Sandwiched in between a gritty housing estate and a gleaming redeveloped seaport is Ordsall Hall. The building is currently a tourist attraction that has survived eight hundred years of turbulent history by adapting to its surroundings. It has been a self-contained community, a family home, a working men’s club, a Clergy Training School and even a job centre.
As the more respectable Grade One listed Tudor Manor House, Ordsall Hall is exhibited as though still owned by the Radclyffe family under whom it enjoyed the most prosperity and development. In about 1510, Sir Alexander” /> Radclyffe rebuilt the Great Hall. The kitchen and service wing including ‘a buttery and a pantry for storing drink and food’ were also restored, with the addition of a brewhouse and stables (Ordsall 6). Under the Radclyffe’s, Ordsall Hall was a self-sufficient estate replete with farm containing hundreds of cattle and sheep, a chapel, a water mill for corn, a saw-mill, and a brick kiln, all surrounded by a moat.
Lady Margaret Radclyffe (1575-1599) ‘was chosen by Queen Elizabeth I as one of her Maids of Honour’, and soon became her favourite (Ordsall 7). Following the deaths of her brothers William and Alexander who fought in Ireland (1598) and Edmund and Thomas of fever in French Flanders (1599), Lady Margaret died heart broken in Richmond Palace as Queen Elizabeth attempted to care for her formerly lively maid. Under the queen’s command, Lady Margaret was buried at the church of St Margaret, Westminister and Ben Jonson wrote an epigram inscribed on a great monument built over her grave:
On Margaret Radcliffe
M arble, weep, for thou dost cover
A dead beauty underneath thee,
R ich as nature could bequeath thee;
G rant, then, no rude hand remove her.
A ll the gazers on the skies
R ead not in fair heaven’s story
E xpresser truth or truer glory
T han they might in her bright eyes.
R are as wonder was her wit,
A nd like nectar ever flowing;
T ill time, strong by her bestowing,
C onquered hath both life and it.
L ife, whose grief was out of fashion
I n these times: few so have rued
F ate, in a brother. To conclude,
F or wit, feature, and true passion,
E arth, thou hast not such another.
The acrostic poem spells Lady Margaret’s surname as Ratcliffe in order to praise her loving kindly nature. Jonson writes that her grief for ‘a brother’, maybe an allusion to her twin Alexander, ‘was out of fashion’ indicating that Lady Margaret’s altruistic nature was uncommon in the Elizabethan court. Her ghost named The White Lady is said to haunt the Manor House, and can even be seen on ghostcam!
A less tragic but mythical part of Ordsall Hall’s history is its connection to Guy Fawkes started by the Mancunian historical novelist William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882). He wrote Guy Fawkes; or, The Gunpowder Treason (1841). Fawkes and his accomplice Robert Catesby visit Ordsall Hall in order to gain support from the surreptitiously Catholic Radclyffe family for their plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The myth adds intrigue to Ordsall Hall’s history, enough to have its neighbouring street named after the infamous Catholic conspirator.
A fun monthly event that runs every first Sunday is Tudor Live! in which the staff volunteers dress up as members of the Radclyffe household, and pose for photographs. In fact, Ordsall Hall has numerous workshops each month where visitors can learn how to crotchet, stitch draw and make Christmas wreaths whilst gaining knowledge about the Tudor period. Also, if you become thirsty or peckish during your visit then there is a cafe that provides excellent refreshments. Furthermore, don’t forget to visit the obligatory gift shop where you can purchase the excellent guide book and an assortment of informative Tudor goodies.
Ordsall Hall makes a great family day out and educational experience, which you will repeatedly return to because there is so much to learn. However, I advise that you do so soon, in case it is turned into a McDonalds.
Details of opening times and how to find Ordsall Hall are here.
Jonson, Ben. ‘On Margaret Radcliffe’. 1616. The Oxford Authors: Ben Jonson. Ed. Ian Donaldson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.
Ordsall Hall Guidebook, designed by Creative Lynx.