Monday, February 18, 2019

Walton le Dale

The sun was shining, but the air had a bitterly cold bite to it, when we left the station in Preston, Lancashire, and made our way south in December last year. We were planning to walk to Walton le Dale via the London Road (the A6), over the stone arched bridge which is famous as the site where Oliver Cromwell fought a battle with the Royalists in 1648.

Instead we came to a footbridge, which took us across the broad Ribble river and along a footpath to Walton Green. This pretty lane is the site of one of the oldest houses in Walton le Dale, The Cottage, built in 1675.

We had come to see the village where at least four generations of my father's family, the Wards, lived between 1785 and 1875. The name Walton is said to come from wahl tun, meaning a settlement or farmstead of the Britons. There's another Walton (Walton-on-the Hill) near Liverpool.

Map from Google Maps

The first thing that surprised me was how flat the farmland was along the river. I grew up in Lancashire, but in the hilly country closer to the Pennines. The whole plain looked as though it could easily flood. And in fact there have been many times when the area has flooded, most notably in 1866.

Walton le Dale village itself is built on a rise between the Ribble (which makes almost a right angle bend near the bridge) and the Darwen river which flows into it. Its position, on what is effectively a peninsula, makes it an easy spot to defend. The Romans once built a fort here.

The Ward family arrive

Although at least two Ward families were already resident in Walton le Dale in the early 1700s, the first of my own line seems to have been Cuthbert Ward and his wife Ellen (nee Catterall) who arrived in the mid 1780s, with their children Thomas, Ellen and Sarah. They came from Kirkham, a small town in the Fylde district to the east of Preston. After settling in Walton le Dale, Cuthbert and Ellen had another five children (Betty, Nancy, Robert, Margaret and Cuthbert).

It's not clear what prompted Cuthbert, a carpenter, to uproot his family, although it probably had something to do with finding work. As far as I can discover, there were no major building projects going on in Walton le Dale itself at this time. The industrial revolution was already underway by the 1780s, and a calico printing factory operated in Walton le Dale, run by Livesy and Hargreaves. It went bankrupt in 1788. But the first cotton mill in Walton le Dale, Moons' Mill, didn't  begin operations until 1793. Perhaps Cuthbert found work building houses for the people migrating to Preston from the surrounding villages.

By the 1790s, there would have been plenty of work for a carpenter.  New cotton milling machinery was being installed at Moons Mill and the old water-powered corn mill at Higher Walton. By the early 1800s a cotton mill was being built on Calvert's Flats near the Ribble river. In the early years, cotton was spun in the mills, but often was still passed on to handloom weavers who produced woven cloth in their homes.

Work also began in 1795 to replace the nave, or main body, of the Parish Church of St Leonard. The church, in a prominent position on the tree-covered hillside, was established in the 12th century. Parts of the building date back to the 16th century, including, I understand, the tower. The circular font is also said to be many centuries old. I haven't found out whether the church was still used for Sunday services, weddings and baptisms while it was being rebuilt.

The font, mentioned in
British History Online's
account of Walton le Dale
Until the 19th century both Protestants and Catholics were interred in the graveyard which tumbles down the hillside around the church. Records show that many of the Ward family were buried there, though unfortunately, when we visited, we had no way of knowing where. In any case, the family may not have been able to afford to mark the graves with gravestones.

Cuthbert Ward died in 1799. His son Thomas, who was also a carpenter, married Frances Dickinson from nearby Chorley in 1802. By 1813, when Thomas died at the early age of thirty four, there were four mills and an iron foundry, and the population of Walton le Dale was beginning to boom. It had increased to 5,740 by 1821, with nearly 2000 new inhabitants added between 1809 and 1829.* By the 1840's a large proportion of the population in Walton le Dale was employed in the cotton industry.

The 1840s and 1850s

Thomas Ward's widow Frances, and three of their four children eventually left Walton Le Dale. The eldest son John, another carpenter, moved to Liverpool, while the rest moved to Manchester. Only the youngest son, Richard, remained in Walton le Dale.

The 1841 census shows that he was one of at least ten shoemakers, bootmakers, cloggers and 'cordwainers'  living in the village itself, and there were others in the surrounding area. People working in factories needed hard-wearing shoes, and they needed someone to repair them when the soles wore out. Their leather work-clogs, boots and shoes were all locally made.

Walton le Dale was not often in the news, but in 1847 two tragic murders occurred within weeks of each other, both of which were reported in the national and colonial newspapers.

In February, the married daughter of a local businessman and retired cotton mill owner, James Livesey, poisoned her five children, before drowning herself in the river Ribble. Fortunately, with medical treatment, four of the children survived but the fifth, Fanny, died.

Late in May, the body of a young baby was found in a stream near Walton le Dale by two boys. People remembered seeing an Irish woman with a baby pass through the village a few days earlier, and then the same woman travelling the other way, without the child. This was during the time of the Great Famine in Ireland, which resulted in a rapid influx of destitute Irish people into Lancashire.

But even the local people had their struggles. While conditions for the working class were usually not as dire in places like Walton le Dale as they were in larger centres such as Manchester, they were by no means easy during the 1840s. An economic depression in the early 1840s, which resulted in workers' wages being cut, bolstered demands by the working class for better conditions and the right to vote.

In August 1842, workers in Preston, just across the river from Walton le Dale, went on strike, in what is known as the Plug Plot riots. Three men were killed and several others injured when troops opened fire on a crowd who were moving from factory to factory, urging workers to strike. No doubt both the workers and the mill owners in Walton le Dale were keenly interested in these events.

It would be a long time before the workers finally did get to vote. In 1859 Walton le Dale was listed as one of many places in Lancashire with a population of over 5,000 that had no representation in Parliament.

In the 1850's, it seems, Richard Ward was no longer able to support his family as a shoemaker. At the time of the 1851 census he was working instead as a gardener. His wife Mary died in 1852, leaving him with six children. The two older boys were both employed as apprentices, while Ann, the eldest daughter, was working in one of the cotton mills.

The 1860s

As in the previous generation, most of the Ward family children moved away from Walton le Dale as adults. In early 1861, only Ann (who was married) and the youngest son, John, were still living there. Richard Ward, the father, had returned to shoemaking, and John was working as a clogger's apprentice. They were living in Mansleys Row, an address that no longer exists, but presumably was one of several "rows" of houses built to house the influx of people during the previous decades.

Lancashire suffered another great economic depression in the early 1860s, as a result of the so-called cotton famine. Overproduction of cotton fabrics, coupled with stockpiles of raw materials in the late 1850s, led to a drastic fall in prices. This was followed by a shortage of raw cotton when British shipping was blockaded during the American civil war. Many mills ceased production and there was mass unemployment. People from as far away as South Australia contributed to a relief fund, from which Walton le Dale received £100 (pounds) in December 1862.

Industry picked up again after 1865. In 1869, Walton le Dale was mentioned during a Parliamentary commission into river pollution. The river Ribble was said to be badly polluted as it flowed past the village, resulting in a dreadful stink, and dead fish. Despite this, Dr Ashton, who said he had lived and practised in Walton le Dale for twenty years, thought it was a healthy place. The death rate was 22 per 1000.  (The death rate in the UK in 2017 was 9.4 per 1000.)

He was asked about an outbreak of fever among workers at Calvert's Mill the previous year. He denied that it was due to typhoid, saying that, in his opinion, it was caused by overheating and sunstroke. He also denied that water from many of the privies (toilets) in the village drained into the wells from which people drew drinking water, or that polluted river water could reach the wells. He did disclose that many houses shared a privy. (My impression reading this account is that Dr Ashton was keen to protect the reputation of the owners of Calvert's Mill.)

But life in the village was not always dull or dangerous. Many of the mill owners organised annual outings to the seaside by train for their workers^. Events such as the Floral and Horticultural Show, and the St Leonard's Church School field day provided innocent but enjoyable entertainment.

The White Bull, Walton-le-Dale.
Photo by Alexander P Kapp 

For those whose tastes ran to something less refined, there were numerous drinking places - the Unicorn, the Queen's Arms, the Black Horse, Sir Robert Peel, the Black Bull, Grey Horse, Gardener's Arms, Yew Tree, Bridge Inn, White Bull, Ring O'Bells, the Beef tub (or Beefsteak) and the Red Lion. (Many of these no longer exist.) Perhaps it was no co-incidence that Walton le Dale also produced one of the stalwart campaigners of the Temperance movement, Joseph Livesey, and even a Temperance poet, Henry Anderton.

In 1864 Richard Ward's son John (my great grandfather) married the girl next door, Mary Ann Cragg. Their first five children were born in Walton le Dale and baptised at St Leonards. At the 1871 census, John was a clogger and Mary Ann worked in one of the cotton mills. And then, about 1875, they moved to Whitelees, between Littleborough and Calderbrook, near the Lancashire-Yorkshire border.

Why they moved is still a mystery. John's father, Richard, had remarried in 1861, and he and his second wife, Betsy, had a son, Robert, in 1866. Richard continued to live in Walton le Dale until his death in 1881. Was there not enough work for John in Walton le Dale? Did some family dispute lead to the move? Perhaps we'll never know.

I said when I began my series on "Places" that I wanted to see how the places where people lived influenced their lives, and vice versa. Visiting Walton le Dale, and reading more about it, made me realise how much the river played a part in the life of the villagers, both as a source of life and death, and as a barrier between Walton le Dale and the much larger Preston. Even now, I'm told, it is not a good idea to suggest to a local that Walton le Dale is a suburb of Preston!

Despite the industrialisation that happened in the 19th century, the place has maintained the feel of being a village. As such, it apparently didn't offer enough opportunities for everyone in the Ward family to stay, but it provided stability for the four generations of the Ward family who did remain there.

The Wards left no obvious mark on Walton le Dale or its history, as is to be expected of a working-class family. But as carpenters and cloggers, mill workers and parents, they no doubt contributed to the smooth running of village life.

*According to Pigot and Co.'s National Commercial Directory for 1828-9, p 436. This seems to have included the population in nearby Bamber Bridge.
^"LOCAL INTELLIGENCE." Preston Guardian etc [Preston, England] 4 Sept. 1861: n.p. British Library Newspapers.

All images are taken by me, (and are copyright), unless otherwise labelled.


  1. It is possible that a carpenter in WLD at that time could possibly be employed at Walton Hall? I have found relatives at the time as “sawyers” who are also some kind of woodworkers who were employed there.
    Just as an aside, in 1861 when your relatives lived at no2 Mansley’s Row my GG grandfather James Crozier had just married my GGgrandmother Mary Ann Mansley and were living with her parents at no11 Mansley’s Row,

    1. Thanks for the suggestion about Walton Hall. There's not a lot about the history of WLD online, so there may have been all sorts of building work going on that I don't know about. How fascinating that the Mansleys lived on Mansleys Row. Do you know anything of the history of the Row? I've seen the name Mansley several times in connection with WLD.

  2. PS. I forgot to say that I found the piece on WLD very interesting.

  3. Thanks. I'd love to hear anything you can add to what I've written, or any corrections.

  4. If you do want information about WLD I can recomend A History of Walton-le-Dale and Bamber Bridge by David Hunt.
    David Hunt is the curator of the South Ribble Museum which is the name of the area that WLD is part of and he hails from WLD.
    He is the font of all knowledge Preston and its districts.
    The book is ISBN 1-85936-043-2
    It’s funny really because I think I mentioned before that Mary Ann was born in Ratcliffe whilst her father who was a calico block printer must have moved there for work, and I think they must have moved there when some other of your relatives followed the same path.
    Mary Ann’s father was Thomas Mansley and her mother was Mary Lambert, the Mansley’s were a family of market gardeners and were quite prominent in the village.
    The Lambert’s Mansley’s and Crozier’s all seem to have links with the small villages around Garstang to the north of Preston.

    1. Thanks for the information about the book, Northendad. I'll look it up.
      It is a small world in Lancashire. Mary Ann Cragg, John Ward's wife, was from Radcliffe, and her mother Esther was a Lambert, from Garstang.

  5. Congratulations.. your blog has been included in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

  6. My husband Robert Mansley Latham his family were mansley's and lived in mosney house his mother's was Phyllis Mansley married Fred Latham the had 4 children.

    1. Thanks for your comment, that's very interesting. Have you seen the website for Mosney Mill, in Walton le Dale, which makes a lovely range of homewares? I wonder if it's the same place where your husband's family lived?