** WHITEFIELD - a brief history **

A Brief History


Although the history of the district proper begins after the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century, there are some scraps of evidence to suggest that a Roman road from Manchester to Ribchester in the north once ran across part of the land on which the modern Urban District is situated. Although no actual identifiable traces have been found, it is known that this important thoroughfare passed through both the areas now occupied by the towns of Prestwich and Radcliffe and, assuming that the Roman builders followed their usual practice of choosing the most direct route, the road would have passed directly through what is now the busy town of Whitefield (though if there was any settlement is a matter of conjecture).

As in the case with a great deal of English local history, little is known about the Whitefield area as it existed after the withdrawal of the Roman legions, but after 1066, the decisive Battle of Hastings, the history of the district becomes clearer.

post 1066

Leonard de Pilkington, Lord of the Manor of Pilkington, fought for Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After his victory, Norman William divided large tracts of Britain amongst his many followers and the ownership of a vast estate in south-east Lancashire (including the area now occupied by Whitefield) was conferred upon Sir Leonard de Pilkington. How he persuaded William I to allow him to keep his manor is unknown.

So began the long association which even centuries of Derby 'rule' have failed to erase. Indeed, to this day the surname Pilkington is still a common one in the area.

Having acquired this new and highly desirable property this first Knight set about turning it to some practical use and created a Park which bore his own name. This park included more land than is, at present, covered by Whitefield U.D., and took in considerable tracts from what are now the towns of Radcliffe and Heywood as well as further land, now the Unsworth area of Bury. It was at Stand, the highest point in this Park (the name 'Stand' is derived from a hunting stand, from which the country could be scanned for game), that Sir Leonard built his manorial hall.

At least two of his descendants took part in the Crusades and journeyed to the Holy Land, but this co-operation with the ideas of the Monarchy did not last and, in 1322, Sir Roger de Pilkington was taken prisoner at the Battle of Boroughbridge by the forces of Edward II. He was, however, pardoned, and further Pilkington's (Sir John with his son John) earned their house a return to Royal favour by courageous conduct at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, fighting under Henry V, and, by contributing, heavily, to the Royal Exchequer.

Sir Thomas Pilkington, who inherited the Pilkington estates in 1451, was the last of his line to hold them. A Yorkist sympathiser and supporter of Richard III, he had his estates confiscated after Henry VII's forces defeated and killed Richard on Bosworth Field October 1485. These estates, Henry Tudor gave to Sir Thomas Stanley, who was created Lord Thomas Stanley, first Earl of Derby, and this ancient family have remained closely connected with the district ever since.

post 1558 - Elizabethan times

In Elizabethan times, Whitefield was a barren moor, but Stand Hall was the Manor House of Pilkington. Towards the end of the 16th century, Lord Derby built a new Stand Hall near the old one, which in 1939 was still being used as a barn. Shortly after it was demolished.

Perhaps the most famous of all the Derby's was James Stanley the 7th Earl, who was a strong supporter of King Charles I during the Civil War. Unwilling to surrender his lands, he saw them taken from him by the Parliamentarian forces and was himself beheaded after the Royalists were defeated at Worcester. The spot, in nearby Bolton, at which the 7th Earl was executed, is marked to this day.

However, when the Monarchy was restored in 1660, Charles II returned all the Derby estates, including that of Pilkington Park, to the family.

After the Restoration, nothing of great importance appears to have taken place in the area which, despite Derby ownership. retained its old name of Pilkington. However, there is little doubt that a small, but thriving community of weavers and farmers had grown up, and it is to one of these groups that Whitefield probably owes its present day name. The weavers, Flemish in origin, settled in the district in 1496 and probably spread their fabrics in the fields so that the sun's rays could bleach them - hence the name Whitefield. The other, and equally likely theory is that the area was once well cultivated agricultural country with many acres of excellent "wheatfields" (or it may be derived from a field of white flowers, hence the name Lily Hill Street).

The Hearth Tax returns for 1666 state that Whitefield had 135 hearths, Outwood 70, and Unsworth 40. It must be remembered that at that time Whitefield included Stand Lane as far as Radcliffe Bridge.

In 1689, under the will of Henry Siddall, a tailor of Whitefield, 4 acres of land were bought for a school, "to teach little boys to read English". This became Stand Grammar School which was finally abolished by Bury Metropolitan Council in 1972. In 1693, a lease was obtained from the Trustees of Stand Grammar School and a chapel built on land now occupied by the Unitarian Chapel. Until he was ten years old, Lord Clive of Plassey was educated at Stand Grammar School. (In 1913, a new Stand Grammar School was built in Church Lane.)

It was not all peace in those years. Dissenters usually supported the Hanoverian monarchy so were a target for the Jacobites. On 21st June 1715 there was a Jacobite riot at Stand. About forty or fifty people broke the windows of the Chapel with stones, pulled down the seats and pews, broke and pulled down the pulpit, the sounding board and the belfry and took away the bell. The bell was later recovered and still hangs in the belfry. Eleven days earlier, on the birthday of the Old Pretender, Tom Syddall had led a Jacobite mob which wrecked Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. This was the first act of the 1715 Rebellion. The doors and windows were smashed in, the pulpit and pews pulled down and everything portable carried away so that only the badly damaged walls remained. After the 1715 Rebellion had been suppressed Tom Sydall was hanged at Manchester and his head impaled on the Market Cross.

In 1776, at Snape Hill died John Taylor, a grandfather of John Edward Taylor founder and first editor of the "Manchester Guardian". John Edward married his cousin, Sophia Russel Scott. One of their nephews was C P Scott, the famous editor of that great newspaper.

The first step towards modern Whitefield was made when Bury Old Road was constructed in 1755. Soon cottages were built on either side of the road, for it was the only road between Manchester and Bury. By 1792 the population of Whitefield was 2,780 though there were only a dozen tenements at Besses o' th' Barn. The hamlet derived its name from an inn with an adjoining barn (which stood on the ground where the Ambulance Station is now), the name of the landlady being Bess. The inn was demolished in the first half of the 20th century.

Thatch Leach Lane in the middle of the nineteenth century was also known as Stone Pale. Originally the Junction Hotel was known as Stone Pale Tavern. It bore that name in the 1780s. Some people believe that it was so-called because it was surround by stone paling fences. It is more probable that it got its name from the district, a name that came from the stone peles or lookout towers built by the Romans. Besses is quite near the old Roman Road and there may have been a pale nearby. The hotel was originally a farmhouse dating from 1580. The farm covered the present Jewish Burial Ground.

Part of the village of old Whitefield was on the road between Whitefield and Bury, nearer to Whitefield than Lily Hill. These cottages were thatched with straw and were occupied by hand-loom weavers and small tradesmen. Probably about the only men of any substance in Whitefield were the farmers. It is certain that the farm labourers would be extremely poor and that, following a bad harvest, many would be starving.

Industry started in Whitefield at Stand Lane. First came the cotton mill in Peel Street built in 1780 by the father of Sir Robert Peel. Luddite Riots in 1812 and after led to machines being wrecked at Pilkington and Radcliffe and in 1816 machinery at Peter Scholes' mill in Stand Lane was destroyed.

In Whitefield, the church and King party lived on one side of the main road and the Reforming Party (or Jacobins) on the other side. The village was thus a political battle ground. In 1819 came the Massacre of Peterloo. Amongst 6,000 Reformers led to St. Peter's Fields, Manchester by Samuel Bamford, the Middleton weaver, were contingents from Park Lane and Lily Hill, Whitefield. When the Reformers set off from Whitefield, the landlord of the Bull's Head on the Reformer's side of the road brought out a barrel of ale for them; but the landlord of the Wheatsheaf on the Church and King side, put up his shutters and would not allow any ale to leave his cellars.

At this time, most of the land in Whitefield was still owned by Lord Derby who rarely, if ever, visited the township, his seat being at Knowsley Hall. Thus the leaders of Whitefield society were merchants, many of whom were dissenters, notably the Philips family. The nearest Church of England parish was at Prestwich, so, as Whitefield was developing, it was decided to build a church at Stand to be named "All Saints". It was built out of the grant of one million pounds made to the Church Commissioners by the State from money paid by Austria as a war indemnity. The site was given by the Earl of Derby, the building being designed by Sir Charles Barry, the architect of the House of Parliament. The building was consecrated in 1826.

Bury New Road was constructed in 1827. It was a turnpike road with a toll bar at Besses o' th' Barn. The toll bar became the centre of life there. It was a huge brick building with a clock tower (a picture could be found in Whitefield library February 2000). One gate was in Higher Lane; the other on Bury New Road.

By 1830, Besses was a thriving community with three mills and ten shops.

Whatever the origin of the name, however, there was a parish of Whitefield in 1829.

By 1850, on the west side of Stand Lane was a series of mills and even a coal mine, the exception being Stand Independent Church. On the east side were several non-conformist chapels.


Then a part of the township of Pilkington, Whitefield became a Local Board of Health District in 1866. Twenty-eight years later (in 1894) the township of Pilkington disappeared under the boundary revision terms of the Local Government Act, and parts of it were added to neighbouring local authorities. The Outwood part of what had been Pilkington was added to Radcliffe, whilst the Unsworth section became a part of Bury. The remainder, still a fairly large area, then became known as Whitefield.

Even after this seemingly "final" re-organisation, further chopping and changing went on, and Whitefield took over a small, unpopulated part of southern end of Radcliffe in 1896. Finally , in 1933, Whitefield was extended to its present size when it took in parts of Outwood (Radcliffe) and Unsworth (Bury) under the Manchester and District, or Lancashire, Review Order. With these operations completed Whitefield almost became in fact, if not in name, the Pilkington Park of earlier times.

Under the Local Government Act of 1972, Whitefield became part of the Metropolitan Borough of Bury.

As one considers early Whitefield, certain points come to mind. It is puzzling that, unlike most Manors, there was no church near the Manor House, Stand Hall; the Hall lying in the Parish of Prestwich.

The Lily Hill area probably developed because of its proximity to the old Roman Road from Manchester to Ribchester, whereas the Four Lane Ends district probably developed because it was a cross-road where the lane from Prestwich to Bury intersected with a lane from Unsworth and another lane to Higher Lane, part of the Roman Road. This lane contained the pinfold where stray cattle were penned because it was convenient for all the nearby hamlets.

Whitefield probably developed by the two hamlets at Four Lane Ends and at Lily Hill extending until they met. Later the hamlets at Four Lane Ends and Besses would meet in a similar way.

When Whitefield Local Board of Health District was carved out of Pillkington in 1866, Stand was a residential area and Stand lane a thriving industrial area. Why, then, was the district named Whitefield and not Stand? All Saints Church built in 1829 was called Stand Church. The probable reason is that the hamlet of Whitefield lay on the main road to Bury and was a much busier area than Stand. Whitefield had more shops, more public houses and was more central for the new township than Stand, which lay on one of the boundaries.

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