There’s a place in the heart of Salford, nestled in the most incongruous of surroundings, that is very special. The oldest building in the area, the Grade I listed Ordsall Hall has been home to knights, nobility, royal servants, decorated soldiers, famed artists, the working poor, farmers, priests and its fair share of ghosts.
Dating back to the 1340s, it boasts some of the finest examples of medieval and Tudor domestic apartments in the UK and is set within 2.5 acres of organically managed grounds. But first-time visitors may wonder if the Sat Nav is having a laugh. This splendid specimen is found in an unassuming part of the district and is surrounded by modern housing. While Ordsall Hall’s origins outstrip its near neighbours, contrary to what some might think history does not stand still. New stories constantly reveal themselves. This is certainly the case at the Hall.
Take the story of the Markendale portraits, a modern-day tale of love, restoration and repatriation played out across the hills of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumbria. Ellis and Mary Markendale were originally from Skipton, North Yorkshire. They moved to Ordsall Hall in 1815 and headed a successful family of farmers, butchers and tanners with premises across Manchester, particularly concentrated on the area we now know as Deansgate.
It was possibly in response to their new-found wealth and status that Ellis and Mary commissioned portraits of themselves in 1852. The early Victorians engaged portrait artists more often and in larger numbers than in previous centuries, and the trend for painted portraits took its lead from the landed gentry. The portraits of Mary and Ellis were painted by William Scott, a working artist from Leicestershire.
Not long after the couple were painted, Ellis died in Skipton, aged 63. Mary died 11 years later after which the Hall was inhabited by the pre-Raphaelite artist, Frederic Shields. It then became a working men’s club (1875) and a college for protestant priests (1900) before transforming into a free museum in 1972.
But what became of the portraits? Like most of the Hall’s original contents, they were displaced from the Hall and never seen again. That is until Salford Heritage Service’s collections manager received a phone call in 2011 from a Cumbrian farmer by the name of Edward Markendale. He recounted how he had rescued two oil portraits from a skip some years earlier, believing them to be of his ancestors. Having no place for them in his house, he left them in an out-building. Delighted at the thought of finding another missing piece of the Hall’s jigsaw, the collections manager travelled to Cumbria, looked at the portraits and confirmed their provenance.
The portraits were in a bad way. They had been used as dartboards and sledges and had suffered significant damage from bird excrement and the build-up of dirt. Thanks to generous funding from a range of charitable trusts, we were able to commission the professional conservation of the portrait of Ellis. Ellis was in a worse condition than Mary, hence he was repaired first.
Today, the portraits have come back home and hang side by side in the Hall where they were painted 160 years ago. Now we want to restore Mary to her former self. Thanks to generous individual supporters, we have raised just over £3,000, but need another £3,500. If you feel able to help, please click here to donate to our Mary Campaign.
But why do the portraits matter? They matter because they help us to tell the story of one of the oldest buildings in the North West. A building whose landscape has changed beyond recognition over the last two centuries. A historic hall with lost pieces of history that Salford Community Leisure, the charitable organisation that manages Ordsall Hall, strives to bring home.
In 2013 another forgotten treasure came to light when a 500-year-old bed came up for auction in Oxford. This turned out to be the marriage bed of John Radclyffe and Lady Anne Asshawe, commissioned on the occasion of their nuptials in 1572 at Ordsall Hall. Despite losing out at auction, visitors to the Hall can see The Radclyffe bed in its original home thanks to the generosity of its Lebanese owner who is loaning it to us for another five years.
Ordsall Hall is also repatriating some of the plant life that once would have grown in its grounds. We now harvest the Carlin pea which is believed to be the first medieval mushy pea.
Ordsall Hall has survived The Peasants’ Revolt, the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars. In 2020, just like every other cultural venue in the world, the Hall is facing its next challenge. We have launched a new JustGiving scheme that will help us to open our old oak doors again when the time is right. We hope to welcome you back to Ordsall Hall when we re-open.
By Caroline Storr
Images courtesy of Ordsall Hall
For more information, or to donate to keep Ordsall Hall Extraordinary, please click here.