Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society

News and Views

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Jan 2010 Feb 2010 Mar 2010 Apr 2010 May 2010 Jun 2010
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Apr 2010

Sun 18 Apr 2010
Geoff Bellis - Yarrow Valley Park walk.

A fine day greeted our guided history walk around the former industrial area of Birkacre, now know as Yarrow Valley Country Park. Our leader was Geoff Bellis who is a member of the society also lives nearby so he was able to add a very personal view on the commentary. We started with an introduction on the car park outside the visitor centre. The name Birkacre derives from ‘the field where the birch trees grow’. The area was the first industrialised areas in Chorley and was also the site of one of the world’s first factories in the modern sense. In 1398 John of Coppull gave permission for a diversion of the River Yarrow to run a corn mill but the first mention of the name Birkacre can be found as early as 1250.

A large concrete block marks the site
of the Dry Dam Colliery shaft.

Over the centuries the area has been the site of corn milling, cloth bleaching, dying, printing and coal mining. We walked around the area and lodges and Geoff showed us the sites of the various mills, though little remains to show they ever existed. Sites of the old mine shafts are more evident and mostly fenced off for safety reasons. Geoff’s personal touch described an incident in the mid 1950s when some unruly youths from Coppull, not Geoff!, had removed a heavy garden roller from a Coppull garden and rolled it down the hill in the direction of Birkacre. It finished up in the River Yarrow and Geoff was able to point it out, still sat there on the river bed 55 years later.

Chorley Historical and Archaeological Society at the Visitor Centre.

May and Polly Riding at the weir. May married Frank Hearne and emigrated to Wyoming in the U.S.A.

Some of the many visitors to the weir.

On a more serious note we were told of the very high fatality rate in the coal mines both in the Coppull area and also nationally. Near the ruins of primrose Cottages we were told of a mining accident around 1850 when several children workers were killed. At the far end of the walk we looked down on the large weir across the river Yarrow. This was where the water was drawn from the river to feed the various industrial processes. It was also the gathering place for walkers and people enjoying picnics etc. The ruins of Drybones Cottages could be seen through the trees but recent arson attacks had now reduced it to a shell. It was lived in by the Monks family until relatively recently.
Probably the most unfortunate incident was in 1779. Richard Arkwright had leased a building the previous year and set up one of World’s first manufactories, or mills as they were later known. It housed a machine driven cotton mill employing 400 people and was able to produce a much improved output compared with the hand weavers and their cottage industries. In Oct 1779 rioters attacked the building and burnt it to the ground. Arkwright then decided to set up his new mill system in Derbyshire.
Many of the houses and some mill buildings were evident up to the 1950s but over the following decades they have been demolished so that now only one house remains of the original massive industrial complex.
Thanks to Geoff for bringing it all back to life during his guided tour.


Tue 13 Apr 2010
David Brazendale – Life and Times of Benjamin Shaw – A First Generation Cotton Operative.

David’s first visit to the society was to explain to us about the life and times of Benjamin Shaw – a name not well known, if at all, to people generally.

This was possible, as David said, because of Shaw’s book, ‘Benjamin Shaw’s Family Record’, published by the Lancashire and Cheshire Record Society. As far as David is aware it is the only one that documents an individual’s life from an agricultural existence through the transition to an industrial one. It was a self-imposed task to record his life.

Shaw was born in 1771 into a family of paupers that originated in the Dent/Ravenstonedale area of Westmorland. At around the age of 10 he was appointed to a weaver and would have added to his family’s income by spinning stockings. During his childhood he was also taught to knit and read but not write.

David Brazendale.

The Family Records of Benjamin Shaw Mechanic of Dent, Dolphonholme and Preston, 1772-1841.
Edited by Alan G. Crosby - The Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire

As a product of a positive campaign that encouraged the movement from country to town the family, now consisted of 7 children, moved to Dolphinholme, near Lancaster. Shaw, who was now 19, was taken on as an industrial mechanic at 8 shillings a week.

Life here was still tough and tragedy stalked his family but steady work, better wages and with housing provided it had more appeal than an agricultural existence. He, however, suffered a lifelong debilitating condition to his leg following an incident at work.

Shaw’s book reveals him to be an inquisitive sort and he worked on the invention and improvement of textile machinery.

By 1793 he had married a Betty Leeming, moved to the cotton mills in Preston and had had a baby boy. This was to be the first of 8 children. Shaw described his working life, first at Watson’s Mill then to Horrocks’ Mill where he stayed for the rest of his life.

He documented his efforts to teach himself to keep books and arithmetic and his rise in wages as his skills were in more demand. Sadly for him though were his troubled relationship with Betty and of his increasing incapacitation due to his leg injury and his efforts to obtain a cure. This led to its amputation without anaesthetic in 1810.

David did not say to what age Shaw lived to. He did though mix is talk with elements of humour and the tragic and revealed to us was what a unique record Shaw left us of the trends illustrated by the events of one family.

P Robinson.