A splendid family mansion that became council offices

Front elevation of Hornby Hall, 1888. The wall on the left, with its high quality half round top stones, is still in the same position but is now much lower.
Front elevation of Hornby Hall, 1888. The wall on the left, with its high quality half round top stones, is still in the same position but is now much lower.

Hornby Hall was situated on the land between the Alpaca shop and the Catholic Manse.

The hall was built for Mr Thomas Benison, a wealthy Lancaster attorney. The building operations commenced in 1730 and were completed in 1735.

The March 1888 edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine states that the hall was built by Italian workmen. It is not known from whence the stone was procured as there is none like it now found in the neighbourhood.

The front of the house was very stately and imposing, being square, three-storied and much decorated with fluted Corinthian pillars with carved heads.

The house was one of the best arranged and most commodious possible. It was a splendid family mansion, possessing every convenience within. Outside there are extensive gardens with vinery and greenhouses, together with yards, stabling lofts and every kind of outhouse.

The hall had many owners over the years. After Thomas Benison died his daughter Ann became the owner.

The next family to own the hall was the Parkers, who had at least seven children. Sadly Timothy Parker died in his 50s.

The next owner was David Murray who had made a considerable fortune in the slave and sugar trade. David Murray died in 1822 and his wife continued to live at the hall until she died in 1840.

The next owner was John Murray. A rather reclusive gentleman, he lived to 90 years of age and was the father of six children. After his death his wife moved to Bath and Hornby Hall was bought by the Fosters of Hornby Castle.

The hall was then tenanted by Mrs Caroline Julia Welch.

In 1932 the Fosters sold the hall to Lunesdale District Council for use as offices.

After the disastrous fire of 1946 the council moved to the former workhouse building on the outskirts of the village. This building had been used during the war years as a hostel for evacuees, mostly from Manchester, Liverpool and London.

On Friday January 25 1946 the rooms of Hornby Hall, Hornby, the offices of Lunesdale District Council, were burnt out.

Half the interior of this handsome three-storey Georgian mansion was gutted, with damage estimated at thousands of pounds.

The greater part of the council’s documents, including post-war housing, water supply and sewerage scheme plans, were destroyed. It was stated that district ratepayers who had not yet paid their rates need not do so but this was untrue. The names of those who had not yet paid were available.

I remember my grandfather William Kenyon purchasing a lorry load of charred oak beams from the hall to use as foundation timbers for poultry huts. A couple of the beams are still in use nearly 70 years later.

A vivid account of the fire was written by Enid Townson, nee Skeats.

At the time of the fire Enid was living in the servants’ wing of the hall, along with her elder sister Annie, her mother Nancy and her father Jimmy.

Jimmy worked for Harry Dodgson the local joiner, who had a workshop on the land that is now the village car park.

Enid later married Ron Townson, the son of Herbert Townson, who was the manager of Hornby Castle Farm, owned by Sir Harold Parkinson of Hornby Castle.

After marrying Ron, Enid moved away from the village and now lives in Shrewsbury.