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Horwich Heritage Town Centre Trail

Happy New Year to all our website followers

With lockdown still with us for some time yet, and walking one of the few pleasures we have left, why not try following our Horwich Town Centre Trail and test your knowledge on the buildings you pass along the way. View The Trail >

Looking Back

Horwich's Wild West Days

Ken Fields looks at what life was really like in Horwich when the Railway Works first came to town.

I suppose that we all have our own fond memories of 'old' Horwich, which have been largely formed by the period when we grew up. For me, it is the Horwich of the 1940s that still remain most vivid in my mind. Like many Horwichites, as I walk around town, I can still picture the details of many buildings that are now long-gone and of the green fields, once covered with wild flowers, that are now covered with new houses.

Among the buildings that I most miss are Horwich's three cinemas, which all played a large part in my formative years. Of these only the former Picture House remains, but now has been put to other use. The Princes Theatre, always known as 'Jonnie's', stood above the dismal atmosphere of the dark Arcade giving any visit a hint of mystery. While the Palace, situated at the bottom of Church Street, was a simple building that appeared to be built largely of wood. When the heavy rain came down the noise of it hitting the tin roof often drowned out the voices of the actors, but this just added to the enjoyment of the kids. The Picture House on Chorley New Road was the 'posh' one that even boasted a uniformed commissionaire at weekends. However, on Saturday afternoons a more relaxed atmosphere prevailed when it opened its doors to the roar of the children, showing a selection of westerns, cartoons and early outer-space adventures, long before man had landed on the moon. To the groans of the kids these often ended at the most exciting point followed by the message "to be continued at this cinema next week"- thus ensuring a continual full house for a smiling Mr Rimmer, the Manager.

The passing of the Mechanics Institute I also mourn for, following in the steps of many Horwichites, it was in this much loved Victorian building that I received my early education. And the 'Klondike' Pipe Works, although something of an eyesore set amongst the rising hillside, was seen as an attractive place by the handful of children who lived nearby. The small trucks bringing coal and clay from deep within Winter Hill always seemed an exciting sight and its half- hidden water lodge provided hours of enjoyment as we fished for perch. The piercing siren that signalled the start and end of work became one of the well-known sounds of Horwich.

However, I always feel that my own nostalgic memories of the town must pale into insignificance when compared to that generation who were born here in the late 1800s. For, as they later looked back to their childhood, they would remember how they saw their former village of small cottages with a prominent hillside church, transformed, at an amazing rate, into the town we largely see today. For the decision made by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company to build their 'state-of-the-art' workshop at Horwich was destined to see a population explosion greater than any other town in England.

The works itself was built on a large area of agricultural land that contained Sharrock's Farm and Old Hart's Farm bordering onto Red Moss. This was a massive enterprise in itself, but the real impact came with the need to house a large workforce who were being attracted from all parts of Britain. Horwich at this time must have resembled the building of a 'Wild-West' town for, with typical Victorian vigour, scores of new streets were laid out and row upon row of terraced houses began to appear on what had been for centuries open countryside. This building programme must have taken a small army of workers to complete, the local brickworks no doubt working from dawn till dusk, and with horse-drawn delivery carts and steam lorries everywhere.

As well as housing accommodation, the social needs of the new 'Horwichites' had also to be met. This meant the building of shops, churches of different denominations, pubs, a police station, schools and the Mechanics Institute. So, in just a few years, what is now the familiar skyline of the town was created.

At this time the railways lay at the forefront of technology, employing highly-skilled engineers and craftsmen, but also needing many unskilled labourers. The latter came from the declining agricultural areas of England, freeing them from their tied-cottages and very low wages. So a colourful cosmopolitan population began to take root in the town, bringing with it a rich mixture of regional accents. My own relatives, who came to Horwich at this period, brought with them the accents of Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Dublin and rural Ireland.

The making of locomotives was no business for 'wimps', as it involved the heavy work of forging and casting red-hot metal and fitting hundreds of components, all accompanied by the ear-splitting sound of riveting! The hours were long and were often in a working atmosphere that varied from being almost unbearable hot and smoky to being freezing cold. This created what now would be seen as a 'macho' working environment of tough, often heavy-drinking men, who took great pride in their work, treasured comradeship and enjoyed a joke. The elite of these were the Boer-war veterans, who in later years were seen as a race-apart, being noted for their toughness and stamina.

Horwich Town Centre 1892 (25 inch:1 mile). Derek Cartwright collection

On Saturday evenings, after five and half days hard work and with their wages in their pockets, the workers let their hair down. My father, who grew up in Edwardian Horwich, told me how Lee Lane and Winter Hey Lane transformed into a colourful and vigorous hive of crowded activity. The shops remained open until after midnight, so shopping for the Sunday roast was combined with drinking in the many pubs, dancing and attending concerts or watching silent films. But the high alcoholic content of the beer at this time brought many casualties. Unconscious 'drunks', who often lay on the pavement, were taken away on a handcart by burly policemen, to spend a night in the cells.

Sunday, in complete contrast, was a quiet day of rest for those often recovering from the activities of the previous night. Churchgoers, in their best-clothes attended religious services and, on summer days, crowds paraded in formal dress in the country lanes of Rivington. The young people used this activity to go 'courting' and if they were successful they were said to have 'clicked'.

The Loco Works and Horwich East 1892 (25 inch:1 mile.) Derek Cartwright collection

But in spite of the employment stability given by the Loco Works and many other smaller employers in the town, life for most families was a struggle with poverty never far away. Best suits and pocket-watches displayed with pride on Sundays, often found their way into the Pawn Broker's hands on Mondays. Those who could no longer pay their rent piled their few belongings onto a hand cart to escape from their landlord during the night, in what was known as a 'midnight flit'. And those who we would now call 'neighbours from hell' were often forced out of their homes by the collective effort of the more respectable members of the community. They were seen off by women from nearby houses who would stand at their doorways banging frying-pans loudly, 'panning out' what they saw as being disreputable characters. And for the very old, who could no longer work, there was the ever present worry of ending up in the 'workhouse'.

Petty illegal activities thrived. Every part of the town had its own 'Bookies' Runners' who took bets from punters and then passed them on to the town's well-known 'undercover' Betting Shops. And those in the know could always secure a cheap lamb chop from the local poacher, who had a fresh supply stolen at the dead of night from Rivington. Disputes and violence also flared up, particularly during the construction of the Works when arguments arose between Irish and English workmen. And in 1909, during a strike, children were paid to throw stones through the windows of the 'bosses' homes in Victoria Road.

However, August 1914 and the beginning of the First World War, marked the end of Horwich's 'Wild-West' days. Those local men who were fortunate enough to survive the carnage of the trenches, returned to find the beginning of a different world in which the mighty Steam Loco would no longer rule supreme. Its decline, which took over half a century, was slow but inevitable, as rival transport systems began to take centre stage. Sadly, the works, which had transformed Horwich from a village into a town, bringing it a colourful array of talented people, finally closed its doors in 1983. Originally published in Autumn 2005.


The Grey Lady Of Anderton

Ken Fields looks at some Ghostly goings on in Anderton with a short postscript from Derek Cartwright.

The small parish of Anderton, which lies to the North West of Horwich, is a quiet rural area of farms and secluded cottages. The main highway in the parish is the familiar A673 road to Chorley, which skirts the lower Rivington Reservoir along the embankment. At Grimeford Village, close to the Millstone Inn, it is crossed by Grimeford Lane which links Blackrod to Rivington. Nearby is the ancient Headless Cross; an upright figure said to be carved with the figure of St Anthony and named headless because the upper portion has at sometime in the past been broken away (the upper part is now held in the Preston Museum). A flat stone has been added to convert the structure into a crudely carved signpost and alongside lie the village stocks.

What makes the area interesting is the mysterious sightings of ghosts which have occurred frequently over the years. However, in recent times these events have taken a more sinister role for some people believe this apparition, the grey lady, may in some way be responsible for a spate of unexplained car accidents which have occurred along the embankment. This led to Mrs Hill of Anderton to contact Horwich Heritage (during 1992) to explain her concerns about the events.

Mrs Hill's husband, Colin, related how he first encountered the Ghostly Grey Lady almost thirty years ago. He was walking home to Anderton from Horwich late at night, when he was surprised to see a woman walking along towards him. As she came closer he stepped off the pavement, both to let her pass and to put her at ease as it was such a lonely spot. He turned to say "Good Night" and she just disappeared before of his eyes. The experience shocked him so much that he felt quite ill for three days and it was many years before he could talk freely about the incident. He finally decided to relate the tale in his local pub but was interrupted by a friend who said "I know what you are going to say". He then described an almost identical incident that had happened to him.

Mrs Hill then told me (the author) of the many unexplained car accidents that have happened along the same part of the embankment. On an apparently straightforward stretch of the road a broken wall has been demolished and rebuilt repeatedly due to being hit by out-of-control cars. An assortment of broken glass, light fittings and parts of bumper bars which litter the area, testify to the accidents. She explained that recently a taxi had ended up in a ditch at the same spot following a rare double tyre blowout. Fortunately, no one was badly hurt but, when the taxi driver tried to use the radio to get help, it wouldn't work. Sadly not all the people involved in the accidents have walked away uninjuredand there have been a number of deaths. Mrs Hill feels that the sightings of the Grey Lady and the many mysterious car accidents are somehow linked together. She told me how, very recently, a young walked from his wrecked car to see the Grey Lady approaching him, then as in previous sightings she disappeared before his eyes.

The sightings of apparitions in various places around Anderton have been reported for many years. Jack Prescott of Horwich remembers a friend telling him how he saw a ghostly figure of a Cavalier over sixty years ago, on the lane near the Headless Cross. Also in 1982 the Bolton Evening News carried a feature regarding the Anderton Grey Lady (see below).

The two halves of the Headless Cross together (by John S Stanley 1979). The upper portion is believed to be held in Preston Museum

Here is an account by a young lady in 1976. This happened on a lovely May evening on Grimeford Lane near the humpback bridge. The family were travelling by car when the young lady spotted the Grey Lady standing as if waiting to cross the road and again, as in many other cases, she suddenly disappeared. The young lady said that the figure was tall, seemed old and her dress was so long that "I thought she'd been to a party". However, she later identified from old drawings the Grey Lady's headwear as being a biretta, which is a four cornered cap worn by some priests. In 1982, after seeing a TV picture of the Pope's visit to Britain, she said the apparition was wearing identical clothes except they were coloured grey.

So perhaps the Ghostly Grey Lady is not a lady at all but a priest in long flowing robes. This would bear out the story told by George Birtill (local Historian and Writer) in his book the Enchanted Hills. He tells how Anderton was a strong Catholic area and it is believed that it had its own Monastery of St Anthony which also served as a hospital. The broken headless cross probably came from there and it may have been deliberately shattered during the closing of the religious houses by King Henry VIII. It is recorded that a Chapel did exist at Anderton in 1360 and in 1548 it contained six Priests. It was in this period of religious persecution that a priest, Father Bennett, tried to remove the sacred Catholic Vessels of the Chapel to a place of safety. He was using a tunnel which is said to come out near the site of the Monastery at Grimeford. Sadly, the strain proved too much and he died. The facts are meagre, but they may suggest that the apparition that is seen so frequently at Anderton could be that of Father Bennett whose soul is unable to rest...

First Published in the Horwich Heritage Magazine Autumn 1992

Post Script: Other sightings are documented from New Year's Eve 1946 and a 'seance' took place with a spiritual medium during 1951 in Rivington to investigate this sighting (this is covered in greater detail in the Horwich Heritage publication 'The Headless Cross Ghost' by David Owen). Several similar ghostly occurrences including sightings were reported at the nearby Millstone Inn and presented in an article by Brian Smith in the Bolton Evening News (1982). In it links were drawn with Father Bennet and the area around the Headless Cross, but that's for another day... If anyone has any ghostly tales to tell from anywhere in our area (Horwich, Anderton, Rivington etc) then please get in touch with Horwich Heritage.


A. V. Roe - Aviation Pioneer

By Ken Fields with photographic additions by Derek Cartwright

Those attending the Horwich Technical School in the 1950's/60's will be very familiar with the name of A. V. Roe. For he was proclaimed as being our most successful former pupil. Surprisingly it was not his engineering genius that was admired at the time, but more his athletic and acrobatic skill. For it was boasted that when he lived in Horwich he astonished his friends by riding his bike up the steps of both the Mechanics Institute and Bolton Town Hall!

The Mechanics Institute early 20th Century, the technical training and place of educational for Railway Employees in Horwich for decades. AV Roe is said to have ridden is bike up and down the steps.

Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe (AVR) was born on the 26th April 1877 at Patricroft, Manchester, the fourth child of a local doctor. Obstinate and inventive by nature he refused to follow his fathers profession but instead was drawn towards engineering. When he was fourteen a position was found for him to train as a civil engineer in Canada, but downturn in business that followed forced him to return home.

So it was about 1893 that he started a five-year apprenticeship at Horwich Loco Works, which at the time provided some of the best training in the country. He began his first year on a wage of five-shillings (25p) a week, working from 6.00 am to 5.30 pm. But he did not shine in his engineering studies, preferring more adventurous sporting and social activities.

He ran for the Horwich Harriers, took part in amateur dramatics and gained a reputation for being a fast madcap racing cyclist. He could easily beat most of his competitors around the perimeter of the old Horwich Racecourse, which is now covered by Old Lords Crescent, Fearnhead Avenue and Green Lane areas.

When his apprenticeship was completed he applied for a job with Bolton Electric Tramways, but the poor reference given by the Works manager, Mr Hoy, meant that he lost this opportunity. The manager said he seemed to be more interested in cycle racing than engineering! But he did find a position in marine engineering at Portsmouth Dockyard and then after studying at Kings Collage he applied to enter the Royal Navy, but he was again turned down. With the dogged determination that would be the hallmark of his life, he then applied to the African Royal Mail Company and finally became the fifth-engineer on one of their ships.

However as the Edwardian age dawned enthusiastic engineers like AVR were becoming excited with the new ere of the motor-car and the possibilities of powered-flight. This attracted him to enter the motor-car industry as a draughtsman, while is his spare time he began to study the theory of flight. Then after the historic first flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903 he began to correspond with them exchanging technical theories.

In 1906 AVR was at last able to begin to satisfy his thirst for aviation when he became a draughtman on a project to build a flying machine known as a gyrocopter. Sponsored by Armstrong Whitworth the machine was built by GLO Davidson in the USA. But with the continued success of aeroplanes enthusiasm for the project waned so he once more returned home. He was then able to successfully patent his design for the worlds first control column for an aeroplane, which was a major breakthrough at the time.

In April 1907 he took the first prize of £75, offered by the Daily Mail for a sustained flight by a model aeroplane. And his success spurned him on to build a full size version that could carry a man. This biplane he completed in September 1907, but due to it being under powered, it was at first unsuccessful. Then in June 1908, after fitting a 25 HP engine he took to the air, completing a flight of 75 feet. He had become the first Englishman to fly, but as no officials were present this was not recognised and the honour was later given to J.T.C. Moore-Brabazon.

A.V. Roe Biplane 1908

Overcoming many financial obstacles in September 1908 he joined in his first partnership with J.A. Prestwich to form the JAP Avroplane Company, to build a triplane. But after some differences it was dissolved the following year. And after his failure to maintain any sustained length of flight led him to be nicknamed by his rivals as Roe-the-Hopper. But his brother Humphrey had more confidence in his skill and determination, which led them to form a family partnership. Known as A.V. Roe Company, it became the worlds first registered aeroplane manufacturer in January 1910. Their first premises being in Brownsfield Mill, Ancoats, Manchester.

So the first aeroplanes were manufactured in Manchester. They were then transported in parts by horse and cart to London Road Railway Station to be sent south by train to Brooklands, where an aerodrome had been built. Roe's innovative new triplane, the Mercury, was guaranteed to fly five miles and was proving to be a great success. In 1910 he finally found time to pass his flying examination receiving aviation certificate number 18.

In spite of his initial success the company was still experiencing financial difficulties, as there were few orders for new aeroplanes. However many pioneers were trying their hand at building their own flying machines. So this led AVR to decide to supply aero parts, advertising as the aviator's Storehouse. This venture proved to be a life saver; his patented Avro Wire-strainer that changed the tension on the planes bracing wires, became a best seller.

As well as establishing a flying school at Brooklands to train pilots and producing several new designs of aeroplane the company continued to suffer from lack of finance. But a far-reaching event took place when AVR made a talented young designer named Roy Chadwick his personal assistant. A drawing office was opened at Brownsfield Mill and it was here that the small team rapidly produced many new designs including monoplanes and hydro-biplanes. Aviation engineering was now proceeding at an astonishing rate and the company received its first order from the War Office. In 1913 it became a limited Company and moved into larger premises in Miles Platting.

With the onset of WWI AVR's company assumed great importance with orders for new aircrafts rolling in. The AVRO 504 was used in raids against Zeppelin sheds and it became the first British plane to be shot down by the Germans. Roy Chadwick now became Avro's chief designer and was later regarded as being the best in the world.

At the end of the war in 1918 the modest AVR was awarded the OBE for his services to aviation. But Avro's large new factory that had been built at Newton Heath needed more work. However the beginning of a new market opened when Avro established Britain's first scheduled domestic air-service between Manchester, Southport and Blackpool.

In 1924 AVR desperately needed a new airfield near Manchester from which he could test and deliver aircraft. This was found near New Hall Farm near Bramhall, which lies 15-miles from Newton Heath. The site became known as the now famous Woodford; the name being taken from the nearby village.

During the twenties the company continued to flourish, but far from sitting back to enjoy his wealth AVR had a desire to seek new horizons. So it was a shocked workforce who learnt in 1928 that he had resigned from the company he had founded. He had decided to join Samuel Saunders in a new company known as Saunders-Roe that designed and built flying boats. And in the following year his pioneering work in aviation was recognised when he was given a Knighthood.

The AVRO company's achievements are now legendary. In 1938 a large new manufacturing plant was built at Chadderton, near Oldham. And it produced such famous aircraft as the Anson, The Lancaster, The Lincoln, The Shackleton and the Vulcan. In 1963 came a major reorganisation of the British aircraft Industry that resulted in the famous name disappearing as the firm became part of Hawker Siddeley Group and later British Aerospace.

On 4th January 1958 Sir Alliott Verdon-Roe died in his eighty-first year. This remarkable man, who learned much of his engineering skills on Horwich Loco Works, and had raced around Horwich Racecourse on his bike, helped to create our modern transport system. Perhaps it would now be appropriate if his achievements were remembered in Horwich by a blue Plaque?

First published in the Horwich Heritage Magazine Autumn 2004. Thanks to the late Ken Fields for this wonderful account of a great Engineer with Horwich connections. The Woodford site is now the AVRO Heritage Museum and well worth a visit.

The AVRO Lancaster Bomber, a significant British aircraft of World War II and beyond.


The Rivington Reservoirs

Kenneth Fields looks at a great Victorian achievement that lies on our doorstep with a postscript added by Derek Cartwright

Those of us who love to wander in the countryside around Rivington tend to take the "lakes" for granted, for as far as we are concerned they have always been there. Stretching for four miles from Horwich to Anglezarke these large man-made reservoirs now enhance the landscape with a splash of blue. The still waters reflect the outline of the rising hills and their reed-fringed banks provide a haven for a great variety of water birds. Yet behind this rural tranquillity lies the story of a magnificent civil engineering achievement. It resulted from the genius of one man together with the endeavour of an army of workers and it saved the people of Liverpool from the misery of decades of disease.

During the first part of the 19th century many villages in England rapidly grew into towns, and many towns into cities, resulting from the effects of the Industrial Revolution and the decline of agriculture. This brough numerous problems, not least the threat of disease as huge numbers of workers lived side by side in "crowded courts and filthy alleys". This was a great problem in Liverpool, where in the 1840's in just three months over 8,000 people became victims of cholera.

It was the shortage of water, both for drinking and for sewage disposal, which lay at the centre of the problem. So in 1846 Liverpool Corporation asked three prominent civil engineers to urgently propose a scheme to provide clean water to the city. Among these was an adventurous plan submitted by Thomas Hawksley that involved building a series of reservoirs below Rivington Pike, and the Corporation eventually chose this scheme.

Thomas Hawksley had been born at Arnold near Nottingham in 1807. At the age of 15 he had become articled to a firm of architects who also carried out water-related projects. Here it was quickly discovered that he had a natural talent for such work and in 1831 he gained national recognition when he designed the Trench Bridge Waterworks. This involved "Britain's first high pressure constant supply, which prevented contamination entering the supply of clean water mains". The prestige he gained from this project led to him being regarded as the man best suited to solve Liverpool's water problem.

The very ambitious scheme that he proposed at Rivington was the largest in the world at that time. It involved the construction of three large reservoirs (Lower Rivington Reservoir, the Upper Rivington Reservoir and Anglezarke Reservoir) extending from Horwich to Anglezarke. These were then linked by a new open channel known as the Goit, to the Rake Reservoir that was to be built at Abbey Village and the new Roddlesworth Reservoir at Tockholes. He also proposed the construction of six filter beds and two open filter tanks at Horwich, which were revolutionary at the time.

When this proposed scheme was made public it naturally gained a lot of local opposition, as it was revealed what an enormous impact it would have on the landscape. Those who opposed became known as 'Anti-Pikeists; a name derived from Rivington Pike. But in spite of this resistance the scheme was eventually approved by Parliament and construction work began in 1847.

This involved the employment of hundreds of workmen, many of these being Irish navvies, who were housed in temporary wooden huts close to the construction sites. Tales were told of their unlicensed drinking dens, elicit stills for making whisky and drunken fights between these hard working and hard drinking men.

They were required to carry out an incredible amount of hard manual labour, for the project involved the building of huge embankments and the diversion of both roads and rivers. It also resulted in the loss of several buildings, including the ancient Black-a-Moor's Head Inn, which was sited under what is now the Upper Rivington Reservoir.

The Rivington and Anglezarke Reserviors

On the 13th January 1857 it was reported in The Times that "The long expected supply of water from the Rivington Hills, 26 miles from Liverpool, has within the past few days reached the town". At first the water was discoloured but this later cleared and the people of Liverpool quickly began to enjoy its purity.

In 1856 the small Higher Bullough Reservoir, that existed at Anglezarke and supplied water to Chorley, had become the responsibility of Liverpool Waterworks. But still more water was needed for thirsty Liverpool, which led in 1860 to another reservoir being constructed at Roddlesworth and in 1868 the large Yarrow Reservoir at Anglezarke, which was not completed until 1877.

So for twenty years the residents of Horwich and Rivington had endured a huge "building site" on their doorstep and had seen large areas of their countryside transformed. And just a few years later were to follow yet another massive change with the building of Horwich Loco works.

Thomas Hawksley, with his success at Rivington, had consolidated his reputation as one of Britain's leading civil engineers. This led to him moving from Nottingham to London in 1852 where he established his own engineering practice. During his long lifetime he was responsible for the construction of more than 150 waterworks throughout Britain together with numerous gas-works and sewage disposal systems.

He became the first president of the Institute of Gas Engineers and Managers and in 1871 he was elected President of the Institute of Civil Engineers and a fellow of the Royal Society. He died in Kensington, London in 1893 at the age of 86 and was buried at Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.

In 2007 a granite memorial was placed on his unmarked grave, while locally he is remembered by "Hawksley Street" and of course his great legacy of the Rivington Reservoirs.

This article was first published in the Horwich Heritage Special 25th Anniversary Magazine Edition 2010

Postscript from Derek Cartwright

Evidence of the hundreds of men that built the reservoirs can still occasionally be found. These clay pipes were found on the eastern bank of the Yarrow Reservoir at low water during 1985 by Rangers Garry Rhodes and Ian Harper. The pipes are thought to have been dropped/discarded by the men building the reservoir in the 1870's. Note the harp and other markings suggesting Irish origin. The clay pipe pieces (below) were donated to the Heritage Centre after being found in recent years and displayed at the Horwich Heritage West Pennine Moor Exhibition July 2019.

A modern day complete clay pipe donated by Ian Harper to Horwich Heritage for the exhibition July 2019. The stem is approximately 200 mm in length.


Horwich Races - Keith Downham looks at an almost-forgotten local sporting event

Wednesday 2nd August 1843: This is our fourth meeting at this course. The weather this morning was awful, but now at two in the afternoon, it is great. The sun is out and people are looking forward to the races. Several improvements have been made to the course this year and a covered portion for the ladies has been set out near the Grand Stand. Mr. Fisher's Band has been hired, and given a place in the enclosure in front of the Grand Stand. All the stands are filled well there must be around four thousand people about the course. Hundreds of people being conveyed to Horwich by special trains. There are numerous huts around the course with names such as Golden Lion, Hen and Chickens, and Millstone, all being visited frequently by the crowd to quench their thirst.

The Tradesman's Golden Cup is the first race, with a 1st prize of 60 sovereigns, followed by the Willoughby Stakes. The last race of the day is The Hunter's Stakes of 10 sovereigns each with 20 sovereigns added.

Thursday 3rd August 1843: Heavy rain again in the morning, moderating a bit in the afternoon. The first race is just called 'A Cup'. Before the start of the race the cup, which was a gift from Mr. W.S. Standish Esq. Of Duxbury Park, was exhibited on a platform in front of the Grand Stand. Its value was said to be £50, but in reality it cost 100 Guineas.

The Ladies Purse of 15 sovereigns, added to a sweepstake of 3 sovereigns each, was followed by the last race of the meeting The Hurdle Sweepstake of 10 sovereigns each, with 30 sovereigns added.

As this race was about to commence the people in the front row of the Grand Stand were pressed forward by those behind, against the railings, which broke. And between forty and fifty people were thrown over into the enclosure below. Several were slightly injured with cuts and bruises and a dislocated shoulder was suffered by one.

A good meeting was had by all!

Published in The Horwich Heritage Magazine Spring 2013

Below is the Horwich Race Course taken from the map of 1848. The race course lay around the Fernhead avenue area and crossed where Lever Park Avenue now runs.

To the left of the course, Grut is the site of a farm which is across the road from the present day Rivington & Blackrod High School tennis courts. Old Wills Lane (Side of R&B HS) can be seen running top to bottom on the left also. Note the Grandstand top right of the Race Course.


State of Siege - Horwich 1886

People today are familiar with the excuse "the building work is held up due to the bad weather", but in 1886 Horwich's new Loco Works was held up for a more colourful reason. Much of the work was being carried out by Irish navvies and there were often lively incidents involving these high spirited men. An interesting account was related in The Chronical of the time:

"Horwich has for the past few weeks been garrisoned by Police constables. Its streets patrolled by members of the force who walked in couples, and a reserve company was held at the Public Hall.

The state of siege was made necessary as a result of the English and Irish navvies employed at the new railway works having got to fighting and in terrible earnest. The ill feeling has been brewing for some time culminating in a free fight extending over a large area and in which bricks, pokers, and other weapons were freely used".

The fight seems to have started at the Craven Heifer when a one armed Englishman was set upon by the Irish and badly beaten. A gang of English took revenge with the aid of belts and 40 or 50 men involved. The reported takes up the story:

"Subsequently, small fights were common along Lee Lane and at 8.0 pm a proper set-to took place at the top of Winter Hey Lane. By this time the streets were thronged with people out to see the fun, but it was not until 10.30 pm that there was a real organised fight.

At that time the Irish had concentrated on Summer Street, yelling at the tops of their voices. The English made a dash at them with belts. The Police were powerless. Bricks were thrown and several windows broken. The Irishman with a scythe was soon put out of action with a well-aimed brick. The conflict raged fiercely, each party having the better of it until the Police eventually got between the parties, and, by a little tact, got the Englishmen to go away."

The fun continued all week, with Blackrod colliers declaring their intention to take part in the battle on the side of the English. Whether that is anything to do with it is not known, but a few days later peace returned to Horwich and some of those who had taken part were sent to jail without the option of a fine.

The Chronical said ill-feeling between the parties was intensified through the Irish working for 1/2d per hour less than the English.

From the 'Changing Face of Horwich' by Christine Southern. First published in the Horwich Heritage Magazine Spring 2002.


Sir John Aspinall's Legacy

What do Sir Nigel Gresley, Sir Henry Fowler and R E L Maunsell have in common? Answer: they were all apprentices at Horwich Loco Works who went on to become Chief Mechanical Engineers (CMEs) of Britain's major Railway Companies.

What does this tell you about Sir John Aspinall and his time spent as CME of Horwich Works during its formative years from 1886-89. Let me quote from F A S Brown the biographer of Sir Nigel Gresley, probably this country's most famous locomotive engineer who designed both the Flying Scotsman & Mallard (which still holds the record for the fastest steam loco at 126mph) "Whilst Gresley's pupillage at Crewe taught him much on both the practical and theoretical sides of locomotive engineering, it is not surprising that he should have sought drawing office training elsewhere". And for an ambitious young man at that time there was only one place to go - the newly-opened Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Works at Horwich. "In charge there was one of the greatest of British locomotive engineers, J A F, later Sir John Aspinall. A pupil of Aspinall's trained at Horwich just before Gresley went there was Henry Fowler, subsequently Sir Henry Fowler, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LMS, and R E L Maunsell, later CME of the Southern Railway, had gained valuable experience at Horwich on his way to the top of his profession. Thus three of the four British Chief Mechanical Engineers of the years 1925-30 were former Horwich men." And if you include George Hughes who worked under Aspinall at Horwich and eventually became CME of the L&YR and then, on amalgamation in 1923, CME of the LMS then that makes four! There can be no greater tribute to the inspirational leadership of Sir John Aspinall than this testimonial! And there's more..." Another pupil of Aspinall's at Horwich Locomotive Works was destined to pioneer a new form of transport. He was A V Roe, subsequently Sir Alliott Verdon Roe, creator of the 'AVRO' aeroplanes, which were notable for the soundness of their detailed design at a time when much early aircraft construction tended to be amateurish. Even on the last steam locomotives designed for service in this country the Horwich School has left its mark in the Britannia & Clan Pacifics."

We should be rightly proud of Sir John in so many ways. Although he didn't design the Loco Works complex (that was down to John Ramsbottom & Barton Wright), it was he who saw it through to completion and made many important changes along the way. It was also Sir John who secured the construction of the Railway Mechanics Institute (later known as the 'University of Railway Engineering') and devised the 'premium' apprenticeship scheme (which attracted such top quality pupils such as those listed above). Like so many of his generation of engineers, he was first and foremost a designer, although he went on to become General Manager of the L&YR. He designed a series of successful locomotives all built at Horwich Works the very first of which, No.1008, is preserved at the National Railway Museum in York. And not surprisingly, during his era, Horwich Works and its drawing office (under Chief Draughtsman, Zachariah Tetlow) attracted much admiration. Aspinall's biographer, H A V Bulleid, put it this way "It was this general air of achievement in locomotive building and design, progress in manufacturing technology and the will to experiment in the areas of uncertainty that earned Horwich its tremendous reputation and this in turn attracted better pupils."

As we reflect on the sad state of the Loco Works buildings today, we realise that nothing lasts for ever and before too long much of the site will have disappeared as part of the new Rivington Chase development. However, bricks and mortar may disappear but reputations last forever and those formative years under Sir John Aspinall helped to secure Horwich's legacy as a railway works of national and international importance. As well as being knighted in 1917 for his services to the British railway industry and his war effort, Sir John was also the first recipient of the highest award the Institute of Mechanical Engineers can give, the James Watt International Medal, which he received just before he died in 1937 aged 85. Having done so much for the development of the town, maybe he deserves to be remembered as more than just a name on a street sign and a residential home!

Stuart Whittle


Horwich Street Names (By Ken Fields)

It is often said that "familiarity breeds contempt" and in the case of local street names this is probably true, for we often take them for granted without questioning how they originated. Although some date back to the 18th century it was when the great expansion of the town took place in the 1880's due to the building of the Loco Works, that scores of new streets needed naming. So many of the interesting names that remain today reflect the culture of this period when Britain led the world.

Victoria Road and Albert Street appropriately commemorate Queen Victoria (1819-1901) and her consort Prince Albert, who also both pubs and mills in the town named after them. Most of the streets built close to the works were named after famous engineers of the 19th century who at the time were held in great esteem. John Ramsbottom (1814-1897) (Ramsbottom Road) was the son of a cotton spinner who owned a small mill in Todmorden. He rose to become one of the great railway engineers of the period, a director of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and responsible for the design and construction of Horwich Loco works. His pupil, John Audley Fredrick Aspinall (1851-1937) (Aspinall Street, Aspinall Court, Aspinall Way) became the Chief Mechanical Engineer at the works.

Sir John Hawkshaw (1811-1891) (Hawkshaw Street) was a Leeds born civil engineer who was responsible for the building of bridges and tunnels on many projects including those for the L&Y Railway. Sir William Fairburn (1789-1874) (Fairburn Street) was a Scot who had a distinguished engineering career based in Manchester. Among his many achievements was the introduction of a riveting machine for the manufacture of boilers.

Some of the more well known engineers commemorated include: James Brindley (1716-1722) (Brindley Street) who was known as the father of canal building in Britain. Thomas Telford (1757-1834) (Telford Street), a brilliant architect and bridge builder who became the engineer for the Elsmere Canal Company. George Stephenson (1781-1848) (Stephenson Street), who was barely literate but became one of our greatest locomotive pioneers and the first President of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) (Brunel Street), who built the London to Bristol railway and was also an outstanding navel architect who designed the celebrated Great Britain, Great Eastern and Great Western ships. James Watt (1736-1848) (Watt Street), a Scottish scientist and engineer who developed the steam engine and Sir Joseph Whitworth (1803-1887) (Whitworth Street), a Stockport born machine tool engineer who standardised the screw thread.

Paradoxically the main roads leading out of Horwich, Chorley Old Road and its later counterpart, Chorley New Road do not lead form Horwich to Chorley, but instead lead to Bolton. While Bolton Road, which is a continuation of Scholes Bank along the embankment, actually leads from Horwich to Chorley. Presumably this odd situation arose because the former Turnpike Road was named from Bolton and the later part named from Chorley, and Horwich lies in the middle.

This old pack-horse from Bolton to Adlington that passes through Horwich, was upgraded to become the Bolton to Nightingale Trust in 1763. Part of this passed through animal grazing land known as Urmstone's Lee, which resulted in the now familiar Lee Lane. While a small track off Lee Lane that led across a field in 1620 was called Horrocks Winter Hey, became Winter Hey Lane. And a small section of Chorley New Road that lay in the centre of Horwich (built 1829) was originally called Crown Street.

Captain D'Arley Wright of Mottram Hall in Cheshire once owned much of the land in the centre of Horwich. So when new streets were built on this land he became immortalised by Captain Street, Darley Street, Wright Street and Mottram Street. Likewise his wife, Julia Catherine Wright gave her name to Julia Street and Catherine Street, and their Daughter, Mary Wright gave us Mary Street. And even the name of their land agent is remembered by Brady Street.

Crown Lane is named after the Crown Hotel, an ancient hostelry that was in existence in 1786 but was rebuilt in 1886. However this was formerly known as Bar Lane, taking its name from the Bar that marked the entrance to the turnpike road, now remembered by the name of the Toll Bar Inn.

Many of the houses built in Crown Lane were built by a man named Marsh who is remembered by Marsh Street. Likewise Harrison Street is named after a Mr Harrison who built two houses known as Railway View, Walsh Street was named after John Walsh a local tradesman, and Longworth Road after William Longworth who was a prominent local Bleacher.

A former licensee of the Old Original Bay Horse and local councillor, Dick Hampson is remembered by Hampson Street. And Mason Street is named after Herbert Mason, another local councillor and son of Adam Mason who owned Mason's works and Montcliffe Mine.

Green Lane was originally an unmade road known as Sandy Lane. It led alongside the old Horwich Race Course on which Horwich Football Club once played their games. Fearnhead Avenue was named after William Fearnhead who was the Chairman of Horwich Council in 1924 and 1931. While nearby Ormston Avenue takes its name from ancient Ormstan's Farm which overlooks it from the rising hillside.

Baron Willoughby of Parham married into a local family in the 17th century, living at Shaw Place at Heath Charnock. His descendants owned property at Horwich leading to the names of Old Lord's Farm, Old Lords Crescent and probably, Lord Street.

Mr Peter Martin, a wealthy businessman who lived at "The Street" in heath Charnock, paid for the building of Horwich Public Hall, which was opened in 1879. His generosity is remembered by nearby Peter Martin Street; the only occasion when the full name or a person has been given to a local street.

William Lever, the first Lord Leverhulme, who was the great benefactor of Rivington gave his name to Lever Park Avenue. Close to its junction with Scholes Bank (formally Scolles Bank), on the site of the Garden of Remembrance, once stood Scholes Bank Farm. A century ago it was farmed by Bob Swithemby who is remembered by nearby Swithemby Street and Bob's Brow.

The late Jack Prescott told me (the author) that prior to the First World War Scholes Bank and the road from Horwich to Adlington had fallen into disrepair. So when a group of German POW's were brought to the area were employed in rebuilding this road using cobble stones. This they did with great skill, but they were allowed to lay out the cobbles using their own German pattern. So today, buried beneath that tarmac, lies a little-known piece of local history.

Many other street names exist in Horwich that have interesting historical links and in recent times the naming of Dehavilland Way highlighted the towns association with the famous aircrafts company, continues this tradition. However the humble "Street" seems to have gone out of favour when new property is built. It has been replaced by "Close", "Gardens", Court, "Approach", "Grove" and "Drive" and their names are chosen more for their commercial appeal rather than local heritage associations!

First Published in the Horwich Heritage Magazine Autumn 2007. Researched and written by Kenneth Fields. Ken passed away in October 2020, he was a massive contributor to Horwich Heritage and will be solely missed. Our sincere condolences to his family and friends.


Fire at Gaskell's Mill, Lee Lane, Horwich. Monday 4th December 1882

The scene of the disastrous fire in December 1882 was Pearl/Purl Brook Mill an old stone structure on the corner of Lee Lane and Winter Hey Lane, Horwich. The mill was built around 1822 and was known in the town as "Gaskell's Mill" originally belonging to a Peter Gaskell and Co. From 1870 the Mill was owned by Clarke and Collier of Manchester.

The main building consisted of five stories and an attic. The Engine, Boiler house and store were separate from the main building and off Lee Lane. The mill was used for fine spinning and contained 12000 spindles on double decked and single mules. Much of the machinery in the mill was modern with the mill employing around eighty people, both adult and children.

Map of central Horwich 1850 Showing the Pearl/Purl Brooke Mill (Gaskells Mill). Note the Mill lodge on what we call Lee Lane opposite where the Saddle PH now stands and to the left of the mill.

At about 2.45 pm on the afternoon of the 4th December 1882 villagers noticed the fire in the attic at the Winter Hey Lane end of the building. A little girl employed in the card room spotted the fire and informed the mill manager Mr John Ahlstedt. By this time the fire was already in the roof of the building. Buckets of water and fire extinguishers being used. Staff broke steam pipes with hammers to use the steam to quell the flames but to no avail.

The manual Fire appliance from Wallsuches (Ridgeways) was dispatched to the scene with water drawn from the mill lodge (Lee Lane). Soon after 3 pm a message was telegraphed to the Bolton Fire Engine depot which dispatched the "Albert Steamer" pulled by three horses. Evan with all the valiant firefighting efforts the mill was lost with floor after floor collapsing in and both side walls falling. The gable end wall on Winter Hey Lane remained standing but was in a dangerous state.

Thanks to Ivan and Christine Snape who collated this piece from the Bolton Chronical December of 1882.

Eye witness Sara Ann Rawlinson (nee Hart) told of the fire, her account was passed on by her daughter Winnie Ratcliffe.

Gaskell Mill was opposite my father butchers shop (Sara's father) on Lee Lane, the Mill stretched from the corner of Winter Hey Lane half way to Brownlow Road. Mother (Sara) was 12-years old at the time and at the Church School (Parish Church). Her teachers said that a fire had broken out at the Mill and she can go home to help her parents.

Mother (Sara) ran down Church Street and could see the flames leaping high into the sky. She helped move things from the rooms of her house facing the mill, the heat of the fire was cracking the windows.

All the workers were out of the mill when one man shouted my watch (he had left inside), he ran back into the burning building, he retrieved his watch and was rushing out when the top floor fell, the worker fell to his death. His fellow workers saw this happen but could do nothing to help him. A tragedy.

The fire and loss of the mill caused a lot of poverty at the time when the dole/social security didn't exist. Railings were put around the mill ruins but they blew down and it looked terrible.

Then the railways came to town, the land was sold and shops built along Lee Lane and on Winter Hey Lane. The little cottages next to Grandfathers shop (Sara's Father) had long gardens so the fire didn't damage them. These cottages were pulled down and shops were built where they stood.

(Harts Butchers stood on the corner where the Maypole once was, it's now a coffee shop).

Thanks to Tony Ratcliffe grandson of Sara Ann Rawlinson (nee Hart) and son of Winnie Ratcliffe..

This piece has been summarised from two articles published in the Horwich Heritage Magazines of Autumn 2003 and Spring 2004. Thanks to all concerned. Horwich Heritage Archive.


Pte John Harrison WWI

Jack Harrison remembers the heroic exploits of his father during the First World War

My father, John Gould Harrison, was born in 1897 at the Parsonage Nurseries, Horwich, the younger child of James and Elizabeth Harrison. After leaving Chorley New Road Junior School (the board school), at thirteen years old, he went to work with his father at the Parsonage Nurseries to learn what was the love of his life, Horticulture.

When War came in 1914, then a seventeen year old, he went off to Chorley to enlist; no doubt the shilling bounty was an inducment. He was "badged" into the North Lancashire Regiment, starting his training firstly at Blackpool and then at Gobowen, near Oswestry.

In 1915 he was in France with the Loyals, and was wounded in the thigh, sent back to Blighty and was hospitaised near Marske-on-Sea, Redcar. Returning to France early 1916. He was transferred to the 11th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment (the Accrington Pals). Later, many years later, they became the subject of a play, "The Accrington Pals." The battalion had just done a stint in the Middle East, and then it went straight to France.

They then started training for the "big push," the first battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916. This was, in military parlance, a monumental cock-up. After the first day, out of 1000 men only 400 were left, the rest being either dead or wounded. Of the 400, only 125 fighting troops were left, the other 275 being support staff.

However, he was lucky and survived. In the re-organisation that followed, he transferred to the 1st/5th Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, and served with them until hospitalised in November 1918.

In August 1918, the East Lancs were fighting near Miramount. On the 24th August he and his buddy were both awarded the D.C.M., the second highest rating to O.R's at that time. The citation read as follows:-

No 29730 Pte J Harrison 1/5th Bn. East Lancs Regiment Awarded D.C.M. For bravery near Miramount on August 24th 1918.
He was No 3 of a Lewis Gun section, which proceeded in advance of the platoon. This section effectively silenced 4 enemy machine guns, taking the teams prisoner. On the final objective with another man he rushed a dugout, killed the sentry and took 1 officer prisoner and 16 O.R.'s prisoner.
A. Solly-Flood. Major-General, commanding 42nd Division

All went well for him until early November 1918 when he was badly wounded in his back, losing his left lung and ribs etc. He was hospitalised until 1920, mostly spent in Nottingham, where he made many friends.

Eventually, he returned to his former life and the plants he loved. He married and had three children, of which I'm the youngest. He smoked all his life and never let these things bother him. He died tragically of a perforated ulcer in 1968. Modern X-rays at the time showed he still carried 28 pieces of shrapnel and one bullet.

"Lest we forget"

Published in the Horwich Heritage Magazine Spring 2010

Looking Back

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