Smithills Hall is Grade I listed building in Bolton with an impressive history. The earliest parts of the building are thought date back around 800 years. It has been extended over the years and is now run as a museum by Bolton Council. My daughter and I decided to visit on a Sunday afternoon in September.
On entering the building we made the mistake of heading straight up the stairs. We quickly realised that this area housed the museum’s offices and then made our way into the café/gift shop where we paid the entrance fee for the self-guided tour.
One of the first rooms we explored was Colonel Ainsworth’s Room, situated in a part of the hall that dates back to the 16th century. It is named after Richard Henry Ainsworth, a member of a prominent family of bleachers that owned Smithills Hall from 1801 until its sale in 1938 to Bolton Council. The room was his private sitting room and he would relax here after a day shooting grouse on the moors. It is decorated in a Victorian style and contains furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the most impressive pieces on display is the barrel organ, a mechanical instrument popular at the time.
We then passed into another room where there was an interesting model showing how the hall had developed over the years. Construction of Smithills Hall began in the first half of the 14th century. Like many manor houses it started life as a simple dwelling but over the years developed into a much grander building.
Next we went into the Great Hall, an impressive medieval dining room. There are large tables here laid out with a feast, a suit of armour, and an exhibit illustrating wattle and daub walls. The adjoining pantry and kitchen house exhibits such as a cheese press and mangle.
We then ventured up a narrow staircase to the Solar Room, built in the 15th century. This was used as bedroom and also as a retreat for the ladies of the house when the men were discussing important matters downstairs. Items displayed include a Victorian tester bed, an impressive oak chest and a beautiful 17th century walnut fire screen.
Exploring the house further we were quite surprised to find a substantial chapel with fine examples of Tudor and Victorian stained glass. My daughter took great delight in climbing onto the pulpit and pretending to read to an imaginary congregation.
After this we headed out into the grounds. The formal gardens are large and well-kept with paths around the perimeter. My daughter bumped into a girl from her school. Her mother explained she frequently brought her here to escape the crowds at Moss Bank Park. I could see her point. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were virtually the only people here.
The Smithills Estate (Smithills Country Park) covers around 2,000 acres and extends from the hall to Winter Hill. It is owned by the Woodland Trust.
The Ravenden Plantation is a wooded valley next to Smithills Hall. We spent an hour or so here before heading back home.
At the time of writing (early 2020), entrance to Smithills Hall is free. Check the official website for opening times and any changes in admission fees.
Smithills Hall is on Smithills Dean Road situated in the Smithills area of Bolton, just off the A58 Bolton ring road (Moss Bank Way). The hall has a large car park and parking is free for visitors to the hall and park.