The Manor of Alkrington was first documented at the end of the 12th Century when it was owned by Adam de Prestwich. It later passed by marriage to the family of Cardinal Thomas Langley, three times Lord Chancellor of England. The Lever family of Bolton purchased the Manor and its hall in 1627.
Sir Darcy Lever acquired further family wealth and went on to serve as High Sheriff of Lancashire. He appointed Giacomo Leoni, a famous Italian architect to rebuild Alkrington Hall in 1735. It is the oldest surviving Palladian style house in Lancashire and is grade II* listed by Historic England. Darcy’s’ son, Sir Ashton Lever extended the wings of the Hall in 1771 to house what was one of the first Natural History Museums in the world. At one stage, he had 4,000 live birds in a sanctuary. The museum was so popular he had to ban ‘working classes’ from visiting without a note from their Master!
The estate was developed by the Lever family to support 13 tenant farms, a water mill, 5 cottages and several coal pits. Its boundaries were formed by water courses; the River Irk in the west and Wince and Boardman Brooks in the north and south and comprised of 790 Acres of land. During 1804, Manchester New Road was built through the estate to service the growing cotton town of Middleton and still bisects the Garden Village.
By the 1820’s, the River Irk had more mill seats and textile factories than any other waterway in the world. Salis Schwabe developed a huge Calico print works at Rhodes. With over 1,000 employees and 14 steam boilers, it had a huge requirement for water so the lodges were built. Tonge Dye works was located on the river at the bottom of Manchester new Road. It was demolished in the 1980’s and the land reclaimed into park and woodland.
Feeding directly into the River Irwell at Manchester, the Irk was driving the Industrial Revolution and was described by Fredrick Engels as “a narrow coal black foul smelling stream full of debris and refuse” . Gladly its condition is now much improved! The Lever family sold the estate to the Lees brothers of Oldham in 1834.
At the start of the 20th century, a co-operative was formed with Middleton Corporation and the Lees Family Trustees to develop the Alkrington farmland into a housing suburb for the growing population of Manchester. The Garden City Association designed the layout insisting that “every dwelling should have ample light and air, with a suitable garden and that public recreation ground and open space should be provided generously” The development was to be limited to 12 houses per acre and farms and greenbelt were to remain on the perimeter of the village.
After lying empty for some time, the Hall was refurbished into private apartments in the 1990’s. The factories along the Irk are now long gone with the land regenerated into the Alkrington Woods local nature reserve of over 120 Acres. The Wince Brook reserve is another fine recreational area, located on the northern border.