As Britain’s population grew throughout the 19th Century and the demand for water in its towns and cities increased, local authorities and water boards looked to rural areas, building dams in remote valleys and creating large reservoirs. The Stocks Reservoir, completed in the 1930s, is one such reservoir, located in Dalehead in the Forest of Bowland in north west England. The reservoir takes its name from the village of Stocks-in-Bowland, most of which now lies beneath the flooded valley. The village church of St James, however, was dismantled and reconstructed on higher ground and the occupants of its churchyard moved to a new burial ground. What intrigued me most about this peaceful little burial ground is that many of its burials have taken place in the years since the Stocks Reservoir was built and the local population displaced. The nearest villages are all a few miles away, with only a few scattered farms in between, but the families of those with links to Dalehead and Stocks-in-Bowland have continued to bury their dead here, nearly a century after the valley was drowned by the reservoir.
At the heart of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, standing close to the banks of the River Ribble and overlooking Pendle Hill, is the church of All Hallows, Great Mitton. Within its walls is a remarkable collection of effigy graves, dating from the 16th to early 18th Centuries, all commemorating members of a local family whose fates were intertwined with some of the major political and religious upheavals of those centuries. Their elaborate graves also reflect the changing fashions both in clothing and in funerary architecture from the Tudor period through to the Stuart and early Georgian periods.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m especially interested in particularly old and unusual graves, and the subject of today’s post definitely falls into that category. On the windswept Lancashire coast, six graves carved into solid rock have survived for over 1,000 years, remarkable survivors at an ancient site where it is thought that pilgrims came to venerate St Patrick in the Anglo-Saxon period. These are the rock-cut tombs of Heysham, some of the finest relics of early Christianity to be found in the north west of England.
As a native of Lancashire, I always return to my hometown of Preston to visit my family at Christmas, and one bright Sunday morning I visited the nearby village of Ribchester, probably best known as an old Roman fort. I often visited this place as a child, as there was (and still is) an excellent children’s playground there. We would also inevitably visit the ruins of the Roman bath house, which were not fenced off and to a small child presented an exciting labyrinth of tumbled stones and low walls to clamber over. In Roman times, Ribchester was called Bremetenacum Veteranorum – a possible translation of this is “the hilltop settlement of the veterans.” Some ruins of the fort, including the bath house and granaries, can still be seen today, and many buildings in the village are built with reused Roman stones and columns.
In a pretty churchyard in Woodplumpton, a village not far from Preston in Lancashire, is a mysterious old grave with many dark tales attached to it. A large boulder – terribly out of place among smart Victorian and Edwardian headstones – is said to cover the grave of a witch.
I visited the Lune Valley again recently, that picturesque corner of Lancashire that I’ve found to be rich in history and fascinating old churches. This visit was no different – driving into the village of Hornby, a striking octagonal church tower caught my attention. Stopping to explore this church and the church situated opposite uncovered the stories of two men with strong links to Hornby who both made their mark on history.
Last summer, I visited a part of my native Lancashire that I’d never been to before – the Lune Valley. It’s a beautiful part of the world which probably gets overlooked due to its proximity to the famous, dramatic landscapes of the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. The valley is probably most famous for Ruskin’s View, the stunning vista – immortalised by John Constable – that can be observed from Kirkby Lonsdale (just across the county border in Cumbria). But the Lune Valley also has a fascinating, half-forgotten history, and is home to some wonderful old churches.