Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Eccentric Mr Thornhill of Ollerenshaw Hall


Mr Thornhill had made his fortune as a carrier in Stockport. This was a family business which he carried on in partnership with his brother James. In 1822, Thornhill purchased Ollerenshaw Hall for £8000 together with 170 acres and retired from the business.  He and James continued their association with the business for nearly a year in order to help their nephews, the Messrs Hall,  take over the affairs. In retirement he resided on the estate.

Thornhill was described as a man of penurious and parsimonious habits whilst also rather ostentatious. This was a man with a kind disposition who employed large numbers of local people at Ollerenshaw, who would otherwise have been out of work. Parsimony however, was exhibited in the smallness of the wages he paid.


In July 1839 he visited London and stayed with his uncle Joseph Thornhill, a Bond Street cutler. Together they visited the Houses of Parliament, the Italian opera and saw the lions of the metropolis. A correspondence began between the two and this was to continue until Thornhill's death. It seemed that his desire was to establish his name as being a branch of two ancient Derbyshire families.

Thornhill was said to have peculiar religious notions involving communion with the spirits of the departed. He was a Methodist of "The New Connection".

In November 1839, at the age of 47, Thornhill married Miss Barlow (40) who was heiress to a sum of about £10,000. His wife had a "temper and disposition not calculated to make him at all happy". They were said to have a shocking terrible life from violent wrangling and quarelling. From his wife or her mother "he never got a sixpence", but an old bad note for £300 from the old lady who thought that he, if anybody, could get it settled and he did get about £170 of it, the remainder being lost.

In May 1841 a legacy of £250 was left to his wife and the together went to the solicitors to receive it. The sum was produce with a receipt which she duly signed. He refused to sign unless he got the money. Relenting, she said that he might have half but he still refused. A dreadful row ensued in which shocking language was used by both sides. Ultimately she dashed the pen through her name and the inheritance was never received by either party.

In their quarrels, both Thornhill and his wife frequently talked of divorce and in 1842 she left him. He contemplated a suit against his mother in law to recover a portion of his wife's £10000 inheritance. A bill was subsequently prepared by solicitors but in June she took it into her head to return to the hall. Thornhill decided to drop the proceedings on account of her violence. In December she left home again, not to return until shortly before his death in 1845.

The house was described as being 42 yards in length, presenting a grand and imposing appearance to the road. The stables and other outbuildings were in the centre of the building, all under the same roof. The house appeared as two wings projecting from the stables.

Thornhill was curious in his way of dealing with his labourers. He would make them work in a line and call them to work or rest by sounding a horn.  In the house, he would rise in the morning, light the fires and make breakfast for his servants. If a fire needed blowing, he would have all the fires in the house blown at the same time. When the beds had been warmed, he would check the heat of the pans. If they were too warm, he would send the servant up to repeat her work as he would not have coals wasted.

On one occasion, he had his wife sit with him all night long in the coal cellar. At one time he mistook a log of wood for a devil and would have shot at it. At another time he was beset by twelve devils, went out and fired a pistol twelve times after which he was pacified saying he had "killed all the devils".

In his will, Thornhill left between £30000 and £40000 to his brother Jonathan to whom he was dotingly attached. His wife was to receive just £5. The inheritance had also been promised to cousin Walter Thornhill on condition that he live on the estate.

The will was challenged by Walter on grounds of insanity and the jury found in his favour.


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