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6 Fascinating Stories About Historic Lancashire

We've delved into the Historic England Archive to uncover some of the people, places and heritage of North West England.

Hats off to the Red Rose County!

Lancashire Day is celebrated on 27 November, marking the day in 1295 when King Edward I called the first representatives from Lancashire to Parliament.

We’ve delved into the Historic England Archive to uncover some of the people, places and heritage of North West England.

Note: the borders of Lancashire were changed by the Local Government Act 1972. These stories refer to the historic county of Lancashire, which included Liverpool and Manchester.

1. Sporting endeavours: the Dick, Kerr Ladies Football Team

Dick, Kerr & Company, Strand Road, Preston, 1918 © Historic England Archive BL24281 025
Dick, Kerr & Company, Strand Road, Preston, 1918 © Historic England Archive BL24281 025

This photograph, taken in 1918, shows women assembling seaplane wings as part of the war effort. They were employed by Dick, Kerr & Company at their factory in Preston.

In 1917 the factory established a women’s football team. It would become the greatest women’s team of the era, even becoming unofficial World Champions.

The team’s most famous player was Lily Parr (1905-1978), a woodbine smoking winger who would later become an LGBT icon. In 2019 she was the first female player honoured with a statue at the National Football Museum.

Bronze statue in the National Football Museum, Manchester, of footballer Lily Parr from St. Helens, Lancashire © Kevin Britland / Alamy Stock Photo
Bronze statue in the National Football Museum, Manchester, of footballer Lily Parr from St. Helens, Lancashire © Kevin Britland / Alamy Stock Photo

Crowds for women’s matches often eclipsed those watching the men’s game. Despite this popularity (or maybe because of it) trouble was looming. In 1921 the Football Association banned women from playing at all of its affiliated grounds. The F.A. resolution stated that:

“… the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and should not be encouraged.”

Extract from the Football Association Resolution 1921

The ban was finally lifted in 1971 but it would be another 37 years before the Football Association issued an apology for its actions.

Today, half a century after the ban was lifted, women’s football is more popular than ever. In this context, it’s easy to forget the struggles and discrimination faced by the early pioneers of the women’s game. 

2. From mill to music hall: how the humble clog hit the big time

The premises of Peter Ranicar, Clog Maker, Bradshawgate, Leigh, Lancashire, late 19th century, © Historic England Archive AL2409/016/01
The premises of Peter Ranicar, Clog Maker, Bradshawgate, Leigh, Lancashire, late 19th century © Historic England Archive AL2409 016 01

Well into the 20th century, the Lancashire clog was standard apparel amongst the county’s working classes.

“The clatter of innumerable clogs is the distinguishing feature of Lancashire manufacturing towns.”

J.F. Fraser, ‘Life in a Lancashire Cotton Mill’ The Windsor Magazine, 1899

Every community had its clog maker. The photograph above shows the thatched premises of Peter Ranicar in Leigh, shortly before its demolition in the 1890s.

The junction of Market Street (left) and Bradshawgate (right), 1987. The vehicles are emerging from Bradshawgate, at the point where Ranicar’s clog shop once stood © Historic England Archive BB94 07539
The junction of Market Street (left) and Bradshawgate (right), Leigh, Lancashire, this time photographed in 1987. The vehicles are emerging from Bradshawgate, at the point where Ranicar’s clog shop once stood © Historic England Archive BB94 07539

Clogs were comfortable, inexpensive and very hardwearing. They also sparked (no pun intended) a whole new cultural phenomenon.

Lancashire clog dancing relies upon the tapping of the toes and heels, originally in time to the repetitive rhythms of looms and other industrial machinery. Over time the clog dance made its way out of the mill and into the music hall. Without it, the world may never have known the films of Charlie Chaplin.

In 1898, aged just 9, the young Charles Chaplin secured his first professional break when he joined ‘The Eight Lancashire Lads’, a troupe of child clog dancers who toured the music halls of Great Britain. And the rest, as they say, is history…

3. Wartime spirit: the Liverpool Blitz

Bomb damage caused during the Liverpool Blitz of May 1941, Lewis's Department Store, Ranelagh Street, Liverpool, 1942 © Historic England Archive OP11304
Bomb damage caused during the Liverpool Blitz of May 1941, Lewis’s Department Store, Ranelagh Street, Liverpool, 1942 © Historic England Archive OP11304

During the Second World War, Liverpool together with the Wirral was the most heavily bombed area outside of London.

The first raid took place on 28 August 1940 and lasted for three nights. In the months leading up to Liverpool’s ‘Christmas Blitz,’ there were over 50 raids. 

During another attack, 166 people died when an air-raid shelter in Durning Road suffered a direct hit. Winston Churchill described this as the ‘single worst incident of the war’.

The photograph above shows the remains of Lewis’s Department Store following the May Blitz of 1941. The seven- night assault devastated the docks, Liverpool city centre and the surrounding areas. It left over 1,700 dead and 1,100 injured.

Jacob Epstein’s sculpture ‘Liverpool Resurgent’ above the entrance of the rebuilt Lewis’s Department Store, Ranelagh Street, Liverpool, 1958 © Historic England Archive OP11305
Jacob Epstein’s sculpture ‘Liverpool Resurgent’ above the entrance of the rebuilt Lewis’s Department Store, Ranelagh Street, Liverpool, 1958 © Historic England Archive OP11305

Lewis’s was rebuilt in 1947. Above the main entrance of the new store stands a bronze statue, ‘Liverpool Resurgent’, by Sir Jacob Epstein, commissioned to mark Lewis’s centenary in 1956. The sculpture depicts a nude male figure striding forward on a ship’s prow, symbolising the city’s renaissance after the horrors of the Second World War.

4. Workers’ playtime: Wakes Week holidays

Oyster Stall on the beach at Blackpool, 1946-1955 © Historic England Archive AA047923
Oyster Stall on the beach at Blackpool, 1946-1955 © Historic England Archive AA047923

In Lancashire, Wakes Week was holiday time. Each town had its own holiday week or fortnight, during which the whole town ground to a halt and emptied of its inhabitants. Factories, shops and offices all fell silent. 

Wakes began as religious festivals. Later, during the industrial revolution, the Wakes tradition morphed into a holiday. It was the time when workers could escape the dirt and drudgery of their usual existence. 

With the coming of the railways, entire communities uprooted their everyday lives and travelled en-mass to enjoy their Wakes holidays by the seaside. As a result, Blackpool became the world’s first specialized working-class holiday destination.

Illuminations on Promenade, Blackpool. Lancashire, showing illuminated tram and North Pier © Historic England Archive DP129904
Illuminations on Promenade, Blackpool. Lancashire, showing illuminated tram and North Pier © Historic England Archive DP129904

In recent years Blackpool has taken pride in this aspect of its history. Blackpool Council announced in 2006 that it would seek designation as a World Heritage Site. The bid was based upon the town’s ‘Outstanding Universal Value’ as the world’s first working-class seaside resort.

Blackpool may no longer be the main destination for Lancashire’s holidaymakers, but Wakes Weeks are still a popular time for Lancastrians to go in search of sea and sun. 

5. Time and tide: the shifting sands of Morecambe Bay

Traditional fishing using horse and cart, Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, 1920-1950 © Historic England Archive WSA01 01 07836
Traditional fishing using horse and cart, Morecambe Bay, Lancashire, 1920-1950 © Historic England Archive WSA01 01 07836

Morecambe Bay has one of the largest expanses of tidal sand and mudflats in the United Kingdom. It can be a dangerous place for those unfamiliar with the bay. 

Since the 16th century, the Crown has appointed guides to escort travellers across the quick sands and fast-flowing tides of this famously treacherous bay. The ‘Queen’s Guide to the Sands’ receives an annual salary of just £15 – with the added perk of rent-free accommodation at Guides Farm, overlooking the estuary.  

The bay is rich in cockle beds. These beds have been fished for generations by the people of Morecambe Bay. The photo above shows a man and boy using the traditional horse and cart to gather shell fish. The boy is looking longingly towards the attractions of Morecambe in the distance!

Venus and Cupid Sculpture by Shane A Johnstone commemorating the cockle-pickers who died in Morecambe Bay in 2004, Scalestone Point, Morecambe, Lancashire, 2017 © Historic England Archive DP174971
Venus and Cupid Sculpture by Shane A Johnstone commemorating the cockle pickers who died in Morecambe Bay in 2004 © Historic England Archive DP174971

In 2004 the world’s gaze fell upon this far-flung part of north-west England when 23 people were drowned by the incoming tide whilst collecting cockles. The vast majority were undocumented Chinese labourers.

The tragedy led to the introduction of tougher restrictions on labour abuse. Further legislation came in the form of the Modern Slavery Act (2015) which sought to combat illegal trafficking, exploitation and slavery in the UK.

6. Politics and popular music: Manchester Free Trade Hall 

Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester, 1957 © Historic England Archive BB98/11007
Free Trade Hall, Peter Street, Manchester, 1957 © Historic England Archive BB98 11007

Manchester’s Free Trade Hall has long associations with political and cultural reform and it was here that the militant suffrage movement began.

In 1905 Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) disrupted an address by the Liberal politician Sir Edward Grey. The pair were imprisoned when they refused to pay the resultant fines.

Their action drew the attention of the media and swelled the ranks of the WSPU. It marked the beginning of civil disobedience and direct action in the ‘Votes for Women’ campaign.

Speaking in 1908, Christabel Pankhurst said:

“It may be that history will judge us as not being altogether ladylike, but we shall have won the vote, and that is what we are fighting for.”

The Pankhurst Centre, 62 Nelson Street, Manchester, home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel, Sylivia and Adela and the birthplace of the Suffragette Movement. It was here in 1903 that Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union © Historic England Archive AA012568
The Pankhurst Centre, 62 Nelson Street, Manchester, home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel, Sylivia and Adela and the birthplace of the Suffragette Movement. It was here in 1903 that Emmeline Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union © Historic England Archive AA012568

In the post-war era, The Free Trade Hall was home to two of modern music’s most fabled gigs.

By 1966 Bob Dylan was moving away from his acoustic, folk roots to embrace an electric sound. This change polarised Dylan’s fans. During his appearance at the Free Trade Hall, a member of the audience likened the shift to the betrayal of Christ. The infamous ‘Judas!’ cry went down in rock folklore.

Ten years later the Lesser Free Trade Hall hosted punk pioneers the Sex Pistols. The gig, on the 4th June 1976, was organised by two members of newly-formed Manchester band The Buzzcocks. Only around 40 people turned up, but amongst them were future members of Joy Division, The Fall and The Smiths.

All came away inspired to make their own music, and the music they created has inspired countless others over the decades.

Charlie ‘Wardy’ Ward, livestock photographer, raising his trilby at the Royal Lancashire Show in Stanley Park, Blackpool, July 1953 © Historic England Archive AA054075
Charlie ‘Wardy’ Ward, livestock photographer, raising his trilby at the Royal Lancashire Show in Stanley Park, Blackpool, July 1953 © Historic England Archive AA054075

What have we missed? Let us know your favourite places and stories about Lancashire in the comments below.

Further reading:

5 comments on “6 Fascinating Stories About Historic Lancashire

  1. artculturetourism

    Great blog, many thanks for sharing!

  2. Fascinating insight into the County’s history.

  3. Martin Philips

    A fascinating article, thank you.
    However, the LGA 1972 was only concerned with administrative areas. The Historic County of Lancashire has never been abolished, nor has its geography been altered. Liverpool and Manchester remain in the Historic County of Lancashire.

  4. AlexanderTheHog

    I can assure you there’s many in Bolton, Manchester and all the towns about, and Barrow and Ulverston too, who celebrate our ‘reet gradely’ county. No boundary every changed for us; that’s just lines for the clerks pushing papers, not for real folk.

  5. .
    ‘The Wirral’ what?
    .
    Do you mean ‘the Wirral Peninsula’ (a thing), or do you mean ‘Wirral’ (a place)?
    .

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