Hillbark History: The first Hillbark House
PERIOD COVERED 1868 – 1928
The original Hillbark House was built by in 1868 by Mr Septimus Ledward, a wealthy local iron merchant and also a justice of the peace. Septimus was a contemporary of Thomas Royden of Frankby Hall, and the two families were later to become entwined through marriage.
So what do we know about this enterprising chap?
The Ledward family were from northern Lancashire originally. Septimus’s father Ted Ledward, was a Hatter, born in 1787 in Lancaster and his mother Margaret was born in 1787 in Bury, and the family lived in Rodney Street, Liverpool.
Septimus was born in June 1819. As you might guess, he was called Septimus because he was the seventh child of Margaret and Ted Ledward. In fact he had eight brothers and two sisters so the family was huge.
His father ran a Hatter’s business in Lancaster, but unfortunately not very well, as he was made bankrupt in 1833, and subsequently died in Lancaster Gaol debtor’s prison.
His older brother Charles Orrt Ledward was born in 1811 so 8 years older than Septimus. Charles worked as a Merchant for Gunston, Wilson & Co of 18 Hackins Hey, Liverpool. He travelled to Mexico in 1847 and was shipwrecked but survived the ordeal. His firm owned many sailing ships and financed the building of others.
As part of the shipbuilding and shipowning community in Liverpool, it’s probably fair to assume that Charles knew Thomas Royden and therefore that his brother Septimus would also have known him.
In the mid-1800s Roydens began building iron ships and the first of their iron vessels, the Silvia was launched in 1863. Septimus would have been 44 at that time, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that Septimus was involved in buying and supplying iron for shipbuilding to Roydens’ Yard.
In the 1871 census taken at Hillbark, Septimus is listed as head of the household aged 51, with his wife Harriet aged 48 and daughter, also Harriet aged 22. There is also his niece, listed as having been born in New Orleans, Eleanor Gostushope aged 26.
They have four live-in servants: H. Littlemore, the Cook from Neston aged 47, Jane Beddows, Housemaid from Chirk near Wrexham, aged 35, Janet Martin, Housemaid from Dumfries aged 18 and Mary Davidson, Kitchen Maid from Belfast aged 19. So they had servants from all four nations which would have made for a lively household!
We know that Septimus was interested in local history, because in 1872 he was elected as a member of the Lancashire and Cheshire Historical Society. At the age of 47 on 7th June 1866 he acquired land in Frankby from Thomas Royden, and it may be that this piece of land was of interest to him because it was the location of an ancient tithebarn dating back hundreds of years.
The land here was called Hillbark and the Hillbark tithebarn was built of local sandstone. It was used for storing rents and tithes — one tenth of a farm’s produce. Tithe barns were usually associated with the village church or rectory and independent farmers took their tithes there, which then went to St Werburgh’s Abbey In Chester.
The house which Septimus built, also named “Hill Bark” was designed by G T Grayson of Liverpool and enlarged in 1882. The surrounding grounds were laid out with gardens and glasshouses, a dovecote and a bowling green, and covered an area of 2 acres.
Septimus went on to become a Justice of the Peace and rubbed shoulders with the great and the good of the region, including John Laird MP of the wealthy and powerful Laird family.