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The building is probably the second oldest one in Didsbury after St James' Church. It may have been built, at least in part, around 1650 ‘for the use of the minister’.
Below we have compiled a list of the Parsonage's previous inhabitants. In 1864 Fletcher Moss, then aged 22, moved in with his parents, subsequently buying the house in 1885. He died in 1919 after an active life of public service, and had become well-known for his writings on local history.
Alderman Moss bequeathed the house and gardens to the City of Manchester on his death in 1919 because he wanted the house and its contents to remain, as far as possible, intact “to show what a comfortable house of the olden times was like”. Unfortunately, the house became difficult to maintain and in 1922 many features, including stained glass and fireplaces were removed.
In due course the house became an art gallery exhibiting several Turner paintings and several prestigIous exhibitions (including etchings by Goya). The emphasis of the displays was on items made in or associated with Manchester. In the 1980s, the City of Manchester closed the gallery as an economic measure.
In the gardens can be seen the graves of several of Fletcher Moss’s dogs, under the yew tree in the shrubbery fronting the house. The gardens are well tended y the Friends of the Fletcher Moss - please visit their website here
The Parsonage stands in the St James Conservation Area and is itself a Grade 2 Listed Building. It is believed to be the oldest building in Didsbury after St James’ Church. The first record of the house was just after 1646 when it was the home of Thomas Walker and was called Ash House. A document drawn up that year shows that it was to be the home of the minister.
Prior to 1761 it was owned by the Tatton family, again as a home, and John Davenport also lived there as did William Hesketh, presumably not all at the same time. Between 1761 and 1795 it was lived in by the Bamford family and then in 1795 Sam Bethell lived there until 1804 when Miss Twyford is shown as the occupier. Miss Twyford was the landlady at The Cock until 1824 and lived at the Parsonage until 1829.
In 1832 a grocer (sometimes referred to as a curate as well), Sam Newell and his wife, lived in the house and the name was changed to Spring Bank. It was Sam Newell who added the two wings at either end of the house. Sam Newell let the house to Rev W J Kidd. Mr Kidd stayed there for ten years but left because the servants said the house was haunted by the ghost of Mrs Newell, and would not stay. Several people lived in the house at different times, but never stayed for very long. One curate moved out because he was bothered by ghosts.
Fletcher Moss left the property to the people of Didsbury and Manchester and from 1919 to the late 1980’s, Manchester City Council used the house as an Art Gallery and Museum. Much of the collection left by Fletcher Moss, was left in the building and was on view to the public. Three paintings by Turner were displayed here, as well as a painting by Augustus John. After the building was closed as an Art Gallery it became offices for the City Council.
The above is not a complete record of all the owners of the property and is probably not completely accurate as every history tells a different story. The only definite points are its existence in 1646 and that Fletcher Moss’s family moved there in 1865 - although some books say 1864.
It is believed that at one time the house was connected to the Cock Inn and this is shown on a map dated 1851. Fletcher Moss discovered that various inns and hostelries were supported by church funds (not just St James’ Church but generally). Fletcher Moss wrote that “Over the stables of the Cock Inn and extending into this house, is a large upper room called The Wakes Room, but why the inn and parsonage should overlap and have bricked up doorways, I the owner, never could understand” (1906). By 1893, the buildings are separated although the outbuildings are shared. The higher rooms at both ends and the porch and tent roof were added between 1830 and 1832 by Sam Newall (Moss 1906).
The large red room at the West end of the building is 19th century, as is the room next to it. The rooms above were also added then. Most of the oak panelling, staircase and beams were added by Fletcher moss,The toilets now on the ground floor next to the kitchen were not there in the 19th century.
Fletcher Moss thought that beneath the stucco (render) there was a black and white timber building (subsequently we have discovered that this is not the case). He did consider restoring it but decided that the extensions would not fit in if he did.
There was a lodge at the Stenner Lane gate facing the church and a row of weavers’ cottages ran along Stenner Lane from the Lodge. The weavers’ cottages were demolished in the 1950’s. The mill stone is not from this site but comes from Didsbury Mill which was in East Didsbury.
Fletcher Moss travelled around the country extensively and wrote many books about the great houses and the local history of the area. He was also an avid collector and the milestone in the garden was sited at Parrs Wood toll.
Previous Inhabitants of the Old Parsonage in Didsbury