Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:15 am
Slaidburn is a village in Lancashire. It is one of those places that proves the north of England is not (or no longer) purely a place of dark satanic mills, clogs, cloth caps and Whippets; all pies and prejudice as Stuart Maconie might have put it.
As a Southerner in exile, I grudgingly admit that some northern villages look stunning in the right light. On a bright day, you can almost imagine yourself in a rather damp corner of the Cotswolds, stonework all a-glowing in the sunlight. However, that we are emphatically in the north is clear from the amount of algae, lichen and moss thriving on walls relatively untroubled by the sun’s rays. And the architecture. I love Britain’s regional variations, which even as culture inexorably and becomes more drearily uniform, can still be spotted in speech – and in older architecture. The basic fabric of villages is generally similar – the church, the manor, the rectory, the inn, the school; but they certainly look different wherever you go. In the north, a harsher climate and historically less affluence inclines toward more austere, functional, buildings – often with smaller windows. Stone predominates and this can produce settlements with an almost oppressive medieval feel about them, although in truth most stone domestic buildings are unlikely to be older than the 16th century.
Slaidburn looks as though it has been there forever and is, frankly, a delight. It sits in the Hodder Valley on the southern edge of the Forest of Bowland, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, at the confluence of the Croasdale Brook and the River Hodder, and on a staggered crossroads. The route from Bentham to the north over the bulk of Bowland is called the Skaithe by the time it gets to Slaidburn – probably Old Norse for ‘track’, or even ‘race-track’. The road south leads to the town of Clitheroe. To the northeast are the Yorkshire Dales. Slaidburn itself used to be in the West Riding of Yorkshire and was Slateborne (slaeget or sleget) in the Domesday Survey of 1086, meaning ‘stream by the sheep pasture’. The village was once the administrative centre for the Forest of Bowland; the halmote (manorial) court over the Hark to Bounty Inn being in use until the 1930s. Forest in this context does not mean a large area of woodland as we might understand it, but refers to a designated hunting area, or chase, from medieval times. The Lordship of Bowland is potentially much older, perhaps reaching back to the old 6th/7th century kingdom of Rheged.
The predominant building material in Slaidburn is sandstone, with some limestone. The buildings huddle together along the roads, ribbon-like. Some houses are 17th century, some 18th, most are early 19th; it is hard to spot anything newer than Victorian. Simple two-up, two-down cottages that open directly onto the street would have been the dwellings of farm workers or perhaps home-working weavers. Other properties are a little grander. Slaidburn has some 50 listed buildings – a huge number for a village with a population of fewer than 400. The almost complete absence of modern structures gives the place a timeless atmosphere, despite the presence of expensive motor cars parked carelessly outside some houses. These do suggest that 21st century Slaidburn has a bob or two sloshing around somewhere. I mean, it even boasts its own lovely gift shop, home to the Bowland Chocolate Company. And very nice they are too. I then discovered that you cannot buy a house in Slaidburn because the village is still owned by the Squire. So, maybe it’s a little medieval, after all; the tumbrils have yet to rattle along Church Street.
The position of squire, or lord of the manor, of course dates back centuries. Since 1855, the Slaidburn estate has been owned by the King-Wilkinson family and since 2011 the squire has been Mrs Anthea Hodson. The fact of it being an estate village helps explain the lack of modern monstrosities and why Slaidburn generally looks so neat and tidy. Local authorities don’t seem able to achieve that kind of perfection, do they?
As the local magistrate, the squire would have presided over the court in the Hark to Bounty Inn. The courthouse dates from 1590 and it is thought its predecessor was situated near the village green, by the river. The inn is older. To quote from Hark to Bounty’s website :
“The inn is reputed to date back to the 1300s, although most of the existing fabric of the building dates from the 16th century. The inn was known as The Dog until 1875, when the Squire of the village, who was also the Rector, had a pack of hounds. One day whilst out hunting, he and his party called at the inn for refreshments. Their drinking was disturbed by a loud and prolonged baying from the pack outside. High above the noise of the other hounds could be heard the squire’s favourite dog, which prompted him to call out…
“Hark to Bounty!” “
The green referred to above is adjacent to a rather nice 18th century bridge over the Hodder on the east side of the village. You will cross over it if you come into Slaidburn on the B6478 from Long Preston and the Dales. In the 19th century, rabbit skins were dried on the green before being combined with wool and made into hats. Millinery was a local thing, apparently. Opposite is a very convenient car park, which also boasts a public toilet. I’m guessing that is a further benefit of being an estate village, because it would probably take our local parish council years of pain to organise such a beneficial facility – even if it owned the land. There is also a handy café next door – at one time a joiner’s shop. Across the road, Slaidburn’s village hall is one of the few newer buildings – and it is a tasteful marriage with the past, being built on the site of a former early 19th century Methodist Chapel, whose original external features have been retained facing the street.
The oldest building in many villages is often the parish church that, at one time, everyone would have attended. St Andrew’s, Slaidburn dates from the 15th century, though there was a church there long before that – probably from the 13th century, maybe earlier. It’s a disproportionately large building, perhaps designed for a larger population, at the southern end of the village. It has some fine interior woodwork, including a three-decker pulpit and some 17th century box pews. One guide book even mentions a collection of dog whips. Unfortunately, the door was locked when we visited so, sadly we saw none of those things. I do like churches, but can’t decide whether the depressing, grey, render St Andrew’s has been coated in makes it merely grim, or plain ugly.
A fragment of a medieval stone cross stands near the church tower with an 18th century sundial nearby sitting on some steps. Some believe the steps were those of a medieval market cross that once stood in the centre of the village.
There is a special place next door – Brennand’s School. What a splendid building! Etched in slate above the door: “THIS GRAMMAR SCHOOL was Erected and Endowed by JOHN BRENNAND late of Panehill in this Parish, Gentleman, who died the 15th day of May in the Year of our LORD 1717” By 1878, 50 children were on the roll, rising to 80 in 1905 when girls joined. It became a primary school in 1947.
A fascinating building caught my eye between the school and the village centre. It is like something from a film set, old stone walls behind a small cobbled courtyard with steps leading up to a first floor entrance. Somewhere inside is the Slaidburn Archive, what you might call a heritage centre. Looking at their website I can only imagine how much work has gone into this fabulous project. Whoever is – or was – behind it deserves the village’s gratitude; a lesson for every community.
Villages in Britain are microcosms of Britain’s story, albeit with the regional variations mentioned earlier. It is fascinating to consider which great events the residents of long ago would have experienced first-hand, or known about; intriguing to speculate what went through their minds. This piece barely scratches the surface, but one structure that has always caught my eye when passing through Slaidburn is the very moving war memorial. It stands at the junction of the Skaithe and Chapel Street, in a place where I imagine a market cross may well have once been, and features a life-size bronze statue of a soldier of the First World War, standing in rest on arms reverse position as a mark of respect. Commemorated on the memorial are 30 men from this agricultural area, six of whom were from Slaidburn, who lost their lives in the two World Wars.