Developing a ‘Lancashire Sensibility’: thoughts for Lancashire Day, 2022
Over the last year I’ve been working on a book about Lancashire history, identity and culture. Lancastrians – Mills, Mines and Minarets will appear next summer. A central part of its argument is that we need to revive a ‘Lancashire Sensibility’ which is forward-looking and inclusive – and takes in the whole of ‘historic Lancashire’. To do that, we need to go back before we can go forward and look at how a ‘Lancashire Sensibility’ emerged in the past.
It was a central part of a regional identity that took in speech, dress, manners, diet – pretty much every aspect of how we lived. In 1951 the (Labour) Minister of Education, George Tomlinson, wrote the foreword to the journal of the newly-established Lancashire Dialect Society:
“I have a feeling that we cannot afford to lose the characteristic features of our County, which are bound up in no small degree with the accents of its people and our own particular dialect… for since I became a Minister of the Crown, in every part of the country people have come to me at the end of a meeting, shaken me by the hand and said, ‘I too come from Lancashire,’ and it was grand to hear the accent again.”
The ‘Lancashire sensibility’ was very much a part of the social and intellectual make-up of most sections of society by the middle of the nineteenth century. It included much of the aspiring middle class, sections of the aristocracy and some ‘respectable’ working men. Women were part of it; the leader of the women’s suffrage movement Emmeline Pankhurst was always fond of stressing her ‘Lancashire’ roots.
It linked with the idea of a ‘Lancashire Patriotism’ which emerged in the 1880s. Speaking in the middle of the First World War, Rossendale Liberal politician and historian Samuel Compston said that “if patriotism is a virtue, especially in these days, surely county clanship, in no narrow sense, is a virtue also.” The socialist writer Allen Clarke was one of the foremost proponents of a Lancashire sensibility, through his stories, poems and songs. Many Conservative figures such as the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres were proud of their Lancashire roots and supported bodies which promoted Lancashire culture.
Lancashire speech – from ‘accent’ to full-blown dialect, or ‘broad Lancashire’, formed an important part of Lancashire identity and sensibility. Debates over its use, among Lancastrians over the last hundreds years and more, highlight some of the wider issues around Lancashire identity. During the late 1920s and early 1930s there was an on-going debate about whether dialect speech should be encouraged, or allowed to die. The Bury dialect writer T. Thompson, who had a regular column in that sadly departed champion of all things Lancashire, The Manchester Guardian, spoke in defence of dialect speech at a meeting of the Manchester Literary Club in 1938. He argued against attempts to ‘standardise’ English and stressed that “language is a living thing, always changing, and if they standardised it, it became a
dead thing.” Allen Clarke commented on Lancastrians’ ability to ‘switch’ from standard English to dialect, as the occasion required it: “Just as in Wales, they talk both Welsh and English, what’s wrong about Lancashire using its dialect as well the English language? As it is not so much the tool as the man who uses it…so it is not the mere words but the thoughts and sentiments that make the power and beauty of a language. While the Lancashire dialect is equal to any other language in pathos, is fundamental characteristic is its humour, mostly cheery and kindly, and in that respect it is first and foremost in the world.”
An essential part of the creation of a ‘Lancashire sensibility’ was the emergence of a distinctive ‘intelligentsia’ which provided a network of influential figures. The Manchester Literary Club was central to this. It was founded in 1862 and its aims were to “encourage the pursuit of literature and art; to promote research in the several departments of intellectual work and to protect the interests of authors in Lancashire; to publish from time to time works illustrating or elucidating the literature and history of the county…”
A typical member was Samuel Barlow, a partner in a bleach works at Stakehill near Middleton. As well as being an active member of the Manchester Literary Club he was a founder of the city’s Arts Club, an artist and botanist and had a strong interest in Lancashire dialect. William E.A. Axon was another prominent member with wide interests. He became a central figure in Manchester – and Lancashire – intellectual circles towards the end of the nineteenth century. In 1874 he joined the staff of The Manchester Guardian as its librarian. He had already been writing for the Guardian, and used his pen in support of the anti-slavery cause during the American Civil War.
Lancashire developed a number of cultural associations which provided a network for the county’s intellectual communities. The Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire was founded in Liverpool in 1848. The Lancashire Authors’ Association (for ‘writers and lovers of Lancashire literature’) was established in 1909 on the initiative of Allen Clarke. Its Library was created in 1921 from members’ donations and is now the largest collection of regional literature in the UK. It is housed as a special collection in the University of Bolton Library.
The Manchester Section of the Society of Chemical Industry seems an unlikely body to take a broad view of culture in Lancashire. However, in 1928 the Society was instrumental in commissioning The Soul of
Manchester, to mark the Society’s Manchester meeting the following year. The Earl of Crawford and Balcarres (also vice-president of the Lancashire Authors’ Association) contributed the introductory essay on ‘The Soul of Cities’ in which Manchester is clearly positioned as the county ‘capital’ but very much a part of Lancashire.
The Co-operative Movement came closest to providing an intellectual framework for working class men and women in the years between the 1850s and 1960s. It was a network of local, independent, societies. The larger ones had substantial libraries, reading rooms and lecture theatres, with frequent lectures by eminent speakers, often on aspects of Lancashire history and culture.
The post-war years saw the coming of mass entertainment, particularly television – which was less suited to a more regional culture. Was it, finally, the beginning of the end that had been forecast for so long?
Actually, no. Go to schools in many parts of Oldham, Rochdale or Bolton and you will hear young Asian as well as white English children speaking ‘broad Lanky’. After its demise being forecast for many decades, it refuses to die, and with it that broader sense of ‘being Lancashire’.
We need a revived Lancashire sensibility that is about more than just dialect and speech, embracing culture in a general sense. We already have Friends of Real Lancashire and the Lancashire Society flying the
red rose. We need to up our game and tap into people’s continuing sense of identity which is at risk of being subsumed into the amorphous city-regions. A campaign to re-unite and re-imagine Lancashire needs a higher profile and cross-party support.
A reformed Lancashire within its historic boundaries makes sense as a regional economic unit but also chimes with people’s identities – in a way that artificial ‘city regions’ never will. An alternative is the idea of the ‘county region’ which forms an organic whole without one centre becoming over-dominant. People in Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale and other towns don’t want to become mere commuter suburbs of Manchester. Nearly 50 years on from the creation of ‘Greater Manchester’ the so-called ‘city region’ still has little legitimacy. If there was a referendum tomorrow on being part of Lancashire or ‘Greater Manchester’ I have little doubt about the result. There is an alternative – a greater ‘Lancastria’ that celebrates all of our county, not just the main cities. A starting point must be the re-creation of a new ‘Lancashire Sensibility’ which was so much a part of life in the 19th and early 20th century but celebrates a modern county identity. That’s why we should celebrate our Lancashire Day – and make it something that everyone living and working in Lancashire can celebrate.
Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railways, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; definitely Northern.
Just muddling through
A relatively short interval since the last Salvo: there’s quite a lot going on and I’ve a bit of time before getting into a busy November. Politics dominate. Maybe the last Salvo was too kind on the Tories; I’d hoped, against my better judgement, that if Sunak became leader he would at least restore some basic decency to Government. Instead we’ve seen the ill-judged re-appointment of Suella Bravermann, intent on pursuing a dangerous anti-immigrant policy, a reluctance to attend COP 27, and God knows what awaits in terms of spending cuts in the November 17th Budget. It looks fairly certain that the poor will bear the brunt. As far as transport goes, we’ve yet another secretary of state, Mark Harper. His constituency is Forest of Dean, which has a station (Lydney) and a very nice heritage railway. Let’s see what he makes of his brief: like sorting out the rail industry’s industrial relations woes, HS2, future structure of the industry and lots more. Lucky chap. He will need to make a strong case for continued investment in infrastructure and hopefully he will have an ally in Michael Gove, a welcome re-appointment as Levelling-up secretary (yes, I did say that…). As I’ve argued previously, HS2 will actually do more to ‘level down’ the North and is very poor value for money. Apart from some rail enthusiasts and too many politicians with little understanding of railways or regional economics, it has little support in the North; if it goes ahead will suck investment away from far more worthwhile schemes. See below for The Salvo Plan.
Who’s Anti-High Speed Rail?
Well not me, but I am anti-HS2. It’s become a bit like Brexit, with views polarised between supporters and opponents and an unwillingness to listen to ‘the other side’. I’ve thought long and hard about HS2 but I simply can’t accept the arguments for it on so many different levels. I don’t agree that it will do that much to relieve capacity and provide freight paths (see the work of Tony Berkeley on this). In some places it could make things worse, and definitely will during its long and disruptive construction. It will leave many large towns and cities isolated with poorer services and will very directly take investment away from much-needed local and regional schemes. More generally it will contribute towards a further shift in economic power away from the North towards London and the south-east. Why have a regional office in Manchester, Leeds or Preston if you can travel up to meetings in less time than it takes to get to the office on the tube? High-speed rail for Britain must recognise the specific characertasitics of our country which are very different from France, Spain, Germany, China or Japan. It’s very densely populated in parts and high-speed rail should connect all the main cities, from the central belt of Scotland and south Wales to the Midlands London and the Channel Tunnel. A line speed of 140 mph would offer a strong alternative to both roads and air and consume less energy than ‘very high-speed’. The logic of very high-speed rail is that you miss out some cities which really need good rail links, creating a small number of ‘super cities’ whilst allowing other towns and cities to wither and die. Cities, large and smaller towns need a rail network which connects them with a hierarchy of intercity, interregional and local trains conencting in to light rail and buses.
The imminent announcement by Jeremy Hunt could be very bad news indeed for rail. It’s old-fashioned, discredited politics (and economics) to scale back on the right sort of investment when times are bad. The North in particular needs investment to provide essential infrastructure for economic development and also to provide jobs in the construction phases. HS2 will do little for the North in either sense. Covid has led to long-term changes in travel patterns and people are travelling to work (short and long distance) less. Any new building work will create jobs, regardless of whether what is being built has any point. Yet even on that basis HS2 doesn’t do a lot for the North as it will be many years before we see boots on the ground north of Crewe. HS2 is a monumental folly whose costs are rising by the second. If it goes ahead it will inevitably mean that other rail projects bite the dust; there isn’t a limitless amount of funding for rail and HS2 will soak up much of it. The same goes for the ill-conceived ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ which seems largely designed to keep politicians in West Yorkshire, and tunneling contractors, happy. The less glamorous but more useful – and deliverable – Bradford CrossRail is a far better alternative.
The SALVO PLAN: What railways (and people) in the North need
OK, seeing as you asked. A development strategy for rail in the North should be clear on what it’s trying to achieve. Addressing the climate emergency and promoting economic regeneration should go hand in hand, and rail investment ticks both (and other) boxes. It’s always tempting (and great fun) to look at rail re-openings as ‘the answer’ but
in fact re-openings and new railways are often of marginal benefit and take a very long time to complete. There are some exceptions which I’ll mention later. I’ll be necessarily brief, maybe there will be scope for doing a longer piece later (especially if this heavy cold continues).
The greatest benefits to the North’s rail network would come from improving on what we’ve already got and addressing major bottlenecks and capacity issues. Top priority must be sorting out Manchester, in particular the Castlefield Corridor; it impacts on the whole of the North’s rail network. You can play around with any number of ‘innovative alternatives’ but the hard reality is that it needs shed loads of money being spent to double capacity. Get that done and it opens up enormous opportunities for extending services. It’s not just Piccadilly to Deansgate, but also sorting out the congested network south of Piccadilly, with grade separation of tracks to Guide Bridge and the Airport.
The Railway Industry Association in the North of England (RIA North) has just produced an interesting report on electrification, which has been ably dissected by Phil Haigh in RAIL. As Phil says, it’s oddly constructed but has some valuable insights. Personally, I’d say that the North needs a rolling programme of electrification for routes which are pretty obvious: we’ve got the TransPennine Upgrade agreed (I hope!) which will see wiring from Manchester via Huddersfield to Leeds and York. The complementary Calder Valley route from Manchester via Hebden Bridge to Bradford and Leeds is a no-brainer but also (as RIA North argues) do the ‘old L&Y main line’ from Sowerby Bridge via Mirfield to Wakefield, Castleford and York. Hope Valley (Manchester – Sheffield) is the other obvious route that urgently needs wiring, and nobody would say it will be easy with three long tunnels. Get Midland Main Line electrification completed to Sheffield, Leeds and Doncaster. We need to be careful about trying to do too much: those projects would keep electrification teams busy for a few years and not cost the earth. An easy-to-do extra would be Oxenholme to Windermere.
RIA North suggest that some more rural routes would be best served by battery or hydrogen, which makes sense. Battery seems a more tried and tested, and affordable, option. Routes like Cumbrian Coast, Whitby, Durham Coast and Scottish and Welsh rural lines would be appropriate; look at more bi-modes for the Merseyrail network – extending to Preston, Wigan and Wrexham. Some of Northern’s other inter-regional routes should, in an ideal world, be electrified: Newcastle – Carlisle, the Copy Pit route between Burnley and Todmorden (used by Blackpool – York services) and the Furness Line beyond Carnforth and Leeds/Sheffield to Hull and up the coast. If Skipton – Colne was to re-open (see below) it would make sense to electrify west of Colne and also Blackburn – Bolton. New bi-mode trains may be the short to medium-term answer, with quality on a par, or better, than a 331 electric train. I’m told that it is relatively easy to retrofit existing trains to be battery powered, so maybe that would make sense for the still-new 331s. That said, bi-mode, let alone tri-mode, pushes up costs. Only do it when there is no sensible alternative (i.e. full electrification).
Re-openings and new railways? Some make sense but there needs to be a very clear, demonstrable benefit in economic, environmental and social terms. The proposed HS2 north of Birmingham scores badly on all counts. Drop it – and sort out bottlenecks on the West Coast Main Line, at least for now. Some relatively short additions to the network would bring benefits: the Burscough curves would improve connectivity across West Lancashire. the Liverpool – Burscough – Preston corridor has huge potential, including freight from the Liverpool docks heading north. Bradford Cross-Rail, linking the historically separate routes to Forster Square and Bradford Interchange, would transform the rail network not just in West Yorkshire but beyond.
Forget ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’ which is a soundbite politician’s dream and a rail planner’s nightmare. Improve what we’ve got, with better capacity across all existing Trans-Pennine routes and full electrification. Another re-opening that would enhance the regional network and tick all the boxes is Skipton to Colne. Further north, the Leamside Line makes much sense but I’d put other schemes into the ‘nice to do but not just yet’ box, assuming Ashington, Blyth and Tyne is in the bag and going ahead. Woodhead? I like the suggestion of High Speed UK that this should form the core of an east-west ‘freight super highway’ from the Mersey to the Humber, including use of the re-opened line from Warrington to Manchester via Lymm, which has been ear-marked for ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’. This makes more sense and could include a Trans-Pennine ‘lorry shuttle’ from the Manchester suburbs to Sheffield taking pressure off the M62 and narrow roads, as High Speed UK advocates.
These enhancements could be delivered relatively quickly, compared with HS2. They would bring immediate benefits and provide a significant number of jobs, in construction and in operation. Even better if the new trains that would be needed for a growing network could be built in the North (Widnes, Newton Aycliffe?). The suggested enhancements would offer opportunities for freight development and ensure that heavy, long-distance trains don’t have to be diesel-hauled.
A key issue in promoting a long-term strategy is ‘who delivers it?’ Transport for the North is the obvious lead body but it needs a massive injection of resources and expertise, bringing together teams in the combined authorities with Network Rail planners. It also needs strong leadership. But that’s a topic for another article.
Don’t waste good food on art
The latest tactic of some climate change protesters is really a bit silly. I refer to the practice of throwing tins of soup at works of art, and similar disruptive behaviour. The argument goes that peaceful protest has got nowhere so it’s time to shake the pubic out of their complacency by ‘non-violent direct action’. It’s pointed out that the women’s suffrage campaigners only made progress when they started
blowing up post boxes and damaging buildings, throwing yourself under horses or in the case of Leverhulme’s house, burning it down. Well, I’m not so sure about that. I think what won the vote for women was a combination of mass popular action, with women across the social spectrum organising together, together with the First World War which led to male politicians (perhaps reluctantly) recognising women’s role and conceding a limited extension of the franchise in 1918. It’s arguable whether the violent tactics (and setting off bombs is violent even if nobody was killed) helped or hindered the cause. The tactics of some present-day campaigners may have similarly negative effects. Blocking roads antagonises people and has already led to physical confrontations. If you’re late for work or a hospital appointment, still less you’re rushing a sick child to hospital, I don’t think being held up for an hour will make you re-think your views on the climate. You’ll be extremely pissed off. Similarly, defacing works of art is not only childish but deeply offensive to many, reminiscent of the Nazis attacks on ‘degenerate art’ in the 30s. I really don’t want to be lectured by some kid (usually from obviously middle or upper class backgrounds) that ‘works of art’ are unimportant compared with the destruction of the planet. The most dangerous phrase in radical politics is ‘the end justifies the means’; it seldom does.
Going for dramatic acts of vandalism is bad politics even if it gets you media exposure. It’s elitist and divisive. Instead of bringing people with you, it turns them against you. It’s a substitute for serious politics which involves a hard long-term slog, where you win people over by argument and persuasion. And yes, action on the streets that’s inclusive, not divisive; it can be joyous. The work of ‘Rock Against Racism’ in the 70s is worth re-visiting, when thousands of young people were won to the anti-racist cause through the power of music.
Making the countryside open to all
It’s a longstanding aim of countryside bodies to make rural Britain ‘accessible to all’. Who could disagree with that? The traditional image of the countryside walker has been a middle-aged going on elderly white chap, typically middle-class and well-heeled or booted. Now before you get ou your twelve-bore and fire a salvo in my direction, let me say the stereotype has never been true. Walking the Pennines, Dales and Peak District has, for generations, been a very working class pastime, for both men and women. The Kinder Scout ‘trespassers’ were working class socialists and communists from Manchester. The (much larger) Winter Hill marchers were mill workers from Bolton. That said, in more recent times, you wouldn’t see that many people from BAME communities out for a walk on the moors, though it’s starting to change. One note of caution: not everyone, whatever their ethnicity, actually likes the idea of going for a walk in the country and that’s their prerogative. But it’s clear that people from BAME communities are disproportionately under-represented amongst country walkers and that needs thinking about. Personally I’m not too keen on the concept of ‘safe spaces’ where people retreat into a cocoon against a real or imagined ‘threat’. And there’s a risk we manufacture a fear that walking in the outdoors is somehow dangerous and threatening. It isn’t. It’s a lot safer than walking down Bradshagate on a Friday night.
Should there be segregated groups for different ethnic communities to encourage more country-going? A group has been formed for Black women in the Manchester area to get out into the countryside. Why does it make me feel a bit uneasy? If someone set up a ‘White Walking Group’ there would be understandable outrage. Should there not be similar concern about any leisure group that is racially segregated?
BBC’s Countryfile, presented by Anita Rani recently ran a feature about the ‘Black Girls Hike’ group and interviewed Rhiane Fatinikun, founder of the group. It was launched in Manchester in 2019, and has spread to the Midlands and London – with members encouraged to try a string of new activities, including climbing and paving. Speaking about their walking sessions, Anita asked why there are so few Black and Asian people in the countryside – sharing a statistic that memebrs were ‘half as likely’ to take part in hiking and mountain walking. “There’s loads of reasons for it really,” Rhiane replied. “I think it’s where we live. A lot of us tend to live in cities, for example. “None of my family does any hiking. We did do sports and we’re utilising outdoor spaces but just not the countryside. I just think it’s really important for us to have that safe space where we can explore the outdoors together, but also in a group where we actually share the same experiences.”
There was a predictable backlash to the Countryfile story and before we write the objectors off as crusty racists, maybe we need to think it through a bit more? It’s understandable that some black people feel that the subliminal message from many countryside groups is that “this place isn’t for the likes of you”, which is pretty much what was said, often very directly by force majeure by stick-wielding bailiffs to working class walkers back in the late 19th century. They challenged it, and that’s really what Black Girls Hike is doing. Maybe it should spur bodies like the Ramblers to do more to open up their activities to a more diverse bunch? Some would say “our walks are open to everyone and we do our best to make everyone feel welcome,” which is no doubt true. But unless you go out and engage with BAME communities you’ll get the same old people, folk like me. So groups like Black Girls Hike should be welcomed if they introduce more people to the pleasures of the countryside. But how about BGH being invited to participate in joint walks with existing mixed (but yes, mainly White) walking groups? There is a huge amount of knowledge about the countryside and its history amongst members of existing walking groups; I think they’d love to share it.
Lancastrians: at a book shop near you soon
Lancastrians: Mills, Mines and Minarets is being published next year by the highly-respected publishers Hurst whose catalogue is well worth a look at it. See https://www.hurstpublishers.com/catalogues/spring-summer-2023/. The page on Lancastrians says: “This long-overdue popular history explores the cultural heritage and identity of Lancashire. Paul Salveson traces to the thirteenth century the origins of a distinct county stretching from the Mersey to the Lake District—‘Lancashire North of the Sands’. From a relatively backward place in terms of industry and learning, Lancashire would become the powerhouse of the Industrial Revolution: the creation of a self-confident bourgeoisie drove economic growth, and industrialists had a strong commitment to the arts, endowing galleries and museums and producing a diverse culture encompassing science, technology, music and literature. Lancashire developed a distinct business culture, its shrine being the Manchester Cotton Exchange, but this was also the birthplace of the world co-operative movement, and the heart of campaigns for democracy including Chartism and women’s suffrage. Lancashire has generally welcomed incomers, who have long helped to inform its distinctive identity: fourteenth-century Flemish weavers; nineteenth-century Irish immigrants and Jewish refugees; and, more recently, New Lancastrians from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The book explores what has become of Lancastrian culture, following modern upheavals and Lancashire’s fragmentation compared with its old rival Yorkshire. What is the future for the 6 million people of this rich historic region?”
The book will be published in June 2023 in hardback, price £25.
Let’s go to…Darwen
The latest destination for my Salvo’s Lancashire Tours was Darwen, or ‘Darrun’. Like many Lancashire towns, it has its own identity. Darwen folk were traditionally referred to as ‘Darrun Salmon’, possibly because they had a liking for smoked salmon, or maybe because salmon used to be found in the River Darwen. I’m starting to talk like Cunk (aka Diane Morgan).Whatever, the reason, it’s a pleasant little town, situated
beneath the moors, topped by the Jubilee Tower. It was completed in 1899 to mark Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee but also ‘the freeing of the moors’. I went last week, on a Wednesday when the market hall is open. I got the Clitheroe train from Bolton, passing many old haunts – the site of Astley Bridge Junction (featured in my new book of short stories), Bromley Cross, Turton Tower and Entwistle. Was that the ghost of Signalman Frank Carroll who waved to me as we entered Sough Tunnel?
Darwen is a very different place to Bolton. They talk differently to start with, perhaps a more melodious accent, different again to Blackburn, a place that many Darruners are not too keen on. It didn’t go down well when Darwen was lumped in with Blackburn to create a ‘Blackburn with Darwen Council’ in 1974, which Blackburn would inevitably dominate simply on size.
Darwen Corporation was formed in 1878 and was one of the most progressive local authorities in the North. It pioneered public libraries, parks (it has three, all of which magnificent) and ran its own public
transport which included trams and later buses. For a Bolton traveller, you can do a very nice round trip going out by train and walking from the (rather dismal) station into the town centre and when you’ve had a good explore, catch the frequent number 1 Talking Bus back to Bolton (see below). You’ll pass the fine Carnegie library and I’d recommend calling in to have a look round and see what current exhibitions are taking place. To your left is what must be Lancashire’s finest Wethespoon’s pub, The Old Chapel. I realise some Salvo readers won’t have anything to do with the pro-Brexit business and regard its owner as the devil incarnate. Quite frankly life’s too short to be so purist. Good on ‘Spoons for saving many historic buildings from demolition and usually having a good eye for local heritage (just wish they’d put steak pudding back on the menu). The pub is located in a 19th century Methodist chapel which dates back to 1866. Unlike some of the more austere places of nonconformist worship, this one was built on a grand scale, designed by Lancashire architect Edward Bates who was also responsible for the nearby India Mill, which we’ll get to shortly. It has been brought back to life for a use that may well have horrified the tee-total Wesleyans but I think they’d accept Tim Martin did a good job.
A short distance further on is the superb Market Hall set in the newly-refurbished Market Square. I think Darruners should, perhaps grudgingly, recognise that Blackburn with Darwen Council (BwD) has much to be thanked for with this nicely-executed project. The Market Hall itself has some very good stalls and I would particularly commend the cheese stall. You can also get tripe, if you’re so inclined. On the outside of the Market Hall is an excellent Italian cafe and deli. Continue by the bus station and head up the traffic-free Bridge Street. There’s a very good chippy, a health food shop, a friendly charity store and some good pubs. Hopstar Brewery’s Number 39 is a popular live music venue which, obviously, does real ale. Go back down Bridge Street to The Circus, the epi-centre of Darwen and a place of many exciting performances over the years. Across the road are two very pretty domed buildings which were once connected to Darwen Corporation’s tram system – welcome correction here but I think one was a waiting room and the other was a ticket office. Just across from there is the site of the former wallpaper and paint works which Darwen became synonymous with. Instead of heading up Bolton Rod, I went up the hill towards Bold Ventre Park, through some very attractive stone terraced streets. The park is one of Darwen’s three gems, the
others being Whitehall (further up Bolton Road) and Sunnyhurst, back towards Blackburn. I’ve always liked Bold Venture for its mix of late Victorian elegance which leaks out into a wilder more untamed woodland before you enter onto open moors. Darwen Tower is a bit further up and worth visiting the recently restored monument to open access (and royalty).
I did a loop round the park and then headed back down towards Bolton Road, getting some great views of India Mill and its stunning chimney, designed by Mr Bates and one of Lancashire’s many wonders. (I’ve never counted them but maybe I should – would make a great book). India Mill was built by the firm of Eccles Shorrock and fully opened in 1871. Mr Shorrock was clearly fond of ‘big statements’ and supposedly invited some of his workers to a gala dinner on the top of the chimney when the job was finished. Definitely an unmissable event if you were lucky enough to be on the invitation list. However, there is some doubt whether the dinner was fact or fiction. Alan Duckworth, who has written an excellent novel which features the mill, said: “What about the dinner held on top of the chimney when it was completed? It is further said that a band played up there while they ate. Certainly there was a dinner held at ground level in the Crown Inn on December 12th 1868 for the 52 men responsible for building the chimney, but had they earlier dined at the top of the chimney? It’s a good story and deserves to be true and the men must have eaten their meals up there when they were working on it, but there’s a difference between a bacon buttie gulped down in the teeth of the wind and a sit down meal with table linen and a band accompaniment.”
Outside the mill is a ‘preserved’ mill engine. I’m not entirely sure it works to eb honest, painted in rather gaudy colours when really the brasswork was what made these machines so special. Better kept inside in my view. There are other bits of Darwen history further up the road, including similarly ‘preserved’ paper machines and also the tram terminus by Whitehall Park. The nearby Tram Cafe is recommended, so too the Whitehall Coffee Emporium which has a better range of coffee than anything I can get in Bolton. If I’d got more time I’d have had a look at Spring Vale Garden Village, which Gandhi visited during his visit to Darwen in 1931.
I took the no. 1 bus, operated by The Blackburn Bus Company (owned by Transdev) back to Bolton. It’s a frequent service with friendly drivers. And the buses talk to you! Not in some plummy southern voice but with proper local accents. The bus says things like ‘Gerrof ‘ere for th’Cross Guns pub, Egerton’. I love it. I’m not sure if any of the buses have, in the interests of diversity, some female or local Asian accents. I need to travel more on the No. 1 to find out. Incidentally, Darwen has a very interesting rural network operated by ‘Travel Assist’, a social enterprise. You need to check your dates and times but it takes you to all sorts of interesting places including Whittlestone Head, and Morrison’s in Harwood.
I only wish the No. 1 bus would condescend to stop somewhere handy for Earnsdale Reservoir, a popular visitor attraction with a bus whizzing past three times an hour but nowhere to alight (or gerroff). There’s a two mile gap from the Chinese restaurant to the Cross Guns, the only places you can gerroff. Please Transdev and BwD Council, can you at least provide one bus stop so it isn’t just motorists who can access the walks around Earnsdale. It would make for a great walk along the water to Entwistle, quick pint in the Strawbury Duck, then train back to Bolton. Unfortunately the conversation from Northern’s class 150 trains is relatively dull and uninteresting compared with the No. 1 bus. How about having Kathleen Ferrier singing a short song followed by her saying “The train is now approaching Entwistle. Gerroff ‘ere for th’ Strawbury Duck pub which does a great pint an’ good food. There are some gradely walks an’ all, like round bi Entwistle Reservoir, along the path under th’viaduct, an’ then by Wayoh Reservoir to Th’ Black Bull pub at Edgworth, or th’ nearby Barlow Institute.” By which time you’ll have missed your stop (and it is a ‘request stop’ so you have to make sure you tell the guard…).
For an excellent read about all things Darwen, I recommend Darren and Darreners, People and Places, by Harold Heys.
I was saddened to hear of the death of Ian Jack. I knew Ian reasonably well and he was a regular Salvo reader, sometimes commenting on my railway goings-on. The Guardian obituary said “Jack was a gifted writer, a brilliant and imaginative editor and a mentor to younger journalists. His last piece for The Guardian marked the centenary of the BBC, “one of the world’s great cultural projects”. He wrote: “It looks unlikely that Britain will ever again invent anything so admired and influential; we have been lucky to have it.” He was taken ill on the Isle of Bute, where he spent much of his time and died in Paisley. Ian was born in Lancashire – at Townley’s, Farnworth, and was brought up in Farnworth where he developed his interest in train-spotting. He was a frequent visitor to Crescent Road loco sheds in the 1950s. My friend Peter Kirkham sent him a photo of the shed (which iw as on) and Ian replied:
“What a splendid array of Black Fives in your picture! You may be interested to know that I was taken round the same loco shed a few times by my elder brother in 1951/52. I was a six-year-old, he was 16. They must have been a tolerant lot at Bolton shed in those days – we just seemed to wander in and out as we pleased. I can also remember taking the train from Plodder Lane to Manchester and Bolton Great Moor Street – and another loco shed on the edge of Plodder Lane fields. Then our parents took us back to Scotland and I didn’t see Bolton again for many years.”
His parents returned to North Queensferry when he was seven. He started work as a trainee journalist at the Glasgow Herald in 1965. In 1970, he moved to London to join the Sunday Times, then in its heyday under the editorship of Harold Evans. He was a section editor and then a foreign correspondent, specialising in India. He wrote for the Observer and Vanity Fair before joining the team that created the Independent on Sunday, which he edited from 1991 to 1995. From there he moved to edit the literary magazine Granta, where he remained until 2007. For the past 15 years, Jack had been a columnist for the Guardian. The writer and former Observer foreign correspondent Neal Ascherson said: “We have lost one of our great journalists, a writer of enchanting imagination and at the same time a reporter rigidly scrupulous in his insistence on fact. “In Scotland, Bengal and industrial England, he mourned the slow loss of faith in the value of work, skill and community. He honoured the certainty of a Glasgow-forged piston driving the wheel of a steam locomotive across Indian plains and of the family man coming home from the mill in a secure profession with a decent wage packet.”
I was privileged to have known Ian and met him a couple of times, enjoying a coffee on a sunny afternoon in Islington some years ago. I’ll miss him.
Last Train from Blackstock Junction has just gone in a puff of smoke
My new book comprising 12 short stories about railway life in the North is now available. Last Train from Blackstock Junction includes a very appropriate tale about the last train from somewhere called ‘Blackstock Junction’ on November 5th 1966, when a group of kids succeeded in stopping the Glasgow – Manchester express which they mistakenly thought was the last stopping train from their local station. Oops.What very naughty boys. Don’t try this on your local railway.
The book has a very kind foreword by Sir Peter Hendy, chairman of Network Rail, who said “As you read these stories, you’ll find some history, some romance, some politics, a little prejudice – sadly – and some humour; you will in fact be in the world of railway men and women. I hope you find them as absorbing as I did when I read Paul’s manuscript. Please enjoy his work!”
Writer and environmentalist Colin Speakman said “it is an amazing collection – powerful, moving, and what I would call ‘faction’ which tells truths even though the details may be fantasy, ‘Hillary Mantel school of history’ perhaps. Director of Platform 5 Publishing, Andrew Dyson, said “Paul’s stories provide a fascinating insight into what life was really like for thousands of railway workers.”
The tales also include a ghost story set in a lonely signalbox in Bolton, in 1900 while other stories are about life on today’s railway, including ‘From Marxist to Managing Director’ – the story of a young female political activist who ends up running a train company. Some are set in the ‘age of steam’ and life on the footplate as well as the rise of the trades unions on the railways and the rise of the Labour movement.
Salvo readers will get the book at a specially discounted price, courtesy of Platform 5 Publishing. Go to https://www.platform5.com/Catalogue/New-Titles. Enter LAST22 in the promotional code box at the basket and this will reduce the unit price from £12.95 to £10.95.
Talks, walks and wanderings
Following the ‘official’ end of the Pandemic, I’ve been getting a number of invitations to give talks on various topics. Recent talks have included ‘The Social History of Lancashire’s Railways’ for Preston Historical Society, ‘Allen Clarke’s Bolton’ for Friends of Smithills Hall and Bolton U3A, ‘Railways and Railwaymen of Turton’ for Turton LHS, ‘Moorlands, Memories and Reflections’ for What’s Your Story, Chorley? and ‘Railways and Communities: Blackrod and Horwich’, for Blackrod LHS. Next Tuesday evening I’m talking to Chorley Archaeological Society on ‘The Lost Railways of Lancashire’. I’m speaking on ‘Railways in the North’ for the Stephenson Locomotive Society in Manchester on November 5th. Unfortunately very few trains will be running in the North. The following Saturday I’m at Shap Wells talking to the Cumbrian Railway Association on the Settle-Carlisle Railway. Other topics are:
The Lancashire Dialect Writing tradition
The Railways of the North: yesterday, today and tomorrow
Allen Clarke (1863-1935) Lancashire’s Romantic Radical
The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896
The Rise of Socialism and Co-operation in the North
The Clarion Cycling Clubs and their Club Houses
Walt Whitman and his Lancashire Friends
Forgotten Railways of Lancashire
Banishing Beeching: The Community Rail Movement
Railways, Railwaymen and Literature
I charge fees that are affordable to the organisation concerned, to fit their budget – so by negotiation. My preferred geographical location is within 25 miles of Bolton, ideally by train/bus or bike. With sufficient notice I can go further afield.
READERS’ LETTERS: Coffee, rolls, Lancashire cheese, Boris and more
Walter Rothschild comments on stations and retail facilities: “Just a brief note that in many European countries the local station’s ticket office also sells coffee, rolls, snacks and so forth or, alternatively, a local store selling coffee, rolls, snacks etc. also has a sideline in serving rail tickets to the purchasing public. A postal counter as mentioned also makes a lot of sense, not to mention Tourist Information in places that deserve this! The logic is obvious – there is already ‘footfall’ and also people departing who may be forced to linger for longer than they intended due to delays, cancellations etc. and those arriving need a place to get information and maybe refreshments. . How many petrol stations these days sell only petrol?
John Davies on Heywood and a much-needed railway: “I read your piece on Heywood with interest. I’ve only seen the place twice, first on a Southport-Rochdale train in 1962 (one of the daftest Beeching closures ever!) and in 1990 by car. I had been driving around Lancs & Yorks photographing the mill heritage when my car engine emitted a lot of steam and hot air in Heywood at 4.30pm on a wet dark Friday. A kindly car mechanic worked a couple of hours overtime that evening and saved damage to the engine; I gave him a generous tip before heading back to South Wales starting with the nightmare of crowded motorways in torrential rain before reaching the safety of the A449 south of Warrington and the oasis of a Little Chef (remember them!).
Mark Alread suggests that “Best place to get good Lancashire (and Stilton and pickles and chutneys and all things cheese) is Pat’s cheese stall on Chorley market
John Nicolson fires a salvo at Boris: “Can’t agree that ‘Johnson’s reign (sic) wasn’t all completely bad’. Apart from a damagingly hard Brexit (still not done) what was there? Levelling up might have fooled some people but was never much more than a slogan. But what do you expect from a serial liar/serial adulterer who was a lazy & incompetent Foreign Secretary (I wonder what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe thought of him in this role)? Just a small selection of names & facts to remind readers of what Johnson is – Darius Guppy, Jennifer Arcuri, Petronella Wyatt, Anna Fazakerly, Dominic Cummings, Owen Paterson, Chris Pincher, skiving off 5 Cobra meetings in the early days of the Pandemic, ‘let the bodies pile high’, Partygate. I could go on but I rest my case.”
Roger Smith quotes Salvo 307 “The starting point for building a dynamic local and regional transport system…is having the right structures in place. The most sensible approach is to extend the existing ‘combined authorities’ beyond their current boundaries to create a system of English regional government, which have elected authorities (rather than just elected mayors) in control” and asks: “So where would that leave the sub-national transport authorities such as Transport for the North?
Steve Brown asks “just two questions relating to rail company ownership: 1. Is it right that profits are going abroad subsidising improvements in rail systems in other countries? 2. Have the foreign owned companies brought anything positive to the table? I am a bit surprised such an avid supporter of the co-operative movement would be in favour of the current ownership model!” Salvo reply: Not sure how Steve has come to the conclusion that I am a supporter of the current system. Over the years I’ve argued for a socially-owned railway, but not one controlled by a centralised state body. My favourite form of ownership would be a co-operative, owned by the workers and users. We don’t need a single train operator and there is much to be said for a mix of regional and longer-distance intercity operators, with a single ‘guiding mind’ which owns the infrastructure – but doesn’t have to be responsible for day to maintenance and renewal which could be done by the operator. See various things on the Rail Reform Group website www.railreformgroup.org.uk
Lancastrians has kept me busy for most of the year and will be published by Hurst (who recently brought out the fascinating Northumbrians) next year. See above. I’m contemplating writing ‘a people’s history of Farnworth’, using the structure of Lancastrians (work, play, politics, culture, sport, individual profiles etc.). There’s another ‘infrastructure project’ further north (but still in Lancashire) which I’ll say more about in the next Salvo.
Still in Print (at special prices!)
ALLEN CLARKE: Lancashire’s Romantic Radical£9.99 (normally £18.99)
Moorlands, Memories and Reflections£15.00 (£21.00)
The Works (novel set in Horwich Loco Works) £6 (£12.99)
With Walt Whitman in Bolton£6 (9.99)
The Settle-Carlisle Railway (published by Crowood £24) – can do it for Salvo readers at £16
See www.lancashireloominary.co.uk for full details of the books (ignore the prices shown and use the above – add total of £4 per order for post and packing in UK)