The Old Parsonage and Parsonage Gardens
The Old Parsonage is the second oldest building in Didsbury after St James’ Parish Church, which is on the opposite side of Stenner Lane; it dates from around 1650. Although now called the ‘Parsonage’ (previous names were ‘Ash House’ and ‘Spring Bank’) it has only ever been lived in by two of the church ministers. A map of 1851 shows it joined to the Olde Cock Inn. The Moss family lived in the house from 1865 as tenants, eventually buying it in 1884 for £4000. In 1915 Fletcher Moss gifted the house and gardens, along with the house and gardens at ‘The Croft’ (on Millgate Lane), to the City of Manchester on condition he could live in there for the remainder of his life; he died in 1919.
Much of the present layout of the gardens is the result of the work of Fletcher Moss and his mother. There is now a large number of ornamental trees which have been introduced at various times by head gardeners employed by the City Council, including Yew, Cedar of Lebanon, and a most unusual cross of Common Laburnum and Purple Broom. The tree lawn in front of the Alpine House) was once a walled kitchen garden; the Alpine House initially acted as a general greenhouse for the gardens, later becoming an Orchid House; it has recently been renovated and established as an Alpine House by the Friends’ group.
The entrance to the garden is marked by a striking neo-Norman stone arched gate which is topped by the sculpture of an eagle (hence ‘the Eagle Gate’). This was rescued by Fletcher Moss from the demolition of the Spread Eagle Hotel, of which he was a proprietor, in Corporation Street in 1902. In the gardens are buried the remains of many of Fletcher Moss’s dogs, and, reputedly, his horse!
Since the acquisition of the house, the City Council used it for many years as an offshoot of the City Art Gallery. In 1982 the paintings were removed and it was used as offices by the Council Housing Department. In 2011 the council appeared to have no further use for the building and it was boarded up. It was rescued from this parlous state by the imagination and hard work of Didsbury Civic Society, who formed the Didsbury Parsonage Trust and leased the building from the Council for use as a Community Centre. With the help of Heritage Lottery funding and money from other sources, the house has been completely refurbished and is now a thriving resource for the local community.
The care and maintenance of the gardens has now entirely been taken up by the Friends, with an active band of dedicated volunteers who have put in a great deal of time and effort to make the area an interesting and beautiful place to visit.