The Parbold Bottle stands just a few minutes walk away from the stunning vista on top of Parbold Hill, a well known local viewpoint. The monument itself is curious both in terms of its own history and the reason for it being built. The local website Parbold Online tells us that the bottle used to sit on top of a much larger structure, and was constructed in commemoration of the 1832 Reform Act. What the older structure looked like is not known to us and why the Reform Act would merit a monument here is not clear either. So let’s look at both of these mysteries in turn.
If this was the top of a previous larger structure, how might it have appeared ? In the north west we have a number of monuments that share this cairn-like building technique. The Jubilee Cairn on Nicky Nook near to Scorton has a very similar appearance. This was built for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and can be seen on the Geograph website by clicking here. A second famous cairn type monument, which has been mortared and also white washed is White Nancy at Bollington. Intriguingly this used to have a doorway into it – see the picture on this link here to the Bollington Discovery Centre website. Out of the top of the Parbold Bottle sticks a stump that looks a little like a deformed wayside cross. This is reminiscent of those found at Robin Hood’s Picking Rods- see on the link to the Megalithic website here.
The Lancashire Lantern website refers to the bottle as ‘Parbold Beacon’ and the hill is surely a candidate for a beacon site. The nearby Ashurst Beacon is clearly visible from it. An old photograph, which shows the bottle seemingly sitting on a larger plinth is on the Wigan World website (see by clicking here.)
What of the 1832 Reform Act? This bill was a significant step on the long road to democracy, where eventually each adult in Britain would have the vote. The act itself ushered in nothing like the representation that we have today, but it was an important beginning. At the time many areas did not have members of parliament and so had no representatives in government. For example Manchester could send no MPs despite its huge population. Notoriously Old Sarum in Wiltshire could send two MPs, even though it only had seven voters.
The Conservative Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, was dead set against any kind of voting reform. When he was forced from office King William IV asked Earl Grey to bring in a reform bill. With much difficulty this was passed, and it extended voting rights to more citizens. The numbers who could vote went from 366,000 to 650,000- only 18% of the adult male population, and so hardly universal. It did however mean that areas like Bolton and Blackburn now had MPs for the first time. See our page here for details of Bolton’s first MP Peter Ainsworth of Smithills Hall, who did so much to bring Parliament’s attention to the plight of the poor. For Blackburn’s first MP William Feilden of Feniscowles Hall, see our page here.
After the bill was passed the working classes still had no right to vote and no say in who was elected. The failure of the bill to be inclusive was a further spur for the Chartists, who in 1838 drew up their own charter, that would make parliamentary elections much fairer. They wanted the right for all adults to vote, MPs to be paid (so not just the rich could stand for office) and secret ballots so people couldn’t be intimidated into voting against their interests. For more on the Chartists and their huge rally on Kersal Moor see our page here. It would be very many years before all these reasonable demands were to be met. It was not until 1928 that all women finally gained the right to vote. The Parbold Bottle was restored to its present state in 1958.
Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2015
Access and Parking
To see the Parbold Bottle today, park at the viewpoint on the summit of Parbold Hill. This is a long layby on the A5209 road. From here you can see across the coastal plain to the Welsh hills in the distance. Keeping the road on your right, walk five minutes down hill until you come to a wooden gate on your left. Head along the track to find the Parbold Bottle at the end, with more stunning views across the Douglas Valley.
Notes and References
The fantastic website of the British Library has (amongst many, many other things) a timeline of the Chartist movement. See more by clicking here