Yew Tree Farm, Bramhall Lane, and what happened to it
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Yew Tree Farm in Davenport ceased to exist over a century ago, its name remembered only by a short residential cul-de-sac called Yew Tree Road. Here we survey the history of the farm, and the stories of some of the people who lived there.

While briefly describing the more-populated northern part of the farm, which deserves a feature of its own, here we'll concentrate in detail on the southern part, a large area of which remains grassland in 2020.

As usual there are gaps in the story, which readers might be able to fill, and some guesswork. 


The Farmers

From easily-accessible records, we can trace some of the people who lives and worked at Yew Tree from the 1840s onwards.

The 1841 Tithe map lists the tenant was given as William Adkinson. He was still there aged 75 in 1851 (spelled Atkinson) with his wife Hannah (75) , their son John (farm worker, aged 40), his wife Elizabeth (27) and Martha Smith (25), described as grand-daughter. Also living in the farmstead were three farm labourers, Robert Moult, William Moult and Joel Thornely. The farm comprised 86 acres at that time (continued below).


Key to the tithe map
478 Croft Meadow: Meadow
479 House buildings and garden
480 Croft
481 Long Croft:  Pasture
482 Lower meadow: Pasture
483 Cowfield: 
484 Far marl field: Arable
485 Near marl field: Meadow
486 Coat meadow: Arable
487 Middle meadow: Arable
489 Round meadow: Meadow
490 Carr meadow: Arable
508 South Shot Stall: Pasture
509 South Shot Stall part: Pasture
510 Little Shot Stall: Meadow
511 North Shot Stall: Arable

(We have failed to find the origin of the term 'shot stall')


The Farmers, continued:

By 1861, William Atkinson had died and John Atkinson was the farmer, with a new wife, Nancy, a 'visitor' Sarah Atkinson,  and two labourers, Charles Lowe and Edward Elison.

In 1871 William Chatterton was the farmer, now farming 91 acres and employing one man. His wife Mary and son William also helped with the farm, along with a niece, Ellen Clayton.

By 1881 the farm  tenancy had passed to George Platt (aged 43, unmarried, born in Torkington), with two nieces Mary and Elizabeth, dairymaids, and nephew James (aged 13) Milk Boy. George's parents rented a farm in nearby Woodsmoor, although he was previously listed as a blacksmith. He was still at Yew Tree in 1891, having gathered an extended family around him, as well as two farm labourers. The Platts were the final farmers at Yew Tree, still hanging on in March 1901 by which time they would have been on the edge of the massive upheaval which was the construction of the railway through their their farmland, ending with the demolition of the house.

By 1911 James Platt, George's nephew, who had lived and worked at Yew Tree, had found himself another farm, Springfield Farm on Torkington Road near Hazel Grove, with a more modern house than Yew Tree, which still exists in 2020 as the home of the 'cats Whiskers' cattery. 

With him there was his wife Emma, and two former Yew Tree residents: his mother Elizabeth,  along with his half-brother Joshua who had from childhood been described as 'imbecile' or  'feeble-minded' in the language of the day.


Timeline








274 Bramhall Lane

To research every house in detail would be a large project, but with the kind assistance of its residents we can study as an example the history of no. 274 one of the two pairs of semi-detached houses built by George Knowles of 19 Dysart Street, Great Moor .

The land was transferred from the Freeholders Company in 1905, and a Stockport solicitor, Frank Linnell, appears to have rented the house for a short period around 1907.

In 1908,  Annie Dean Gray   purchased the house known as 'Yewtree Cottage'. subject to a perpetual yearly rent charge of
5. It was common at the time for houses to be held in the name of the wife of the family, as permitted by the 1870 and 1882 Married Women's Property Acts.



The plan from 1908 shows the original house names (r to l): Park Dene, Hope Royd, Yewtree Cottage and South View.  The first pair are larger houses.

The household at Yew Tree Cottage in 1911 comprised William Martin Gray, born in 1860 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, (Manager of a glass and china shop), his wife of 23 years, Annie Dean Gray (aged 54, born in in Southport, Lancashire), and all four of their children: son Hazel Arthur Gray (age 22, Inspector of Electrical Installation for Municipal Corporation), daughters Elizabeth Muriel Gray (20) and Alice Hilda Gray (17), and son Donald Dean Gray (11).  It seems they believed in the new concept of 'family planning'.

The Grays had left by 1914 the householder was Sagar Taylor, General Secretary of the Stockport Industrial and Equitable Co-operative Society, based at 42 Chestergate. By 1910, the Society operated 24 grocery shops in Stockport, which eventually included the branch in Davenport at 214 Bramhall Lane, which in 2020 houses the Co-op Funeral Service.

The Taylors moved to 'Yewtree Cottage' from their previous home at 9 Moorland Road in Great Moor some time after 1911, and immediately re-named it 'Rivington' after a beauty spot close to their first married home at 105 Chorley Road, Horwich, Lancashire. Born in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, in 1872, Sagar had started work as a Grocer's Assistant in Rawtenstall, then worked as Secretary to  the Horwich Industrial Cooperative Society before moving to the post in Stockport. His wife Martha was born in 1869 in  Shawforth, a village near Rawtenstall. They had a daughter, Gwendoline, born in 1904.

In 1921 Sagar Taylor stood as a Co-operative (supported by labour) against the sitting Conservative member Samuel Lees for Edgeley Ward in the Stockport Council elections, but was defeated.

Sagar died in 1924, aged just 52; his wife Martha Hannah Taylor was still  at 'Rivington' in 1934 according to Kelly's directory, but when the 1939 national register was compiled, the house was apparently empty, with the name 'Miss Travis' pencilled in later - we are not sure what that means, possibly she moved in at a later date, but it's hard to tell who she was.

Martha Hannah Taylor died at 'Caravan', Wayside Drive, Poynton, on 8 March 1941, aged 73.

In 1935 the house was sold to John Stanley Lowe, 'Managing Director, Wholesale Grocer', who lived nearby at 22 Charlestown Road, which had the curious name 'Creamery.' where ge seems to have stayed; there is no record of him at 274.



In 2020, now simply 274 Bramhall Lane, the house still retains its well-kept Edwardian style, and looks to be good for many years more. The name 'Yewtree Cottage' has somehow become attached to no. 280.


Householders 1911


--[Ashfield Road]--

218 Jolly Sailor Hotel

220 Alice Agnew, Carlton House School

222 'Ealsdene'. James Rennie (52, born in Glasgow) Commercial traveller, soap maker.

224 Walter Woodruff (37) Chemist. His shop was at 3, Woodford Road, Bramhall.

226 'Fairhaven'. Mrs Annie Baxter (55), widow of Stockport-born Joseph Baxter, head of letterpress printing firm Joseph Baxter & Co.

--[Barnfield Road]--

[Land owned by Samuel Kay]

270 John Edwin Mercer (54), Millinery agent and manufacturer

272 Ambrose Brook Sunderland (65), Artificial flower maker



Sunderland and Mercer were partners in an artificial flower manufactory, established c.1884  at Stoneswood Lower Mill, Todmorden. Their products adorned women's bonnets, such as those displayed in the picture above from our family archive.  They were well-known citizens in the town of Todmorden, why they came to Davenport is not known, perhaps related to some hatting connection. The firm itself seems to have lasted until 1924.

274 William Martin Gray, shop manager, glass and china

276 Frederick Jacob Snowdon, Commercial Traveller (biscuit representative)

The houses 278 to 286 were built by in 1911-13  after the date of the Census, by Stockport-born housebuilder James Crosby, who (in the name of his wife Emily Gwynne Crosby) bought all the plots from the Freeholders Company, and also created 'Yew Tree Road' from the former farm entrance, building houses 1, 3 and 5.  The Crosby family lived nearby at 7 Ashfield Road.

It appears that they sold all their Bramhall Lane houses to members of the Schofield family, ironfounders of Ashton-under-Lyne, who saw the benefits of investing in property.  Some residents as listed in a 1914 directory are below.

278 Bernard Joseph Hood, Confectioner (employer)

280 Stanley Turner

--[Yew Tree Road]--

282 Charles Turner

284 Mrs Matthews

286 ?

[Railway bridge]


Internet Sources


Ancestry.co.uk

British Newspaper Archive

Cheshire Tithe Maps

The Guardian online (Manchester Libraries)

The Land Registry

National Library of Scotland maps

Google Maps

Old-Maps.co.uk

Street directories on our website

Todmorden and Walsden website

Horwich Heritage website.


Comments welcome: charlie@davenportstation.org.uk



Origins

Yew Tree Farm was one of a number of tenanted farms which formed the estate of the Davenport family of Bramall Hall.  It comprised 91 acres of land on the western side of Bramhall Lane between Garner's Lane and today's North Park Road, although its eastern boundary for much of the way was separated from the road by narrow fields belonging to Mile End Farm.  (There was access from the Lane to the northern end of the farmland by a track which later became Oakfield Road.) The farmhouse was adjacent to Bramhall Lane, entered by what is now Yew Tree Road. Unlike several of the farmhouses in the area, it was never rebuilt or replaced, just 'patched up' by replacing parts of the timber-framed walls with brick, painted to match the original.

The picture above shows the farmhouse in the 1880s, when it came to the attention of Manchester-based architect Alfred Darbyshire  (1839-1908) who had an interest in ancient buildings and photography. The  style of the building suggests that it was as old  as the oldest parts of Bramall Hall, perhaps the late fourteenth century.  Local historian John Owen wrote in 1888: 'It has suffered most from neglect and injudicious repairs. It is said tnat the young squire Davenport intended to pull it down and rebuild it.'  However the 'young squire' John Handley Davenport sold the house and estate in 1877, and the farm staggered on until the late 1890s when Midland Railway's new line was built across the farmland, the farmer left, and and it was demolished. What remained of the the land was initially added to the adjacent Grange Farm, and gradually sold off.



This image shows Yew Tree Farm as in the 1840s Tithe Map with its plot numbers, superimposed on a map from the 1870s. Plot 479 includes the farmhouse.


The last of the Davenports

The Bramhall branch of the Davenport family began  with the marriage of John de Davenport to Alice de Bromale in the late 1300s, when it is thought that the oldest parts of the Hall were built.  It was added to over the centuries; most of what can be seen today is of Tudor origin, with added Victorian 'faux-Tudor' additions.  The estate, owned by the Davenport Lord of the Manor covered a wide area; by Victorian times the whole of the Township of Bramhall.  The northern border was along Kennerley Road and Garners Lane, and to the east along the Manchester - Buxton road as far as Hazel Grove.

The Lordship of the Manor passed  down the male for several centuries. The name William was popular: ten of the fourteen Lords up to 1869 had that name.  However, the tenth William died in 1829 with no legal heir; he had two daughters by a local farm girl, and one of them, Maria, was adopted as heir. She married a naval man, Salusbury Pryce Humphries, who took on the surname of Davenport, who took on the role of Lord of the Manor which passed to Maria when he died in 1845. She was succeeded in 1854 by her son William Davenport Davenport; by this date the estate with its tenant farms was no longer prospering, and the sale of land for development began, slowly at first, and mostly at the northern end around  Davenport railway station which was built in return for the agreement for the Stockport - Whaley Bridge line to cross Davenport land.

William Davenport Davenport died in 1869, when his son and heir John William Handley Davenport was just seventeen years old and the estate was governed by a family trustee.  John Davenport seems not to have lived in the Hall, although initially remaining in the Bramhall area. The Hall was leased to Wakefield Christy, a great-grandson of Miller Christy, founder of the Christy hatting company, family including his brother Stephen.


The Freeholders Company

In 1876 the Christy lease on the Hall expired, and John Davenport attained his 25th birthday and became the Lord of the Manor and lands of Davenport.  In the same year he married Fanny Constance Mabel Broadwood (of the Broadwood piano-making family), who apparently was not impressed by the ancient Hall, and it was resolved to sell it and leave Bramhall.  In May 1877 a four-day auction of the contents took place, at which many bargains were obtained, and in August the Hall, and the whole of the estate not already sold passed to a specially created firm called the Freeholders Company Ltd, for a reported sum of around 200,000.  It is likely that John Davenport himself had a share in the Company;  researchers are thwarted by the fact that its offices at 15 Cross Street, Manchester were destroyed with all their contents in the 'blitz' of World War II.

The Hall and its parkland was eventually sold to Thomas Henry Nevill, wealthy owner of the Strines calico printing works as a present for his son Charles Henry Nevill, who enjoyed himself by prettifying the Hall and grounds. After his death the Hall was on the market again and after failing to sell at auction was bought by  businessman John Henry Davies. Eventually, in 1936, it was bought by Hazel Grove and Bramhall Urban District Council, whose successors Stockport Council own and operate it today as a visitor attraction and wedding venue.


Stephen Christy

Of all the people who purchased parts of Yew Tree Farm,  one name stands out: that of Stephen Christy, who remained in the area to manage the hat  factory after his brother Wakefield's departure to London.  Looking for a 'stately home' for himself, he found 'Highfield', a sizeable villa which had been built around 1869 on a rectangular plot at the meeting of two of Yew Tree Farm's two northerly fields for Edward Hyde Boothroyd, a Stockport solicitor who unfortunately suffered bankrupcy in 1878 and was obliged to find a smaller home.

Christy moved his family into Highfield, installing some of the items he had purchased at the Bramall Hall auction, and set about enlarging it and investing in further parts of Yew Tree Farm's land. Eventually his holdings, the development of which will be subject of a later feature,  appear to have reached from Garners Lane to the brook which runs down from the Jolly Sailor Inn.  The inn itself stands in a plot which had been purchased from the Davenport many years earlier by the Croft family, and was never owned by the Freeholders Company, although later owners of the inn did purchase extra land around it. The history of the area round the inn is already covered by our feature The Charlestown Story.


The Midland Railway

The smaller fields around the farmhouse have interesting stories to tell, one of which involves the Midland Railway Company, which by the 1890s had grown from a local network centred on Derby to a trunk line from London to Manchester and Scotland, competing with the London and North Western Railway's established routes.  However, to reach Manchester  it was dependant on the busy line from New Mills via Marple and Stockport (Tiviot Dale) to Manchester, shared with another company which was to become the Great Central. To avoid this bottleneck the Midland resolved to build a new line from a junction near New Mills to Heaton Mersey, which would be designed for fast running, with only one station, Hazel Grove (Midland), which closed not long after opening.

Armed with an Act of Parliament, the engineers plotted a very direct route, requiring several impressive viaducts and what is still one of the country's longest tunnels near Disley.  

The line passes under Bramhall Lane, traversing the farmland in a cutting; as mentioned above, the farmhouse was demolished. Although not in the direct route of the line its yard probably served a base for the digging of the cutting.  To allow access from Grange Farm to Yew Tree's fields, a private bridge was built by the railway company connecting the two parts of the farm, but it was removed in the late 1960s when the 'Midland Walk' housing development was being built.

While the line was under construction, the borough of Stockport was undergoing expansion, and the route of the line at Bramhall Lane was chosen as a new boundary, from 1901 replacing the previous one along Kennerley Road and bringing most of the Yew Tree farm land from Bramhall into Stockport. Since 1974 Bramhall has been part of Stockport.



The picture above was taken in 1959 by local enthusiast Wallace Sutherland showing locomotive 70042 Lord Roberts passing through Bramhall Lane bridge with the 4pm Manchester Central - London St Pancras express.  The pylon on the left is part of a high-voltage line, since removed, which ran parallel to the line on this section. A period picture of a train passing through Yew Tree Farm land, beyond the bridge,  has eluded us so far.

The line opened in 1902 and for many years, express trains, including in the 1960s the 'Midland Pullman', passed that way. It proved very useful as an alternative route when the main line through Stockport and Crewe was being electrified in the early 1960s, after which the passenger service was declared redundant by British Rail and passenger services ceased, although (reduced to single track) the section through our area is  still a vital link used by stone trains from the Peak District quarries although the connection to Manchester no longer exists, the stone trains divert on to a line leading to Northenden Junction on the Stockport - Chester line.  The section from Hazel Grove to New Mills carries passenger trains again, since a connection to the Stockport - Buxton line was created in the 1980s.

At the time of writing this there are proposals 'on the table' to bring back passengers to the section through Davenport as far as Hazel Grove by connecting it to the Metrolink tram system at East Didsbury, and use 'tram trains', of ther kind in use in Sheffield,  which can share the track with freight services.  Details such as whether the line would be returned to double track, how it would cross the river Mersey, and where any stations would be located,  remain vague.  Pessimistic visions arise of treasured green space converted to car parks.


Housing Developments

From around 1900, houses in the 'arts and crafts' style of the time began to appear on Yew Tree Farm land along the frontage of Bramhall Lane,  most of them architect-designed, although some of these at the northern end are on land that was formerly part of Mile End farm. 

Barnfield Road was laid out in the 1890s by James Lamb, then owner of the adjacent Jolly Sailor Inn, and in 1904, by which time the inn and land had been taken over by the Daniel Clifton Brewery, a few houses were built on the north side and on the corner with Bramhall Lane.

South of Barnfield Road, a long plot of land fronting Bramhall Lane had been purchased by Samuel Kay, of Charlestown House,  and only after his death and  the sale of his land in the late 1920s were houses (1 Barnfield Road and 250-268 Bramhall Lane) built there. Kay also owned plots of land on the other side of Bramhall Lane around the Woodsmoor Lane junction, which was developed for housing at the same time.

To the south of Kay's land, a plot of Yew Tree Farm land adjoining Bramhall Lane was acquired in 1905 from the Freeholders Company by  Stockport-based builder George William Knowles,  who built two pairs of of large and elegant semi-detached houses (270-276 Bramhall Lane).

A map dated 1909 shows them as the only houses between Barnfield Road and the railway line; the site of the farmhouse itself remained undeveloped until a few years later when Yew Tree Road and its associated houses were built. Nos. 278 to 284 Bramhall Lane, completing the development as far as the railway bridge, were in place by 1914. In 1912 that part of the road was widened, despite local protests against the destruction of trees, and the houses lost part of their front gardens.

The 1930s saw a great expansion of house-building in the Davenport and Adswood areas, both by the Council and private builders. In Adswood, a large council estate was developed, and someone in the Council thought it would be useful if there was a through road connecting that area with Bramhall Lane, avoiding the centre of Davenport. To this end, one of the new roads, off Garners Lane, was named 'Barnfield Road West' and the existing cul-de-sac Barnfield Road gained the suffix 'East'.  However, perhaps due to the war, and/or other plans for the area, the connection between the two was never made, and anyone who arrives at on the 'wrong' section is faced with a long detour.


Barnfield Road Allotments

Of the area behind the houses, some initially remained as farmland worked by Grange Farm. In 1921, a subcommittee of Stockport Council, the Small Holdings and Allotments Committee which was tasked with making enquiries as to suitable areas of land to be used for allotments, inspected the site and resolved to purchase (using a loan from the Ministry of Agriculture) for 1552.10.0 just over 20 acres for use as 'smallholdings', small farms which would each support one family. The idea had become popular after World War I as an occupation for servicemen returning to civilian life.

The chosen area included the all the remaining un-developed farm land between the brook and the railway line, with access from the end of Yew Tree Road.  In some other places around the UK, small houses for the smallholders were built on the plots, and plans for suitable cottages were prepared by the Borough Surveyor.  However, the early applicants for plots already had homes, and it's not clear what was built. The area was not mapped in detail by the Ordnance Survey until the 1960s, when the word 'smallholdings' appears for the first time. A structure is shown amid trees next to the railway with what may be outside toilets nearby;  it is still shown on a map of 1985. Does anyone remember it?

As time went on, smallholdings became less popular, and by 1930  part of the site adjacent to Barnfield Road had been divided into smaller plots as 'allotments.' In later years the allotment area was increased to reach the end of Barnfield, while the rest of the former smallholding area, including an orchard which seems to have been part of a market garden enterprise, has been happily left to nature, apart from a small field and football grounds at the western end, even though the word 'smallholdings' still appears on current maps. 


The Playing Fields

We are writing this 'in lockdown' during the 2020 virus crisis, when people are allowed outside to walk or cycle for exercise once per day. The residents of Davenport and Woodsmoor are fortunate in having several large areas of  playing fields a few minutes walk away, ideal for the purpose. The expansive Davenport playing fields, part of which lie on the land of Yew Tree Farm, with their three football pitches as well as extra grassland and the old woodland round the edges, are ideal for the purpose.



It appears, although we cannot confirm this, that for this superb facility we have to thank the descendants of Stephen Christy, who died at 'Highfield' in 1890 leaving an estate worth a remarkable (for the time) 253,284 to his family and charities.  It is said that the fields (part of field 509 and other adjacent land) were donated to Stockport Council with the proviso that they should be playing fields for the community, although we cannot confirm this.

In the 1960s a secondary school, Davenport School, was built, in the functional style of the time,  on the edge of the fields. reached by a new street of houses named Highfield Close.  The school flourished in the era of the 'baby boom' but there is no trace of the buildings today; it has been replaced by houses. Its story awaits the creation of a further article.


The By-pass Road

From the early 1960s, a series of reports were produced on the theme of relieving road traffic in the Stockport area by the building of new motorway-standard roads, one of which was to be a 'Stockport North-South By-pass'. Early ideas envisaged a  length of road relieving the A6, which would have run from Heaton Norris to Stepping Hill around the west of the town, with much demolition in the Edgeley area, then across the Davenport playing fields, and crossing Bramhall Lane (no doubt with a large roundabout)  somewhere near Barnfield Road East. The road would have crossed what was then the Davenport Golf Course, with the result that the golf club moved to Poynton; when that route proposal was eventually abandoned, the land was sold to the Wimpey company to build the Bracadale Road housing estate.



When the Midland railway line closed to passengers in 1967, the planners saw an opportunity to replace it with a road, so the plan was amended to follow this, again making use of the Davenport playing fields. The new road would have joined the A6 and the A523 by the Rising Sun inn south of Hazel Grove. Bramhall lane South would be crossed by a 'two-level roundabout junction.  The drawing above, published in 1973, shows suggested options; the 'green route' appears to impact drastically on the Davenport area.

The immediate result was a 'planning blight' on the houses near the railway bridge which lasted for a number of years until British Rail made it clear that the railway was a vital link for stone trains, so nothing happened.  The proposals did incidentally protect the playing fields from development. More recently,  something like the 'blue route' on the plan has been selected, controversially running through the scenic Goyt Valley.


The 1960s




The field boundaries transferred to a map dated 1965. Notice how the boundaries of the northernmost field were mostly adhered to by the house builders. If you walk down the path from Garners Lane to Blaven Close you can see the 'kink' in the boundary.

The golf course shown on the map, dating from around 1916, was created on the the site of the abandoned Davenport Terra Cotta Brick and Tile Works;  shortly after this map was made, the Davenport golf club re-located to Poynton, and when the threat of a by-pass receded, they sold the land to the Wimpey company for housing.


Printed Sources


Fran Cox,  Barnfield Road Allotments Stockport, Origins and History to 1930.  PDF file, published on-line, 2013.

E. Barbara Dean,  Bygone Bramhall: Aspects of Change in a Rural Community.  Stockport Council Recreation and Culture Division, 1980.

E. Barbara Dean,  Bramall Hall: The Story of an Elizabethan Manor House. Stockport Council Recreation and Culture Division, 1977.


Written by Charlie Hulme, May 2020.