Wednesday 31st March
Winwick to Wigan
The route cannot follow the traditional major route used for centuries – it is now the A49 – and returns to the Sankey Valley which has been developed as a ‘green-line’ connecting St. Helen’s and Widnes. It passes close to another site, once of major significance and now levelled, the Vulcan Works. This was created at the start of the Railways Age in 1830, relating closely to the world’s first passenger between Liverpool and Manchester with production at the plant ended in 2002.
Its history is summarised at http://www.enginemuseum.org/hh.html.
All that remains of this highly significant site are the restored workers houses forming the village of Vulcan sandwiched between the West Coast mainline and the branch to the original Liverpool and Manchester Railway – both of which are booming!
The route then stays as close to the old Roman road as footpaths provide, passing through Earlestown and Ashton in Makerfield and through Bryn.
Names in this journey are probably pointers to all manner of mixed history – Helsby, Bryn, Wigan, ‘Wallgate’, Makerfield. The pre-Roman, the Saxon, the Norse – all surviving muddled together. The grouping of ‘British’ names in this area (Bryn, Ince, Makerfield, possibly Wigan) may indicate a post Roman British territory. Such a territory may well have stretched from the Mersey to the Ribble occupying the slightly higher ground that this walk (and the Roman road) follows.
Onto more reclaimed land of the Wigan Flashes and follows the Leeds and Liverpool canal (Leigh Branch) into Wigan.
A day viewing a landscape influenced by heavy industry and its modern (very modern) replacements. The day also illustrates the way in which, despite the industrial and associated urban landscape, it is possible to plot a reasonably direct off-road route through open spaces around settlements – and one that provides (as at the extensive Wigan Flashes) considerable historical and environmental interest.
‘Wigan Flashes are a group of eight shallow wetlands, formed originally as a result of mining subsidence, which extends south from near Wigan’s town centre. Over time, the industrial landscape has evolved in to a mixture of open water, reedbed, mossland, willow carr and fenland.’
The Realm of King Coal:
‘Our civilisation,… is founded on coal, more completely than one realises… The machines keep us alive, and the machines that make the machines, are all directly or indirectly dependent on coal. In the metabolism of the Western world the coal miner is second only to the man who ploughs the soil. He is a sort of grim caryatid upon whose shoulders nearly everything that is not grimy is supported.’ (Orwell: The Road to Wigan pier Penguin Classics 2001 p 18)
We all prepare ourselves when we, who walk long distances, make ready to venture forth. But what preparation for a route through a landscape that has changed and is still changing?
“Recreational walking’ generally aims for landscapes that are comforting and thus are in various ways ‘romantick’… places where people can feel they are touching a wild-ness, a past visioned as settled, ordered and comfortable… places for dreaming gently, disconnected in various ways, with The Present.
King Coal has lost his power and with that his mark on the landscape he once, very recently, dominated.
Orwell, writing in the mid 1930s, was witnessing the beginning of the end. Now the sites and sights he observed have, within a 20/30 year period, been obliterated.
And ‘good thing to’. There were yellow smogs, the Sankey Brook in St Helen’s was the Stinking Brook – so much so that children in the 1950s said that if one had scarlet fever, whooping cough etc a cure was to be had by being held upside down over the ditch in order to inhale the fumes.
The canal has gone – and so to the poisonous environment of which it was a part.
But from here the route has to encounter an urban and post-industrial context. What exactly (is ‘exact’ that possible)?. It was remarkable that the previous day could be so free of Vehicular Modernity. There were railways, canals, waste tips and such like evidence, very present and pressing, but the route throughout its length was, for a walker, traffic free – only one major road crossing (and that easy, at Sankey Bridges) – plus a final traffic light controlled crossing at Winwick.
Will the new day deliver a something of the old times?
Rain was expected on the previous day but it saved itself. The party, increased by one, set out in an unimpressive light drizzle. The Sankey Trail was regained and followed through to Earlestown.
Here a path through a small industrial estate led into the town. This place still has the feel of an older industrial settlement. It is ‘ordinary’ Lancashire red brick inclined to be of the brighter red (compared with the older rather darker mottled variety). There were also traditional meat products sold in the butchers (and bought by the pilgrims).
‘As you walk through the industrial towns you lose yourself in labyrinths of little brick houses blackened by smoke, festering in planless chaos round miry alleysadn little cindered yards where there are stinking dustbins and lines of grimy washing and half ruinous wcs.’ (Orwell p46)
Not any more – many of these houses survive in towns such as Earlestown – but no longer do they exhibit the conditions described. The smoke, the grime, the stink – all gone. First the Clean Air Acts, then the clean up…. All begining within 20 years of Orwell writing.
The minor diversion into the shopping area also led to the town hall and a memorial to the South African wars that included not only those killed but also those who served. The memorial has developed into a1st & 2nd WW memorial but still retains the statue (of somewhat limited quality) that was created for the SA Wars. Nothing very special but a point of interest to be remembered by the travellers.
From Earlestown through to the far side of Ashton in Makerfield was a section of walk in which the industrial dominated – and so did the rail. It was a fooling drizzle that had simply increased gradually until there was, too late, a realisation that one was wet. Not drenched – but wet – and so, hoping for respite, the group travelled on, accepting that the legs, in regard to the damp, were now beyond saving.
The rain eased and the damp became tolerable. As the route approached the M6 and the western end of Haydock Park Race Course the pilgrims encountered the what proved to be the worst (in terms of beauty) section of the whole walk. There were points of interest – crossing the East Lancs Road (by a footbridge) – this an historic route
‘Britain’s first purpose built intercity highway linking the cities of Manchester and Liverpool. It was officially opened by King George V on 18th July 1934.’
The bridge led into a site , now so common in certain strategic parts of the country, dedicated to distribution sheds. These distribution sheds looked almost exactly the same as those given over to other purposes including manufacturing and cattle breeding – essentially just tin sheds – grey or whitish grey of standard size (not too tall – but high enough to be significant). Urban Britain: red brick housing, some with attempting a Romantick stlye with hits of gables and timber (external and constructionally pointless) set on the edge of towns and never very far from a set of tin sheds which serve as industrial units, distribution centres and supermarkets (which are in themselves merely retail distribution centres).
The route was well signposted despite the nature of the area (which would hardly attract ‘recreational walkers’) – and led eventually across waste ground and between two tin sheds – that is ‘distribution centres’ (one a Sainsbury depot) and into Land of Uncertain Purpose.
The passageway through the sheds proved to be the most untidy section of the whole walk – beating even the ground near the landfill site.
These sheds and the road across the motorway occupy land once used by the curious railway system known as the Cheshire Lines Committee which was a series of tentacles associated with the Great Central Railway (and later the LNER) stretching across western territory and even as far as Wrexham in N Wales
It is likely that the Sainsbury’s tin shed now occupying part of the site of the railway has greater economic activity in one year than the railway managed in tens of years.
Using the maps in these links, and comparing with the present structure give some idea of the wholesale changes made in this area in less than 40 years. The walkers had, from leaving Earlestown been crossing an area devoted to mining – both with pits, waste tips and railways – now completely removed. Yet evidence sometimes remains… as the pictures in the links show.
Delights – all delights, even when struggling through the accumulated rubbish (including unopened tins of tomatoes) by the Sainsbury shed.
Our standards are now so much improved that we address the litter issues seriously – and there is none of the stink that accompanied the mess noticed by Orwell…. Just the fumes of our latest drug, oil.
This journey shows increasingly how we shape and re-shape our environment. What is happening now (ie last 50 years) must be true of so many places that we regard (because they are ‘antique/ancient/Mediaeval’ etc) as largely ‘unchanged’ or of simple structural change.
We’re a busy people, us humans, forever a-burrowing and a-shaping.
Immediately beyond the sheds and litter the path was across the Land of Uncertain Purpose – another piece of land to become a small reserve… or just waiting for more shed?.
It was then over the M6 motorway to the A49 through Ashton in Makerfield. The A49 at this point is on the route of the Roman Road and the pilgrims dutifully followed it through to Bryn. There are other potential routes that would use a feeder road to Haydock Park Racecourse (on the line of the old railway) and then cross to the Wigan Flashes (probably a less urban route).
Arrival at the A49 was also marked by a weather change – the rain stopped and there were even suggestions of sun. Celebration was required and the group therefore halted for a while at a convenient and pleasant pub.
On passing through Ashton a small notice, attached to the library, was observed – a wheelchair access ramp donated by the local Rotary Club in the 80s. Voluntary action demonstrating a public mood that eventually produces a National Standard. It is to be hoped that the notice is retained as being of Historic Interest.
Beyond Bryn all changed. There were initially fields and a farm road that by its breadth and surface seemed to indicate a previous life as a colliery access. This then narrowed and entered another area that astonished the walkers: The Wigan Flashes. The group approached carefully – the wide road narrowed and entered an area of fen like tree growth – was this the correct way? A noticeboard explained it was – we were now in an area of nature reserve.
The Wigan Flashes
‘I remember a winter afternoon in the dreadful environs of Wigan. All round was the dreadful lunar landscape of slag-heaps, and to the north, through the passes, as it were, between the mountains of slag, you could see the factory chimneys sending out their plumes of smoke. The canal path was a mixture of cinders and frozen mus, criss-crossed by the innumerable clogs, and all around, as far as the slag heaps in the distance, stretched the ‘flashes’ – pools of stagnant water that has seeped into the hollows caused by the subsidence of ancient pits. It was horribly cold. The ‘flashes’ were covered with ice the colour of raw umber, the bargemen were muffled to the eyes in sacks, the lock gates wore beards of ice. It seemed a world from which all vegetation had been banished; nothing existed except smoke, shale, ice, mud, ashes and foul water (p 98)…. ‘When you contemplate such ugliness as this, there are two questions that strike you. First, is it inevitable? Secondly, does it matter?’ (p99)
It is almost impossible, whilst walking the canal tow path through the trees and past the lakes of the present flashes to imagine that they were once as Orwell describes. The day was cold and on higher ground (Winter Hill) there was snow, the wind was extremely strong (as a wind off the sea can be) and from the north – no ice, but certainly a winter day.
Orwell’s second question has been answered emphatically by the present nature of The Flashes – yes it does matter – and by doing something we have turned what (from Orwell’s description) seemed like an inner circle of Dante’s Hell (which was frozen) into a vast expanse of trees and natural water available as now as important nature reserve and recreational resource. On the banks of the Scotsman Flash are new houses – looking out over the water.
One felt (and feels) that this a place that all should visit at least once. Planned visits – first, an intensive introduction to the recent history – including pictures and Orwell text, then a quiet meditative stroll through the area. We frequently complain about the manner in which Society has developed. A visit to this place should help us understand that behind all our complaining there are those (ultimately ‘us’ or those paid for by ‘us’) who have turned waste into semi-natural wonderland.
The creation of wildlife zones in old industrial sites such as the Flashes and those near Warrington means that there is developing a situation where the best conservation of natural flora and fauna is achieved in the areas which once were once regarded (as Orwell’s description demonstrates) ‘dead’. In the ‘countryside’ where various forms of intensive agriculture dominate, such extensive areas of conservation as The Flashes, are more difficult to achieve. Further, George Formby’s Wigan Boat Express need travel no further – for alongside the nature are also areas of recreation – available to all, especially residents, at any time of the year.
Most of the route for this day was through restored industrial landscape. Maybe the authorities (they were a confusing mixture of ?Cheshire (technically Cheshire West and Chester!), St Helen’s, Warrington, Wigan, ?Lancashire – we were never sure where we were – could combine to ensure that the existing ‘green zones’ are linked with corridors (there is part of such a corridor possible near the Sainsbury sheds) such that would encourage longer distance recreational walking than is presently possible.
‘Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls keep you all aglow’.
How nice to arrive near that sign, normally only seen from the train. We were glowing – the walk in its final stages into the town having been so enormously pleasurable. The main railway also provides a limited but tantalising view of the centre of Wigan. The reality did not disappoint – a very pleasant centre probably due in large part to it being constructed in and around the large Parish Church. Such a public building provides a valuable feature to which other buildings can relate.
Shortly after arrival the rain arrived again – this time falling with some force.
There were some curious aspects to Wigan. One was the appearance of many of the younger women. There were so many tanned faces that we could easily have assumed that Wigan had a very special sunny climate. This tanning was more apparent in Wigan than anywhere else on the walk – as, of course, were the parlours that assisted the process. Does the number of such tanning parlours – and associated ‘beautification processes’ suggest a particular economic situation… maybe that where there is less opportunity a person spend more time and effort on personal appearance? This guess did not seem to quite fit what we were witnessing.
Also interesting was that Wigan (maybe as with many other towns having a deeply industrial background) had few central restaurants – and (so we were told by the owner) there is only one off-licence in the whole of the centre.
Accommodation was in a curious extension to the Parish Church known as the Sing Room. It was of square concrete construction utterly out of keeping with the main building and almost hidden away in a corner where the north side of the Church is encroached by other buildings. Maybe it is a secretly deposited Pill Box or Block House. Bleak appearance it may have had but it was very secure, warm and comfortable.
Just outside the churchyard was the (Gerrard) Winstanley Institute – the pilgrims were greatly comforted to know they were close to the presence of the great Radical, Universalist ‘True Leveller’ (Digger) himself (he was baptised in Wigan).
That evening a car whisked the pilgrims away for a fine home cooked meal at the Rectory – Ah what luxury….it felt something like a mild celebration. As well as the local area being related to coal mining, it is also Rugby League territory. It was thus amusing to discover that the whole family in the Wigan rectory were Saints supporters (and jolly good thing to!). This walk is becoming an experience of northern hospitality. Returning from the dinner there was a chance meeting with the Parish Church organist and Wigan enthusiast, thus as well as drinking beer produced locally they were given a quick late evening tour of the centre of Wigan (leaving the beer the while) & which included viewing the brewery (from outside). One present brew is known as the Reverend Ray after the present Rector of Wigan.
Thursday 1st April
Wigan to Euxton
Canal Crooke,Standish Wood lane 563090, Hic-bibi lane (well), 563120, Coppull 10 kms
Fisher’s Farm, rlwy brdg, Old House farm, Euxton
Rugby League, coal mines, socialism, Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls (http://www.uncle-joes.com/) – all important elements in the shaping of modern Wigan, as is an old joke.
The Leeds and Liverpool canal provides a route north from near the centre, and past that invention created ‘Wigan Pier’.
There is now ‘The Wigan Pier Quarter’
And entertainment features:
Whatever would Orwell have made of it?… and do the locals, accepting this name ‘Bounce’ have any idea of its ‘Deep South’ origins?
However it is a centre for entertainment and as such relates to the George Formby original references ,an understanding of which requires knowledge of the ‘Wigan as it was ‘then’.
On the boat express I ride, see us every day
Flashing by the countryside, picking flowers on the way
Once a wedding pair didn’t seem to care; they were full of love I guess
And the honeymoon started far too soon on the Wigan Boat Express.
A chap one day, with a girl got gay, I saw them both caress
She got what for in the corridor on the Wigan Boat Express.
When we shunt the back’s in front and the front part’s in the rear
If we survive, then we’ll arrive alongside Wigan Pier.
The song acknowledges that people at least understood their predicament – and such understanding was a driver for change. Whatever one may feel about the nature of ‘pier music’ now, it would be hard to argue that the social conditions that produced Formby’s humour, were better.
Along the canal to the outlying village of Crooke.
The line of the Roman Road, which was last followed briefly in Ashton in Makerfield is rejoined at Standish Wood lane and continues along the footpaths followed through Standish, Hic Bibi Lane to Coppull. After Coppull there appears to be no modern route following the Roman line but the footpaths provide a reasonable route to Euxton where the Roman line is rejoined at the point where it becomes the A49.
Whereas the previous day could be seen, before it was experienced, as having some tediously urban and industrial sections (though experience produced very different view), this day had an external appeal. The canal taking the walkers onto a long gentle sloping lane to Standish followed by an historic trail through Coppul and on to Euxton.
To start there was an extensive guided tour of the Parish Church (its roof the walkers were told on the previous night was older than that at Standish – therefore demonstrating the superiority of Wigan Church over the more more lauded Standish Church!). Everybody in the Church seemed to know who the pilgrims were – quite a nice feeling to be so received.
The walk began as expected – a very spacious canal and towpath which began with ‘heritage’ buildings and places of entertainment based in old warehouses. Every town and city in the UK having access to water – of whatever form – seems to enjoy creating such spaces… and the work, being valuable ways of maintaining some form of remembrance of past times (though they could never replicate them) whilst providing opportunities for economic development.
There is also an attempt to reconstruct the ‘pier’ (which was simply a device projecting into the canal for tipping coal laden wagons into barges). It was all very pleasant – strolling along, well slightly more than that… but simple, straightforward and a time to absorb the vast changes from Orwell’s time.
‘Mr Orwell… liked Wigan very much – the people, not the scenery. Indeed, he has only one fault to find with it, and that is in respect of the celebrated Wigan Pier, which he had set his heart on seeing. Alas! Wigan pier has been demolished, and even the spot where it used to stand is no longer certain.’ (p68)
The route passed the recently constructed shared Football and Rugby League stadium and on leaving the canal the route ascending to Standish, through fields and past traditional farm houses. There was a training football ground to one side – busy with, presumably, the Wigan Premier League professionals at work. Further up the hill it was possible to see clearly back down the line of the Pennines to Shining Tor and Shutlingsloe above Macclesfield (and part of the route of a pilgrimage trail in 2008) – snow covered the tops.
The evidence of old mine workings could just about be sensed – but it required considerable attention to shapes and lines (the map notes several ‘Shaft (dis)’) The last mine closed in 1963. However this whole area through which the walk was routed was intensively mined (there were over 300 mines in the Wigan area, not all operating at one time). The fields had at one time been associated with mines. The whole day was being spent crossing disused workings of one sort or another.
In Standish it was possible to see (and was confirmed by an ex mining engineer with whom a few yards of walking were shared) that new housing had gradually colonised an old (mineral?) railway line that linked to the last mine – Robin Hill drift.
Standish Church, a significant grade One listed building was open (‘we are always open’ was a comment) and visited. The centre of Standish, away from the main road, is clearly being well managed with a restored covered Market well and local heritage trails. There is also very extensive web site. But there seems no information on the function of the railway line mentioned above.
It was then onto one of the most anticipated sections of the whole walk – Hic Bibi lane.
This was a place greatly anticipated. On what may well have been the Roman Road, here, maybe in a sort of Kipling-esque Puck of Pook’s Hill fashion one might imagine engagement with the past.
Ancient warlords of the Brigante tribe gathering themselves together to plot and plan cattle raids against annoying neighbours and, just to ensure success, sacrificing some dishevelled prisoner by decapitation – then sticking his head into a nearby niche.
Later the Roman warriors marching, a-marching north to the The Wall. Heavily clad, stopping, resting for some time whilst in camaraderie fashion they shared the clear fresh waters. Maybe here St. Kentigern plodding a slow walk to the south arrives, partakes of refreshment, blesses the waters and the people. Later still, local stories suggest, the Monks of Cockersand’s Abbey on the Lune River, arrive and full of the Spirit of Charity and Good Works create a well for the benefit of all travellers. Then sweaty, hard ridden and near exhaustion from a rapid journey across the Pennines a horse stumbles, spilling his master, whose friends revive with sweet draughts of the flowing Adam’s Ale. Old Noll (as the Royalists called Oliver Cromwell), stands, issues orders and the troop drive on to discover that the panicking Royalists are already burning one of their own supporting towns, Wigan. The red coat army follows on, the valley echoing with determined hymnody…”Let God Arise and scatt-er-ed his enemies be….’
The well – the walkers anticipate and take their leave of Standish.
At first a reasonable track led from Standish but this became a claggy field containing large amounts of building waste – it was hard going and arrival at the site of Hic Bibi well (marked by a stone) was arrival at a desultory scrap of semi scrub with the crossing of a stream.
Real disappointment – no sheltered lane and wooded hollow, no lively spirits lurking in the glades ready to tell their tales – just a patch of rough grass and scrub between open fields (restored). The original well had been destroyed during quarrying and only the marker exists. Maybe in time there will be attempts to link, using the the stream, here to the nearby Nature Reserve called Hic Bibi.
Such is the present state of the route of the Roman Rd. The travellers did stop at Hice Bibi – but there was no place to rest and they stood in a cold wind eating a scrap of bread and cheese.
Having made the gentle ascent from Hic Bibi the impact of the recent industrial past continued across a muddy field into Coppull which, like the approach to Hic Bibi contained vast quantities of broken scattered stone and brick. The restored fields are clearly marked as on the map as ‘disused workings’.
This disappointment has an impact – and the journey becomes harder developing into something of limped struggle.
The relief to all this was to find the views changing. To Standish the views spread back to the south – but in crossing the ‘field’ the walkers saw for the first time the Trough of Bowland to the north. Progress!
This is a borderland
– not an obvious one and no passports are required but it is a point at which the Realm of King Coal was replaced by that of his equally powerful, though probably subservient neighbour King Cotton (and in a rather complex way that does make an important link to one of Cotton’s most culturally significant offspring Duke Ellington!)
After a brief stop in a pub at Coppull (where they gratefully purchased a hot pie) the walk continued passed the ‘Enterprise Centre’.
What a name…. for what were two significant monumental Cotton Mills… ‘the tower of one with decidely enterprising detail’ (was that some form of predication by N Pevsner?)
The walking route from here was much more pleasant than earlier with the route passing through wooded dips, slopes and dells but the evidence of recent industrial activity is still present.
Despite the pleasant fields and woodland it was jaded travellers who trudged along the main road (following the Roman line again) into Euxton. The evening was spent in Papa Luigi’s restaurant next door to the Church hall (hooray!).
The present ‘Papa Luigi’ would appear to be an ex Wigan Rugby League star.
Friday 2nd April
Euxton to Preston
The route is close to but west of the probable line of the Roman Road via a footpath at Pack Saddle farm, following footpaths close to the main railway line, passing through Leyland, Farington, Penwortham lane, and crossing into Preston via the old Lancaster canal tramway bridge.
Preston can claim (if it wishes) to be the home of the word teetotal as a result, it is said, of the stutterings of one Richard Turner.
‘It will be porridge’
and porridge it was.
Porridge of a most excellent quality
Another generous start – an invitation to breakfast at the Vicarage – all of which sets the Aspiring Pilgrim in a very fine mood. Porridge was always the traditional start when these activities began in the 1970s. Then the porridge was steeped overnight by the Mistress of the Porridge Pan and only salt was added to the process.
Ah! How we become softened by southern ways – well some do – not this writer. But without question this was the ‘Best Porridge Since Glastonbury’ (1982).
So a glorious start and an cheering departure from Euxton.
The previous day had been cold but sunny – this was cold and grey.
The route follows the main road to the edge of Euxton then crosses fields and the M6 on a footbridge and leads into Leyland. It is urban – but as with many of the other places there are footpaths alongside railway lines and factories (including large Leyland truck works (owned by PACCAR a company based in Seattle).
Leyland is a name know for its industry – especially in motorised transport of which only the trucks division now survives.
It is an almost iconic name – its use takes the listener into stories of the decline of British based manufacturing through a series of mistaken and badly managed mergers allied to considerable industrial unrest. Curiously, whilst this walk was progressing, Volvo, the company that bought and removed Leyland Bus production, has been sold to the Chinese (does that include Volvo Buses?)!
The stories of industrial change that this walk features are not confined to the UK and area continuing aspect of uncertainty and angst for Western Europe. Many of the issues are covered in an article and the comments that follow, at
The name ‘Leyland’ also connects with the rampant takeover by non-natives – the sterile Leyland Cypress (which requires propagation by cutting), named after a Liverpool Banker.
The present Leyland is, as with so many other places, reshaping itself, being regarded as a desirable place in which to live.
The changes made to living conditions since the time of Orwell raise interesting questions about the manner in which Society develops.
Orwell, though horrified by what he experienced, was aware that the solutions being effected were not necessarily appropriate.
‘… the trouble is that in destroying the slum you destroy other things as well… so far as rehousing is being done, it is being done – perhaps it is unavoidable – in a monstrously in-human manner.,,, there is something ruthless and soulless about the whole business… the numbers of shops in a Corporation estate is rigidly limited… from the point of view of the independent shopkeeper it is a disaster… ruined by some rehousing scheme which takes no notice of his existence. A whole section of town is condemned en bloc presently the houses are pulled down and the people are transferred to some housing estate miles away… As for pubs, they are banished from the housing estates almost completely, and the few that remain are dismal sham-Tudor places fitted out by the big brewery companies and very expensive… it is a serious blow at communal life. It is a great achievement to get slum-dwellers into decent houses,, but it is unfortunate that,… it is also considered necessary to rob them of the last vestiges of their liberty… I sometimes think that that the price of liberty is not so much eternal vigilance as eternal dirt… On balance, the Corporation estates are better than the slums; but only by a small margin’ (p65 -67).
[A detailed study of one example of what Orwell discovered is Paice, L. (2008), ‘Overspill Policy and the Glasgow Slum Clearance Project in the Twentieth Century: From One Nightmare to Another?’, Reinvention: a Journal of Undergraduate Research, Volume 1, Issue 1, http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/go/reinventionjournal/volume1issue1/paice]
So, what has happened? The Corporation estates were built… and those who could avoided them. To be someone from ‘Corporation St’ was a mark of social inferiority and within less than 30 years of Orwell writing the big private estates were becoming the places to which people aspired.
Now we know that ‘social’ and private residences need to be mixed… even apartment buildings are constructed in such a fashion (though the divisions are clear within the blocks: corridor pictures/no pictures, gym access/no gym access, separate entrances etc).
People have ‘choice’. This ‘choice’ is limited for the poorest – but for the majority the choice of buying and selling has been created – and with it there is movement change – and in all manner of different ways.
Orwell was also aware of the complexities that occurred within a society. There exist a group (‘class’?) of people who are poor and seem no to be able to join in the bountiful nature that various social developments have created. They are trapped by a variety of factors.
‘Trade since the war [1st WW] has had to adjust itself to meet the demands of underpaid, underfed people with the result that a luxury is nowadays almost always cheaper than a necessity. One pair of plain solid shoes costs as much as two ultra-smart pairs. For the price of one square meal you can get two pouds of cheap sweets. You can’ get much meat for threepence, but you can get a lot of fish and chips. Milk costs threepence a pint and even ‘mild’ beer costs fourpence, but aspirins are seven a penny and you can wring forty cups of tea out of a quarter-pound packet. And above all there is gambling, the cheapest of all luxuries. Even people on the verge of stravation can buy a few days’ hope (‘Something to live for’, as they call it) by having a penny on a sweepstake… What we have lost in food we have gained in electricity. Whole sections of the working class who have been plundered of all they really need are being compensated, in part, by cheap luxuries which mitigate the surface of life.’
Each example that Orwell gave could be paralleled by a modern equivalent – but what is to be done for people who are caught by such a Society as ours? One thing we know (and which maybe Orwell had realised) is that State based compulsion does not work.
Whatever has changed – and that Leyland, along with so much else witnessed and experienced on this walk, exemplifies – is that change is produced by providing opportunity for people to make their own decisions. Not a complete ‘freedom’ but a series of actions that allow people to have sufficient money, have an education (not necessarily ‘schooling’… education occurs as much through the TV and internet etc as formally through institutions), are encouraged to campaign for what they consider important (good roads, nature reserves, historic monuments etc etc) – plus a government (at all levels) that listens to people’s concerns but also has some sort of vision, based on that listening.
Reflecting on what has happened on wonders where the key moments (if there are such) occur – where are those points of ‘shift’ in attitude – Liverpool Toxteth – a Garden Festival? Further: what else do we need to change in order to provide higher standards for a greater number?
Here in Leyland there is a small example that can be seen as representative of the whole… a housing development with a monument in a green space linking the development to the town.
The monument can be viewed as representing the movement – it is of movement, movement related to the past industrial heritage of Leyland but standing in an open green space – adorning the space near the new housing and as such part of the the very change that has occurred.
The Field of the Shuffling Man
As ever there are surprises – as when unexpectedly emerging from an enclosed path through an industrial section into a field of sheep.
Standing in the middle of the field, watching the railway line was an individual with a camera… ‘special train due?’… ‘yes, Oliver Cromwell ( a steam engine) hauling a special to Carlisle… it went past an hour ago heading (south) for Liverpool. Must be imminent – why else should he be here (though surely the engine needs time to reach Liverpool be attended to etc before it can depart again?)… they wait… further questions emerge about what where, when etc… the answer to them all being a sort sadly drawn out ‘I don’t know’ (local Lancashire tone adds to the deepening uncertainty and sadness).
The walk comes first (even though Preston is only a short distance away) and the pilgrims leave him shuffling about still watching patiently. At a bridge there are two others – they give the same responses.
What is being witnessed?… Presumably these are people obsessed with photographing engines who have only a very small amount of knowledge but a considerable amount of time. If necessary they will wait, they stated this, for hours.
Later (2 hours later?) the walkers saw a ‘special’ train rattle over a bridge heading south. Is it possible that the engine was sent ahead in the morning in order to haul the train back later in the day… sounds reasonable…. Were those people then still waiting – for 3 or 4 hours…. What of the Shuffling Man… is he still in the field. He was wearing a Preston North End shirt – is that significant?… would football pull him away?
It was a shame not to see Oliver Cromwell in Preston – it was one of his real victories (as compared with the ones in which he was simply second to Thomas Fairfax). However he, in his present mechanical form, would have been travelling in the wrong direction (north).
Preston was reached following observation of a recently abandoned mill – to be pulled down and replaced with housing. Preston is Coke Town no more.
The walking routes from the south were, once again, across wide expanses of environmentally and recreationally managed space.
There was a choice of bridges over the River Ribble – old railway or old tramway (part of the Lancaster canal system). The railway bridge was used followed by a stroll through a formal gardens and onto the busy shopping areas associated with Fishergate. All of the route was part of a major renewal scheme.
Preston, said one of the hosts is not really a City – just a large town – a place of movement, of arrivals. Its history was such as Preston was a major port both for the West Indies trade (cotton, sugar, slaves) and as an entry point for Irish immigrants. Its present culturally mixed population is but the latest development.
It was a junction of Roman roads (represented today by the confluence of the A6 and the A49) is half way between London and Glasgow (many London bound express trains start from here). It had two battles… 1648 the previously mentioned victory led by Cromwell over a mixed force of Scottish and English Royalists and the last battle held on English soil in 1715 with defeat of the Jacobite rebels… It was also a resting place for the advancing and then retreating Jacobites in 1745 – by which time its modern face was developing. Joseph Arkwright was born in Preston 1732 & the first cotton mill was started in 1777.
As Preston had ‘free’ elections for one of its MPs, in 1830 it chose Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt of the Radical Reform Association who argued for a Preston style electoral system of universal suffrage: “a franchise which excluded all paupers and criminals but otherwise recognized the principle of an equality of political rights that all who paid taxes should have the vote.”
The mid C19th saw both riots and lock-outs. In 1842 the Plug Riots (named after the disabling of machinery by removal of boiler plugs from engines) resulted in the shooting of rioters.
The event is commemorated by a sculpture erected in front of the Corn Exchange. Though judging by the contemporary picture, the sculpture has the opponents facing the wrong way !
At the Church whose modern hall was accommodation, were the hosts. Father Andrew was engaged in the solemnities of a Good Friday service and the pilgrims joined in the final parts after which they were given an extensive tour of the centre of the City.
This included the Parish, Minster, Church where the treasury was opened and the ancient ceremonial crosses and other silverware were produced (not all noted by Pevsner).
The Parish Church clearly plays a major function in the life of the town (the blackjack holds the ceremonial maces) & the Nave is deconsecrated.
There was pride in the involvement at all levels both at a Civic level and as a listening agency. Such attention to local needs and fears helped – ‘only 5 members of the BNP in the whole town’!
The overall impression of Preston, especially after walking round and seeing some of the splendours such as the Harris Museum, is that the feeling is very much of a Middle European town (‘has still the charm of a country town’ states Arthur Mee in 1936).
Not surprisingly the place calls itself Proud Preston and there is a very considerable ‘civic’ sense to the place. It works well because it is not too big, but is big enough to have a wide variety of significant buildings, parks, public spaces – and a history that relates to its present state.
Maybe the most particular issue that has created this sense of ‘civic’ is the survival of the Preston Guilds through a series of transformations to being a significant element in the life of the present city.
Just as Runcorn and Wigan were surprising and pleasant discoveries to these travellers – so is Preston. This is industrial and post-industrial Britain – areas not featuring on the tourist ‘heritage’ map – but they should. The only slight cavill is that in each case they do not yet seem to have developed the evening restaurant variety that is valuable for the passing stranger – and which is presumably an indicator of a degree of affluence. In Preston it is happening – and maybe there is more than was observed (the place is also an expanding University town) – the Turkish restaurant visited in the evening was very satisfactory.