Thursday 22 August 2013

(65) Ainsworth of Smithills Hall and Moss Bank

Ainsworth of Smithills
Peter Ainsworth (1713-80) set up a bleaching business at Halliwell near Bolton in 1739 and after inheriting a large legacy from the lexicographer, Robert Ainsworth of Stepney in 1743 he settled at Lightbounds House near the works.  His son, Peter Ainsworth (1736-1807) successfully developed chemical bleaching technology which made the company far more efficient and profitable.  In 1786-90 he built Moss Bank House near the bleachworks and created a parkland setting for the new mansion, but he continued to live at Lightbounds and installed his son, Richard Ainsworth (1762-1833) in the new house.  Richard seems to have enlarged the house as the profits of the bleaching business accumulated.  In 1801 he bought the adjacent Smithills Hall estate, which included a large tract of moorland stretching up to Winter Hill from which the water for his bleachworks was derived.  Securing this, rather than the ancient mansion, was probably the motivation for his purchase.  In 1814 he also bought Halliwell Hall near the works, making him the owner of three large houses.  When he died in 1833, however, his eldest son, Peter Ainsworth (1790-1870) withdrew from the bleaching business and devoted himself to politics, becoming MP for Bolton 1834-47 and settling as a gentleman at Smithills Hall, where he remodelled the west wing as a picturesque but comfortable house.  It was left to his younger brother, John Horrocks Ainsworth (1800-65) to continue the business and to occupy Moss Bank House, which was again extended in 1852-54, when the surviving aviary and observation tower were built in the grounds.

Peter Ainsworth of Smithills Hall died in 1870 without issue, and the estate passed to John’s son, Col. Richard Henry Ainsworth (1839-1926), who had already inherited Moss Bank and the bleachworks.  He chose to live at Smithills and employed George Devey to restore and remodel the rest of the house in 1874-78 and 1882-84.  Moss Bank House was abandoned by the family after 1870 and either let (William Hargreaves of Hick Hargeaves was the tenant at one time) or used to house old retainers of the family.  In 1900 Col. Ainsworth sold the bleaching business and moved to Winwick Warren (Northants), a much smaller house which he seems to have bought about 1880.  Thereafter Smithills Hall seems to have been used only occasionally, and when Col. Ainsworth died without issue in 1926 it passed to his sister’s grandson, John Francis Combe (1917-2005) on condition that his father, Nigel Victor Combe (1873-1951) and the whole family took the name Ainsworth.  This they agreed to do, and Nigel Ainsworth acted as trustee for his son and ran the estate until 1938, but never moved from his home in Sussex to Smithills.  The hall was repaired and the fabric of the house restored at this time.  Negotiations had been in progress since 1915 for the sale of Moss Bank Park to Bolton Corporation as a public park and this was completed in 1926; the house was demolished in 1951.  Smithills Hall and the whole estate was also sold to the Corporation in 1938, for £70,000.  Part of the house was initially used as old people’s accommodation and later as a daycare centre, but from 1963 it was opened to the public as a museum.

Moss Bank House, Bolton, Lancashire
Moss Bank House, from an old photograph

A large classical house built in 1786-90 and enlarged several times in the 19th century; grounds became public park in 1926; house demolished 1951.

Descent: Peter Ainsworth (1737-1807); to son, Richard Ainsworth (1762-1833); to son, John Horrocks Ainsworth (1800-65); to son, Col. Richard Henry Ainsworth (1839-1926); to great-nephew, John Francis Combe (later Ainsworth) (1917-2005), who sold 1926 to Bolton Corporation.

Smithills Hall, Bolton, Lancashire
Smithills Hall: a naive painting of the house c.1820, showing it as it was when acquired by the Ainsworth family. 
Image: Bolton Museums

Smithills Hall is a large and picturesque country house of stone and timber-framing on the moorland edge north of Bolton, consisting of three ranges surrounding a courtyard open on the south side, and a large 19th century west wing. William Radcliffe obtained the manor in 1335 and the nucleus of the present house appears to date from the mid 14th century: the hall with its screens passage at the west end, buttery and pantry in line, and a kitchen (originally detached) slightly further west. The solar was in an unusual position over the buttery and pantry and it is not now clear how it was originally accessed. A new family cross-wing was added east of the hall rather later, perhaps in the early 15th century. In 1485 the estate passed by marriage to John Barton (d. 1517).

Smithills Hall: view of the courtyard c.1890. Image: English Heritage

Either John Barton or his son, Andrew Barton (d. 1549) was responsible for adding the east and west wings to the hall range. The east range with its large square bay is nearly detached from the rest of the house, and has an external timber stair at the junction with the hall range, from which spring corridors along the courtyard side on both floors of the east range, as at Speke Hall. The stone chapel at the south end of the range was built c.1580-90, although its west end was rebuilt after a fire in 1856. In the early 16th century a west range was built south from the kitchen. This had two-storey corridors matching those of the east wing, but they were open, like those of an inn. Early 19th century sketches are said to show a gate arch at the south end of the west wing, but it is not certain whether the court was ever closed by a south range.

The house descended in the Barton family until 1659, when on the death of Sir Thomas Barton (c.1582-1659), kt., the estate passed to his grandson, Thomas Belasyse (d. 1700), 2nd Viscount and 1st Earl Fauconberg, whose younger brother, Sir Rowland Belasyse (d. 1699) occupied the house. In the 1720s the 4th Viscount sold Smithills to the Byrom family, and in 1801, after the death of Edward Byrom, the estate was sold to Richard Ainsworth (1762-1833), who was probably initially concerned as much to protect the water rights for his nearby bleaching works as to acquire the old house. However, by 1850 they had made the west wing into a fashionable residence, although beyond the hall the east range was falling into decay. Col. Richard Henry Ainsworth (1839-1926) inherited in 1870 and engaged George Devey in 1874-78 and again in 1882-84 to remodel and extend the west wing. It is this, with its gaily unconvincing black-and-white work, that makes the strongest initial impact.

Smithills Hall: west range by George Devey, 1874-84. 

Smithills Hall: the hall and screens passage are amongst the earliest parts of the house.  Image: Halliwell LHS

The house and estate, stretching NW right up to Winter Hill, were sold to Bolton CBC in 1938 and have been open to the public since 1963. Inside, the massively timbered 14th century hall is an impressive room, although the floor levels have built up so that the plinths are buried and the doors dwarfed. The roof with its three tiers of quatrefoil braces sits on the original eaves and retains its steep pitch; outside the walls have been raised and support a later shallower-pitched roof along the original one. There are the usual three service doors to kitchen, buttery and pantry, plus a fourth which probably led (as at Chorley Old Hall in Cheshire) to the solar.

Smithills Hall: ground plan excluding the 19th century west wing from Victoria County History, 1911

Smithills Hall: Withdrawing Room. Image: Michael D. Beckwith.

The semi-detached 16th century east range is connected awkwardly to the rest of the house by the porch-cum-stair-tower. The ground floor withdrawing room, with its finely moulded ceiling joists, is fully panelled with complicated linenfold and some decorative panels. At the south end of the range is the chapel, remodelled after a fire in 1856, when the original vestry was made into a transept with a family pew above; the east window has a remarkable display of mid 16th century heraldic stained glass. There are two good Ainsworth monuments, to Richard (d. 1833) and Peter (d. 1870). 

Smithills Hall: Col. Ainsworth's Room

In the west range the former existence of a detached kitchen has imprinted itself on the structures that grew up around it and its crooked orientation has affected the whole range. The main rooms looking onto the courtyard are the Col. Ainsworth's Room and Mrs. Ainsworth's Drawing Room, both essentially 16th century in fabric and Devey in decoration, but with narrow pointed Gothick doorways that are presumably early 19th century. 

Smithills Hall: the library

The Library is a dark and rich late 19th century room, with pieced-together panelling and carving. Next door to that is the teashop, formerly the Oak Dining Room, built by Peter Ainsworth and made the same size and shape as the Withdrawing Room in the east wing so that the panelling from that room could be moved here; it was only returned to its original location after Bolton Council bought the house in 1938. The main stair is wide and oaken, but has a fireplace in the Chinese taste halfway up, set underneath a window. The billiard room lies at the extreme west end of the house, and is fully panelled with a pendant ceiling and a giant inglenook. A good deal of the warren-like upper floor is disused. The stone and half-timbered stables are a picturesque building by George Devey, 1874-78.

Descent: Sir Ralph Radcliffe (d. c.1460); to nephew, Ralph Radcliffe; to daughter, Cecily, wife of John Barton of Holme nr Newark, who settled the estate in 1514 on his son Andrew Barton (d. 1549); to son, Robert Barton (c.1525-80); to brother, Ralph Barton (d. 1592); to son, Randle Barton; by 1620 to son Sir Thomas Barton; to daughter Grace, wife of Hon. Henry Belasyse (d. 1647); to younger son, Sir Rowland Belasyse (1632-99); to son, Thomas Belasyse, 3rd Viscount Fauconberg (d. 1718); to son, Thomas Belasyse, 4th Viscount Fauconberg (1699-1774), who sold 1722/3 to Joseph Byrom of Manchester (1659-1733); to son, Edward Byrom (1702-60); ?to cousin, John Byrom (1692-1763); to ?son, Edward Byrom; sold after his death 1801 to Richard Ainsworth (1762-1833); to son, Peter Ainsworth (1790-1870); to nephew, Col. Richard Henry Ainsworth (1839-1926); to nephew, Nigel Victor Combe (later Ainsworth) (1873-1951), who sold 1938 to Bolton Corporation.

The Ainsworth family of Smithills Hall and Moss Bank

Ainsworth, Peter (1713-80) of Lightbounds House.  Son of Peter Ainsworth of The Holcroft, Bolton (Lancs), bleacher, and his wife Mary (née Hilton); born 1713 and baptised at St Peter Bolton, 12 January 1715.  Apprenticed to his father at an early age; he established Halliwell bleach works near Bolton in 1739.  In 1743 he inherited a large legacy from his cousin, the lexicographer Robert Ainsworth of Stepney (Middx), and bought Lightbounds House near the bleachworks. He married c.1735 Alice Galland (1712-87) and had issue, with one further son who died in infancy (NB Some of the information provided below about this couple's children is taken from plausible but unverified Internet sources and may be unreliable):
(1) Peter Ainsworth (1736-1807) (q.v.); 
(2) Ann Ainsworth (1738-89), baptised at Bolton, 5 August 1739; married, 29 November 1768, John Cort (d. 1791) and had issue three sons and one daughter; 
(3) Mary Ainsworth (1740-43); baptised at Deane, 31 January 1742; reputedly drowned aged 3 when she fell into the Holy Well in Moss Bank Park (which was subsequently filled in);
(4) Richard Ainsworth (b. 1743), baptised at Deane, 13 October 1743; married 1765, Betty Morris and had issue three sons and three daughters; 
(5) Robert Ainsworth (1743-51); died aged 8;
(6) John Ainsworth (b. 1746), m. 1768 in Manchester Cathedral, Betty Nield; 
(7) James Ainsworth (b. 1748), baptised 16 December 1748; m.1, 18 June 1771, Betty Mason dsp; m.2, Molly Green and had issue one son; m.3, Molly Burgess and had issue one son; m.4, 4 March 1780, Betty Nuttall and had issue two sons and two daughters; 
(8) Alice Ainsworth (b. 1754), baptised 20 February 1754; m.1, 1774, Charles Charlton and had issue three sons and one daughter; m.2. 1783. Thomas Parkinson and had issue one daughter; m.3, 7 March 1790, Thomas Cocksey and had issue one son and one daughter; 
(9) Jenny Ainsworth (b. 1756), baptised 9 May 1756; m. Thomas Hanby and had issue two sons and three daughters; 
(10) Thomas Ainsworth (b. 1758), born 14 December 1758 and baptised 12 January 1780; married, 16 January 1782, Betty (1751-1828), daughter of Rev. James Wraith of Bolton Independent Chapel, and had issue seven sons and seven daughters.
He lived at The Moss, Bolton (Lancs).
He died 12 April 1780; buried in family vault on the south side of Bolton parish church, but reinterred at Tonge Cemetery in 1902.

Peter Ainsworth (1737-1807)
Ainsworth, Peter (1736-1807), of Moss Bank House.  Eldest son of Peter Ainsworth (1713-80) and his wife Alice Galland, born 1736.  Worked in the family bleaching business, and pioneered chemical bleaching technology which greatly increased the efficiency and profitability of the Halliwell bleachworks, reducing the time taken to bleach cloth from three weeks to one hour.  Known as "the opulent bleacher" because of the financial success which this commercial advantage brought him; for another portrait of him, see here.  He married, 17 July 1761, Alice Aspinall of Carrington (Cheshire) and had issue: 
(1) Richard Ainsworth (1762-1833) (q.v.).
He built Moss Bank House in 1786-90.
He died in 1807.

Ainsworth, Richard (1762-1833), of Moss Bank House and Smithills Hall.  Only son of Peter Ainsworth (1736-1807) and his wife Alice Aspinall, born 1762.  Chemical bleacher; inherited the Halliwell bleach works from his father in 1807.  He married, 20 November 1788, Sarah, daughter of James Noble of Lancaster and had issue: 
(1) Peter Ainsworth (1790-1870) (q.v.); 
(2) Sarah Ainsworth (c.1796-1861), married, 14 August 1818, The Hon. Henry Arthur Annesley (1792-1818), younger son of 1st Earl of Mountnorris but had no issue (he died six days after their marriage); lived in Westminster; died 23 March 1861; will proved 11 June 1861 (estate under £25,000);
(3) Alice Ainsworth (c.1797-1859); lived with her elder sister in Westminster; died unmarried, 20 October 1859; will proved 17 January 1860 and further administration, 29 April 1872 (estate under £16,000);
(4) John Horrocks Ainsworth (1800-65) (q.v.); 
(5) Hannah Ainsworth (1802-83), baptised 22 May 1802; m. 1834 Edward Webster of Lincolns Inn and had issue a daughter; died 9 October 1883; grant of administration of effects, 1 May 1884 (estate £8,065).
He inherited Moss Bank House, Bolton (Lancs) from his father in 1807 and bought Smithills Hall nearby in 1801.
He died 11 April 1833.

Ainsworth, Peter (1790-1870), of Smithills Hall.  Elder son of Richard Ainsworth (1762-1833) and his wife Sarah, daughter of James Noble of Lancaster, born 24 November 1790.  He joined his father's business at the Halliwell bleachworks at an early age and inherited a share of the company from his father in 1833, but immediately gave up active involvement in the business for the life of a country gentleman; JP; DL; MP for Bolton 1834-47.  He married, 15 August 1815, Elizabeth (c.1793-1867?), daughter and co-heir of Ashton Byrom of Fairview, Liverpool, but died without issue.
He inherited Smithills Hall, Bolton (Lancs) from his father in 1833.
He died 18 January 1870, aged 79.  His will was proved 24 May 1870 (estate under £50,000).

Ainsworth, John Horrocks (1800-65) of Moss Bank House.  Younger son of Richard Ainsworth (1762-1833) and his wife Sarah, daughter of James Noble of Lancaster, born 1800.  Educated at Bolton and Rugby Schools.  He inherited a share of the Halliwell bleachworks from his father in 1833 and took on full responsibility for the management of the business when his elder brother withdrew from active involvement the same year.  He married 1833 Elizabeth (d. 1870), daughter of John Shaw of London and had issue: 
(1) Gertrude Sophia Ainsworth (1837-92); baptised 13 April 1837; married, 1878 Hector Graham Browne, son of William and Lady Letitia Browne of Browne's Hill (Carlow); died without issue, 7 December 1892; will proved 24 December 1892 (estate £2,222);
(2) Col. Richard Henry Ainsworth (1839-1926) (q.v.); 
(3) Emily Alice Ainsworth (1841-1925), baptised 19 May 1841; m. 1863 Capt. Russell England (c.1834-1924), 4th Hussars and had issue; died 26 December 1925; will proved 27 May 1926 (estate £2,002);
(4) Louisa Sarah Ainsworth (1842-97), baptised 22 September 1842; married, 24 October 1866, Dr Matthew Combe MD (c.1825-89) and had issue a son, Nigel Victor Combe (later Ainsworth) (q.v.); died 15 November 1897; will proved 10 December 1897 (estate £5,140);
(5) Florence Mary Ainsworth (b. 1844), baptised 15 August 1844; married Signor Campodonia.
He inherited Moss Bank House, Bolton (Lancs) from his father in 1833.
He died 1 April 1865; no will has been found for him. His widow died 16 April 1870; her will was proved 25 August 1870 (effects under £4,000).

Ainsworth, Col. Richard Henry (1839-1926), of Smithills Hall.  Only son of John Horrocks Ainsworth (1800-65) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Shaw of London, born 14 January and baptised 11 February 1839.  Educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1857).  He inherited the Halliwell bleachworks from his father in 1865 but sold the business in 1900; Col. of the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry; High Sheriff of Northamptonshire 1882.  He married, 22 April 1866, Isabella Margaret (d. 1925), daughter of Rev. John James Vaughan, rector of Gotham (Notts) but died without issue.
He inherited Moss Bank House, Bolton (Lancs) from his father in 1865 and Smithills Hall, Bolton from his uncle in 1870.  He bought Winwick Warren (Northants) c.1880, and thereafter spent an increasing proportion of his time in Northamptonshire.
He died 23 June 1926 and was buried at St Peter Halliwell, 26 June 1926; his will was proved 5 November 1926 (estate £334,741).

Ainsworth (né Combe), Nigel Victor (1873-1951).  Son of Dr Matthew Combe MD (c.1825-89) and his wife Louisa Sarah, daughter of John Horrocks Ainsworth, born 12 January 1873. Educated at Charterhouse and Trinity College, Cambridge (admitted 1891); JP Sussex 1914; MBE 1920; Hon. Sec. of West Sussex Soldiers and Sailors Families' Assoc in WW1. He changed his name to Ainsworth by royal licence in 1927.  He married, 1903, Margaret Hornby (1876-1958), daughter of Ven. J.R. Walker, archdeacon of Chichester and had issue: 
(1) Freda Margaret Combe (1905-93), born 16 November 1905; married, 8 April 1931, Maj. Frederick Yelverton Goring (1893-1938) and had issue two sons; died 6 February 1993; will proved 22 March 1993 (estate £94,813);
(2) Richard Nigel Combe (1910-15); died young;
(3) Maj. John Francis Combe (later Ainsworth) (1917-2005), born 19 March 1917; an officer in the army (Maj.); inherited Smithills Hall and Moss Bank House from his great-uncle, Col. Ainsworth, in 1926 but sold them to Bolton Corporation in 1938 and 1926 respectively and lived latterly at Chichester (Sussex); died unmarried, 9 March 2005; will proved 19 July 2005.
When his son inherited Smithills Hall, Bolton (Lancs) and Moss Bank House, Bolton from his great-uncle in 1926 Nigel acted as Trustee.  Moss Bank was sold later that year and Smithills in 1938, both to Bolton Corporation.  He lived latterly at Woolbeding Glebe, Sussex.
He died 14 March 1951, and his will was proved 26 July 1951 (estate £15,025). His widow died 14 February 1958; her will was proved 22 April 1958 (estate £2,893).

Burke's Landed Gentry, successive editions; J.M. Robinson, A guide to the country houses of the North-West, 1991, pp. 238-39; Hartwell, Hyde & Pevsner, The buildings of England: Lancashire - Manchester and the south-east, 2004, pp. 169-72;

Location of archives
Ainsworth family of Smithills Hall and Moss Bank: deeds, estate and family papers, 1620-1967 (Bolton Archives ZAH, ZRU)

Revision and acknowledgements
This post was first published 22 August 2013 and was updated 20-23 July 2020, 20 May 2021 and 26 January 2023. I am grateful to Billy Pilgrim for a correction.


  1. Thank you for this fascinating blog which I have just come across while searching for information on the Ainsworth family. I am a direct descendant on my maternal side of an either Mary or Mary Anne Ainsworth who married Edwin Fernee.

    From what I have read Ainsworth is not a common name so do you have any information on whether or not this great great grandmother (I think it's two 'greats'!) of mine was related to the family you write about here?

    Thank you for anything you can tell me.

  2. Sorry, a small correction. She was my great great great grandmother on my mother's maternal side of the family.

    1. I cannot see a connection. The Ainsworth name is mainly found in the Lancashire/Cumbria area where the families I have written about come from. It is possible they were distantly related but far from certain as the name appears to derive from the village of Ainsworth near Bolton (Lancs). Curiously, the only Edwin Fernee I can find on Ancestry at the right sort of date was born in Highgate (Middx) in 1806 but married Eliza Foden at Islington (Middx) in 1829. Sorry not to be more help.

  3. Thank you so much for your kind reply and research. Actually I made mistakes in my first comment here. Edwin Fernee and Eliza Foden are indeed my ancestors and Mary Ainsworth was the mother of Edwin Fernee.

    She was born in 1781 in Cheshire and married Joseph Fernee (born I 1777) at Macclesfield in 1799. I am sorry for the initial confusion. Regardless of whether she has any connection with the prominent Ainsworth families, it is wonderful to read your research.

    Thank you!

  4. Tonge Cemetery not Tongue Cemetery.

  5. Elizabeth Ainsworth died 16 April 1870 at Smithills. Source London Daily News 25 April 1870.

    1. Thank you for this correction, which I have incorporated above.


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.