A brief history
A Village Hall for Whittle-le-Woods
The village of Whittle-le-Woods has, unlike similar villages of the same size, never had a focal point where all the community can gather for social, cultural, sporting or educational purposes. Historically, gathering places were provided by the local churches – such as the original “Parish Club” opened in 1897 and now hopefully destined to again become a recreational facility for the village.
The Effect of Quarrying on the Village
For hundreds of years, quarrying had been the main industry in Whittle-le-Woods. By the early1980’s, the two large quarries in the centre of the village were beginning to reach the end of their useful life. The owners, in an attempt to extract as much stone as possible, significantly increased the amount of blasting carried out and many villagers saw this as potentially damaging to both the environment and their homes. Some of these homes had been built several hundred yards away from the quarries but were now becoming increasingly close to the edge.
Concern over the quarries led to the formation of the Whittle-le-Woods Residents’ Association, a gathering of local people interested solely in the future of the village and dedicated to improving the environment for its residents. Pressure from the Residents’ Association and others led quickly to a reduction in the level of quarry blasting and, eventually, to its cessation.
The Village Hall is Born
The success of the Residents’ Association in bringing a greater sense of community to the village led to a feeling among its members that the benefits gained could not be wasted. At a meeting in 1983 the suggestion was put forward that the Association should begin to work to achieve the aim of a village hall. This was received with great enthusiasm.
It soon became apparent that there were two major issues – finding a suitable location in an already crowded village and raising sufficient funds to purchase land and erect an appropriate building. Finding a suitable site has, for 12 years, been the most important and difficult task, but during this time the residents of the village have demonstrated their faith in the concept of a village hall by raising significant sums of money.
Possible Location Found
The first site to be considered was on waste ground in the heart of the village. To local residents this initially appeared to be an ideal location. The land was flat and sufficiently large for a hall with parking – and the access was good. The owner was willing to sell at an advantageous price and he even erected a Portakabin-type building on the site with an offer of a five or ten year lease. The temporary nature of the lease, the building’s unsuitability as a permanent hall, along with the borough council’s lack of enthusiasm for the use of the site for other than industrial purposes, led to the realisation that neither the building nor the site were really suitable.
Fund Raising – The 1987 Ox Roast
Whilst discussions over this site were in their infancy, the Residents’ Association decided that an appropriate fund-raising activity would be a re-enactment of the 1887 Ox Roast that had been held for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. An organising committee was formed in December 1985 and began raising funds to support the event.
Fund-raising activities included the sale of Xmas cards and calendars by a local artist depicting scenes in the village; family fun day and fun run; carol signing and a cheese and wine party. Sponsorship was obtained from local firms, enabling the production of a Souvenir Programme; reproductions of the plates produced to celebrate the first Ox Roast (and on that occasion handed out to local residents); mugs and coasters; sweatshirts and tee shirts. All these are now much sought after by local collectors.
The Ox Roast was a wonderful event, with lots of craft stalls set up in the streets. The day started with a parade through the village with brass bands, Morris dancers, clog dancers and folk groups. Many people dressed in Victorian costume and students from Liverpool University roasted the ox over an open spit – along with two sheep (essential to meet the demand!). The day ended, just as it had in 1887, with a large firework display.
Two years of organisation was all worthwhile on the day. The weather was perfect, the crowds flooded in and over £12,000 was raised; many in the village still talk about the Ox Roast today.
A New Site Found
Following the collapse of the initial proposed location for the village hall, significant efforts were made to develop one of the existing church facilities – St. John’s Club – run jointly by the local Church of England and the Methodist churches. Built in the early part of the century and far from suitable for today’s community, St. John’s Club nevertheless continued to be well used but was in need of renovation. Its principal advantage was the large area of wasteland at the back – seen by the local medical practitioner as ideal for the development of sheltered housing for the elderly. A proposal was therefore made to develop the land, whilst knocking down the existing club and replacing it with a purpose-built community centre.
Although this received wide support from Whittle residents, some local residents were concerned about the development of the land to the rear of their properties and more general concerns were raised about the access to the site from the busy A6. These eventually led Chorley Borough Council to decline planning permission and, after appeal, it was reluctantly concluded that the site was not after all suitable for a community centre.
For the next few years little obvious work was done to secure an alternative site. However, a number of local residents continued to explore the options and maintain contact with the owners of suitable property or land.
The Present Proposal
It was one of these contacts which ultimately led to the offer for sale of the original “Parish Club” and adjoining buildings. This building was the Methodist Chapel being completed in 1840. Then in 1897 when the current Methodist Chapel was built on the A6, the building became the Parish Club until 1911 when it became ‘Whittle Pictures’. Then in 1955 it was acquired by Bonney and Greenhalgh. They converted and extended it into a small but thriving factory.
Ironically, one of the directors had been one of the original sponsors of the 1987 Ox Roast and, once he had no further use for the buildings, was more than happy to consider their sale for ultimate conversion into a community centre. The successful conversion of the old Parish Club would therefore bring to a conclusion the dreams of the members of the 1983 Residents’ Association and restore one of the original meeting places of the village to its original purpose.