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Over the Five Barred Gate

By George Birtill

Originally published in the Chorley Guardian in 1966 and subsequently in book form in 1982

If you take the road to Blackburn out of Higher Wheelton, you are bound to notice a side road which runs into a hollow, almost parallel with the main road. This is, in fact a part of the old turnpike road of the Finnington and Chorley Trust. One of the old toll houses still stands at the junction with the Preston-Blackburn Road, at Finnington.

The hollow is now a cul-de-sac as a result of the road line being changed to get rid of a dangerous bend. This has left in comparative seclusion, an interesting stone building, which has buttressed walls strong enough for a castle. It was however, a pub known as the Roundabout.

It is also the first building in Withnell along this road. The boundary actually runs through the front garden.

On the banks of the brook nearby is a lot of old stone, probably the ruins of Scar Hall, which is shown on a map of the area dated 1846.

The map also shows Withnell Stocks further along the road to Blackburn. This looks very much as if the stocks which used to be in the farmyard of Stocks Farm were not the Wheelton ones after all.

Stocks were often situated on the main roads close to the boundary as a warning to vagrants and felons entering the village. Opposite the old site of the stocks is a building with the name Old Laws which may seem significant. Past Old Laws is a lane to the Heights, which rise over 700 feet.


It is a lane on the other side of the main road, which offers most promise, however. The tourist does not need to be put off by the words 'Cul-de-sac' which appear on the finger-post. On the other hand he must not expect a castle because of the sign, nearby. This emblem is the trade mark of Wiggins, Teape 'Gateway' Papers.

It is also the gateway to a village "out of this world." At least that is how Withnell Fold struck me the first time I encountered it. I had seen the paper mill chimney poking among the trees and expected to find the usual buildings and perhaps a row of houses.

Instead I went down a leafy lane until I came to a lodge entrance with a church in the grounds of what appeared in the distance to be a manorial hall. Then as I followed the road, the well laid out houses gave way to a square formed of rows of stone built cottages, a co-op and a school.

For a moment or two, I could have sworn I was back in the South of England where many a village owes it beauty to a local lord, who did not see much sense in building a fine mansion if the rest of the estate was a shambles. He was so to speak his own planning authority.

Well, the same thing had happened here, I suppose at Withnell Fold. But it was the millowner, Mr. T. B. Parke, who had created this village.

He built 27 cottages to house the workpeople. These were arranged in what is now known as The Square. The old map to which I have referred, described them as Spring Vale. This is because the paper works which Mr. Parke founded needed specialised labour and most of it was obtained from Spring Vale in Darwen.

There are now 35 cottages and a number of semi-detached houses, a bungalow and the Co-op shop. The Methodist Church and day school were opened in 1852 and in 1898 a new day school was opened, the one in The Square.


It may well be that the Methodist connections were the reason why this village has no pub. It has this in common with White Coppice.

On the other hand there was no shortage of recreational facilities. A reading room was built in 1890 by Mr. H. T. Parke and this provided for billiards and other activities besides reading. It is still a busy community centre, catering for Women's Institutes, drama, dressmaking, art, craft and classes for the local education authority as well as the county library. Dances, concerts and meetings are also held there.

As for out-of-doors, Withnell Fold cricket field, opened in 1904, is one of the most picturesque in the county. The donor, Mr. H. T. Parke, engaged Mr. G. Sutton, an ex-Yorkshire professional as groundsman and coach.

The team joined Chorley and District Amateur Cricket League the same year and won the championship. They have won it on a number of occasions since.


The cricket field used to be the scene of Withnell Fold sports which draw the crowds from miles around. It was when I went to report one of the meetings many years ago that I made my first acquaintance with this village.

The bowling greens, made by members of old Withnell Fold Sports Club, were opened in 1912, and the tennis courts in 1948.

The only activity to fail seems to have been the prize band. This was due to the first world war and when one looks at the record that is hardly surprising. No less than 83 employees joined up, and one, James Miller, was awarded the V.C. posthumously. His memorial with the citation of his bravery stands in Bury Lane, near St. Paul's Church, Withnell.

In the second world war the record of the mill was also outstanding, with three Military Medals awarded to employees.

The memorial garden is a fitting tribute to those who made the sacrifice and all who served.


I have already referred to the hall. It has four black and white gables on either side of the turreted tower, which give an appearance that is almost fairylike. The large grounds with sweeping lawns were ideal for garden parties and such like events, which I used to attend when Mr. T. L. Parke was the squire.

I don't know whether it was the surroundings or just plain coincidence but the weather always seemed favourable for these events. That is why in my mind Withnell Fold is a village where the sun always shines!

The hall is now a hostel for the elderly, and I can think of no pleasanter spot for such a purpose.


The paper mill opened in January 1844. Five years later it began making white tissue papers and in 1856 coloured tissues. Writing papers were produced in 1863, cartridge papers in 1878. The mill also supplied newsprint for the newspapers at Preston, Bolton and Liverpool.

The first association with Wiggins Teape and Company, who were then an old established firm of stationers, was in 1847, when Mr. T. B. Parke recorded that his mill was making 'double cap' ordered by Messrs. Wiggins and Teape. The orders became so numerous that in 1890, the two firms combined.

No doubt one consideration which made Withnell Fold particularly suitable for paper making was the adequacy of the water supply from the hills. The proximity of a canal also must have been an asset.


As a matter of fact, Withnell Urban District Council, which must have been one of the smallest local authorities to have such an undertaking, had its gasworks near to the paper mill. The barges used to bring all the coal.

I remember during the war, when a Spitfire was cavorting over head, a bargeman said to the manager, Mr. Alker: "That's a Gerry. It's followed me all the way from Wigan!"

But so much for digression, even over a 'five bar gate!'

Although Withnell Fold is an industrial village, Mr. William Bashall Parke who lived at Ollerton Hall, was in fact, a Lord of the Manor. He and John Parke owned almost the whole of the township.

When he died in 1906, the estate of Ollerton of 226 acres was bought by Mr. Herbert James Parke of Withnell Fold, the owner of Withnell Hall and Withnell House estate.

The surname Parke occurs earlier in the history of Withnell. It is recorded that when the Talbot family held the manor, one James Talbot, married Mary Parke. Mary Parke was Protestant, but the Talbots were Catholic.

In 1783 William Talbot, son of John Talbot is shown as paying double land tax because of his faith. Two other sons educated at English College, Rome, served as priests in the Mission in England, one becoming a Jesuit.

William Talbot, however, lived in Preston and died at the age of 80 in 1813., He was succeeded by his son William, the founder of the Talbot Schools at St. Walburge's, Preston. He died in 1848 leaving several daughters of whom Dorothy, wife of James Sidgreaves, ultimately became sole heir.

Later Lords of the Manor included. Henry Suddell, Robert Bickerstaffe, Robert Parke and John Parke. 


Ollerton, a hamlet which is almost inseparable from Withnell Fold, belonged to Richard Anderton of Chorley, who was one of the registered Papists in 1717.

The name Ollerton goes back much further, for in 1282, Edmund Fitton sold to Henry de Lea, a rent 4s. 3d. due to him from Ollerton. Richard de Ollerton, the immediate lord, in the thirteenth century, granted to Adam de Hoghton, a portion of his land for the rent of a pair of gloves or a penny.

In 1269, Richard son of Richard de Ollerton gave two ox-gangs of land in Withnell to Henry, son of Henry de Tyldesley, together with the homage of Henry de Withnell and Henry de Broomhurst.

It would appear therefore, that this end of Withnell was anciently important, and a suitable place for the siting of the stocks, even before the village figured so prominently among the 'Best Kept in Lancashire'!


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