Slaidburn looks forward to multi-million pound water investment

It can seem like time has stood still in this lovely Lancashire village but something is stirring, writes Roger Borrell Photography by Kirsty Thompson

It can seem like time has stood still in this lovely Lancashire village but something is stirring, writes Roger BorrellPhotography by Kirsty Thompson

The good folk of Slaidburn could be forgiven for knowing by heart Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, or at least the old line that goes:‘Water, water, everywhere  nor any drop to drink’

This intriguing little community is just a spit away from Stocks Reservoir, which holds anything up to 12 billion litres of water - but villagers don’t get a drop. Instead, it gets siphoned to 250,000 taps in thirsty homes and factories in the Fylde and parts of east and west Lancashire.

Meanwhile, the people who live on its doorstep have had to use water from several springs and a local brook, channelled to the hamlet’s 115 properties via a network of ageing cast iron pipes.

But the good news for Slaidburn is that this ancient community is being connected to the mains for the first time thanks to a multi-million pound investment by United Utilities. And about time, too, say many of the locals.

Mechanical diggers and men in hard hats have converged on the village to conduct the highly unusual project connecting an entire community to the mains. It’s the main topic of conversation.

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‘It’s long overdue,’ said one local. ‘There are times when, depending on the weather and rainfall, the water coming through the taps is quite murky. There can’t be many places the size of Slaidburn that aren’t on the mains. We’re very pleased it’s happening at last.’

Because of the current water source, United Utilities has also had to use quite a bit of chlorine to kill off micro-organisms which can cause stomach complaints. Hopefully, the new seven kilometres of modern plastic piping will mean that is no longer necessary.

The lack of mains water is not the only unusual thing about Slaidburn. The village is one of the few that is largely owned by a squire, John King-Wilkinson, who inherited most of the properties from his father in the late 1970s.

The family has been determined to retain the character of the village and that means it has the air of a community preserved in aspic. ‘It seems pretty much the same village as 100 years ago,’ says artist Ramsay Gibb. ‘It’s a quirky place and the fact it’s more or less owned by one person means it’s different to most other villages.’

Scots-born and Bolton-educated Ramsay is highly regarded for his stunning landscapes which command prices in a gallery just off London’s Regent Street of up to �8,000. Afterart school he became a commercial artist but tired of life in London and moved to Suffolk before heading back to Lancashire.

He has painted in some wild and wonderful places such as Russia and Greenland and his work graces walls around the world. For the last two years he has worked on British landscapes and soon hopes to produce etchings of local scenes.

He lives in nearby Newton in a household with wife, three children, two dogs and a hamster but work is a more solitary existence. ‘I discovered it was International Silence Day - it wasn’t a problem for me,’ he laughed.

Ramsay works in a Slaidburn’s Poor’sland Barn - a converted 1850s building by the River Hodder. This is another example of the village’s quirky history.

The Poor’sland Trust was founded in 1621 and it is still going strong. It was established to compensate locals who lost grazing rights when common land was enclosed and today the trustees maintain the original ethos of helping the community, particularly in termsof education, health, age-related issues and employment.

The barn is one strand of its activities, providing work units for nine - ranging from Ramsay’s art studio to a local hairdresser. Also there is Bowland Stoves, a new company set up by Chris Morris-Barrow and his partner to tap into the growing market for wood burning stoves.

‘This is something I’ve been contemplating for some time,’ said Chris, who recently featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. ‘As fossil fuel prices rise, wood burners become more popular. And the modern stoves are now much more efficient and they are approved for use in smokeless zones.’

Near neighbour is Jeremy James, who is director of Bowland Ecology, who has 12 staff working on projects throughout the country. He and his team are involved in specialist wildlife surveys for organisations such as the Environment Agency and businesses anxious to comply with the legislation dealing with the development of sites containing protected species such as bats and newts.

They also specialise in protecting indigenous vegetation, like wildlife meadows, and rare species such as freshwater crayfish and adders.

‘We like to get involved in village life,’ said Jeremy, who has worked on bat conservation projects with David Fisher, at neighbouring Earthworks Design. ‘We’ve paid for bat boxes in the village and we are looking to forge links with local schools interested in environmental projects.’

It’s heartening that a building which was dedicated to helping the ‘industrious poor’ of Slaidburn continues to make a contribution to the local economy.

It’s also commendable that in times when government seems to pay less and less heed tothe concerns of our rural communities that Slaidburn continues to support a thrivingpost office and a vibrant school.

The surprise in the post office and shop is the distinctive Australian twang of one of the ladies behind the counter. Odel Hodgson has been there for just over two years. She was born in the Heysham area but emigrated with her parents.

During a return visit she realised that she preferred life in England. ‘This is � where my roots are and, to be honest, Australia is just too hot and dry,’ said Odel. ‘We saw the business advertised and decided it was right for us.

‘It was in danger of closing down which would have been tragic because this really is the heart of the village.’

Down the road is the Brennand’s Endowed Primary School, which has been in the same building since 1717 making it one of the county’s oldest.

The challenges of operating in such an old building - it can get a little chilly - are outweighed by the lovely features such as huge ceiling roses.

Under the stewardship of head teacher Charlotte Peregrine, the school is involved in several impressive schemes. These include the creation of an adventure climbing trail, a sensory garden, a wildlife pond and a willow dome den for the children.

While falling rolls have threatened many rural schools, Brennand’s has almost 60 pupils, which makes it almost at capacity.

This is partly because the village homes are mainly rented from the squire, allowing local families to live here and preventing it from becoming a haven for retired folk and weekenders. Another reason why Slaidburn is different.

Hall about romance

One of the jewels in Slaidburn’s crown is the stunning village hall, created from the old Methodist Chapel house to provide a focal point for the community. It is steeped in romance and not just because they hold weddings there.

It opened in 2007 and, under the management of Jackie Howard, the hall has become a hub housing a wide range of activities including playgroups, Brownies, youth groups, drama clubs, keep fit and the WI. With its well-equipped kitchens, it has also become a popular place for special functions such as weddings.

It contains many reminders of its days as a chapel, including one extraordinary little case containing an old tobacco tin. In the 1930s a land drainer called Joe Hodgson taught himself to play the harmonium and used it to compose hymns.

These were printed on cards and Joe would put them in tobacco tins and hide them in dry stone walls. Over the years they have been found by farmers but this particular tin was found in the chapel rafters when it was being converted into the village hall.

It provided the music for the hall’s opening ceremony. It was intriguingly called Violet Marguerite, which just happened to be the name of the rector’s daughter. We’ll probably never know if Joe’s feelings remained locked inside that tobacco tin.

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