Wilmslow - Styal Cottage Homes & Styal Open Air School

The Styal Cottage Homes were opened in 1898 in a similar spirit to that of nearby Quarry Bank Mill - i.e. getting ordinary people out of the city into a better environment. The homes housed destitute children, and a school and church were built nearby to serve them.

This part of the web site contains a history of the homes on this page; plus a photo gallery and individual reminiscences.


Styal Cottage Homes were built by the Chorlton Board of Guardians, one of many charitable organisations that ran what were called workhouses. Initially there were 14 cottages and various other buildings, housing around 300 children. The cottages were actually quite large houses!

There was a continuing need to send more children to Styal and so a further three cottages were added in 1903, taking the population up to 450; and additional cottages were built over the next few years. I believe the final total was 22 cottages, a hospital, schools, stores, administrative building, laundry, swimming pool, chapel and a recreation hall. There was also a farm adjoining the Homes. In 1930 the population was 600 children when it was taken over by the Manchester Education Committee.

The Homes have no association with Quarry Bank Mill - in fact the Mill's owner, Samuel Gregg, appears to have objected to the Homes' presence and tried to block their building and continued existence whenever possible.

What Was It Like?

The regime at the homes was regarded by the children as very strict, with corporal punishment a regular feature.

Malcolm Head was a resident from 1938 to 1948 - living first in Myrtle Cottage and then in Eglantine Cottage. He recalls that the House Master was "a stern master and meted out severe punishment for any (even trivial) wrong-doing". But he also thought that "facilities at Styal Cottage Homes were just as good as any public school. The whole system was run on that basis. Swimming pool, orchestra/band, hospital with a matron, sports field, house mistresses and masters, etc. The only difference being that we were all from poor or neglected families".

Another ex-resident, Jimmy Brown, went on to write about his experiences - see the book list at the end of this article. He really did not like his time at the homes. There was a lack of privacy and he hid his most treasured possessions in a cavity in a wall.

He can't have been alone in this as during recent building work - the homes are now part of a prison - workers found a wooden train with the name "Derek Postles" pencilled on the base. Despite various enquiries it has not been possible to trace him. If any former resident of the Styal Cottage Homes is reading this and remembers Derek Postles could they please contact the prison (or this website) as they would like to reunite the train with its owner.

Sandra Martin wrote: "I lived at the homes in the 60's as it was used from kids with 'delicate health' there were kids from all over Manchester which is where I came from. I fainted quite a lot in those days which is why I was there. It was lovely. I have a love of the coutryside because of my stay there - the room where we were taught art looked across a field and I could see a thatched cottege in the distance. The smell of the ground and that feeling of freedom is something I have never forgotten. I sat my 11 plus there and learnt to write calligraphy which has permeated my everday writing style- it draws lots of comments."

Fiona Hall lived there & her mum & dad were houseparents at the homes and she's contributed several memories and pictures which you can read by clicking here. Michelle Luck's great aunt and great uncle and grandad were also at Styal Homes and has contributed memories and pictures which you can read by clicking here. Val Lawton was at Styal from 1943 to 1951 and has sent some photos and memories; click here to read them.

Shirley Winterbottom wrote: I was one of the children who was considered to have "delicate health" and resided in the homes for 2 years between the age of 6 and 8 (1967-69).

I had really bad astma back in the days before inhalers etc and my mother was at her wits end after my spending lengthy bouts of time in and out of various hospitals. In the end it was considered best for me to have a spell at Styal open air school, hoping the clean air and a rest from my stressful childhood would do me good, which thankfully it did. I remember being taken to somewhere in Manchester and a little minibus already part filled with other children came to pick me up, my mother who was a single parent wasn't allowed to come along with me, so in I hopped, blissfully unaware of my destination, we sped away with me peering out of the back window watching my mother slowly disappear. Quite a harrowing experience for someone as young as me.

I have many memories of the place, how we slept in dormitories, the little tins of pink toothpaste we all had, the washbags hanging up on each peg in the washroom, the bath nights we had, the summer and winter uniforms, the school with the boys and girls entrances, whoa betide u if u went in at the wrong one. It was quite an establishment, a bit harsh at times, looking back it reminds me of something from one of Charles Dickens novels. The nurses were quite strict with us but I guess they were just doing their jobs and things were so much different back then. I remember one particular nurse who everyone adored, she was so kind to the children and I'll never forget how nice and loving she was with me and all of us in our house. She even had some of us at her wedding at the little chapel next to the post office down the road, her name was Nurse Carter.


The original community closed in July 1956, as a result of the more progressive policy of placing children in family homes - large council houses run by and as individual families. But within months the cottages were in use again to house 800 Hungarian refugees. The Hungarian phase lasted for (I think) around two years.

There is almost no information about what happened next but I believe it became Styal Open Air School in the 1960's; a residential school as before. But see information about Bollin Cross Residential School below. It's not clear at all.


The buildings now form a part of Styal Women's Prison, opened in 1963. The pictures on this website were taken in 2003 with the kind permission of the prison authorities. I have attempted to find old photographs of the Homes but without success so far. Click here to see the photo gallery.

It is likely that Bollin Cross School, situated adjacent to the prison, used some of the Homes' buildings including the school building. The school is now closed, since about 1995 I think.

Further Reading

You can find more about Styal Cottage Homes in these books by James Stanhope-Brown:

These three books above appear sometimes on eBay or book websites. Click on each of these links to search the sites for books by Stanhope-Brown: eBay, ibooknet, ukbookworld Also try UsedBooks - if you don't find something here I will be suprised. Enter 'stanhope-brown' for author and leave everything else unchanged.

This book is self-published; and is available from Wilmslow Library. If you wish to purchase a copy then please send me an email. You can also try the book searches above (just change the search details) but I have not come across it on any of these yet.

Information on Individuals

I get many enquiries from people who want to know if someone - usually a relative - was at the Cottage Homes. Any information on this will be held by some division of Manchester City Council. As many of the former residents are still alive I think it's unlikely that such information will be publicly available.

The Manchester Central Library Archives and Local Studies Department's Archives section holds some log books for the Homes 1910-1956 (restricted access) but these rarely mention names of children. For further information on records held by the council visit the Manchester City Council page on Styal Cottage Homes.

You could try signing up with Friends Reunited or similar to get in touch with others who were at the Cottage Homes.

Gerard Lodge can do some research; specifically of the "CHORLTON UNION REGISTER OF CHILDREN SENT TO CANADA". This register covers the period 1892 - 1947 and covers more than Canada(!). The register is name-indexed and MALS will do searches in the restricted sections on a request subject to certain conditions. Click here for his web site.

Back to Styal.