History

This quote comes from the book edited by Sharon Lambert and Nigel Ingham: “Fumigating the cat and other stories from the Marsh History Group”. It is about the creation of Coronation Field in the early 1950s. The bit at the end about “it shouldn’t be built on” relates to a proposed development in the early 1990s, which was eventually fought off by local residents. Now we need to fight it off again.

“It was Williamson’s that gave them it. If they collected enough money to flatten it, you know, and get things to do it. And all the people used to have whist drives and beetle drives and things like that, you know, anything to make money out of it. I’d go down wi’ me dad. He used to do the most work though. They just dug and I think they must have hired a bulldozer. But it was full of kivver and waste that came from Williamsons, it was all over.  And kiddies used to come home covered in it. Me dad worked at Williamsons for years. He was a watchman. They had a hut and they used to have dances. Near dyke there was a hut and they used to have little concerts. That’s where they had their beetle drives and whist drives. That hut had been there for years … that field should belong to the kiddies really. I think so …It shouldn’t be built on.”

Jean Brotheridge, born 1925

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Some more history for people’s interest……

From Robert Bellis’s (1987) History of Aldcliffe manuscript, in his own words:

After twenty years’ residence in, and study of, the Hamlet of Aldcliffe, and acting under the spur of a computer word processor, I have set out in a more orderly fashion the files and notes I have acquired, to make known the story of Aldcliffe…..

Freeman’s Wood is a salient feature within this history with its existence dating back to medieval times in documents that were collated by the aforementioned Mr. Bellis, who in his manuscript talks about the boundaries of Aldcliffe that include the whole of the Freeman’s Wood area, and how these boundaries were verified and ‘fixed in the minds of the younger generations in a variety of ways’ approximately every seven years through a ceremonial ‘riding’:

    “From early medieval days it has been customary every seven years or so, to mark the boundary of a parish, borough, or city by having a ceremonial “riding”, when officials would perambulate the district, checking the boundary markings and fixing these marks in the minds of the younger generations in a variety of ways. What better way for us to start our tour of Aldcliffe’s boundaries by quoting from the Lancaster Boundary Riding, where it runs alongside the Aldcliffe boundary, for the year 1682 ;-

……down the midie of the Loyne untill you come to a poole called Blackpoole foote wch devideth Heaton and 0xcliffe overwhart Loyne unto the Earnestone, from thence on the outside of Soul ram to Ongel1 Beck at the foot of Aidcliffe Brow in Aidcliffe Lane and from thence on the outside of Haverbreaks until you come to the Brigg Head along the Brooke or Running Water………

Because many of the names have changed and because some of the features mentioned in this description have now disappeared it is not easy to follow these instructions, so perhaps it would be helpful to look at the 1865 Boundary Riding, which is for exactly the same common boundary of Lancaster and Aidcliffe. It reads ;-

………..overthwart the R. Lune, by the South side of Freeman’s wood, unto a place near where there was formerly a large stone called the Earn Stone on the north side of a hedge or fence in Aidcliffe Hall Grounds, from thence by the East end of Freeman’s wood and by Lucy Brook to a place west of the Footbridge over the same and from thence in a southerly direction on the outside of Lower Holme otherwise Sower Holme, to Howgill Beck at the foot of Kill brow in Aidcliffe Lane- from thence crossing the Lancaster Canal and on the outside of Haverbricks until you come to the Brigg Head or place near the Brook or running water, then re-crossing the Canal in a southerly direction to a place opposite the entrance of the said brook into the Canal, again crossing the Canal and along the said brook to Ashton Lane …..

This report was written over 100 years ago, but already it contains names of features which even old residents of the village cannot recall. I have asked about Howgill Beck and Kill brow but both names have been lost! Howgill beck must have gathered its waters from the Haverbreaks slopes, before the drainage hereabouts was disturbed by the building of the canal. I had hoped the name might have survived in a house name in the area, but I have not found it. Kill brow in these days of cars is no longer a hill to be feared…..”

Robert Bellis goes on to talk about how Mile Lane has been an ancient right of way going back to medieval times for local people to enjoy as well as for more utilitarian purposes to gather ‘turf, hay and rushes’ from the surrounding fields and the estuary:

“…..The length from the old level crossing to Freeman’s wood is called Mile Lane, being an ancient straight “green” road marking the medieval right of access to the former marshes for the carriage of turf, hay and rushes. There are also rights of way along the top of the Embankment and along the Canal tow-path. The former hall drive has now, through common usage, become a right of way for walkers.”

Later on in Freeman’s Wood’s history Robert Bellis talks at length about the building of the embankment that was designed and built to protect and reclaim the Marsh from the flood waters of the river Lune:

THE EMBANKMENT 1820:

    “Even before the mortar had fully dried in the New Hall, Edward Dawson had turned his thoughts to, another project. He wished to drain and reclaim the Aldcliffe Marsh from the floods of the River Lune and as early as 22nd Nov 1817, he had called in William Miller of Preston to give expert advice and costing on building an embankment to control the river. Many documents (MSS 2654 to 2665) tell the story of how, in the next three years, he was busy consulting, seeking advice from near and far and working, for this.

The rise and fall of the tides along the shores of Morecambe Bay, from Greenodd and Haverthwaite and as far south as the estuary of the Ribble were reported on; even he wondered how the Dutch set about draining their lowland; deciding the best slope for the embankment was problemmatic- 1 C.1 5 was considered dangerous, 1 in 7 would be better; drawings of sections with various slopes were studied, with calculations as to cubic yardage, whilst the qualities of various people to employ were discussed. Throughout 1819 and 1820 the correspondence continued – should Marl from Cockerham be used, what part should straw, stakes, wattling, gravel oilstones play in the drainage, what height should the embankment be to combat what height of tide? Who should carry out this work — “Croasdale of Cartmel is a good honest man and a diligent workman”.

The building of the Embankment and enclosing of the marsh was done in the summer of 1920. A bank of earth, 2010 yards long, varying in height from 5 to 14 feet high and with a base from 50 to 130 feet wide was erected. The embankment covered an area of ten and a half acres.

The rise and fall of the tides along the shores of Morecambe Bay, from Greenodd and Haverthwaite and as far south as the estuary of the Ribble were reported on; even he wondered how the Dutch set about draining their lowland; deciding the best slope for the embankment was problemmatic- 1 C.1 5 was considered dangerous, 1 in 7 would be better; drawings of sections with various slopes were studied, with calculations as to cubic yardage, whilst the qualities of various people to employ were discussed. Throughout 1819 and 1820 the correspondence continued – should Marl from Cockerham be used, what part should straw, stakes, wattling, gravel oilstones play in the drainage, what height should the embankment be to combat what height of tide? Who should carry out this work — “Croasdale of Cartmel is a good honest man and a diligent workman”.

The building of the Embankment and enclosing of the marsh was done in the summer of 1920. A bank of earth, 2010 yards long, varying in height from 5 to 14 feet high and with a base from 50 to 130 feet wide was erected. The embankment covered an area of ten and a half acres.

What was to be gained from such a huge expenditure? The gold medal Edward Dawson received from the Society of Arts and Sciences for this work expresses this most succintly in its inscription, which reads

“MDCCCXX1 for embanking 166 acres of marsh at the mouth of the River Lune”

By adding over 160 acres to his demesne, at a cost of less than £10 pounds an acre, was achieved through planning and application, but he had further problems. How could this saline marsh be brought into worthwhile cultivation? Once again he looked around for advice and by Feb. 1921 he had written to John Sinclair of Edinburgh, an expert agriculturist of the time, asking technical questions. Sinclair complimented him on building the embankment and referred him to his book, “Code of Agriculture” (price one guinea) on how to crop such new land.

Further problems were encountered, for Mr. Stockdale of Cark, in Feb 1922, in answer to a letter from Mr. Dawson writes :-

We are indeed fellow sufferers in the storm of 3rd Apri1 last, but I hope the damage with you was, as with us, much less than reported….

He then passes on as to how he intends to improve his drains. From this it man be inferred that the storm of 3rd April 1821 had threatened the newly built embankment.”

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And some more interesting stuff about the area including the walk up to the Estuary along the side of Freeman’s Wood to the ferry that crossed the river to the Golden Ball pub, colloquially known as ‘Snatchems’ due to it’s sinister role in smuggling and piracy through press ganging young men for a life on the high seas:

From: An Aldcliffe recollection by Nick Webster
If one walks Northwards along the railway track and then turns Westward at the “Freeman’s wood” junction one comes eventually to the river bank, having rested briefly on the ancient iron seat conveniently placed half way along on the left hand side. This track leads not only to the riverbank but also to what once was an important river crossing point. Here one can still see the landing stage and summoning bell for the small ferry boat that conveyed paying passengers across to the “Golden Ball” Inn where another summoning bell is located. As a small boy, I can remember seeing this ferry in action. An old, weather-beaten man, dressed incongruously in a beige Mac, wearily rowing travellers across the fast-flowing current. As is the nature of such things, when he died, no one took up the job and the ferry service was no more.

The “Golden Ball” was always a popular venue for the serious drinker, as licensing hours suddenly did not apply if a convenient high tide covered the road at “last orders”, cutting off the Inn from the influence of authority and the local ‘Bobby’. But the Inn has a more sinister name. For centuries it has been colloquially known as “Snatchems”. In the time of the “press gangs”, the Navy would bribe the landlord to ‘spike’ the drinks of unwary young men who would then fall asleep over their beer, later to awake to find themselves far out at sea on a ‘man-of-war’ with little hope of ever returning home.

The Golden Ball pub aka the notorious ‘Snatchems’ as viewed from the Freeman’s Wood side of the River:

In the sixties, the river was still a navigable waterway and small Coasters regularly sailed up to ‘Marsh Point’ on a high tide to unload sand and gravel at the builder’s merchants there. However, the river ceased to be dredged and fewer and fewer cargo boats braved the dangers of running aground in the Lune’s cloying mud. Now the river is home only to the many varieties of seabirds that prosper on its banks. Latterly, the western bank has become the wintering site for hundreds of geese that fly in from the Arctic Circle every autumn once the Tundra begins to freeze. Their distinctive cries and the visual spectacle as they take off to feed on some inland field are now a part of Aldcliffe’s winter scene.

On the east bank of the river, both on the river ‘shards’ (or ‘dubs’) and on the flooded fields behind ‘Dawson’s bank’, can be seen the growing herd of Swans. Sixty or so in number at the time of writing, this bevy has gradually increased since the 1990s.

About that time it was discovered that lost lead weights from fishermen’s lines were being ingested by the bottom-grazing Swans that bred and fed along the canals in the warmer months. As soon as the fishermen were made aware that their lead weights were poisoning the Swans, they immediately changed to an alternative substance to weight their lines and the Swan population began to prosper once more.

Not only are the Swans prospering along the stretch of Aldcliffe’s canal but so too are the Moor Hen and Coot and the now ubiquitous Mallard. An early morning walk down to ‘deep cutting’ on a Spring morning will reveal just what a special place it has become for wildlife.

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