Chorley remembers the World War One heroes

Chorley Pals Memorial

Chorley Pals Memorial - Credit: Archant

As the nation stops to remember the sacrifices made 100 years ago, Chorley prepares to commemorate the town’s biggest loss, as Paul Mackenzie reports

Chorley War Memorial with Steve Williams

Chorley War Memorial with Steve Williams - Credit: Archant

This month’s remembrance services will have added poignancy as the world remembers the outbreak of the war to end all wars 100 years ago. And although few places have done quite as much to commemorate the generation of men lost in World War One as Chorley, the centenary events won’t reach a peak there until 2016.

Back in 2007 talks began about creating a memorial to the Chorley Pals and a statue was unveiled in the town centre three years later. Local historian Steve Williams was involved in that project and said: ‘We now have a marvellous memorial to the Pals and after that people kept coming up to me asking why there were no names on the war memorial in Astley Park.

‘We approached the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding to have the names engraved but they wouldn’t simply pay for having the names put there, it needed to be a broader project to attract funding so we decided to look at other aspects of the war and that was the beginning of an exhibition at Astley Hall.

‘In the end the Lottery paid for the stone, the groundwork and the design, we raised the money for engraving 738 names on the memorial. We had a lot of help from the Chorley branch of the Lancashire Family History Society.’

Chorley Pals on Parade

Chorley Pals on Parade - Credit: not Archant

But, Steve added: ‘There are still towns which have memorials which don’t list the names of the men who died and I think it’s a shame they aren’t remembered. The centenary would have been a good reason to get the names added but it takes time to get the funding and to do the research so if it hasn’t been started already I doubt it will happen now before the centenary of the end of the war in 2018.’

Alongside the research into the names of Chorley men who fought and died in the war, Steve and other members of the Chorley Remembers group, collected artefacts and stories which have been put on display in an exhibition at Astley Hall.

‘The Chorley Remembers Experience had more than 17,000 visitors in its first year – I think some museums in Lancashire would give their eye teeth for even a third of those numbers. We have had visitors from all over the world, many of them ex-pats from Chorley.’

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On July 1st 2016, 100 years to the day after the Chorley Pals went over the top in the Battle of the Somme, Steve is hoping the town will come together at a festival of remembrance and he also hopes to set a record straight along the way. ‘To say the Accrington Pals came from Accrington is the biggest load of rubbish going,’ he said.

Chorley Remembers Experience

Chorley Remembers Experience - Credit: not Archant

‘Only a quarter of them – that’s 250 men – were from Accrington, another 250 were from the towns around Accrington, 250 more were from Burnley and 250 of them were from Chorley.

‘They formed the battalion in Accrington, so that’s why they were given that name, but it’s misleading and I am trying to educate people. But irrespective of where they came from, they all made a sacrifice when they went over the top at the Somme and I think they all deserve to be remembered.’

History in brief

Chorley’s grandest building, the Grade One listed Astley Hall was built in the 16th century but much of the notable architecture and design that survives today was added later. The hall is noted for its impressive plasterwork and for having one of the world’s best surviving shovelboard tables.

Legend has it that Oliver Cromwell stayed at the hall during the Battle of Preston and left his boots behind. If he realised he was leaving town in his socks, he probably bought replacements from the market.

The town was given a market charter in the 15th century and the two markets – the covered market and the Flat Iron or cattle market – are still popular attractions, especially on Tuesdays. The town was a thriving centre of the cotton industry in the 19th and early 20th centuries and in recent years millions of pounds have been spent on improving the town centre and transport links.

While you’re there

Stock up on energy-packed Chorley cakes and head for the Yarrow Valley and Cuerden Valley Country Parks. You could also walk up Rivington Pike and explore the West Pennine Moors which are apparently a great place to spot UFOs.

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