I was down in the Big Smoke last Wednesday, staying near County Hall, which is on the south bank of the Thames near Westminster. It had been a hot sunny day so I went out for a stroll during the evening after I'd eaten
On Sunday I went into Manchester. I took a train to Victoria Station and then went over to the Arndale to pick up a birthday present. Afterwards I went to see an excellent photographic exhibition that had recently opened at the City Art Gallery. I was going to write up the latter on Tuesday, but then Monday night happened. An awful event somewhere I knew and where I used to stand waiting for my daughter to come out of concerts when she was a teenager. It shook me up. The write up will have to wait.
Tuesday was a hot sunny day and I was working in Chester. On the way home I decided stop and to take a walk in Delamere Forest to get some exercise and clear my head. The forest, which is between Chester and Northwich and managed by the Forestry Commission, is Cheshire’s largest area of woodland. I ‘d never really though about going for a walk after work when I’ve been in Chester, usually driving down the stretch of hell that is the Thelwall Viaduct and M6 between Warrington and Wigan at rush hour. But I’d been reading of Mark’s jaunts after work in his blog Beating the Bounds, and thought that I’d follow his example. It was definitely a good idea – thanks for the inspiration Mark !
Delamere, means “forest of the lakes” and it was originally a mixture of woodland, arable land, meres (small lakes), marshes and bogs. The land was drained in the early 19th Century and it was planted with oak and Scot’s pine. It was decided in 1992 to restore Blakemere Moss as a wetland environment, which was achieved by felling trees, clearing the land and allow it to become flooded. Since then efforts have been made to restore other meres and bogs.
It’s quite a few years since I last walked in the forest, before the mosses and bogs were restored. It’s also been commercialised with a Go Ape high ropes course, bike and Segway hire, marked trails, an “extreme” mountain bike trail and even a summer concert venue.
I drove past the Delamere train station(on the line from Altrincham to Chester) and parked up near the cafe. A quick change into my walking gear and I set off for a walk on a very warm, pleasant evening.
Soon I came to Blakemere Moss, now a large area of open water frequented by large flocks of birds.
I carried on through the woodland.
A glimpse of another mere between the trees
Through more woodland and over the railway line and I came to Black Lake.
This restored “quaking bog” is one of Delamere’s two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) . It’s a type of bog in which the vegetation forms a raft which floats on top of water.
Heading back through the forest I came across this resident
I looped past Linmere Moss, the Forest’s other SSI and made my way back to the car park. I’d completed a circuit of about 5 miles and could have stayed out longer, but it was time to head back home. A good walk which had helped me to wind down and de-stress and prepare myself for a long couple of days away from home on Wednesday and Thursday. I think it’s something I need to do more often.
Between mines and mills and factories, there are more steam engines per person in Wigan than in London, Pittsburgh, Essen or anywhere else. It happens to fit nicely that the palm oil we import from Africa lubricates those engines. The world runs on coal, and Wigan leads it. As long as we have coal we will continue to do so.’
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve just finished reading Rose, a novel by the American thriller writer Martin Cruz Smith set in Wigan in the 1870’s. It tells the story of one Jonathan Blair, an American mining engineer who, on returning from Africa in disgrace is employed, reluctantly, to visit the town to investigate the disappearance of a curate who was engaged to his patron’s daughter.
The author had certainly done his research and weaves details about working class life in Wigan 19th-century into his story. He visited the town and met with local historian and some former pit brow women. Here’s a cutting from the local paper
In an interview in 1996 he reveals that he was a fan of George Orwell and had read The Road to Wigan Pier. and I’m sure that it’s no coincidence that his hero is called Blair, the real name of Orwell was Eric Blair.
Wigan, a working class town built on coal and cotton, wasn’t a pretty place during Victorian times and I’m sure his description of Wallgate is accurate
The thought occurred to Blair that if Hell had a flourishing main street it would look like this.
I found it fascinating to read the names of places I knew in the book. His hero stayed in the Minorca Hotel on the corner of Wallgate and King Street. It’s still there, but has gone through several name changes over the years – it’s now called the Berkeley and at one time was known as Blair’s. Here’s how it looked in about 1900
The Minorca Hotel on Wallgate (from Wigan World website)
Various pubs are mentioned, there were a large number in Wigan, including the one nearest to where I live, the Balcares (now renamed the Crawford Arms) on Scholes – the name of both a thoroughfare and a district of the town just west of the town centre. In fact much of the novel is set in Scholes, which at the time was populated by miners and other workers packed in back to backs and houses built off dark, narrow courtyards.
Scholes, Wigan, 1890’s (from Wigan World website)
The slums were cleared in the 1960’s and I lived there for a few years in a Council flat. And now I’m only a few minutes walk away from the district. So it was rather odd to be reading about the same streets and Scholes bridge, which I still cross regularly, in a novel by an International renowned author.
His descriptions of working in the mines are excellent, and really bring the experience of going down a mine to life
The cage started slowly, down through the round, brick-lined upper mouth of the shaft, past round garlands of Yorkshire iron, good as steel, into a cross-hatched well of stone and timber and then simply down. Down into an unlit abyss. Down at twenty, thirty, forty miles per hour. Down faster than any men anywhere else on earth could travel. So fast that breath flew from the lungs and pressed against the ears. So fast that nothing could be seen at the open end of the cage except a blur that could whip away an inattentive hand or leg. Down seemingly for ever.
Mains Colliery, Bamfurlong 14th Dec 1892 (from Wigan World website)
Blair crawled out into a narrow tunnel, the length of which was populated by shadowy figures wearing only trousers and clogs, some only clogs, covered by a film of dust and glitter, swinging short, double-pointed picks. The men had the pinched waists of whippets and the banded, muscular shoulders of horses, but shining in the upcast light of their lamps what they most resembled was machinery, automatons tirelessly hacking at the pillars of coal that supported the black roof above them. Coal split with a sound nearly like chimes. Where the coal seam dipped, men worked on knees wrapped in rags. Other men loaded tubs or pushed them, leaning into them with their backs. A fog of condensation and coal dust rose from them.
Miner hewing coal (from Wigan World website)
Given my line of work, I was particularly interested to read his descriptions of the dangers posed by firedamp and the way that miners could “read” the danger using their Davy Lamps
From the German Dampf. Meaning vapour. Explosive gas.’ ‘Oh,’ said Leveret. ‘Methane. It likes to hide in cracks and along the roof. The point of a safety lamp is that the gauze dissipates enough of the heat so that you won’t set the gas off. Still, the best way to find it is with a flame.’ Battie lifted the lamp by a rough column of rock and studied the light wavering behind the screen of the gauze. ‘See how it’s a little longer, a little bluer? That’s methane that’s burning.’
And there were other “damps” too
When firedamp explodes it turns to afterdamp. Carbon monoxide. The strongest man in the world could be running through here at top speed, but two breaths of that and he’ll drop to the floor. Unless you drag him out, he’ll die. In fact, I’ve seen rescue attempts where one, two, three men will drop trying to pull one man out.
The Davy Lamp (By Scan made by Kogo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
In designing his lamp, Humphry Davy was largely motivated by a desire to save lives (although the search for glory was a factor too, it has to be said) and he refused to take out a patent, even though strongly encouraged to do so. He wanted his lamp to be freely available. Sadly, although the lamp was intended to save lives it has been said that it actually caused the death of more men because the mine owners used the lamp as an excuse to send their workers into more dangerous workings.
The novel was well written, and not just the details about Wigan and life as a miner. It was a gripping story, if a little far fetched. The ending certainly was. But a good read nevertheless.
I’ve just finished reading Rose, a novel by the American thriller writer Martin Cruz Smith. Best known probably for his books set in Russia during the Cold War, one of which Gorky Park was turned into a film starring William Hurt that I watched quite a few years ago. This book, however, is set somewhere equally exotic – Wigan in the 1870’s.
It tells the story of one Jonathan Blair, an American mining engineer who, on returning from Africa in disgrace is employed, reluctantly, to visit the town to investigate the disappearance of a curate who was engaged to his patron’s daughter.
Rose, of the title, is a “Pit Brow Lass” – a young woman employed in a local coal mine. The Wigan Pit Brow Lasses were somewhat notorious. They worked on the surface (women being forbidden to work underground by the Mines and Collieries Act 1842) at the coal screens on the pit bank (or brow) picking stones from the coal after it was hauled to the surface or loading wagons.
They wore distinctive attire– in particular, trousers covered with a skirt and apron, old flannel jackets and shawls or headscarves to protect their hair from the coal dust. Although practical, their clothing was not considered to be feminine and this provided some with an excuse to object to women working in the mines. Underlying this, of course, were the real reasons, economic and social and there were attempts made to ban the women working. But they fought back with spirit and there were women still working at the pit brow in Wigan right into the mid 20th century. Not now, of course, there aren’t any pits left.
For whatever reasons (some probably not so savoury) there was a public fascination with the women and the way they dressed and portraits and postcards of them in working clothes were produced commercially. We saw this rather romanticised small statue of a Wigan Pit Brow Lass on display at the Hepworth in Wakefield (another mining area) a few years ago.
A number of photographic studios in Wigan produced postcards showing posed images of local women. Here some examples from the Wigan World website.
Last Wednesday was a beautiful sunny day so to make the most of the weather and long hours of daylight, I finished work a little early and we drove the few miles over to Rivington to take a walk during the early evening. Rivington Pike and Winter Hill loomed large in my youth – along with the Talbot Mill they dominated the view from my bedroom window when I was a teenager.
Rivington is on the western edge of the West Lancashire Moors. A substantial part of the Pike and the nearby estate was purchased by Lord Leverhulme in 1900 who moulded the landscape into tree lined avenues with terraced gardens on the side of the hill. He constructed a number of buildings, including follies like the replica of Liverpool Castle on the shore of Rivington Reservoir, and restored two oak cruck barns. He also built a bungalow that was destroyed in an arson attack, allegedly by a suffragette, Edith Rigby, on 8 July 1913
This large house, with it’s Georgian frontage, a Grade II* listed building which was originally the manor house for the Lords of the Manor of Rivington. Behind the hall is Rivington Hall Barn, the larger of the two oak cruck barns on the estate, which is a popular venue for weddings.
Behind the barn we took the lane up the hill towards the Pike
After a short steep climb we reached the Dovecote tower
The view west across the reservoirs towards Chorley, Wigan and the coast was, unfortunately, very hazy
We carried on along the track towards the summit of the Pike
and climbed the steps towards the tower
The summit is 1,191 feet high and was the site of one of a series of early warning beacons spanning England created in the 12th Century.
The tower is a Grade II listed building, which was completed in 1733.
A hazy view to the west
but much clearer air over tot he east with a good view of the summit of Winter Hill and the TV transmission mast
Normally the path over to Winter Hill, which crosses the peaty moor, is something of a quagmire. But after a dry spell of weather the going was good underfoot so we decided to take advantage of this to walk over to the summit.
The route took us over the infant River Douglas (the very same “Dougie” that flows through Wigan) which rises on the flanks of Winter Hill
We were getting closer to the TV transmission mast
Passing an old mine shaft
We finally made the summit – 1,496 feet high and the site of the Winter Hill TV Mast, which came into service in 1956, and a number of other telecommunication masts and towers.
Today Winter Hill is open access land, but it wasn’t always the case and the there was a mass trespass in 1896, earlier and larger than the more well known Kinder trespass. There were a series of marches up the hill, initiated by the Social Democratic Federation, leading up to a mass trespass by 10,000 people who marched up the hill led by a brass band. There was even a poem written by the Bolton Socialist poet, Allen Clarke, to celebrate the event
The land owner, Colonel Richard Ainsworth, who planned to use the whole area of open moorland for grouse shooting, issued writs to the leaders and took them to court. Unfortunately, the Colonel won the case and proceeded to take it out on the leaders by bankrupting them for damages and fees. Typical of the landowning class.
We took in the view over to Belmont over to the north east (some of my ancestors lived here)
Winter Hill was a dangerous place. This Scotsman’s stump
a memorial to a young Scots merchant who was murdered here in 1836
and there’s a couple of memorials to a fatal plane crash in 1958
Time was getting on so we set out back over the moor to the Pike
This time skirting the summit
We took a different route down , through the wooded terraced gardens
We soon reached the foot of the hill
Looking back – a glorious evening
We made our way back to the car. If was after 7 o’clock by now but there were still plenty of cars parked up, and even a few more arriving, as people took advantage of the good weather to enjoy the outdoors.
Although we live close to the centre of talk, a short stroll down the hill and we’re by the side of the river and can walk for miles away from roads and traffic through woodland, along the canal and through the countryside. So, last Sunday, on a sunny afternoon, we decided to walk to Worthington Lakes. It’s about 9 miles there and back, but an easy walk.
Down to the Dougie
following the path through woodland
Through the Plantations
Then along the canal
Narrow boats at the Red Rock moorings
Winter Hill visible now across the fields
Canal side sheds
Carrying on along the canal
We cut across the Golf course, past Arley Hall
and took the path across the greens (keeping an eye out for flying golf balls!)
and into Arley Woods
Lots of bluebells in bloom
We crossed over the Dougie
and then emerged alongside Worthington Lakes
a chain of three small reservoirs built in the 1860’s to supply Wigan with drinking water.
We did a complete circuit of the lakes
Stopping part way round for a brew at KIlhey Court Hotel
Back through Arley Woods
and on to the canal towpath, this time avoiding the golf course
We retraced our route back along the canal
and through the Plantations back home.
I spotted the tower of this rather splendid red brick Art Deco style building while I was in Greenwich last week so wandered over to have a closer look.
The tower belongs to Meridian House, the former Greenwich Town Hall which was built in 1938-9 to a design by Clifford Culpin. Its original use was as a municipal facility including offices, and included a civic suite and public hall but was sold off by the London Borough of Greenwich in the 1970s and now houses the Greenwich School of Management and private flats. The Borough Hall is occupied by “Greenwich Dance” .
The elegant clock tower is the building’s most prominent feature and was apparently influenced by the work of the Dutch architect W. M. Dudok, paricularly the Hilversum Town Hall. It was designed not only to function as both a clock tower but a public observation tower so local residents could view the Royal Naval College and the Thames.
According to Pevsner the building was
“the only town hall of any London borough to represent the style of our time adequately”. (Buildings of; England, London 2: South)