History Project

Woodsmoor History Project

Two members of the Group, Sue Bailey and Roger Sim, researched the history of Woodsmoor, gathering peoples’ memories of Woodsmoor and Mirrlees Fields, and produced a book that is now on sale at local shops and libraries.

They heard some fascinating stories about people playing on the Fields as children, there being a narrow gauge railway in a Woodsmoor garden, and about Tom and Patty Garner at New House Farm with their cow, Margaret!

Please phone Sue on 0161 612 5234 for more information.

The Fields before Mirrlees Ownership

The Tithe Map

The tithe map of Bramhall North East of 1842 gives us valuable information on ownership and occupation of what we now know as the MAN Diesel factory site and fields. The section shown below corresponds with the aerial view of the fields as they are now. It can be seen how the original field boundaries still remain clearly visible.

Aerial view of the fields corresponding to the Tithe Map above

Owners and Occupiers of the Fields 1842 - 1908

The majority of the plots on the 1842 tithe map contain a person’s name. These could either have been ‘owners’ or ‘occupiers’. Blocks of text that border the map break down these names into ‘Landowners’ and ‘Occupiers of Small Plots’.

Lady Maria Davenport

In 1842 the majority of the Mirrlees Fields as we know them now were owned by Lady Davenport who evidently leased the land to a number of ‘occupiers’. In 1877 the Davenport estate was sold to The Freeholders Company Ltd, Manchester, a newly formed speculative building company. This brought about the release of agricultural land previously owned by the Davenports for new residential development. However, in 1905 the land known as Rough Field appears to have been leased from the Freeholders Company Ltd. by Sir JE Barlow, who it seems sublet the plot to others, firstly to Davenport Golf Course and then to Mirrlees, Bickerton and Day Co. Ltd.

James Rhodes and Jane Thompson

The two people who leased the greater part of the present day ‘Fields’ from the Davenport Estate were James Rhodes and Jane Thompson. It is possible that James Rhodes lived at New House Farm where there was also a ‘stackyard’, and Jane Thompson in a house on Bramhall Moor Lane which would be located now just over the railway bridge where there is now a hospital car park.

Charles Higginbottom

A ‘Charles Higginbottom’ (or ‘Heginbotham’) also owned a significant number of plots including one containing a building known initially as Bramhall House, later known as Bramhall Manor. It seems that the original building was a farmhouse, and that at some point, this was replaced by the Manor. This Manor is the now empty and boarded up house that we come across as we enter the Man Diesel site from the west end of Barlow’s Lane South. However, it functioned as the Ladies’ Club House, when the Mirrlees Golf Course was still in existence.

Original Uses of the Fields

In the 19th century, the fields were used for agricultural purposes and had different designations, such as ‘meadow’, ‘pasture’ and ‘arable’. Below are the fields for which designations can be found:

Plot 685    Gorsey Field    Pasture
Plot 871    Rough Field    Arable
Plot 698    Great Pasture    Pasture
Plot 836    Pit Field    Arable
Plot 837    Nearer Barley Field    Arable
Plot 838    Nearer Barley Field (part)    Arable

Heather Coutie, in her book first published in 1997 ‘Hazel Grove and Bramhall’ (to be found in the Stockport Central Lending Library), observes: “On the now disused golf course evidence of the butts (raised platforms 2 – 3 metres wide) and reins (channels between the butts) of eighteenth and nineteenth century farming can still be seen.” Pit Field, occupied/farmed by Jane Thompson and designated as ‘arable’ on the tithe maps is the area of Mirrlees Fields closest to the Manchester Buxton railway line and Stepping Hill. Here the butts and reins are very evident if you look at an aerial view (see below). They run at a perpendicular from the railway line, parallel to Bramhall Moor Lane.

Butts and Reins in Pit Field

The layout of the golf course that closed in 1988 is equally apparent from the air with its bunkers and fairways.

There are a considerable number of ponds shown on the original tithe maps of the Mirrlees Fields. None of these are evident now. Perhaps the drainage channels now in use led to their disappearance. But those who know the Fields well are aware that ponds appear and disappear according to the level of rainfall, and local folklore has it that the area has a high water table.

‘Hazel Gove and Bramhall’, Heather Coutie, 1997 Tempus Publishing Ltd, Stroud
Cheshire East Council – e-Mapping Victorian Cheshire http://maps.cheshire.gov.uk/TitheMaps

Mirrlees and the Fields

The Mirrlees Company buys the Fields

From the local 1842 tithe maps Dave Mann has ascertained that the Mirrlees Factory site was principally owned by a Mr James Rhodes (or James Higginbottom ) while the Fields and New House Farm were owned by Lady Maria Davenport. The factory site was occupied by Mr James Rhodes. The Mirrlees Blackstone company which first began diesel engine production in the current site at the beginning of the last century, traced its origins back to a partnership founded in 1840 in Glasgow dedicated to the manufacture of cane sugar machinery. After investigations into the practical possibilities of a new internal combustion engine patented by Dr Rudolf Diesel, an agreement was signed in March 1897 whereby the patentee was granted an exclusive licence for the manufacture and sale of the ‘diesel engine’ in Great Britain. Following this agreement, the first engine was completed in November 1897. It was shortly after this that the diesel engine business of the Company at Glasgow increased so rapidly that a decision was reached to manufacture diesel engines at Hazel Grove, near Stockport in Cheshire. To this end Mr. Charles Day, then Chairman of the Company, came to Cheshire and with the financial assistance of Mr H.N. Bickerton of the National Gas & Oil Engine Company Limited they formed Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day Limited and the construction work culminated in the factory being opened during October, 1908, for the manufacture of diesel engines. The first diesel engine Mirrlees built, Mirrlees No1, still exists and is on display at the Anson Museum, Poynton, which opens to the public at Easter.

Evolution of the Mirrlees Company

1840 P & W McOnie
1848 McOnie and Mirrlees
1858 Mirrlees and Tait
1868 Tait and Watson
1883 Watson, Laidlaw & Company
1885 Mirrlees, Watson & Company
1889 Mirrlees, Watson, Yaryan & Company Limited
1899 Mirrlees Watson Company Limited
1906 Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day Limited
1961 Mirrlees National Limited
1969 Mirrlees Blackstone Limited
1977 Mirrlees Blackstone (Stockport) Limited
1991 Mirrlees Blackstone Limited
1997 GEC ALSTOM Mirrlees Blackstone Ltd
1998 Mirrlees Blackstone Division of ALSTOM Engines Ltd
2000 MAN B&W Diesel AG

Why did Mirrlees Bickerton & Day set up the factory here?

There could have been three reasons and each is outlined below.

Charles Day’s Origins

Charles Day, manager and co-founder of the new company, appears to have been a ‘local boy’. Although born in Staffordshire in 1867, he attended Stockport Grammar School, and then the Manchester Technical School. He remained in the Manchester area for further studies in electrical engineering and industrial chemistry and undertook an apprenticeship in engineering with Emerson Murgatroyd and Co., Stockport, and J and H Andrew and Co., makers of the ‘Stockport’ gas engine. In 1890, he was appointed chief draughtsman at the boiler works of Joseph Adamson and Co., Ltd., Hyde.

He joined the Mirrlees Watson Company, Ltd. in Glasgow in 1902 as general manager. Day was instrumental in helping the company to develop its first working Diesel engine and establishing its Diesel engine department. (Mirrlees Watson had acquired the patents for the early engine from Rudolph Diesel, an engineer based in Augsburg, Germany in 1897. Charles Day went to Augsburg, probably in 1902 or 1903 to gather more information on Diesel engine manufacture. An interesting fact here is that MAN AG, parent company of today’s MAN Group had already started to manufacture Diesel’s engines in 1903 in Augsberg. The name ‘MAN’ originates from Maschinenfabrik Augsburg Nürnberg which translates as Engine Manufacturers Augsburg and Nuremberg) By 1906, the Mirrlees diesel engine business was developing quickly and new manufacturing premises had to be found.

Perhaps it was Charles Day’s desire to return to Stockport that brought about the choice to base the new company, Mirrlees Bickerton and Day, Ltd. in Hazel Grove in 1907. He resigned in 1946, at the age of 79, but continued as a director, and still took an active part in the business until his death in 1949 at the age of 82.

And, perhaps, rather more speculatively, Charles Day, a keen golfer, may have been attracted by the fact that the Davenport Golf Club had already established a golf course on the Fields.

Mr H. N. Bickerton’s Interest

H.N. Bickerton, who owned the National Gas and Oil Company based in Ashton-under-Lyne, had a financial interest in the new company, and his desire to keep an eye on the company’s operations may have influenced the decision to base it in the Manchester area.

The Midland Railway and Bramhall Moor Goods Station

Many local residents are aware that there were railway sidings on the site of what are now known as the Rhino office blocks. The sidings were shown on the 1910 Ordnance Survey map as the “Bramhall Moor Goods Station’ on the ‘New Mills and Heaton Mersey’ railway line which was opened in 1902, providing a southern access route into Manchester from Derbyshire and beyond. The line cut through some of the original field boundaries to the south of the site. By 1946 the Goods Station had been renamed the Bramhall Moor Lane Goods Yard, plans for which reside in the Greater Manchester County Record Office.

This perhaps could have been one of the reasons why Mirrlees Watson Co. Ltd chose the site to expand their manufacturing operation. Having such close access to a railway line must have been attractive, given that road haulage at that time would have been largely confined to horse and cart and the parts required for diesel engines, made of cast iron, would have been of significant size and weight. Equally dispatching the engines to various parts of the UK would have provided a challenge without an easily accessible distribution network. The Midland Railway New Mills and Heaton Mersey railway line, opened in 1902, obviously provided the means to do both.

Greater Manchester County Record Office
LMS - Hazel Grove - Bramhall Moor Lane Goods Yard and Mirrlees factory 1946 – 1950 A/MR1/1/14