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Uncovering the past at Ryecroft Hall

Local historian Ray Fricker has been studying Ryecroft Hall's past, and we met to find out more about the historical location.

Ray is locally known for his love of World War One and Two history, and last year we paid a visit to his War Room, a dedicated space that contains multiple items from both world wars. Now, Ray has been digging into the past of Ashton's Ryecroft Hall and has uncovered its extraordinary uses in times gone by.

Ryecroft Hall is a Grade II listed building in Audenshaw, and is comprised of a stately home and a park. The hall was originally a home to several prominent local residents, with the likes of the Earl of Stamford and Warrington owning the Hall in the past. The last change of hands before it ended up in the ownership of Tameside Council was to Austin Hopkinson in 1913. Austin was a British industrialist and MP who was a benefactor to many local causes.

Knowing this about Austin can help us to understand the role of the hall during the first world war, when it played a major role in attending to the wounded, transforming into a temporary hospital to treat injured servicemen travelling back from the European frontlines. This would have been Austin's initiative at the time.

But just over 20 years later, World War Two began. This is where things started to get interesting for Ryecroft Hall, although much of this part of its history has remained unknown in the present day. But thanks to Ray's digging and research, he has been able to uncover the purpose of Ryecroft during WW2.

“During the Second World War, people were fighting to save lives down here,” Ray told us. “It was all happening down in the basement: we had ambulance crews, fire crews and a messenger service known as the suicide squad.”

The suicide squad Ray mentions were given this title due to the dangerous nature of their work. Many would be sent out to deliver messages during bombing raids that took place over Manchester. And it was from the basement of Ryecroft Hall that these orders were given for this team and many more.

“There was one main room where nobody was allowed in unless they were part of this team. Everything was happening down here, and they were helping save us in World War Two. They were doing a job that was just normal for them, but they were doing such a fantastic job.”

The whole operation would have comprised every type of group needed to keep Tameside and Greater Manchester operating and safe during the height of the war, such as air raid wardens which would help out after gas attacks and bombing incidents, and would help administer the blackout at night.

The upstairs ballroom in Ryecroft Hall also has an interesting past, as it was transformed into a large room to treat the wounded during the First World War. “If you’ve been up here before,” Ray said, “then you probably would not have guessed that brave soldiers that fought in World War One were being treated up here before returning to the Somme.”

To find out more about Ryecroft Hall, you can pay it a visit between Monday and Friday.

 

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