As editor of this new site I would like to report on and begin a campaign to try to do something about the very desperate state of affairs concerning one of our finest and best loved jewels and something personally close to my heart. As most of us now know, this relic has been almost razed to the ground by mindless morons who one day may grow up and realise the sheer sacrilege of their actions and have to live with the fact that they are responsible if this building is lost forever.
I walked my dogs up there for years and would often stop and marvel at this ancient and magnificent building that is ours! I ached to see what it was like inside but at the time it was split into two dwellings. An elderly ex-housekeeper lived in one half and the owner Norman Wolstencroft in the other. I don't know the situation with the owner but although he did strive to maintain the place, soon after the elderly lady died he left too leaving it empty.
I know the implications and restrictions and above all the cost involved that comes with listed buildings but what I don't understand is why Mr Wolstencroft just left it in the way he did. Maybe he just gave up banging his head against a brick wall which is understandable to an extent but I can't help holding him partly responsible. To leave a building like that unoccupied and unprotected in a fairly remote spot is almost inviting trouble. What happened was surely only a matter of time.
There could have been people happy to volunteer to help in some way whether it be maintenance or some sort of security. Few of us want to see this building gone and if Mr Wolstencroft had only reached out and asked for help from the Middleton people themselves, he may have been pleasantly surprised! I can't help thinking had it been me who had owned the building; I would've offered somebody and their family free accommodation in return for some maintenance and most of all security. There could be people out there happy to do this. I know this sounds easy enough for me to say but there had to be a better way than to just abandon it.
I knew about the fire before it was reported in the news. No I'm not psychic! I just happened to have the radio on that morning. The local station I usually have on was doing a travel report and warned of delays in Middleton on Williams St. Williams St? There's nothing there? It's just a dirt-path?? The report went on to say the delay was due to a fire. That's when the penny dropped. After all the recent reports of increasing vandalism attacks on our old Hall I just knew that this was the worst possible scenario. Had they put the final nail in the lid of the coffin? I just knew straight away this fire report had to involve our beloved Tonge Hall. I knew the truth in my heart and unfortunately I was right. I dreaded discovering the extent of the damage but I had to see this for myself even though I knew it would break my heart.
I went up that same evening. The firemen were still there damping down and a plume of smoke was billowing out from what is left of the shell. There is little of the roof and its timbers left. The smell was more than just a smell of smoke to me; it was almost a smell of devastation. It was difficult for me to figure out which was the more crushed and gutted. The building or me! To see this 'icon' reduced to a pathetic skeleton of its former self and rubble leaves a feeling difficult to put into words without swearing! This once beautifully rustic and charismatically enchanting house of history with all its original features and atmosphere has now been 'raped' inside and out.
How many towns can boast such a thing on such a pleasant site? Most of us appreciate having this gem on our doorstep so how did we allow this to happen? Of course it isn't really anybody's fault but the mindless morons and perhaps their parents who dragged them up to not know right from wrong but we should never have been so complacent to allow this to happen in the first place. Before anyone says how easy it is to say all this now when it may be too late, I hold my hands up as being just as guilty as the next person for this complacency. It is sadly a case of not appreciating what we have enough until it is gone and it is a lesson to us all.
I don't know what the practical solution is or the way forward from here if there is a way but maybe we can try to find one. This is the way things seem to stand at the moment. The fire was last June, almost a year ago. In September Middleton Township named the Hall as a top priority for conservation. It is on English Heritages register of 'buildings at risk'. Rochdale Council said back in March this year that it would hopefully only be a matter of weeks before work can start on protection and restoration. At the time of writing this as far as I know no real effort has been made. Just how many weeks defines a 'matter of weeks' when something so important is at stake? It seems to me we are just being fobbed off by the powers that be, so could we ourselves, as a community, get things moving any quicker? Could we form our own group or some kind of trust fund? Can we do anything at all to improve the situation no matter how small?
Mr Wolstencroft is reported to be devastated from where he is living now somewhere down south. I would urge him to contact me and see if we can come up with some answer together once and for all. Equally anyone with any comments, suggestions or information or anyone happy to help in some way or get involved in anything we might be able to set up please email me here at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written by the editor. 15.05.08
The above article was one of the first written at the very beginning of creating the site. I have been so busy working on other sections of the site since but I have an update I must include here.
I attended my very first Middleton Township meeting at the Civic back in July. This was partly to see what actually goes on at these meetings and partly because I knew Tonge Hall was on the agenda. Unfortunately there were some pressing issues that took up a lot of the time of the meeting but somebody did bring up Tonge Hall expressing how much we are in the dark over progress on this.
We were basically told that English Heritage have agreed to fund 50% of the cost of restoration which is great, however this estimate cannot be established because the building has been deemed unsafe to enter, therefore scaffolding must be in place for assessors to go in through the roof, another costly operation before any decisions can even be made. The process of doing this was being looked into at the time of the meeting and the outcome would 'hopefully' be revealed at the next Township meeting. As the meetings are every 2 months, that will be next month at the time of writing.
So, as I said in the original article above, again Tonge Hall is fobbed off while bureaucrats at Rochdale take their time, something Tonge Hall can't afford the luxury of.The editor, 28.08.2008
I have just been reading your site on the subject of Tonge Hall, I am also concerned at losing some of Middleton's heritage buildings. I must admit I haven't done much regarding the issues of losing our great sites of interest but I would like to get involved and help. If you are still actively looking into the situation of Tonge Hall please send me an e-mail of how you understand the situation to be and of anything you are working on at the moment.
For the latest on Tonge Hall as reported in the Middleton Guardian in September click here
Page updated 17.11.2010