The Lordship of the Manor of Sharples

Sharples, meaning ‘steep hills,’ first recorded in the 13th century, was the largest township in the parish of Bolton, stretching six miles long, comprising some 4,000 acres and the name came from the escarpment of moors alongside the road towards the north through Belmont. The adjacent manor of Smithills, meaning ‘smooth hills,’ is situated on gentle sloping moor land within the township of Halliwell, whose eastern boundary adjoined Sharples. These civil boundaries would have been delineated following the creation of the separate parish of Deane in 1541; previous boundaries related to complex manorial tenure within the vast medieval ecclesiastical parish of Bolton.

In the Middle Ages the manor of Sharples was part of the Barony of Manchester, which belonged to the Grelleys from 1086 until 1308. The County of Lancashire was established in 1182 and from 1187 the Grelleys provided twelve knights for the defence of Lancaster Castle. The barony passed by marriage to the de la Warres, subsequently to the Wests and then was sold in 1580 for £3,000. The City of Manchester purchased the manorial rights in 1894 for £200,000. Manchester’s coat of arms is based on the Grelleys’ red shield bearing three enhanced gold bendlets.

The family that held Sharples did so as wards i.e. vassals of their overlords, the Barons of Manchester. Hence they curiously called themselves ‘Ward alias Sharples’ or vice versa, ‘Sharples alias Ward’ and as such entered their pedigrees and arms at the Heralds’ Visitations of Lancashire of 1567 and 1664/5. Yet Randle de Sharples was

styled in Latin dominus i..e. Lord when he attested a Great Lever charter c. 1250. They inter-married mainly with local families of standing e.g Bolton of Little Bolton, de Hulton of Halliwell, Urmston of Lostock, Brownlowe of Hall-i’-th’-Wood and Heaton of Heaton. In the 16th Century, Agnes Sharples married William Sweetlove, hence the romantic name of Sweetloves Lane. The last of the male line, John Sharples, died in 1736, leaving two daughters, Anne, wife of Roger Brandwood of Wayoh and Mary, wife of the Reverend Samuel Lawson.

The manor was then partitioned and the Lawsons owned Sharples Hall until Dr John Sharples Lawson died in 1816. The public house at the junction of Belmont and Blackburn Roads was called ‘The Lawson Arms’ but the three black heraldic swallows of the Lawson coat of arms on the inn sign were mistaken by its clientele and it became re­named ‘The Three Pigeons.’

The Hall was then purchased for £6,250 by the Rothwell descendants of Mary daughter of Roger and Anne Brandwood who had married in 1763 the Reverend Richard Rothwell, son of the Reverend James Rothwell, 1713-66, Vicar of Deane who married Sarah Rainshaw. The last descendant to own and live in Sharples Hall was Richard Rainshaw Rothwell 1809-90 who was born there. He was a wealthy barrister, a Justice of the Peace and governor of Bolton School, who died childless at his London home in Regent’s Park, when seven centuries of tenure of the manor by Sharples blood ended. His personal estate i.e. not including property was valued at £74,780. For generous gifts to charities he was created, first in 1860, a count by the King of Sardinia, Victor Emanuel II and subsequently, a marquess in 1861 by His Serene Highness Charles III, Sovereign Prince of Monaco. Descendants of Ralph the younger brother of the Marquess de Rothwell today live in Dorset and Devon. These Rothwells descend from Ralph Rothwell, husbandman of Great Lever, younger brother of the writer’s ancestor, William Rothwell 1574-1623, whose father was Adam Rothwell of Bolton.

In 1863 a description of Sharples Hall stated ”The original edifice is, as far as can be ascertained, full three hundred years old; it was formerly a plain building but has been rendered, by considerable expenditure, a superior mansion, surrounded by plantations and pleasure grounds.’ The original Sharples Hall was adjacent to the later cotton-mill built by Sir John Holden, 1st Baronet, 1862-1926, the first in Bolton powered by electricity; only traces of the hall’s foundations can been seen today. The present day Sharples Hall at Eagley was the home of his widow Lady Holden until she died in 1946 and the family also lived at Hill Cot. Anthony Holden, the distinguished author, journalist and broadcaster, is a descendant.

The first known account concerning the famed gilt spurs was recorded in 1818 in Thomas Whitaker’s third edition of his History of Whalley viz ‘But Smethells (sic) is dependent on the superior manor of Sharples, the lord of which claims from the owner of this place a pair of gilt spurs annually, and by a similar and inconvenient custom, the unlimited use of the cellar at Smethells for a week in every year.’ It does not appear, however, that the lord of Smethells was bound to the quantity or quality of the liquor with which his cellars were then to be stored. Local historians state that the last time the spurs were rendered was in 1686 when Sir Rowland Belasyse, who was a Roman Catholic and owned Smithills. John Sharples, the last of the male line was born in 1680, son of Roger, whose father Alexander died in 1677. Alexander was also a Roman Catholic who was in trouble with the Bishop of Chester in 1671. In 1749 the owner of Sharples Hall, John Lawson, had a chief rent of six shillings and nine pence issuing from Smithills Hall, then owned by Edward Byrom 1702-60.

The first national census of 1801 recorded the population of the whole of Sharples as 873; the 1901 census recorded the population as 8,811 of whom 837 lived in the northern Belmont area and the much greater residue in the south in Astley Bridge.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life, happily growing up in Sharples, enjoying a blissful boyhood there and attending Bank Top Primary School. The magnificent view from my bedroom in Hill Cot Road was over the fields towards moors above Sharples Hall and I used to play on the site of the original hall near Holdens’ cotton-mill. Both my parents, Albert Howe and Dora, nee Breaks, came from Astley Bridge. Every week I used to visit my paternal grandparents who lived in Everitt Street and my maternal grandparents who lived in Windermere Street, on opposite sides of ‘The Tramways’. Rather than the Lordship of the Manor of Sharples should be bought by anyone without any genuine connection with the township, I resolved to purchase the same. Mindful of my good fortune in receiving a free education at Bolton School and Cambridge University, I intend to bequeath the Lordship to the Council, to hold in perpetuity for the people of Bolton.

By Malcolm Howe