Cherished memories of old mansion and rise of industry

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Historian KEITH JOHNSON recalls the days when Courtaulds employed generations of Prestonians.

Journey back in time 80 years and the area know as the Red Scar industrial estate on the outskirts of Preston on the road towards Grimsargh was a very different place.

Red Scar mansion

Red Scar mansion

On a plateau surrounded by copper beech and giant oak trees stood Red Scar, a picturesque two storey gabled building of timber and plaster.

At that time in 1935 the land and property had just been bought from its owner, Miss Katherine Cross of London, by Messrs. Courtaulds Ltd., who were busy erecting a huge factory in the neighbourhood.

The future of this quaint, yet beautiful, old mansion, situated in even more beautiful gardens, would always be cherished in the memories of those who have been privileged to see it, and will always be a source of interest to those who wallow in history. The plateau on which Red Scar stood overlooked the famous Horse Shoe Bend of the river Ribble, an presented an enchanting prospect. Tall beech, ash and oak trees rose into the sky in all directions. In the grounds grew flowers of great profusion, and of an early summer evening the air was drenched with the scent of hawthorns blossom and lilac.

The history books states that Red Scar was erected by William Cross, although a portion of the building was standing before the Cross family dwelt there. It is asserted that part of the structure dated from Elizabethan times, but few of its original features remained.

The cooling towers at Courtaulds, in Red Scar, Preston, being demolished in 1984

The cooling towers at Courtaulds, in Red Scar, Preston, being demolished in 1984

The manorial rights of this area were long invested in the Hoghton family, and were sold to William Cross of Preston. William was a wealthy lawyer who lived in a large house at the corner of Winckley Square and Winckley Street in Preston. His father, John Cross, was also a lawyer who owned much land in the Avenham area as did with the Winckley family.

William had often ridden his horse to Grimsargh and when he saw the great views he decided to purchase the run down cottage.

It was thus enlarged and altered in 1798, and again in 1840, when its library was added. A thatched one storey wing at the north­east end, used as a dining room, preserved an ancient feature. This thatched wing was believed to have been a church originally. A large, blackened with age, carved oak table was believed to have been the alter and two old wooden candlesticks remained from early days. There was much evidence that part of it was simply a farmhouse in days past, with a old brew house, brick boiler, dairies, stables, and byres leading onto a cobbled courtyard. The interior of Red Scar contained much fine oak furniture, including a massive black oak court chest bearing the date 1368.

In 1813, aged 42, William Cross married and gave up his Winckley Square home to live at Red Scar. The family spent idyllic days there, walking through the woods to Elston and sailing across to Samlesbury. He never tired of the views of the land and the river from which Red Scar took its name following a number of landslides that unearthed red earth on the steep banking around the Horse Shoe bend. Incidentally, a landslide there as recently as 1950 swept away two anglers who were never seen again.

Courtaulds dominated  the Red Scar site for 40 years.

Courtaulds dominated the Red Scar site for 40 years.

When he was 56 years old he caught a chill and his doctor bled him – a common medical practice at the time – but William died, leaving six children. One of them was Richard Assheton Cross who was born at Red Scar, educated at Rugby, and later Trinity College, Cambridge he had a remarkable political life. He represented Preston as a Conservative from 1857 to 1862, and in a second spell as an MP he defeated William Ewart Gladstone to gain the seat of South­West Lancashire. He was Home Secretary in the Disraeli government and later served under Lord Salisbury. He later became Lord of the Privy Seal and was a trusted advisor to Queen Victoria.

Another son, Colonel William Assheton Cross, showed great courage in the Crimean War and later returned to Red Scar. It was he who had two observatories built at the mansion, equipped with powerful telescopes and instruments. The Colonel’s son, also called William, later took over Red Scar and was the last of the Cross family to live there. The last Cross to own Red Scar was Miss Katherine, whose father had moved south to Devon in the 1890s.

After the Cross family moved out of Red Scar it was occupied by various families as tenants.

One of them, named Charnley, was hit by tragic misfortune. A typhoid epidemic swept the area and Mrs. Charnley and her two children died from the disease. The last tenants of Red Scar mansion were Mr. & Mrs. Joseph Hollas and they often held garden parties there. The mansion was admired by all who visited and there was a hot house containing peaches, nectarines and grapes. The panelled dining room with stained glass windows was a particular delighted as were the menagerie of farm yard and zoo animals kept by the Hollases. When they left in 1938 they chartered a special train to transport their animals to a new home down south.

A glimpse inside Red Scar

A glimpse inside Red Scar

Originally, Courtaulds showed no interest in the mansion that was left deserted.

Eventually it fell into ruin – leaving only the remains of its brick foundations and the concrete bases of its Observatory.

Just like the mansion the great Courtaulds factory has left few visible secrets of its past in Preston where employment was provided for so many. It had its own significant landmark in the shape of the two giant cooling towers once so familiar, standing over 350ft tall. Courtaulds, which employed a great number of Commonwealth workers, developed a massive complex on the Red Scar site. Vast spinning sheds and workshops filled the site as the manufacturing of man made fibres such as rayon increased with demand, with up to 4,000 employed at times.

The Preston site was not without its troubles with industrial disputes often to the fore.

Nonetheless, the business kept many employed and it was a great shock to the town in November 1979 when Courtaulds announced the closure of the site with the loss of 2,800 jobs.

When the dust had settled the Central Lancashire Development Corporation moved in and bought the 250 acre site for £1.65m. The hope was to create new jobs for old with the development of the Red Scar site into a modern industrial estate. Experts were called in to check for potential hazards left by the textile/ chemical works amid the debris and derelict buildings.

Courtaulds towers stood over the M6

Courtaulds towers stood over the M6

Much work had to be done, but the progress was highlighted in late March 1984 when traffic was halted on the M6 Motorway whilst the landmark towers were demolished. Two huge blasts signalled the collapse of the towers and traffic was flowing again on the motorway within minutes.

In the last 30 years the Red Scar site has developed into a most significant employer of local folk and there is barely a sign of the secret past of this corner of Preston where John Cross rode on horseback to enjoy the tranquillity of the countryside.