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«Wesham During the Great War by Jennifer Ray A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the requirements for the degree of MA (by Research) at the ...»

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Wesham During the Great War


Jennifer Ray

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment for the requirements for the degree of

MA (by Research) at the University of Central Lancashire

March 2014

Chapter 1

Introduction and Literature Review

The Great War has, since its conclusion, been the topic of extensive study. Initially, research

focused on the military aspect of the conflict. However, during the 1960s, studying the social

effect of the conflict developed as a distinct genre of research. More recently a thematic approach has emerged. This challenges and expands understanding of continuums and changes in political allegiances, gender roles and the economics of specific industries. Studies of the conflict’s impact have been considered from the perspective of specific counties, cities and towns. Given the trend to undertaking studies on smaller geographical areas, it would seem a natural progression to assess the impact of the conflict on a single parish. Justification for studies as localised as ‘Wesham During the Great War’ can be found in Williams’s, Researching Local History the Human Journey. He asserts that micro-level studies provide a snap shot of a community at a specific time, thus enabling community experiences to be set within the national context.1 The parish on which this research focuses, Medlar-with-Wesham, subsequently referred to as Wesham, is located in the southern Fylde area of Lancashire. During the Great War the parish comprised 1,960 acres and 2,155 inhabitants.2 Wesham’s economy was based on three textile mills, fifteen farms, a railway station and 34 shops.3 This mixture of industrial, commercial and agricultural characteristics sets Wesham apart from the subjects of many other existing single place studies.4 Also, in contrast to the many one place studies which have analysed the military participation of a particular locality, this research will explore how Wesham’s community participated in the national war effort on both the military and home fronts. 5 M. Williams, Researching Local History The Human Journey (United Kingdom: Longman, 1996), pp. 109 – 152.

Based on the description of the parish in Barratt’s Directory for Preston and Districts, 1917, p. 706.

DVPR1/7/6 Schedule for the District Valuation 1910 Finance Act Medlar with Wesham: nos 0-603 (LRO).

Some examples include G. J. Bryant, “Bolton and the Outbreak of the First World War” Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, Volume 138 (1988), pp 181-190. C. A. Joy, ‘War and Unemployment in an Industrial Community: Barrow-in-Furness 1914-1926,’ unpublished PhD, University of Central Lancashire, 2004 and S. J. L. Gower, ‘Wolverhampton During The Great War,’ unpublished PhD, University of Birmingham, 2000.

Lancashire examples include S. Williams, Brindle & Hoghton Pals (Chorley: Brindle Historical Society, 2008).

and V. Bannister, Southport’s Splendid Hearts: A tribute to the men of Southport who gave their lives in the Great War (Southport: Watkinson and Bond, 2002).

Moreover, this study is of interest to the current residents of the parish, as it has evolved from a request for research into Wesham War Memorial. Many residents view the monument as the ‘badge of the community’ and there had been particular interest in telling the story of the five Gillett brothers.6 When recounting her experience of the Remembrance Sunday service, one resident stated, ‘Every year when they read the names out and it gets to those Gillett boys I think about if the family lost all their sons.’7

Illustration 1: Wesham War Memorial March 19218

It was quickly established that the long held community belief relating to the Gillett family was a misconception. The Gilletts were not brothers, although two were cousins. However, this prompted more questions about Wesham and the Great War, resulting in this research. The Interview with Wesham resident RN (April 2011).

Interview with Wesham resident AM (October 2009).

The photograph was taken in March 1921 following the formal unveiling ceremony. It has been provided by the family of George Crompton’s widow.

original interest generated by the war memorial arose from a perception, considered by Wesham residents to be derogatory, that the parish is an ‘extension of Kirkham.’9 This attitude developed due to the parish’s proximity to the ancient town of Kirkham.10 In 1296 the granting of a seigniorial borough charter enabled Kirkham to establish ecclesiastical and commercial ascendency, becoming the ‘first capital of the Fylde.’11 This position remained unchallenged until the Fylde coastal resorts of Blackpool, Lytham and St Anne’s, and the port of Fleetwood expanded during the second half of the nineteenth century. Illustration 2: The Fylde Extracted from Saxton’s Map of Lancashire, demonstrates Kirkham’s dominance within the Fylde prior to the industrial revolution.12

Illustration 2: The Fylde Extracted from Saxton’s Map of Lancashire

P. Fleetwood-Hesketh, Murray’s Lancashire: Architectural Guide (London: John Murray, 1955), p. 162.

R. C. Shaw, Kirkham in Amounderness: the story of a Lancashire Community (Preston: R. Seed & Sons, 1949) provides the most comprehensive history of the town. See also J. W. Gallagher, Roman Kirkham and the Fylde (Kirkham: Fylde Guides Publishing, 2004).

D. Pearce, The Story of the Fylde (Derby: Breedon Books Publishing, 2000), p.10 and M. Ramsbottom, A Historical Tour Around the Town of Kirkham (Kirkham: Hedgehog Historical Publications, 2012), pp. 5 – 7.

Christopher Saxton’s 1577 map of Lancashire is available from Lancashire Records Office (LRO). The map is reproduced in many local studies, including A. Crosby A History of Lancashire (Chichester: Phillimore & Co Ltd., 1998). His chapter on ‘Early Modern Lancashire’ includes the Fylde of the map on p.57.

During the second half of the eighteenth century, factory-based textile production began in Kirkham and subsequently dominated the town’s economy.13 Between 1801 and 1851 the population increased twofold to 2,799. This included a number of Irish immigrants influenced by the Irish agent of the owners of Kirkham’s flax mill.14 In comparison to other Lancashire textile towns, this growth was not exceptional. As Crosby noted in A History of Lancashire, textile towns such as Bolton, Oldham, Blackburn and Rochdale witnessed as much as a fourfold population increase during the same period.15 In the face of this expansion, Wesham remained a rural backwater as demonstrated on Illustration 3: Extracted from the 1840 Ordnance Survey Map. By 1851 Wesham’s inhabitants numbered only 170, housed in 29 dwellings.16 The arrival of the railway had a contrasting effect upon the two areas of the parish. Medlar changed little and remained agricultural, Wesham however, altered considerably. The siting of the train station, within Wesham away from the centre of Kirkham, was the catalyst for Wesham to become ‘the industrial centre’ of the district.17 In 1852, the first textile mill was erected and subsequent building meant that by 1877, Wesham was transformed into a ‘semi-urbanised area.’18 Further expansion occurred in 1907 following the relocation, from Kirkham, of the Fylde Union Workhouse to the parish. In 1911 the number of Wesham residents had risen to 1,896, occupying 390 dwellings, with a further 259 staff and inmates occupying the workhouse.19 Comparing the 1840 map to one completed seventy years later, clearly demonstrates the change that occurred in the Wesham area of the parish, as seen in Illustration 4: Extracted from the 1911 Ordnance Survey Map.

F. J. Singleton, ‘The Flax Merchants of Kirkham,’ The Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, 126 (1977).

Ramsbottom, A Historical Tour Around Kirkham, p. 12.

A. Crosby A History of Lancashire (Chichester: Phillimore & Co Ltd., 1998), pp. 87 - 89.

1851 Census of Population accessed via ancestry.co.uk Kirkham Historic Town Assessment Report, Lancashire County Council (2006), p. 19.

Preston Guardian, 16th October 1852, p.10 and J. Davidson Walker Medical Officer of Health, Annual Report on the Sanitary Conditions of The Fylde Rural District 1876 (J. Rigby: Kirkham, 1877), p.18.

The 1911 Census of Population accessed via ancestry.co.uk Illustration 3: Extracted from the 1840 Ordnance Survey Map

Illustration 4: Extracted from the 1911 Ordnance Survey Map

The availability of sources has enabled Kirkham to be, ‘well-treated by historians.’20 In complete contrast, the recording of Wesham’s history has been as a minor inclusion to the area referred to as, ‘Kirkham and district.’21 Distinguishing Wesham from Kirkham has been problematic, with the naming of the railway station contributing to this. Despite the station being sited within the Wesham parish boundary, it was initially named Kirkham Station and only renamed the Kirkham and Wesham Station in 1903. Consequently, the two separate townships have been merged together in many sources.22 However, in some circumstances Wesham was indeed too small to sustain independent groups. Therefore, it was necessary to combine the resources of both communities, although invariably the groups took the name of the larger township. One such example would be the Kirkham Volunteer Training Corps.

The attempts by the parish to establish its own identity are evident in Wesham Parish Council documentation from as early as its formation in 1895. The Council Minute Books demonstrate the recently acquired ability to exert a level of autonomy from the wider township of Kirkham was valued by the Wesham councillors. Prior to the Great War, any offer made by Kirkham for the two townships to hold joint celebrations for significant events were rebuffed by Wesham.

The council also refused to fund a joint Kirkham and Wesham fire service, instead opting to establish its own brigade. Having become accustomed to some level of administrative and financial independence, in 1912 the request by Kirkham Urban District Council for Wesham to amalgamate with them was met with a vociferous refusal.23 The present day council continues to uphold the status of Wesham as a distinct community, emphasising in the most recent town plan that, ‘Other than sharing the railway station with Kirkham, Wesham is a town in its own right.’24 Having established how this research evolved, the relevance of some of the primary sources used within this study will be discussed. Initially, those which determine the nature of the parish prior to the Great War will be considered. Following the approach used by Short in his Land and Ramsbottom, Historical Tour Around Kirkham, p. 4. The bibliography of the book, pp. 109 – 118, provides direction to over 20 titles about Kirkham. These include works by local historians, history societies, university dissertations and doctoral theses.

M. Ramsbottom, Kirkham and Around Through Time (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2013), C. Rothwell, Around Kirkham in Old Photographs (Far Thrupp: Alan Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994) and H. Fishwick, The History of Kirkham in the County Palatine of Lancaster (Manchester: Chetham Society, 1876).

For example the exact location of the Kirkham/Wesham boundary has caused confusion in many sources. The boundary runs to the Wrongway Brook, south of the railway line. Therefore the two textile mills located immediately south of the railway line are in Wesham, although these are referred to as Kirkham mills.

Medlar-with-Wesham Parish Council Minute Book 1895 – 1914.

Medlar-with-Wesham Parish Plan Steering Committee, Medlar-with-Wesham Town Plan, (2008), p. 6.

Society in Edwardian Britain, documentation generated by the Finance Act 1910 has been used to establish that within the parish there was a high level of absentee ownership. 25 Those who owned the textile mills lived in either neighbouring Kirkham, or other parts of Lancashire. All of Wesham’s farms were occupied by tenants, with the estate of the Earl of Derby being the parish’s largest landowner. It is also noticeable that despite industrialisation, land use remained overwhelmingly agricultural. 87% of the 1,960 acres in the parish was utilised by farmers, indicating the enduring importance of food production to the parish’s economy.26 Figure 1.1: Land Occupation in Wesham, uses Short’s farm size classification to identify small, medium and large farms. 27 It demonstrates that with only three farms under 50 acres and one over 300 acres, the majority of Wesham’s farms were medium sized, the average size being 114 acres. In this respect, Wesham differed from Lancashire as a whole as ‘small farms were characteristic of the county.’28

–  –  –

150 – 299.9 acres Henry Eastham 146 acres Occupied farm in 1901 Edward Kirby 166 Arrived in Wesham in 1902 Richard Parkinson 200 acres Arrived in Wesham after 1903 Jane Williamson 202 acres Farmed Over Wyre in 1901 More than 300 acres Joshua Hall 319 acres Occupied farm in 1901 B. Short, Land and Society in Edwardian Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

DVPR1/7/6 District Valuation 1910 Finance Act Medlar with Wesham: nos 0-603 (LRO).

Short, Land and Society in Edwardian Britain, p 239.

Crosby, History of Lancashire, p. 97.

DVPR1/7/6 District Valuation 1910 Finance Act Medlar with Wesham: nos 0-603 (LRO).

The dates have been established using the 1851 – 1911 Census of Population and registration of births accessed via ancestry.co.uk. It is accepted that some of the farmers may have occupied their land prior to the first census on which they are recorded. R121b/70 Blacoe family wills (LRO).

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