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


Richard Harding Watt

Joan Leach

Over the last year or more the former Royal George Hotel has stood forlorn and dingy, neglected and deteriorating as if to reconcile us that the inevitable changes will be for the better: time will tell.

Did Knutsfordians feel something like that when Richard Harding Watt was building in King Street in the early 1900's?

He demolished derelict lodging houses and a rundown pub called the Hat and Feather to build The King's Coffee House and Gaskell Memorial Tower, perhaps against the townsfolk's will for at its dedication n March 1907 he said:
"I feel somewhat on my defence today and I hope you will forget and forgive."

He then made it clear that any guilt felt on his part was for having done it alone because he found the best and most unanimous committee was of one person but hoped the town would accept it as a mutual token of their regard for their famous townswoman.

After his death in 1913 his wife donated it to the town council who still own it.

Watt is sometimes described as an eccentric architect but, though he had indulged in odd ideas about architecture, he was not and architect and had to employ one to work with him.

Such a partnership was fraught with problems so at different times three architects took on the task: the first resigned in a row over the design of Watt's chimneys, the second died and the third signed an agreement to accept the job as Watt's draughtsman.

Any money Watt had to spend creating his buildings came from his business as a glove merchant, importing mainly from France and Italy and trading from Manchester and Glasgow. The facts of his life are obscure but he was born in Manchester about 1842 and later lived in Bowdon where he met his wife, Ethel Armitage, who was 18 years younger than him.

Her family were builders and artists who did not encourage Watt's suit so the marriage took place 20 years after he first proposed.

Perhaps Watt hoped to impress Ethel and her family with is Knutsford buildings but she put and end to them as a waste of money, though in after years she was content to collect the rents.

The buildings of Richard Harding Watt have lent an exotic air to Knutsford and from certain aspects have created something like and Italian hillside town landscape, which he admired.

As a young man he travelled around the Mediterranean to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Scandinavia and later the Holy Land, twice to the USA and to India but his furthest travels took him to Australia where he perhaps intended to settle but two years later he returned to England.

The voyage to Australia in 1864, by wooden sailing ship, round Cape Horn was tedious, uncomfortable and, at times dangerous.

To while away the time he kept a diary.

Joan Leach 13/02/03