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Turton Tower


Now owned by Blackburn and Darwen Council, the reputedly haunted 15th century Turton Tower is open to the public and hosts a number of events organised by the Friends of Turton Tower.

The following early account of the haunting was published in 'Lancashire Legends' (1873) by John Harland & T T Wilkinson. 'Turton Tower is now one of the most interesting structures in the neighbourhood of Bolton. The manor is said to have been granted by William the Conqueror to De Orrell, one of his followers, for military services rendered to him in the conquest of England. De Orrell, having fixed upon the place of his residence, erected a strong house of defence, which was afterwards known as Turton Tower; and it is said that the wages of the workmen were then only one penny a day. Even at this low rate of payment the Tower is said to have been built in such a style of magnificence that the family never recovered from the difficulties created by the immense outlay. The principal portions of the Tower, as it now exists, were built of stone by William, son of John Orrell, Esq., in 1596; but the older portions still retain their gabled wood-and-plaster decorations, so characteristic of the many ancient mansions of the early Tudor period still or lately existing in Lancashire. The Orrells disposed of their estates to the noted Humphrey Chetham; and subsequently, through Mr Hoare, it became the property of James Kay, Esq., of Pendleton, who has made it his principal residence, and has restored the decayed portions of the house with strict regard to their original design. Some years ago the writer spent several pleasant hours in and around this imposing feudal structure, and heard the tradition that the tower is haunted by a lady who can occasionally be heard passing along the lobbies and into the rooms, as if dressed in very stiff rustling silk, but is never able to be seen. It is said that the sound is most distinct as she sweeps along the broad massive oaken staircase which leads from the hall into the upper rooms. Many traditions also prevail in the neighbourhood respecting the wealth and expenditure of Sir Humphrey Chetham during his residence at the Tower; and certainly they are quite justified by those portions of the structure which bear his name. '

Nearly 140 years after the publishing of the above account, people are still having experiences at Turton Hall, as the following article by Catherine Pye which appeared in the Lancashire Telegraph on 24 October 2011 shows.'

'Turton Tower plans first ever midnight ghost hunts after years of sightings'

ONE of Lancashire’s most haunted houses is set to open its doors to ghost hunters for the first time.

Judith Seery, of Turton Tower has met with a team of expert psychics and mediums about running a series of overnight tours in November and December.

She said: “It’s so scary at night. We have had a lot of ghostly incidents in here that have been seen by a range of visitors and staff.

“Once a woman on a tour was pushed in the face, and people say they have seen a lady on the front lawn.

“These sightings have been going on for about 40 years. Security guards who patrol at night say they have been over to to speak to a woman against a fence, but as they’ve got closer, she disappears.

“My 13-year-old son says he’s also seen a ghostly figure flying across the sitting room and he was really shocked by it.”

TV executives from the Most Haunted series were denied access last year over concerns that filming equipment would damage the grade II listed building.

Now Blackburn with Darwen Council, which owns the property, will decide on permission once experts have been to establish safety procedures and insurance.

Mrs Seery said: “The tours led by torchlight will run from midnight to 3am or 4am. They will be done in very small groups, so it will be a better atmosphere.

“It will hopefully raise the profile of the tower and help with fundraising efforts for maintenance.”

I found the following fuller description of Turton Tower, its history and architecture in 'A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 5' (1911) by William Farrer & J. Brownbill (editors);

TURTON TOWER stands on high ground in a situation described by Camden as 'amongst precipices and wastes,' about 4 miles north of Bolton. It is an exceedingly interesting building, the oldest part of which consists of a stone tower built square with the compass, measuring externally 45 ft. in length from north to south, and 28 ft. in width, with walls 4 ft. thick. There is no architectural feature remaining to determine the precise date of the original walls, which are of a somewhat rough order with large quoin stones; whether any part of the building is earlier than the first part of the 15th century is very doubtful. The tower was altered and raised in the 16th century, when additions in stone and timber were made on its eastern and northern sides, and a range of buildings erected at right angles to it on the north-east. The plan thus formed, which is still that of the house, follows the lines of two sides of a court inclosed by buildings on the north and west. These later buildings were much altered in the first half of the 19th century, when they assumed their present appearance. The house therefore belongs to three main periods: the tower proper to the Middle Ages, the original north wing and additions to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the alteration and refacing of the latter to the early years of Queen Victoria. The whole forms a very picturesque group of buildings, the stonework of the older part offering a strong but agreeable contrast to the irregular wood and plaster work set against it.

There is no trace of the building ever having been of larger extent than at present, and the original structure no doubt consisted simply of a single peel tower with wooden buildings adjoining. The masonry of the tower is in a very good state of preservation, and at the north-east corner are the remains of a projecting vice perfect still at the top, but cut away in recent times in the lower story. In the north-west corner is still the shaft of a garderobe projecting from the main structure, and there is a garderobe cut in the thickness of the wall, probably at a later date. The original tower would be about 35 ft. high, and consisted of three low stories, evidences of which still remain in the old blocked window-openings which can be seen from the outside—two on the ground floor, one on the upper floor, and five on the original top floor. These windows were of two lights on the two lower stories, and of one light above. There are also the remains of a window almost entirely destroyed on the north side, near what is now the pantry door, and further remains of another window above it, now internal, proving that at this time there were no buildings adjoining the tower proper on the north side.

These buildings were added in the 16th century, but whether they predated the rebuilding which Camden states took place in 1596 is not certain. Some of the older parts are stated to have been at that date of lath and plaster, showing that some additions must have been made to the stone tower probably at the beginning of the 16th century, and it is possible that the whole north wing may have been erected at that time. What the lath and plaster portions of the building prior to 1596 were like is not known, but they probably indicate some kind of addicion to the original structure before the more extensive additions which more than doubled the area of the plan. The north or kitchen wing is set at an irregular angle with the tower, being swung slightly to the south; it consisted originally of a two-storied stone building with heavily timbered pitched roof, with three detached chimneys in the centre and two corbelled from the north wall, and so continued till the alteration in the beginning of the last century. The room immediately north of the tower proper, which forms the junction between the original structure and the later wing, was no doubt built at the same time, though it may have been of larger extent, the north wall having been rebuilt in later times. Whether there were any buildings in the position of the present entrance and staircase on the east side of the tower before 1596, or, if so, what was the nature of them, cannot be stated, though it is probable that some kind of more convenient entrance would by this time have been found necessary. The present entrance and entrance-hall would seem to belong, however, to the rebuilding of 1596, though externally altered since. In that year vast changes were made in the building with a view of bringing its comfort up to the more luxurious standard of the times, and the tower proper then assumed practically its present appearance. The old floors were taken out, the stories raised so that two occupied nearly the whole space of the former three, and a new story was added, raising the height to 45 ft. to the top of the battlements. The old narrow windows were done away with or blocked up, and the present large three, four, and five-light mullioned and transomed windows with labels took their place, entirely altering the appearance of the old part of the building. The later story is of ashlar masonry, and is separated from the old rubble walling below by a moulded string-course, and the battlements have a continuous moulding round merlons and embrasures, with ornamental finials at the angles.

The building, as it was left by the Orrells in 1628, was substantially that which remained till the great changes which took place under James Kay after 1835, though it is probable that some alterations would be made by Humphrey Chetham when he purchased the property at the former date. The present oak staircase, with flat pierced balusters, and square newels with balls, is most likely his work or that of his successor, replacing or modifying one erected not very long before, but there is no record of the Chethams having undertaken any building or alteration.

Some restoration, however, appears to have been done in the interior in the 18th century, but not such as materially affected the structure, and the arrangement of the top floor of the tower may belong to this period, together with the roof, which does not appear to be the original 16th-century one, the stone corbels which carried the beams being now in most instances unoccupied. From about 1809 to 1835 the building was occupied as a farm-house, as well as being used as a corn-mill for a considerable time, and during this period it suffered a good deal (the lower part of the stone staircase no doubt being then cut away). It was in this condition when James Kay purchased the property and determined to restore it.

Illustrations of Turton Tower in the early years of the 19th century, before the alterations took place, show three half-timbered gables on the east side of the tower, the middle one over the entrance and those on the south side of it being pretty much as now, but the staircase gable is very much narrower and of three stories, and there is an open space between it and the north wing, the low roof of the morning-room thus showing from the forecourt. Between 1835 and 1844 the staircase took its present form, being widened northward and recased in deal, and elaborate carving was introduced into the barge-boards rather out of keeping with the original more solid and monumental work. The whole of the north wing was at the same time reconstructed, and the west portion of it over the kitchen and offices raised a third story, assuming its present aspect, with a half-timbered gable at right angles to the staircase gable, into which it cuts rather awkwardly in the north-west corner of the forecourt. The east end of the wing containing the servants' hall was refronted in stone, and two large carved Jacobean gables introduced on the south and east sides, with three large mullioned and transomed windows in the principal front. In all this modern work little regard was paid to the preservation of the original appearance of the building, the old chimneys of the north wing were lost, and the aspect of the house to the forecourt entirely changed. With the exception of a small portion of timber in the gable over the entrance, all the black and white work is therefore modern. All the barge-boards, which are elaborately carved and have finials and pendants, are new, and the work, if picturesque when seen at some little distance, is rather poor in quality, and presents few of the characteristics of the original structure. In this restoration also the sills of the two large mullioned windows of the dining and drawing rooms on the ground and first floor of the tower were lowered, and the ancient proportions of the windows destroyed. In more recent years a low one-story building, now a laundry, has been erected on the west side of the tower.

The plan, as will be gathered from the foregoing description, follows no precedent; the original peel tower, having been retained and altered to suit later requirements, now contains the principal rooms of the house, the dining-room occupying the ground floor, and the drawing-room the floor above. The floor of the dining-room is about 2 ft. below the present level of the ground outside, and the room is entered from a lobby on the south side of the hall by a descent of three steps. It is 25 ft. long by 19 ft. in width, and 11 ft. 6 in. in height, and is lighted by a large fivelight window at the south end containing some good Swiss 16th-century painted glass in its upper lights. The walls are panelled their full height with 18th-century panelling brought here from Middleton Hall, near Manchester, on its demolition in 1845. The mantelpiece and ceiling are modern. Behind the panelling at the south end of the room are two small original twolight windows facing east and west, probably blocked up when the panelling was inserted, but retaining their glass and showing from the outside. There is a blocked-up opening on the west wall. The dining room does not extend the whole length of the tower, a flagged passage 8 ft. wide being taken across the north end at the level of the entrance hall, and separated from the room by a thin modern wall. From this passage steps go down to the cellar, and two doors on the north side open respectively into what was originally the bottom of the garderobe at the north-west corner, and through the thickness of the wall into a small room now called a pantry in the space between the outside of the tower north wall and the later morning-room, occasioned by the projection of the vice. The drawing-room occupies the whole of the first floor, being 36 ft. in length, and in addition to a five-light window on the south side has three windows of two, three, and four lights respectively on the west side, all of 16th-century date. The walls are panelled in oak to within 4 ft. of the ceiling, which is an elaborate restored Elizabethan one of plaster with panels and pendants. The oak wainscot is old, but adapted to the room, and some respect has been had for the old 15th-century window on the east side, which with its ancient shutters can be examined by withdrawing one of the panels. The fireplace and small vestibule in the north-east corner are modern. The second floor of the tower is divided into two rooms, one of which is used as a billiard-room, and a passage; but the original arrangement is not clear, the division walls being modern, and a fireplace in the present passage showing that alterations have taken place. The upper part of the single-light window of the original third story can still be seen at the floor level behind modern shutters. Access is now gained to the roof by means of a ladder and trap-door in the upper part of the garderobe turret. The roof is hipped from the angles, and covered, like all the roofs to the house, with stone slates. The top part of the vice is covered by a trap-door in the floor of the upper story, ten steps being quite perfect. The upper walls, which probably formed a turret, were destroyed in the raising of the tower and not rebuilt, the later battlements stopping short on each side, and the roof of the tower being continued over.

On the ground floor a passage runs north from the entrance-hall to the morning-room and kitchen wing. On the right is the staircase 10 ft. square, built within walls with an open well, and a door opposite opening into the bottom of the vice. Beyond the stairs is a modern pantry filling up the irregular space between the old narrow staircase gable and the north wing. The morning-room is panelled all round with wainscot, for the most part old, but made up with grained and varnished deal, and adapted to the walls. The mantelpiece is entirely so made up, and the shields have no antiquity. The room is lit on the north side by a new three-light window, and there is a small original window on the west side to the north of the fireplace. On the other side, in the thickness of the chimney, is a deep recess. Great changes seem to have taken place in this room, the north wall apparently being later than the rest, and perhaps not in its original position, while on the floor above it is entirely modern. The room over, known as the Tapestry Room, or sometimes Humphrey Chetham's room, is of the same dimensions, the walls being covered with original tapestry. This portion of the house being only of two stories, with the higher threestory buildings on two sides of it, is very much dwarfed in elevation, and this has necessitated the carrying up of the chimney-shaft to a great height (30 ft.) above the eaves of the gabled roof. The north wing contains the kitchen in the centre, with scullery and larder opening from it to the west, and the servants' hall at the east end, approached by a corridor along the south side, and from the outside by a one-story stone porch, apparently of 16th-century date, at the end. Old drawings, however, show the porch to have been two-storied at the beginning of the 19th century, and it is probable that in the rebuilding of 1835–44 it was pulled down and the present one erected from the old materials. The lower portion of the north elevation of the kitchen wing is little altered, preserving its original low mullioned windows, though the grotesque label terminations are modern. The new upper story, however, is of half-timber work like that in the front, and the gables facing west are slate hung. On the first floor of this wing great changes have taken place, the relative level of the rooms and passages has been falsified, and blind windows introduced, glazed on the outside. The house still contains some of the original 17th-century furniture, but the greater part was sold in 1890, and a bed belonging to Humphrey Chetham is now in the South Kensington Museum. A bell which used to hang on the exterior of the north-west corner of the tower was taken down in 1879, and is now at Westwood, Pendlebury. It bears the arms of Orrell with the initials W O N, R O, and the date 1587. The initials are clearly those of members of the Orrell family: William Orrell and his wife, and perhaps Richard Orrell.

The above mentions that many of the household goods were sold in 1890, probably around the time that the Kay family sold Turton Tower. Eventually it was bought by the barrister and politician Sir James Lees Knowles, 1st Baronet (Born 16 February 1857 – Died 7 October 1928). Following his death, his widow Lady Nina Knowles (nee Ogilvy), daughter of the Francis Ogilvy-Grant, 10th Earl of Seafield, gave the Tower to the Turton Urban District Council who used it as office space until 1974 when it became a museum.

Turton Tower is also the last resting place of the Timberbottom Farm skulls which were associated with poltergeist activity at least as far back as the 19th century.


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