The History of New Cragg Hall

I love this house, and I love this story. This house is where the idea for the whole project came from. I completed the paintings first (there are two – there’s even a third, half finished), but have only just got around to writing up everything I learned. I apologise: It’s a long one…

NCH1painting

Before the Simpson-Hinchliffes, the name of Hinchliffe in Cragg Vale had been synonymous with the kind of working conditions that factory reformers campaigned against.

If there is one place in England that needed legislative interference it is this place; for they work 15 and 16 hours a day frequently, and sometimes all night. Oh! it is a murderous system and the mill owners are the pest and disgrace of society…! (Reverend Thomas Crowther, vicar of Cragg Vale 1821 to 1859)

Helen Hinchcliffe was the only surviving child of Hinchliffe Hinchliffe, cruel and infamous mill owner of Cragg Vale. Helen, perhaps forgivabley, was spoiled by her father and grew into headstrong woman with a robust constitution that had been lacking in the brothers and sisters. She was married three times; the first time, entirely for love, and in secret. Her first husband died young, aged only 27. Her second marriage was to a doctor, 18 years her senior. That marriage lasted 18 years, and ended with the death of her husband. Only 6 months later she was married again, and again in secret, to a 22 year old bank clerk named William Algernon Simpson whom she met in Harrogate. Helen Hinchliffe was then 48. Even at the time people made unkind speculations about the marriage: “ that she was stricken with nymphomania and was buying the cure”, and that her young husband had a cheque for £80,000 under his breakfast bowl on the morning of the wedding.

The Simpsons Hinchcliffes

Whatever the truth of the matter, that young William Algernon Simpson (Algy, as he soon became known) was so unlike the old Hinchliffes that he bought a change of energy to Cragg Vale, and with it a new, all be it short lived, social era…

News papers of the time were full of tea parties, picnics for the workers, social event for schools and clubs:

Christmastide was again celebrated with no unstinted hand by Mr and Mrs Simpson-Hinchliffe. A beautiful tea was in the school for the children after which they were invited into the upper room, and as they entered it their reath was almost taken away with the glorious site which met their view. Standing in the middle of the room was a huge Christmas tree, from which were suspended toys of almost every imaginable character. These were given to the children along with a tin of Harrogate toffee and an orange.

A further report tells how Algy, dressed at Father Christmas, accidentally caught his beard alight and badly burned his face.

The beneficent couple took care of their tenants and of the mill workers. Mr Simpson-Hinchliffe tried to introduce a worker protection and pension scheme to which subscribers would put in and he would double. The couple supported many clubs and societies; they had ambitions for Cragg Vale to become a model village.

The very embodiment of the Simpson-Hinchliffe era was New Cragg Hall. A large house belonging to Hinchliffe Hinchliffe already existed. It can be seen in this photo from 1901:

1901

But alterations on a grand scale went on between 1904 and 1906. The money lavished on New Cragg Hall can be seen in every detail and the completed house was a beautiful mixture of architectural styles. From the Elizabethan shaped gables of the Queen Anne Revival, to the Arts and Crafts dressed stone. The steep pitched roofs and multifaceted turret like many Lutyens houses. The tall chimneys and mullioned windows have elements of Norman Shaw’s Cragside, built 35 years earlier.

cragg hall 1

This photo was taken in 1907, just after the Hall was finished. It shows everyone of the staff and tennants.

Cragg Hall

Everyone in the photograph has been identified. This is scanned from S G Hellowell’s A History of Cragg Vale

people list

The beautiful gate house has recently been attributed to Edgar Wood, a highly regarded Arts and Crafts architect based in Manchester. There is a photo of an earlier version. The arch was widened to accommodate Algy’s chauffeur driven motor car. This is what stands today.

gateouse

It is possible that Edgar Wood had some input into the hall too. There are no records to show for sure.

The hall saw much lavish entertainment and in its day was considered the grandest house around. The singer Dame Clare Butt and the actor Henry Ainley were both guests there. The billiard champion Melbourne Inman also stayed there. Mr Simpson-Hinchliffe purposely got him drunk and the played him. He was able to boast ever afterwards that he had beaten Inman at Billiards.

Where old Hinchliffe Hinchliffe was wealthy, penny pinching and austere, Algy lived fast and spent. He was a keen sportsman and owned a beautiful, prize winning racehorse named Broadwood (a large house built on the estate was named after him). He took very little interest in the business of the mills, leaving all that to the managers.

The hall was subdued and quiet during world war 1. Mr Simpson-Hincliffe worked with the French Red Cross Society on the Verdun front, among other things.

Mrs Simpson-Hinchliffe died suddenly in 1917 leaving the total estate (of £74,371) to her young husband. Algy lived alone at the hall, but post war, the social era was passed, the mills ceased to prosper and the valley must have been a somber place.

New Cragg Hall caught fire in the early hours of August 11th 1921. The heroics of Mr Simpson-Hinchliffe were well reported at the time. His first priority was to rescue two young maids “clad only in their night atire” from the upstairs of the burning building. The fire started downstairs where the rooms, mostly lined with waxed oak, burned like tinder. There was some difficultly in contacting the fire brigade and eventually Algy despatched his chauffeur to Hebden Bridge to fetch them. Even then there was difficulty securing the water supply for the hoses. From a press report following the fire:

The scene was like a tremendous furnace, the shine from which lit up the whole of the Cragg Valley like an electric arc lamp, the glare being easily visible at Hebden Bridge, Heptonstall and in the other direction at Halifax.

Though reports at the time listed all that was lost:

Family heirlooms, costly furs, rare laces, pictures, silver and valuable cups and other trophies won by his celebrated hunter, Broadwood.

Cragg Hall

There was later some speculation about the fire. The mansion would have been impossible to maintain postwar; the staffing costs alone would have rendered living there impossible. The mills were performing badly, with little prospect in things improving; there was a vast increase in industry taxation to help pay for the war. There were rumors that Algy was in debt at the time of the fire, and needed the money, and also that many of the valuables listed for the insurers had been removed before the fire.

Mr Simpson-Hinchliffe remained in Cragg Vale for a few years after the fire, living in Old Cragg Hall, further up the hillside. The secret would have been buried with Algy himself; he died in 1963, by then living in Wetherby.

Most of this story has come from S G Hellowell’s extensive A History of Cragg Vale, and his The Hinchliffes of Cragg Vale, both of which are in Hebden Bridge local studies library. Mr Hellowell was a boy at the time of the Simpson-Hinchliffes. He met Helen just once, and Algy several times. He liked him a great deal and speaks of his generosity, his kindness and considerable charm. The period of the hall seems to sum up a brief flourishing of Cragg Vale. It’s best summed up by Mr Hellowell himself:

The two main persons were undoubtedly Hinhliffe Hinchliffe and W.A Simpson-Hinchliffe. There could not have been two more distinct and different personalities anywhere. One amassed wealth and the other, a ‘stranger’, inherited it, used it, and finally distributed outside the family from whence it had come, and so – clogs to clogs and ashes to ashes.

cragghallstonedetails2

The house stood as a burned out ruin until the 1950s. Over the decades the site was picked over , and dressed and decorated stone, without provenance, is doubtless scattered in gardens throughout the valley. A small proportion of what was left was built in the new, New Cragg Hall that stands upon the footprint of the old. The fairy towers remain, well preserved and hidden in the trees. The terraces, the steps, the decorated battlements, all remain, incongruous and divided as the land has been redivided and redeveloped. The private road, once the driveway, cuts the house off from its gardens.

cragg vale ruin details

The rose gardens, now the tennis court, entirely separated from the levels above.

stone shelter

NCH2paintingAll the black and white photographs in this post have been borrowed, with kind permission from Pennine Heritage Digital Archive.

 

One Response to “The History of New Cragg Hall

  • Have just come across this while researching Hinchliffe Hinchliffe, and it makes for fascinating reading. I am Vicar of Emmanuel Church Southport and Helen Hinchliffe paid for the building of our church tower in memory of her father who died in Southport. There is an inscription in memory of him from Helen on the wall of the tower.

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