Look around you? Exploring your locality during ‘lockdown’.

by Prof Gary Warnaby

The most recent posts on the IPM blog have rightly addressed the implications of – and possible responses to – the current situation that we all face with regard to Covid-19. It is the fundamental issue of our present time. Indeed, the pandemic impacts upon us all, not least with the lockdowns imposed in most countries. These have involved more or less draconian measures, aimed at curtailing our freedom of movement in order to restrict the spread of the virus.  Here in the UK, the Government’s ‘Stay Home’ instruction states that one period of exercise each day is allowed, as long as it is near to a person’s home; indeed, there have been numerous instances of media-shaming of those travelling to tourist districts in order to get their daily exercise quota.

What are the implications of these constraints for individuals and the places in which they live?  If our horizons are (at least temporarily) limited, then perhaps we have to try to seek enchantment nearer to home, rather than travelling considerable distances to the usual tourist and other outdoor leisure destinations. So, as a result, let’s explore where we actually live instead.

I’m rather ashamed to admit it was only two weeks ago that, after 26 years of living within a mile of it, I found a large area of green space on the banks of the rivers Irwell and Roch, a couple of miles south of Bury.  In my defence, the area – known as Springwater Park – is not widely promoted in the locality, and unless you’re walking along some rather nondescript side-streets (Yes, we were that desperate in our pedestrian perambulations!), you would pass by the inconspicuous entrances to it without a second glance.

So, going through the entrance and heading north, we walked through some rather lovely woodland.

Occasionally we would come across some scattered building materials that had obviously been there for many years.

Reaching the northernmost point of this area, bounded by the river Roch, we came across what looked like some old industrial archaeology, and not able to go further (certainly not trusting ourselves to the bridge in the background of the picture below), we turned back, and took another path.

Following this path, we finally arrived at the confluence of the rivers Roch and Irwell coming onto a big flood plain, and for the first time since entering the woods, saw some other people walking their dogs.

We finally got to the most popular part of this green space, with a small car park, and some evidence of attempts at place management, largely run it seemed, by volunteers.

On our return home (after about a 15 minute walk, it was that close to where we live!), I wanted to find out more about this, and started Googling.  It didn’t take long to find out some of the history of the place, which it transpires, from the early nineteenth century to the 1930s (when production stopped) was one of the key areas of the textiles trade; specifically, textile finishing and calico printing (a generic term relating to the printing of colours designs onto any textile fabric).  Proximity to the two rivers was an important locational factor here.

In 2008, the area was surveyed – and in places excavated – by Oxford Archaeology as part of the preliminary work for the construction of a major water pipeline between reservoirs near Liverpool and Bury.  The ruins we had passed were the remains of the Blackford Bridge Print Works, where calico printing started on a small scale in 1803, expanding significantly in the 1820s, and continuing until about 1910. Fragments of the works remain, including the foundations of several buildings, a weir across the river Roch and the remains of the associated water management system, as well as the large stone tanks in the photo above (which may have been used a dye becks)[1].  Further along the river Irwell floodplain (lust past the location where the last two photos were taken) was the site of the much larger Springwater Print Works, established in 1827 and operational until 1938-9.  The area was excavated in 2010-11, before the water pipeline was laid across the site of the former works[2].

Since the walk described above I’ve been back to Springwater Park to explore further, and find out more about the place. Because we can’t travel as much as we did previously, because of the current situation, perhaps we should seek out the ‘new’ and unexpected in our own locales? In an article titled ‘Landscape and Character’ written sixty years ago, the novelist and travel writer Lawrence Durrell noted, “I am not really a ‘travel-writer’ so much as a ‘residence-writer’.  My books are always about living in places, not just rushing through them”[3].  Maye we should take the opportunity afforded to us by this enforced slowdown to become ‘residence-writers’.

[1] Ian Miller (2012) An Industrial Art: The Archaeology of Calico Printing in the Irwell Valley, Lancaster: Oxford Archaeology. Available at https://oxfordarchaeology.com/images/pdfs/GMPR/GMPR06_Springwater_small.pdf  

Page 25  details the Blackford Bridge Print Works

[2] Described in more detail in An Industrial Art: The Archaeology of Calico Printing in the Irwell Valley, pp. 26-31.

[3] Lawrence Durrell (1960 [1969]) ‘Landscape and character’, in Spirit of Place: Mediterranean Writings. London & Boston: Faber and Faber (pp. 156-163). Page 156.