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Ask Joan
Joan Leach is a local historian, a volunteer at the Heritage Centre, a founder of The Gaskell Society, and much more besides.

Joan. Two Knutsford queries, please.

1) According to her birth-certificate, my mother was born on 24 Feb. 1901 at 'The White Tower Drury Lane Knutsford', where her father, William (James) Harbottle, was given as 'Engineer at Steam Laundry'. This was presumably Watt's, and the tower must have been very new at that date. Indeed, my grandfather may have been involved in setting up the laundry steam-engine. I have Goodchild, Ikin & Leach's 'Looking at Knutsford', which has photographs of the laundry at pp.26-7. But which is the white tower, and does it still stand? And are there any surviving laundry records?

2) A mere elusive question. My mother was given the name 'Furniss' on her birth cert., and was known throughout long life as 'Furness'. Why she was so named was always a mystery to her. None of her 5 brothers and sisters (all Manchester-born) was given an unusual name. My wife has noticed the photograph, also on p.26, of the Old Vicarage. Its caption mentions 'Margaret Furnes', who died in 1716. We wonder if nearly 200 years later the name was in local circulation in some way, and for some reason my grandfather decided to use it as a Christian name for his daughter. He must have known about the Old Vicarage, which I take to be near the laundry. But he was a Baptist, not an Anglican.

Thanks for your help. Donald Read

Joan answers:

The White Tower, Drury Lane, Knutsford

This is still standing on Drury Lane but sadly a shadow of its former glory. It was the water tower for the laundry and had a green tiled spire with words in black in its octagonal sides to read :LET THY GARMENTS BE ALWAYS WHITE. This top was demolished about 1950 I think. The Laundry cannot have been very practical and moved to new premises on Tatton Street about ten years later.

There is no Harbotttle listed in trade directories of 1892 and 1914. Hope you like the ad. of ? 1910. No doubt Mr Harbottle is on the picture of the staff.

As for your other query and Furness/ Furniss as your mother's christian name I think it is unlikely to have any local Knutsford connection; far more likely to have a family one. Could there be a Furness grandparent? May have been a likely benefactor or admired friend. Elizabeth Gaskell was given the middle name of Cleghorn after a friend who had helped her father in his days as an experimental farmer in Scotland.

Happy hunting. There is useful info. on Watt and his Knutsford Buildings in a book by : A Window on Knutsford

Joan Leach 8.3.02