Extract from Discovering Old Huddersfield (1993-2002) by Gordon & Enid Minter:
Immediately after crossing the bridge our route turns right at the traffic lights to follow George Street, Bankhouse Lane and Armitage Road on a circumnavigation of Milnsbndge House and its former grounds.
Picture the scene:
- The valley in which the house is situated is of the most fertile and beautiful description, it is bounded by hills rising above each other to a considerable height and cultivated to the summit. The house is built with stone of correct architecture, consisting of a plain centre, having a pediment enriched with scrollwork, and two wings in corresponding design. The shrubbery that adjoins the house is disposed with much taste, in the front the lawn is bounded by two detached pools of water beyond which runs the rich prospect of the adjacent country.
Milnsbridge House and its surrounds were so described in Jones' "Views of Picturesque Yorkshire Houses" in 1829. Today, with its original lofty roof gone, its elegant interior gutted and its extensive grounds infringed by housing and industry the house retains little of its former glory.
The front gates to Milnsbridge House were opposite the old corn mill by the bridge and the drive followed part of the route of the present day George Street. Approaching the house from this direction today, the first view is of its unprepossessing back where the insertion of new entrances has spoiled the original symmetry. A little further along George Street, however, it is worth a short stop to study the front elevation which, although in no less a sad condition, does retain something of its balanced architecture.
The exact date of the house is not known but from its classical style it is likely to have been built in the mid eighteenth century. It is certainly shown, complete with its two fish ponds, on Jefferys' map of 1772. It is believed that the central part of the house was the residence of the owner and his family and that the two sloping wings housed their servants.
The grounds, which to the north were bounded by a steep wooded bank, once extended half a mile or more to the east to take in two sizeable fish ponds. In front of the house there was a lawn large enough to use as a cricket field and beyond, the upper fish pond stretched some three hundred yards to the north east. It is worth noting that during cricket matches a boat was kept at the ready to facilitate the retrieval of balls hit into the pond. Whether the batters went on scoring runs until the ball was found is not known.
The historical importance of Milnsbridge House is undoubtedly increased by the fact that it was once the home of Mr. (later Sir) Joseph Radcliffe who was born at Alt Hill, Ashton under Lyne and baptised there on 8th May 1744. He was the son of Joseph Pickford of Ashton and Mary Radcliffe of Milnsbridge. In 1795, Mary's unmarried brother, William, died, leaving Joseph his sole heir providing he was willing to change his name from Pickford to Radcliffe. This he gladly did and thus, at the age of fifty-one, found himself the owner of extensive estates and properties in Milnsbridge and the Colne Valley.
Joseph Radcliffe was an ardent opponent of the Luddites and, after the murder of William Horsfall in April 1812, he was tireless in his efforts to identify the assassins and bring them to justice. Throughout the summer of 1812 many suspects were brought to Milnsbridge House and held there for questioning. Radcliffe's hope was that as soon as he had trawled the guilty men their accomplices would confess in order to save their own skins and also, of course, to collect the proffered reward. It was not until October that his methods proved successful and he was able to dispatch three of the men accused of the murder to York Castle. Subsequently, at the trial held on 6th January 1813, Radcliffe was a member of the jury who heard the case and brought in a verdict of "Guilty" on all three.
Two days later, he was a spectator at their execution at the New Drop at York. For his enterprise in the matter and for his implacable determination to stamp out all Luddite activity in the area, Joseph Radcliffe was created Baronet in November 1813. Sir Joseph died in February 1819 and four years later Milnsbridge House was sold to Joseph Armitage of Honley whose family retained possession for a hundred years. In the 1870s the house was partitioned into four separate dwellings and sometime afterwards the gardens around the upper fish pond may have been opened to the public, as maps of the 1890s mark the area as Milnsbridge Pleasure Grounds.
By the turn of the century the house was in decline and in 1906 D.F.E. Sykes described it as "...hemmed in on every side by mills and the serried and dreary rows of homes of the hardy artisans of Milnsbridge". In 1919, the Armitage family sold the house to the Armitage Lodge of Freemasons who hoped to convert it into a Masonic Temple. Their grandiose schemes, however, proved too expensive and they soon sold it to Mr. W.H. Robinson for use as industrial premises. The present owner is Mr. Geoffrey Sykes who is fully aware of the historical importance of the house.
Continuing along George Street our route follows the southern perimeter of the once beautiful and tranquil grounds. The upper fish pond, later known as the Ratpond, is long gone and, although here and there a few sad bushes and wild flowers struggle for survival, it is difficult to reconcile the intrusive mills, garages and workshops with the lawns, elm trees and elegant flower beds of Sir Joseph Radcliffe's day. The grounds continued beyond Bankhouse Lane (where our route turns left) to the lower fish pond which, like its larger neighbour, has now been filled in. The area, however, is still known as Fishponds. At the top of Bankhouse Lane, Armitage Road, which was built in the second half of the nineteenth century, runs along the estate's northern boundary and it is possible, through an occasional gap on the left hand side, to look over the scene of long departed pomp from the high ground.