On the hill overlooking Stalybridge, bordering Dukinfield lie the ruins of two great houses sharing grounds covering 35 acres of woodland and meadow, and one name. One dates back to the 17th Century and the English Civil War, while the other was the site of one of the most intriguing unsolved murders of the 20th Century.
“Old Gorse Hall” first appears in records belonging to Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Duckenfield, as part of the Dockenfeld Manor. Robert Duckenfield was a Parliamentarian who fought in the Civil War (1642-51). It is likely that the Hall was in existence before this.
The old Hall was never sold, but passed down by inheritance. When Lady Dukinfield-Daniel died, the estate passed to her husband, John Astley, an artist famous at the time for painting portraits; after him relative Francis Dukinfield-Astley inherited the hall. He built Hunter’s Tower onto the building in 1807. Described as “a great sportsman”, he was involved in the formation of the Astley Riflemen Volunteers, from which a certain Stalybridge pub derived its name.
Mill owner John Leech bought some land from Astley to build his mills. His son (also named John), the grandfather of beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter, later bought the Gorse Hall estate and built a new mansion from stone from nearby quarries between 1835 and 1836. This became known as the “New Gorse Hall”, and included gardens, an orchard and a bowling green. Leech and his wife would live in the new Gorse Hall (as would all owners of the estate to follow), where they would raise eight children, and where one of them, Potter’s mother would be born. Beatrix herself would frequently visit her grandparents in Stalybridge throughout her life.
After John Leech and his wife Jane had passed away, Gorse Hall was purchased by William Storrs as a wedding gift for his son George Harry Storrs. Thus began the most harrowing piece of Gorse Hall’s history. Following a series of incidents involving intruders, Storrs was brutally stabbed to death, aged 49 on 1st November 1909. He bled to death from 15 stab wounds. Incredibly, despite the presence of several eye-witnesses and the trials of two separate men, the case remains unsolved, and the mystery continues to intrigue people to the present day, with several theories as to who killed Storrs, and why.
In the wake of the tragedy, Storrs’ wife had the mansion destroyed in 1910 and moved away. The old fireplace and floor foundations are all that remain. The remains of Old Gorse Hall can also still be seen. The land is now owned by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council, and managed by Friends of Gorse Hall, who promote the site for leisure, educational and historical use.
The site has a blue plaque, located at the entrance on High Street.