The Smithills Hall story 

Photo of Ainsworth family 1800
The Ainsworth family circa 1800s

A new exhibition will tell the story of Smithills Hall through the ages and the people who lived and worked there.  

Smithills Hall has been the centre of local life for over 700 years. The new exhibition spaces have been put together with the help of the Friends of Smithills Hall.

The exhibition will introduce visitors to some of the powerful families who owned the house and estate over the centuries, but also the lives of the servants who worked behind the scenes. 

There is also a new interactive family trail with puzzles and word searches, and a handy map to guide visitors to the clues.

Bolton Council’s Cabinet Member for Culture, Youth and Sport, Cllr John Byrne, said: “We’re very fortunate to have such a wonderful asset like Smithills Hall in Bolton and even more fortunate to have the support of the Friends of Smithills Hall, who volunteer their time to ensure the history of the hall stays alive.

“We’ve worked closely with the Friends group to create a new, permanent exhibition which documents the lives, loves and work of those families who have been involved with the building over the past 700 or so years. The hall has a fascinating history which will appeal to all ages and it’s certainly worth a visit.”

David Williams, Chairman of Friends of Smithills Hall, said: “The Friends of Smithills Hall have worked in partnership with Bolton Library and Museum Services to create the new family friendly exhibition.  We hope that it entices people to visit and experience the rich history that the hall has to offer as well as finding out more about the Friends of Smithills Hall.”

Visitors will learn about the first owners of the hall, an influential, aristocratic family called the Radcliffes. Their lasting legacy is the Great Hall, which they rebuilt in stone when they took possession of the estate in the early 1300s. The Great Hall was where the family slept and ate its meals. However, it was also a seat of government. From here, the Radcliffes administered their extensive landholdings and dispensed local justice. 

Smithills Hall has always been a place of work as well as a family home. A new area called ‘Working Life’ will explore the hall’s connection to local industry. When the Barton family owned the manor in the 1500s, the main industries were farming and weaving. By the time Richard Shuttleworth became Lord of the Manor in 1582 the estate had its own mill. 

The lives of local workers changed dramatically with the arrival of the Ainsworth family in the 1800s. Under the Ainsworths the hall became the centre of a hugely successful bleaching business. 

No history of Smithills would be complete without mention of Bolton’s first and only martyr, George Marsh’s footprint of faith. Marsh, a local preacher, was a victim of the persecution of Protestants during the reign of Queen Mary.

In the spring of 1554, Lord Derby, the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire, ordered George Marsh to be apprehended on charges of heresy if he appeared in Bolton. At Smithills Hall he presented himself before Robert Barton, the owner of the estate and local Justice of the Peace. He was held and questioned about his ‘heretical’ religious beliefs in one of the upper rooms at Smithills. The legend has it that as Marsh was being led from the hall he stamped his foot on a flagstone, leaving a mark that has remained there ever since as a declaration of his steadfast faith.

The new exhibition will open on Thursday, May 28 and will be a permanent fixture at the hall, in the Medieval Kitchen. Smithills Hall is open Wednesday to Friday, 10am to 3pm and on Sunday 12pm to 4pm. 

For more information on the Friends of Smithills Hall, visit their website.

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Media contact
Karen Spibey
01204 332064