Ribchester Local History Society

Past Events


15th December, 2010

Annual Christmas Social

On 15 December a large gathering of members converged on the Ribchester Arms for the annual Christmas Social. In a break with previous practice, this year`s event was preceded by a sit down meal rather than a buffet. After an excellent meal provided by Leon and his staff, members were royally entertained by guest artist `Lanky Bernard` with a series of songs and monologues on a Lancashire theme. We cannot end without remarking on the continuing generosity of Leon and members of the staff at the Ribchester Arms. We are always made welcome and nothing is too much trouble. We are truly grateful to you.

24th November, 2010

History of the Workhouse

Frank Lofthouse, a local historian from Southport, gave an interesting talk to a packed audience of the Society on 24th November at the Ribchester Arms, entitled `A History of the Workhouse`. His great-grandfather had been the Warden of a Clitheroe Union Workhouse in Victorian times. He had carried out four years` research to write a book about his family and the social attitudes prevailing at that time, before our Welfare State evolved from the problems of poverty and unemployment.

His talk took us back to the Middle Ages when the Church was the only real source of relief for the poor. When the monasteries were closed by Henry viii, thousands of men were reduced to begging. Parishes were required, by The Poor Law of 1601, to support those who could prove residency, but this led to The Settlement Act to prevent vagrants moving from place to place in search of work. The situation was exacerbated by the landowners of the 18th Century enclosing Common Land, to provide pasturage for sheep-farming, and subsequently by the migration of dispossessed villagers to the towns and cities of the Industrial Revolution during Victoria`s reign. The Poor Law Amendment Act tried to address the problems of such grinding poverty by establishing workhouses throughout England and Wales, where the poor could be housed and put to work to pay for the costs of providing this support. The workhouses were under the control of a panel of locally-recruited Guardians whose sole aim was to spend as little as possible to comply with the law. By current standards, conditions were barbaric. The illustrations, by Gustav Dore, that Frank used at the end of his talk made us all realise how far society has progressed in the last 150 years. Sadly, he had nothing to tell us about Ribchester`s Workhouse and its role in the Brindle Union of which it was a part.

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Frank Lofthouse presents a talk on the History of the Workhouse.


The slide show depicting local scenes from the era of the workhouse.

25th October, 2010

Church Records

Ann Jepson, a founder member of the Society, on Monday, 25th October gave a capacity audience at `The Ribchester Arms` a fascinating talk about Church Records. However much you think you know about family history research, an expert like Ann can suggest new ways of searching for that vital piece of information that has halted your quest.

Ann gave us an outline of how, and why, Henry VIII had set up the original system in 1535 for his newly-established Church of England to record all baptisms, marriages and deaths. She showed us examples of how this was done, and how the original systems were modified - as time passed - to allow for the personal traits of the clergy or the political circumstances of the period [such as the Civil War, 1642 - 1648] when Parish Registers were largely ignored. She also showed us how to search the existing records, through the County Record Offices and how, by using the resources of the Web, to establish an authentic family tree, with provable accuracy. Since 1834, the Public Records have included the Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths. These operate in parallel with Church-based records, and, from 1841 onwards have been expanded to include National Census information and much else of great interest to a family historian.

Ann closed her talk with an exhibition of examples of Church Register entries from the Parish, which included names, from two hundred years ago, of people whose ancestors were in her audience!

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Ann Jepson presenting her talk on Church Records.


The exhibition of Church Records.

29th September, 2010

Light hearted stories of Banister Brothers

Last Wednesday, the Society opened its new season with the long-awaited talk by Roger Dolphin to a capacity audience at the Ribchester Arms. His subject was 'Banister Brothers', whose weaving mill had been one of the main employers in the village until it closed in 1998. Roger told his story with his usual deft ability to tell a good story with the comedian's innate sense of perfect timing.

The talk was a demonstration of why the Society exists and why it enjoys such success. Roger had spent his entire career - from joining the firm as a young apprentice, straight from school - to the day he retired thirty-nine years later, in the same firm. Apparently, he had enjoyed every minute of it. [How many of us have been as lucky?] Many of the characters he was describing were well-known to his audience; indeed, some were sitting in front of him! His descriptions of the working conditions and the characters he had known were like looking back through an album of sepia photographs to a world that we all recognise, but which has now vanished for ever. Roger entertained us with his home-made poetry, his voluminous notes and some wildly-funny anecdotes for nearly two hours - by his own admission, he must have been a bit of a wild card, or perhaps the joker in the pack, at the Mill.

A wonderful start to a new season.

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Roger facing a full house.

28th August, 2010

Queen's Lancashire Regiment Museum

On 18 August a group of 21 members visited the museum of the Queen's Lancashire Regiment based at Fulwood Barracks in Preston and home to the largest military collection in the North West. Ably led by curator Joan Davies we set off on a journey of discovery that encompassed the history of the County's three infantry regiments from the raising of Lord Castleton's Regiment of Foot in 1689 through the several amalgamations that have resulted in the creation of the current Duke of Lancaster's Regiment. Along the way Joan regaled us with a fund of anecdotes about the many characters who served with the regiments through two world wars and other recent conflicts.

The museum holds an extensive collection of historical material including uniform, badges, medals, weapons and equipment as well as photographs, ceramics and fine and decorative art. Objects related to the County's Territorial Army, Home Guard and Cadet Units are also on display.

For history buffs Fulwood Barracks was built in 1848. According to Joan it is arguably the most complete example of mid-Victorian military architecture in the country. It was built as part of a chain of seven barracks to quell the Chartists. The site is also part of a Civil War battlefield.

Sadly the visit was only too short and I shall be returning for a further (and longer) look. The Museum is open Tuesday to Thursday between 9.30am and 4.30pm. 

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The reserve collections held at the Queen's Lancashire Regiment Museum.



28th July, 2010

Clitheroe Community History

The second of the Society's Summer Events was held on Wednesday, 28 July when we made an evening visit to the Clitheroe Community History Library. The visit was to look at "Interesting Artifacts", but in fact the evening proved to be of much more general interest than this anodyne title suggested.

Sue Holden, the Community History Manager, showed us round the fine building which local benefactors - and the Carnegie Trust - had built in 1905 and had placed in York Street at the centre of the community. She described some of the treasures that the Library possessed - rare books that had been meticulously conserved, black-and- white glass slides by eminent local photographers, documents from local newspapers, and a miscellany of scrap-books showing hand-written bills on beautifully printed invoices showing how business dealings had changed over the last hundred years. She then let us loose to browse amongst the small exhibition of Ribchester maps, photographs and books that she had carefully assembled from her archives. The significance of this treasure trove was apparent to each of us. The purpose of the evening was to make us recognise how much historic material had already been collected, and to consider what we might be able to contribute to this on-going work.

Roy Skilbeck, our Chairman, expressed the Society's thanks to Sue Holden for the time and effort that she had given to make the evening so enjoyable, and useful for each of us.

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Society members inspecting documents.

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Society members inspecting documents.

14th July, 2010

St. Leonard's Church, Old Langho.

The members met on Wednesday 14th July, at St. Leonard's Church, Old Langho, to hear a talk given by Christopher Ratcliff about the history of this little church and role of The Churches Conservation Trust in maintaining and conserving it, after it had been declared redundant by the Parish and the Diocese.

The church drew its own cloak of calm and peace over the audience from its 500 years of history. The thunder and the torrential rain outside were muted by the soft candle-light inside. It did not require much imagination to transpose us all back to Whalley Abbey from whose stones and timbers the church had originally been fashioned by the turbulence of 1557. At that time, Queen Mary was trying to turn the tide of the English Reformation back to Roman Catholicism and the local 'trafficker of monastery lands' was using the derelict monastery as a stone quarry to frustrate these ambitions by building St. Leonard's for the local people.

Now that the church is no longer required for its original pastoral purposes, the Trust has taken over the Parish's role although local services are still held here four times a year. To promote the public's interest in its property, volunteers - like Christopher- open 340 churches in its care to the public every Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free, so come along and enjoy what they can offer.

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The altar at St.Leonard's Church.

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RLHS member Jo Ratcliff on the organ at St.Leonard's Church.

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Church window at St.Leonard's Church.

26th May, 2010

Colin Hinkley gave a talk on Letters from the Front.

Colin Hinkley presented the last meeting of the Historical Society's season with an affectionate portrait of the War-time service of Dick Wordsworth, who for many years was a very well-known figure in the village. The story of his service life from enlistment in the Royal Engineers in October, 1939 only six weeks after war was declared to September, 1945 when he was repatriated. He spent the next six months recuperating in hospital, but was eventually demobilised in March 1946. The commentary was given in Dick's own words taken from the letters that he had sent home to his family, three generations of whom were represented among Colin's audience.

Sadly, but predictably, the letters had all passed through the hands of the official censors, so the story-line of what must have been a remarkable experience was reduced (by them) to a rather hum-drum recital of requests for duty-free tobacco or a replacement pipe rather than an over view of some of the key encounters of the War, such as the Desert Rat's defence of Tobruk, the invasion of Sicily, and the battle for Monte Casino in Italy. Colin did his best to make the story relevant to us all by borrowing some time-lapse sequences from the BBC's War-time History to demonstrate how (and why) the battle for North Africa, and then for Italy, were of such strategic importance to our ultimate success, and thus to the quality of life that we enjoy in the village to this day.

26th April, 2010

Prof Geoff Timmins gave an illustrated talk on the Development of Turnpike Roads in Lancashire.

On 21st April members of the society gathered to listen to an illustrated talk on the 'Development of Turnpike roads in Lancashire' by Professor Geoff Timmins. Geoff is a practiced lecturer well able to hold the interest of an audience which in other hands might well have become a dry subject.

A turnpike is literally a defensive frame of pikes that can be turned to allow passage of horses, but in the context of this lecture it referred to a gate set across a road to stop carts until a toll was paid. The erection of turnpike gates by trustees was the most successful mechanism for ensuring that the maintenance of a road was financed by the beneficiaries.

The turnpike trusts first stopped the rapid deterioration in the condition of main roads and slowly began to build a network of well-maintained highways that allowed road transport to move more efficiently and reliably. The money raised by mortgaging the future toll income permitted substantial investment in the improvement of the drainage, gradients, width and running surface of existing highways. Later it allowed the trusts to build new sections of road to by-pass bad sections and to construct new engineered structures such as embankments, cuttings and even bridges to provide faster routes where horse power could be used more efficiently to haul vehicles. Better roads led to better vehicles which horses pulled more efficiently and at much faster speeds. Although heavy goods were still carried more efficiently by water, road transport became the best means of carrying goods and people rapidly and safely between the booming towns of late 18th and early 19th century Lancashire. It is a truism that little changes in this world. The very techniques employed by the old turnpike trustees are now employed in the design and construction of the modern motorway.

If the number of questions raised at the end of a lecture is a measure of the success or failure of the lecturer then Geoff Timmins was an undoubted success, to the extent that a number of members remained behind at the end to question him further.                                                  

24th Mar, 2010

Alan Crosby gave a talk on  Food of the Lancashire Poor.

On Wednesday, 24th March, the Society's members and guests met at the Ribchester Arms to hear Dr. Alan Crosby speak to a capacity audience about the 'Food of the Lancashire Poor' between 1600 and 1900.

Dr. Crosby is a popular, powerful and persuasive speaker, who based his talk on the significant and original research that he has carried out into living conditions in the County in the period leading up to, and during, the Industrial Revolution. The context for this talk was the role played by the poorest people of Lancashire, who while Britain was leading the world into a prosperous industrialised society, were on a starvation diet of 'Waterloo porridge', a watery gruel of oats that was almost totally lacking in what we would regard as nutrition. His quotations from official Reports and from surviving diary extracts of mill workers made a poignant contrast with the present-day menus of the Ribchester Arms that appeared on the wall behind the speaker.

Dr. Crosby will be returning next year to speak about 'The Preston Guild' in preparation for its next twenty year re-appearance in 2012.     

22nd Feb, 2010

Julie Stewart gave a talk on Vindolanda.

On the evening of 22nd February, Julie Stewart gave the Ribchester Historical Society a fascinating lecture on the ongoing excavations at Vindolanda, the Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall. For the last ten years, she has been taking part in methodical excavations of this ancient site, under the expert eyes of qualified archaeologists.

She herself is motivated by her own enthusiasm and the knowledge she has gained from taking part in the dig, and by the excitement that may come each time you turn over the next stone. She is one of more than 500 untrained but enthusiastic volunteers from all over the world who offer their time and energy to carry on the work. The site is enormous. It will probably take another 100 years before its potential is fully revealed. This is where the famous 'Roman post-cards' were found, written on bark, and miraculously preserved by the conditions in which they had lain for 1,800 years - the earliest written personal records in Europe.

Julie's lecture was impressively organised and illustrated to demonstrate how she had been drawn into the work, the history of the site, the finds that had been made, their interpretation and, very modestly, her own contribution to the developing dig. The coming season starts in April, and Julie will be going back for another fortnight's commitment in May. Hopefully, she will be back next year to tell how the story-line has developed.   

27th Jan, 2010
Ann Ward gave a talk on Food Rationing in the 2nd World War.

Some sixty five years after the end of the Second World War, at a time when vast quantities of food are thrown away because of the tyranny of 'sell by' dates, it is difficult to imagine what it was like to produce a reasonable meal when food was scarce.

By luck or uncommon foresight (call it what you will) Government had taken on board lessons learnt from the First World War. Planning started in 1919 and by the mid-thirties a fully fledged contingency plan was available for use in a future emergency. With it came the realisation that as Britain imported a staggering 55 million tons of food from abroad, much of it would be vulnerable to disruption. The planners recognised that any sustained disruption would lead to shortages of food supplies in the shops. As food became scarcer prices would rise and poorer people would not be able to afford to eat. There was also a danger that some people might hoard food, leaving none for others.

The basic philosophy of the plan was that everyone should be provided with an equal share of basic products. As World War II began to bite it became apparent that to realise this aim some form of rationing would be required, and on 8th January 1940, bacon, butter and sugar were the first of many foods and also other products to be rationed. It would be many a long and painful year before rationing finally came to an end in 1954 almost a decade after the Allied victory.

Ann Ward provided a rare insight into how people coped with war-time food shortages, and in the process becoming healthier than ever before. With a step by step approach members were given a demonstration of living in a more frugal age with tips on collecting food for free, baking, preserving and lots of family recipes. All in all an enjoyable and nostalgic evening.


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