THE Friends of Gorse Hall has celebrated a landmark 20th birthday.
The small band of volunteers – barely half a dozen strong – manage 35 acres of woodland and meadow, that form Gorse Hall Country Park, for leisure and educational use.
They carry out a multitude of jobs that include mowing, strimming, hedging, litter picking and ensuring the site is safe.
Education is also paramount about the history of the people and buildings.
There are three heritage walks with information boards on the history of each building that was on site, an orienteering course, trim trail, pond and kickabout area.
Local schools have been involved in projects over the last 20 years, which include pond dipping, planting bulbs, litter picks and looking at the wildlife.
The Friends’ main project was to uncover the site of the New Gorse Hall which was demolished in 1910 after the brutal murder of George Harry Storrs, a local builder. This year is the 110th anniversary since the murder.
To do this, they were granted a Heritage Lottery grant and with the support of Tameside Council and Manchester University Archaeological Unit over 10 years between 2001-11, uncovered and surveyed the stables, the area around Hunters Tower, the summer house and kitchen gardens.
More than 6,000 school children were involved in this project and given the experience of doing real archaeology. If you want into a career inspired by this experience, the Friends would love to hear from you.
The previous occupants of the hall were John (a local mill owner) and Jane Leech, who were the grandparents of Beatrix Potter.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary, the Friends asked children at four local schools to create pictures of what a ‘Potter around Gorse Hall’ meant to them; the chosen pictures will be placed on information boards on site.
The Friends’ work group meet every Thursday at 9.30am at the cabin up from the main entrance from High Street, Stalybridge.
They need volunteers to help keep the site safe and open for the community. Contact Alan on 07790006345 for further information.
Chair Alan Pickles, who was a key figure in the formation of the Friends, remains at the helm assisted by secretary Christine Clough who was also there from the start. Bernard Sutton is also a long-serving member.
Christine said: “I have always been interested in archaeology and worked with Manchester University on a lot of projects and that is how I became involved.
“Alan was the driving force in setting up the Friends and Bernard has been involved for much of the time.”
Christine added the Friends have always received support from Tameside Council, especially Greenspace’s Peter Longbottom, but it has become increasingly challenging due to cuts local government have endured in recent years.
The site was once a part of the Dockenfeld Manor held by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Duckenfeild, well known in the Civil War. The Manor was never sold but passed on through generations. Old Gorse Hall can be traced back to the 17th century although it probably goes back much before this. Remains can still be seen.
On the death of Lady Dukinfield-Daniel the estate passed on to her husband John Astley, a famous portrait painter of that era. Francis Dukinfield Astley, a great sportsman, built Hunters Tower on Gorse Hall in 1807, and was involved in the formation of the Astley Riflemen Volunteers; the rifle range wall can still be seen today near to the Tower.
Stalybridge and Dukinfield were typical cotton mill towns in the 18th and 19th century. John Leech, one of the many wealthy cotton manufacturers of the district, bought land from Mr Astley to build his mills. His son John bought the Gorse Hall estate and with stone from the local quarries built New Gorse Hall in 1835-36. He laid out formal gardens, an orchard and a bowling green which is now used as an open classroom.
John and Jane Leech had eight children, one being Helen who was later to become the mother of Beatrix Potter.
After Jane’s death, William Storrs bought the mansion and gave it to his son George Harry and his wife as a wedding present. On the night of, November 1, 1909 George Harry was brutally murdered by an intruder at the hall. He was stabbed 15 times.
On November 12, 1909, George Harry’s coachman was found hanged in the stables of the hall, perhaps he felt guilty for not being there when his master was murdered and the mystery still remains.
Two people were tried and acquitted and his widow had the house taken down in 1910 and moved away never to return.