CXXI – Preston to Lytham St Anne’s

Hasteful MammalI CHOSE the penultimate weekend of March 2015 on which to return to Preston and continue what was in theory my coastal perambulation, not that much of the first day’s walking could really be described as ‘coastal’.

In theory, my route for the day was pretty simple. I just needed to head west along the northern bank of the Ribble until it widened out into an estuary and I could head north along the coast.  That seemed pretty straightforward, what could possibly go wrong? 

Preston

Choosing a Route

Well, for a start the Lancashire Coastal Path declined to start until Freckleton, some five miles west of Preston city centre. And in between Preston and Freckleton there wasn’t really an obvious route close by the river. I would need to find myself another route west out of Preston.

According to my map, National Cycle Network route 62 would fit the bill admirably, taking me to within a stone’s throw of Freckleton. Sure, it meandered a bit and would therefore take longer than a more direct route would but a direct route would mean walking alongside busy A-roads while, for part of its route, NCN 62 would run beside the Lancaster Canal.  Excellent, all I had to do now was find it.

Lune Street

I could see from my map that the route cut through the centre of Preston a little way to the east of the station but I saw no reason to head in the ‘wrong’ direction. Instead, I headed north to where I knew our paths would intersect. This took me along Lune Street, a small street but one with a history.

Preston Martyr's Memorail
In 1842, protestors were shot and killed fighting for their right for realistic body proportions.
1842 General Strike

The Lune Street Riot — which the statues commemorate — was actually part of the wider 1842 General Strike, which was begun by Staffordshire miners but quickly spread across the country. The cause of the strike was ostensibly wage cuts but it soon became political in nature, with many of the strikers espousing Chartism – a series of demands for democratic reform. 

Chartist Demands

The Chartists had a number of demands, which now seem entirely reasonable but which were then considered by the establishment to be an affront to the natural order of things.  These demands included a vote for every man whether he owned property or not, a secret ballot, equally-sized constituencies, salaries for MPs and regular elections.  This was clearly outrageous and could only lead to anarchy.

It certainly led to chaos as the Chartists forcibly closed down mines and mills, using violence where necessary.  The violence gave the establishment just the excuse it required. 

Lune Street Riot

Thus, when in the summer of 1842 three thousand striking Preston cotton workers decided to go from factory to factory making sure that those who had kept working were forced to stop, Mayor Samuel Horrocks attempted to stop them. 

To achieve this end he had two available tools: the Riot Act 1714 and the 72nd Highland Regiment of Foot, which was stationed nearby.  Horrocks read out the Riot Act, which allowed him to use deadly force if the rioters failed to disperse.  They failed to disperse and the Highlanders started shooting.  Four men died and another four were injured, which is a remarkably low death toll considering.  Even then the riot took some time before it dispersed.

Aftermath and Inquest

In the aftermath of the riot, opinion was divided. Some felt that Horrocks and the soldiers were justified although there was some confusion as to whether he actually gave the order to fire. Others – many, many others – felt that it was an appalling outrage and that the mayor should stand trial for murder. 

An inquest followed in which the deaths were ruled ‘justified homicide’. This was also thought to be contentious by many.

Preston Martyrs’ Memorial

A hundred and fifty years later sculptor Gordon Young created the monument in the photo, clearly influenced by Goya’s painting The Third of May 1808. I find it deeply problematic. 

The monument, like Goya’s painting, appears to show the hapless victims of a military firing squad.  But, in Lune Street, thirty soldiers and a handful of local council officials were enduring a prolonged barrage of stones and other objects from rioters outnumbering them about a hundred to one. 

I don’t for a moment advocate the shooting of protestors – it’s bloody events like that which eventually necessitated the formation of our unarmed police forces – and the aims, if not the methods, of the Chartists made a lot of sense. But the Preston Martyrs’ Memorial suggests they were lined up and shot. It is misleading to the point of mendacity.

Corn Exchange

The old Corn Exchange, in front of which the memorial is located, is now a pub.

I turned my back on the monument and set off northwards to where I knew I would find NCN 62.  Sure enough, as I headed up Corporation Street (which sounds to me like it ought to be a soap opera set in a grim corporate dystopia), I started to see the familiar NCN cycle route signs. These led me down a side road and past the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Institution for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

UCLan became a university in 1992 but has a history under various names going back to 1828 when it was founded by the Temperance Society with the glorious title of the Institution for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.

I think it’s fair to say that modern day university students’ love affair with alcohol would horrify the institution’s founders. Still, time marches on.  And so did I.

St Walburge’s Church

A short way on from UCLan loomed something which had very little relation to the word short. In fact, it’s sufficiently tall that you can see it from most of Preston.  What was it, you ask?

St Walburge's Church
Here’s a bit of a pointer as to what it might be.

At 94 m in height, the Catholic Church of St Walburge has the third-tallest spire in England, after the cathedrals of Salisbury and Norwich.  Completed in 1854, it was designed in glorious Gothic Revival style by architect and designer Joseph Aloysius Hansom (1803-1882), who also designed the safer, faster type of hackney carriage that bears his name — the Hansom cab

As well as being Gothic Revival in style, St Walburge’s is also representative of the Catholic revival of the period following the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829, which removed most of the legal restrictions that had been placed on Catholics since Tudor times. 

The body of the church is red sandstone while the tower is limestone, giving the church an unusual two-tone appearance. It is dedicated to St Walpurga (710-799), a West Saxon missionary to the Franks.

Ashton Basin

NCN 62 led me through various streets until I reached the start (or end) of the Lancaster Canal at Ashton Basin.  And it was a literal end; the canal simply stopped there. 

The canal had always terminated in Preston, although it has lost about a mile of its length to development since it was built; in the past it used a short railway to connect it to a canal heading south.

The start of the Lancaster Canal was not exactly auspicious. There were no signs, no visitors’ centre. There were a number of discarded beer cans and other bits of litter.  It was all rather shabby.  Fortunately, this was only true for the first half-mile or so, which sat in a cutting surrounded on both sides by housing.

Ashton Basin
It’s still about a billion times better than walking beside the A583.
Lancaster Canal

Engineered by the noted Scottish canal-builder John Rennie (1761-1821), the Lancaster Canal opened in 1797.  Forty-two and a half miles long, it ran from Preston to Tewitfield on Lancashire‘s northern border. For all of that length the canal maintained the same contour, meaning that not one single lock was required. This came with a compromise however: the canal is most definitely not straight; it meanders about all over the place

In 1819, it was extended northwards to Kendall, which did require locks, but that section is no longer navigable.

Waterfowl & Walkers

As I wandered along what had once been the towpath, I started to see signs of life. Ducks, swans and moorhens paddled about on the water, watched by dog-owners taking their pets for a stroll.  Very, very occasionally a cyclist trundled past. 

As I walked along, I felt a sense of serene calm wash over me – I’ve always enjoyed river- and canal-side walks, ever since I was a small child.  Yes, they lack the crashing excitement of the sea, but for me they have a charm all of their own, even if that’s really just the comforting glow of nostalgia.

A swan on the Lancaster canal
‘Calm?!’ said Mr Swan. ‘I’ll show you effing calm, you mammal bastard.’
Mr Swan

Swans are known for their grace, their beauty and their allegedly being strong enough to break your arm or leg.  They’re also known to get a tad aggressive now and then.  The swan in the picture was certainly up for a bit of aggro, as he swam towards me at speed, neck curved back and wings half-raised in a classic threat display.

Mute swans are strongly territorial, defending their patches against not just fellow swans but other waterfowl (they are excellent for keeping geese away) and passing mammals. Such as this one. 

Although mute swans defend their nests as a pair, it is usually the male, or cob, who initiates hostility.  Any actual attack is typically preceded by a loud hiss — they’re not actually mute, merely laconic — and the cob in the photo must have decided I wasn’t that threatening after all as, having given me a drive-by warning, he quietly turned about and swanned off.  As one does when one belongs to the Queen

Roebuck Street Bridge

Having survived my swan encounter, which had reintroduced the concept of ‘excitement’ to my walk, I strode hurriedly onwards, passing under a stone bridge.

Hollinshead Fold Bridge
This is another of the many similar bridges that cross the canal at irregular intervals.
Haslam Park

Not long thereafter, the view on my left opened right out into the green space of Haslam Park, an Edwardian park established in 1910 and donated to Preston by one Mary Haslam in memory of her father, a local mill-owner. 

Savick Aqueduct

On my right, I passed a disused coal wharf, now used as moorings (although no barges were moored). A little stream, Savick Brook, passed underneath the canal, which means — though I didn’t think about this at the time — that I was passing over the canal’s most southerly aqueduct.

Millennium Ribble Link

Shortly after the park, the canal swung sharply to the left. A couple of bridges further on, I found myself also needing a bridge as a channel led off to one side into a large basin in which I could see youths in kayaks.  At the far end of the basin was a series of locks. This was the Millennium Ribble Link, opened in 2002 with funding from the Millennium Commission. It links the Lancaster Canal to the River Ribble and thus to other English waterways; without it the Lancaster Canal would be completely isolated. 

Apart from the basin and lock staircase that connects it to the canal, which is entirely new, most of the link was created by canalising an existing watercourse. Specifically, it was created from the lower reaches of Savick Brook. 

With the Link in place, a boat can now exit the Lancaster Canal via the Savick Brook, enter the Ribble and then, a little way downstream, use the Douglas to access the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Assuming the swans permit it of course.

Cottam

A larger bridge carried the B6241 overhead and I knew that I would soon be leaving the canal behind. I did so at the next bridge, just as a light, drizzly rain began to fall.  The weather forecast had predicted only a 10% chance of rain and here it was. Lucky, lucky me.  Pulling up my hood, I crossed over the canal and followed a short stretch of cycle path to the edge of Cottam.

Cottam is a village that forms a suburb at the outer edge of Preston.  While small now, it used to be even smaller as evidenced by its name — ‘Cottam’ means ‘the cottages’ and typically refers to a handful of them at the end of a lane, forming a tiny hamlet. 

Cottam Way

This particular Cottam is growing, as evidenced by the cycle path taking me along what appeared to be a bypass with a lot of new-looking developments along it and the occasional spur-road-to-nowhere indicating developments yet-to-come.  The site is earmarked for expansion amid discussions as to how exactly building a ton of houses in Cottam fits into Preston’s ‘garden city’ development plan.  It probably doesn’t but the UK is desperately short of homes.

On the plus side, there are some interesting artistic flourishes…

Sculptures in Cottam
On weekends the Nazgûl like to try on different hats.

have no idea what the above statues are meant to represent, if anything, and I’ve just wasted an hour and a half failing to find out so I’ll move on. 

The Haydocks

I have learned that Cottam used to belong to the Haydock family, who held it from the thirteenth to eighteenth centuries. 

The Haydocks seem to have had a bit of a problem with becoming involved in religious rebellion. William Haydock, a younger son of William Haydock of Cottam Hall, was a monk executed in 1537 for his part in the Pilgrimage of Grace (a revolt against Henry VIII and his Dissolution of the Monasteries to which Henry responded with his customary subtlety and mercy, i.e. none at all). 

Fifty years later, another younger Haydock son, George Haydock, got himself arrested for having been ordained a priest in Rheims.  With Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, on the throne, it was not a good time to be a Catholic priest and George got himself charged with conspiracy.  After a year in prison, he was hanged at Tyburn

The Haydocks remained at Cottam Hall, and remained Catholic, until 1860, when the hall was demolished.

An arched folly in Cottam
These statues appear to be a mediaeval family. They also appear to be leaving Cottam (which lies beyond that arch). I’m not at all sure what message that’s meant to impart.
Quaker’s Bridge

Having left Cottam, I soon turned off down a side road and found myself on a rural country lane.  As I ambled along it the drizzly rain played a teasing game, pausing for just long enough to lure me into lowering my hood before resuming in earnest.  The lane crossed back over the Lancaster Canal via Quaker’s Bridge, rendering my Cottam detour entirely unnecessary, and then over a railway line.  Some cows in a field watched incuriously as I passed.

Darkinson Lane
Darkinson lane
I had the road to myself. No one else was stupid enough to be out in the rain.
Lea Town

The road led me to Lea Town, which was stretching the definition of ‘town’ beyond all recognition; it comprised very few buildings, all strung out alongside the road.  Lea (pronounced ‘lee-uh’) derives from Old English laeh, meaning a clearing in the woods. Does it still count as a clearing, when there aren’t actually any woods left?

Salwick

Serious Signs

I passed a stone cross at the roadside, that once stood outside Lea Hall. This was followed by a lengthy trek outside the security fence of some sort of industrial works. 

Notices attached to the fence warned that it was a protected site under the Serious Organised Crime & Police Act 2005 and that trespass would be a criminal offence.  This sounded pretty serious as SOCPA was mainly concerned with terrorism and I decided not to take any photos as being held for up to 28 days while questioned under the Terrorism Act 2006 would have messed up my schedule.  And because I’m not an idiot. 

Springfields

The site that I was walking past was Springfields, a nuclear fuel production plant, currently operated by a British subsidiary of the American company Westinghouse, which is itself owned by Toshiba.  It was formerly owned by the now-defunct British Nuclear Fuels Limited, which used to own Westinghouse (and which sold it to Toshiba).

Springfields creates nuclear fuel for the UK’s various nuclear power stations although it is planned to decommission the site in 2023.  Prior to 1946, the site was a munitions factory.  Despite its name it isn’t, so far as I know, run by Montgomery Burns. That would have been… excellent.

Salwick Village

On the far side of the Springfields plant was another stone cross and the village of Salwick, although ‘village’ might be overselling this tiny and strung-out extension of neighbouring Clifton (another historic hotbed of Catholicism). 

Salwick Station

Despite its tiny size and thus low population, Salwick managed not to lose its railway station to the Beeching Axe as Springfields (with its sizeable and strategically-important workforce) made a pretty good shield. 

Windmill Tavern
Windmill Tavern
This must be a nuclear-powered windmill; its sails are turning so fast I can’t see them.

The Windmill Tavern provided me with an excellent opportunity to pause for lunch and a drink.  By the time I was ready to move on, the drizzle had drizzled itself out.  Much relieved, I set off along the road towards Kirkham, passing the village church as I went.

Lund Parish Church of St John
Lund Parish Church of St John
Don’t be misled by its mediaeval-looking tower, the current Lund Parish Church of St John was built in 1823 with the tower even more recent, added in 1873.

‘Lund’ referred to the middle part of the Clifton-Salwick combined township, although nowadays it isn’t used except in the name of the church. It derives from Old Norse lundr, meaning a copse.

Kirkham

Approaching Kirkham

From Salwick I took a number of country roads towards Kirkham, following the signs for NCN 62. These led in the general direction of a nearby Roman road but never at any point actually used its alignment. 

On my way, I saw a field with many tiny newborn lambs but my presence was worrying their mothers so I didn’t hang about.  Various farms and houses dotted the roadside at irregular intervals before Kirkham came into view.

Approaching Kirkham
Aha! Found you!
Kirkham-in-Amounderness

Kirkham used to be known as Kirkham-in-Amounderness after the hundred in which was located.  The division of counties into hundreds largely ceased in 1894 but Kirkham has outlasted Amounderness Hundred.

As a settlement, it dates back to pre-Roman times though when the Romans did arrive they saw fit to build a fort there. Its name is more recent, deriving from a mixture of Old Norse and Saxon meaning ‘church settlement’.

Kirkham was granted a market charter in 1269 by Henry III. It remained a small market town until the late seventeenth century, when it developed into a thriving textile centre. Initially a cottage industry, from 1861 mills operated on an industrial scale. Amazingly, while most of Lancashire saw the mills abandoned in the twentieth century, Kirkham’s last loom did not fall silent until 2003.

Wynde Milne
Evolution in action: this windmill has developed camouflage, disguising itself as a house in order to survive.

The original mill on the site shown above was constructed in 1337 but rebuilt six years later at a cost of £13 (about £6½ k in 2015 terms). That mill survived for almost half a millennium but was replaced by the current building in 1812. It was converted into a house in 1973.

Town Centre

The mills may have gone but the town is hardly a picture of post-industrial decay. In fact it seemed to be thriving; its high street was bustling with people.

Kirkham town centre
None of whom are somehow in this picture. They were there though, I promise.
Fylde Peninsula

Kirkham is located in the Borough of Fylde on the peninsula of the same name. The Fylde (pronounced like ‘filed’) is a broad coastal plain forming a squarish peninsula between the rivers Lune and Ribble.  Originally a staunchly Catholic area, the Fylde as a whole did not take well to the Reformation or the Dissolution of the Monasteries and contributed to the doomed uprising that was the Pilgrimage of Grace. 

For the next couple of hundred years its fortunes varied wildly according to who was in power.  The Fylde was all for (Catholic) Queen Mary and rather less so for her Protestant sister Elizabeth.  It was strongly Royalist in the English Civil War, which was unfortunate because Charles I lost. 

Accordingly, it suffered through the Commonwealth but regained a certain amount of favour come the Restoration, which the Glorious Revolution then reversed.  By the nineteenth century, the Fylde had discovered the economics of mass tourism instead and never really looked back; it is still mostly lined with resorts.

HMP Kirkham

Kirkham of course is not a resort, as it is not on the coast.  A number of people do stay there year-on-year but the inmates of HM Prison Kirkham are not enjoying a holiday camp, despite what the Daily Mail might tell you. 

Occupying the wartime site of RAF Kirkham, HMP Kirkham is Category D — a low security ‘open prison’ — for prisoners who can reasonably be trusted to serve their sentence without trying to escape.  These range from prisoners formerly at closed prisons but who are nearly at the end of their sentences to non-violent ‘white collar’ criminals who were just never likely to abscond. 

Open prisons take a lot of stick from the right-wing press which is perhaps odd because, quite apart from their liberal aim to rehabilitate, they are highly cost-effective. Some prisoners need locking up to prevent them from escaping; others accept their situation and comply.  It is a ludicrous waste of resources to apply the same expensive security measures to both.  The real trick is, of course, correctly identifying whom to trust not to abscond.

Leaving Kirkham

A large sign was advertising the prison farm shop as I walked past it;  having been heading west-north-west all morning, I was now returning south toward the Ribble.  I parted company with NCN 62 at a junction not far from the prison, taking a tiny country lane south to Freckleton.

Freckleton

Preston New Road (A584)

The tiny country lane was pleasant enough until it spat me out onto the roaring dual carriageway of the A584, which I needed to cross.  It was a bit like playing real-life Frogger (blimey, that dates me).  Once safely across, I consulted my map, totally misread it, and got myself lost in Freckleton.

Freckles & Freckleton

Freckleton is an awesome name and I find myself vaguely disappointed that one of my paler and more freckly friends used to live down the road in Preston instead of in a village with such an appropriate name.  Ah well. 

Of course I freckle too and by now the sun was showing intermittently, so I guess that will have to do. 

Actual Etymology

Freckleton actually gets its name from, well, the etymology is disputed but the Old Norse name Frecia and Old English tun seem to be most likely, thus ‘Frecia’s farmstead’.  It is ‘Frecheltun’ in the Domesday Book of 1086.

History

Sitting beside the River Dow — a tributary of the Ribble — Freckleton has had a varied history but one not untypical for a village of its type. 

In Roman times, it supplied water to the fort at Kirkham and for centuries acted as a small port for that town. In Mediaeval times, a water mill used to grind corn for the surrounding area.

From the early 1800s, shipbuilding became important, focussing especially on the manufacture of ropes and sails. And before 1920, when the current Road of Death A584 was built, Freckleton sat upon a long-disused road across the marshes, linking Preston to Lytham. The toll house still stands today.

Lancashire Coastal Path

I eventually got my bearings in Freckleton and found my way to the start of the Lancashire Coastal Path, as it heads downstream alongside the Dow. 

The Dow is little more than a narrow stream but strongly tidal, so that at low tide boats lie forlornly stranded at the bottom of a gully of grey mud.  Perhaps fortunately, I couldn’t see too much of the mud on account of the path being delightfully tree-lined like this:

Tree-lined path
‘If it stays like this until Lytham I shall be a happy man indeed’, I thought.  More fool I.
Freckleton Naze

The Tree-lined Path of Loveliness carried me onwards until it ended at a rather muddy field atop a steep bank.  Here I could gaze out across the salt marsh and River Ribble to the mouth of the River Douglas opposite.  I was reminded that prior to modern roads and railways, this had been considered a viable low-tide crossing point of the Ribble.

View across the Ribble from Freckleton Naze
Really? Okay. Someone else can show me how it’s done.

‘I’m so glad that I don’t have to do that,’ I told myself. 

The universe immediately decided that this was a little too smug.  Not that it made me swim across the Ribble, that would have been both somewhat extreme and heading in the wrong direction.  What it did do was drop the Lancashire Coastal Path off the bank and onto the edge of the salt marsh below. 

Oh goody.

When is a Path Not a Path?

At this point I have to voice some dissent regarding the label ‘Lancashire Coastal Path’.  For the next two miles it was not a discernible path.  Thanks to the rain and the recently receded tide it was frequently not even land. At least, not properly. 

In some places, it was difficult to stay upright and not fall over. In other places, staying upright was easy. It was staying upright without sinking up to the knee (or worse) that was the problem.  I had been stormingly ahead of schedule but all that was rapidly sacrificed as I picked my way along the marsh.  And the thing is, I was only at the edge of it.  God knows how anyone ever managed to wade across the Ribble.

Warton

Warton Aerodrome

In addition to skirting the edge of the salt marsh the often non-existent ‘path’ also skirted the edge of an airfield.  This at least gave me one definite boundary in the form of another massive fence festooned with signs threatening dire consequences should I scale it and trespass. 

This time there were ‘no photography’ signs too (I was almost tempted to photograph one of those but common sense prevailed — insofar as a man squelching through an unfamiliar marsh can be said to possess such a thing).

The airfield in question was Warton Aerodrome, built for the RAF in 1940 and used by the USAAF between 1942 and 1945. 

Freckleton Air Disaster

The visiting Allies made a significant impact on Freckleton — unfortunately not in a metaphorical sense but rather a literal one. 

In August 1944, a pair of USAAF B-24 Liberator heavy bombers were recalled from a test flight due to an oncoming storm.  The storm approached rapidly and was unusually severe — waterspouts were reported in the Ribble Estuary.  One of the planes managed a landing but the other aborted, intending to circle round and try again. He never made it, clipping a tree with one wing. 

The 25-ton bomber ploughed through three houses, a bar (catering almost exclusively for USAAF personnel) and Freckleton’s infant school (ages four to seven). Moments after the crash, the spilt fuel ignited, turning the crash scene into a sea of flames.  Twenty-three adults and thirty-eight children were killed. 

Memorial Garden

Needless to say, the community was in shock.  American airmen at Warton helped fund a memorial garden, which opened the following year.

Aircraft Test Site

At the end of the war Warton Aerodrome reverted to RAF use until 1947, when it was handed over to aircraft manufacturer English Electric, who tested both the Canberra and the Lightning (a truly awesome aircraft) there. 

English Electric became part of British Aircraft Corporation in 1960, which in turn became part of British Aerospace (BAe) in 1977.  The slightly renamed and privatised BAE Systems still operates the aerodrome as a test site and over the years it has seen the likes of the Jaguar, Tornado and the Eurofighter Typhoon

Redback Spiders

BAE Systems hasn’t managed to drop any planes onto Freckleton, thank God, but it did manage to accidentally release Australian redback spiders (Latrodectus hasseltii) into the countryside in 2010.  This was no small matter as redbacks — a relative of the black widow spider — are medically dangerous and responsible for more bites requiring antivenin treatment  than any other spider in Australia. 

The spiders were accidentally introduced in a container of parts shipped from Australia and a frantic pest control exercise followed.  They think they got them all.  If not the British climate should have done for them. Probably.

Warton Brows

So where was I? Ah yes, finding my way through a treacherous semi-liquid salt marsh which may or may not be infested with dangerous spiders.  Marvellous. 

As I picked my way carefully along, in some places trying to guess where the path was meant to be, I heard an almighty roar and looked up.  A Eurofighter Typhoon roared overhead at terrifyingly low height, having just taken off behind me.  It proceeded to circle several times before landing at which point another one took to the sky.  It was, and I mean this properly, awesome. And very loud.

Warton Bank

A while later near Warton Bank, I paused muddily but un-spider-envenomed and un-crashed-upon and caught my first sight of Lytham across the marsh.

Lytham distant
Oh I thought it would be taller.  What’s that? It isn’t small, you say?  It’s far away…

Lytham St Anne’s

Entering Lytham

Fortunately from this point onwards the path across the marsh sat atop a raised bank so there was no more trying not to sink without trace.  Having lost my time advantage I now quickened my pace and it didn’t seem all that long before I reached Lytham. The sun was just setting as I arrived.

Lytham Windmill
Lytham Windmill
Now that’s a proper windmill.

Lytham windmill is either a little over two hundred years old, almost a hundred or only twenty-six, depending on how you like to count it.

It was built in 1805 but caught fire in 1919 during a powerful gale (the wind was strong enough to turn the sails despite the brakes being on).  Burning pieces of timber from the sails were hurled up to 50 yards, much to the alarm of local beach-house owners and hoteliers. Since they had been complaining since the 1840s that the windmill was an industrial nuisance, this was very much a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. 

It sat derelict for a couple of years before being patched up and put to various uses — café, club house, electrical sub-station — before being extensively restored in the late 1980s.

Death by Windmill

The windmill isn’t quite as it looked in its working life as then its sails were much longer; long enough to grab as they went past in fact.  This proved to be a very bad idea when a small boy, on a school outing from Manchester, did exactly that in 1909.  He was quickly carried aloft, where he lost his grip and plunged to his death.

Probably best to keep them short then.

Lytham

Lytham is the eastern and southern part of the conurbation of Lytham St Anne’s, the other part being St Anne’s-on-Sea. It’s an old settlement, founded by Anglo-Saxons somewhen around 600 and resettled by Vikings expelled from Dublin about three hundred years later.  The Vikings stayed and dominated the area and their descendants were still there when another Viking descendant, William the Conqueror, set about subduing the north. 

Lytham’s Vikings weren’t stupid. First they submitted and then they adopted French names.  This kept them on top of the pile for another century or so until the last one, Richard Fitz Roger, died without heirs and left his land to the church.

Lytham Priory

For the next three hundred and fifty-odd years Lytham Priory, a Benedictine priory subordinate to Durham, was the principle power in those parts. This was brought to an abrupt conclusion when Henry VIII came along, closing down the priory, confiscating its wealth and provoking the Pilgrimage of Grace (which ended with hangings all round).

The Cliftons

A bunch of different people leased the land until 1606 when the local Clifton family took possession of it and converted the priory building into their home, Lytham Hall.  They remained wealthy and powerful until the late twentieth century and presided over Lytham’s eighteenth century metamorphosis into a holiday resort. 

It was Clifton money that built St Anne’s-on-Sea in the 1870s, expanding Lytham westward where hitherto there had been only dunes (which, unlike hotels, had generated next to no income). 

Henry de Vere Clifton

The Cliftons’ wealth and influence served them well for centuries but it couldn’t survive the dilettante ways of their last scion, film-maker Henry de Vere Clifton (1907-1979), who squandered the family fortune and sold off Lytham Hall in 1963.  Two years later it was Grade I listed.

The White Church

Reaching Lytham Windmill by sunset was all very well but my hotel was actually three and a half miles away in St Anne’s.  Getting to that in the twenty or so minutes of usable daylight remaining was going to be something of a challenge.  In fact, I had to face the truth: I hadn’t got a prayer.

Lytham United Reformed Church
Although if I did, Lytham United Reformed Church (completed in 1912) would be a stunning place to have it.  It is locally known as ‘the White Church’, for obvious reasons.
Fairhaven Lake

Daylight was failing fast as I passed the White Church, bombing along the nicely seaside-y promenade.  The sky darkened, streetlamps flicked on and I fished my torch out of my bag. The lights of Lytham reflected in the waters of Fairhaven Lake, an artificial marine lake (they do seem to love those around there) and, as I crossed its car park, a man approached me clutching an empty dog-leash in one hand.  ‘Er…’ he said.

I tried to keep my face straight.  Being approached in a car park at night by a hesitant bloke with a dog-lead; that doesn’t sound dodgy at all.  I think you’ve misunderstood ‘dogging’, my inner voice giggled.

‘You’ve not seen a lost-looking Labrador?’ he asked me hopefully. ‘A small one. Black.’

A small black dog in the dark. Good luck with that, mate…  I told him ‘no’.

‘Are you sure?’ he asked plaintively.

I shone my torch about a bit but his dog was nowhere to be seen. He’d definitely lost it. Well either that or his car park chat-up routine was falling on deaf ears.  I left him to accost a few people returning to reclaim their cars and charged on along the promenade at great speed. I almost expected to trip over the dog.

St Anne’s Pier

Eventually, long after the light had failed completely, I found myself heading up the seafront at St Anne’s past its bandstand and gardens.  The light of the streetlamps revealed before me the 1899 mock-Tudor entrance to St Anne’s Victorian pier (constructed 1885). 

Crossing the Finish Line

My hotel was only five minutes away which meant, more importantly, that so was — in no particular order — food, tea, a shower and a good sit down.  I had made it.

‘You walked from Preston?’ the hotelier asked when I checked in. ‘Why on earth would you do that? We have trains and buses here, you know.’

I’m liking Lancashire.


Distance Summary

Hasteful MammalThis time: 22½ miles
Total since Gravesend: 1,975½ miles

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