There is evidence that people have lived on the Smithills estate for thousands of years, however the first written records of the Hall began in 1335, when William Radcliffe obtained the manor from the Hulton family.
The History of Smithills Hall
When, in 1485 the last Radcliffe died leaving no male heir Smithills Hall passed to the Bartons, a very wealthy family of sheep owners. The Bartons lived at Smithhills for the best part of 200 years. In 1659 the hall and estate went, by marriage into the Belasyse family.They owned lots of properties all over England and sadly Smithills became neglected during this time.
In 1723 Joseph Byrom acquired the hall and he and his family lived there until in 1801 when Richard Ainsworth, the `Opulent bleacher` bought the hall, and over the next three generations the Ainsworths extensively rebuilt and modernised Smithills Hall.
In 1870 the hall passed to Richard Henry Ainsworth, the nephew of Peter Ainsworth (Colonel Ainsworth’s son). In about 1785 he employed one of Britian finest architects of the time, George Devey, to design what became the most significant improvements toSmithills Hall. After the economical changes the Great War brought the income from the estate was greatly reduced and the financial burden of maintaining the house became more than the family could bear.
In 1938 Nigel Ainsworth sold Smithills Hall to Bolton Corporation for £70,600. The Victorian parts of the hall then became a residential home, later becoming a day centre ran by social services until the late 1990`s.Conservation work on the older grade 1 listed sections allowed parts of the Hall to be opened as a museum in 1963 and in 1999 Bolton council restored the old West wing, and using old photographs recreated the family`s living quarters as they would have looked in around 1900, thus extending the museum into these parts.
Smithills Hall came back to the Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council on 1st April 2006 and is now ran as a musem open to the public, as well as being used as a venue for weddings and corporate and educational events.
One legend surrounding the hall is that of George Marshes footprint. In 1554, Lord Derby, the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire commanded George Marsh, a preacher from Bolton to be apprehended on charges of heresy. George presented himself atSmithills Hall before Robert Barton, the owner of the estate and local Justice of the Peace. He was held and questioned about his ‘heretical’ religious beliefs in the upper chamber (at the top of the modern spiral stairs).
Apparently as he was being led from the Hall to be taken to Chester (where he was tried, found guilty of heresy and then burnt at the stake at Boughton on 24th April 1555), in defiance and angry protest he stamped his foot on the flagstone, where a mark of his footprint has remained ever since as a declaration of his steadfast faith. He was the only person to be martyred during the reign of Queen Mary.
Legend says that this footprint runs with blood on the anniversary of Georges death.
The Haunted History of Smithills Hall
Regarded as one of the most haunted buildings in Lancashire, Smithills Hall has more than its fair share of ghosts and hauntings. George Marsh is reputed to have been encountered many times, usually as a shadowy figure but also the reflection of his sad face has been seen by staff and visitors in a mirror in the Green Room.
One man is convinced he saw Georges full apparition just before closing time when he visited the museum as a child. Again, this was in the Green Room, which not surprisingly is said to be the most haunted area of the Hall.
The figure of a lady dressed in clothes from the 1500`s has been seen in and near The Bower Room, and also on a staircase. This lady seems to have a cheeky sense of humour as visitors have reported being pinched on the bottom by her!
In the Great Hall a notable psychic saw a `strong` man and a `distressed` woman wearing clothes from the 1500`s. There are numerous reports of ghostly activity in the Chapel, including a male apparition and a female member of staff being pushed from behind so badly that she had several grazes from where she fell harshly against the wall to prove it.
In the shop twice in two weeks the manager saw in the Pugin mirror which used to hang there the reflection of a man dressed in black with white bushy hair watching her from the doorway.Both times when she turned to look the doorway was empty. She also saw the same man on the stairs.
In Colonel Ainsworths Room in the mornings staff are used to having set the glasses back straight on the table after they have been turned upside down or moved during the night when the museum is locked and empty.
Staff and visitors also report frequently other strange things, including barrier ropes swinging of their own accord, cats meowing, children giggling and cold spots.The ghost of a Victorian maid has also been seen.
The ghostly activity is not exclusive to just the Hall though, outside the hall also has its fair share of strange, unexplainable events. When the Hall was a residential home one of the members of staff regularly heard horses riding past the house late at night and into the early hours of the morning. She would often look for them, but no sign of the horses or their riders was ever found.
One sunny evening the director of a local theatre company performing at the Hall arrived early, and on hearing footsteps coming across the gravel towards him he turned to look, only to be greeted by silence and solitude.