Longridge — A Victorian New Town

Hilary Walklett
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 


During the Industrial Revolution, many villages and some ‘green field’ sites grew into sizeable towns under the impact of industrial expansion. Longridge is amongst their number, but has remained small enough to be viewed as a whole and for its growth to be comprehended without great difficulty. It serves as a very good microcosm of late 18th and 19th century industrial expansion.

Longridge village straddles the boundary between two townships, Dilworth and Alston, which means that they were served by two separate Select Vestries, which appointed local officials such as the Overseer of the Poor, the Overseer of Highways, the Constable, and the Churchwardens. Some aspects of administration were merged in the Longridge Board of Health in 1883, although it did not become an Urban District Council until 1894.

The village lies along the ridge that gives the place its name — a position which, no doubt, gave inhabitants, in the days when such things were desirable, a good view of the surrounding countryside and a fine defensive position. It was not a large place. The 1663 Hearth Tax returns for the whole of Alston Parish show 44 houses and 61 hearths and Dilworth was probably very similar. Only a small proportion of these were situated in the village itself, the rest being found in the surrounding countryside. However, it was large enough to warrant a chapel of ease, St Lawrence, on the Alston side of the village. I have not found the exact date of this church, but the ‘town trail’ leaflet by Joseph Till gives the date as ‘the later years of the fifteenth century’. The Trade Directories of the 19th century all agree that it was in existence before the Reformation, and that a stone building was erected — perhaps to replace a wooden structure — in 1690. The present main church, St Paul, in Berry Lane, was not erected until 1890.

Its early history is unremarkable. The slopes of Longridge Fell and the valleys below are fertile enough to support a mixture of arable and pastoral farming, a pattern which continues to this day. A number of probate inventories of the 17th century show the livestock to constitute between 60% to 86% of the value of estates, as opposed to cereals and vegetables valued at between 13% and 30%. Of course, one has to take into account both the time of year at which the valuation was made and the geographical position of the farm, as well as the state of agriculture in that year, all of which can make significant differences. But, overall, it is clear that raising cattle is the major occupation, with sheep also featured, and that the main crops are hay, oats and wheat. Beans and corn are also mentioned. The village provided a market place for the local farmers to sell their produce, as is evidenced by the name of the central road in the old village — Market Place.


There is some evidence in wills and inventories of domestic textile production in the 18th century, as one would expect in an area where sheep are raised. Spinning wheels and small stocks of yarn and cloth are in evidence (County Record Office, Preston). That one of the public houses in the old village is named ‘The Weavers Arms’ is possibly evidence, although further research would need to be done to show that this was the original name and not one adopted later.

Weaving became increasingly important in the village as both national and international demand for cloth increased rapidly in the latter half of the 18th century. Many houses had hand-looms and there were two or three workshops housing three or four. There were also some water-powered spinning mills. By the end of the century, weaving had become the main or entire source of family income for many households and new housing built on the edge of the village had provision for a hand-loom in the basement. Normally, hand-looms were situated on the upper floor in order to maximise the amount of daylight in the workplace, but the unusual arrangement in Longridge was made possible by the sloping site. This meant that the ‘cellar’ was, in fact, the ground floor at the back whilst the main entrance and living rooms above were on the ground floor at the front.

The method of financing this project was, at the time, entirely new. Longridge has the distinction of having the first Building Society in Britain, formed in 1793. This was, unlike modern, permanent building societies, a ‘terminating’ society — in other words, investors paid in monthly until all the houses were built, then the society wound up, or ‘terminated.’ This was not a ‘self-help’ society which could be compared to present-day Housing Associations or co-operatives. The members were all people of some affluence who were building these houses as an investment, for tenants to rent. The monthly subscription to the society was 10s 6d, (52½p) which was as much as a labourer earned in a week at that time. The plan was for twenty houses to be built and the rules were very strict. As each house was completed, it would be assigned to one of the subscribers by ballot. But, so that early owners did not benefit more than later ones, the rents — which were set by the society - were all paid into the society funds until the last house was completed and the society wound up. This ensured that early beneficiaries continued to pay their monthly subscription, as the rules clearly state that anyone failing to keep up payments would lose all rights to the property or to money already paid in! The estimated cost of each house was £138 3s 6d (£138-17½p). Building seems to have started about two years after the society was formed and the last house was completed in 1804.

The members elected four of their number to hold keys to the chest in which the money was kept — one for each lock that secured it, so that no one member could access the money except in the presence of the others. They were under strict orders to either attend each monthly meeting or to ensure that the key was conveyed there: failure to obey would be punished by a fine! The Vicar of St Lawrence was the trustee of the scheme - a respected figure to ensure that the rules were fairly kept — and one of the members was appointed as Clerk. It would have been his duty to keep account of the money held, to arrange the meetings, and to oversee the contractors hired to do the building work (CRO Preston: DDH 999). The houses, along Club Row, are still in good condition and in use today and are desirable properties.

In 1797, shortly after the commencement of work on Club Row, a second scheme was started, to build a dozen houses in Kings Street. These are a little larger than the Club Row houses, with room for two looms in the cellar. These were finished in 1814 at a cost of £304 8s 3d (£304-43p). Some of the investors in Club Row also invested in the Kings Row project.

The hand-loom weavers of the late 18th and early 19th century were the ‘Princes’ of the workforce, earning large weekly amounts — as much as three guineas (£3-15p) in some instances. Whether any Longridge weavers earned as much as this is not recorded, but it is unlikely that they earned less than around 1½ guineas (£1-52½p) a week, which was still a substantial amount. However, modern technology was swiftly overtaking the trade and the invention of the power-loom and the adoption of steam to drive it undercut the rates per yard for cloth production. The plight of the hand-loom weaver is well documented and there is little doubt that Longridge was affected. The existence of nail-making hearths in the sheds behind Kings Row and New Town is, perhaps, evidence of the change in fortunes and the way in which some people met it. However, it did mean that there was in existence in the village a pool of skilled textile operatives available when modern mills reached Longridge. But more of that later.


There were two other aspects of the dual economy practiced in Longridge that were taking place before the great expansion of the mid-nineteenth century. One minor activity was nail-making, mentioned in the 19th century Trade Directories and census returns but there is some industrial archaeological evidence of nail-makers’ hearths behind the terraces of New Town and elsewhere. The censuses from 1841 show an increasing number of people giving their occupation as ‘nail-maker’ by mid-century, after which numbers drop a little as nail-making increasingly fell into the hands of specialist companies who were able to practise economies of scale, once the railways made transport quicker, easier and cheaper.

18414        Numbers of Longridge nail-
makers listed on Censuses.
(Census enumerators returns,
CRO Preston)


The other occupation was quarrying, which grew to great importance during the late 18th and early 19th century. Quarrying started in Longridge in a small and part-time way. Such local farms and houses as were built of stone all used the small local quarries at the bottom of Chapel Hill, most of which eventually merged into one medium-sized quarry. It is possible to see some of the remains of these by visiting the recycling depot that now sits on the floor of the old quarry behind the Duke William public house. It seems likely that this quarry was mostly worked out by the early 19th century, although Joseph Till (op.cit.) tells us that stone from this quarry was used in building the adjacent reservoir (Alston no. 2) in 1899.

The rapid growth of industry in Lancashire from about the mid-18th century brought a great demand for stone to build the new factories, docks and public buildings. Liverpool’s docks and quays used it and, a little later, so did Fleetwood. In nearby Preston were built the Harris Museum and Library from the products of the Longridge quarries, as also several of the churches. St Walburge’s, whose distinctive tall, slender spire is a notable landmark of the town, designed by John Hansom (of cab fame), was built of Longridge sandstone in 1850. Fishergate Baptist Church, designed by James Hibbert and built in 1858, is another example. Longridge stone, a hard-wearing, attractive sandstone, was very popular. The bulk of this stone came from the complex of quarries further up the Fell, at Tootle Heights and Lord’s Quarries which were now being worked on a more-or-less full time basis. The complexity of the area is a result of the method by which the work was organised. Land-owners leased the land to quarry-masters, who, in turn, rented out strips of land to individual quarrymen, some of whom, as well as working the quarries with their own gangs, would sub-let parts of their piece to other gangs.

There were four main quarry-masters, of whom the largest was Flemings, who owned the biggest quarry on Tootle Heights. The other three, Marsden, Fletcher and Spencer, also had quarries there, of varying sizes. Between them, they employed, by 1871, around 25% of the Longridge male workforce. In addition, another 200-plus men came in from surrounding villages and as far away as Preston, making a total workforce employed in the quarries to a little over 400. Flemings also owned the Quarrymen’s Arms, a pub just below his quarry, where he ran a ‘Tommy Shop’, or company store where his workmen could buy food and other necessities on credit at high prices. By the 1880s, trade was falling off, partly because of competition from quarries in Wales and Yorkshire, partly because bricks were much cheaper for building lower-priced housing and partly because the quarries had worked out their best stone. By 1881, only 164 workers were employed (Till, 1993).

A major reason for the popularity of Longridge stone must have been because of the far-sightedness of the main quarry-masters and some Preston businessmen. Transport of the stone had traditionally been by ox cart, over rough and ill-maintained roads. The small load that could be carried by one team and the length of time each trip took made the stone very expensive for anything other than local use. It had been apparent for some time that there was a market for good quality stone, but costs were off-putting for builders and architects. The answer, of course, was to build a railway from Longridge to meet the main line at Preston.

The Preston and Longridge Railway By the end of the 1830s, the railways were beginning to expand and join up with each other in the start of what would soon become a national network. The Lancaster and Preston Junction railway was commenced in 1837 and it made sense to build a line from Longridge to meet it. The necessary Act of Parliament was obtained, the work put out to contractors and completed, and the line opened on May 1st 1840. Capital outlay was kept to a minimum by taking advantage of Longridge’s lofty position above the Ribble Valley to dispense with locomotives. The railway worked by gravity, empty wagons being hauled up by horses to be loaded, then released to trundle under their own weight down to Deepdale, finally pulled by the horses for the last two miles to the main line. The horses travelled back down in the rear wagon, giving one a delightful mental picture of the animals enjoying the ride, with their manes and tails streaming behind them in the wind! The downward journey was controlled by a brakeman travelling at the rear and slowing the wagons for bends and other dangers. Originally, the line was not connected to the main line but ended in a depot where the stone was unloaded and transferred. At the start and end of each day, many of the workers who lived in Preston rode, unofficially, in the first and final trains of the day. This could be dangerous, especially riding on top of a load of stone, as these often moved and sometimes fell off. There is a report of one unfortunate worker, William Crook, falling off on top of a stone, which trapped him by his leg under the train, where he was dragged for a considerable distance before it could be stopped. He survived, but lost one of his legs as a result. The upper terminus of the line was at Tootle Heights Quarry, where stone from all of the other quarries was conveyed for loading. The tunnel still exists under Higher Road, and can be seen in the park, opposite Tootle Heights, together with the base of one of the loading cranes. The tunnel used to have a plaque above the apex of the arch bearing the initials of the railway company — P&LR — but, on a recent visit, I noticed that this had been removed. Lord’s Quarry, a little way from the others, installed a narrow gauge tramway to the loading area. The only sign of this is the remains of the railway gate at the entrance to the lane leading to the quarry.

In 1848, the company decided to invest in steam locomotives to haul the trains. They also formalised the carriage of passengers and, shortly after, opened the station in Berry Lane. The Longridge Railway was an essential factor in the development and growth of the town, as will be seen shortly. But as well as serving industry by the carriage of goods and bringing workers from the five stations between Preston and Longridge, it also served the Whittingham Hospital, a large psychiatric hospital, then sadly known as a Lunatic Asylum, at Grimsargh. A two-mile branch line was opened in 1889, bringing goods, staff, patients and visitors to the hospital. It continued to serve the hospital long after 1930, when the main line ceased to carry passengers and was in operation until 29 June 1957.

The company changed hands a number of times over the years. The first, in 1846, was when the Fleetwood, Preston & West Riding Railway (FP&WR) leased the line as part of their ambitious plans to link Fleetwood to the lucrative catchment area of Harrogate, Leeds and Bradford. However, the FP&WR became bankrupt by 1852. Eventually, a new FP&WR company was formed, which bought the Longridge line and ran it more or less successfully, without completing the link to Yorkshire, until the FP&WR were taken over by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway company (the famous ‘LandY’). The line was run jointly by the LandY and the LNWR (London, North Western Railway) from 1867 to 1923, when it became part of LMS under the national governmental plans to rationalise the railways. The nationalisation of the railways, in 1948, brought it under British Railway’s control until it closed, as part of Dr Beeching’s cuts in 1967. The last train ran in 1968 when a locomotive was sent up to collect any usable rolling stock that had been left behind (Suggitt, 2003).

The Textile Mills The existence of water-powered mills has been noted but the advent of the steam locomotives on the P&LR meant that heavy loads could now be hauled up from Preston, including cotton and coal. Within two years, in 1850, George Whittle had opened a steam-powered weaving mill at Stone Bridge, right next to the railway line and with its own platform for loading and unloading. He commenced with plain weaving, but later converted to Jacquard looms making higher-value, patterned cloth. Rivals were not slow to follow Mr Whittle. William Marsden and James Hayhurst built Crumpax Mill, next to the line, again, but with its own railway sidings, just past the Berry Lane railway crossing. Crumpax had both spinning and weaving operations. These new mills were the saving of the hand-loom weavers who had, as noted above, fallen on hard times. They were able, without undue difficulty, to transfer their skills to the machines, working at higher rates of pay and with fairly regular employment. The steam-powered mills forced the water-powered spinning mills out of business; some closed, others converted to other trades, wood-turning being the most popular, as there was a ready market for bobbins and also for agricultural artefacts.

There was an eleven-year gap before the next mill appeared, built by George Whittle’s nephew. Robert Smith’s Victoria Mill was next to the railway, with its own branch loop that ran into a shed, where the wagons could be loaded and unloaded under cover. The last mill, Queen’s, was not built until 1874. It differed from the others in both appearance and the way in which it was financed. Whereas the other three had been built of local stone, with the traditional Lancashire square chimney, Queen’s Mill was brick-built, with a round chimney. It was financed by a group of shareholders, rather than by the private wealth — or credit — of a single entrepreneur. It wove fancy material for dresses and curtains, and produced the curtains for the two most prestigious ocean liners of the early 20th century — the Queen Mary and the Britannia.

All of this economic activity had a great effect on Longridge. The original village, centred on Market Place, with its small late 18th and early 19th century expansion based on hand-loom weaving, rapidly expanded into a much larger town, with Berry Street as its main street and rows of terraced housing springing up around the mills. Shops, pubs and chapels grew up to serve the new population. The rate of growth is illustrated by the census returns:
 Pop.houses Census Returns:
CRO Preston

In 1881, 681 of the population (32%) were born in places other than Longridge. The majority of these ‘incomers’ were from the nearest centres of population: Preston, Goosnargh and Ribchester.

Longridge is a fairly unspoiled and typical example of the 19th century expansion of what had been a large village practising the usual rural dual economy of agriculture together with hand-craft work. A little searching will reveal how the railway was the driver of this change. The signs of it are very evident around the Townley Arms in Berry Lane, where the remains of the old station are now a Heritage Centre. From there, it is easy to trace its route upward to Tootle Heights, where a large caravan site does not hide the signs of the old quarries and where the tunnel under the road and the relics of the old crane are not only evident, but are marked by a plaque.

Downhill from the station, the railway route is easy to spot, and leads to the old Stone Bridge and, just beyond that, a remarkably complete Stone Bridge Mill, now divided into units occupied by a variety of trades from Antiques to Engineering. Of Crumpax Mill there is little to be seen. The site is occupied by a supermarket, but the entrance to their car park uses the old railway siding and there are still the stone gateposts at the entrance to the works. On the far side, until a few years ago, it was possible to see a few of the bearings that held the overhead shafts that drove the looms, but on my last inspection, in 2012, these had been filled in with stone. They are visible as anomalies in the line of the wall but, unless you know what they are, it would be difficult to guess.

Victoria Mill has disappeared under a housing estate, whilst its mill lodge (or reservoir) is now the base of the Post Office sorting office! Of Queen’s Mill I have found no trace, although I have been assured by one or two residents that they do exist. The ‘new’ church, St Paul, built in 1890 to cope with the influx of people, the chapels which rose in the 1880s and 1890s to cater for the many non-conformists who came to the town and the shops — dominated by the Co-op half-way down Berry Lane — are still much as they were, although with changed usage. The old Fire Station is now a Community Centre. But all are recognisable for what they were and stand as a living testimony of the vigour and skills of our Victorian ancestors.


Collins, F., 1965. The Family Economy of the working Class in the Cotton Industry. Chetham Society, series 3, vol. 12.

France, R.S., 1947. Longridge building clubs of the eighteenth century. Trans. Historical Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. 99, pp 81-87.

Marshall, J.M., 1970. The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. David and Charles, Newton Abbott.

Suggitt, G., 2003. Lost Railways of Lancashire. Countryside Books, Newbury.

Till, J.M., 1993. A History of Longridge and its People. Carnegie Publishing, Preston.

In the Lancashire County Record Office (CRO)

Houghton, Greaves & Co., Longridge Building Society: Articles of Agreement, DDX 994a; Account Book, 1793-1804, DDX 995; Letter; John Cross to Committee of B.S., DDX 999.

Longridge and Hellifield Railway Co., DDB 75-96.

NB: There is a wealth of other records about Longridge, most of which I have seen, but are not used in this article.