Withnell Fold local history walk.
Withnell, Chorley.

Withnell Fold

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Withnell Fold history walk.

Car Parking in the village is now difficult due to congestion. The village square is private land and should be reserved for residents. The roadside in the vicinity of the Methodist Chapel can be used.

As the industrial revolution of the 19th century expanded, more mills and workers were needed.
Sites for these mills were largely dependent on a water supply and transport systems to bring raw materials in and produce out.
Some mills were too far from centres of population so 'colony' villages had to be built nearby to house the workers.
And so Withnell Fold village and Paper Mill were built on a green-field site in 1843. The owner and builder was Thomas Blinkhorn Parke (1823-1885), the son of Robert Park, a local Cotton Mill owner. It is interesting to note the variation of the spelling of Park(e). Up to the 1850’s T.B.Parke did not have and ‘e’ on the end. After that the family name had changed to Parke. The houses in Withnell Fold Village were way ahead if their time. Each house had its own garden and outside toilet. Though no ‘flush’ toilets were available in those days.
1. Although ‘Withnell Fold Methodist Church’ is one of the later buildings to be constructed it is a good place to start, being the first roadside building you encounter on walking or driving down the lane from the main road. It was built by Thomas Blinkhorn Parke in 1852 as a day school and Chapel combined. The opening was on 13th June 1852 by Revd Joshua Priestly. It was two days later before Miss Dutton of Coventry arrived to take up the post of schoolmistress.

Just to the east of the Chapel is a large double gated entrance and ‘gate house’ to Withnell Fold Hall. It is now a private residence but was originally build by T.B.Parke c1860. Prior to that he lived with his parents at Withnell Hall, now a private nursing home. The original hall was rebuilt by Herbert Thomas Parke (1859-1917), son of T.B.Parke, in 1897.
2. Continue down the road, passing ‘The Close’ on the left, to the farm entrance. You are now at the 'original' Withnell Fold ie. Withnell Fold Farm. The farm bears a date stone of 1736 and some of the outbuildings were re-built in 1855. Opposite the farm entrance is the 'The Bothy' a pair of building with an ornate date-stone of 1901 and the crest of Herbert Thomas Parke. They were originally built to house gardeners for Withnell Fold Hall. At this point the road surface changes from tarmac to the original stone cobbles.
Continue down the road and on the left you will see a brick structure which in recent times was a garage but prior to that had a covering of earth with only the filled in doorway facing you giving access. It was built during the second World War as an air raid shelter. To the right is a seat and area called ‘The Bothy Garden’. Behind it is an embankment for a reservoir called Springs lodge which was constructed in the 1850's. Follow the footpath by the cobbled road until you arrive at the first terrace of stone houses on the left.
3. Number 23 is the first stone house in Withnell Fold village that you encounter. The village now bears the name of the Farm but that wasn’t always the case. The early maps and census records refer to it as ‘Spring Vale’. The name comes from an area in Darwen where papermaking was one of the main industries. In the 1840’s on of the mills burnt down and the workers were out of a job. And so T.B. Parke took the opportunity to recruit a skilled and ready made workforce for his new mill.
4. Continue to the village square and the ‘stocks’. The following descriptions are assuming you are standing by the 'stocks'. Although the stocks seem to be ideally situated for serving their purpose for punishment in times past they have only been here since 1957. They were originally sited at the top of the road at it's junction with the A674. Some time after 1848 they were moved to Stocks Cottage Farm and finally to their present position. The terraces of stone cottages to the west and east sides the square were the first to be built in 1843. The datestone of 1834 over the door of no 2 is incorrect.

To the north of the stocks, over a low wall, is the 'memorial garden' which was originally the first 'lodge' or reservoir to store water for the paper-making process. The works commenced on 5th March 1843 and as the base of the lodge was being excavated the stone extracted was used to build some of the first cottages. As larger reservoirs were built over the years this one became redundant and lay derelict. In 1958 it was converted to a ‘Garden of Remembrance’ to commemorate the war dead of 1914-18 and 1939-45. 83 men from the mill joined up for the First World War and 14 were killed. 65 men and one woman joined the forces for the Second World War of which 5 were killed. A sundial and plinth can been seen in the centre and the base shows the name of those who died.

One name of note is that of Private James Miller VC. He worked at the mill but enlisted in the 7th Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment in September 1914. He was posted overseas in July 1915 and saw action at Lens and Loos before moving to the Somme in April 1916. In July 1916 he was carrying an urgent message across the lines when he was hit in the back. The official account said he was hit by a bullet, but a ‘pals’ account at the time said it was shrapnel. After delivering the message and insisting that he returning with the reply he fell and died almost immediately on his return. His Victoria Cross was presented to his father by King George V at Buckingham Palace. The VC is now on display in the Regimental Museum in Lancaster.
In recent years it has become known as the ‘memorial garden’
Across the garden to the NE can be seen the surviving mill chimney. This was last used in Dec 1967 when papermaking ceased.
Across the square and to the SW is the village school. More about the school later.
In 1894 another feature was added 'under' the square. Manchester Corporation Waterworks constructed the first line of the 'Thirlmere Aqueduct' to carry water supplies from Thirlmere Reservoir in the Lake District all the way to Manchester. Its position is marked by the 'line' gate adjacent to the stocks, denoted by two stone gateposts and an iron railing gate. The line follows diagonally across the square and under the school gates.
5. Continue down the road to the tee junction at the bottom. The stone building on the left called ‘the Reading Room’ was build by H.T.Parke and opened on 4 Oct 1890 for the benefit of the mill workers and their families. It was equipped with a billiard table, reading room with current periodicals, and upstairs a stage and concert hall with a ‘sprung’ dance floor.
Mr H.T.Parke wanted the building to: “help young men gain general knowledge and help introduce less indifference to social questions.”
He was a local benefactor and two of his best known achievements were to fund the first Public Library in Chorley in 1899 and also build Brinscall Baths (the first Public Baths in the area) in 1911.

Many dances and function were held in the Reading Room and people would come from miles around. In the 1930’s a pianist used to travel from Blackburn to provide music for various concerts. She was Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) and was a frequent visitor to Withnell Fold. In 1935 she married Bert Wilson who lived in the village and moved away. She entered a singing competition in Carlisle and won. Singing soon took over from the piano and during the 1940’s and early 50’s she went on to become a world famous contralto singer. She died of cancer in 1953 and the age of 41.

While standing outside the Reading Room look back up the road to the gable apex of the end terrace house. Look carefully and you will see an acorn sculpted in stone. This house is number 1 in the village and was the first to be completed. T.B. Parke referred to it in his diary and said “…put the Acorn…on the first house in beautiful weather…June 24, 1843”
He actually started work on the village on the 5th March 1843 and the building works progressed rapidly.

Facing NW is a stone building called ‘The Weighbridge House’. This was built around 1865 and housed the mill office and laboratory. A large weighing platform used to be sited by its west wall with the weighing mechanism housed inside the building. In 1956 a new office block was built (now demolished) and the building became just the laboratory.

To the left are the old stables dated 1853. These have been converted to dwellings 1-3 Parke Mews. To the right of ‘The Weighbridge House’ is a continuation of Parke Mews but these are new houses in the form of a terrace of 8 dwellings. Just behind them, towards the canal, is the site of Mr Parke’s original mill buildings of 1843 He started production with a single 54 inch machine (the width of paper it was capable of making) on Mon Jan 15, 1844. Though he admitted to giving the machinery a trial run on the previous Saturday night.

Look towards the mill chimney along a cobbled road on top of and embankment. This was the retaining embankment to the first lodge (reservoir). It was started on Mon 24 April and finished on Sat 24 June 1843.

The dates have been mentioned as they illustrate the rapid progress of the construction works. From starting in March 1843, to being in production by Jan 1844 he took just 10 months to build a mill and village. And when he started building work he was just 19 years old!
6. Continue to the chimney. The large stone buildings ahead (to the north) is the mill extension of 1855 and represent a massive increase in paper production. It was called the ‘Hercules Mill’ because of the brand of paper made there. Later it became universally known as 74 side because of the width of paper made.

Walk down the steep cobbled road to the canal bridge. This is known as ‘chimney brew’. The buildings of 74 side are on the right and the site of the original mill is on the left, though no mill buildings remain in this area. The first machine in 1844 made paper 54 inches wide. In later years this was replaced with a larger machine making paper 66 inches wide. So it became known as 66 side.
7. The Leeds and Liverpool canal bridge (no 88) is a good place to stop as it gives a good view of the overall mill area. Look over the bridge parapet to the SW (towards Chorley) and you will see the area used for the original wharf (on the left) where materials were brought in by canal barge and the paper exported. To the NE (towards Blackburn) are the 74 side buildings which have changed little in outward appearance. The area also represents an interesting development in the canal’s history as this length of water is the ‘final link’ to connect Leeds with Liverpool in 1816. Over the bridge and to the left is ‘Withnell Fold Local Nature Reserve’ with its own ‘hide’.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal – a brief history.
It is the longest canal in Britain with a main line of 127.25 miles. In the early years it was extended inwards from its two extremities i.e. Leeds in the east and Liverpool in the south.
By 1777 the Leeds end had reached Shipley, and then the money ran out. At the Liverpool end it reached Wigan by 1780. Changes in the proposed route followed due to cost and the southern end reached Whittle Springs in 1799. In 1796 the east end reached Burnley. The southern end then headed for Preston via Whittle-le-Woods, Walton Summit and then a tramway using horsepower to pull wagons to Preston where goods were transferred to the Lancaster canal. The length of the ‘Lancaster’ canal through Whittle-le-Woods was opened in 1803 when barges first went though Whittle tunnel and on to Walton Summit.
Meanwhile the Leeds end did not reach Blackburn until 1810.
Finally, in 1816, the length from Whittle Springs to Blackburn was opened. Thus giving T. B. Parke an ideal method of transport to choose this site for his new mill. Bear in mind that in those days road transport was very difficult due to the bad roads. The canals were the ‘motorways’ of their day but soon they started to have competition when the railway age arrived. Chorley Railway Station opened in 1841. By the mid 1960’s the last regular goods traffic on the canal ceased.

Return to the village square.
8. Cross to the school and notice the sculpted tree trunk by the gates. The carving represents T.B. Parke, the founder of the village, but the school was built by his son Herbert. The date-stone to the right of the main entrance door shows HTP 1897, the initials being Herbert Thomas Parke. The date shows when the building was completed but lessons did not start until 2nd May 1898 when the children moved from the ‘old’ school which had become too small. The headmistress was Esther Jenkins and she had recently taken up her duties on 7th Feb 1898. She went on to teach at Withnell Fold well into the 20th Century.

The school diaries still exist and the first entry is dated 3rd Sept 1888 by the then headmistress Miss Amelia Blackburn. She lived in the house immediately to the left of the school gates, no 17, with her parents Joseph and Margaret and her younger sister. Joseph was a foreman at the paper mill and Margaret ran the village shop. The shop is now a garage.

With your back to the school gates walk along the cobbled road between the terrace on the right (nos 17 – 22) and the end terrace on the left. The garage doors in the end terrace at no 16 mark the position of the original village ‘wash house’. It had its own boiler room and coal yard and was used up to the early 20th century.
9. At the junction (opposite no 32) turn right and continue to the ‘Withnell Fold Millenium Green’. Further down to the right (west) are new houses but previously the area was an open grassed area. Up to the end of the second world war some areas were allotments where villagers would grow their own vegetables.
Turn to the left and follow the path east, between hedges, towards the cricket field. Just before you reach the unsurfaced track at the top look to the left across an area of allotments where villagers can still grow their own produce if they wish. Turn right then left and walk up the side of the cricket field to ‘Withnell Fold Sports Club’

There has been an active social and sporting tradition in the village since the early days. The first recorded activity was 31 July 1860 when a meeting was held to ‘establish a Withnell Fold Cricket Club’. It was many years before a custom made cricket field was available. It was 2nd June 1904 when the cricket field was opened by H.T.Parke. The first match was Withnell Fold versus the Gentlemen of the District. Continue to the ‘Withnell Fold Sports Club’ building. Along the path to the SE is Bennets Lodge or ‘Top Lodge’ as it is now known.

You will see the tennis courts and behind them a bowling green which was constructed by the villagers and opened on Fri 13th April 1911.
Return to the un-surfaced vehicle access and turn right. Continue straight on, passing the footpath from the village, and continue until you rejoin the cobbled village road at ‘The Bothy Garden’. Turn right and return to the Chapel where you started.