Coppull's unique character

From safeguarding a precious photography collection to encouraging more people to visit, the residents of this Lancashire village are a determined bunch. Emma Mayoh reports

When joker Geoff Bellis discovered Lancashire Life was featuring Coppull he feigned surprise the village was even being considered. But the 71-year-old isn’t fooling anyone. He can’t get enough of the place.

The former teacher has spent the past three decades collecting around 1,500 old photographs from willing villagers as well as learning the stories behind them. His findings were put together for a book he produced with friend, Keith Lees, which was turned into a film with another friend Roger Roocroft. Copies of this were posted to former villagers around the globe.

Geoff, who also gives talks and holds local history sessions at schools and libraries in the area, said: ‘That film has been all around the world to people who used to live here but moved away. People seem to have got lots of enjoyment reminiscing about Coppull.

‘But there is no place better. It’s fascinating. It has gone from being a small place with a few houses and farms, then the railways came, and then the coal mines. The village boomed and it has not stopped. I think it’s important to know the history of the place you live in and to preserve that for people in the future.’

Geoff is currently trying to solve a dilemma. He wants to pass on his collection to another person in the village to make sure this archive is kept within Coppull’s boundaries. As yet he has not found anybody suitable but is on the lookout to make sure the images are safeguarded.

He said: ‘It’s important to me they are passed on to someone here and it worries me that they will end up leaving Coppull. I don’t want the photographs gathering dust in an archive or in the basement of Chorley Library where no one will ever see them. I want people to enjoy them and appreciate them.’

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Unlike Geoff, parish councillor Ken Ball, also mayor of Chorley, thought Coppull’s appearance in the magazine was long overdue. Over the past few years Coppull Parish Council has become concerned that the village is losing out to other nearby villages.

The group, along with members of the community, has been working to improve and spruce up the area to try to attract more visitors. This has involved anything from planting more flowers to creating a Chapel Lane Community Garden, complete with chainsaw carvings.

Their efforts have brought them success in the Britain in Bloom North West competition - coming third behind Nantwich in Cheshire and Freckleton on the Fylde. They have also won a clutch of local civic awards.

‘We always lose out to the other villages around us,’ said Ken, whose wife Nora is also on the council. ‘We are an old mining village which isn’t as pretty as those with the chocolate box cottages like Heapey and Eccleston. They get more attention because they look prettier.

‘But a lot of work has been done over the past few years to improve the village. People don’t realise how good Coppull is but we want to make sure this changes. As Chorley’s mayor, I’m very proud to represent Coppull as the place I live.’

Improvements have also been made to Coppull Primary School. In recent months around �50,000 has been spent upgrading and redesigning two play areas, with climbing frames, equipment, a football pitch as well as a soon-to-be-built jungle area. There are also areas where children can grow their own fruit and vegetables. The money has been raised through various sources, including the school’s cleaners who wanted to do something for the children and through various fundraising evenings.

The improvements are part of plans to get children more interested in sports as well as to get green flag status in � Eco-Schools, a government initiative aiming to get every school sustainable by 2020. If they get it, they would be one of a handful of schools in the county to have been awarded the accolade.

The centre of Coppull is built-up but at its borders it becomes a rural gem. Yarrow Valley Country Park, named after the river that runs through it, teems with wildlife, flora and fauna as well as having its own ancient woodland. But despite its tranquil appearance now, this vast green space was once at the heart of the booming textile industry and the Industrial Revolution. The site, then know as Birkacre, had several mills on it including Richard Arkwright’s cotton mill - the first mill to be built in the Chorley area. There was also a bleach works and a colliery. The coming of Arkwright’s water spinning frame and his new mill caused the Birkacre Riots in 1779. Hundreds of rioters destroyed the mill before moving on to Bolton. At least one of the rioters was killed.

Today, it is the job of Chorley Borough Council’s senior ranger, John Bolton, and two rangers Ste Jolly and Jen Taylor to look after and maintain the 300 hectare site with the help of around 25 volunteers. As well as maintaining the park, they also try to tame nuisance plant species, keep a record of what is on the site, and create pathways for visitors. Another of their tasks is to encourage new breeds back into the park. Over the past few years they have attracted a few of the common tern bird species back into the boundaries of Yarrow Valley and have started a breeding programme.

‘We have a really big job on our hands but it’s a brilliant job,’ said senior ranger John. ‘The park is a really special place that is full of lots of interesting wildlife. It was only in the late 1980s that Chorley Council bought the land and started to change it into what it is today. It’s a real plus for the local area and lots of Coppull people use it.’

The site is also a good place to view bats in the wild. It is home to the Pipistrelle, Daubenton’s and Noctule breeds and their appearance attracts hoards of people to the regular bat walks hosted by bat mad ranger, Jen, also a member of the South Lancashire Bat Group.

There are plans in the pipeline to think of ways to attract more visitors over the park’s borders as well as encouraging people to explore the whole site.

John said: ‘A lot of people come to the visitor centre and do their walks from there. But there is much more to Yarrow Valley that just this small area. We hope that people will start to become a little more adventurous and start seeing more of the park so they can appreciate what a beautiful site it is.’

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