As the school holidays approach, thoughts naturally turn to days out.

But, with an increase in traffic, congestion, delays and road closures, a family trip out often raises blood pressure instead of lowering it.

So why not choose somewhere closer to home?

Within Radcliffe there’s a site with a fascinating history, a large lawn perfect for summer picnics and outdoor games, and it’s all absolutely free.

Many newcomers to Radcliffe are unaware of its tower, and a surprising number of long-term residents who do know of its existence, have never ventured there.

But whether you are keen to absorb its history, or even paint or photograph it, a visit will pay dividends.

Radcliffe TowerRadcliffe Tower (Image: Neil Brandwood)

A stronghold through the ages

Radcliffe Tower is a Grade 1 listed building adjacent to Close Park. Its journey, from the aftermath of the Norman Conquest to its present status as a cherished historical monument, mirrors the dynamic history of England itself.

The story began after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, when lands were redistributed, with many Saxon properties granted to Norman nobility. Nicholas FitzGilbert de Tabois received a significant Saxon manor in what is now Radcliffe and adopted the name "de Radclyffe," meaning "of Radcliffe."

His descendants thrived in the area, building a manorial house and a church on a site protected by the River Irwell on three sides.

The name Radcliffe derives from the striking "red cliff" along the river, a distinctive feature that has defined the region's identity. Over the centuries, this land witnessed battles, architectural evolution, and societal changes, all while remaining a bastion of local heritage.

The earliest recorded mention of a fortified Pele tower at Radcliffe dates back to 1358. The 14th century was marked by conflict between England and Scotland, and Richard de Radcliffe played a notable role, fighting alongside Edward I and Edward II.

This era of raids and skirmishes necessitated the construction of fortified homes across Northern England.

Radcliffe Tower, standing three stories high, was designed to repel attackers with its thick walls, draw bars for door reinforcement, narrow ground-floor windows, and restricted access to upper floors via a removable ladder.

Radcliffe TowerRadcliffe Tower (Image: Neil Brandwood)

Turbulence and transition

The two centuries following the Scottish Wars were equally turbulent, with raids being a constant threat. In 1403, King Henry IV granted James de Radcliffe a 'license to crenellate,' allowing further fortification of the manor. This led to the construction of a new Great Hall with thick stone wings, enhancing the site's defensive and residential capabilities.

By the 16th century, the manor passed to a distant branch of the Radcliffe family. Robert Radcliffe, Lord Fitzwalter, and later the Earl of Sussex, inherited the property. In 1561, the estate was sold to the Assheton family, who leased the manor to tenant farmers. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the gradual decline of the manor's grandeur, with the Great Hall repurposed as a barn and the Pele tower adapted for agricultural use.

The 20th century brought dramatic changes to the Radcliffe Tower site. Despite being scheduled for preservation in 1925, the surrounding land was not protected. Gravel quarrying and landfill operations further degraded the site, leaving the tower isolated and neglected. It was even used as a pigsty for a time.

Radcliffe TowerRadcliffe Tower (Image: Neil Brandwood)

However, in 1988, Bury Council assumed ownership, and conservation efforts began to stabilize the tower. Archaeological excavations from 2012 onwards, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, unearthed significant finds such as medieval glazed floor tiles, roof tiles, and 15th-century pottery, shedding light on the site's rich history.

Supported by local groups such as Friends of Radcliffe Manor and Friends of Close Park, the tower now serves as a historical landmark, educating and inspiring visitors about the rich tapestry of Radcliffe’s past.

A series of detailed information boards dotted around the site provide insight into not just the Tower, but also the long-gone Manor House, Tower Farm, Tower Row, Church Row and Church School.

The Radcliffe Manor Website and the heritage trail in Close Park provide further resources for those interested in exploring this remarkable piece of history.

Access to the fenced site is through gates in Close Park or St Mary’s Church, which are unlocked during daylight hours.