Why you should head for Wycoller

Artist Gordon Wilkinson paints this fascinating community while Emma Alsop and Georgia Smith take a closer look at the picturesque hamlet

Today, it’s known as Wonderful Wycoller but not so long ago it could have been nicknamed Woeful Wycoller.

Towards the end of the 19th century the village and its surrounding land was bought by Colne Corporation. The plan was to flood it to create a reservoir to power the locals mills.

The pumping house was built and everything was set for the big flood. Then, at the last minute, Wycoller was saved when a borehole revealed more than enough water to keep Colne’s looms running. But it was too late for the community. Virtually everyone had moved away leaving the area deserted.

It remained in the hands of the water company for many years, but just after the Second World War a group of local people set up an action group dedicated to restoring the area, especially the historic hall which had gone to rack and ruin.

Headed by a determined librarian called Evelyn Jowett, they harnessed assorted forces including the Bronte Society. Wycoller’s hall was almost certainly the inspiration for Ferndean Manor in Jayne Eyre and Squire Cunliffe, the colourful charater who lived there, bears a passing resemblance to Rochester.

They secured a pledge for the water company that the ruins of the hall would be preserved and the striking fireplace was eventually restored. This led to the group disbanding only for the Friends of Wycoller to be resurrected a couple of years back with the aim of preserving what was left. Five centuries after it was built by the Hartley family, the hall remains a popular site to visit.

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The group has been instrumental in carrying out several projects, including the ongoing renovation of the wild flower garden, planting trees, ensuring food availability for wild birds during the winter, and the general upkeep of the hall and its grounds.

The community’s name is believed to originate from ‘Wic-Alr’, an Anglo-Saxon phrase that translates to ‘dairy farm amongst the alders’.Once the heart of the wool weaving community, the population of 350 dropped significantly to just 107 following the industrial revolution and the invention of power looms. The village went back to its farming roots.

Aside from history, Wycoller also boasts a beautiful country park, home to a variety of plants and wildlife. Nature continues to thrive, as it did hundreds of years ago when it provided food and medicines for inhabitants of the village. It plays host to many events throughout the year, including craft workshops and wildlife walks. A number of bat discovery walks are also planned during the summer months to raise awareness for ‘European Year of the Bat’.

For the ultimate view of the village and the surrounding area, visitors can walk up to ‘The Atom’ – a Panopticon designed by Peter Meacock with Katarina Novomestska. Both a viewing point and shelter, the structure hides a polished steel ball inside, reflecting back the striking views.

Maureen Cunliffe is secretary of the Friends of Wycoller. She travels over to from her home in Accrington every week to volunteer in the information centre, to educate visitors about the beauty of the village.

‘I just think it’s everything about the place that makes it special – the birdlife, animal life, plants, trees,’ she said. ‘And it’s so isolated; it’s in a very special setting.’

Their work ensures that Wycoller continues to thrive, and although Maureen says they have a lot to live up to following the outstanding progress the 1948 friends made, they appear to be doing very well.

The absence of cars and the preservation of many of the old buildings in the village make this an attractive area, and the perfect place for anyone seeking tranquillity.

Finding Wycoller

Where it is: The village sits four miles east of Colne, in the Borough of Pendle. Use the postcode BB8 8SY if you have a satnav.

Where to park: Cars aren’t allowed in the village, but visitors can leave their vehicles in one of two car parks – one on Trawden Road, and another on Haworth Road. Both are free and just 300 yards from the village. Disabled drivers displaying a blue badge are permitted to make use of limited parking in the village.

What to do: Stroll through Wycoller Country Park to see ‘The Atom’ and take in the impressive view. Then visit Tony and Janet in the Craft Centre and Tea Room for their homemade food, and browse the exhibition of work from local artists. It is usually open Tuesday-Sunday 11-5.30pm.

The print version of this article appeared in the February 2012  issue of Lancashire Life 

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