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[credit to Martin Harper for his research]




Wellbank, Lowther Road

[The woman is identified as Mrs Walter Gray (circa 1910), there was a Walter Gray, gardner living on Bowman Street (which is now under the St Mary's School field) in 1911]

The 1841 census shows two families living in the area of Well Bank in Prestwich, the area was close to Prestwich Hills and Diggle Fold Farm (Sandy Lane).




1841 Census




1848 map

[note the path down from wellbank towards Buckley's in the clough, this was the main route into the Clough]

The damaged 1851 census doesn't readily match anyone in the Well Bank location, however it does show Isaac Holden, an architect, along with his wife & three children living close by to the Chapman family that were spotted in 1841. The Chapman family are farmers and assumed to be at Diggle fold Farm which stood at the corner of present day Sandy Lane and Lowther Road.




1851 Census


Isaac Holden & Son, architects, had worked in Philidelphia, designing the Pennsylvania Asylum, but returned to England and (along with Henry Littler) designed Prestwich Asylum, Smithfield Market in Manchester, and St Peter's Church in Ancoats, they won a silver medal in the Notre Dame de Ia Treille et St. Pierre competition held at Lille. Isaac presided as the first president of the Manchester Society of Architects (1865), and also designed the two sets of semi detached villas on Prestwich Park Road South (Nos. 45-51), one of which was the home to Charles Swain the Manchester poet.


Smithfield Market, Northern Quarter

[Ref: By Alan Godfree, CC BY-SA 2.0, link]

Jumping to the 1861 census we find the property may have improved some degree, with a cattle dealer, Richard Brown found in residence. Regular occupations around the location would be weavers or agricultural labourers.

In 1871, a hotel proprietor had moved in, William Smith, he and his wife and two children got by with a Housemaid,Cook and an outdoor servant. By 1881 William had become a wine merchant living at Well Bank, however the electoral roll showed John William McConnel was registered there.

The 1891 census shows a John Wanklyn McConnel registered at Well Bank, he was a non practising barister, and managing director of cotton spinning mills as well as being a magistrate.


John W McConnel


1891 map

[note the path down from wellbank towards Buckley's has been moved to the left, they must have got fed up of the traffic, this was the main route into the Clough]

John's grandfather had founded McConnel & Co., fine cotton spinners,in 1797. The McConnels had purchased the English patent rights of the Heilman Comber, a machine for combing the fibres of cotton, worsted, flax etc to remove short fibres, clean out extraneous matter, and lay the fibres more or less parallel to each other. This advantage led to the McConnel mills becoming the second largest in the world, and Mr. McConnel was thus one of the aristocrats of the industry.James Snr, left his concerns to his three sons James, William & Henry.


McConnel & Co Mills

(Grad II listed) were the largest cast iron structure in the World when built by Sir William Fairbairn's company, Fairbairn & Lillie

[Ref: By Scanned by Mr Stephen - Scanned from A Century of fine Cotton Spinning, 1790-1913. McConnel & Co. Ltd. Facing p 24., Public Domain, link]

[John's father, William McConnel, lived at Brooklands on Bury Old Road, 1861, and married Margaret Bradshaw Wanklyn in 1852, whose father, William Wanklyn, a descendant of John Wanklyn was one of Oliver Cromwell's Commissioners, and who fought for him at the battle of Worcester, but whose property was confiscated on the accession of Charles II., and given to the Earl of Essex]
[Uncle Henry lived in Cressbrook Hall, in the Peak District 1861]
[John's uncle James, was to be found in Bent House in 1851 and BentHill in the 1860's]


John became the director of the Fine Cotton Spinners and Doublers Association from 1898, and published papers on the technology of the cotton industry and its productionand consumption across the British Empire.

In 1873 he entered St John's College, Cambridge, and 1875 he took the position of sub-lieutenant in the 3rd Cambridgshure Rifle Volunteers, but by 1901, the census shows John W, solicitor and director of cotton mills, along with his wife (Caroline) Edith living in Well Bank. The family was not present in 1911, as John had travelled to America on the RMS Mauretania, holder of the Blue Ribband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic for 20 years, which had previously been held by her sister ship RMS Lusitania. Though the family remained on the electoral register at Well Bank.


Between 1913-1921 John is listed as a director of Willams & Deacons Bank.



John had been crossing the Atlantic over the years, and in 1915, John was one of the survivors of the sinking of the RMS Lusitania when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat. RMS Lusitania had breifly (3 months) been the fastest and largest passenger ship in teh world until RMS Mauretania was built.

The entire Atlantic had been declared a war zone in 1914, and as RMS Lusitania headed from New York to Britain on the 7th May 1915, with Ireland in sight,she was torpedoed. A second explosion (arguably due to munitions on board - not confirmed until 1982) took her to the bottom within 18 minutes of the first, with the deaths of 1,198 crew and passengers. The Germans claimed the munitions made her a valid target.


The sinking of the RMS Lusitania



[Ref: By Bundesarchiv, DVM 10 Bild-23-61-17 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, link]

Read John's recollection of the sinking here



The McConnel family lived at Wellbank until the 1920's, with John's wife Evelyn finally entering the electoral register after women gained the right to vote in 1918. John was the eldest son of William McConnel who lived at Brooklands (Bury Old Road 1861) and fromerly Deyne Brook (Rectory Lane)
[William's brother, James, lived at Bent House in 1851, and Bent Hill in the 1860's]


John W McConnel died at Wellbank in 1922, aged 67 and is comemmorated in St Marys' Church (above)


John also has a stained glass comemmorating him in St Colmon's Church, Colmonell
During the 30s and 40s the housing estates of Prestwich crept ever closer and Wellbank was demolished, replaced with blocks of flats "Brentwood Court" in the 1970's.




The encroachment of housing.