View down Hare Hill Road
Photograph: Iain S Gerrard
I've been asked as incoming Chairman to write a few words of introduction to this edition of the Newsletter. I must begin by paying tribute to the work of my predecessor John Street.
His Chairmanship has been notably active and productive. Much of John's contribution has been aimed directly or indirectly at putting Littleborough on the map. This may seem a strange thing to be writing when all of us in Littleborough know where we live and are alive to its charms and its blemishes, but the distinctive identity of local communities is something that can be too easily over looked by the Unitary Authority.
One of John's first tasks was to involve members of the community in designing an information poster for the station approach and for the Coach House which said clearly "Welcome to Littleborough", and went on to give some basic details about our local amenities and some of their history. The historical approach evidently fired his imagination: from the original intention of republishing some of the papers of the Beautiful Littleborough Society, sponsored in the 1920's by Gordon Harvey, the project grew into 'The Story of Littleborough'.
This involved John and others in two years of intensive effort with the support of an editing and production team. More recently in getting approval and funding for a Town Design Statement John has given the local community the chance to review local strengths, weaknesses and opportunities and to share in assessing how it can best use its assets in the future.
I'm asked how I view the future. Wherever one looks at any level it seems to me the challenges are awesome, but positive achievements keep breaking through and hope and enthusiasm are rekindled. Who, apart from one or two starry-eyed enthusiasts led at the time by one of our founder members Keith Parry, would have believed that, 30 years on, the Rochdale Canal would be reopened, or that a Country Park for Littleborough based on Hollingworth Lake and a Regional Park for the South Pennines would be any more than an idyllic dream.
The "Rochdale" reopens officially on 1st July 2002. The Country Park has been in existence and thriving for over 25 years and the South Pennines movement though not achieving a new regional Park status for the area is now making an impact on policy making at regional and national level.
With the efforts of the Friends of Harehill Park and its most successful public launch on Jubilee Day the campaign to revitalise this important urban green space and to refurbish the bandstand is well on the road. The benign process of local initiatives and their power to transform areas of neglect and dereliction goes on.
Iain Gerrard reports on topics discussed at Committee Meetings and other relevant issues
Those of you who did not attend the Annual General Meeting may be unaware that there has been a proposal that we raise our membership fees. This was adopted.
Some may immediately say, "What, again?", but it is three years since this was last done and just on the basis of inflation, low though this has been, we would need to consider a rise of some 10% just to get back to were we were.
We are, however, incurring greater costs as our activities increase, and our attempts recently to improve the Newsletter are not without some increased expenditure. The general running costs of the Society are often 'subsidised' by your Committee members and it does seem an unfair burden on them considering the amount of their own time they already put to the affairs of the Society.
Additionally it is felt by some that the perception of anyone outside our group can be that we cannot amount to much if we can get by on the money collected from members at the moment. We hope you understand and approve because the membership fee will increase by £1 per member or family member from next January. This means a family membership will cost £6 and a single membership £4. Other options are being considered which, if adopted, will alleviate any hardship on, for instance, older members.
It has been decided that our monthly meetings should in future be held in a public room, rather than in an individual's house. It is hoped that this will result in non-committee members feeling more inclined to attend these meetings to which they have always been welcome. The meetings are now being held at the United Reformed Church on Victoria Street. We are grateful to John Street, our outgoing chairman, for his hospitality over the last few years in allowing us to convene at his house.
At last! I can report that the saga is approaching a conclusion. The Highways department sent a favourable report to the last Pennines Township meeting, recommending that the seat, once repaired, will be accepted by the Pennines Township as a gift from us.
This will automatically relieve us from any public liability and will ensure that the seat is properly fixed to the Highways department's requirements (they'll be fixing it!). The money we were granted last September by the Township will now be sent to us shortly and it only remains for us to get the seat repaired. With a little luck we should have it in position in the Square by next spring. Town Design Statement We didn't manage to arrange for the various task groups, or interest groups as they will now be called, to be up and running prior to our launch day on the 8th May. Nevertheless, they are all now either meeting regularly or have convenors identified to arrange their
We didn't manage to arrange for the various task groups, or interest groups as they will now be called, to be up and running prior to our launch day on the 8th May. Nevertheless, they are all now either meeting regularly or have convenors identified to arrange their first meetings.
The launch day appears to have been a huge success with over 130 people attending to hear an address by our consultant, Jo Rose, and to 'sign up' for the particular interest group or groups in which they felt they would be able to help.
The project received its official launch by the Mayor, Councillor Irene Davidson, who has been extremely keen to see us succeed in this project right from the beginning.
Letters of support were read out by the Chairman of the Steering Group, John Kay, from both Lorna Fitzsimons M. P. and Lord Joel Barnett, our patron. Neither had been able to attend because of commitments at the House of Commons or the House of Lords but both have similarly been keen to back the enterprise from its inception. Not wishing to rub it in, for those of you who couldn't make it for the evening, the - free - food was excellent and the wine extremely palatable. On second thoughts I do wish to rub it in!
Chris Evans M. E. P., Lorna Fitzsimons M. P., Keith Parry and the Mayor, Councillor Irene Davidson with the successfully planted tree.
Photograph: Iain Gerrard
This event was drizzled upon and cool, if not cold, but despite the unsympathetic weather was still a memorable occasion. There was a pleasing number of people who turned up, I would estimate between thirty and forty, which brought with it a sense of importance that was deserved. After all, thirty years of trying is a long time, and the success of all that work and hope is worthy of a memorial such as this. The trip boat organised by Keith Parry and carrying various dignitaries began its journey at Sladen Lock, pausing at Pikehouse Lock to carry out the tree planting ceremony, which we had set up. Although the tree was already in its 'hole' awaiting the ceremonial spadeful of earth, it still needed a considerable amount of soil to properly plant it.
Rather than just do a token planting our celebrity gardeners got stuck in and did the lot! Chris Evans M. E. P. held the tree in position, the Mayor, Councillor Irene Davidson pushed the barrow and our M. P., Lorna Fitzsimons, did the digging. I don’t know how many photographs were taken at the time but I’ve been inundated with pictures of the planting and the crowd which attended. Thanks to you all who contributed in this way.
John Street gave a brief résumé of the reason for the planting to the assembled crowd and I have pleasure in reporting that, to date, the tree is flourishing. Don't forget that we'd like to have a suitable plaque by the tree and suggestions as to what it might say are welcome.
Sadly, the first to go!
Photograph: Iain S Gerrard
As part of our efforts to replace the ageing poplars planted around Littleborough so long ago by Gordon Harvey, we approached the present company of Fothergill's Engineered Fabrics. They have an old, but still quite magnificent, line of such trees along the southern edge of their cricket field. This makes a significant contribution to the general appearance of the area and would be sorely missed if these trees were removed. We pointed this out in our letter voicing our concerns over the present age and fragility or the trees. Unfortunately before the company could reply, and with eerie coincidence, one of these trees was badly split in the high winds of two or three months ago and had to be felled.
In the meantime we also contacted the Cricket Club itself (which is now separate from the company) and our contact there indicated some enthusiasm for the proposal to replant a new line of trees before the old ones were all lost. We are presently hoping to get some trees and with the help of the cricket club members plant them in November.
Of course we still needed permission from the landowners, Fothergill's, and we were therefore very pleased to receive a letter from them saying they were also happy for such a scheme to go ahead. In addition, although requiring more details from us before we proceeded, they had no objections in principle to us planting along the riverbank around their football field. While this may not go ahead this year it is still a welcome addition to the areas we are 'collecting' for future tree planting.
Tree planting activity has recently taken place on the new Hollingworth Park estate close to the centre of town. Unhappy with the condition in which an embankment on the site had been left by the contractor, residents got together to plant the area with trees and approached us for help. We were able to introduce them to the Hollingworth Lake Country Park Wardens who provided trees for the purpose. The same people hope to extend this activity later this year with some more planting and, quite separately, have been joined by some of the new residents on the old Grove Works estate who also wish to plant some trees on their patch this autumn.
Following the rather prosaic finishing of the work which has gone on (or under) Todmorden Road recently we were worried that the similar work in the town centre would not be to our liking. We felt that the sandstone walls and facings to the concrete retaining walls done to date were less than appropriate for a grit stone area and wanted to see if we could influence the finishing in what is after all the Central Conservation Area of the town. A meeting was arranged between Don Pickis and the engineer in charge of the work being done by the Environment Agency and our town's conservation officer.
Unexpectedly and happily the engineer appeared to be sympathetic to our concerns and, while we can not be certain of the outcome at this stage, we have greater hopes than before that the existing grit stone will be reused to cover the concrete retaining walls presently being constructed. It's a great pity that this sort of consideration couldn't have been given when this entire flood defences work started.
This is a new body recently formed with the intention of giving a greater voice for all the local Civic Trusts and Societies than would prevail if we were to act separately.
Its main aim will be to work towards the improvement and sustainable regeneration of the environment for the benefit of all the communities. (The word 'environment' here refers, of course, to the built environment as well as the landscape we live in).
It is hoped that collectively we will be able to have greater influence, for instance, with the new North West Regional Agency, the government body which may well take over from County Councils and, in theory, be able to speak for the north west area as a whole.
It will also promote, improve the effectiveness of and try to establish more of our Societies in the region.
It will be run by a Co-ordinating Committee which was elected at the Inaugural Annual General Meeting a couple of weeks ago. We attended this meeting and, having offered a member of the Littleborough Civic Trust to be on the Committee, now have a presence thereon.
Is there anyone out there who would be interested in hosting and running our website?
The present host has generously continued with this task for the last two years, despite having left the Society.
I don’t believe it is an onerous task but it is one which requires a little expertise and needs someone who is comfortable with the basic methods of arranging the material.
No special software is required I am assured, although such is available. The work can be carried out in Microsoft Word which most people seem to have. (I presume the same can be said for other similar applications which are not by Microsoft)
If you fancy trying this please contact me initially and we can discuss it.
Iain S. Gerrard
With the Town Design Statement now shaking itself out and beginning the serious business, I wonder how many people are asking themselves if it will achieve anything positive?
The people in each interest group may well think that they are working on the most important aspect of the project. Of course all parts of the Statement are important, but it strikes me that the one which impinges upon all of the others and has an impact on the daily lives of us all, is the one considering Traffic. Like many of the issues being looked at in the Statement, there will be some aspects of this particular problem in our society which will be considered as unsuitable for inclusion in the Planning Guidance section of the project. In other words, our planners within the present laws cannot deal with them.
I have felt for some time that the approach to our traffic problems both nationally and locally has left something to be desired. I refer to the lack of objective consideration given to the problem; the need for a stand-back-and-look-at-it-afresh approach. How can a Department of Transport solve the problems that are only a symptom of greater problems?
Recently and quite separately I heard two similar comments from two nationally known figures, both involved in transport matters up to their necks. The essence of what they said was that this island of ours is too small to contemplate covering much more of its surface with more acres of concrete to satisfy the road lobby. If this is the case, and I personally believe it is, what then is the solution?
Without more roads how is the projected increase in car ownership and use to be accommodated without almost endless gridlocks?
We all like our cars and the convenience of using them, but it stands to reason that there are too many people in this country to allow unfettered use of this mode of transport. There is much talk of improving public transport, not least by those who have much to gain from this, but who are they trying to kid?
Who, with the utter convenience of door to door transport at their fingertips, will opt for the walk to and from the bus stop or railway station in all weathers? Who will happily then wait for the bus or train, even if it is on time, to suffer the relative unpleasantness of sitting in uncomfortable seats, close to strangers who intrude on their privacy and cough on their necks, listening to radio stations or telephone conversations they don't want to hear? Who will experience the rudeness and lack of consideration, so usual amongst too many people placed too close together, and proceed in this condition slowly, noisily, vibratingly, jerkily to their destination. Do you get any of this in your own vehicle? Even if attempts are made to improve the comfort and reliability of public transport it would be almost impossible to achieve parity with the private car.
Perhaps the introduction of road tolls would help. Of course this would tend to hit at the poorer end of society. How about sharing schemes whereby you can travel on odd or even dates but not both? Very inconvenient! Artificially reducing the convenience of the private car by such methods will not be popular, will stave off the need to improve the alternatives and continue to ignore the underlying problems.
The only approach I feel will lead anywhere is to work towards a 'sea-change' in the public's attitude and to reduce the need to travel unnecessarily. By this I mean that the public themselves will eventually decide, willingly, which journeys are necessary and which are not.
Pie in the sky?
How about changing the policy of allowing parents the freedom to have their children go to any school of their choice? Apart from the fact that this doesn't work for everyone anyway, why shouldn't children go to the nearest school to where they live? If the parents aren't happy with that school's performance they would have a choice. Attend the school regularly as a parent and get unsatisfactory standards changed for the better, or move house to be near to a school they wish their children to attend. I'm sure everyone has noticed the incredible reduction in traffic during school holidays. This would ensure that reduction was permanent.
This wouldn't be possible in some areas where even the nearest school may be some miles away. In these instances the introduction of the likes of the 'yellow bus' scheme prevalent in America could be introduced. There are other ideas also were the parents take more responsibility for their own children such as organising 'walking bus' schemes where the distance isn't too great.
Supermarkets? Yes we want them for their relative cheapness but these also involve much increased travelling by shoppers. Hypermarkets should never have been allowed. They have further devastated town and village shopping centres which were already suffering badly and, of course, increased traffic journeys. A planning policy needs to be devised whereby the overall effect of any such development would be taken into account at the application stage and if it was felt that the impact would be too damaging then it should be rejected. Ideas need to be put forward to give local shops half a chance to compete with these big shops on price and content.
There is also the matter of new housing being distributed about the country in an ill-advised and conceived attempt by the Government (not just the present one!) to try to ensure that there are sufficient houses for everyone. I disagree with many aspects of the national policies in this respect, but the one I feel concerns this article is the thoughtless way in which houses have been foisted onto areas which neither need them nor want them and which exacerbate the traffic problems beyond all reason.
The new technologies are enabling more people to work from home. A recent survey has apparently identified some 20% of all workers who now work from home on at least one day a week! I feel this is bound to increase, but if you cannot work from home there ought to be incentives to persuade people to live near to their place of work. I doubt that anyone would wish to commute to work as they now do if they could avoid it.
How does this affect Littleborough?
A little blue-sky thinking might be considered. The pedestrianisation of Littleborough Square and Hare Hill Street is one idea. It would be pleasant to walk about in these areas without having to be on the constant look out for vehicles, wouldn't it? The immediate objection to this would presumably come from the Highways Department, that to close off the A58 would be impossible. I agree that it would be highly unlikely, although the whole point of blue sky thinking is to consider the impossible, and if real attempts to introduce changes in our attitudes as described earlier were made, perhaps not completely so.
Pedestrianisation in this case would mean that vehicles not only be required to travel slowly through these areas but that they should always defer to each and every pedestrian. In Hare Hill Street they would perhaps be banned during the working day completely. These moves would help to rebuild the centre of the town again and make it a more pleasant place to come into and visit.
All on-street parking should be stopped. Wow, that would put the cat among the pigeons! But it would also allow the flow of traffic to proceed more easily without the expense and disruption of new roads or the need to further widen old ones. When traffic can move most of the time at a reasonable pace I feel that drivers would be less impatient with slow-down areas such as I'm proposing for our central square.
What about all those people who have nowhere to park except on the road? I confess to having little sympathy with their situation. I have often viewed what appears to be the inalienable right of anyone to block thoroughfares with stationary lumps of metal on wheels with a sense of disbelief. I think it would be a good idea that, just as any motorist is required to tax, insure and service their vehicles regularly, they should also be required to show they have an off-road space available for car parking before they are allowed to own one. Nevertheless the situation has been allowed to go on for too long to introduce such draconian measures at this stage and some form of help would be needed to get these cars properly parked. It should be attempted. Certainly all new car ownerships should have to comply.
These are all things which can be considered and suggested in the Town Design Statement and, as the traffic problem in our town affects all aspects of our lives, they must be.
Heritage - it's a word we bandy around, but do we know what we mean by it?
When the Town Design Statement was launched in May, we really had to put our thinking caps on. Everyone knows about the formal, government-recognised, acknowledgement of value: the 'listed' buildings which are preserved for their architectural and historical importance.
For this aspect of what was needed in the T.D.S, we are working with our sister organisation, the Littleborough Historical and Archaeology Society who are doing a sterling job compiling the total picture for Littleborough. Valuable as that is, there is more to it. When my 'Interest Group' (Ealees, Durn and Canalside) set off on its walks round our area, we realised there was a lot more to 'heritage'. We were a group of people with a common interest but who had hardly known each other before the Launch.
When we got together we had the excitement of tackling the project completely from scratch. One of the ideas we had was to ask each member of the group, while walking around, to identify just one feature she or he liked very much - and this wasn't restricted in any other way. Here's the list for Ealees area. It must be remembered that we have only had time (so far) to walk round the RMBC Development Brief 'bit', of Ealees, with some quick looks at the areas immediately adjoining.
What we liked:
Photograph: Rae Street
Once we'd got into the swing of this (aided by setting off with refreshments- in one case 'hand pulled cider' from the nearest pub - an essential part of heritage!), there was no stopping us. Our range became wider; our listings verging on the poetic. It was worth hearing the description of an octagonal gate post- lop-sided, neglected, but transformed by the observer. Nothing was too small or overgrown. We loved steps; we loved, above all, stone. We loved the views as we came round corners. We loved 'new' heritage.
Our cherished 'findings' will be carefully kept. They seem to be growing to a compendium when we know that we have at most, in the final document, space for two pages. Never mind - we've more to go and we'll keep our own gigantic scrapbooks just like the Victorians. We are not going to be hidebound. Now, where does that phrase come from?
There’s been a change in grandma, we’ve noticed as of late
She’s always reading history, or jotting down some date,
She’s tracing back the family, we all have pedigrees,
Grandma’s got a hobby, she’s climbing Family Trees…
Poor Grandpa does the cooking, and now, or so he states,
He even has to wash the cups and all the dinner plates.
Well, Grandma can’t be bothered, she’s busy as a bee,
Compiling genealogy for the Family Tree.
She has no time to baby-sit, the curtains are a fright.
No buttons left on Grandpa’s shirt, the flower bed’s a sight.
She’s given up her club work, the serials on TV,
The only thing she does today is climb the Family Tree.
The mail is all for Grandma, it comes from near and far.
Last week she got the proof she needs to join the DAR.
A monumental project - to that we all agree,
A worthwhile avocation - to climb the Family Tree.
There were pioneers and patriots mixed with our kith and kin,
Who blazed the paths of wilderness and fought through thick and thin.
But none more staunch than Grandma, whose eyes light up with glee,
Each time she finds a missing branch for the Family Tree.
To some it's just a hobby, to Grandma it's much more.
She learns the joys and heartaches of those who went before.
They loved, they lost, they laughed, they wept - and now for you and me,
They live again, in spirit, around the Family Tree.
At last she's nearly finished, and we are each exposed.
Life will be the same again, this we all suppose.
Grandma will cook and sew, serve crullers with our tea.
We'll have her back, just as before that wretched Family Tree…
Waterside in Truth!
Photograph: Iain S Gerrard
Things are rarely as you think they are going to be. The rising tide of activity with our Town Design Project and the lure of the discovery of a whole new range of rock to climb on in Sardinia, were severally some of the complex emotions by which I arrived at the point that something had to give. In a word I just couldn’t fit everything in and suddenly it was getting to feel like being back to work after 12 years of retirement.
Time for someone else to be Chairman of the Civic Trust and for me to pick lotus flowers in our sunny Littleborough climate. Well we can all dream, and I did - having resigned as your Chairman - my conscience was very clear since Don Pickis was going to pick up the baton, and he knew more about most of it than me anyway.
Something seemed slightly wrong about this plan when on the following day the email system had yet one more blip – yes, sir, it was not working until 3.30 pm – yes, sir, we will help you at one pound per minute - Help!
Then the good times returned. We had been preparing a very large response, a very serious response, to a planning application to dismantle the Railway Inn at Ben Healey Bridge. How any one could really wish to do that - I had always resisted even changing its name - as happened some few years ago. It is a building of its time, much altered over the years, but it sits in what must be the most commanding place in Littleborough for a point of view. Go and sit outside at the back on a mild sunny day (yes we do have them) and you will see what I mean. Look at it in its setting with the 19th century houses besides it, the veritable gateway into Hollingworth Lake country park. And they were going to knock it down!
Worse still they were going to replace it with flats of the anonymous bland nothingness of many modern buildings, so frequently visible on the edges of any of our larger towns. Even more worse still - I know a number of people who drink in the pub and that was scarcely encouraging either. Built on a framework speculation, the reasons for destroying the pub, and the chances of stopping it happening, seemed on one side as decidedly malevolent, and on the other you may say no better than the proverbial pussy cat in Hades. Clearly time for another consoling half of bitter! There is nothing like being down and knowing it – so the only way is up.
Back home I got out the dreaded copy of the Urban District Plan: a heavy and by no means accessible modern bible with acres of advice all deeply hidden. Within ten minutes there was a transformation: the Inn is within the Green Belt!
Bless all planners! Some 20 years ago, perhaps earlier, they had the wonderful idea that it was worth keeping some bits of Britain Green. Suddenly I decide it is worth living after all, hours fly by as I chased the tedious path through heavy paragraphs to realise, as in having three quick drinks, some small happening can change your life.
Working full out now, with bits of paper flying all over the place, I leapt out into the twilight and drove over to confirm a dozen reasons why the inn should not be demolished. I came back in the twilight and worked very late expressing all, chapter and verse, why it would be pure vandalism to destroy the building. I finally retreated into sleep, strangely satisfied with having tried to stop a wrong.
Like I said at the beginning its funny what gets you going. I felt much better and even started living again - perhaps as well since my two pages of protest might have been under a heap of things which really do matter at their end. But you never know quite why or how things work and a week or two later a white envelope lay in the hall and a courteous note said that after careful consideration -------- the application had been withdrawn!
Oh the joy of being in the Civic Trust!
The Waterside (Railway) Inn
Photograph: Iain S. Gerrard
"The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English roads", or so G. K. Chesterton thought. That was before the invention of motorways which allow everyone to travel the same route at the same time, thus ensuring that eventually no one will go anywhere. The narrow green lane still provide local alternatives but there isn't much pleasure in driving on them and none at all in walking or riding a horse or a bike along them. The traffic belts along at speeds above the motorway limit making life hazardous for all. No wonder some folk want to close Calderbrook Road.
Worse still are the by-pass roads, especially if they are built on top of historical routes. These are neither fish, flesh nor good red herring. They are not motorways, just high speed, cut-price imitations. They make nor provision for walkers or other users; no traffic lights, no pedestrian crossings, definitely no bridges - too expensive - no pavements, no refuge at all from the unceasing, reeking, roaring traffic.
At least half of our population is too young, too old, too ill or too poor to drive a car. They have to rely on public transport or walking. Some of us actually like walking and would willingly "Walk for Health" if we could rely on arriving safely. Whilst the driver is King, we can't!
I am compiling a list of essential Rules of Life. They already include "All midwives should have babies" and "All J. P.'s should be regularly burgled". I'm adding a third one: "No one should legislate on Highway matters unless they are trained and qualified to do so". Training would consist of having one leg tied behind them and with the aid of two crutches trying to cross the by-pass on a Public Footpath. There should be similar classes for horse riders and cyclists and female trainees should be also be required to push a child in a trolley and hold a toddler, or two, by the hand. Anyone with asthma, as a special treat, should walk at least a quarter of a mile (400 metres for you Europhiles) on the grass verge and they could do breathing exercises on the central refuge.
I see that Rochdale M. B. C. is studying an in-depth report of what is wrong with the place. Their chief concerns are the economy, employment, housing, health and deprivation - no mention of late trains, filthy streets, no public toilets, contaminated land, dilapidated public paths, polluted air or any of the "heartache and the thousand natural shocks our flesh is heir to". Come on Councillors and Members or Parliament: let's get our priorities right. You'll find out in May that we're worth it!
A. F. P. WALKER
(a.k.a. Betty Taylor)
Editor: Iain Spencer Gerrard