NOSTALGIA: The ‘playgrounds’ of Burnley’s past

Extwistle Hall, which dates from the late 16th Century, stands on Extwistle Hill.
Extwistle Hall, which dates from the late 16th Century, stands on Extwistle Hill.

ONE of the most exciting projects currently being carried out by Burnley Council is the creation of Brun Valley Forest Park. It will take some time to achieve, and aspects of it have been criticised recently, but the basic concept is to create an environmental, sporting and green facility of regional importance in the eastern part of the borough.

The idea is to link the existing historic parks (Queen’s and Thompson Parks) with the newer Bank Hall Park and undeveloped land in the Heasandford and Rowley. In addition, already established links with the Bank Top area of Burnley will be brought into the project to create something upon which we will be able to build and of which, in the not too distant future, we will be all be very proud. The area will have facilities for a number of healthy activities which include running, walking, fishing and riding while, at the same time, enhance the area for nature.

Tattersall Wilkinson, the Sage of Roggerham, at Cloughcroft in Extwistle. The building became a Clarion for the early Labour Party.

Tattersall Wilkinson, the Sage of Roggerham, at Cloughcroft in Extwistle. The building became a Clarion for the early Labour Party.

It is not my place to comment on the dispute over how the lake at Rowley should be used. I hope the matter can be resolved amicably and if I can help in the matter I would be pleased to do so.

My intention, in this article, is to tell you about the importance of area covered by proposed the Forest Park as it was in the past.

It is not too much to say the Extwistle and Heasandford area were once “playgrounds” for thousands of Burnley people. Rowley was less so because much of it was in private hands, in the ownership of the Halstead’s of Rowley, but it, too, has a story to tell. The locals who visited Extwistle and Heasandford could not afford to go to the seaside as often as they would have liked, so the places offered lots of diversions for locals of all ages and, as you will find, they contributed, in no small way, to the local economy.

We will start with Extwistle – the place name means, the oaks that grow at the confluence of two streams. The two streams are the River Don, the shortest river in England, and Swinden Water. The former provides the boundary between Briercliffe and Extwistle, the latter the boundary between Extwistle and Worsthorne.

Swinden School House dates from 1802/3. It stands opposite the former Bull Ring site.

Swinden School House dates from 1802/3. It stands opposite the former Bull Ring site.

Extwistle is, historically, a township but it is divided into two parts – to the west, the lower area is known as Extwistle Hill and this is divided from the eastern part, Extwistle Moor, by the valley which contains the road which runs from Haggate, through Cockden and Roggerham, to Worsthorne.

Extwistle, parts of which will be included in the Forest Park, is first mentioned in local historic records when Richard I (1189-99) was on the throne. He is known to us as Richard the Lionheart and, in his 10 years on the throne, was in England less than 10 months. Richard is remembered as a warrior king, the leader of the Third Crusade, and it might surprise you to learn this infamous war comes, indirectly, into our story.

Kings did not suddenly decide to set off on a crusade. They took time to organise and a lowly knight, who lived near York, was, like many other men of his class, wanted to show his worth. His name was Richard Malbisse and his family estates were based on the present Acaster Malbis which is east of York.

Richard Malbisse had, however, a problem – he was in debt to a Jewish banker in York. It was Richard’s intention to set off on the crusade without debt which, in the event of his death, was more than a possibility given what he was doing and where he was going, would have been transferred to his family.

Cat Steps Bridge over Swinden Water as it was early in the 20th Century.

Cat Steps Bridge over Swinden Water as it was early in the 20th Century.

He thought up a plan. Indeed, it is possible Richard was not the only man in the position in which he found himself. The plan involved a demand that the banker should write off the debt. We cannot be sure exactly what happened but it is likely Richard contacted the banker and demanded he give up a small piece of wood which was marked in such a way as to indicate the size of the debt.

Both men, in fact, had pieces of wood. They were identical, taken from the same timber, marked identically and at the same time. We would call such an item an “I owe you” though, in the 12th Century, they were known as “chequers” – the word from which we get “Exchequer”, as in Chancellor of the Exchequer.

From what happened next, it is clear the banker was not prepared to part with his “chequer”, but, in this eventuality, Richard had another plan. He would take it from him, and by force if necessary!

At the time the Jewish people were very unpopular in England. This was a time of particular religious fervour and the Jews were easily blamed for being responsible for putting to execution Jesus on the Cross. As a consequence, England became the first country in Europe to ban the Jews. This was not our country’s finest hour and things did not get any better when we add into the equation the fact the Third Crusade was being planned against the Moslems who controlled the Holy Land, territory which was holy to all three religions.

I suspect Richard Malbisse was hoping he would get the support of other Christians but what happened was that the Jewish community of the city of York shut themselves up in the Castle. They were then murdered when they were promised free passage from the City.

It was a dreadful incident which is commemorated by a plaque in Clifford Tower, York. However, what connection, you might ask, does this have with Extwistle? Richard Malbisse must have had a conscience for in 1190 he gave Extwistle Hill to the Abbey of Newbo in Lincolnshire. Some have suggested the gift was to salve his conscience for what had happened at York but it is possible this gift was one of the many at the time which were given to the church as the knightly class set off for the Holy Land.

It is worth mentioning there is one more thing we can say about Richard Malbisse. This refers to his surname which comes from a place in France. The name means “evil beast” from “mal”, as in “malefactor”, and “bisse” which means “beast”, as in animal. Richard the Evil Beast is a name which was in common use at this time but probably not when referring to Richard Malbisse. Richard the Lionheart was known as Richard the Evil Beast by some of his Islamic enemies.

There is little that survives in Extwistle from the times when a large part of it was in the hands of the monks of Newbo, which is to the west of Grantham, but there is something. It is difficult to locate but, on the right bank of Swinden Water, is the remains of small monastic water mill which is believed to date from the 13th Century.

In recent years the site has been damaged by bikers but enough of the mill remains for us to be able to determine what it looked like. Part of the mound on which mill stood survives, as do the return leat, the mill pond and sections of the mill race which supplied water to the site. The site where water was taken from the stream can also be identified but the land in this area has been subjected to open cast mining and some of it has been lost.

The mill itself was a corn mill to be used by the tenants of Newbo Abbey. The mill buildings were small, roughly built of stones and turf with, I feel, a thatched roof made probably of timber and reeds. The water wheel is most likely to have been undershot and placed in the centre of the mill driving two small mill stones. Of course, this has been worked out by merely looking at the site. So far as I know, no archaeology has been undertaken and it would be a good thing to determine whether my description is correct by a professionally undertaken dig.

The site is within the Forest Park site and it should be identified and protected but this is not the only thing that people, in the past, came to Extwistle to enjoy. There is a splendid right of way which stretches all the way from Netherwood Road, through Heasandford, along the banks of Swinden Water to Roggerham when the walker can finish his expedition with a pint at the Roggerham Gate Inn.

The walk includes two confluences, those of the Swinden Water and the Brun, and the Brun and the Don. The route passes over some interesting geology, which I will mention in my next article, and skirts round another ancient mill site near Roggerham.

This mill is unlikely to be as old as the one we have already noted but we know the mill near Roggerham was in existence in 1604 because, in that year, there was a dispute about the legality of the mill.

We do know, however, that the mill was in the ownership of the Parkers of Extwistle Hall. However, that building dates only to c1585 but the Parkers arrived in Extwistle in 1390-1 taking responsibility for the property on Extwistle Moor which, in the early Middle Ages, had been owned by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire. For a short period the monks had owned and run a grange at Monk Hall and it was this building which came into the possession of the Parker family, via the ancestors of the Towneleys of Towneley.

The mill at Roggerham was originally a corn mill but wool carding and spinning were introduced in the later 18nth Century.

By the early 19th Century the mill was spinning and weaving cotton and this went on until 1884 when the mill was abandoned. It became a romantic ruin and was visited by thousands of walkers.

Many years before it closed, the mill entered the local consciousness when there was a terrible drowning accident in Swinden Water which supplied water to the mill. The incident took place on mill premises and was reported in the local press. The victims were children.

Roggerham, with its ancient bull ring site, its Old School building, its early Socialist connections, Lee Green Reservoir and its very old story associated with raising the Devil, is full of interest for the walker and there is no threat to the existing access to the village from the proposed Forest Park.

The Briercliffe Society is in the process of publishing two guides to the area for walkers. When they are ready I will let you know.