Back in the 19th century two local brothers, Nathaniel and Thomas Greenhalgh who had made a large fortune in the cotton spinning industry, were determined that some of their wealth should go towards improving the spiritual and moral welfare of the people living and working in the industrial sprawl on the outskirts of Bolton. Being fervent members of the evangelical wing of the Church of England they decided to build a school and a church on land they owned off the main road running north from the town centre, and though Nathaniel died in 1877 at the age of 60 Thomas decided to proceed with the scheme in his memory and work started on the school that same year.
In 1878 the architects Paley and Austin of Lancaster were appointed to design the church, with Thomas Greenhalgh’s remit being that the building should be without interior obstructions so that everyone could see and hear the sermon, and there should be no uncomfortable draughts for people to catch colds. Work on the Gothic Revival-style church started that same year though it was entirely without ceremony as Greenhalgh didn’t want the pomp of laying an official foundation stone; the contractors were Cordingley & Stopford of Manchester and the total cost of the build was £20,000, the equivalent of almost £2.4 million at today’s prices. The new church was consecrated by Bishop Fraser of Manchester on June 30th 1881 and the first vicar was the Reverend William Popplewell.
Built of locally made red brick with Longridge stone being used for the external dressings and Stourton stone inside, the church has a north porch and a west door, a small octagonal turret on the north side and a west tower 26ft square. The roofs were covered in Westmorland slate and at one time the tower had a weather vane bearing the date 1881 but unfortunately this was blown off during a storm in 1952 and was never replaced.
Thomas Greenhalgh’s remit that the church interior should be without obstructions produced a large nave 52ft wide and 86ft long with just one central aisle, and a chancel measuring 40ft x 25ft. The high vaulted roof and the panelling of the nave walls were made of pitch pine, as were the original pews which could seat 800 people. The pulpit, lectern, reading desk, choir stalls, altar and communion rails were all designed by Paley and Austin and made of oak.
The church was originally lit by twelve gas pendants then in 1929 electric lighting was introduced, with electric blowers being added to the organ at the same time. The organ itself was built by Abbott of Leeds in 1880 from a specification prepared by S W Pilling of Bolton, with extensive overhauls being carried out in 1959 and again in the 1970s by Peter Wood of Huddersfield. The case, again designed by Paley and Austin, was made of Danzig oak.
The chancel floor is made up of white marble with inlays of Dent black marble, which isn’t true marble but a black crinoidal limestone found in certain areas of Dentdale and quarried during the late 18th century. With its amazing quantity of embedded fossil remains it became known as Dent Marble and was, at one time, very much sought after.
The reredos was designed by John Roddis of Birmingham, sculpted from Mansfield stone and made up of a series of panels containing the Apostles’ Creed, the Decalogue and the Lord’s Prayer, while the large font near the west door was also designed by John Roddis and sculpted from Mansfield stone. In later years an oak font cover was added which was paid for by public subscription in 1930 and dedicated to William Popplewell, the church’s first vicar. The inscription on the plaque reads “To the glory of God and in loving memory of the Rev’d William Popplewell, first vicar of this parish 1879 – 1923”
The eastern windows of the chancel were all made by Clayton & Bell of London and date from the building of the church. Clayton & Bell was one of the most prolific and proficient English stained glass workshops during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, well known for their use of exceptionally bright primary colours. The company was founded in 1855 and continued until 1993 with their windows being found throughout the UK and in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The windows in All Souls were given in memory of Nathaniel Greenhalgh and show scenes from the New Testament including several from The Acts of the Apostles, all with the relevant quotation below them.
Fast forward through the years and what had once been a large congregation gradually dwindled over time and by the time the church celebrated its centenary in 1981 it was becoming obvious that the building had major problems. From the 1940s there had been several outbreaks of dry rot and in later years vandalism was rife – in 1970 the stained glass windows in the tower were removed after being badly damaged. They had been made by Shrigley and Hunt and had depicted the six days of the Creation but they were replaced with plain glass containing a cross in the upper part of the central light.
In 1986 it was stated that over 80% of the area’s population were of Asian origin with most being Muslims and with the small congregation unable to meet the parish’s financial commitments closure of the church was inevitable; the last service was held there on December 28th that same year. To avoid All Souls suffering the same fate as its sister church, which had been in another area of the town and was demolished in 1975, in June 1987 the church was vested in the Redundant Churches Fund, now known as the Churches Conservation Trust. Since then the Trust has undertaken several major repairs to the fabric of the building including eradicating the dry rot and pointing the brickwork.
In 2007 a local resident, Inayat Omarji, who had lived in the area all his life, recognised the church’s potential to be a community, events and business centre and after gathering support and financial backing for its regeneration a rescue plan was developed in partnership with the Churches Conservation Trust. Renovation and restoration work began in September 2013 and was completed in November 2014, with the doors finally reopening to the public on December 6th that year.
Because the inside of the church had been originally designed without pillars or aisles it was very adaptable to its new purpose as an events and community space. The philosophy of the restoration was to preserve the original beauty of the church while incorporating the very best of contemporary design and the interior now features two connected 3-storey ‘pods’ which are independent of the main building and touch neither the sides nor the roof of it. The newly designed interior provides an events space in the main body of the church for heritage and community activity, a ground floor coffee shop, a history wall, office space and five meeting rooms, while the chancel and all its original features remain intact. The building is still consecrated as a church and weddings can still be held there with the permission of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In spite of All Souls being only a mile from home I’d never actually been in there, either in the past or in more recent years, however I visited a couple of weeks ago on one of the Heritage Open Days – and I have to say that what you see on the inside is definitely not what you would expect to see from the outside.
After spending some time wandering round taking photos and reading various bits of information on the history wall I sat down to listen to a very interesting talk on the history of the church given by Suzanne, one of the community workers, then I had the opportunity to climb the tower steps up onto the roof, stopping a couple of times on the way up to look down into the main body of the church.
The tower is 117ft high with a narrow spiral stone staircase of 180 steps and a ring of eight bells cast in 1880 by J Taylor & Co. of Loughborough. The tenor bell alone weighs over 23cwt (1160kg) with the whole ring of eight weighing a total of 90cwt (4570kg). Going up the staircase was certainly a test of heart and lung capacity, though with no handrail or rope to hold onto coming back down was more a test of nerve and definitely not for the faint-hearted.
The strenuous climb up the tower steps was certainly worth it as I was rewarded with 360 degree views and I could see for miles in all directions; the weather was glorious and I got several good shots looking over the immediate area and beyond, with the high-rises of Manchester city centre on the horizon.
Back at ground level I had another wander round to catch up on anything I’d previously missed – and I still didn’t manage to see or read everything – then it was time to go as it was almost closing time. I’d been there for over two hours and it was certainly time well spent – I’d learnt something of the history of All Souls and it had been interesting to see the modern ‘building within a building’. The church is open every weekday so who knows, I may very well be tempted to pop in sometime when I’m passing to sample their coffee and cake.
My Monday walk this week was done just yesterday and was actually Plan B when Plan A didn’t work out. I started off mid morning at the big car boot sale near the village of St Michael’s on Wyre; normally held every weekend from May bank holiday until the end of September it was the first time this year that it was on and I’d been looking forward to it.
My original intention, once I’d looked round all the stalls twice, was to drive over to Garstang and walk along a section of the Lancaster canal but when I came to take the first couple of photos at the car boot my camera told me that all images would be stored on the internal memory, which I thought was rather odd until I found the media card was missing – I’d transferred it to my card reader a few days previously and forgotten to put it back in the camera.
Not knowing how many photos I could take using the camera’s internal memory – I suspected not very many – and with a lot of grey clouds around anyway there was no point going all the way to Garstang so I decided to have a short walk along a section of the River Wyre instead. Driving into the village I parked near the primary school then walked the hundred yards or so along the main road and over the bridge to the riverside path and the start of the walk; it’s a walk I’m familiar with as I camped a few times at a lovely little site nearby several years ago.
While the river meandered round and doubled back on itself the path carried straight on, first through a tree shaded area close to a small field of sheep then along the high bank of the river itself with a couple of pleasant meadows on my left below the bank. At the next bend there was just one lone person sitting fishing; the river wound back on itself again there, skirting the edge of another meadow and effectively making it a dead end so I knew I would end up retracing my steps.
Continuing to follow the river round the edge of the meadow I came to the junction of a narrow brook and I remembered that on the next bend there should be a small sandy beach. I was right, the beach was still there, so I went down off the bank and let Poppie have a few minutes paddle before I continued round the edge of the meadow. Eventually I could go no farther as my way was blocked by a fence and gate leading to a small development of waterside holiday lodges so I cut diagonally back across the meadow and rejoined the main riverside path along the top of the bank.
Heading back to the road I almost stood on a toad in the middle of the stony path. At first I thought it may be injured but it hopped a couple of paces when I touched it; up ahead I could see a couple coming towards me with a big dog so to save the possibility of the toad being snapped at I picked it up and put it gently in the foliage off the path.
Back at the bridge I crossed the road to the riverbank at the other side with the intention of walking along for a mile or so – another route I’ve done before – but there was a small herd of cows up ahead with a couple of mean looking ones right in the middle of the path. I had no intention of getting into an argument with those two so I gave up on that idea and decided to call it a day and make tracks for home.
Passing St. Michael’s Church I found it was open to visitors for ‘private prayer’ – not that I’m religious – so finding somewhere suitable to leave Poppie for a few minutes I went to take a look and found I was the only person in there. A church has occupied that site from at least the 13th century; the present church was probably built in the 15th century with alterations being made in the 17th century. The chapel at the north of the church dates from 1480, it was repaired in 1797 and restored in 1854. The tower is said to date from 1549 and houses a ring of three bells hung in a timber frame. Inscribed with Gothic script the treble bell was originally cast in 1458 and was given to the church by a French lady; the second bell was cast in 1663 by Geoffrey Scott of Wigan while the third bell dates from 1742 and was cast by Abel Rudhall of Gloucestershire.
The colourful corner in the angle of the church wall was my final shot, the camera’s internal memory was full, so there was nothing else I could do other than return to the van and head for home. My day hadn’t worked out as I’d originally planned but I’d made the best of it, Poppie had a paddle and I actually got more photos than I thought I would so I suppose it was still a success even though it was a minor one.
My Monday walk this week was done just five days ago – June 24th – on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year so far. I don’t usually watch weather forecasts but I’d heard that the weekend was probably going to be very wet so I decided to take advantage of the midweek sunshine and explore a couple of places I hadn’t been to before.
Driving up the M6 I took the turn-off for Lancaster and headed along the A683 which bypassed the city itself and led straight to Heysham port, though on the spur of the moment I took a minor road down to the River Lune to check out a particular spot which – I’d been told by someone ages ago – was quite nice and had good views over the river. I didn’t have to go far before I came to a pleasant looking static caravan site and next to it The Golden Ball Hotel set several feet higher than the road.
According to local history there’s been an inn on that site since the mid 1600s; the main part of the existing inn, known locally as Snatchems, was built in 1710 and an extension was added in 1790. Fast forward to the early 20th century and in 1910 William Mitchell bought the inn and it became a tenanted pub with Mitchells of Lancaster being the landlords. In early 2010 the last tenants left and with no-one to run it the pub was closed and put up for sale by Mitchells, eventually being bought in 2011 by the current owner and further extended.
There are a few stories of how the pub’s nickname Snatchems originated though the most interesting and widely accepted explanation stems from when the River Lune was used as a shipping channel. When any tall ship was about to sail out on the high tide the captain would check how many men were on board and if the numbers were short a boat would be sent over to the inn, where the crew would ‘snatch’ any men who were intoxicated – and by the time they sobered up they would be well on the way to a foreign country!
Parking at the roadside near the pub I had a very short walk in each direction and other than a handful of passing cars I had the place to myself. Round a bend just west of the pub the road went over a deep drainage ditch while a hundred yards or so to the east the grass riverbank widened out to quite a pleasant area. The Golden Ball itself was temporarily closed up, with its entrances at road level surrounded by high steel barriers, and coupled with obviously overgrown gardens the place had a distinct air of abandonment about it.
With my curiosity satisfied I drove back to the main road and headed to my first ‘official’ destination, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Heysham Nature Reserve. At the point where the road led into the docks and the power station a lane on the left took me to the track leading to the reserve; unfortunately there was a barrier across the track with a ‘car park closed’ notice on it but I was able to squeeze the van into a suitable space just off the lane and I set off to see what I could find. The first disappointment came when I got to the far side of the car park and found a notice on the gate saying dogs weren’t allowed in that part of the reserve, however there was no way I could leave Poppie in the van on such a hot day and there was no-one around anyway so I took a chance and went through.
The second disappointment came just a few yards farther on when I found a large part of the reserve completely closed off by a high steel fence and a locked gate with a ‘No Entry’ sign attached to it. That was one area I definitely couldn’t get into so I followed the path down a series of steps and found myself on the road to the power station – this couldn’t be right, there had to be more to the reserve than that. Across the road was a grassy area at the entrance to the large EDF Energy place and at the far side I spotted a rabbit so I snatched a quick long distance photo before it moved then went back up the steps into the reserve.
Not far from the top of the steps I found another path which meandered between hedgerows alive with birdsong, and past a quiet little tree shaded pond I came to a large meadow which, ignoring the constant hum and crackle from the power lines above, was quite a pleasant place in the sunshine. The path eventually brought me out not far from where I’d left the van and across the track was another path with a notice on the gate saying this area was where dogs could be walked and could also be allowed off lead, not that Poppie ever is.
In the shade just inside the gate was a metal box with a lid and a dog bowl at the side – a notice on the fence said ‘Dog water – please refill’ and in the box were several 2-litre milk containers full of fresh water, with a couple of empty ones left at the side. Quite a handy provision for thirsty dogs, presumably supplied by a local member of the Trust, and once Poppie had a quick drink we set off on some further exploration. The path was long and straight, bordered by trees on one side and open grassy areas on the other, and a distance along was a pond with hundreds of fish, possibly chub, swarming about close to the edge.
Eventually the path crossed an access lane to part of the power station and I came to an open picnic area with benches here and there; it was overlooked by the huge Heysham 2 nuclear reactor but plenty of surrounding trees did help to screen the building from view. Heysham 2 seems to dominate the horizon from miles away and from a distance looks quite ugly but close up, with its red, blue and green colours, I thought it looked strangely attractive. At the end of the picnic area the path ran for a short distance past the power station’s perimeter fence with its ‘keep out’ notices at intervals; with the continuous loops of razor wire on top of the fence I felt almost like I was passing the grounds of a prison and I certainly couldn’t imagine anyone trying to get in there.
I finally emerged onto a very rocky shore at Red Nab rocks, an area of Permo-triassic rocks of red and white sandstone. A long concrete promenade ran past the power station perimeter towards the port entrance and halfway along was a closed off short pier with the surface of the sea in a turmoil underneath it, which was presumably something to do with the power station; according to the notice on the fence this was the Heysham Sea Bass Nursery Area managed by the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and public fishing wasn’t allowed.
A bit farther along were the remains of an old wooden pier and at the end of the promenade was the old south pier lighthouse at the port entrance. Built from cast iron in 1904 and almost 30ft high the base had originally been red and the lantern gallery white, though it now looks sorely in need of a coat of paint. Information tells me that in spite of its derelict looks it’s still active with a 6-second on/1.5-second off green light, though I’m not sure how correct that information is.
The old light house was the one thing I’d wanted to see so once I’d taken a couple of photos I retraced my steps along the promenade. By then the tide had come in and the turmoil of water under the sea bass nursery pier had levelled out, with dozens of seagulls in the channel – presumably at some point there would be a lot of fish in evidence just there. Walking back along the path through the nature reserve I was momentarily surprised when a bird flew out of a tree and landed right in front of me; it could possibly have been a thrush but without seeing the front of it I couldn’t be sure.
Back at the van I gave Poppie a drink even though she had some from her travel bottle while we were walking, then I drove the short distance to the next place on my itinerary, Half Moon Bay which was just at the other side of the port and another place I’d never been to. There was nothing there really, just a large rough-surfaced car park, a beach and a small café, closed of course; ignoring the ever-present power station building it wasn’t a bad little place but I wasn’t sure about the crooked sign attached to a crooked pole.
On the grass just off the end of the short promenade was a sculpture commissioned by the Morecambe Bay Partnership in 2019. It was just called ‘Ship’ and is supposed to reflect the importance of Morecambe Bay’s maritime heritage, with one figure facing ‘the new’ of Heysham’s nuclear power station and the other facing ‘the old’ of the ancient ruins of St. Patrick’s chapel on the cliffs farther along, and though I quite liked it I failed to see the significance of the holes through the figures’ upper bodies.
With nothing else to see at Half Moon Bay I returned to the van and took the road leading into Heysham village; I hadn’t intended going there but I wanted to find a cold drink from somewhere. Across from the village car park the side window of the Curiosity Corner cafe was open for takeaway drinks and snacks so I went to get something from there and was charged £1.20 for a can of Tango – sheesh, these places certainly know how to charge over the odds for something! I was glad that at least I’d taken my own slab of fruit cake as to buy some cake from there would probably have cost an arm and several legs.
Suitably refreshed I took a walk along to the end of the village’s main street and was delighted to find that the church was open to visitors. I’d wanted to go in there when I visited the village last year but it was closed then so I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity this time as I wanted to photograph the carved Viking hogback tombstone which dates from the 10th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get proper shots of the stained glass windows as much of the church was blocked off but photographing the tombstone was no problem as it was close to the open side door.
Back outside I took a wander round Glebe Garden as due to the palaver ofrescuing an injured hedgehog last year I hadn’t seen much of the place at the time. It wasn’t a big garden but it was very pretty and as I walked round I discovered many delightful miniature houses and tiny animals set among the foliage and on cut down tree stumps.
Walking back through the village I shot my last couple of photos and returned to the van; it was still only mid afternoon but I had to go to work later on and it was an hour’s drive back home, plus I wanted to make a brief stop on the way back.
Driving back through Half Moon Bay I reversed the route from there back to the Golden Ball on the River Lune as I wanted to see if the area looked any different now that the tide was in. It certainly did, and far from there being no-one around when I was there earlier there were several cars and trailers parked along the road and a few people out on jet skis, with a couple of families sitting on the grass while their kids and dogs played at the water’s edge.
With my day out finishing exactly where it began I did the journey home with no problems and arrived back with just enough time to get changed before going to work. All in all it had been a good day out, and though I had no wish to return to the nature reserve or Half Moon Bay it had been good to visit them both just to see what they were like – and with the healthy dose of sea air for myself and Poppie we both slept well that night.
This week’s Monday walk, if you can call it that, features a wander round a church about seven miles from home in the next town. The Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin is situated right on the edge of Bury town centre, just a couple of minutes walk from the interchange and the main shopping centre and not far from the well known open market. Church records suggest that the first church on the site was a wood and thatch structure which was replaced in the late 16th century by a building in the Gothic style ; between 1773 and 1780 the main body of this church was demolished and rebuilt although the spire wasn’t touched.
The spire itself was replaced in 1842 but by 1870 the timbers in the rest of the church had rotted and another new building was needed. The current church was designed on a much grander scale by architect J S Crowther and was built leaving the 1842 spire in place ; construction took five years and the church was finally consecrated on February 2nd 1876. The interior features hammerbeam and tie-beam roof trusses, decorative mosaic flooring by Minton and stained glass windows by Clayton & Bell and Hardman & Company, while the tower houses eight bells, six of which date from 1722.
The nave is 84ft 6ins long, 30ft wide and 76ft 6ins high, with the windows on the north wall depicting Old Testament figures while those on the south wall depict those from the New Testament. Unfortunately most of the windows were so high up that I would have needed to use an exceptionally long step ladder to get good clear shots of them. The west wall rises in four stages to the great rose window and was inspired by Westminster Abbey, while the pulpit was given in memory of Reverend Roger Kay who re-founded Bury Grammar School in 1726 ; it’s believed that he is actually buried beneath the pulpit.
The organ was at one time situated above the west door but it was relocated to its current position when the church was rebuilt in 1876. Originally a tracker action organ electrics were eventually installed and the console was moved to the south side of the chancel where it faced east. The organ was rebuilt in 2007, keeping some of the original pipework and giving it a French sound, and the console was turned to face south.
The church is also the garrison church of the Lancashire Fusiliers. On April 25th 1915 the Lancashire Fusiliers were involved in taking West Beach at Gallipoli, for which the regiment won six VCs, and each year a service is held on the nearest Sunday to that date to commemorate those who took part in Gallipoli and subsequent battles. For anyone interested in regimental history the church has a number of colours hung on display along with memorial tablets, record books and other artefacts, with a dedicated museum in the old Fusiliers building round the corner.
I hadn’t originally intended going into the church as I was in Bury for an entirely different reason, but when I saw the ‘church open’ sign on the outside railings I thought I may as well pop in for a quick look and I’m glad I did. It’s a lovely place with many interesting features, more than I realised at the time, so it would be worth making a return visit the next time I go to Bury – and with a nice little café just across the road I can treat myself to coffee and cake as well.
My last full day in Roscrea arrived with sunshine and blue sky and after breakfast my first task was to find some nice artificial flowers to replace the ones I left on Michael’s dad’s grave last year. Although I really wanted a single large arrangement I couldn’t find one so I settled for six small bunches, three red and three white, and back at the house I filched a length of Nellie’s green knitting wool and tied them all together into one arrangement before taking them up to the grave. While I was up there I noticed that the lantern and plaques that Michael and I had left at the time of the funeral were looking a bit grubby so I took them back to the house, gave them a good clean then went to return them to the grave. I took my camera with me too as I’d seen that the church was open so I went in to see if I could get some photos of the stained glass windows which I didn’t get shots of on a previous occasion.
The construction of St. Cronan’s RC Church started in 1844 just before the Great Hunger and in spite of the best efforts of the parish priest and the local community it proved impossible to complete during the famine years. After various fund raising efforts both in the community and in America the church was finally opened for worship in 1855 although it still didn’t have a roof at that time. In the 1870s the towers flanking the west end of the building were added, and before his death in 1902 John Francis Bentley, the architect of Westminster Cathedral, said that the hand carved altar pinnacle and screen was the most beautiful piece of church architecture he had seen in Ireland. In 1913 lightning seriously damaged the apse so restoration and redecoration was carried out on the whole church, then in the 1920s the statue of St. Cronan was added, which now stands above the main door.
It seemed like I was the only person in the church at that time so with no interruptions I wandered round freely and managed to get shots of every stained glass window in there. Someone belonging to the church must have been there somewhere though as only a few minutes after I’d gone out I heard the main door being closed and locked from the inside – it seemed I’d got my photos just at the right time.
Back at the house Nellie made me a coffee and a couple of sandwiches then I got ready for the next part of my day ; earlier in the holiday I’d promised Trixie that I would take her for a good walk and as it was still a lovely day weather-wise that’s just what I was going to do.
Standing adjacent to St. Mary of the Rosary church, but in its own grounds, St. Mary’s Church of Ireland was built in 1862 to a design by architect Joseph Welland and features a stained glass window from the studio of Harry Clarke. It was a much smaller building than its opulent next-door neighbour and with very few features the interior was strikingly simple in comparison.
Needless to say it didn’t take me long to look round this church and I was soon heading back on the couple of minutes walk into town. Nenagh town centre is bigger and has more shops than Roscrea but I’m not one for shopping so it still didn’t take me long to look round, and when it started raining again I decided to cut my losses and get the next coach back to Nellie’s – trying to take photos with one hand while holding an umbrella up with the other wasn’t an easy task and the couple of shots I did take of the town centre were rather spoilt by getting rain spots on the lens, so if there was anything else worth seeing in Neenagh it would have to wait until another time.
St. Mary of the Rosary church, built in 1896, is an excellent example of large scale Gothic Revival architecture, with the exterior being notable for its finely-carved dressings and elaborate west doorway. The interior of the nave revives the quatrefoil columns which would have been found in some of the 13th century Irish and English Gothic parish churches – the columns and pointed arches are built of Portland stone and the chancel features a series of fine mosaics designed by Ludwig Oppenheimer in 1911.
The interior features of this church were beautiful and there were so many of them I could have spent much longer in there but while I was wandering round I noticed several young men in suits and other people obviously getting prepared for something so I thought I’d better make myself scarce. When I got outside the car park was full of cars with more arriving and from the outfits that people were wearing it looked like a wedding was imminent so it seemed that I’d timed my church visit just right. Next door was the much smaller St. Mary’s Church of Ireland which I hadn’t been into last year so now it was time to take a look in there.
The last day of November arrived bright and sunny so as Michael was meeting up with some of his friends I decided to take myself off to Nenagh, a 25-minute bus ride from Roscrea. I’d gone there last year as I wanted to see the castle but unfortunately I’d chosen one of the only two days in the week when it was closed, so now armed with proper details of the opening days and times I was making a second attempt, also Nellie had shown me a postcard with some pictures of Nenagh Town Park and it looked interesting so that was somewhere else I could check out.
I got the mid-day coach from Roscrea but halfway through the journey the sunshine disappeared and the rain started ; by the time I got to Nenagh it was pouring down so I dashed into the nearest discount shop and bought a cheap umbrella but the rain had stopped by the time I came out again. That seemed to set a pattern though and the rest of the afternoon passed with alternate sunshine and showers. I’d passed the Town Park on the way into Nenagh but the coach didn’t stop anywhere near it so I’d had to go into the town and walk back again but it only took ten minutes. To be honest I found the park to be rather disappointing when I got there ; bordered on three sides by the Nenagh river and a railway line on the fourth side it was nothing more than a very large childrens’ playground with various modern pieces of play equipment dotted around, a small pond and a few grassy picnic areas with a pathway all the way round, though maybe it would look nicer on a sunny summer day.
Walking back into the town I passed a pub with a picture on its corner wall which made me smile. Back in 1935 the Guinness toucan first made its appearance in an advertising campaign for the brand on posters and many years later on television, and though various other animals featured in the adverts over the years it was the toucan which became the most famous. The gang of animal friends appeared in the adverts for decades but in 1982 Guinness stopped working with the advertising company and the animals were dropped completely. In 2016 a limited edition can of Guinness was produced featuring the toucan but it now primarily lives on in the memories of Guinness lovers and collectors and on the walls of some Irish pubs.
Back in the town I made my way round to the castle and leaving my bag with the two friendly guys at the information desk in the entrance I set off on my climb to the top of the tower. The castle was built at the beginning of the 13th century with the keep being Nenagh’s oldest building ; originally it was incorporated in the curtain walls surrounding a five-sided courtyard but only a few fragments of the walls now remain and these are inaccessible to the public. Built of limestone the keep has an external diameter of 55ft round the base and access is through a short passageway in the base of the wall which is 16ft thick. The keep rises to 100ft, with four storeys accessed by stone spiral staircases which change direction at each floor level, and there are 101 steps to the top.
The stairs got steeper and narrower as I climbed further up, a definite test of one’s heart and lung capacity, and eventually I emerged onto the castle roof. The crown of crenellations and clerestory windows weren’t added to the tower until 1861, and though not true to historic character they ensured the iconic status of the keep which is now a major tourist attraction. The sun shining intermittently through the rain clouds produced rather an odd light for photo taking but on a clear sunny day the views from up there would be really good.
Back at ground level I retrieved my bag from the guys at the desk and spent a few minutes chatting to them then made my way round to St. Mary of the Rosary church. I’d gone in there last year and had been really impressed with its opulent interior, and though I’d taken several general photos at the time I wanted to get some more detailed shots. I spent quite a while in there and achieved my aim, though I took far too many photos to include here so I’ll put them in a follow-up post of their own.
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.
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.
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.