The Victorian Village: Our Summer Rambles, 1871
Published in the Eccles Advertiser, 17th June 1871
When we alighted at Ellenbrook Station our first course was to look for the old chapel. We note it neat and admire the ivy which holds to its walls. It is built on the site of a much older building (about the year 1220 Richard de Worsley had permission from the Abbot of Stanlawe Abbey to build a chapel there.)
Where God erects a house of prayer the devil’s sure to build a chapel there. Here at Ellenbrook is the Red Lion, and so near to the chapel that the landlord might hear the sermon without troubling to go to church. In spite of the term “devil’s chapel” we venture inside the tame homely-looking hostelry and seat ourselves in the bar, where two or three old cronies are quietly taking in their beer. One word of enquiry is enough. I wish I could tell in the broad unvarnished speech in which it was related to us – what a great event Ellenbrook sermons used to be; how crowds of people met and some had to sit in the chapel yard where seats were placed for them, and the windows of the chapel thrown open that the cry of the gospel might reach outside, and as sure as the day the collecting boxes were brought out to be aired, and not only presented to those who were in the chapel yard but to the crowd who filled the Red Lion and surrounded it.
There were some queer stories told about the parsons who had ministered there but one likes to respect “the cloth” even when it is slightly discoloured. The Red Lion was in earlier days the rendezvous of many good fellows: it was the meeting house too for a number of excellent local musicians. Its great day however seems to be over and it’s dull and quiet-looking enough now.
“If you’re goin’ ter Boothstown you’ll happly goo o’er th’common” said one of our friends. T’common to which he referred is Mossley [sic] Common – a wide open piece of ground, pretty much the same state it was in when the enclosers rejected it – barring a narrow paved causeway which crossed it and patches of blackearth exposed where somebody has pilfered a few sods. We had no wish to go over the common when we knew of a shorter and prettier way. After threading through a lot of small quiet cottages where old women and children came out to the “fowt yet” (fold gate) to have a full stare at us and the younger women peeped earnestly under the low, common muslin blinds. We found ourselves in the shadiest walk anybody could wish in a wood [Whackers Wood]. On our left were meadows of flowers and on our right a long straggling wood of stunted oaks which was bounded by a pretty stream called Ellenbrook, which is supposed to take its name from the many elders which in days of yore grew on its banks. The ground beneath the trees is broken in round rising mounds and deep dry basins, and was covered with bluebells so thickly that you might mow them and Oh! what a delicious scent they throw out. Here and there peeping out in delicate green are ferns of several kinds.
The road continues like this for some time until we come to a sight of such decay as one is unprepared to meet. First of all there is a broken weir which we cross; then a desolate cotton mill minus machinery and with but here and there a pane of glass left, waiting for a stone from the hand of a mischievous marksboy. To add to the dreariness of the scene there is a quarry [the Delph] grown over with brambles with moss and diverted from its original use to a reservoir of water, and as if to give the picture of delapidation a finishing touch there is the tower of an old windmill – a rare sight in this country under any circumstances – whose sails are dismantled and a wreck.
We turn our eyes from this very willingly to a new and capacious mill belonging to Mr. C. Entwistle, and emerge into the highway by what appears to be the back way to a smith’s shop. A quieter or more rural village is almost impossible to find. A house of timber and brick and a bald looking Methodist church on the right. An irregular row of cottages separated from the highway by a few feet of gardens stand on the north side of the road. Excepting the big [Yates’s] cotton mill, the left view is of a piece with the right. We here met a woman leading a couple of happy looking children by the hand. “Can you tell us where Dr. Evans lives?” asked my companion. “Owd Joseph yoa mean? You see that house looking this way and then house lookin t’other way. Well yoa mon goa deawn that fowt and it’s fust house as yo cum to, but owd Joseph likker [likely] winnot be a whoam. Yoa see ee ‘as a deal o’payshuns and ees verra oft away curin’ accidents and aw other kinds o’illnesses.”
We turned down the opening between the ends of two low houses and were satisfied that we were at the right place by the variety of ferns, fossils and roots done up in a careful and rustic way. For a time we forgot the house in examining the garden. The cottage is one-storied, thatched and and has but one door and that looks to the north. We knock and a tall well built woman of perhaps fifty summers answers. She is the very pink of cleanliness, a scrupulously clean cap enfolds a face radiant with smiles. As soon as she sees who we are, for she respects us, she bids us come in. This is Mrs. Evans. We are barely inside when from a door in the opposite corner of the room emerges a man of over sixty summers, of energetic frame, stooping slightly and with a head pensively held on one side. His face is clean shaven, a healthy tint of red marks the cheeks, which lack the packing of a full set of teeth. As his small penetrating eyes are raised to us Mr. Evans raises his hands in joyful surprise. A hearty welcome was at once assured. Dr. Evans wore his hat as he mostly does in the house, and he at once conducted us to a small cosy room which serves the treble purpose of parlour, study and consulting room. His laboratory is at the opposite end of the house. Two windows overlook the garden. At one end there is a bookcase well stocked with standard works upon botany and poetry. On the walls hang several pictures and a needlework memorial to our friend’s father who was a noted botanist. There is a photograph of the bobbin mill which is turned by the waters which rush down Stockghylforce, Windermere, and most curious of all an oil painting of a spendthrift whose goods have been sold (etc). The tea our genial hearted hostess provided was what tea should be – sound, simple and in season. The conversation was not inferior to the cheer and seldom have I enjoyed myself so thoroughly, or felt greater regret at finding the time for separation come. We look round the village which is soon done.
Booth’s Hall stands a short way from the ‘town’ and is approached through a very untidy and ill kept avenue from the highway. A pleasant country lane [probably Vicar’s Hall Lane] leads from the turnpike [opposite the post office] – perhaps one ought to say ‘market place’, for here seems to be the centre where beef, clogs, postage stamps and ‘real Eccles cakes’ are to be had from the contiguous shops. I don’t remember seeing a town’s pump but there is a draw-well not far away. The Greyhound must be the local hotel for there is none other than beershops near at hand. The Queen Anne [later called the Queen’s Arms] in Chaddock Lane is some way off but the walk to it is very pleasant. There are sheltered cottages so blazoned with flowers that they seem like the centrepiece of a vast banquet. It is a quaint wayside inn with meadows alive with flowers sloping from its front. Since the introduction of railways it has been shorn of its former fame. Your Boothstowner is a genial merry hearted fellow and likes good cheer and good company. Whether you catch him as an Oddfellow at the Greyhound or as a botanist at a well spread table at the Queen Anne [Boothstown Botanical Society met there], he is always hilarious. Good feeling makes him mellow and when he has ‘just a wee drappie in’ he fairly ‘brasts’ with song.
The habitations of Boothstown are not confined to the lowly, it has its grandees and its middleocracy, and some of that rarest of classes the purely pious. There is much pleasure in visiting places such as this and mixing with its people.
Acknowledgements and Notes
Our Summer Rambles was published in the Eccles Advertiser, 17th June 1871, and was provided by C. Elsie Mullineux. Despite the passing of almost 150 years, the description of Victorian Boothstown by the ramblers will be familiar to anyone who knows the modern village, though the Red Lion and Queen’s Arms (formerly the Queen Anne) are inns no longer. The description of the walk from Ellenbrook to Boothstown village via the Delph will also be familiar, despite the enormous growth in the built-up area. The references to Boothstown dialect will also be understood by those familiar with the village’s lifelong inhabitants, particularly the older generations.