What was little more than a marshland at the beginning of the nineteenth century would be transformed by the late 1800’s by a Victoria Banker from the heart of Lancashire into an estate for the middle classes with the air of the country and not too far away from the urban City Centre
Samuel Brooks, along with his brother John, paid £9,600 for sixty three acres of what was then known as Jackson’s Moss in 1836 from the First Lord Egerton of Tatton.
His father, William Brooks, traded in raw cotton, originating from the Ribble Valley town of Whalley, from which his son’s new development would get its name, before going into partnership with his wealthy Blackburn friend Roger Cunliffe founding the firm of Cunliffe-Brooks & Co. of Blackburn.
Samuel, who was born in 1793, began his working life in his father’s warehouse before moving to Manchester at the age of 27 along with a wife and two young children and initially settled at Granby Hall. He joined the calico-printing firm, Reddish, Brooks & Co, operating from warehouses on High Street where he would open a branch of his father’s bank.
As the fortunes of the bank grew, so did that of the family, taking residence at Barlow Hall, then a four mile ride from the bank’s headquarters which would later move to King Street.
Samuel began to acquire land across the county. Besides what would become Whalley Range, he was also behind the land improvements in Sale, Brooklands, Timperley and Baguley.
His wife died in 1843 and in the same year he donated a large sum of money towards the building of the Lancashire Independent College in Whalley Range, which had begun being built in 1840, only for a near disaster at the stone laying ceremony, when a hastily erected seating stand collapsed. It opened in April 1843 and was used for the training of congregationalists but became a hall of residence for the university.
He also left his mark around other parts of Manchester, a subscriber to St Margaret’s church, he also contributed toward the building of the Roby schools on Aytoun St. and donated £10,000 towards Alfred Waterhouse’s church in his estate in Brooklands.
Back in Whalley Range, he planned to drain Withington Lane creating pleasant avenues to it from the South East and collaborated with John Shaw of Bowden to create over the next twenty five years his very own stately mansion surrounded by delightful grounds and deer parks.
He died in 1864, the Manchester Guardian noted his cause of death as a decay of nature. His funeral cortège drove past the King St Bank towards Salford station where his casket was put on a train for; at his request, a simple grave in Whalley.
At the time there was much speculation about the size of his estate, he had been christened ‘old stink o brass’ while he was alive and as the bank passed to his son William Cunliffe Brooks; who was later to be knighted and who became an honorary Manchester citizen, it was valued at £2.5m
He has a window dedicated to him in Whalley church erected by his son William
The inscription reads
“As land owner he cultivated greatly to improvements – as banker at Blackburn Lancaster and London, he was eminent for intelligence, sound judgement, great success and impartial rectitude – in his great success he benefitted many”
Whalley Range became for a time what Brooks had planned, described in the last quarter of the nineteenth century as being one of the best residential areas that Manchester has ever known. Brooks had envisaged trees some of which still stand today high spreading branches shading a leafy charm across quiet roads.
The area was praised after his death an article in 1869 described “as having a splendid avenue of trees a church pretty with ivy clad walls and an area admirably adapted for promenade especially on a Tuesday evening providing placid stillness.
Another writer called it “a plutocratic colony with a sprinkling of divines”
By the first decade of the twentieth century, the area was changing. An article in the Manchester Guardian headlined the Transformation of the Suburb and described how the story of the large houses at the end of their leases were beginning a new chapter as their occupants who could now afford motor cars moved to Alderley Edge, leaving behind houses that were not easily let, becoming institutional rather than domestic.
“The social character of the district undergoes a change, a life which was severely detached becomes semi-detached and numbers become much more convenient than names………..There are some districts which have become full to congestion of what one might call the small salaried man. Moss Side is one of them and people who know Manchester well will understand what is known as the Mossidation of Whalley Range”