BOOK REVIEW: ‘Lost Farms of Brinscall Moors: The Lives of Lancashire Hill Farmers’ by David Clayton (2011)

David Clayton (2011) Lost Farms of Brinscall Moors: The Lives of Lancashire Hill Farmers, Palatine Books viii + 216pp ISBN 978-1-874181-76-7, paperback, £11.95.

There is something sad and poignant about coming across the ruins of a farmstead or cottage anywhere in the British uplands. Who lived there – when – and what were their lives like? Sometimes the grass grown foundations are so old that even their date is in doubt. It is particularly fascinating when abandonment has occurred sufficiently recently for the stories of their last inhabitants to be recoverable.

The West Lancashire Moors from Rivington to Abbey Village and White Coppice to Belmont are rich in such remains. David Clayton has written a fascinating history cum guidebook to nearly 50 farm houses and cottages that once stood on the moors north of a line from White Coppice to Great Hill. He briefly discusses their origins but focuses on their story during the better recorded nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The plans, building styles and functions of the various sites are considered and the working lives of the people who lived in them.

The book is well illustrated with a number of late nineteenth/early twentieth century photographs which brings the working farms and the families who worked them to life. The author then shows how and why the farms changed in the nineteenth century. The story is a familiar one from other upland areas in northern England: agricultural depression from the 1870s gradually drove the tenant farmers of many small moorland farms out of business leading to the abandonment of their steadings and the amalgamation of their lands to create larger, more viable holdings.

On the West Lancashire Moors, however, this process was at first checked by the amount of work available in local factories but was then accelerated by the compulsory purchase of the moors by Liverpool Corporation between 1898 and 1902. The need to prevent contamination of drinking water supplies led to the farms being cleared as their leases came up for renewal and then the demolition of the abandoned buildings for safety reasons.

The last section of the book is a description of five moorland walks which take in all the sites described.

This is a clearly written and well-researched book though unfortunately for anyone wanting to follow up the history of the lost farms there are no footnotes to the original sources which have been consulted by the author. Many of them are clear from the text, including tithe surveys, Ordnance Survey maps and census enumerators’ books. However, there is no reference to substantiate the author’s claim that these farms were mainly created between c.1680 and c.1740, a period of sluggish population growth, rather than the period of rapid population growth in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century which saw so much expansion of settlement and intake of moorland around the fringes of Bowland.

The moors above Brinscall are the closest part of the Pennines to Brindle and this book will, I hope, add interest to many future walks.

Ian Whyte