Hannah and Isaac Thorniley of Grundy Hill House
They’re not something you’d notice as you whizz up Didsbury Road on the No 42, or hurry down past St John’s on your way to catch the tram at Parrs Wood, but they’re only stumbling distance from the front door of The Griffin and they’ve been there for well over 200 years.
At the junction of Harwood Road and Didsbury Road, tucked neatly behind a modern brick wall, are the graves of Isaac Thorniley and his wife Hannah. They were the owners of Grundy Hill House, a fine local residence with its own grounds, named after the area of Grundy Hill at a time when all the Heatons were referred to as Heaton Norris. Across the road was Grundy Hill Farm and Grundy Street is still with us as a reminder of those days gone by.
The headstones have now been levelled and sit in their enclosed area which was created during the widening of Didsbury Road in the 1970s. When the surrounding foliage is cleared the inscriptions on the gravestones can be clearly read:
SACRED TO THE MEMORY. ISAAC THORNILEY LATE OF HEATON NORRIS YEOMAN WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE JUNE 8th 1801 IN THE ___YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND HIS WHOLE BODY WAS AGREABLY INTERRED TO HIS OWN REQUEST. ALSO HANNAH HIS WIFE WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE OCT 12th 1792 IN THE 76th YEAR OF HER AGE.
Isaac’s wife Hannah was a Unitarian, even though Isaac rented a pew at St James’s Church in Didsbury. The decision to locate their grave on their own land would probably have been taken because of Hannah’s Unitarian beliefs. She was the daughter of Joseph and Mary Torkinton and was baptised at Gee Cross Unitarian Church, Hyde on 11 December 1716. There is also an oval shape on the grave inscribed ITH and dated 1760. It is likely that their son or grandson, both stonemasons, inscribed the stones. The grave was in the garden of Grundy Hill House, referred to locally as Foxglove House. Isaac and Hannah’s great, great grandson Thomas was living here until his death in 1899.
In the 1800s, the Thorniley family owned most of the land north of Didsbury Road and there is a memorial plaque in St John’s Church to a number of them: Mary Thorniley 1772-1853, Richard Thorniley 1802-1874, and Thomas Thorniley 1830-1839. The plaque also thanks them for their charity and it is probable that money from the family played an important part in the construction of St John’s Church.
The Thornileys were an old yeoman family farming at Grundy Hill, and their lives illustrate well the changes that took place in Heaton Mersey during the industrial revolution. They recognised the potential of their relatively poor agricultural land by developing housing for the incoming population and setting up a brick and pottery works. This area of clay pits is now Heaton Mersey Common.
The Griffin Hotel was built in the early 1830s by John, great-grandson of Isaac and Hannah, on their own land bordering Didsbury Road. The pub was probably built using bricks made in their own brickworks. John’s brother Richard and then Richard’s son Thomas became the licensees.
So next time you’re heading up the long slope of Didsbury Road from the tram stop, take the time to pause just after The Griffin and read the inscriptions on the information board next to the grave. Thanks to local historian, Mary Griffiths-James, the plot has been restored and sits as a permanent reminder of the days when Heaton Mersey consisted only of the small hamlets of Parrs Fold and Grundy Hill.
With thanks to Mary Griffiths-James and The Heaton Mersey Conservation Group.