
He died, a well-loved and respected friend to most people in Darwen and many more outside Darwen, in 1915, in Nice, where he and his wife had gone for a holiday. He is buried in Nice and while the burial took place, a funeral service was held in Belgrave Chapel, attended by many relatives, friends and representatives of civic bodies. His son, known to us as Sir Frederick, then inherited Astley Bank.
Sir Frederick was born in 1878, and, as has already been stated, achieved the same distinction as his father in his final law examinations in 1898. In 1899 he went into partnership with his father, forming Hindle, Son and Cooper. In 1900, he became a local councillor and in 1907, he was elected a County Councilor. In 1912, he became Mayor and, with his mother as Mayoress, met the royal guests, King George V and Queen Mary, in 1913.
Sir Frederick was over-age in 1914, at the beginning of the war, so he took his father’s cars across to France to be fitted as ambulances. He served with the British in Flanders, but was later transferred to the French Army, where he was commissioned as a Lieutenant. He was mentioned in dispatches and invested with the Croix de Guerre for his part in the defence of Verdun; and in 1917, he was awarded the bar to the Croix de Guerre. He also became a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur and for his four years’ service in France he received the Mons Medal, Ribbon and Chevron.
In 1918, he successfully opposed Sir John Rutherford as Liberal candidate for Darwen and in 1922, he opposed Sir Frank Sanderson. In 1924, Sir Frank Sanderson won, and Sir Frederick resigned as Liberal candidate in favour of Sir Herbert (now Lord) Samuel. He continued to work hard in the campaigns for Sir Herbert and was for some years chairman and president of the Darwen Liberal Association. In 1919, he was made an Alderman of the Borough, but he resigned his seat six years later, when he followed his father as Magistrate’s Clerk. In 1927, he was made a County Alderman. In 1939, he became an A.R.P. Controller and in 1941 he accepted an invitation from the Home Office to become Deputy Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence in the Northwest. In the Birthdays Honours in 1943, he received his Knighthood for “public services in Lancashire”.
His wife, Lady Alys Hindle, is also well known. She was first elected to the Town Council in 1933 and became an Alderman in 1949. She was the first woman Mayor of Darwen in 1937/39, and she became a Justice of the Peace in 1940. She, like her husband and father-in-law, was a prominent member of the Division Education Executive.
One of Sir Frederick’s favourite hobbies in his later years was the rock garden at Astley Bank. He saw the rock garden displayed at one of the Lancashire Shows and had it transferred to Astley Bank. He used to look after it himself and spent some time there nearly every evening.
During WW1, the Hindles moved to Lytham and Astley Bank was used to store Red Cross equipment for the district. During the period, unfortunately, the gardens were very neglected. The rock gardens were overgrown, and the small pools and waterfalls became dry and dusty.
Previously, the house and gardens had been the scene for many a happy event, such as Liberal and town garden parties, with fairy lights in the trees. There was also a “Festival of Queens”, when Sir Herbert Samuel was heard to remark that he had no idea so many crowned heads still remained.
While the house was occupied by the Hindles, many famous public figures visited it, such as Sir Archibald Sinclair and Lady Sinclair, Herbert Morrison, Hartley Shawcross, Selwyn Lloyd, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Sir Herbert Samuel and many others.
The rest is shortly told, in 1946, Astley Bank and the field to the North were leased to I.C.I. and in August 1952, were sold to the Company. Lady Hindle and Sir Frederick moved to a smaller house in Whitehall, Darwen, called Astley House, in April 1953. Sir Frederick died and shortly after this, Lady Hindle moved to Plymouth.
The property then passed onto the hands of I.C.I, a giant in the chemicals industry. In May of 1997, Astley Bank was obtained from I.C.I, by a local family business, and run as a hotel by two of its Directors, Helen & Nigel Ainscow. Current owners, Alan and Susan Ezekiel, purchased Astley Bank in 2016. Since, it has been transformed into the characteristic, distinctive hotel, wedding venue and conference centre that it is today.