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The Fentons and Crimble Hall, the rise and fall of a Rochdale dynasty

The story of the people who built Crimble Hall, The Fentons is a fascinating story of industrial and commercial power that ultimately fell while an offspring would become a pioneer in nineteenth century photography. About Manchester tells the story
The Fentons can trace themselves back to the 16th century, Roger Fenton born in 1565 owning the Crimble property, educated at Pembroke College Cambridge, curate of Bury, vicar of Lancaster and later moving to London where he became preacher of the Greys Inn Law Courts and one of the translators of the King James Bible. He died in 1615.

Three John’s followed the family line, the third died childless, the estate passing to a nephew Joseph, who would manage the estate.
Joseph married Ann Kay in 1789, alive to the scientific discoveries of the age and quick to apply them to his farming and manufacturing business.

Joseph built the mills at Hooley Bridge on the banks of the River Roch, three hundred feet long, two hundred wide, five storeys, fireproofed and unusual for the time lit by gas which was manufactured on the site which included three hundred cottages for his workers, turning out a superior type of sheeting flannel and blanket goods.In 1819 he established the Fenton Bank and the following year the Bamford Estate near Crimble.

He died in 1842, buried beside his wife Ann in Bamford Churchyard, leaving half amillion pounds in his will.
His eldest son John was born at Lower Crimble farm in 1791, educated at a nearby boarding school, married Elizabeth Apedaile in 1814, his father building Crimble Hall for them, of their six surviving children Roger would go onto fame as a photographer.

Elizabeth died in 1829, John married again the following year, Hannah the daughter of a Lincolnshire lawyer, thirteen years younger and they would go onto have ten children.
Both John and his brother James were in business with their father, John had a half share in the Fenton bank and counted amongst his friends John Bright and Richard Cobden.
John entered Parliament in 1832 as Rochdale’s first MP, a Liberal, he was defeated at the second election but returned to Westminster in 1837 remaining for four years until failing health forced his resignation.
He campaigned for the abolition of slavery, abolition of the Press Gangs, the poor law and the right of dissenters to enrol at Universities as well as reform of Parliament.

From 1841 he led the life of a country squire, looking after the Crimble estate, the Hooley Mills and the Fenton Bank

He died in 1863 at the age of seventy two, Hannah taking over the running of the Crimble Estate,

The affairs of the family began to falter, the cotton famine would see the failure of the mills, there were family disputes over the running of the business with attempts to substitute steam power for water power there was a run on the Fenton Bank forcing the shareholders to sell their homes and goods and the Crimble Estate was sold in 1879 to lay down the creditors

One contemporary report of the day commented that “thus a splendid fortune, or several splendid fortunes have been thrown away by sheer stupidity or something worse”.

Roger Fenton would though go onto other things, one of seventeen children, he graduated from the University of London and studied Art in Paris with the eminent painter Paul Delaroche who introduced him to the new art of photography and who, it is said on seeing the first daguerreotype in 1839 declared “ from today the painting is dead

He returned to London in 1844 was called to the bar and became a successful lawyer.


He did not thigh give up art and painting.In three successive years he had a canvas excepted by the Royal Academy and became interested in the calotype a photographic process printed on paper invented by Henry Fox Talbot which had the advantage over the daguerreotype method in that any number of positive prints could be made from the negative.

In 1847 he became a founder member of the amateur calotypists Photographic club in London.

He was sent to the Russian court to photograph daily the building of a new bridge to across the Dnieper River at Kiev, taking the opportunity to photograph Kiev, St Petersburg and Moscow took photographs of the royal family at Buckingham palace and taught Prince Albert in the new art.

In 1855 he became the first war photographer, taking pictures of the battlefields, troops and officers in the Crimea.

The trip was financed by the Manchester publisher Thomas Agnew and sons who wanted pictures of the people and historic scenes but it was also almost certainly politically motivated with stories of horrendous conditions, his photographs were to avoid showing the ravages of war in order not to offend the Victorian ideas of good taste.
His experiences were well documented, censorship of reports was uncommon and Fenton’s connections gave him access to many of the significant players in the war. He constructed a photographic van which came under fire on many occasions
It was a week after his arrival before he was able to take his first picture and fir a fortnight he photographed views and portraits around Balaclava, manufacturing photographic ink out of soot and vinegar.
Eventually he was sent out to Kadikoi, taking portraits in the guards and cavalry camp, breakfasting and dining with the top military brass and enjoying champagne and cigars with the generals.
Photographic conditions were difficult, the light and heat made both photographing and developing difficult, it made the taking of any battle scenes almost impossible and he was limited to portraits.
Fenton was one of the onlookers when the French stormed the Mamelon fort in June 1855 and hearing that an attack on Sebastapol was imminent, stayed in making preparations to photograph the town but the attack failed and with no talk of a renewed attempt, he sailed for home, a sick man ravaged by cholera.
Back in England he was commanded for an audience with the Queen at Osborne House and owning to his illness was allowed to lie on a couch while recounting his stories.
He would present his photos to Napoleon III at the Palace of St Cloud along with bus Manchester publisher and 312 photos were exhibited that October at the Water Colur Society in Pall Mall, later they would be published by Agnew by subscription over the next year. Fenton began working for the Trustees of the British museum photographing classical sculpture,old master drawings and general views of the galleries.
He would become famous for his romantic scenic views, marvellous natural skies, the effects of rain and haze, rugged rocks, mountain passes, glens and waterfalls and would take pioneering pictures of the interiors cathedrals.

At the height of his fame, he announced his intention to retire from photography ,selling off all his equipment and settling down as a lawyer, in order it was said to make a substantial living for his wife and three daughters. He had also expressed doubts about the future of photography on account of the fading of prints.

He died at the age of fifty in 1869 following a short illness caused by hurrying to catch a train.

As for Crimble Hall, it remained in the possession of the Fenton family until 1878 when it was taken by Mr Vernon K Armitage of Pendleton who married a daughter of Mr And Mrs Fenton.

In 1892 the Hall again changed hands when it was bought by the brothers William and James Baron of Rochdale who divided the house into halves.

In 1913 the Hall was acquired by Colonel Hartley, who, in 1919 restored it to its original pattern making it again one complete house.

The Colonel put the house up for sale by auction in 1957 as it was too large for him to manage.

The last occupants were the Gartside family. The Hall was again sold in the 1960s and before being taken on by Decker group had various connotations as a restaurant and a nightclub

 

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