Upside down

After reading a recent post on Jayne’s blog, in which I commented that a certain photo looked like it was upside down, she followed that with another post with some ‘upside down’ photos specially for me. Well that got me thinking – I knew that somewhere in my archives I had some photos which could be turned upside down and I’ve spent some time over the last few days searching for them so in the absence of a Monday walk and just for a bit of fun here they are, including one with some gravity-defying rocks. And just so certain people don’t have to stand on their heads to make sense of them I’ve also included the ‘right way up’ ones.
copy of wyreside farm park - may 2010 095
wyreside farm park - may 2010 095
copy of wyton lakes - aug. 2010 024
wyton lakes - aug. 2010 024
copy (3) of local area 2017 047
copy (2) of local area 2017 047
copy of copy of local area 2017 254
copy of local area 2017 254
copy of copy of local area 2017 283
copy of local area 2017 283
copy (2) of hornby castle - may 2018 022
copy of hornby castle - may 2018 022
copy of hornby castle - may 2018 021
copy (2) of hornby castle - may 2018 021
One thing I’ve realised while doing this – if you look at certain ones long enough you end up not knowing which are the upside down ones and which are the right way up. I wonder if Jayne realises just what she started?…..

2018 – Looking back

As 2018 draws to a close I thought I would recall just some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. On January 3rd, after making an official complaint at the local hospital three weeks previously about the apparent misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment of his broken ankle, Michael finally got to see the relevant specialist and was put on the emergency list for an operation asap. That took place just three days later when he had a bone graft and a plate and a couple of screws inserted to bring the broken bits together, followed by six weeks in plaster. His recovery was long, and certainly very painful in the early stages, but he finally went back to work ten-and-a-half months after he first broke the ankle.
Early February saw me succumbing to the much-talked-about-at-the-time Aussie flu virus and taking two weeks off work ; it was the first time in my life I’ve ever had flu of any sort and I’d never felt so ill before. The up side though, if you can call it that, was the opportunity to catch up on some reading and I got through several books in the time I was off work. Late in the month my washing machine gave up the ghost and after trying in vain to get someone to repair it I ended up getting a second-hand-but-almost-new one from a local shop ; it was in absolutely mint condition and is still working well. After several weeks of wet and often cold weather the last few days of February turned out dry and gloriously sunny so the end of the month saw me taking the dogs for a walk along one of my favourite routes through a local golf course and the Last Drop Village. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable walk and just rounded off the month nicely.
Copy of Local area 2017 162
The golf course pond
Copy of Local area 2017 174
The Last Drop Village
Early March saw the return of the sparrows which, the year before, had taken to perching on the outside window sill of the spare bedroom. I hadn’t expected them to come back so it was lovely to look through the glass and see them less than 3ft from where I sit when using my pc. In mid March, after several months of searching on the internet and in various camping stores, I finally ordered a new tent to replace my much-loved previous one which had sustained an irreparable tear in its roof the previous year. It wasn’t quite the same as my old one but it was near enough, it satisfied all my criteria and came at a good price with free delivery so I was more than happy. One evening late in the month saw part of my street turned into a river when a main water pipe burst and sent a substantial amount of water flooding across the road – it took two days for United Utilities to fix the problem but not before many gallons of fresh water had gone to waste down the drains. The end of the month saw the start of the Easter weekend and my 4-day break in North Wales, a break which wasn’t the best for many reasons and one in which the word ‘break’ could be taken literally.
Local area 2018 016
One of my feathered friends down in the garden
Copy of anglesey - june 2018 001
My new tent
Copy of Local area 2018 050
A river in the street
The month of April certainly didn’t get off to a very good start for me. It rained on and off for most of the Easter weekend and put the kibosh on many of my plans, and on the Monday I woke to find that during an unexpected overnight snow shower which had turned to ice my brand new tent had collapsed on top of my belongings ; two of the three poles had broken completely and the end where I would have been sleeping had been totally flattened – thank goodness the dogs and I had been in the van. Fortunately the two broken poles were the only damages my new tent suffered and back at home a few days later I took them to my nearest camping store to get the broken sections replaced. The rest of April passed fairly uneventfully with the only other highlight being a visit to the animal sanctuary spring open day later in the month, and with Michael still being off work he came too – the first time he’d ever been there and he quite enjoyed it.
Copy of 2018 128
My brand new tent – what a disaster!
Copy of Local area 2018 171
Disney at Bleakholt sanctuary
The beginning of May saw Michael finally going back to work on a phased return just over ten months since he first broke his ankle in June last year. It also saw a dramatic change in the weather with the rain of the previous months gone and the start of what was to be a very long and very hot summer. The first bank holiday weekend of the month saw me suggesting (very unwisely) that we go to a car boot sale on the Sunday and then on to St. Annes – the weather was extremely warm, the world and his wife were out on the roads and we ended up getting stuck in nose-to-tail traffic, going miles out of our way and missing the car boot sale completely. It took ages to find somewhere to park at St. Annes but once we did we had a very enjoyable afternoon with a good meal and a couple of dog walks along the beach. On the middle Saturday of the month I went to Hornby Castle gardens, somewhere I’d never been before and where I got some lovely photos, then the following day I managed to burn my foot with scalding water from a recently-boiled kettle. Silicone dressings prescribed by the doctor helped to ease the pain and promote healing, and after resting it as much as possible for a week I couldn’t ignore the continuing good weather any longer so the final weekend of the month saw me taking the dogs for a local walk to Smithills Hall and gardens.
Copy of Lytham may 2018 004
St. Annes promenade gardens
Copy of hornby castle - may 2018 031
The walled garden at Hornby Castle
Local area 2018 398
Smithills Hall gardens
My planned 11-day holiday on Anglesey at the beginning of June was shortened by several days due to circumstances beyond my control but I managed to get six days out of the eleven and with the continuing good weather I really made the most of them by exploring as many places as I could in the time that I had. The highlight of the week just had to be finding and photographing the old abandoned brick works at Porth Wen – it was difficult to get to and involved a long walk with a couple of hairy moments but it was an amazing place and well worth the effort for the photos I got. The rest of the month was fairly uneventful but then the 28th saw the start of a wildfire up on the moors not far from home, a fire which would eventually cover more than five square miles, mean the closure of several local roads including the one running past the end of my street, and would involve more than 30 fire crews while it was at it worst.
Copy of anglesey - june 2018 202
Porth Wen old brick works
Copy of anglesey - june 2018 199
Porth Wen sea arch
Copy of southport July 2018 045
Part of the Winter Hill fire on the west side
Copy of winter hill fire 030
Part of the fire on the east side
At the start of July Michael and I had a lovely day out in Southport then for his birthday in the middle of the month he went over to Ireland for a few days, where he encountered a coach driver who didn’t know the route from Dublin airport to Roscrea and had to be directed a couple of times. The highlight of the month though just had to be the tour of the new outdoor Coronation Street tv set ; with great weather, a very knowledgeable tour guide and the freedom to take as many photos as we wanted it was a great tour and one I would certainly do again.
Copy of southport July 2018 002
Southport promenade
Copy of southport July 2018 043
Lord Street gardens, Southport
Rovers return
This needs no explanation
Copy of coronation street tour 050
Copy of coronation street tour 087
Our official photo
Although most of the Winter Hill fire had been extinguished by the middle of July and the number of fire crews reduced there were many hot spots still burning under the surface so it wasn’t until early August that it was officially declared to be completely out after a total of 41 days. On the 9th of the month I took my first walk up there the day after the land was reopened to the public and was shocked and saddened to see the large scale devastation the fire had caused. Two days later the highlight of the month came when, at the town’s central fire station open day, I got the opportunity to go up in the air on a fire engine hydraulic platform – from 100ft up the extensive views all round the town were brilliant and I got some great photos.
Copy of winter hill fire 106
Fire ravaged land on Winter Hill
Copy of fire station open day 029
The hydraulic platform going up
Copy of Copy of fire station open day 043
On the way up
Copy of Copy of fire station open day 038
Winter Hill from 100ft in the air
The highlight of September came early on in the month when, during a Heritage Open Day, I got the opportunity to climb the 180ft bell tower at the local parish church and also try a bit of bell ringing. Although the weather wasn’t the best – the long hot summer had finally ended locally the day after my fire station visit – I still got some good photos from the tower roof and the bell ringing was quite an interesting experience. A very sad time came in the middle of the month when I accompanied my friend Janet on the day she had her dog Aphra put to sleep, then later in the month I had my second short holiday on Anglesey, with an impromptu visit to my blogging friend Eileen on the way there. The weather wasn’t the best to start with but it got better as the days went on so I still got out and about and had plenty of sunshine for my photos.
Copy of Parish church 036
A view from the parish church tower roof
Copy of Local area 2017 269
Copy of anglesey - sept 2018 015
Benllech beach, Anglesey
Copy of anglesey - sept 2018 206
A Llanddwyn Island beach looking towards the Snowdonia mountains
Apart from when Storm Callum hit the UK towards the middle of the month October was really nice weather-wise and still quite warm for the time of year so I went on long walks with the dogs as often as I could, both to local places I’ve often been to and some I hadn’t even known about. In the process the lovely autumn colours gave me lots of great photos and I even had one featured in an online edition of the local evening paper.
farnworth park - oct. 2018 036
Farnworth park
2018 Local area 043
Firwood Fold’s hidden lake
Copy of close park, radcliffe 040
Close Park, Radcliffe
A dull day in early November saw me taking a photography trip to Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) after reading the very interesting history about it, then on brighter days I continued my autumn dog walks in the local area. The highlight of the month though was a dazzling light display which lit up the front of the local town hall on two consecutive evenings – unfortunately it was very poorly advertised and I think I may have missed some of it on both occasions but what I did see was amazing and I still got some reasonably good photos.
Copy of Preston dock - Nov. 2018 036
Preston marina
Copy of town hall lights 001
The town hall light display
Copy of town hall lights 025
Copy of town hall lights 026
My short holiday in Ireland at the beginning of this month was very enjoyable and a day of exploration round Dublin city centre was so interesting that it left me determined to go back in the future and for much longer, as there’s so much to see that it can’t be done in just one day. Just over a week ago I developed a nasty sore throat, cough and cold which came from nowhere and robbed me of my appetite so Christmas in the Mouse House was rather a non-event, although as there was only me and Michael anyway it didn’t matter too much. I’m feeling much better now though and tonight we’ll probably drive up to the moorland road near here and watch the fireworks going off all over town.
So there it is, just some of the highlights of my year, and all that remains now is to thank everyone for visiting this blog over the last twelve months and to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – cheers!

A walk to Mount St. Joseph Abbey

Although Roscrea is only a small town and is surrounded by countryside there are no really good dog walks anywhere unless you take a long walk out of town or drive to somewhere so the only place I could reasonably go to with Trixie was Mount St. Joseph Abbey, two miles along the country road from the bottom of Nellie’s street. I’ve been there a couple of times before and in spite of the frequent passing traffic it’s a pleasant walk past open fields.
I wasn’t far from the monastery grounds when I experienced the second great coincidence of the holiday. Houses along the road were few and far between and as I got close to the last one a man suddenly appeared through the gate onto the road, startling Trixie and making her bark. He spoke to her in a friendly voice and apologised to me for startling her, we got chatting and I mentioned that Trixie wasn’t actually mine. When I said who she belongs to he told me he knew the family and Michael’s dad and said he knew a young lad from the family also called Michael – and he was really surprised when I told him that’s my son. That was so unbelievable – two miles from town in the middle of nowhere and out of the blue I meet someone who knows Michael!
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 306
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 307
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 310
Wandering round the monastery grounds I noticed that the church door was open – I would have loved to go in and look round but I didn’t know if it was allowed and there was no-one around who I could ask so I wandered past the guest house and round to the back and discovered a lovely peaceful apple orchard with a couple of benches set alongside the paths. One of the paths led through an archway to a courtyard beyond, it looked a bit like a farm yard and as I didn’t know whether it belonged to the monastery or was private I didn’t go any further.
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 309
The monastery grounds
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 312
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 311
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 313
The guest house
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 315
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 320
Part of the apple orchard
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 316
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 317
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 318
Back on the main path I made my way round to the stream with the man-made waterfalls, and though it was in shade just like last year the full sunshine did make things a bit brighter. From the stream I made my way through the woods back to the main path then with the last three shots taken I set off on the 2-mile walk back to Nellie’s.
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 324
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 326
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 327
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 328
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 329
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 330
Some local residents across the stream
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 323
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 322
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 321
Back at the house, and tired out from her long walk, Trixie curled up on her cushion and didn’t move much until later in the evening – two miles each way is nothing to me but obviously she isn’t used to walking so far all at once. Later on I popped up the road to take some photos of the Christmas lights in the garden of the house a few doors away – they add something new every year and this time it was penguins and lights on the ground – then I settled in to watch tv for the rest of the evening.
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 141
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 128
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 133
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 131
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 137
Copy of Ireland - dec. 2018 138
Before I went to bed I packed my case and backpack ready for the morning as I had a reasonably early start and I didn’t want to be on the last minute. It was strange though – compared to here at home Roscrea is such a small quiet town that I wouldn’t want to live there permanently, but over the last few days I’d got so settled that somehow I felt reluctant to come home. Michael’s dad may no longer be around but it’s nice to be part of his home and the Roscrea life for a short while, and I know it won’t be long before I go back there again.

An autumn walk to Smithills Hall

My Monday walk this week was taken the day after my walk through Sunnyhurst Wood but this time actually started direct from home. Across the field at the end of the street, through the bottom end of a nearby large housing estate and across a local park brought me to Smithills Wood, and though there wasn’t as much blue sky as the previous day there was enough sunshine to bring out the colour in the trees and the leaves on the ground. It was very pleasant walking through the wood and I saw no-one and nothing other than a few birds and a couple of squirrels playing ‘chase’ through the trees.
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 002
Smithills Wood
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 003
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 005
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 009
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 011
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 012
The path through the woods took me to the lane leading to Smithills Hall in one direction and through Smithills Open Farm and back towards home in the other – I opted for having a wander round the grounds of Smithills Hall so went left. With the autumn leaves and lack of colourful spring and summer flowers and foliage the gardens looked vastly different to when I was there in late May but it was still nice to wander round and in a slightly secluded part of the garden I even discovered something I’d long since forgotten about – the grave of Little Bess.
In 1870 Colonel Richard Henry Ainsworth inherited Smithills Hall on the death of his great uncle, and he and his wife Isabella Margaret, usually known as Sally, lived there until 1900 before moving to a smaller house in Northamptonshire. Sally was a kind and gentle person with a great affection for animals and Little Bess was one of her favourite dogs. A small white marble headstone, now rather discoloured with age, marks the burial place of Little Bess, and though some of the words are hard to make out the inscription reads “Multum in Parvo” (meaning Much in Little) “In memory of Little Bess, in whom we lose sagacity, love and fidelity. She was of the rarest beauty and though the smallest of her race was possessed of the most lion hearted courage. January 13th 1873 at the age of 6”. Although a bit overgrown with weeds the grave was decorated with a few pots of artificial flowers and even a plaited dog lead had been left there at some time so maybe it’s tended on odd occasions by members of the Friends of Smithills Hall group.
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 030
The lane to Smithills Hall
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 017
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 021
Above the entrance to Poppins tea room in the west wing
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 022
A strange lop-sided old door in the east wing
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 024
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 019
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 016
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 014
The grave of Little Bess
Across the far side of the lawns I spotted a small splash of pink within the green hedge and on closer inspection found it was the remains of (I think) a couple of rhododendron flowers – very late for the time of year and rather an unexpected surprise. Close to there half a dozen steps took me down to a path which meandered a short distance through the trees and I came across something which, although I knew of its existence somewhere on the land, I’d never seen before – a small lake. It seemed to be a bit overgrown in places but with the autumn colours of the trees it still looked quite pretty and was worth a couple of photos.
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 013
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 025
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 026

Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 027

From the lake I retraced my steps back along the path and made my way round the back of the hall and out onto the lane. The sunshine seemed to have deserted me by then so with one final shot of the lane itself I headed up to the farm, back through the park and towards home for a much needed coffee.
Copy of smithills walk - oct. 2018 029
There’ll be no Monday walk next week as I’ll be somewhere in Ireland with no access to a computer but hopefully I’ll have time to post again before I go on Thursday, and as I still have a few walks in hand I’ll catch up with those once I’m back here and settled back into my normal routine – whatever ‘normal’ is!

Sunnyhurst Wood in autumn

A very pleasant day at the very end of October saw me driving a few miles from home and taking the dogs for a Monday walk through Sunnyhurst Wood in Darwen in the hope of capturing some nice autumn photos before the colour left the trees. Parking up at the roadside I noticed that the path down from the main entrance was completely in shade, and knowing how tall the trees are I hoped I wasn’t about to embark on a wild goose chase but I needn’t have worried as things became brighter once I got to the visitor centre at the bottom of the hill.
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 048
Sunnyhurst Wood visitor centre
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 001
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 002
The Olde England kiosk and function venue
Past the Olde England kiosk and the second bridge over the brook I came to the informal paddling pool and was quite surprised to see that since my last visit in late spring, when I’d unfortunately forgotten my camera, much of the top end of it was covered in grass and various weeds which sprang up from the water in large patches. The pool looked nowhere near as attractive as I’d seen it previously, in fact it looked a mess, and I felt quite sad that for whatever reason such a pretty place had been left to grow like that.
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 003
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 004
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 011
The paddling pool
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 009
From the paddling pool the path led a short distance along the riverside to the bandstand in a clearing in the woods. I’d photographed this particular structure last year but only from a few yards away, however this time I decided to see what the inside of the roof looked like. With its many beams and cross-members radiating from a central structure it looked rather like a giant spider’s web and was actually quite attractive.
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 010
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 012
The bandstand
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 039
From the bandstand the path continued through the woods, eventually taking me up a long steady incline with a gate at the top, and I emerged onto the wide tarmac track which crossed the Earnsdale Reservoir dam. At the far side of the dam I was undecided whether to continue along the track and try to make the walk into a circular one but not knowing exactly where or how far the track would take me I opted to retrace my steps back through the woods and take some photos in the opposite direction to earlier.
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 014
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 017
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 018
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 019
Earnsdale Reservoir with Darwen Tower up on the hill
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 025
Two fishermen – the only people I saw during the whole of my walk
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 027
Darwen Tower – another place to explore
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 022
The tops of the trees in the wood
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 026
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 020
It looks like a cannon but it was part of an old water pipe
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 031
Looking down the path from the gate
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 036
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 038
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 015
When I got back to the paddling pool I found that the sun had moved round a bit and the side which had previously been in the shade was now in the sunlight so I took another couple of photos and a shot of the waterfall just down below the bridge at the bottom end then continued back to the van without stopping again.
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 042
The top end of the paddling pool
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 041
Copy of sunnyhurst wood - oct. 2018 047
Back at home I checked Google maps to see where the track at the far side of the reservoir dam would lead to and found that I could have made my walk into a circular one, so maybe I’ll do that next time I go there. A brief history of Sunnyhurst Wood and its bandstand, and some photos of the paddling pool without the overgrown mess, can be found here in my post from May last year.

A local walk in the autumn sunshine

In the calm before Storm Callum hit the UK Wednesday October 10th locally was exceptionally warm and sunny with a cloudless blue sky so I took advantage of it at lunch time and took the dogs out for a good walk. Back in late June, while on a walk close to Firwood Fold, I’d discovered a huge area of open land which I hadn’t known was there although I didn’t explore much of it at the time, but now with the glorious weather and the trees changing into their autumn colours I decided it was time for a revisit.
Firwood Fold itself was very much the same as the last time I was there so I didn’t bother taking any photos until I got to the hidden lake round the back. With the blue sky and the colour of the trees reflected in the water it looked lovely and it was well worth taking a few shots as I walked round it.
2018 Local area 043
2018 Local area 044
2018 Local area 045
2018 Local area 048
Crossing the bridge over the nearby Bradshaw Brook took me onto the end of the open land I’d discovered back in June and once I’d gone up the first short slope it levelled out for quite a distance. On my right were several tree lines with the land going steeply uphill between some of them, and as I walked along I got the same impression as I had back in June, that this place looked more like a golf course than ordinary open land, but although some of the grass was well mown there were no greens, holes, flags or markers and certainly no golfers. I did notice that near the bottom of one of the hills a corner had been marked off into a couple of football pitches, which I thought was rather odd as the land is a bit out of the way, but other than that there were no signs anywhere to say what the place actually was. It was a very pleasant place though, and although most of the trees were still green there was enough autumn colour in the others to give me some good photos.
2018 Local area 068
2018 Local area 050
2018 Local area 066
2018 Local area 053
2018 Local area 059
2018 Local area 058
2018 Local area 067
2018 Local area 065
2018 Local area 064
2018 Local area 060
2018 Local area 062
As I walked along I felt something tickling the back of my hand and when I looked I found it was a ladybird – it flew away before I could snatch a photo of it, which would have been rather difficult anyway, but when I looked up again I saw there were several flying around just at that spot. After I’d spent an hour wandering up and down various hills and through different tree lines I made my way back across Bradshaw Brook then took the path through the woods to the fishing lakes. Somehow the lakes didn’t look quite as attractive as they had back in June but I did manage to get one decent general photo, and the swan family I’d seen back then came gliding up to see what I was doing. Although the young ones had lost their baby fluff they still had their grey colouring but they had definitely grown in the last three-and-a-half months.
2018 Local area 080
2018 Local area 047
2018 Local area 074
2018 Local area 076
Those were my last photos of the day – the weather was still extremely warm for the time of year and the three of us had had a good walk so it was time to head back home for a much needed cold drink. It was only later on, while doing a bit of research, I found out that the open land I’d walked round had indeed been a golf course, one which had closed down in 2014. Planning applications to build houses on part of it have previously been turned down but permission has recently been given for a very small development where the clubhouse and car park used to be, near to other residential properties, with the rest of the land remaining as green belt. I don’t know who actually owns the land but it would be nice to think that it could possibly be designated as a country park as it really is lovely, and a great place to walk Sophie and Poppie without going too far from home.

Smithills Hall – some local history and a few memories

Surrounded by 120 acres of gardens and open land with a steep wooded valley and small lake to the north, Smithills Hall is a Grade l listed manor house situated on the lower slopes of the West Pennine Moors and three miles north west of Bolton town centre. One of the oldest manor houses in north west England, the first written records began when William Radcliffe obtained the manor from the Hulton family in 1335. On William’s death in 1369 the hall passed to his son Sir Ralph Radcliffe who was an MP and High Sheriff of Lancashire, with the Radcliffes living there until 1485. When the male line failed the hall passed to the Bartons, a family of wealthy sheep farmers, and in 1520 the private chapel was rebuilt by Andrew Barton, with successive generations of the Barton family living at the manor for nearly 200 years.
In 1554 George Marsh, a Protestant preacher from another area of the town, was accused of heresy and questioned at Smithills Hall by Justice Robert Barton, and it’s said that after questioning he stamped his foot so hard to reaffirm his Protestant faith that his footprint was left in the stone floor outside the withdrawing room. He was then sent to Chester where he was tried and found guilty, finally being executed on April 24th 1555 – and the ‘footprint’, which is now protected by a reinforced glass panel, is said to bleed every year on the anniversary of his death.
In 1659 Smithills Hall and estate passed by marriage to the Belasyse family but as they owned several other properties around England they didn’t really need to keep the hall so it entered a period of neglect. In 1722 the Byrom family of Manchester bought the manor and kept it until 1801 when it was sold to the Ainsworths, a family of successful Bolton bleachers, and under three generations of that family the hall was extensively rebuilt and modernised. In 1870 Richard Henry Ainsworth, Colonel Ainsworth’s great nephew, inherited the hall and in 1875 he employed the prominent Victorian architect George Devey to design the most significant improvements to the building.
Changes in the British economy after WW1 increased the upkeep costs and reduced the amount of income the Ainsworth family could raise from the Smithills estate, with the financial burden of maintaining a large house and grounds finally becoming too great, so in 1938 the hall was sold to Bolton Corporation for over £70,000. The Victorian parts of the hall became a council residential home and many years of conservation work on the older parts allowed it to open as a museum in 1963. The residential home closed in the early 1990s but that part of the hall was used as a day centre before closing for good several years later, with the museum eventually being extended into some of the rooms.
The west wing is the most recent part of the building to be renovated and restored to its former Victorian glory and the entrance hall is now a reception area and small shop, with a bright modern exhibition room leading off it. Also on the ground floor is Poppins Tea Room, a Mary Poppins-themed Edwardian tea room with a menu which includes Mr Banks’s Afternoon Tea, Bert’s Cream Tea and a selection of sandwiches, light lunches and desserts. The hall is also licensed for civil weddings and these can be held in the Medieval Great Hall, the Tudor Withdrawing Room or the newly refurbished Devey Room.
Local area 2018 410
2018 Local area 086
2018 Local area 087
The Medieval Great Hall
2018 Local area 088
2018 Local area 091
2018 Local area 092
2018 Local area 093
The Withdrawing Room
2018 Local area 097
2018 Local area 098
These Heraldic Panels were originally commissioned in 1843 as decoration for the withdrawing room and to honour the families that lived at Smithills Hall – they were professionally restored to their former magnificent glory in 2006 and to keep them in good condition visitors are requested not to touch them.
2018 Local area 107
2018 Local area 100
2018 Local area 109
2018 Local area 103
2018 Local area 104
2018 Local area 106
2018 Local area 101
2018 Local area 105
2018 Local area 102
2018 Local area 111
2018 Local area 113
The Bower room
2018 Local area 115
2018 Local area 116
The Solar room
2018 Local area 118
2018 Local area 119
The carved oak tester bed
2018 Local area 121
From old to ultra-modern – the bright new exhibition rooms
The grammar school I went to back in the late 1960s was just down the road from Smithills Hall, in fact the school playing fields were, and still are, adjacent to the Hall’s lower gardens. Every three months we would have assembly services in the chapel and each year just before Christmas the school choir, of which I was a member, would go up to the Hall and sing carols to the residents of the retirement home part. I remember doing art and history projects there too, and one particular art project in my final year was conducted by a young modern teacher with some quite wacky ideas.
Using the green of the Smithills Hall lawns as a contrasting colour we all had to put on full length ‘costumes’, half of us in black and the other half in white,  which were basically cotton bags which covered us from head to foot, including our arms, and which just had small holes for our eyes. We then had to stand in small groups at strategic points and move, either individually or as a group, in whichever direction she told us while she filmed us – the black and white costumes were supposed to correspond with the black and white of the building but I never did understand the point of it all. Imagine trying to walk somewhere while encased head to foot in a cloth bag and only able to see through a couple of small holes – a lot of falling over and bumping into each other occurred but it was all good fun and at least it got us out of doing a proper lesson.
I remember one rather amusing incident regarding Smithills Hall which occurred when I was 14. Tim, a family friend who was an old army buddy of my dad’s, had come up from Worcester to stay with us for a while and as he liked historical buildings I took him to Smithills Hall one day. As we walked round we heard what we thought was the sound of a radio coming from the vicinity of the chapel but when we got there we discovered that it was the vicar vacuuming the carpet in the central aisle and singing away as he worked! Of course we apologised for disturbing him but he said he didn’t mind and he left us to wander round. That incident was mentioned a few times in conversation over the following years – sadly Tim passed away in 2006 but I’ve never forgotten the day we caught the vicar singing as he vacuumed the chapel carpet.
My visit to Smithills Hall earlier this year – my first for many years –  was actually part of a dog walk I did in glorious weather during the second bank holiday back in May, but as dogs aren’t allowed in the building I had to leave Sophie and Poppie just outside the entrance, meaning that my visit was very much a whistle-stop tour, but I still managed to get a fair amount of photos. The place is definitely worth a revisit but next time I’ll go without the dogs so I can spend much more time in there.