An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St. Helens, Lancashire

Part 3 (of 87 parts) - Michael Hughes of Sherdley Hall

An Illustrated History of Old Sutton in St.Helens
Part 3 (of 87 parts) - Michael Hughes of Sherdley Hall
An Illustrated History of
Old Sutton in St.Helens
Michael Hughes
of Sherdley Hall
Researched and Written by Stephen Wainwright ©MMXVI
In the latter annals of Sutton's history, the name of Michael Hughes appears regularly as the three Michaels dominated life in Sutton for 150 years. The original copper industrialist and his son and grandson were land owners, employers, benefactors and patrons and the family provided a livelihood for numerous tenants. Sherdley Park will always be associated with the Hughes name, although their antecedents in the Sherdleys, Byroms and Roughleys arguably have a greater claim.

Michael Hughes III {1861-1938} with Sutton Road Prize Band pictured outside Sherdley Hall about 1902

Michael Hughes III with Sutton Road Prize Band outside Sherdley Hall

Michael Hughes III and the Sutton Road Prize Band outside Sherdley Hall

The eponymous Sherdley family were first recorded in 1303 as freeholders of a considerable acreage of land in Sutton. In 1543 the Sherdleys sold their estates to Lord of the Manor Richard Bolde and his descendants passed it onto the Byrom family. Later Sir Henry Byrom sold it to Richard Roughley and Michael Hughes (1752-1825) purchased the estates in 1798.

Twenty-eight year-old Hughes had arrived in St.Helens during September of 1779 as controller of the new smelting division of the Parys Mine Company. His brother Rev. Edward Hughes (x-1815) was a partner in the Parys firm, which probably smoothed his appointment. Industrialist John Mackay (c.17xx-1783), who is credited as the founder of the St.Helens furnace industries, leased the company some of his land close to the newly constructed Sankey Canal at Ravenhead, so that the flats (or barges) that carried copper ore from Amlech in North Wales could arrive at their smelting works via Liverpool Bay and the Mersey. It is estimated that 10,000 tons of copper ore was brought in each year via this route, yielding over 1,300 tons of copper.

Left: Michael Hughes (1752-1825); Middle: Rev. Edward Hughes (x-1815); Right: Hughes coat of arms

Michael Hughes; Rev. Edward Hughes and Hughes coat of arms

Michael Hughes & Rev. Edward Hughes

Some of Hughes' first investments were in purchasing flats, which were given single-word names such as 'Happy', 'Betty' and 'Mersey'. The barges were typically of around sixty feet in length and measuring sixteen feet high. Hughes lived at The Tickles on the Burtonhead estate, which had been named after a previous resident. This was a rented property which encompassed 63 acres of land, and he chose to re-name it Sutton Lodge. On November 11th 1788, the Leeds Intelligencer reported that Michael Hughes of Ravenhead had married a Miss Johnson from Prescot on the previous day, although she died ten years later.

Hughes prospered and from about 1795 began to acquire land. In 1797 he purchased Whitlow off John Drinkwater and in the following year he acquired the aforementioned large Sherdley Hall estate for £3,150 and then Leach Hall in 1800. In 1803 Hughes paid William Greenup £2,555 for the brick-fronted 'Old End' of the Costeth House estate (21¾ local acres) which was located near Sherdley Hall and he then negotiated to buy the stone-fronted 'New End'. The Roughley family had purchased Costeth House in 1607 and in 1732 after the death of Thomas Roughley (d.1729), it was partitioned into two estates which were inhabited separately by Thomas's daughter Mary and his grand-daughter Esther. In 1820 Hughes formally exchanged an estate in Eccleston for the 'New End'. Although he lost £2000 on the deal, it didn't matter to Hughes as he was determined to possess all of the property within and around Sherdley Park.

Sherdley Old Hall built about 1671 and photographed by R.G. Brook c.1890 (contributed by Lord St.Helens, Rory Hughes-Young)

Sherdley Old Hall built about 1671 and photographed c.1890

Sherdley Old Hall photographed c.1890

Michael Hughes had already built a new Sherdley Hall (or 'House') between 1805-6 for which some furnishings were imported from London to Liverpool by canal. He elected to demolish Costeth House, although he decided to spare the old Sherdley Hall. Hughes also bought Henry Ellam's estates in 1797 and the Lea Green estate from a Mr. Gillibrand in 1807 for £6,580. By now he had become Sutton township's major landholder.

Hughes became a magistrate in October 1799 and was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant for Lancashire in 1806. He soon gained a reputation for his sympathetic handling of difficult cases and he often assisted the underprivileged from his own pocket. He donated £100 to the Liverpool Infirmary and during the grain shortage of 1800, Hughes gave contributions from himself and on behalf of the Parys Company for the relief of the Sutton poor. Michael Hughes' first wife died in 1798 and in 1807 he married
Ellen Pemberton {x-1860}, the daughter of a neighbouring Sutton landowner. The couple had six children, including son and heir Michael Hughes (II) {1810-1886}. Hughes Jnr. was only fifteen years old when his father died on May 9th 1825 on a visit to London and so his mother Ellen initially managed the family estates.

Young Michael Hughes
(II) was educated at Eton and Corpus Christi College, Oxford and then joined the army. He was promoted to Captain in February 1843 and served in the 3rd Royal Lancashire Militia. Hughes was a lover of sport and in a letter written to his mother in June 1854, declared his annoyance at the prospect of his regiment being posted to Ireland at the height of the grouse season:
  I hope to return to Sherdley on the 28th, after which I expect to proceed to Ireland. I have received the fatal rumours to go out with my regiment which will greatly interfere with grouse shooting. I had hoped of better things from our Colonel as he is a sportsman himself.  
On December 20th 1859, Michael Hughes (II) married Ellinor Mary Campbell (1830-1895). The bride was nineteen years younger than her husband and the wedding took place at Kensington Parish Church. Ellinor was the daughter of Vice-Admiral Colin Campbell and had been born in Glasgow. The couple did not appear to spend much of their time at Sherdley Hall, choosing instead to live mainly in London. In the 1861 census they are described as "lodgers" at a Mayfair address. Also listed in the census is the Hughes's four-months-old heir, Michael James Hughes (1861-1938), who'd been born on March 18th.

Left: 99 Eaton Place, London SW1; Right: St.Helens Newspaper report from May 4th 1886 on the funeral of Michael Hughes (II)

Left: 99 Eaton Place, London; Right: St.Helens Newspaper May 4th 1886

99 Eaton Place and funeral report

The family were also listed as resident in London in the 1871 and 1881 censuses but now living in Belgravia. In the latter census they were domiciled at 99 Eaton Place with seventy-years-old Hughes described as a magistrate and landowner with eight domestic servants including butler Edward Clack. The fictional upper-class Bellamy family and their servant household in television's 'Upstairs Downstairs' supposedly lived at 165 Eaton Place. American philanthropist George Peabody had resided at 99 Eaton Place during the 18th century and this address is where Polish composer, Fryderyk Chopin (1810-1849) gave concerts during his stay in London during 1848 when he was taking refuge from uprisings in much of Europe.

In 1873 Michael Hughes
(II) - now a county magistrate - was recorded as owning 1,207 acres of land in Sutton but spent little time in St.Helens. Sherdley Hall was rented out to tenants and in 1881 it was leased to coal proprietor James Radley who owned Lea Green, Sutton Heath and Nutgrove collieries. It was a 10 year lease and upon his death on March 28th 1885, the executors of Radley's estate had to advertise for a tenant so the contract could be completed.

In his later years, Hughes resided in London or at
Huntly Lodge in Aberdeenshire. The Elgin Courier had reported on July 19th 1867 that the 'gentleman of landed property in Lancashire' was the new lessee of the Huntly Lodge shootings. On August 22nd 1874, the Morning Post singled out Hughes in their report on the Aberdeenshire shooting season, writing that he'd been averaging an impressive 21 brace a shoot on the Gartly and Balloch Hills. On Hughes's death on April 24th 1886, the servants of the Scottish stately house sent a floral tribute to his funeral. Although the Sherdley Hall owner only made occasional visits to Sutton, he still paid attention to his estate and had recently helped his tenants during difficult times by reducing their rents. At the time of his death Hughes was the oldest county magistrate on the Lancashire list.

The will of the late Michael Hughes
(II) was read in July of 1886 and his personal estate came to £82,000. Hughes's widow Ellinor was left his estates and their only child, Michael James, was left his plate. The young man would inherit the Sherdley estates upon his mother's death. By now the family had developed a military as opposed to an industrial tradition and Captain Michael Hughes (III) after being educated at Eton and Oriel College in Oxford spent 12 years service in the 2nd Life Guards. In 1893 Captain Hughes commanded a squadron in front of Queen Victoria for the trooping of the colour ceremony at Horse Guards Parade.

Michael Hughes III at Sherdley Hall with unknown sports team, probably late 1890s - contributed by Dianne Barton

Michael Hughes III at Sherdley Hall with an unknown sports team

Michael Hughes outside Sherdley Hall

In July 1896 Hughes left the Life Guards, although he retained his connection with the military by being in the first army reserve of officers. On August 18th at the British Embassy in Paris he married Edith Mary Brewster-Macpherson, the youngest daughter of the late Colonel David Macpherson. The couple honeymooned on the Continent before returning to Sherdley Hall in November, with the intention of devoting themselves to their tenantry and improving the Sherdley estate. So a hundred acres was added to Sherdley Park and between 8 to 10,000 trees were planted and the lake enlarged. An iron fence was also installed to enclose the whole park, which was claimed to be unclimbable. At Christmas 1896 Michael and Edith entertained many of the poor of Sutton in a ‘manner which they will not soon forget’, as the St.Helens Newspaper wrote.

On January 13th 1897 the couple held a ball and supper in Sherdley Hall, which was thought to be the first time that it had hosted such an event. The ball’s purpose was to allow the Hughes’s to meet their tenantry and receive their presentation on the occasion of their marriage. The hall was extensively decorated and illuminated with fancy lamps, lanterns and hundreds of fairy lights and its large dining room was converted into a ballroom, with music provided by Clayton’s quadrille band. Michael and Edith Hughes were presented with a magnificent silver tea tray produced by Elkington & Co., the renowned Liverpool silversmiths, which featured an allegorical treatment of a panther hunt. A suitably impressed Hughes told the gathering of 200 that it was the handsomest tray that he had seen and ‘as long as the house of Sherdley endures, that will be one of my most valued heirlooms’.


The Captain's retirement from the army didn't last long as he served in the Boer War from late February to November 1900.Just before he embarked for South Africa, Captain Hughes was presented with an inscribed service compass in a silver case. Dr. Henry Bates made the presentation at a fundraising concert on February 13th on behalf of St. Helens Rugby Football Club, Sutton Cricket Club, Sutton Road Prize Band, Peasley Cross Football Club and St.Helens Kennel Club. These were all organisations that Hughes was president and the gift bore the inscription ‘Presented to our president, Captain Michael Hughes, on his leaving for South Africa’. He commanded various detachments, including a squadron of cavalry under General French in the advance from Pretoria to Komatipoort. Hughes received a hero's welcome when he arrived back at St.Helens Junction. A large crowd processed with him to Sherdley Hall, with Sutton's streets - including Robins Lane and Marshalls Cross Road - festooned with decorations. You can read a full account of his homecoming here.

In February 1902 Michael Hughes was sued for £3000 damages by
Matthew Pimblett Pownall, a tenant of his Sherdley Estate who lived at Brookside Farm. The Great Sankey farmer blamed his landlord for a fire that had caused injury to his son and driven his wife into an asylum. In October 1896 there had been a fall of about a hundredweight of bricks from the farmhouse’s chimney into the room below. Pownall argued that he had reported the repairs to the Sherdley agent Henry Hunter Campbell but nothing was done. The fire which occurred in February 1899 was linked to damage caused by the fall of bricks some three years earlier. However Campbell and Hughes denied ever being told about Pownall’s chimney and the claim failed. During the hearing Hughes revealed that he received £3500 per year in rent from the farms on his estate, half of which was spent on repairs.

At the end of April 1902 the Hughes’s contributed to a bazaar in St.Helens Town Hall to help fund the building of Marshalls Cross School. As well as having a Sherdley stall, Edith Hughes exhibited her Russian cats and her husband Michael displayed a collection of articles brought back from South Africa. In 1903 the couple began leasing Thornham Hall near Eye in Suffolk, where they spent much of their time. The owner Lord Henniker had decided to rent out his stately home upon becoming Governor of the Isle of Man in 1895 and his successors continued the practice. Thornham Hall had 95 rooms without heating and in one letter Edith dubbed it a "swamp", blaming her arthritis on it being so damp. The lease included the surrounding estate with 5 - 6 gamekeepers employed to raise game, including pheasants and partridges. These caused problems with neighbouring farms and the Sherdley estate agent who lived in Sutton Hall had to deal with many compensation claims. In 1906 Henry Bates became agent, replacing Henry Campbell, and he had to make many journeys to Suffolk.

In the August 9th 1905 edition of the Tatler magazine, Edith Hughes had a photograph of a duck farm at Thornham published. She came fourth in their weekly picture competition, winning half-a-guinea. Edith always insisted on being referred to by her husband's name and he himself appears to be in the background of the photo. Although some distance from St.Helens, Thornham Hall was convenient for trips to London and for embarking to Cannes, Monte Carlo or Switzerland where the Hughes's spent their winters. Consequently the couple's stays at Sherdley were of limited duration. When on the Riviera, they mixed with dignitaries such as Grand Duke Michael of Russia and Prince Albert Duke of Schleswig-Holstein. The latter was Queen Victoria's grandson and a guest at Thornham on several occasions. However Edith didn't care much for the Duke and in one letter referred to him as "beastly little Albert".

When the Great War broke out, the now Major Hughes served initially with the 10th Battalion Suffolk Regiment with 2500 men under his command. Too old to be involved in active combat, he was promoted on April 22nd 1915 to the temporary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and sent to Ireland. Hughes succeeded in raising the 7th Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at Tipperary, training mainly raw recruits and a number of St.Helens men served with him. Recruitment posters invited men to sign up at St.Helens Town Hall. The words ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary but it’s a lovely place when you get there’ were emblazoned at the top. Hughes' wife Edith went with him, residing at Aherlow Castle in Bansha and the couple remained in Ireland until Hughes relinquished command of his battalion on February 14th 1916. Back home, Sherdley Park was used during the war by the St.Helens 'Pals' 11th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment for drill and exercises.

Michael Hughes believed strongly in punctuality and always arrived at engagements at precisely the appointed time, refusing to see visitors who were late for an appointment with him. In a letter to his Sherdley estate manager in 1911 he wrote:
 Having been a soldier 15 years of my life I must have things done promptly, if those around me want to get on well with me. Procrastination is the mother of all evils, I sincerely believe & as long as I live I shall fight against it.
He was very Victorian in his ideas and detested modernity with aversions to electricity, the telephone and motor cars. In the St.Helens Reporter's obituary of Hughes (pub. 26/8/1938), the newspaper said that he would not visit a cinema or use a wireless set. Sherdley Hall was lit by oil lamp and candle and heated by log fire. The Reporter declared him a 'perfect example of the old Victorian country squire'.

In his younger days, he mixed intimately with royalty and was an outrider at the funeral of Edward VII in 1910. As a result of regularly wintering in southern France, Michael Hughes became fluent in French. In fact he claimed he was more comfortable in using the French language than English. When Sutton Harriers won the Vie au Grande Air Cup in Paris in January 1907, Hughes gave a long articulate speech in French to a large crowd. The Lancashire lads were reported to be dumbfounded by their club president's language dexterity in contrast to their own. When one of the athletes had wanted to order some milk in a Parisian café, he had to resort to imitating a cow to make himself known!

Michael Hughes (III) at St. Cloud in Paris in January 1907 seated and watching the victorious Sutton Harriers

Michael Hughes at St. Cloud in Paris in January 1907 watching Sutton Harriers

Michael Hughes in Paris in 1907

As stated above, Michael Hughes was president of a number of sporting organisations, including Saints Rugby Club and Sutton Cricket Club. However on July 1st 1907 he resigned all his positions in protest at the Workmen's Compensation Act. Hughes was also a major owner and breeder of racehorses and they would often be seen in Sherdley Park in the close season. A six furlong gallup was especially created to train them. This website has identified 81 different horses listed on race cards under the ownership of Michael Hughes between 1892 and 1936. Only one horse, Rainhill (ran 1909-10), had a name with a local connection. Many horses were given French names, although he also had a liking for English names with a comic undertone, such as Mother-In-Law, Gals’ Gossip, Ugly Tights, Dik Dik and Orange Marmalade. Hughes's horse Aesop was probably his most successful, coming second in the 1893 Grand National and winner of the Grand Military Gold Cup in 1894.

Michael Hughes race horses
The Times 4/10/1920
However Colonel Hughes got himself into some bother just after the end of the Great War by naming one of his horses William Hohenzollern. This was after 'Kaiser Bill' or Wilhelm II, the defeated German emperor. It was as a result of a bet, Hughes told The Times in their report of October 4th 1920. However, many felt that the moniker was in bad taste so soon after the end of the conflict that had cost so many lives. An embarrassed Michael Hughes sensibly elected to rename his horse.

Owning racehorses was an expensive hobby. In one letter in 1914, Hughes revealed that he lost £1300 a year on his Sherdley horses. He regularly made £10 each way bets on them when racing and often paid large sums to acquire them. The Duke of Bewick cost him 620 guineas to buy in 1892 and in 1894 he paid 510 gns. for The Alsatian. On one day in December 1903, Hughes bought Wise Rosie for 780 gns. and a colt foal for 310 gns. However most of his Sherdley stock were bred from stud farms.

Monument to Edith Hughes, wife of Michael Hughes (III) in the graveyard at St.Nicholas Church

Monument to Edith Hughes which is in the St.Nicholas Church graveyard

Monument to Edith Hughes

Christmas at Sherdley Hall, Sutton, St.Helens 1899
St.Helens Reporter 26/12/1899
Michael Hughes's wife Edith was a keen social worker and extremely popular with Sutton folk. She was instrumental in forming a St.Helens branch of the British Red Cross and during WWI created the St. Helens Red Cross Fund. This despatched pipes and tobacco to soldiers on the front line under the 'Smokes For Tommy' campaign banner. Motor ambulances under Edith's Citizens Ambulance Fund were also sent to help serving British soldiers at the front. For more details of the Red Cross Fund see here.

Edith and her husband provided a district nurse for the well-being of the estate's tenantry and staff who resided at Sherdley Hall. In 1899 it was
Nurse Jones and in 1912 the nurse was Sarah Tither. Extracts from Sarah's notes have survived in which she lists patents, diseases, nourishments and stimulants given. The latter was mainly wine and the complaints that she was treating included catarrh, cancer, conjunctivitis, bronchitis and anaemia. Nurse Tither left in July 1918 to get married and Michael Hughes decided not to replace her due to the high cost of coal that was being burned in the Hall.

Every December Edith Hughes awarded the Sherdley 'dole' and large numbers of senior citizens had a more enjoyable Christmas through her largesse. In December 1914 there were 103 recipients. Consequently upon Edith's death in 1924, a memorial to her was erected by the 'old folks' of Sutton in the graveyard of St. Nicholas Church. Hughes outlived his wife by fourteen years, dying at Stowlangtoft Hall in Bury St. Edmunds in 1938. He'd moved to this house from Thornham Hall after the death of his wife.

Left: Col. Hughes of Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers c.1915; Top right: Funeral procession; Bottom right: St.Helens Reporter 26/8/1938

Left: Col. Hughes of Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers c.1915; Top right: Funeral procession; Bottom right: St.Helens Reporter 26/8/1938

Col. Hughes and funeral procession

Pipers from the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch played at a memorial service held at Stowlangtoft Church on August 24th 1938 Then the Colonel's body was transferred to St.Helens for burial at St.Nicholas Church on the following day. His coffin was taken to his final resting place on a flower-decked farm wagon watched by scores of Sutton residents. The Times reported that:
 The service was conducted by the Rev. J. G. Tiarks and those present included:- Brigadier-General and Mrs Young, Lady Hill, Mrs Glencairn Campbell, Lord Basing, the Countess of Mar and Kellie, and Mr. D.R.A. Davidson, as well as representatives of local industries. 
Sutton Parish churchyard houses the Hughes family vault, although Michael Hughes (I) is buried in Prescot, as he died prior to the building of St.Nicholas church. A three day auction of the contents of Sherdley Hall began on March 1st 1939 conducted by Herbert Johnson & Son and buyers attended from all over the country. The sale was supervised by Sibyl May Dominica, Countess of Mar, the late Michael Hughes' lady friend and beneficiary of the auction’s proceeds. What remained of the Sherdley estates was inherited by Hughes's nephew Michael H. C. Young (1912 - 1980)  who in June 1939 returned to St.Helens. The St.Helens Newspaper dubbed him the new 'Squire of Sutton' and reported he was 'the main attraction' at a garden party held at Sherdley Hall on June 4th in aid of the Sutton Schools Restoration Fund.

Left: St.Helens Newspaper 10/6/1939; Middle: As pictured in election leaflets; Right: General election result in The Times 28/5/1955

Left: St.Helens Newspaper report 10/6/1939; Middle: As pictured in election leaflets; Right: General election result in The Times 28/5/1955

St.Helens Newspaper and Times reports

Later in 1939 Hughes-Young (as he became known) married Elizabeth Blakiston Houston {1912 - 1956}, of the Northern Ireland Houston banking family with her mother from the Scottish shipping family of Kidston. Her first cousin was ‘Bentley Boy’ Glen Kidston (1899 - 1931) who had an eventful, albeit short life. As well as being one of a band of wealthy British motorists who drove Bentley sports cars to victory during the 1920s and personally winning Le Mans, Kidston was twice sunk by torpedo during the first world war when only 15 years of age, raced a motor bike in the Isle of Man TT and was a renowned aviator. Glen Kidston died aged 31 after failing to survive his third air crash.

Michael Hughes-Young became another military member of the Hughes clan, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel and during WW
II was twice wounded and awarded the Military Cross. Sherdley played its part in the war effort with the cultivation of crops and the Air Ministry requisitioned Sherdley Hall for the duration. Stray bombs, which were thought to have been destined for the Liverpool docks, did some damage to the Sherdley estate, in particular Sherdley Home Farm, Micklehead Farm and Big Lea Farm.

On June 27th 1949, Hughes-Young sold Sherdley Park to St.Helens Corporation for £18,700 before embarking on a political career. In the 1951 general election he became the Conservative parliamentary candidate for St.Helens but was predictably defeated, contesting a safe Labour seat. However Hughes-Young took Wandsworth Central in 1955 and when elevated to the House of Lords in 1964, he chose to take the title of Lord St.Helens.

Tragedy struck the family in 1970 when his heir, Captain Patrick Michael Hughes-Young, died in a riding accident. Younger brother Richard (Rory) Hughes-Young succeeded to the title of Lord St.Helens in 1980 upon his father's death. Incidentally, Mt. St.Helens, the volcano in Washington state, USA, is named after his 18th century diplomat namesake, Lord St.Helens.

The Hughes family vault at Sutton Parish Churchyard in New Street, Sutton, St.Helens

The Hughes family vault at Sutton Parish Churchyard in New Street

The Hughes family vault at St.Nicholas

Next:  Part 4)  Michael Hughes Quotes    |    Research Sources & Bibliography
Next:  Part 4)  Michael Hughes Quotes
Stephen Wainwright
This website has been written and researched and many images photographed by myself, Stephen Wainwright, the Sutton Beauty & Heritage site owner. Individuals from all over the world have also kindly contributed their own photographs. If you wish to reuse any image, please contact me first as permission may be needed from the copyright owner. High resolution versions of many pictures can also be supplied at no charge. Please also contact me if you can provide any further information or photographs concerning Sutton, St.Helens. You might also consider contributing your recollections of Sutton for the series of Memories pages. Sutton Beauty & Heritage strives for factual accuracy at all times. Do also get in touch if you believe that there are any errors. I respond quickly to emails and if you haven't had a response within twelve hours, check your junk mail folder or resend your message. Thank you! SRW
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