|Yew Tree Farm, Bramhall Lane,
and what happened to it
|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 FarmersFrom 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
OriginsYew 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 DavenportsThe 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 CompanyIn 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 ChristyOf 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 RailwayThe 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 DevelopmentsFrom 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