Over Belmont Moors

This is an excerpt (Chapter 8) from the forthcoming book Moorlands, Memories and Reflections – a centenary celebration of Allen Clarke’s Moorlands and Memories

Over Belmont Moors

Belmont features strongly in Moorlands and Memories. It remains a delightful village, though plagued by traffic. In Clarke’s day, it was his favourite cycling route from Bolton to Blackpool, despite being steeper than the alternative route along Chorley New Road.

The route I oftenest take to Belmont is Brian Hey, the road to the right to the stone quarries. It is grand to walk or ride this way in the early morning of a summer’s day, when the sun is dispelling the gauzy moorland mists and the little birds are piping in the sweet solitude.” (p.138)

Boggarts over Belmont

Clarke takes us, on his bike, past what was The Wright’s Arms (there’s now a nice cafe next to the Italian eatery) and down into the dip before the start of the climb along the village street. He praises the purity of the water from the fountain, close to the Black Dog Inn. Beyond the village he brings up one of his favourite topics – boggarts. A boggart is a Lancashire hobgoblin, or spirit. Most Lancashire writers mentioned them, and some still do, I’m very glad to say. The Belmont boggart lived somewhere along the road outside the village, before the track off to a farm. Clarke describes:

There is said to be a boggart or ghost on this road – somewhere between this farm and the village. Not ever having been on this road in the dark, I cannot vouch for the spectre myself, but tradition tells that a great many years ago, early in the nineteenth century, or the later part of the eighteenth, a young man, after being executed for robbing a coach was found to be innocent, and the legend says that he haunts this spot, calling out to such persons as pass that way at night, ‘Do you believe me innocent?’ and must continue at that uncanny job till some unscared soul kindly answers, ‘Yes’. Wherefore, I entreat you, for pity’s sake, if you ever come across this poor ghost…to reply to his plaintive query in the affirmative.” (pp 144-5)

Hopefully someone has taken up Clarke’s request. I’m not aware of any boggart-sightings in recent times.

Teddy Ashton’s Well

Clarke was a great self-publicist, and one of his most well-known bits of self-promotion lies a bit further along Belmont Road, towards Abbey Village. This is ‘Teddy Ashton’s Well’, which he christened sometime before the First World War. It is actually called ‘Slate Well’ and is opposite Lower Roddlesworth Farm. It’s impossible to stop a car there, so don’t ry. However, you can use it for the purpose which Clarke intended, as a nice comfortable spot to sample some clean moorland water, prior to tackling the last climb towards Belmont. He describes its products as “the most felicitous unfuddling liquor in the world. Dame Nature’s choicest brew.” (p.146)

Which highlights a facet of Clarke’s character – his disinterest in alcohol. It was common in the 1890s and 1900s for socialists and radicals to be ‘tee-total’ owing to the effects drink had on working class people. Bolton Socialist Club, in its early years, had a ‘no alcohol’ rule. On a personal level, Clarke may have avoided drink because his father was, apparently, over-fond of a pint. Throughout Moorlands and Memories, and indeed Windmill Land, you’ll find few references to pubs. Those which do feature are there for historical reasons not as recommended stopping-off points!

Back in 1986 a few of us, including George Kelsall, re-dedicated the well to ‘Teddy Ashton’, as a bit of our own self-promotion to launch the new edition of Moorlands and Memories. I suspect it has gone back to its overgrown state by now. Maybe time for a clean-up!

A ‘rail ramble’ from Darwen to Chorley

Clarke describes exploring the area around Hollinshead Hall and the old hall that lay crumbling nearby. Today, both buildings have gone, apart from a few stones. However, the bathing house remains and can be accessed by walkers from the Tockholes Road, heading across the main Belmont Road and on to Great Hill.

In Moorlands and Memories he describes a fascinating event: a family ‘rail ramble’ organised by Bolton Labour Church’s Sunday Afternoon Class, probably in 1904,from Darwen, through Tockholes, over Great Hill and on to Chorley. “There were youngsters with us on this long walk, and they footed it famously. Two little girls from Darwen did champion; also a little boy from the same place. The father of the girls told us that at the ‘Northern Weekly’ Barrow Bridge picnic they walked all the way from Darwen and back (about 20 miles). “ (p.170). The group had taken the train to Darwen and returned by train from Chorley

There’s a more detailed contemporary account in his Northern Weekly for August 6th May 1904, where he recalls “over fifty men, women and children going over Winter Hill and stopping at Eighteen Acre Farm. They argued socialism, Tolstoyanism, and many other ‘isms’ before standing to sing Edward Carpenter’s hymn of the socialist movement:

England arise! The long, long night is over

Faint in the east, behold the dawn appear…”

The Labour Church was a fairly short-lived socialist organisation; it was at its peak in Lancashire between 1894 and 1914. It was linked to the Independent Labour Party and the Clarion Cycling Club, through individual connections. Its Bolton secretary was James Sims, a close friend of Clarke’s, who lived near Church Wharf by the parish church. The Labour Church’s Sunday Afternoon Class organised regular walks around the local moors, often led by John Fletcher, the ‘clever collier-botanist of Westhoughton’ as Clarke describes him.

The walk took them past Drinkwater’s, now a ruin, where they were given drinks of milk by the farmer’s wife. Most of the farms in this area were bought by Liverpool Corporation as part of their water supply scheme, and were demolished. At least the path from Hollinshead Hall up to Great Hill is in better condition today than it seemed to be when Clarke’s group walked it. And there is a fine viewing point at the summit of Great Hill, with views across the West Lancashire Plain and on to Southport.

Looking south from Drinkwater’s is Round Loaf – there is a path but it can be difficult after heavy rain. Round Loaf looks man-made – because it is. It is an ancient burial chamber which has been excavated in recent decades.

The group would have continued past Drinkwater’s and past the remains of the small coal pits, still visible on the left. Soon after, the path splits, with one track heading off towards Withnell. The route to Chorley goes down hill towards White Coppice. The views across Lancashire and north to the Lakes are magnificent. The path takes you out by the cricket ground at White Coppice, where – at least in normal times – teas and light snacks are available in the pavilion. It must be one of the loveliest locations for a cricket ground anywhere in the country. The rough road takes you down past the school and to the small group of houses which make up the hamlet of White Coppice. One of the most celebrated residents was W.E. Eccles, a religious zealot, but a man who did a lot of good for his community. Clarke mentions the ‘tint mission church’ that was Eccles’ HQ. From there, the walking group headed along “pleasant winding lanes, where lovers wandered under the bright stars – the wooded hill called the nab, looking like a dark thick cloud on our left – we made our way through the locality curiously christened Botany Bay, to Chorley, whose town hall was our guiding light for miles. Form Chorley we took train home, healthily tired with our long moorland ramble…” [1]

[1] Moorlands p. 171

By Paul Salveson

Paul was born in Bolton in 1952, one day before the Harrow and Wealdstone rail disaster. He has had a varied career, mostly to do with railways, mixed in with adult education, journalism, politics and community development. After a 25 year exile he is back home in Bolton. He is a visiting professor at the Universities of Bolton and Huddersfield and chairs Bolton and South Lancs Community Rail Partnership

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *