Early Transatlantic Flights,via Southport

Many people must have driven around the Shore Road roundabout near Ainsdale and wondered why there is a sculpture of an airplane flying away from the New York skyline. Perhaps they dismiss it as some random, innocuous piece of public art. However, it is far more important than that. It actually commemorates two double transatlantic flights in the early days of aviation undertaken by the pilot Dick Merrill, via Southport.


Dick Merrill’s Transatlantic Flights, from Southport

The Lady Peace ‘Ping Pong’ Flight

In 1936, Dick Merrill was looking to do a double transatlantic flight. The object was to fly from New York to England and then back again. He teamed up with a famous broadway entertainer called Harry Richman. Richman not only owned a plane capable of doing this feat, but was prepared to finance the journey to the tune of $360,000, a huge sum in those days. His aircraft was a specially modified monoplane Vultee V-1A, which he named the Lady Peace. However, part of its modifications involved the installation of 41,000 table tennis balls in the wings and tail which supposedly would help with buoyancy if the plane landed in water. This led the press to dub it the ‘Ping Pong Flight’.

After making it successfully from New York to Wales, the plane then flew on to London. But the return trip was to prove a problem – they needed a really long runway in order to take off, as they would be carrying a lot of fuel. The largest runway in the country at the time was at Liverpool’s Speke airport, but this was deemed too short.  The solution lay relatively nearby though; the stretch of beach from Ainsdale to Birkdale was deemed ideal. At 3am on the 14th September 1936, on a makeshift runway lit by flares, the plane ran along nearly a mile of beach before successfully taking off. Bad winds and an accidental loss of fuel on the way over the Atlantic meant that they were forced to land 100 miles north of St John, Newfoundland. A week later they finished their trip and arrived in  New York.

The Coronation Flight

Just eight months later, Dick Merrill was hired to do the same double Atlantic trip again. The abdication of Edward VIII meant there would be a coronation of a new king, George VI, on May 10th 1937. The American press baron, William Randolph Hearst, wanted pictures in his papers before his competitors got them, and this led two Wall Street brokers, knowing of Merrill’s previous flight, to engage him to deliver the goods.


Merrill had to find a suitable plane and spoke with Amelia Earhart, the pioneering aviator. She suggested a modified twin engine Lockheed Electra, and taking her advice the Wall Street brokers paid $40,000 for one. The modifications cost another $6000 and this included six large tanks in the fuselage to carry 1,270 gallons of fuel. This would give the plane a range of 4,300 miles, more than enough if all went well.

Merrill left New York on 9th May. This time his co pilot was Jack Lambie and they set a new world record for the crossing, landing in London after just 20 hours and 59 minutes. The trip back on 13th May was once again from Southport. After a 5.30am breakfast of kippers and haddock at the Prince of Wales hotel, hosted by the mayor of Southport, they were ready to take off. As well as the photographs of the royal ceremony, it had been planned that they would take newsreel film, but this did not arrive in time. Ten thousand people turned out to watch the plane take off as it rolled down the Ainsdale and Birkdale beach in the direction of Southport pier.

Their non-stop flight of 24 hours and 23 minutes ended with them landing at Quincy, Massachusetts. They then flew on to New York to deliver the photographs of the coronation and Hearst’s newspapers were the first to print them, all as planned.

The sculptured plane at the Ainsdale roundabout represents the one used in the second of the two flights, but the information board gives details of both historic crossings. See the access section below for more details.


The monument can be viewed at the Ainsdale roundabout where Coastal Road meets Shore Road. To read the interpretation board, park on Chatsworth Road and walk down (as there’s quite a lot of double yellow lines around the roundabout and the roads to and from it). There are historic pictures of the pilots and planes on the board, as well as a summary of both journeys. For more information on these remarkable flights, have a look at the websites listed below.


On site interpretation boards at the Ainsdale Shore Road roundabout




Posted in Monuments | Tagged , , , , ,

Broughton Tower, Broughton near Preston

Broughton Tower itself no longer stands, but surprisingly much of its moat remains at the site of this once fortified place. We’ll say a little more about how to see it (and it is quite extensive), but first a little history…


Broughton Tower site and moat

The tower was built as part of a fortified manor house by the Singleton family. No pictures or plans of it remain, but it was probably a Pele tower. Two of the best known examples of these in Lancashire are the huge ruin of Radcliffe Tower (see our page here) and the very well preserved Turton Tower (see our page here). It was described as a ‘strong, heavy structure of stone, capable of being fortified with its surrounding moat’. Such buildings afforded protection from local feuds and from Scottish invaders.

Armed disputes with neighbours were not uncommon in Lancashire in the Medieval and Tudor periods. Theobald Walter seized Broughton manor from Richard Singleton and it was only restored to his grandson William Singleton decades later after three separate inquisitions ruled that it had been illegally and forcibly taken.

We don’t know the exact date the tower was built, but it’s thought that by the time Gilbert de Singelton held the manor, he had built some kind of structure on the site by 1325. The first definite recording of the moat is in 1516, which means the tower must have come into existence sometime between these two dates. To have such a high status building indicates the wealth of the Singleton family. In 1501, at the time of Robert Singleton’s death he was holding lands in Broughton, Sharoe, Durton and Fernyhalgh.


Broughton Cottage sits on the site of the tower. The moat can be seen in the foreground

In 1515, the tower was lived in by Arthur Standish, who was renting it from the Singletons. It seems that he decided that he had a claim on the property and had sent his men to destroy hedges on the Singleton family’s land. John Singleton of nearby Chingle Hall led a group of armed men to the tower and took it by force. They broke into surrounding buildings and removed corn and cattle from them.  Then they set about setting up defences: trees were felled to form protective barriers and in the chapel they placed “gownnys, crossbowys and other artillery of wer ” (guns, crossbows and other artillery of war). When the sheriff came to the scene to declare the occupation illegal they “caused a bagpipe to play and in great deryson daunced“. Both sides were bound over to keep the peace and the dispute was not resolved until the following year.

The Langton family take possession

As a Catholic family the Singletons had to pay fines for recusancy, that is the refusal to worship at a Protestant Church. The constant charges may have led the Singletons to finally have to sell the property in 1615 to the Langton family. The Langton family would remain there for over a hundred years.

The Langtons and Singletons had been allied together against the Hoghton family just a few years before the hand over of the property. Thomas Langton had the widow Thomazine Singleton under his protection and she complained to him that the Hoghton family had stolen her cattle and impounded them at one of their properties, Lea Hall. Thomas Langton took 80 men to recapture the cattle, but the Hoghtons were armed and waiting. In the ensuing battle Thomas Hoghton was killed.  Langton was arrested as he lay recuperating from his wounds in his bed at Broughton Tower and taken to Lancaster Castle. Rather than face trial, he settled out of court by giving Walton manor (at Walton le Dale) to the Hoghton family in payment for the death.


Here the moat takes a right angle turn

In 1632, Edward Bamber, an Englishman who had trained as a priest in Spain, returned to England under the assumed name of Reading. He was acting as chaplain at Standish Hall and was also giving mass clandestinely elsewhere in the area. Saying of mass was outlawed at the time and he was arrested and sent for trial at Lancaster Castle. On the way his captors lodged at Church Inn or as we now know it Church Cottage in Broughton (see our page on it here). He was locked upstairs, wearing just his night shirt, while his captors got drunk below. He made his escape and was found wandering by one of the Singleton family and taken to safety at Broughton Tower. However, Edward Bamber was recaptured and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle for three years. He was executed there with two other Catholic priests, Thomas Whitaker and John Woodcock. In 1987 they were all beatified as martyrs by Pope John Paul II.

Battle of Preston

In the last battle of the Civil War, the 1648 Battle of Preston, Broughton Tower became part of the action. Just 350 metres north east of the site is a mound that acted as a dam for the moat system. It is now called Cromwell’s Mound and is thought to have been used as a convenient earthwork for artillery and as a viewing platform to survey the upcoming battle field. Tradition has it that Broughton Tower was stormed by Cromwell’s New Model Army and the Historic England website notes that many musket balls have been found between the tower and the mound. (We will do a future blog post on Cromwell’s Mound).


The author standing in the moat

In 1732, William Langton bequeathed Broughton Tower to his sister Jane. At the age of 70 she married into the Rawstorne family of Penwortham, bringing the property to their family for the next seventy years. In 1800, the tower was demolished and ten years later the land was split between James Rothwell of Hoole and the trustees of Kirkham Grammar School.

Today, Broughton Cottage (a rather large one) sits on the site of the tower and 100 yards to the north of it is Broughton Tower Farmhouse. In the early 1900s, there were reports that the farmhouse garden had carved stones from the tower, bearing the Langton Arms shield (a pattern of three distinctive chevrons which can still be seen on display at Broughton Parish Church).

In the 1930s, some of the moat was filled in when water works were carried out. A Mr. Rogerson of Broughton Tower Farm reported seeing large foundation stones and oak posts during the excavation work. As late as 1977, the farmer was still paying £20 in tithes to Broughton church.

broughton tower moat

Broughton Tower moat aerial view courtesy of Google Earth and Google Maps

When visiting the site today, you will see that the moat extends either side of Tower Lane. Although the moat does not have water in it, it is still sizeable and must still get wet at certain times of year as it features plants that grow in damp conditions. The nearby brook that once fed the moat still flows nearby. You can walk freely around the moat on both sides of the lane, it is all open access. Facing north, on the left hand side there is a sign stating that this was the site of the tower and if you head left into the field  you can see the moat very clearly and walk around its course back out to Tower Lane. To get in to the right hand field there is a an opening further back down Tower Lane to the south. On this side you can see the moat and where it meets up with the brook. The brook used to be called Sharoe Brook in this area, but maps now refer to it as Moss Leach Brook. There are footpaths all around the site which you can wander on, and despite a modern housing estate to the north many of the old oak trees have been preserved.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


Park either at the top or bottom of Tower Lane, but don’t park on it. Much of the lane is unadopted, and although it can be driven along in part we would not advise this as there are no passing places. Either park to the north of it on the modern housing estate, or south of it on the 1970s housing estate. The site of the tower is marked on the A-Z map as ‘Broughton Twr’, grid reference 541 336.

Nearby, just a short drive away Church Cottage Museum


A History of St John Baptist Church Broughton, Brendan Hurley (2012) Fast Print Publishing. Available from Broughton Church

A History of Broughton-in-Amounderness Church of England Primary School 1527-2007, Brendan Hurley (2008) . This book is available from Church Cottage Museum

Transactions of Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society Volume XIX 1901 The Old Castles of Lancashire P.75. Accessed via the  Internet Archive https://archive.org/stream/transactionslan16socigoog#page/n10

British History Online: Townships:Broughton https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/lancs/vol7/pp117-124

Excerpt from Northwards by Anthony Hewitson book from  lancshalls.co.uk via way Internet Archive Wayback Machine : http://web.archive.org/web/20040506081909/http://www.lancshalls.co.uk/Preston/broughtontower.htm





Posted in Medieval Lancashire, Pele Towers, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , , ,

Clitheroe’s Town Wells

Clitheroe has three old town wells and they are all worth a visit. Each of them is enclosed by walls and has a flagged floor that would have held a pool of water. They were the town’s only water supply until the mid 1850s. We’ll look at each of them in turn.

St Mary’s Well on Well Terrace


St Mary’s Well, Well Terrace, Clitheroe

The name ‘St Mary’s’ suggests this was a Holy Well, and Historic England’s Pastscape website lists it as possibly dating from medieval times.  Today, it stands by a bus shelter on a busy road. There are two stepped entrances opposite each other down into the well. A stone gangway splits the well into two unequal halves. In the central part of the larger pool area stands a very worn cube shaped stone. This looks like it was used for washing clothes. The top stones on the wall by the entrances are also very worn, presumably from generations of people steadying themselves on entering and exiting the well.

Heild Well on Wellgate


Heild Well or The Town’s Well, Wellgate, Clitheroe

Heild Well is found on Wellgate by the Dog Inn, and is also called The Town’s Well. The unusual term Heild is thought to derive from the fact that it once had a roof on top. It is the largest of the three wells and was first recorded in 1634. Some of the big stone slabs that make up parts of the walls are held together with metal staples. As well as the steps going down into the pool area, at one entrance there are two sets of steps going ‘up’. These resemble horse mounting blocks, but whether they are or not is unclear – perhaps they are connected with the pub which dates from the 1700s and which used to be called The Dog and Partridge.

Both St Mary’s and Heild Wells bear a metal plaque on them which states “This well was one of the three public wells which formed the water supply of the borough until the establishment of the waterworks on Grindleton Fell under the Water Works act of 1854. Soroptimist International 1992″. The Soroptimists are a world wide charity that campaign for the rights of girls and women, and you can see their website by clicking here.

Stock Well off Parsons Lane


Stock Well, just off Parsons Lane, Clitheroe

Stock Well is just off Parsons Lane, but the easiest way to find it is to approach it through Clitheroe Castle  grounds. It gets its name from the town stocks, which are built into it. These were probably put here after their removal from the market square. The nearby plaque states “The smallest of the three borough wells used until water was supplied in 1856. It is first recorded in 1645. The well was sealed in 1880 after two children narrowly escaped drowning. The adjoining field was Stock Well Meadow”. This well only has one entrance (where the stocks are located) and does not have the the big tall and thick retaining walls of the two other wells, nor does it have steps down to a flagged area.

There was a cholera outbreak in 1849 in Clitheroe, which led the Local Board of Health to become increasingly worried about providing a clean and plentiful water supply to the town. Following a report of a Mr. B.H. Babbage, the Clitheroe Water Works company was set up. This created a reservoir in West Bradford to bring water to newly installed town pumps. After this, the three wells were largely abandoned. This kind of pioneering work by the Victorians was replicated in town after town as the populations boomed – have a look at the work done in Darwen on our page about Holker House here.

Today no water flows into the wells, but they are in good condition, if looking a little neglected. Clitheroe Civic Society has approached Ribble Valley Borough Council with a view to further conserving them. In these days of clean piped water into every home, it’s easy to take water supply for granted. Next time you are in Clitheroe, why not go and have a look at these once essential resources.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


All open access. St Mary’s Well is on Well Terrace in between bus stops, Heild Well is on Wellgate in front of the Dog Inn and Stock Well is off Parson Lane, but best approached through the Castle Grounds. Take an A-Z with you to find the streets, or just download a town map on your phone.

Nearby just a short walk away Clitheroe Castle

Just a short drive away Edisford Bridge


Henry Taylor : The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire: A Revised Version: Volume III: Blackburn Hundred, Volume editor A.J.Noble General Editor J.A.Hilton, North West Catholic History Soceity, Wigan 2004




https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=44674&sort=4&search=all&criteria=clitheroe well&rational=q&recordsperpage=10


https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=44686&sort=4&search=all&criteria=clitheroe well&rational=q&recordsperpage=10


https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=44685&sort=4&search=all&criteria=clitheroe well&rational=q&recordsperpage=10


Posted in Ancient Wells,, Medieval Lancashire, Stuart Lancashire | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Church Cottage Museum, Broughton near Preston

Today a small Tudor cottage stands next to Broughton Church and Primary School. It has had a long and varied history, but now functions as a museum and is open every Sunday afternoon.


Church Cottage Museum, Broughton near Preston

It was originally built in 1590 as a Fylde Three Bay Longhouse using the cruick construction technique (one of the supporting frames can still be seen inside today). The original three rooms would have consisted of a buttery with a stairway up to a sleeping loft at one end, a main house room in the middle and a workshop (or possibly a shippon) at the far end. The house part was used as a school room. Two of the three rooms still exist and a two story extension was added at the south end in 1630, which also survives today.

Income for the school was generated from land donated by the wealthy, along with money in the form of grants. The school existed to teach boys between the ages of seven to fourteen, and in the early days the total number of pupils was probably never more than twelve. Latin, Greek and literature were on the curriculum and the first generations of teachers working there would have been curates from Broughton Parish Church.

Church Cottage also doubled as an inn during much of its life, providing accommodation as well as ale.  Local author Brendan Hurley relates the tale of one reluctant occupant. This was Edward Bamber, Catholic priest and chaplain at Standish Hall in the 1600s. Anti-Catholic laws made this a treasonous activity, leading him to be arrested and sent for trial at Lancaster Castle. It’s thought that on the way to Lancaster his captors locked him in the upper room of the cottage. During the night he managed to escape and found his way to nearby Broughton Tower and took refuge there. (Broughton Tower will be the subject of a future page on this site).


Life within the school was not without controversy. Schoolmaster William Woods was sacked in 1678 because of his secret marriage, but managed to get his job back five years later. Even so, the vicar of Preston is recorded as refusing to pay his stipend of four pounds in 1698. The same vicar also queried his successor Richard Withnell’s appointment, suspecting that he had Catholic or Jacobite sympathies. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Compton Census that had taken place in 1676 showed that of the 636 people in Broughton and Barton, almost a third were thought to be recusants, that is Catholics that refused to go to Protestant church services.

Teaching continued in the building until 1784, formally ending when a new wooden school house was constructed close by.  However, it was often the case that the school master also had a secondary role as the innkeeper at Church Cottage. James Tuson acted as teacher and landlord  from 1807 until 1843. Licensed to sell beer and tobacco, he also would provide food and  hospitality for travellers on the road from Preston to Lancaster. Records show that on one occasion in 1823 bell ringers from the church next door sat down to drink 20 pints of his home brewed beer and ate 12 dinners. The next year his license was extended so that he could sell spirits as well.

Tuson seemed to be a man of many skills which he utilised during his time as school master. He was involved in digging  ‘marl’ (used to improve the local soils), shutting the school early on at least one occasion to fulfill this role. He also acted as a property agent for renting houses in Liverpool, collected debts owed to the parish and auctioned pew seats within the church – places sold to the highest bidder! When he retired in 1843 the school had grown to 70 pupils.

The inn was closed in 1862 and eight years later it is recorded that the cottage was the home of the sexton (essentially a church caretaker), Mr. Applebury. Records show that he was a bell ringer, grave digger, read responses in church and looked after the Sunday school children as well as having skills as a clothes maker and duck fattener! Although a new stone school was built in 1874, lessons in laundry, cookery and woodwork seem to have carried on within the cottage up until 1913.


The last people to live at Church Cottage were the Jolleys family. From the 1930s onwards Mr. and Mrs. Jolleys rented it for three shillings a week. This was doubled to six shillings when a flush toilet was installed, but amazingly stayed at this rate until the 1980s. Mr. Jolleys was a road roller driver and captain of the bell ringers in church. Mrs. Jolleys was a trained confectioner and ran a tuck shop for the school. The cottage had been extended over the years and these newer parts were demolished in 1966, leaving the original Tudor and Stuart sections that we see today. The following year Mr. Jolleys died, but Mrs. Jolleys lived on at Church Cottage until 1986. Even in the later days, there was just one electrical socket in the whole house (located in the kitchen), no hot running water or television.

After Mrs. Jolleys’ death the school governors asked the local education authority to make Church Cottage into school accommodation, but this was refused. Within a few years the building had become derelict, but the fact that it was listed saved it from demolition. Various ideas were put forward including use as offices by the church,  a study base for the school or even conversion into a museum. This final idea won the day and a fund was set up by the school governors in 1993 to restore it. Work began the next year and in 1995 it was opened as Church Cottage Museum by HRH Princess Alexandra.

The layout today reflects its different functions over the years: the sexton’s Victorian living room, a small inn, a Tudor ‘hovel’ and a wash house comprise the lower floor. Upstairs is the loft sleeping area and Victorian school room full of finds from school pupils’ recent archaeological digs. The roof thatch is in excellent condition and is worthy of close inspection. Visitors today can be guided around the house by the friendly and knowledgeable volunteers. They are also working to build a collection of historical agricultural implements in the cart shed, and provide care for the cottage garden.

Much of the information for this page is sourced from Brendan Hurley’s two excellent books – see the reference section below.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018

Opening Times

Open every Sunday 2.00-5.00 pm. There is a small charge for adults and accompanied children are free.

The website is here or paste the link below into your browser:



A History of Broughton-in-Amounderness Church of England Primary School 1527-2007, Brendan Hurley (2008) . This book is available from Church Cottage Museum

A History of St John Baptist Church Broughton, Brendan Hurley (2012) Fast Print Publishing. Available from Broughton Church.

Church Cottage Museum leaflet, available from Church Cottage Museum



Posted in Historic Houses,, Stuart Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Rufford Old Hall, West Lancashire

The Heskeths received their estate and manor at Rufford by marrying into the Fitton family. Maud Fitton brought the land and title in the late 1200 and early 1300s. This was to be the Hesketh’s main powerbase, although they had better quality land at Great Harwood. Back in medieval times Rufford was very marshy, with nearby Martin Mere and River Douglas making it an isolated place.


The Tudor Great Hall at Rufford

When Thomas Hesketh died in 1523, he left three daughters with the right to inherit. However, his illegitimate son Robert pressed his claim as heir. He had the support of his father-in-law Sir John Towneley (of Towneley Hall), Sir Thomas Southworth of Samlesbury and the powerful Stanley family. His bid was successful and he received the manor and land.

In 1530, to consolidate his claim, Robert built Rufford Hall, probably using the same craftsmen that had worked at Samlesbury Hall  (see our page on it here). The impressive wooden Tudor hall with its rare hammerbeam roof is still there today.

When Robert died, in 1541, the house had not properly been completed, but was finished off by his son Thomas. Thomas rotated his time between his three properties of Rufford, Great Harwood and nearby Holmeswood Hall which overlooked Martin Mere. He had William Shakespeare in his company of actors, taking him on from Alexander Hoghton (of Lea Hall and Hoghton Tower) after Hoghton died.

In 1662, John Molyneux of Teversal, Nottinghamshire was acting as guardian to the young Hesketh heir. He had the huge three story brick wing built and this too still exists at Rufford. This was for family and servants, and consisted of a large new kitchen, service rooms and sleeping quarters.


The 1662 Brick Wing

In 1720, a later Thomas Hesketh did a major rebuild by taking a large part of Holmeswood Hall and re-using it at Rufford. The existing east wing was taken down and a six bay, two storey part of Holmeswood was erected in its place to create the four bay dining hall (the one we see today) and two bay ante-room and first floor drawing room (also on view today).

By the mid 1760s, the Heskeths wanted a more modern home, and so had a brand new neo-classical mansion built nearby called Rufford New Hall (now converted into houses). The old hall was leased to Thomas Lowe, a gardener. With the family no longer in residence it was probably very easy for the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Company to put a canal right next to the hall. Its function was to link the canal at Burscough with the River Douglas near Tarleton.

In the early 1800s, the Tudor Great Hall was used as the village schoolroom. The Heskeths employed a schoolmaster at 52 pounds 10 shillings a year. In 1825, a new school opened in the village and parents that could afford it paid fees for their children to attend. There was a clothing fund which poorer parents contributed to (instead of fees) and which poaching fines also paid into.

With the school out of Rufford Old Hall, Thomas Henry Hesketh was able to refurbish it to his late Georgian tastes. He employed local architect John Foster to add a mock Tudor look. Foster took the 1720 Holmeswood Hall wing, enlarged it , and added brick and plaster on the outside in an effort to make it look like timber framing. The main entrance was relocated into the 1662 brick wing, entering into what would have been the kitchen. This had a Tudor style gothic entrance door put in place to make it look more grand. The Great Hall had a lantern roof added to act as a skylight for the billiard table!


This picture of Rufford Old Hall shows the original Tudor Hall on the left (in brown and white), the 1720 additions from Holmeswood Hall in the middle (black and white) and the 1800s brick extension on the right

The hall was ready for reoccupation in 1826 and Hesketh and his wife Annette collected carved oak traditional Lancashire furniture to fill it (much of it still on show today). They also added stained glass and a collection of mostly German and Italian armour and weapons in the Great Hall, a craze at the time amongst the gentry.

Forty years later, the Heskeths inherited an estate in Northamptonshire and decided to relocate there permanently. In 1872 their land agent occupied the hall, and began to sell off their many Lancashire estates. The old hall was briefly reoccupied by Thomas Fermor Hesketh and his wife Florence, but in 1936 he decided to give the house to the National Trust, who have run it ever since.

For the visitor today there is much of interest. The original high status wooden Tudor Great Hall with its hammer beam roof, mass of carvings and original unique moveable screen are all in superb condition. The impressive 1662 wing with its converted kitchen is still the main entrance hall. The surviving parts of Holmeswood Hall live on in the ante, drawing and dining rooms.

The estate yard features Philip Ashcroft’s museum of local life. Concerned that local rural customs and practices were slipping away, in 1936 he started a collection of everyday objects for work, home and play which the National Trust later took over. The Victorian five acre garden features a variety of rhododendrons, a woodland and an orchard with old northern varieties of apples.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2017. This text written 2018

Opening Times

There is an entrance charge and it is in line with most large National Trust properties (i.e on the more expensive side. However, it is well worth it).

Open most days (but NOT Thursdays and Fridays in most months) – best to check their website here

Nearby, just a short drive away Lydiate Hall ruins and Lydiate Abbey


Rufford Old Hall, Richard Dean (2007), National Trust

Rufford Old Hall Lancashire, (1998) National Trust

Lancashire’s Historic Halls,  David Brazendale (1994) Carnegie Publishing

Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Historic Houses,, Stuart Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Park Hill House : Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford

Sometime around 1450 John Bannister built a wooden hall at Park Hill. The Bannister family had two major divisions in Lancashire, one branch at Darwen and the other at Bretherton with their manor house of Bank Hall (see our webpage on it here). John was part of the latter group, referred to as the ‘Bannisters of Bank’. He chose the Barrowford site for its proximity to the river and for the good farming soil.


Park Hill : Pendle Heritage Centre

The wooden hall would have been a cruick frame construction. An oak timber from a single large tree was split in half to form two curved mirror images that could carry the weight of the roof, meaning the wattle and daub walls didn’t have to give much support. The roof was made of heather thatch which sat on top of a straw base and these were bonded together with mud. There would be a vent to allow smoke out from the central hearth where the cooking would take place. Separate food storage and preparation rooms were at one end, and a parlour at the other. Although the wooden hall is now gone, the cruick construction style can be seen clearly inside the medieval barn which is on site above the garden at the  Pendle Heritage Centre.

By 1492, his descendant Robert Bannister owned 200 acres of meadow, 46 acres of pasture, 10 acres of woodland and a vaccary (cattle farm) at Over Barrowford rented from the king. The Bannisters were very well off, but were still ‘only’ tenants. In 1507, Henry VII abolished the royal forests in the area and converted them to land that was to be rented out. The new tenants of this land were called copyholders. This gave them a fixed rent and rights for grazing, peat cutting, stone quarrying and coal mining. In return the Bannisters, as copyholders, had to act as jurors at Colne Manor Court, supply evidence in legal disputes and help the local baliff in giving out punishments to offenders.

A hundred years later, in 1590, a stone wing (which still exists, as do all the later stone extensions) was added to the existing wooden hall. This had walls up to three feet thick made from local gritstone. The windows had the luxury of glass  and a new parlour with a large hearth was constructed around an imposing chimney stack. This parlour became the dining and entertaining room. The stone wing also had two service rooms and a buttery (or bottle store). For the first time there were proper upstairs bedrooms. This was all a big step up in grandeur, but within a hundred years the stone of this building would be whitewashed to hide its imperfections and to improve its waterproof properties.

The family’s fortunes continued to improve and by 1616, at the time of the second Robert Bannister, records show he had both a corn mill and fulling mill at Park Hill, as well as a part share in the manor of Foulridge and its corn mill. Another stone wing was added in 1650 (on the right hand side of the front view we see today) and  by this stage the family was one of the wealthiest in Pendle – but this would be the high water mark of their fortunes.


On the right hand side is an older part of Park Hill with a large chimney stack, then a newer part added on in the middle, and finally on the left the porch extension added by the Bannisters just before they left

In 1680, a stone hall was added to the second stone wing (the middle bit of the above view) but the whole property was also split into two parts by Henry and his son John. John lived in the older part, which now was referred to as Lower Park Hill and his father lived in the newer section with the new wing, simply referred to as Park Hill (much of what we see in the picture above). Henry got the new hall extension, old buttery and three chambers. John kept the Great Parlour, kitchen, milk house and two chambers. The garden and orchard were also split, each property having half. The family started to struggle financially and over 20 years their fortune fell by 80%.

John continued to have money trouble when he came into full possession of the estate after his father’s death. He leased Lower Park Hill out consecutively to three individuals, the last one of which, John Swinglehurst, lent him £500. A few years later when John was unable to repay the loan, Swinglehurst took possession of Lower Park Hill. The Bannisters continued to live in the newer Park Hill house. Just a few years later John declared himself bankrupt and was forced to renounce Park Hill and its estates, which all went to the Swinglehursts. The Swinglehursts even managed to take the Bannisters’ private chapel in Colne church, much the Bannisters’ dismay. Despite losing the property and manor, the Bannisters were able to  stay on as tenants for 40 years and even added a porch to the Park Hill front of the house in 1750. Just two years later though, they left.


The Georgian house added by the Swinglehurst family (with the older parts of the building in the background)

In 1780, the Swinglehursts rebuilt Lower Park Hill. They also added the Georgian house that butts up against the properties and now looks out over the river, and this is the familiar front we see today facing into the park. The Swinglehursts continued to live at the property,  passing it down their family line and into the related family of the Holts, who stayed there until 1920.

In 1977, the Heritage Trust for the North West took over Park Hill, converting it into the Pendle Heritage Centre. This building preservation trust does essential work on promoting traditional building skills and supporting some of Lancashire’s most iconic places (see their website here). Today, Park Hill thrives as the Pendle Heritage Centre, well known for its excellent café, book and gift shop, as well as its restored walled garden. The museum is housed within the house and for a small charge visitors can learn all about the history of Park Hill, Bank Hall, Whalley and Sawley Abbey (the latter has carved stones on display). Also featured are the royal forests of Lancashire, religious diversity and conflict within the county and of course, the history of the Lancashire Witches.

Opening Times

10am-4pm Every Day, April through to September

See Pendle Heritage Website here


A Bannister Family History (2006) Heritage Trust for North West available from Pendle Heritage Centre

On site interpretation at Pendle Heritage Centre, in the Museum




Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Historic Houses,, Stuart Lancashire, Tudor Lancashire | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Kirkham’s Lost Roman Fort

Kirkham Roman Fort stood on top of Carr Hill, just a little way from Kirkham’s town centre today. It was the final one in a succession of Roman structures built there. Before its construction the site was used three times as a temporary Roman marching camp, the first one in around 70 AD when the Romans entered Lancashire and the last one at the end of the 90s AD. It was also used as a signal station, where fires would be lit to warn of incoming danger. The evidence for the station comes from a small round structure which has large post holes probably for a tower, surrounded by a big ‘V’ shaped ditch and a smaller palisade trench. Finally in 120 AD a permanent fort was built of local red sandstone and this would last for the next thirty to forty years.


Looking down Carr Road from the top of Carr Hill where the fort once stood

On this page we’ll take a look at the history of the fort, and at the end give a description so that you can go and stand exactly where it was, and look out at the views the Romans once saw.

Why Kirkham?

The fort was sited to protect an important sea route inland to Ribchester by road and Walton le Dale by river, and also linked up with the enigmatic Portus Setantiorum in the Fleetwood area.

The Roman road from Kirkham to Ribchester travelled eastwards and passed through present day Preston. The route is still marked on the modern map as Watling Street. There are two straight sections that lie directly over the original Roman one. The first goes through the Fulwood and Sharoe Green area. The modern road then briefly curves around Fulwood Barracks (the Roman road would go straight through) and then rejoins the second straight section immediately after. This heads through Brookfield and then on out to Ribchester.

The westward Roman road left Kirkham and travelled for around three miles before veering north-west towards present day Fleetwood. On the coast near Fleetwood or Rossall Point it has long been speculated that a Roman port, Portus Setantiorum, was located. It was named after the local part of the Brigantian tribe called the Setantii (the Dwellers by the Water).

The fort would have overlooked the River Ribble or Belisama Fluvius (Beautiful River) as the Romans called it. This lead directly to the Roman Military industrial site and supply depot at Walton le Dale (see our page on it here)

Kirkham was larger than normal auxiliary forts, covering almost 7 acres, and we show its outline in black on the satellite picture below. Excavations have shown it had a cobbled area around the outer defences, perhaps an exclusion zone that the local population could not enter. It’s not clear whether it held a thousand infantry men, or five hundred cavalry, but probably it was the latter. Evidence for this is that a Reiter (or rider) Tombstone was found in Kirkham Parish Church in 1844 when renovations were taking place. These type of monuments feature a Roman cavalryman riding down a local ‘barbarian’. Similar ones have been found at Lancaster and Chester but they are very rare nationally with only 22 found in the whole country. Unfortunately the Kirkham one does not survive as soon after its discovery it was broken up to make hardcore for the church path! The other clue that the fort was for cavalry is that horse bedding and straw have been discovered outside the stronghold giving an indication of large scale stabling.

Kirkham fort upload

Kirkham Roman Fort overlaid on the modern street plan. The black rectangle shows where the fort was, the red line marks the eastern gate. The brown V is the vicus area. The blue circle marks the bath house and the yellow C marks the cemetery. The approximate locations of the sites are based on an Oxford Archaeology North report and a W. Thompson Watkins book – see reference section. Satellite image courtesy of Google Earth / Google Maps

The Roman Baths

The Roman Bath House was located in the present day St Michael’s Road area, now covered with houses. It’s marked by a blue circle in the above satellite picture.  The baths were just 70 metres north-east of the fort. The site was selected as it was close to the bank of Carr Brook and the baths would need a large amount of water to function. Some recent limited excavation led to the discovery of a curved heated room. It’s not known if the curve is part of a circular room, or is just a semi-circular apse of a larger room. The room was definitely heated by a hypocaust, as part of the pilae that support such a floor were found. It could either have been a laconium (hot dry room) or caldarium (hot steam room). There is a circular laconium at nearby Ribchester Roman Baths (see our page on them here).

The Vicus

The vicus extended out from the east gate of the fort into the present day Myrtle Drive area, south of the St Michael’s Road bath site. It’s marked by a brown V in the above satellite picture. Over the years there have been plenty of finds of roman brick, pottery including samian (a fine reddish-brown ware) , mortaria (coarse kitchen ware), amphora (large storage jars) and a roman pottery lamp. Leather shoes, leather waste, iron nails and coins have also been dug up. The most famous find is a shield boss near Carr / Dow Brook, more on which later. There was also possibly an industrial area to the south of the fort.

The Life of the Fort

The relatively short lifespan of the fort would have witnessed some dramatic events. In 118 AD there was a Brigantian revolt which led to a large scale loss of Roman soldiers in the north. A second revolt occurred in 154 AD and there was further trouble throughout the 160s AD. The fort was abandoned sometime around the mid second century, 150-160 AD. This was normal policy in Roman times to move troops to a new fort in a new area, once the area they had garrisoned had been sufficiently brought ‘under control’. So despite the intermittent trouble, the Romans must have felt relatively secure by the end of the fort’s lifetime to make the decision to close it. However we know that Roman activity continued in the area as there was a coin hoard buried around 240 AD in Poulton Street (now in the Harris Museum at Preston) which had coins from 114-238 AD. A second hoard was found at Treales, less than a mile from the fort. It was buried around 270 AD and is thought to be associated with a Romano-British settlement there.

Antiquarians start to notice the fort

During the 1700s a large quantity of Roman stone was dug up and removed from the site. In 1800 a Mr.Willacy, a local school teacher, found a shield boss (the central metal part of a shield – also called an umbo) in the stream close to where the bathhouse once stood. This was a find of major historical importance and it came into possession of Charles Towneley (of the well known Burnley family of  Towneley Hall ) and he passed it on to the British Museum, where it is still held. Click the link here to see the actual object, and more impressively the sketch of the elaborate carvings on it. It shows the Roman god Mars flanked by two naked warriors holding spears, and is further adorned with eagles, winged victories and battle trophies.

Mr. Willacy also witnessed some drainage excavations that revealed the foundations of the fort described as “massy chiseled red sandstone.” This was where the modern main road called Dowbridge now cuts through the fort. Another local report described what was probably an excavation of the bathhouse recording a “pavement of thick, rude, red brick tiles, and twice over with the officers of the Ordnance Survey, threw out a surprising quantity of broken tiles, paterae, burnt bones etc. Here too the drainage of the encampment had its outlet into the Dow, where Mr. Loxham picked up a bone needle and Mr. Willacy two coins of Hadrian.”

The Roman cemetery was located on the opposite side of Carr Brook (then called Dow Brook) just a little way away from the site of the bathhouse, somewhere near the present day Brook Farm. A Mr. Loxham found an urn containing bones and an iron amulet in 1840. Nine years later near the same spot he discovered around a dozen more, filled with ashes and burnt bone as well as a small unguent bottle and an iron axe. There are also reports of urns being found in the area near Carr Hill School.

Many of the finds used to be on show at Kirkham Museum, which has sadly now closed. However, an excellent webpage on the history of  St Michael’s Church shows pictures of the finds in photographs taken within the museum. The pictures are of good quality and if you enlarge the webpage you can inspect them in detail and read the small interpretation signs that accompany them. See the page by clicking here.

Visiting the site of the fort today


North-West Corner of the Kirkham fort

Although there are no surface structures surviving, you can still see it had commanding views at the north-western corner of the fort, which is probably why the site was chosen, along with its proximity to the brook for water. Much of the other views are obscured by housing. You can also see Kirkham Windmill, now converted into a house.

Start in the centre of Kirkham – there’s lots of parking and some of it is free. Head up the main road of Poulton Street / Preston Street, which continues as a street called Dowbridge. Just before you reach Carr Street to your left, stop: here you are at the north-west corner of the Roman fort. There are good views down Carr Street to the fields beyond, and you will have noted from your walk you are on a second hill (the first hill is in Kirkham centre). This was a good vantage point for the fort with steep slopes leading up to its ramparts and it was protected on one side by the stream of Carr Brook (or Dow Brook) on its north-easterly side. Continue down Dowbridge and you are passing through the heart of the fort, where the Roman foundation ruins were seen in the description above. When you reach the road labelled Roman Way on your right, stop. This is more or less where the eastern gate of the fort was and we’ve marked it with a red line in the above satellite picture. Beyond it in the Myrtle Drive area was the vicus, and many finds have been dug up in this region. If you cross over the main road leading into Roman Way you would be heading to the south-east corner of the fort. See the fort laid out on the Google map above this text and you can see where it would have been in the modern street plan.


The Eastern Gate would be about here (note the Roman Way street sign)

For photos of a recent garden excavation in Myrtle Drive see Fylde Archaeology website here. The Roman baths were in the area of St Michael’s Road, and a full report of some recent limited excavation can seen at the Oxford Archaeology North website, where you can download the pdf report (see here.)


St Michaels Road Kirkham Archaeological Watching Brief, Oxford Archaeology North (2010) available at https://library.thehumanjourney.net/2307/

South Ribble Primary Schools Local History Project : The Romans in Central Lancashire, Dr David Hunt

Roman Lancashire, W. Thompson Watkin (1883) republished 2007 Azorabooks

Disaster at Kirkham Fort, D. Savage and the children of Year 5 St. Michael’s CE School (undated book published by the school) ISBN 0954067908

Walking Roman Roads in the Fylde and the Ribble Valley, Philip Graystone (1996) Centre for North-West Regional Studies University of Lancaster

Triumphant Rider: The Lancaster Roman Cavalry Tombstone, Stephen Bull (2007), Lancashire Museums

University of Lancaster Centre for North West Regional Studies Archaeology Conference 4th March (1995) Recent Excavations at Kirkham, Lancashire presented by Katharine Buxton- (summary sheet of above talk)



Posted in Roman Bath Houses,, Roman Forts,, Roman Lancashire | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Turton Curiosities, Turton Tower, Bolton

The nine acres of grounds around Turton Tower contain a whole host of historical features mostly from its Victorian era, although the tower itself stretches back to Tudor and Medieval times. The grounds and tea rooms are open all year around, with the tower itself open April through to October.


Folly wall separating the formal gardens from the woodland

Outside the tower we can see the Kay family’s garden, designed in the semi-formal style of the late 1880s and featuring yew trees and rhododendrons. There is a ruined Gothic folly chantry wall attached to the laundry room, which acts as a screen dividing the formal garden lawn from the woods. Close by in front of the house lies the date stone from Timberbottom Farm, the original home of the two skulls that now reside within the tower (to read their full story, see our page on Turton Tower here).

DSCN7410 (2)

Timberbottom Farm date stone, the former home of the two mysterious skulls

Just a little way from the tower is a small cube shaped building which has been called variously a lodge or icehouse but is actually the pump house. This brought water from the reservoir over the railway track to supply both the farm and tower.

Close by this building are the stables which originally were built in the 17th Century, but were much restored by the Kays. You can see the different bricks showing various periods of  restoration and repairs. Interestingly in front of them is what looks like the drystone walls of a piggery.


The larger of the two castellated railway bridges, with steps up to a turret

Near to the stables is one of two castellated railway bridges. When the Blackburn to Bolton railway line was put through the estate in 1848, the bridges were designed to be in keeping with the feel of the tower. The one near the stables is the larger of the two and has steps you can climb up to a turret. This gives you good views of the track, and indeed you can see the other bridge just a quarter of a mile away further up the line. The smaller one allowed cattle to cross the railway, and is the one that many walkers will have used on their way up to see the ruined stone circle on the moor at Chetham Close.

By the tea rooms is the tower’s restored walled garden. There has been a trend in the last decade to resurrect many of the walled gardens in Lancashire’s historic houses. A good example is the one at Worden Hall, which you can see our page on here. The garden now grows fruit, vegetables and flowers. Of particular interest is the bothy or gardener’s cottage which, although in a ruinous state, appears to have once been a two storey building.


The stone walled kitchen garden in early spring

Close by on private land is the summer house, but there are good views of it from near the walled garden. This was originally a banqueting house built by James Chetham around 1671. Banqueting houses were a novelty venue, the idea being that guests had their main dinner in the hall  and then wandered through the gardens to have dessert in this purpose built folly.


Turton Banqueting Hall

If you follow the path away from both the walled garden and tower you will reach the second of the two railway bridges, with its path up onto the moor. Just a little further away from this on the same path is a mid 1800s lodge gatehouse, now a private residence.

The tea rooms overlook the tennis courts. These were added in the time of  John Charles Kay, brother of the last James Kay to own the tower. He won the All England Mixed Doubles competition in 1889 with Lottie Dodd and two years later with Helen Jackson.

Turton claims the oldest football pitch in the world and it can be found on Tower Street in Chapeltown, dating back perhaps to 1856. The original form of the game was known as ‘hacking’ and had hardly any rules. John Charles Kay together with W.T. Dixon, a local schoolteacher, founded Turton Football club in 1871. By 1874 they had adopted London Football Association rules. In those early days they played Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers, Everton and Sheffield Wednesday and could hold their own. Turton only began to lose out as the popularity of the sport increased and these larger towns could recruit from a much bigger pool of local talent.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


Turton Grounds and tea rooms are open all year around, and the hall is open April to October

Nearby Turton Tower– obviously! Also see Turton’s Wayside Cross and Medieval Stocks at Chapeltown.

There is a very well preserved Pillbox at Turton. For more on this see our page on Lancashire at War here


Turton Tower: A Guide, Martin Robinson Dowland (1991), Lancashire County Museums- available in the gift shop at Turton Tower

A Guide to Walking the Grounds of Turton Tower (undated leaflet, currently available from the gift shop)

Turton Tower and Its Owners, W.G Sharples revised edition (2014), Friends of Turton Tower- available in the gift shop at Turton Tower

On site interpretation at Turton Tower – paddle information boards and large display boards within the rooms


Posted in Historic Houses,, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Preston Dock Curiosities

Preston Dock was constructed in late Victorian times. Now converted into Preston Marina, there are still historical artefacts around from its days as a dock, if you know where to look.


Preston Dock Marina

Despite the fact that Preston is some 16 miles from the sea, the River Ribble is a wide estuary and boats have been travelling up and down it for hundreds of years. The first record of it being dredged to improve passage occurs back in the 16th Century. By the 1800s, successive Ribble Navigations Companies were formed to help make the river more manageable for shipping. This included straightening the river, bringing its channels together into a single course, reclaiming land and keeping it deep enough to be navigable. In 1825, the New Quays were constructed at the bottom of Marsh Lane, and later renamed the Victoria Quays. Their problem was that, with the river being tidal, boats could only get in and out of the quays at certain times. The answer was to build a large dock with a set of locks to control the water level, which Preston Council set about doing.

Construction began in 1884 and there was an enormous amount of work that had to be done. The river was moved away from its original line which followed today’s Strand Road, and a new dock basin was created. To do this, four million cubic yards of soil were dug from the 40 acre site. The walls of the dock are 40 feet deep, 3000 feet long and 600 feet wide. The initial cost of half a million pounds was soon exceeded and the council needed a second half a million. This meant a very long mortgage had to be taken out, one that would not be paid off for over 60 years.

DSCN6753 (2)

Preston Dock Lighthouse

The dock is named after Queen Victoria’s son, Albert Edward (the future King Edward VII), who opened it in 1892. At the time it was the largest single dock in Europe and probably the world, taking a month to fill before it could be used for the first time.

The SS Lady Louise was the first ship to unload its freight onto the dock and was chartered by the Lancashire firm EH Booth and Co Ltd (best known now as Booths supermarkets). Although only four vessels used the dock in its initial year, just eight years later that number had leapt to 170. The main cargo imported was timber, china clay, coal, oil, petrol, cotton, wheat, fruit (especially bananas) and Irish cattle.


The Dock Offices on Watery Lane

In 1936 new dock offices opened on Watery Lane and are well worth a look today. Built in the Art Deco style, they feature a square central clock tower. Close inspection of their elaborate entrance door handles shows the ship prows, with the Preston lamb adorning them. Two years later the dock railway was added to the site and parts of this are still in existence.

During the second world war Preston Dock was taken over by the military. It was used as a marshalling post for the Normandy landings, and had to be closed twice because of mines. Just after the war a three times a week ferry service was introduced, sailing to Larne. This was the first ever roll on, roll off ferry. The first boat used was a former tank landing ship named the SS Empire Cedric. A section of Mulberry Harbour from the D-Day landings was used to facilitate the service.

Trade increased throughout the 1950s so much so that the payment for the port was no longer charged on Preston residents’ rates bills. Huge amounts of fruit were being imported from the Winward and Leeward Islands – in one year the entire citrus crop from Dominica and St Lucia came through the port. By the 1960s the port was at its peak, with two and a half million tons of trade. Unfortunately the boom times did not last and by the 1970s the dock was starting to flounder. Almost half of the income generated was being spent on dredging the Ribble to allow the increasingly large ships through. Trade began to fall away and Preston lost the china clay, banana, coal and coke imports. The Larne ferry also ceased to run.


In 1981 Preston Dock was closed with a great number of job losses, not only those employed there, but also the local companies that relied on their trade. However, within the decade plans were made to redevelop the derelict land. First, the polluted water and land had to be dealt with before rebuilding could occur. The site was renamed Riversway (as it sits over the original line of the Ribble) and new infrastructure was put in place.  Over the next couple of decades a huge amount of work was done. The lock gates were repositioned to stop flooding from storms and a boatyard with chandlery facilities was constructed. A new canal was dug along the course of Savick Brook to connect the Ribble to the Lancaster Canal, and a new railway line was laid down by the banks of the river. A dock Control Centre was installed close to a swing bridge that allows passage of vehicles, trains and boats at the entrance channel.

Many homes were constructed around the site, with the old Shed No. 3 converted into the Victoria Mansions apartments. There has been a large amount of  shopping development too, with the Morrisons Supermarket retaining the dock lighthouse.


One of the two Boat Buoys

At both the Pedders Way and Portway entrances to Riversway are two boat buoys.  In 1896 they were originally moored in the Penfield Channel – the point where the Ribble  meets the Irish Sea (off the coast of St Annes).  To navigate an unfamiliar estuary is a difficult skill, so ships coming in would moor up and wait to be led in under supervision of a local pilot who knew the waters intimately. To give them their full names, they are Nelson Safe Water Mooring and Landfall buoys. Each had a bell that was activated by the movement of the waves and had lights powered by acetylene gas. In 1931, they were fitted with compressed carbon dioxide apparatus, which enabled the bells to be rung every half a minute. This meant that they would sound even in calm, foggy weather. In recent years they have been cleaned, had damage from salt corrosion repaired and then repainted by T Harrison Ltd. However, they could now do with a new coat of paint!

For a guide to see the sites, see our planned route below in the Access section below.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018


There is free unlimited daily parking at two car parks:

Maritime Way Car Park (off Navigation Way). This is very close to the modern Control Centre, swingbridge and crane.

Lockside Road Car Park (off Chain Caul Way) by the Bullnose Lock. This is a little further out from the site, but a short walk on the Guild Wheel trail will get you to the Control Centre. The Bullnose Lock is worth a look too.

Start at the Control Centre, swingbridge and crane. Head up the left hand side of the dock area passing the Beach Hut café. You can walk from here to Morrisons where the lighthouse is. The two Nelson buoys are at the Pedders Way entrance and the Portsway entrance. The original Dock Office Art Deco building on Watery Lane is also at the Portsway entrance- don’t forget to have a close up look at the door handles! There are also various smaller buoys dotted around the site. Take care on the roads when you are walking to see the Nelson Buoys. The roads around them are busy and although there are pavements, much of the area has been developed for traffic with walking being a secondary concern.

Nearby  Preston’s Craggs Row windmill,  lost friary, medieval leper hospital , St Walburge’s Church 



A History of Preston, David Hunt (2009), Carnegie

The Wharncliffe Companion to Preston : An A to Z of Local History, David Hunt (2005) Wharncliffe Books

Preston in 50 Buildings, Keith Johnson (2016), Amberley

Port of Preston History to 1981, Preston City Council undated pdf document available at prestondocks.co.uk/Compilation%20of%20Histories%20of%20the%20Docks.pdf


Posted in Canal Buildings,, Victorian Lancashire | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Ellen Strange Memorial and Cairn, Holcombe Moor, Helmshore near Bury

DSCN7639 (2)

Ellen Strange Memorial and Cairn, Holcombe Moor

On Holcombe Moor stands a stone pillar next to a cairn. The cairn traditionally marks the place where a woman, Ellen Strange, was murdered in 1761. The circumstances of her death and the trial of her murderer were for many years the subject of local folklore, with conflicting stories being told. However, thanks to work by author John Simpson and Helmshore Local History Society, we’re now probably closer to the truth than we have been for many years.  Recently the Unite union has republished the work on their website and below we’ll give a link to where you can download the booklet to read in full, for free.

We’ll start with a summary of the events that happened in the immediate aftermath to the crime and how that historical record was pieced together. Then we’ll see how the tale morphed over the years, and bring it up to date with how Ellen Strange is being remembered and commemorated in current times.

Ellen seems to have been murdered just after midnight on 26th January 1761. Two days later there was an inquest at Stake Farm, close to where her body had been found. Attending it were the coroner and attorney Simon Dearden, along with 14 local men acting as a jury, drawn from Tottington, Walmersley and Haslingden. After the inquest finished, Ellen was buried in Holcombe churchyard. The inquest decided that her husband John Broadley was guilty, he was arrested and sent for trial at the Lent assizes at Lancaster Castle.

It’s likely that the prosecution was carried out by Fletcher Norton, King’s attorney and sergeant at arms for the County Palantine of Lancaster. Witnesses called in the case against Broadley included Lawrence Elton, the Tottington constable that had indicted him; Roger Booth, a Tottington doctor who had examined Ellen’s body; Alice Ellison, an innkeeper’s wife from Haslingden and John Rothwell from nearby Holcombe Head Farm. Records don’t show what the witnesses said.

The outcome was that John Broadley was aquitted, due to lack of evidence. There is no record of anyone else being charged with the crime. The above account is from well researched work done by the Helmshore History Society in which they searched through local historic and legal documents, and virtually none of this was known before their efforts.

The discrepancy between the name Broadley and Strange could be accounted for the fact that Ellen was known by her childhood surname to locals in the area. Official records for poor people are sketchy and partial at best from this era. There is a 1728 baptismal record for Ellen Strange. She became Ellen Broadley on marrying John, who was from Clayton le Moors. It’s thought that the two may have been itinerant workers. There was a widow named Strange from Ash Farm in Hawkshaw buried in 1781, and this is thought to be Ellen’s mother.

The speculation is that Ellen was heading to her parents’ farm at Hawkshaw after a quarrel with her husband (perhaps at an inn in Haslingden – hence the innkeepers wife at the trial). Her husband caught up with her and killed her on Holcombe Moor. A stake may have been put into position to mark the place of her death, and this was later replaced with stones to make a cairn.


Ellen Strange Cairn

The folklore that has arisen about the story tells a very different tale. On the Ordnance Survey map of 1844-7 there is a cairn marked ‘Ellen Strange’. The first written reference to the incident is a poem from 1872 published by John Fawcett Skelton. It tells the story of how Ellen fell in love with a pedlar (refered to as a ‘packman’ and a ‘Scot’ in the poem – a muddled meaning of ‘Scotchman’, a term often given to pedlars.) In this version it was he who killed her.

Just three years later the Bacup Times published a story saying it was her lover that murdered her. He was caught at Haslingden, tried and found guilty at Lancaster and hung. This grim tale has his body put in a gibbet on Holcombe Moor.

Three years after that Henry Stephenson, headteacher of Haslingden Church school, writes an account in his diary that had been told to him. In this version she had met her lover at Haslingden fair and later disappeared. Her parents had questioned him and then hired a blood hound which was brought across the moors to search for her. Her body was found beneath a pile of stones near Robin Hood’s Well. Her murderer confessed and was hung and put in a gibbet on nearby Bull Hill.

Variations of these stories continued to be told over the years right up until the time when Helmshore History Society decided to begin their research in the late 1970s (and  in fact the folklore versions continue on the internet today).  What are we to make of them? Outsiders being blamed in the form of a pedlar, justice seeming to be done, and retribution fairly swift and brutal?


Now let’s bring the story up to present times, with events from 1978 and 2015. On June 24th 1978, on the day of the Rossendale Carnival, there was a dusk ‘re-enactment’ of the crime. The cairn had poles placed around it with pieces of white cloth on, each one painted with a different word, taken from the poetry and folklore that has grown up around the event: ‘Snow’, ‘Blood’, ‘Tears’, ‘Grave’, ‘Devil’. There were two giant figures depicting Ellen and her murderer. The interest and controversy stirred up by this drama lead the Helmshore History Society to begin their 10 year long investigation.

A stone pillar (a sort of modern wayside cross) was erected next to the cairn. It has a slight, falling figure on it to depict Ellen. This has now become subject of folklore itself, with people saying it is ancient waymarker depicting Mary and the baby Jesus (although where Mary is supposed to be is anyone’s guess – perhaps they think she’s been removed.) So the myths continue…

In 2015 the Unite union helped raise money for the booklet written by John Simpson and Helmshore Heritage Society  to be republished. They have also put it online as a free resource for everyone to read. This was part of their Rebel Road project and you can read more about why they did this on their page here (scroll down to the Ellen Strange section on it). The page also contains the link for the free booklet, which tells the story of the investigation, the folklore, the poetry and the history in great depth as well as providing maps and photographs of the area. We’ve used the booklet extensively in writing this blog post. Do have a read of the original because there is so much more in it than we can relate here.

In November 2015, on a very blustery day, forty people gathered by the Ellen Strange memorial and cairn. They were members of the Unite union, campaigners against domestic violence, victims of abuse and members of the church, there to commemorate what had happened on that night so long ago. They were keen to highlight the fact that such crimes that were so common in the past, are all too common still. You can watch the short 15 minute video of it on YouTube here

There is a tradition of adding a stone to the cairn as you go past, so that the story and a physical remembrance continues down the years.

Site visited by A. and R. Bowden 2018


The site is open access on a public footpath on Holcombe Moor. Grid Reference 778 195.  For directions of how to get to the site, see our page on nearby Robin Hood’s Well, or click here


Ellen Strange: A Moorland Murder Mystery Explained (undated pdf), John Simpson, Helmshore Local History Society- available online





Posted in Georgian Lancashire, Wayside Crosses | Tagged , , | 1 Comment