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Alder Fold - the Morts and the Valentines

Extract from ‘The Carbon of 1921’ and contributed by Dave Dutton and his website - http://www.nyt.co.uk/athertonhistory.htm

The following historical note relating to Alder House is a very interesting one. The name, Alder Fold, was changed by the late Miss Withington to Alder House about 100 years ago.

It was originally a farm of about 33 statute acres, with a small house, barn and cottages and must have belonged at one period to the Atherton family as there is still paid to the estate a fee farm, or modus rent, of £1 1s 10d per year, but when and how it became a separate possession modern owners have no record. The original farm house and cottages are very old; one of the bedrooms is still covered with the original pollard oak boards, probably grown upon the estate, and many centuries old. The house known as Alder House was built by Ralph Astley and Ann, his wife, in 1697. He was related in some way to the family of Sir Thomas Tyldesley, who was slain in the battle of Wigan.

Over the porch in rude form are represented the three fields of the family, with a device of his own, being a mixture of the arms of Gray's Inn, London, of which he was said to have been a member, with the motto of that Inn, the first verse of the 46th Psalm, " God is our refuge and strength, etc."; underneath it is the head of a barrister, with his wig.

At that time Atherton was mainly a village of nailmakers, and he appears to have been an iron merchant, probably supplying the workmen with the raw material and taking it back in finished work, as by tradition he did a large trade with Ireland. From a letter of his lawyer's, dated June 25th, 1723, he seems to have been hasty tempered, for in it he says " I would have you discourse with Mr. Atherton in the manner we mentioned yesterday, and, if possible, keep your temper." He died September 30th, 1721, and Ann, his wife, August 29th, 1727-having been both struck by lightning at the same time, according to tradition. They are buried in the chapelyard close by.

At their death the estate went to the Mort family, of Astley, most likely to Thomas Mort, of Damhouse, who was living in 1733. A descendant, Nathan Mort (father of John Mort) is said by one account to have come to live with John at the house from Damhouse, Astley, the crows following him upon his removal, upon which tradition has it that John said :" The very fowls of the air know that I have been robbed of the inheritance," there having been some legal disputations.

John Mort was intended for the ministry, but, owing to having an impediment in his speech, he declined all advance to that end and when he was 19 years of age, went to Nottingham and bound himself apprentice to a stocking weaver, returning home to become a. manufacturer of fustians, and to some extent a cotton spinner, most likely by hand or very small water wheels;the earliest known in this neighbourhood being at the Woodlands, just over the border of Atherton in Hulton; the next one used for carding cotton at Lodge Farm, Atherton. It may interest some persons to know Mr. Mort's prices for cotton yarn in 1740 - 44s. to 52s. 2d 1/2d. per skein; 52s. to 62s. 2 3/4d. per skein; and 62s 3d upwards per skein - the bulk of the yarn then made would be much coarser. From an extract from the volume of " Philosophical Transactions " for 1775, it is therein stated that the population of Chowbent (Atherton) in about 1772 was 354 males and 606 females.

Mr. John Mort, the last of the family, died on January 12th, 1788, in the 86th year of his age.

The following lines written by the celebrated Mrs. Barbauld when upon a visit to Mr Mort and they fully describe his character:-


" Happy old man, who stretched beneath the shade
of large grown trees, or in the rustic porch
with woodbine canopied (where linger yet
the hospitable virtues) calm enjoys!
Nature's best blessing all, a healthy age,
ruddy and vigorous, native cheerfulness.
Plain-hearted friendship, simple piety.
The rural manners and the rural joys.
Friendly to life, though rude of speech, yet rich
in genuine worth; not unobserved shall pass
thy bashful virtues, for muse shall mark.
Detect thy charities, and call to light
thy secret deeds of mercy; while the poor,
the desolate and friendless, at thy gate,
A numerous family, with better praise
shall hallow in their hearts thy spotless name."

The large grown trees above mentioned were beech trees and were cut down by the late John Unsworth, timber merchant, sold to the contractor, and were used as piles for the foundations of the Sankey Viaduct, Newton-le-Willows. It is said that Mr John Mort was carried from under them into the house, 'where he expired'.

On a brass plate upon a tomb in the chapel-yard is the following:-
This monument was erected by John Mort, to honour the memory of Adam Mort and Martha., his wife, who, after a. short but well-spent life in conjugal happiness, in the fear of God, and in the service of their generation, were together summoned to share the glorious resurrection to eternal life, and receive the reward of the faithful. August, 1730.

John Mort left all his property to his partner Peter Valentine, whose family lived 'with him for many years'. He died in 1794, aged 46 years. The business was continued for some time, the family taking young gentlemen into the house to learn the business.

A pane of glass is scratched: T. K. for Kinnard, T Sneyd and others dated 1793. One called ‘Maltby’ (of the family of the then Bishop of Durham), hanged himself in a portion of the house, what was the warehouse, now taken down. The tradition is the Valentines lost heavily in the wars by privateers taking their goods when on vessels on the high seas. Peter Valentine the younger inherited the property after his father's death. He was a talented man, and of some learning. After living in America for many years he came home and died unmarried in 1843. The last of the family died about 56 years ago.

The only fact of public interest may be in a then cottage, now a part of the house, in which the father and mother of a one-time member for this division lived for a time, Caleb Wright, M.P. who from thence when 11 years of age, often before half-past five in the morning, was merrily on his way to the mills At Tyldesley to begin practically a 13 hours day, and who could well remember the spot where he rested his weary frame on his return home at night, and then Miss Withington oft-times supplying his brothers and sisters from the abundance of her own table.

Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825)was generally regarded as one of the most important eighteenth-century and Romantic-era British women writers. More widely remembered as a poet, her prose essays nonetheless cover a wide range of literary, philosophical, and cultural topics.

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