IN 1973, a Whitefield council worker had been giving the old town hall one final spring clean when he stumbled upon a most interesting find.

Hidden amongst the documents, bric-a-brac and paraphernalia of local government was a singular, 79-year-old photograph of the town’s very first councillors.

The incredible image, uncovered by Clifford Bolton, attendant to Whitefield Council’s chairman and building caretaker, had been lost to memory after being stashed in the attic of the sprawling Georgian mansion.

Taken in 1894, the photo captured the 12 men first elected to serve the town.

Dressed in smart three piece suits, with golden pocket watch chains glinting, and sporting an array of impressively cultivated facial hair, the men had been photographed outside the old council offices in Elms Street.

The chairman of the first Whitefield Urban District Council was Frank Wardle, who had also been chairman of the preceding governing board.

Pictured with him, but unfortunately captioned in no particular order, were Charles Bleakley, John Mather, James Hilton, Mark Howarth, William Nuttall, Edwin Swithenbank, Robert Jackson, George Mills, Edwin Taylor, Edwin Lord and Frederick Taylor.

The caption also revealed that at that time the council’s office hours were Monday to Friday 8.30am to 5.30pm, and collection of rates up to 7.30pm on Fridays.

Prestwich and Whitefield Guide: The first councillors of Whitefield Urban District Council, outside the old council offices in Elms Street, in 1894.The first councillors of Whitefield Urban District Council, outside the old council offices in Elms Street, in 1894.

What made the photograph’s discovery even more poignant was that 1973 was the final year Whitefield was to remain as a separate local authority.

Just few months later, in April 1974, Whitefield became one of the six towns absorbed into the newly created Metropolitan Borough of Bury.

Historically, Whitefield had been one of a number of hamlets within the ancient manor of Pilkington ­— which later became a township in the large parish of Prestwich-cum-Oldham.

In 1866 a new Whitefield Local Board of Health ­— a Victorian precursor to the local authority ­— was carved out of Pilkington.

This then became an Urban District, with two wards, following the Local Government Act of 1894.

The first council offices were located in Elms Street until the 1930s when they were moved to new premises at a huge mansion house off Pinfold Lane.

Prestwich and Whitefield Guide: Section of Yates’s Map of Lancashire, which is dated 1786.Section of Yates’s Map of Lancashire, which is dated 1786.

The stunning property had been built in 1805 by a wealthy Nankeen textile manufacturer, Edward Barlow, who named it Green Hill.

It was then purchased in 1857 by solicitor Alfred Grundy, who renamed it Underley, before the house changed hands a third time into the ownership of Samuel Walker, an ironmonger and chairman of Radcliffe Urban District Council.

In 1933, Whitefield Urban District Council purchased the property from a George Stonestreet for £2,450.

According to the historians Paul Hindle and Harry Wilkinson, Whitefield council removed the wall which surrounded the house along Bury New Road and Pinfold Lane.

This enabled the public to access the beautiful landscaped gardens, which boasted a small lake with an island, and seats in the grounds.

After Whitefield joined the Metropolitan Borough of Bury, the building was home to Bury council’s engineering department until 1985.

Prestwich and Whitefield Guide: The old Whitefield Town Hall, Pinfold Lane, Whitefield. Photo by Nigel TaggartThe old Whitefield Town Hall, Pinfold Lane, Whitefield. Photo by Nigel Taggart

However, lamentably, over the latter decades of the 20th century the building “fell into disuse and disrepair”, Mr Hindle and Wilkinson report.

Plans were drawn up at one time or another to demolish the building and covert it into a nursing home. But these proposals fell flat.

And, as it fell prey to vandals and arsonists, the once illustrious mansion and grounds were left a decrepit wreckage.

Only the property’s ramshackle façade now remains as testament to the hall’s former glory.