The History of Smithills Hall

Smithills Hall tells an 800 year story. Although there is evidence of people living in the area now covered by the Smithills estate for thousands of years, the first written records relating to the hall began when William Radcliffe obtained the manor from the Hulton family in 1335.

In 1485, when the last Radcliffe to own the estate died without a male heir, Smithills Hall was passed to the Bartons, a wealthy family of sheep owners.

Smithills was home to the Bartons for almost 200 years, until in 1659 the hall and estate was passed by marriage to the Belasyse family.

The Belasyses owned many other properties around England and did not really need to keep Smithills Hall. As a result, Smithills entered a period of neglect.

The Ainsworth family

In 1801, the hall and estate were sold to the Ainsworth family, who were successful Bolton bleachers. Under three generations of Ainsworths Smithills was extensively rebuilt and modernised.

In 1870 Richard Henry Ainsworth, the nephew of Peter Ainsworth (Colonel Ainsworth’s son) , inherited the house. He employed the prominent Victorian architect George Devey to design the most significant improvements to Smithills Hall.  

The west wing was neglected for many years, but was restored by Bolton Council in 1999.  Old photographs were used to recreate the family’s living quarters as they would have looked in around 1900.

However, changes in the British economy after the First World War had increased costs and reduced the amount of income the family could raise from the estate, and the financial burden of maintaining a large house eventually became too great.

In 1938, Smithills was sold to Bolton Council for £70,600, and the Victorian parts of the hall became a council residential home and later a day centre until the late 1990s.

Conservation work on the older sections allowed part of the Grade 1 listed structure to be opened as a museum in 1963, and in the 1990s, the museum was extended into some of the Victorian parts of the house.