History of Smithills

Timeline of the History of Smithills

1000 BC Stone axe, bronze palstave (axe head), early cutting tool (found on Estate).
793 AD Eanbald, Archbishop of York and Aethelbert, Bishop of Hexham dedicated a Chapel at ‘Smithills’ to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ancient British Cross, once used as a footbridge across a stream at Smithills.


Roger of Poitou



Roger of Poitou



William the Conqueror -English Coin


After the Norman Conquest, the Domesday book recorded in 1086 that Roger de Poitou, son of Roger de Montgomery, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, held the land between the Ribble and the Mersey, which included Smithills. He was given this territory in recognition of the help his father gave to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. Later Lonsdale, Cartmel and Furness were added to his lands for defence against marauding Scots invading across Morecambe Bay. In 1102 Roger joined the unsuccessful rebellion against King Henry I,  was deprived of his territories and expelled from England. The County of Lancashire was established in 1182 and encompassed the former estates of Roger de Poitou in the North West.

1100-1200 Land owned by Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. The order was suppressed, at the same time as the monasteries, under Henry VIII and its properties confiscated.220px-Cross_of_the_Knights_Hospitaller.svg
Early 1300 Land leased to the de Hulton family
1335 Great Hall built by William de Radcliffe who was a Knight of the Shire 1397/8 & 1404.


mid 1300s William de Radcliffe’s son the first Sir Ralph de Radcliffe succeeded to the Estate. He was a man of some importance being the King’s Escheator (responsible for investigating property which might revert to the Crown when there was no direct heir) from 1375. He was sheriff of Lancashire from 1385 to 1388, a JP and a Knight of the Shire in 1397 and 1404.
1406 Sir Ralph de Radcliffe II succeeded his father who died 12 May. He was also a Knight of the Shire in 1414 and 1423 and 1427. He was Receiver in the County Palatine 1413-17, a Justice of the Peace by Commission in 1416 and 1424. He was Knighted at Leicester in 1426. His mother Margery died 1417.
1432 Ralph III succeeded his father who died 18 September 1432. He owned land in Much Hoole, Croston, Leyland, Ulnes Walton, Tingrave, Edgworth, Turton, Halliwell, Egburdene, Sharples, Harwood, Bolton and Blackburn. Ralph III was cited in the inquisition post mortem aged 29 hence he was born in 1403, and died in 1460. It was around this time that the Bower and Solar were added at the East end of the Hall to provide privacy for the family.
1480 Sir Ralph’s only child Johanna was married to Ralph Barton of Holme-by-Newark. The Estate passed to her cousin Ralph Radcliffe of Tingrave in Eccleston. In 1485 Ralph of Tingrave died leaving an only daughter Cecilia as heiress (12 years of age). Johanna arranged, through her Guardians, Lord Derby and his son Lord Strange, for her to marry her son John Barton. Their first child Andrew was born in 1498. Cecilia and John’s faces are shown below on the  panelling in the Tudor Withdrawing room.Barton panel
1516 Andrew Barton inherited the Hall and was married to Agnes Stanley (their heads are carved in panels in the Withdrawing Room built by them in the mid 1500s). He also rebuilt the Chapel at Smithills and much of the glass in the East window dates from this time. He probably also raised the height of the Great Hall roof.DSCF0994DSCF0995

Andrew & Agnes Barton (nee Stanley)

1554 The Reverend George Marsh was questioned by Robert Barton on suspicion of heresy, in the Green Room above the Withdrawing Room – and after questioning is said to have stamped his foot outside the Withdrawing Room. He was burnt at the stake at Spital Fields, Chester in 1555. Robert Barton was probably responsible for rebuilding the Great Hall in stone. He built the West wing in 1579.

George Marsh engraving

George Marsh

1594 Hall records show “August 1594 my Lord Essex players came hither to Smithills” Did Shakespeare come with them?
1693 Hall was a complete quadrangle. Sir Rowland Belasyse built inside the Great Hall and converted part of it as a brew house.
1801 The Ainsworth family acquired the Hall for £21,000. Peter Ainsworth demolished the South side of the quadrangle and moved the carved oak panelling from the Withdrawing Room to the West side of the Hall into his Dining Room (now the cafe).
1855 Nathaniel_Hawthorne_by_Brady,_1860-65

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Visit by Nathaniel Hawthorne the American novelist and US Consul based in Liverpool where he became acquainted with the Ainsworth family. He recorded the visit in his diary.

1856 Smithills Chapel was destroyed by fire and rebuilt by 1858.You can read about the account of the fire in the link below (from the Bolton Chronicle Saturday 15 November,1856) partial DESTRUCTION OF SMITHILLS CHAPEL BY FIRE
1870 Richard Henry Ainsworth embarked on the major extension of the Hall using architect George Devey. A new coaching house was built, as was the mock packhorse bridge and extensive gardens The new building was cleverly designed so that it is hard to distinguish externally the various periods of architecture.

George Devey

George Devey

1896 A mass trespass occurred when Colonel Ainsworth decided to close Coalpit Road leading to the Moors over Winter Hill to protect his grouse shooting. A demonstration followed with 8,000 marching on 6th September and 12,000 on 13th September. The procession was 1.5 miles long.
1904 Electric lighting was installed in the Hall.
1938 Hall was sold to Bolton Corporation for £70,600 via a loan for this amount from the Ministry of Health and brought subsequent restoration of the Great Hall and East wing. The walls built within the Great Hall were removed; the oak panelling was scraped clean of the black paint applied to it. The Chapel was refurbished.
2000 –
The West wing was used as a home for elderly ladies, and subsequently becoming a school/workshop for people with learning difficulties under the Department of Health and Social Security until the withdrawal of funding in 1990.
The last Ainsworth, John Francis Ainsworth passed away on 9th March 2005 aged 87. He was until his death President of the Friends of Smithills Hall. The Smithills connection with the Ainsworth’s lives on with Sir William Burton Nigel Goring, born 1933, the son of Freda Margaret, sister of John Francis Ainsworth. He is now President of the Friends of Smithills Hall.On the 27th June 2000 a Trust was formed to run the Hall and Estate. It was called the Smithills Hall and Park Trust. The Trust ran the Hall until 20th January 2009 when it was disolved and control reverted to Bolton Council.The Timeline Exhibition was formally opened on 27th May 2015. This exhibition charts the remarkable history of Smithills Hall from 1335 along a ‘timeline’ until the present (see Events page). It is situated in the ‘old kitchen’ area of the Hall.On 20th July 2015 a conservation organisation The Woodland Trust purchased 1,144 acres of the Smithills Hall Estate from Bolton Council.Substantial refurbishment was done on the West Wing in 2017, which included the first floor above the entrance hall, the Entrance Hall, Devey Room, Ainsworth Room, small kitchen and toilet areas. Substantial external repair and renovation was completed. Estimated cost was believed to be around £500k. The west wing was officially reopened on 17th August 2017 by the Mayor of Bolton Councillor Roger Hayes and the Leader of the Council Clifford Morris.

In 2020 the UK was blighted by a Covid-19 and the Hall was in lockdown from March 2020. Normality returned in 2022.