On this day … 13 April 1864

The Preston Guardian announced the publication of William Dobson’s Rambles By The Ribble. It was the first of his ‘Rambles’ that he was to publish, envisaged as an account of the Ribble from source to sea. The third volume, published shortly before his death in 1884 at the age of sixty-four, ended in Avenham Park. His death robbed us of a fourth volume that would have completed his journey, taking in the Ribble estuary.

Unlike most of today’s walkers attempting the Ribble Way, Dobson chose to start his literary journey at the river’s source and then meander gently downstream, with frequent diversions up its many tributary streams. Throughout, he has his Preston readers in mind, and wherever he roams in the full stretch of the Ribble there are allusions to people and events in the history of the town.

Red Scar Woods near Preston
The path through Red Scar Woods. Was this the one fenced off by the landowner? https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/5728262787/

On his rambles he describes one that took him to the woods at Red Scar, part of the Cross family’s estate, where his path was blocked by an annoying obstruction. His reaction shows that people were coming to recognise the value of public rights of way, and what would be lost by their closure:

There was a well-defined footpath to and through it, and many townsmen knew it when there was a stile at the edge of the wood. We found the stile removed and a strong fence substituted for it. Thus, year by year, are the walks through the green fields and shady woods of the neighbourhood closed to the public. Such acts are decidedly illegal; the public have as much right to the use of an ancient footpath as the squire has to the freehold of his fields, and it is equally an act of spoliation to deprive the public of the one as it would be to take from the landowner the other.

There are, it may be urged, two sides to this question as there are to many others. Landowners and farmers, we know it will be said, are often driven to assert questionable rights against the public through the injuries which they suffer by the acts of the thoughtless and the reckless, and the consequences of thoughtless acts are sometimes serious …

Farmers do not often begrudge people the right of walking over their fields if they would adhere to the footpaths, and not bring dogs to chase their sheep and worry their lambs, and thus render footpaths a constant source of annoyance and expense to a farmer. A little consideration in the matter on the part of those who frequent green walks would cause farmers to care less for a path across their fields.

For Prestonians, it is the third volume that holds most of local interest.

The first chapter of that volume follows the Ribble from Ribchester Bridge to Balderstone and includes a wealth of information on the halls that are strung along its banks, including Osbaldeston Hall, Oxendale Hall, Sunderland Hall and Balderstone Hall.

More halls are visited in the second chapter: Hothersall Hall, Alston Hall and Elston Hall, with a history of each. Then he devotes a chapter to Hoghton Tower and a lengthy history of the Hoghton family. This is followed by one on Samlesbury, its two halls and its church.

By chapter five he has reached Grimsargh, which he explores as far as the edge of Brockholes, where he recalls crossing the waste of Ribbleton Moor just a few years earlier, before enclosure transformed the waste into productive fields. Fields that are now covered by housing estates.

The River Ribble at Preston, viwed from Red Scar
The Ribble from the woods on the Red Scar estate, whose Victorian owner blocked access along an ancient footpath https://www.flickr.com/photos/rpsmithbarney/4062234457/

He has more to say on Ribbleton Moor and Pope Lane in the next chapter, which describes the two Brockholes, Higher and Lower. There is much information on the old families that once had estates there, on the Winckleys it includes the information that ‘In the wood in Brockholes there was formerly a sort of summer house which commanded a good view of the valley of the Ribble about here, and which was called Winckley’s Whim’. In her diary, Lady Shelley, who was born a Winckley and inherited the Brockholes estate, describes pleasant excursions to the summer house.

The next two chapters cross to the south side of the Ribble and describe Cuerdale and Walton-le-Dale, before crossing back to describe Fishwick and to take a final walk from Walton Bridge to Avenham Park to bring his final volume to an end.

All three volumes, bound together, can be read or downloaded here: https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Rambles_by_the_Ribble.html?id=qu4-AAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y

For a biography of Dobson, who as well as being editor of the Preston Chronicle, wrote a great deal on the history of the town: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Dobson_(antiquary)

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