He was a cotton magnate and he had money. That was the fortunate position Sir Amos Nelson of Nelson, Lancashire found himself in.

Alan Roberts writes about a mill owner who developed Gledstone Hall, at West Marton.



It was the early 1920s and business was booming. Amos' father James had operated one of the early power looms on 1s/6d per week, but by the age of 36 had worked his way up to become manager of a mill in Winewall, in Colne. When the mill closed down it was time for James to set up on his own. He knew the business of running and managing a mill from the inside, but it fell to his twenty-one-year-old son Amos to learn the business of selling the firm’s produce. He also became something of an entrepreneur constantly on the lookout for new business opportunities.

Once firmly established in the cotton business Amos was elected to Nelson Town Council and later served as mayor for three consecutive years. The Nelson Times described him as ‘no orator, but a plain outspoken gentleman’ who left no-one in any doubt about what he truly believed.

Amos was conscious of his lack of education. He had started to work part time at the age of eight, and began full-time work at thirteen. His family progressed from living in a small terraced house near the mill to ever grander houses in Nelson.

The reliability of the motor car persuaded Amos, who was now in his early fifties, to enjoy the benefits of country living. He bought the Thornton-in-Craven estate where he lived in the Manor House before purchasing nearby Gledstone Hall. This was a huge estate covering 6000 acres or 9 square miles.

Things were going well for Amos. His firm had continued to grow and he would be awarded a knighthood. He would choose Sir Edwin Lutyens, arguably the best architect in the country, to develop his plans for Gledstone Hall at West Marton.

Coincidence or not, Amos found himself sailing for India on the same steamship as Lutyens. Plans for redesigning Gledstone Hall became ever more lavish and ever more expensive. Eventually it was agreed to demolish the old hall and build a new one at a cost of £60,000. Amos felt this was more than he could afford, but agreed as his business was doing well at the time.

Much of Lutyens early work was concerned with designing private houses in the arts-and-crafts style. This placed particular emphasis on the quality of design, craftsmanship and appearance and preferred hand-crafting to industrial processes. In architecture it championed mediaeval, romantic or vernacular styles. Lutyens rebuilt the deserted castle at Lindisfarne in Northumberland and turned it into an exquisite holiday home for the wealthy owner of ‘Country Life’ magazine.

He also struck up a business partnership with garden designer Gertrude Jekyll. She is still revered by garden enthusiasts throughout the world and her work was hugely influential. Jekyll proclaimed that she was simply ‘painting a landscape with living things’. Indeed, she frequently used bold masses or drifts of colour for truly stunning effects.

As Lutyens’ fame grew he became involved in more and more prestigious projects. He was commissioned to produce a design for a Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool. This would have been one of the largest churches in the world at the time and its dome would have been larger than St Peter’s in Rome. The massive crypt was built, but in the end a pared-down futuristic design was built in the 1960s.

His major project was as chief architect of the new Indian capital in Delhi. Lutyens incorporated elements of traditional Indian design, yet his buildings have a solid, almost monumental feel to them. Lutyens’ best-known work is the Cenotaph in Whitehall which takes centre stage on Remembrance Sunday as we remember those who have died in conflict in the service of our country.

Construction at Gledstone began in 1923 and took four years. Around 200 workmen were engaged on the project. It became known as ‘Little Wembley’ as the work took place when the first Wembley Stadium was being built.

The price of the project began to rise. Unfortunately, this coincided with a depression in the cotton industry. Lutyens had expensive tastes. The stone was from Salterforth near Barnoldswick, but the roofing slates simply had to come from Gloucestershire. Amos Nelson complained about the cost: ‘What is the use of a beautiful house if I haven’t the money to live in it!’

Remarkably plans and drawings produced by both Lutyens and Jekyll for the Gledstone project survive at the University of California in Berkeley. It can be seen that the full scheme for the gardens including the main driveway to the house was never completed Gledstone Hall is private property and sadly cannot be viewed from any public right of way. The two lodges can be seen from Gledstone Road. North Lodge is an attractive building in the arts-and-crafts style, while South Lodge presents an imposing, but strangely featureless facade.

In a future article, newly discovered papers in the Barnoldswick History Society Archive will provide a snapshot of the impact of a large estate like Gledstone on the local economy.