A Brief History of Turton Tower
There has been much discussion over the years as to the derivation of the name “Turton” and whether there was a pre-existing tower or defensive structure before the present Tower in the 1420s. Turton Moor was inhabited in pre-Christian times and there is believed to have been an early settlement near Torra Barn.
We do know that the de Torboc family held the Manor of Turton from the Lord of Manchester from 1212 until 1431 when Elizabeth de Torboc married William Orrell from Wigan, whose father was a cousin of Lord Stanley. The Tower at Turton has been described as a Pele tower or a tower house, but it is as likely to have been built to offer protection for the Orrells from the de Torbocs rather than from raiders from across the border. The stone tower was built first, and in 1533 Ralph Orrell extended the living accommodation with a cruck-framed building built at right angles, but not attached to the stone edifice, and shortly afterwards with a second similar addition.
By 1620 the Orrells were greatly in debt and by 1628 they had no choice but to sell the Tower and lands to Humphrey Chetham. The Orrells continued to live on at the Tower until 1647, as Humphrey Chetham chose to live elsewhere.
During the Civil War (1642-1651), the Orrells were Royalists while Chetham supported Cromwell. These must have been interesting times at the Tower when Chetham garrisoned Parliamentary troops in the Turton barn.
Members of the Chetham family inherited the Tower and lands, followed by the Greene and Frere families (descended from branches of the Chethams) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. For much of the time, they continued the tradition of keeping houses elsewhere and renting the house to tenants, including members of the Horrocks family.
The Tower gradually fell into disrepair, until it came into the ownership of James Kay in 1835. James embarked on a programme of work to transform the Tower into his idea of what a Tudor manor house should look like. During the Kays’ time at Turton Tower, many changes were made including the addition of another floor above the first cruck-framed building.
James Kay’s third son who inherited the Tower, died in 1889, and the Tower was bought by Anne and Elizabeth Appleton (both in their sixties), daughters of Thomas Appleton, owner of Horrobin Mills. Sir James Lees Knowles of the Lancashire mining family became the next owner and used Turton Tower as a weekend retreat. His ancestors had lived in nearby Quarlton and were buried in St. Anne’s graveyard, so this could possibly have been a reason for him buying the Tower. On his death in 1928 his widow, Lady Nina Knowles, gave the Tower to Turton Urban District Council to use for the benefit of the people of Turton.
For many years, the dining room was used as the council chamber and the drawing room as a committee room, and in 1952 the Tower was opened as a museum by Edward Stanley, the Rt. Hon. The Earl of Derby, M.C., J.P., Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire.
Turton Tower is now owned by Blackburn with Darwen Council.
Fine Art & Furniture
Today, Turton Tower still captures the spirit of the Tudor and Victorian ages and displays one of the finest collections of period furniture and paintings in the region.
Many items are on display from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, while others are from local museums and organisations such as Towneley Hall in Burnley and Chetham’s Library in Manchester.
The Rooms in Turton Tower
The large wooden front door and Entrance Hall date from the 1600s. On display here is a portrait of Sir Lees Knowles who bought Turton Tower in 1903 with the money he made from Lancashire coal. Sir Lees Knowles and past owners entertained friends at Turton Tower and the Entrance Hall welcomed and impressed visitors – as it continues to do so today.
The Morning Room or Library is located on the ground floor, within an extension of a strong wooden cruck frame added to the original stone tower in the 1530s. After buying Turton Tower in 1835, James Kay started to restore and adapt his home to look like an Elizabethan manor house. In this room, he added wooden panelling in the style of the 1600s.
The Morning Room features marble and copper backed fireplace in the fashion of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a design style that was heavily influenced by medieval forms and colours. Above the fireplace are the coats of arms of families that have owned Turton Tower – Orrell, Chetham, Freres and Kay.
The Dining Room is located in the oldest part of the building – the base of the old stone tower. This room was dramatically altered after James Kay became the owner of Turton Tower in 1835. Kay was a keen antiquarian and wanted to recreate a dining room of the 1600s. The oak panelling was bought from the sale of interiors at Middleton Hall near Manchester at the time of its demolition in 1844. The windows contain excellent examples of painted glass made in Switzerland in the early 1600s.
The Victorian Tea Room is located in what was once the kitchen at Turton Tower. The location of the kitchen remained unchanged for over 500 years.
Extensions and alterations, like the addition of the cast iron stove and range in the 1800s, kept the kitchen in good working order to feed the families living here across the centuries. The pantry or buttery leading off from the kitchen still has stone slabs and a stone floor used for storing food and keeping it cool prior to electric refrigeration.
Chapel and Priest Room
Now known as the chapel, this bedroom may have been used as a chapel in at the time the Orrell family lived here in the late 1500s and early 1600s. John Orrell married Alice, daughter of Christopher Anderton of Lostock Hall, a Catholic family.
Chained books once belonging to Sir Humphrey Chetham can be seen in what has become known as the Priest Room. Sir Humphrey Chetham, the owner of Turton Tower from 1628, was one of the most successful merchants and landowners in the region. On his death in 1653, collections of his books were given to local churches and a new library was founded in Manchester, now called Chetham’s Library. Chetham’s has been in continuous use as a free public library for over 350 years and continues to be a significant centre for study and research.
The Drawing Room was a place for relaxation and entertainment. From the 1840s the Kay family and their guests amused themselves here by enjoying games at the card table, playing the piano, sewing by the fire and admiring the paintings on display. The oak panelling here is also from Middleton Hall, and a new plaster ceiling was installed showing a Tudor rose design.
In this bedroom, visitors can see an oak bed, made some time around 1590. Carved into the oak is the coat of arms of the Courtenay family of Devon. James Kay bought the bed in the 1840s, attracted by its age and motivated by his desire for historic things. This bed would have also appealed to him because of its association with such a distinguished aristocratic family.
Find the date carved into the foot of the bed. This detail was probably added to the bed shortly before it was transported to Turton Tower.
Bradshaw Room and Dressing Room
In the 1860s another storey was added to Turton Tower to create more bedrooms for family and guests. This bedroom is decorated in the Arts and Crafts style of the late 1800s. The wallpaper and curtains are designed by the leading designers for the movement, William Morris and George Frederick Bodley.
The fireplace and furniture came to Turton Tower as a gift from Colonel Hardcastle of Bradshaw Hall in Bolton, a country house partly demolished in the 1940s.
The Chetham Room is at the top of the stone tower. The walls were extended up by the Orrell family in the 1500s. Evidence of this can be seen from both the outside and inside of the tower. Once divided into two connecting rooms, the Kay family played billiards here in the late 1800s.
For a more detailed and comprehensive history of Turton Tower, “Turton Tower and its Owners” by W. G. Sharples