Lancashire Day love letter to the Red Rose County

Today is Lancashire Day, when people across the old county palatine raise a glass to the historic Red Rose region. Local historian Keith Johnson pays his own tribute to the county

By Mike Hill
Friday, 27th November 2020, 3:45 pm
Lancaster's stunning Ashton Memorial
Lancaster's stunning Ashton Memorial

The annual Lancashire Day, held on November 27 each year, commemorates the day in 1295 when Lancashire first sent representatives to Parliament and allows us to have a nostalgic look at the county in which we live.

After all, the Lancashire familiar to the older generation of Preston folk is the one which had an extreme length of 85 miles and a breadth of 46 miles and lay between the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire and the Irish Sea.

The area of the ancient county was in excess of 1m acres and towards the end of the 19th century the population had soared to beyond 4m people. It was recognised as England’s premier county in wealth, population and magnitude of business undertakings, being viewed by many as the workshop of the world.

Blackpool Tower

As it moved into the days of enlightenment and science found her way through the gloom of ignorance, Lancashire had genius manifesting itself within its boundaries. Great, for example, was the fame earned with its cotton trade and pride abounded as coal rightly held its place of honour. The county to some extent was the cradle of English railways and for inland traffic was regarded as the birthplace of the canal system.

The coach roads developed into the highways and by-ways necessary to support the factory system and the increasing engineering industries. Shipbuilding, iron and steel manufacture, glass production, chemicals, leather, pottery and numerous other trades were involved in the employment of the enterprising and hard working folk of Lancashire. The diversity of industry and commerce had been aided by the fact that the county had given birth to so many men of mark in different walks of life.

Which other county could boast an Arkwright, Hargreaves, Crompton, Horrocks, Dalton, Roscoe, Whitworth or, indeed, a man to rival that distinguished politician William Ewart Gladstone?Like all counties it had to endure growing pains with cotton riots, strikes and famines, yet the hardy folk shrugged off their tribulations and made their living with dogged determination.

It was a county which offered gainful and regular employment and attracted immigrants from far and wide. They came prepared to toil and sweat to earn their daily crust, content to eke a living working on the land, or in the mill, or even down the pit.

Eric Morecambe statue on Morecambe seafront

The county they inhabited was not a bright and gleaming one, but a place with disease and pestilence. There was no welfare state to ease those on troubled times and health and medical provision were primitive in the extremes. The workhouse loomed large for those unable to cope and orphans and widows often suffered in silence.

Life had more than a fair share of accidents and atrocities. Crime manifested itself among the poor who often trod the path of lawlessness to combat poverty and persecution.

The ale house had a prominent place among the lower classes and would lead to actions of remorse and regret. The parsons preached a moral code of Christian values, yet many poor folk forsook the path of righteousness and indulged in behaviour bound to lead to self destruction.

The call, of the conscience was often ignored and those who took to crime had to reap its consequences. The justice system was a harsh and strict one and little sympathy was extended to those who transgressed. The police gradually increased their knowledge and their numbers and patrolled the streets and alleyways to give a feeling of security to the law abiding citizens.

Harris Library, in Preston

Woeful was the offender who stood before the judges of the Assizes Court in Lancaster, Manchester or Liverpool, to hear the dreaded sentences imposed upon them.

The hangman was often called to administer the cold hand of justice and crowded transportation ships left these shores bound for the penal colonies.

In Guild Year 1882 the folk of Preston were able to reflect on the town’s increased importance within Lancashire following the erection of the new County Hall and Offices in Fishergate.

It was intended to use the premises for the holding of the Court of Annual General Sessions and for the County Constabulary.

Rivington Pike

The style of architecture was that of the latter period of Elizabeth I and James I. The architect was Henry Littler, of Manchester, and the cost of the structure was about £58,000, inclusive of the site.

The elevation was of pressed red brick, with stone string courses, cornice, mullions, and jambs, gables, and shields on which were carved the Royal and Duchy Arms.

The whole presenting a frontage to Fishergate of 178ft, and to Pitt Street a frontage of 152ft. In the rear of the building there being a parade ground for the constabulary, an occasional court house and cells for temporary prisoners. The whole of the building was erected by John Walmsley, of Preston.

Fast forward to May 1934 and a meeting of Lancashire County Council was held in a new County Hall following extension work which had begun four years earlier, with the demolition of a street of cottage property and extensive excavations for foundations and basement.

The U-shaped block having a frontage of 160ft to Pitt Street and being five storeys tall with a basement. Once again local brickwork with lavish stone dressings harmonising with the original structure.

It had cost £150,000, including furnishings, and was an opportunity to bring many of the county services together. The new County Hall itself was at the core of the new structure with a council chamber 64ft by 54ft, lighted by eight large arched windows. With accommodation for 134 aldermen and councillors, along with a public gallery it was an impressive arena.

In the 1950s, after the creation of British Rail, the British Transport Commission sold the Park Hotel overlooking Miller Park to Lancashire County Council for £85,000 and they converted it to offices.

Unfortunately, not long after the purchase of the hotel the county council saw fit to build a tower block of offices alongside. This brought an outcry from locals who regarded it as a blot on the landscape which is finally being removed as the Park Hotel undergoes extensive renovation work to restore it to the age of grandeur once associated with the structure.

These days County Hall remains very much at the centre of county administration and further extensions have followed on the old Christ Church site. While part of the church frontage of 1836 origins remains, additional conference rooms and a car park have been added.

Regrettably, the modern day Lancashire no longer includes the cities of Liverpool and Manchester, nor are Oldham, Coniston, Widnes, Stockport or Barrow part of the county. In April 1974, the old county disappeared officially. The new Lancashire being left with a population of 1.34m residents – nowadays 1.46m – and an estimated 750,000 acres.

The most northerly point being the summit of Leek Fell and the most southerly being Bickerstaffe. We might have lost the Manchester tarts and Liverpool scouse, but we still have our Lancashire hotpot, Chorley and Goosnargh cakes and our butter pies of Preston and Chorley origins, often popular with Roman Catholics on the Friday abstinence from meat day.

And so in 1996 the first Lancashire Day was designated by the Friends of Real Lancashire, a group dedicated to promoting the traditional identity of the old county

It is observed with a toast to “The Queen, Duke of Lancaster”, and is marked throughout the historic county by town criers announcing the Lancashire Day proclamation which declares the historic regions boundaries of the county.