An English Village

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I recently visited the little-known village of Trim. It is a unique place on the west Lancashire coast boasting an abundance of desirable residences and traditional independent shops on the edge of the village green.

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Brightly painted narrowboats are moored along the canal, attracted to the peaceful surroundings and the hospitality on offer at the Nameless Horse pub.

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In some ways, this place has been frozen in time and gives the impression of an England that no longer exists.

Trim enjoys impressive facilities for a rural location of its modest size, including a post office, fire station and a police station.

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Two train stations: Trim and Brady provide frequent services, which seem to be unaffected by industrial action and chaos resulting from new timetabling.

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The vintage green line train passed by about 20 times or more during my short visit. Another train of an unusual European design conveyed some eccentric passengers including a Princess Diana lookalike and her consort, both in Edwardian dress, and another woman – possibly an artist – who offered me a rude two-digit salute, though she may just have been flashing a particularly showy ring.

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Trim has a fascinating ethnically diverse population. A community of faerie folk lives deep in the wild grasslands to the west of the village.

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The faerie realm amidst the wild lands

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Based on my observations, they appear to go out in pairs or threes, looking utterly miserable. Seemingly interested in watching from a distance the comings and goings of the human villagers, the wee people don’t appear to participate in village life. I didn’t see any faerie men in the locality, so it’s possible they live as a female only collective.

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Mushroom magic or mushroom misery?

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A recent increase in crime and wickedness is threatening the very fabric (or mainly the glazing) of what should be a perfect place to live. Close examination of some of the posh properties reveals cracks in the surface of the shiny windows.

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Despite extensive house-to-house enquiries carried out by Trim’s finest bobbies, they haven’t yet found out who is behind the window-smashing campaign. My money is on the person I saw peering through the panes of one house, rock in hand, about to strike. An enormous white sock pulled over his head made a cunning and effective disguise.

A more worrying development is the giant bird which has been making an appearance recently.

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Though it has been mainly foraging amongst the reed beds near to the faerie habitation, I saw it for myself in the centre of the village outside the taxi rank, and again later on top of the post office where it seemed, somewhat ironically, to be taking an interest in a cat which had ventured onto a nearby rooftop and fortunately was about to be rescued by the emergency services.

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Happily, the village people seemed unperturbed by the colossal feathered presence, and life carried on in its typical timeless way.

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The cricketers watched their wickets on the green; a newly married couple emerged from the church; outside Bistro Pierre, a fine diner momentarily rested against the wall for support, possibly having had one glass too many.

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Outside the pub, a man served his time in the ancient stocks for some unmentionable crime. The faeries looked on…. still miserable.

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A tour of Smithills Hall, Lancashire

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Smithills Hall is a grade 1 listed manor house near Bolton, Lancashire, close to the West Pennine Moors. Last Sunday I took a tour to find out more.

 

First things first. The popular tea room makes tasty soup and sandwiches which were just what we needed before the hour-long exploration began.

 

According to Dorothy, our excellent guide, when the Anglo Saxons settled in the area in the 7th century, they described the surrounding hylls as smeƥe, or smooth. By 1300s, Smeƥe hylls had evolved into Smythell as noted in the earliest records which mention a manor house in that location.  In 1335, house and land were bought by the powerful Radcliffe family who built the oldest parts of the present great hall from timber frames and stone.

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Dorothy, our tour guide

 

Original features are still present; my favourites are the alms windows where bread would be left in the loaf-shaped openings for collection by the beggars of the parish, so that physical contact with them could be avoided.

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After the last of the Radcliffes died heirless in 1485, Smithills (as it was by then known)  passed into the possession of the Bartons, wealthy gentlemen farmers who held onto it for two centuries. There are some wonderful features from this period including examples of carved wood.

 

 

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The Bartons were enthusiastic recyclers, repurposing the solid oak planks of decommissioned ships which happened to make splendid beams and joists.

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The Tudor period was one of great turmoil in England. Henry VIII had brought religious reformation in the 1530s  when he declared himself Head of the Church of England and severed ties with the Pope and Rome. After Henry’s death in 1547, his son, Edward, became King, but died after just six years. The new monarch, Queen Mary, re-established Catholicism.  She became known as Bloody Mary due to her persecution of Protestants and the gruesome burnings which she ordered to be carried out on Protestant clergy who would not recant their faith.

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In 1554, George Marsh, a preacher from Bolton, was interrogated or ‘examined’ in what is known as the ‘green room’ at Smithills Hall before he was eventually burned at Chester. The ‘green room’, with its incredibly uneven and creaky floor, can normally only be viewed on special tours such as the heritage event we were attending……and ghost tours.

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The green room where George Marsh was interrogated

All old English houses have their stories of ‘things that go bump in the night’ and Smithills is no exception. After his interrogation, George Marsh is said to have stamped on a flagstone, leaving a strange supernatural footprint which is now under a glass cover for protection. It was impossible to take a decent photo due to poor lighting and visitors walking past so here’s one I found online.

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An original private chapel was thought to have been established in the 8th century with the present chapel (still in use), being built in 1520 by the Bartons and later refurbished and extended.

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I particularly liked the splendid stained-glass windows and the wooden panels, some of which are engraved with Masonic-looking symbols which also appear elsewhere in the Hall. Another member of the tour group asked about these but was told that they’d been checked out by the Freemasons who denied the images were associated with their secret society.

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The Ainsworth family took ownership in 1801. They were ‘new money’, owning a very successful bleaching business and a family fortune which demanded a residence to match their status.

The different wings converge around a courtyard, now turned into an herb garden. Formal gardens surround the Hall and the wider grounds include extensive woodland and lawns.

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The west wing was the last part to be added in the Victorian era. Mr and Mrs Ainsworth’s separate sitting rooms have been set out authentically with some original features.

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Mr Ainsworth’s room containing some unpleasant taxidermy
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Gorgeous Delft pottery tiles

 

I was delighted to find his and hers fireplaces decorated with gorgeous tiles; his in a Delft design and hers created by my favourite ceramic artist, William de Morgan (read my blog post about him  here  ).

 

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William deMorgan tiles in Mrs A’s fireplace

Although I’m not a great fan of Victoriana in general, I found it interesting to compare the different sections and styles of this somewhat disjointed house.

After Smithills was sold to Bolton Corporation in 1938 it was put to various uses including as a home for elderly ladies; hopefully they were accommodated in the warmer west wing and not in the mediaeval grand hall…

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