The night the Welsh invaded the moors above Chorley

A Lancashire historian has travelled back through the mists of time to when the Welsh invaded the West Pennine Moors above Chorley.

Monday, 28th December 2020, 3:45 pm
The Winter Hill transmitter station

Boyd Harris has worked on an article regarding the Winter Hill transmitter station for the Chorley Historical Society.

Recalled is one little known incident which occurred more than 40 years ago.

Chorley-based Boyd explained: “Over 10 years ago I spoke to Bill Kay who used to work as an engineer at the Winter Hill transmitter station.

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The mast

“The bit I’m sure Chorley people will be interested in is 4th March 1977 when members of the Welsh Language Group broke into the building and briefly switched the transmitter off.

“They’d done similar raids elsewhere in the same year. Their objection was that Winter Hill English broadcasts were reaching Wales and they didn’t have their own Welsh language channel.

“They got one a few years later.”

Bill, of Adlington, who died in November 2018, wrote down some of his memories.

A workman high up on the mast

He gave Boyd an accost of the incident.

This is how it went:

“It was 21.05 hours on a typical Winter Hill early March evening (the 4 March 1977 to be exact) when the assault was made.

“The night was clear and stars were shining, however a thin ground mist wreathed the road and moor land.

The station and mast

“I was the senior shift engineer on duty that night along with two other shift engineers, Mike Ingram and Peter Dennis.

“Peter was manning the control desk, whilst I was in the test room repairing some piece of equipment.

“By a stroke of good fortune Mike was just heading for the kitchen via the entrance hail when the incident began. He rushed to the test room and informed me that we had intruders on the premises.

“I immediately followed him to the hall where I saw that the glass panel in the front door had been broken to gain access and I was just in time to see someone going away from me down the corridor leading via the garage to the UHF transmitter hall.

Bill Kay who used to work as an engineer at the Winter Hill transmitter station.

“I shouted to Peter to contact the Police and then, accompanied by Mike, followed the intruders into the UHF transmitter hall I switched on the lights as I went for the intruders were using torches.

“On entering the transmitter hall I saw four people, two young men and two young women in the room. One of the women was operating the HT Isolator and earthing switches of the ‘A’ transmitter, (almost the quickest way of switching off).

“I immediately challenged her but she continued to operate the switches.

“I went up to the transmitter and switched it back on again. In all there was a break in transmission of about 15 seconds. I subsequently found out the ‘B’ transmitter had also been switched of by the same method.

“The intruders made no effort to stop me re-powering the transmitters - they just stood back from me whilst I did it.

“As I stood there guarding the ‘A’ transmitter whilst Mike stood by the ‘B’ I noticed that one of the women was carrying a carpenter’s hammer. I was glad I hadn’t spotted that before.

“When my panic subsided and I was in control of myself and of the situation, I questioned them about their motives

“They informed me they were members of the Welsh Language Society and that the intended disruption of the Winter Hill transmissions was part of their campaign for a 4th channel for Welsh speaking Wales.

“Winter Hill had been chosen because Granada programmes beamed from it not only covered NW England but also leaked over into north Wales, and this they objected to.

“I tried to explain that radio and tv signals are no respecters of geographical or political boundaries, and I tried to point out to them that inhabitants of N. Wales did not have to tune their sets to the Granada channel if they did not wish to receive it. But all this fell on deaf ears.

“At about 20.25 hrs the Police arrived, first the Horwich police, then those from Cborley and lastly the PC from Adlington.

“As the Winter Hill station is actually on the Chorley side of the boundary, and in the Adlington section of the Chorley Police area, then the privilege or pain of arresting the culprits fell to the Adlington PC.

“When the prisoners were searched, there was found in the handbag of one of the women, a quantity of 6in nails.

“The idea had been to disrupt the transmission and then to barricade themselves in the transmitter hall by nailing all the doors shut, thus preventing early re-powering of the transmitters.

“This part of the plan luckily was thwarted by our good luck and Mike’s prompt actions. This was of course the reason the woman was carrying the hammer.

“The Police questioned me closely as to whether at any time they had threatened us with the hammer, but in all truth, I had to say that the group behaved impeccably after being challenged.

“In fact it seemed a major part of their policy was to get arrested and go to court to extract the maximum publicity for their cause.

“As the Police were leaving they asked what would be the cost of replacing the glass door. Just off the top of my head I said ‘£100’.

“It was eventually replaced at a cost of £30 but the damages set by the court and paid by the miscreants was the sum of £100, so that night I made a profit of £70 for the IBA.

“The group pleaded guilty and were sentenced to some months in prison I believe.

“The Welsh finally got their 4th channel but when 1 look at the programmes that appear on all channels in general, I often wonder if those four people still think it was worth their sacrifice.”

In the 1970s Welsh language campaigners fought for a Welsh-language radio and television service.

Radio Cymru was established in 1977, but in 1979 a Government promise to launch a separate Welsh language television channelwas not kept.

As a result, protesters refused to buy television licences and others climbed up television masts and invaded television studios.

The Welsh language channel S4C was finally launched in 1982.

The first television channel to be aimed specifically at a Welsh-speaking audience, S4C is the fourth-oldest terrestrial television channel in the United Kingdom after BBC One, ITV and BBC Two.

The landmark mast of the Winter Hill transmitting station can be seen for miles around.

The station’s coverage includes approximately 6.3 million people.

The coverage area is mainly southern Lancashire and Cheshire.

Relay Transmitters are needed around eastern Manchester, northern Lancashire and The Wirral peninsula. The transmitter also covers the North Wales coastal areas.

Winter Hill became the first in the UK to broadcast digital television in high definition in 2009.

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