The Grade II listed Kersal Cell which dates from 1563 is the second oldest building in Salford and was the home of the English poet John Byrom (also known as John Byrom of Kersal and John Byrom of Manchester) (Born 29 February 1692 – Died 26 September 1763).
The following story concerning Kersal Cell appeared in Lancashire Legends (1873) by John Harland & T T Wilkinson. ‘It is a snug substantial residence, reminding us of Hawthorne’s “House of Seven Gables.” In the “Doctor’s” time, it would be all that a poet could desire. In fixing here his hermitage, hundreds of years ago, its original recluse. Sir Hugh le Biron, showed taste as well as sanctity. He was no “friar of orders grey,” no monk of the fraternity of Black Penitents; but a stalwart knight, once owner of Clayton Hall and Kersal Cell; both of which mansions have since become linked with nobler though untitled names. Tradition asserts that Sir Hugh left Clayton Hall for the Holy Land, with an esquire bearing his shield, and a hundred stout followers in his train. As the knight and retainers marched away, his lady prettily waved her handkerchief from the tower or turret of Clayton Hall. Arrived at the Holy Land, Le Biron dealt out his deadly blows with no niggardly measure, spreading dismay through the ranks of the enemy. Wherever an infidel’s head was visible, there also was the arm of Sir Hugh, ready to cleave it in twain. At length his conscience became troubled, and he began to doubt the righteousness of his righteous cause. The ghosts of those slain by his valour rose in vast numbers before his distempered vision; the wailing of widows and the weeping of orphans, seemed to haunt him where soever he went, until he was glad to escape from the land thus rendered unholy, and turn his steps towards the English home from which he had been too long estranged. As he passed slowly up his own avenue he met a funeral train, bearing the remains of his lady to her final resting-place, there, as the tomb-stone sweetly expresses it, to “sleep in Jesus.” Year after year she had pined for her absent lord, gradually sinking, the victim of “hope deferred.” This blow severed the last link that bound Le Biron to the world, and he retreated from its turmoil to that solitude of Kersal Cell. Here, a “hermit lone,” he alternately prayed and wandered, — climbing the picturesque heights of Kersal, or the wooded ways of Prestwich — until death, remembering the repentant warrior, removed him to the peaceful grave. — Procter’s “Our Turf, Stage, and Ring.”
A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 4 (1911)the following account of the history of Kersal Cell. ‘KERSAL was in 1142 given to the priory of Lenton, and a small cell called St. Leonard’s was established there. On the suppression of monasteries it was in 1540 sold by Henry VIII to Baldwin Willoughby, and some eight years afterwards was sold to Ralph Kenyon, apparently acting for himself and for James Chetham and Richard Siddall.
The Kenyon third descended in that family for some time. It included the cell or monastic buildings. The Siddall third was alienated in 1616 to William Lever of Darcy Lever, and descended to Rawsthorne Lever of Kersal, who died in 1689 without issue, having bequeathed it to the Greenhalghs of Brandlesholme in Bury. This part was purchased by Samuel Clowes in 1775. The Chetham third had already come into the hands of the Clowes family, whose descendants retain their estate in Kersal.
The Kenyon third was about the year 1660 alienated to the Byroms of Manchester, whose line terminated in the death of Miss Eleanora Atherton on 12 September 1870. It had one famous holder— John Byrom of Kersal, Jacobite, hymn-writer, and shorthand inventor; he was born in 1692, educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he became a fellow, and died at Manchester in 1763. Like the manor of Byrom it was bequeathed to Mr. Edward Fox, who took the name of Byrom.
The house now called Kersal Cell occupies the site of the old religious house. It is a small two-story building of timber and plaster, much altered from time to time, but probably dating from the middle or end of the 16th century. It stands on low ground near a bend of the River Irwell, facing south, with the heights of Broughton and Kersal Moor immediately to the north and east. In more recent times a large brick addition has been made on the north, and extensions have also been made on the east in a style meant to harmonize with the timber front of the older part. The original house, which possibly is only a fragment of a larger building, has a frontage of about 56 ft. and consists of a centre with a projecting wing at each end. The west wing has a bay window in each floor, but the east wing has an eight-light window and entrance doorway on the ground floor and a slightly projecting bay above. Both wings have gables with barge boards and hip knobs, but the timber construction is only real up to the height of the eaves, the black and white work in the gables being paint on plaster. This is also the case with the east end and the whole of the front of the later extension on the same side. The roofs are covered with modern blue slates, and the west end is faced with rough-cast. The general appearance at a distance is picturesque, but at close view the house is too much modernized to be wholly satisfactory, and it is dominated by the brick building on the north, whose roof stands high above that of the older portion.
There is a tradition that Dr. Byrom wrote ‘Christians, Awake’ in Kersal Cell, and that it was first sung in front of the house on Christmas Eve 1750, but both events are more likely to have taken place at Byrom’s house in Manchester.
I came across a comment suggesting that locally Kersal Cell is thought to have had a reputation for being haunted. During the 1970s it was made into a restaurant and country club though later the building was allowed to fall into disrepair, though it may now be split into private residences.