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       Labour History Lancs.              


Curiosity Street By Alan D. Born 

Ribblesdale Place

Ribblesdale Place is one of the most remarkable addresses in the county. Only yards from the front doors, a hop, skip and a jump through Winckley Square, is the town centre, Fishergate with all its highstreet stores, but at the very back is rolling green grass and sylvan serenity – Avenham Park with theRibble curving away into the distance. The finest view in the land some have said.

Before Avenham Park there was Avenham Walk, an elevated walk with views over the River Ribble. Itoriginated as a promenade during the 17th century. Preston had a genteel reputation and attracted the 'quality'.It stood in contrast to 'rough and tumble' towns like Blackburn and Burnley.

Blackburn historian George Miller always claimed though there was just as much drunkeness and debauchery going on in Preston as anywhere else, but it went on behind the grand facades of the handsome Georgian villas in the salubrious south east of the town, rather than out in the cobbled streets of east Lancashire.

Most of these houses now are offices or flats but back in 1911 they were private residences. The inhabitantsof Ribblesdale Place mostly lived leisured lives on independent means. Some worked for a living. At no 5there was Edwin Pomfret with his wife Mary. He was the county auditor. At no 6 was William Edelstone, asolicitor with his wife Jane. Surgeon dentist Nathaniel Miller and his wife, also called Jane, lived at no 12.You might expect someone of note to emerge from such a background and indeed someone did. At no 1 and aged only 2 in 1911 lived Phoebe Rayner, daughter of Arthur Rayner a doctor and pioneer of radiography. Her mother Amy Gertrude was from Blackburn, the daughter of cotton manufacturer Thomas Fielding. In 1922Amy was to inherit considerable wealth from the Fieldings, enabling the family to move to a the rather grander address – Sullom Holt on Strickens Lane above Garstang.

Phoebe went to boarding school and Cheltenham College. Her career though was to be that of a poet. Shewas to be the author of twenty books, nearly all of them volumes of poetry. Renowned poet Herbert Palmer declared Phoebe to be Emily Bronte reincarnated She married Bolton cotton mill manager Aubrey Hesketh and is known to the world as Phoebe Hesketh. During the war she was women's page editor on the Bolton Evening News and volunteered at the British Restaurant in Horwich. By then she was living at Fisher House in Rivington.
I got to know Phoebe Hesketh when I was reference librarian at Chorley. Aubrey had died in 1976. She was a handsome widow but by then poetry was all to her. She wrote a poem about Ribblesdale Place. An extract is printed to the side.  She died in 2005 aged 96.

On fretful wet days, pressed to the nursery window
we looked down to the Ribble sliding slow
under the railway bridge, counted the trains
dragooned with sparks and smoking plumes, that roared
black thunder over the arches.
Here I linger, peopling the Place
with all who lived here, all who've made me me -
parents, aunts, and friends, and younger sister.
It’s late; the lights flick on; the failing sun
touches the roofs and windows of the lost.
Shadows reach me waiting here alone
Among the living – it’s I who am the ghost.

Phoebe Rayner

Curiosity Street By Alan D. Born 

Calderstones Hospital

The Battle of the Somme began on 1st July 1916. British troops attacked on a fourteen mile front. Almost half a million soldiers were involved. The British artillery bombardment intensified at 7.00 am and seventeen mines were detonated under the German lines. 

Rum rations were distributed at dawn. It might have helped steady nerves. Raw spirits on, in many cases, empty bellies might have lit a fire. Germans sheltering in their deep dugouts were having a miserable time of it too after days of shelling, but their dugouts were deep and although many suffered trauma and ear bleeds, they were still alive.
At 7.00 whistles were blown all along the British line and soldiers began to scramble over the top. The Germans knew what was coming and scrambled to their machine guns. Private James Snaylham of the East Lancs Regiment described how his best pal was killed straight away, but he kept going, kept going, even though he was weighed down with his full kit of rifle, blanket, trenching tools, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and twenty mills bombs. He reached the German wire, wire that had not been cut by the British bombardment. It was there he received his wound from a German shell.
Getting wounded could be a blessing. If you were picked up by stretcher bearers and carried back to a dressing station, your injuries would be assessed . If you were thought likely to recover, a field ambulance would take you back to base hospital and if your luck still held, you'd be sent back home to Blighty.


Military hospitals were set up all over the country. In Lancashire the recently completed hospital for
'mental defectives' at Whalley was requisitioned by the War Office and renamed Queen Mary's Military
It was in 1898 that the Lancashire Asylums' Board had addressed the problem of the 'great accumulation
of lunacy cases' in the county. It had proposed building an asylum at Whalley.

Calderstones Hospital

There was great opposition from local landowners. Ralph Aspinall of Standen Hall and Worsley Taylor of Moreton Hall
objected to the prospect of 'bands of unhappy lunatics' roaming the leafy lanes of the Ribble Valley. A public enquiry was held and the Home Secretary ruled that work should go ahead. Just as the building was near completion the War Office took over. It opened in April 1915 and the first wounded arrived on May 6th of that year. The hospital had its own railway siding and ambulance trains arrived straight from the channel ports. In a couple of days a wounded soldier could be rescued from the battlefield, from the horrific destruction of nature in France and Flanders and arrive in the tranquillity of
rural Lancashire. Being in the Ribble Valley at the height of summer must have aided recovery. 

They arrived in their hundreds with the mud and blood still on their uniforms. The nurses of the Royal Army Medical Corps, Princess Alexandria's Medical Corps and the Voluntary Aid Detachment would have had to remove, often vermin infested, uniforms to address wounds. Over 60,000 soldiers were treated at the hospital. There were still 2,000 there when the war ended in 1918. It was June 1920 before the last one left. Of course some never left. For some neither the efforts of medical staff nor the balm of the Ribble Valley prevailed. They were buried in a military cemetery attached to the hospital. Some stayed who didn't die. William Edwardson, who'd been a patient, stayed on as an employee when the hospital
reopened its doors as 'Calderstones Institution for Mental Defectives' on 25th July 1921.. In December 1998 Calderstones ended its long stay residential role and by 2019 was the last UK hospital specialising in learning disabilities. 

Alan D. Born 

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