Bolton Library and Museum Services

Smithills History

Smithills Hall courtyard

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.

Colonel Richard Henry Ainsworth

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. In around 1875. He employed the prominent Victorian architect George Devey in about 1875 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.

Ghostly encounters at Smithills Hall

Read about the many ghost stories associated with the hall

Smithills Hall room by room

Great Hall

Although this impressive medieval manorial hall has been altered, repaired and restored over the years, it still retains its basic original shape and many medieval features.

Bower & Solar Rooms

These two rooms were created in the early 1400s to provide private quarters for the Radcliffe family and accordingly have a more intimate, domestic feel than the grand and spacious medieval hall.

Withdrawing Room

The withdrawing room was built by Andrew Barton between 1520 and 1540.

The Chapel

There is evidence for a chapel on or near this site for centuries. In the 1950s, human bones were found under the floor of the withdrawing room, perhaps part of a cemetery attached to the chapel in the early medieval period.

George Marsh's footprint

On the floor at the entrance to the withdrawing room is a mark on the stone floor (now protected by a glass plate). Legend has it that this is the footprint of Bolton farmer George Marsh, a victim of the persecution of Protestants during the reign of Queen Mary.

Colonel Ainsworth's Room

This section of Smithills Hall was part of the early 16th century extension built by Robert Barton and was originally divided into two rooms.

Mrs Ainsworth's Room

This room was also originally part of the extension added by Robert Barton in the 16th century.

The Library

A library was an essential accessory for the Victorian landed gentry and was stocked with volumes chosen to show off the owner’s education and interests.