A return to once familiar territory
So, I am finally recognised as old and knackered and have been awarded a bus pass as proof! It arrived a couple of weeks after my birthday and I was itching to use it. The bus services in Wigan have been decimated since privatisation (supposedly introduced to improve services, of course it was about profits and has achieved the opposite) and don’t go anywhere exciting. So I decided to take the bus to Chorley, where I grew up, and visit some old haunts. I had a walk in mind but it didn’t work out quite as planned.
The Arriva bus (Ribble buses of old long gone) arrived on time and my pass worked, so that was a good start. Approaching Birkacre, which was my objective, I rang the bell in good time before the stop and started to make my way to the front of the bus only for the driver to speed right past! He stopped at the next stop, about a quarter of a mile further on, without any explanation or apology. Not a good reintroduction to using local buses.
The stop was at the end of the Council estate where I spent my childhood and early teens so I decided to divert and have a look at the house where we used to live. It was still there. Then I made my way towards Birkacre. This was the site of a former mill and colliery that today is a Country Park. A short distance from our house I used to occasionally go there with friends from the estate, although not too often as parents weren’t so keen as there are two large and deep lodges there – reservoirs for the mill that used to stand close by.
the original Birkacre Mill was built in 1777 by one Edward Chadwick who leased it to a certain Richard Arkwright, a wig maker from Preston, the inventor of the water frame, a water powered spinning machine capable of spinning up to 96 cotton threads simultaneously, doing the work a large number of hand spinners who would work in their homes. There was a ready water supply there from the River Yarrow to power the machines.
Now around this time there was a depression in the cotton industry and the home workers were struggling. Not surprisingly they weren’t so chuffed and there was a growth in the Luddite movement amongst workers who were being displaced by the growing factory system and plunged into poverty. Unlike placid British workers today (now the French are a different matter), they didn’t just stand by and accept it, but started to rebel and attack and destroy the new machines and this is what happened at Birkacre – one of the first examples of Luddite direct action.
Anticipating trouble the militia were brought in. After a few false alarms, on 4th October 1779 a large crowd, possibly totally around 400 people, arrived and managed to smash the machinery and burn down the mill.
Arkwright decided to abandon his venture here and concentrate his efforts at more remote locations, such as Cromford in Derbyshire where the population was more dispersed and less able to organise. However, this was far from the end of manufacturing at Birkacre. Chadwick rebuilt the mill which was converted as a printing, dying and bleaching works that was in operation until 1939. There was a coal mine here, too, providing coal to power the machinery.
I seem to recall that there used to be building here when I was a boy, although I can’t be certain about that. They’re all gone now though – there’s a car park on the site of Arkwright’s mill and a children’s playground where the bleachworks used to stand. But the lodges are still there. The site was derelict for many years (and that’s how I remember it) until the 1980s when it was reclaimed by Chorley Council and the Country Park opened in 1987. Today there the mill lodges and water courses have been restored, and there are footpaths, picnic areas and a visitor centre / cafe. Some of the water courses have been allowed to silt up and become marshes and reed beds, havens for wildlife. During my visit there were quite a few bird watchers wandering around with their large lenses.
I picked up some leaflets from the visitor centre and wandered to the end of the big lodge. I carried on along the path besides the Yarrow until I reached the impressive weir with it’s fish ladder built in 2002 – salmon actually swim up here – they certainly didn’t in my day.
My plan was to continue to follow the river to Duxbury and then join the Leeds Liverpool canal and follow it until we reached the street we moved to after we’d lived at this end of town.
But the path was extremely muddy and slippery with slutch, and I wasn’t in the mood to struggle on – I’ll return to do that another day.
So I retraced my steps and from the car park took a path through the meadows and then through a housing estate, passing the house where my grandparents lived for a number of years until they died, close by my Primary School. Aye, the memories were certainly reawakened. I even walked a few hundred yards along Moor Road, passing a couple of houses where two great aunts used to live, as far as the pub which used to be run by my great grandparents
I turned round and made my way to the bus stop next to the school. The timetable said I had about 15 minutes to wait – I must have just missed one as they run every 20 minutes. But 15 minutes passed and more and it soon became clear that it wasn’t coming so I had to wait another 25 minutes for the next one which was running a little late. This meant I was now on a bus which soon filled with school kids from Southlands High School on their way home to Coppull. Well done Arriva, now I remember why I haven’t used the buses from a long time!
So that was my trip down memory Lane. I’ll return later in the year; I want to complete that circuit I’d planned – and there are other places too which I want to revisit to rekindle childhood and youthful memories. Shall I risk the bus again? probably, but lets hope they stop when requested and turn up on time!
For more information about the history of the area see here and here