Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Life and Times of the Towers

Nowadays the residents of Cleveleys know the Towers (situated just off Holmefield Avenue at the end of a short but leafy drive) as an urban oasis; a quiet squirrel-infested woodland secreted away at the centre of a labyrinth of peaceful avenues where only local hedgehogs, toads and ducks know of its existence.
It’s sometimes used as a meeting point for the Wyre Rangers and the Healthy Walks Squad, although they’re almost as difficult to spot as the wrens that hop about in the trees.

Even those in the know, however, are unlikely to remember it looking like this:

It did once, though.
Even earlier the place was known as Villa Wood and there have always been rumours that the Danes’ Pad (the Wyre’s infamous missing Roman road) ran through the grounds. We’re neither going to confirm nor deny this, because we just don’t know, although the name Villa Wood is intriguing in its own right, especially when, according to Ralph Smedley’s ‘Thornton Cleveleys Remembered’, he recalled as a child seeing a large fig tree growing outside the front door.

We could speculate for hours about its origins, but what we do know is that, on old maps, there was an ancient route running from Thornton, via the Towers (before the Towers itself existed), through Ritherham and on to Rossall Mill, which stood in the vicinity of the new cinema near Jubilee Gardens nowadays. The old route was marked by those odd boundary stones we often find in such places round these parts. One is still in situ at the West Drive entrance to the Towers (albeit heavily disguised beneath a Quatermass-like growth of ivy). Another can just about be determined, half eaten by the hedges surrounding the substation on North Drive.

In 1904 (or so our lackadaisical investigations have revealed) Messrs Horrocks, of the famous Preston textile firm (well…it’s famous in Preston, apparently, even if nobody else has ever heard of it) bought the entire Thornton Estate, which consisted of all the fields and woodlands stretching from Bourne Hall to Cleveleys, incorporating the aforementioned Towers en route. It was the Horrocks’ family who built the Towers itself as a hunting lodge, the residence of a certain Kess Hodgkinson, gamekeeper.

We assume it was around this period that the grounds also acquired the sundial from Bourne Hall, now serving time as a bird table next to one of the ponds. (At least we think it is. It certainly looks like the same bit of ornate garden furniture anyhow.)

Needless to say the building has now gone. Back in the 1913 ‘Healthy Cleveleys’ brochure, however, the following advert appears:

The famous ‘Champion Conn,’ of Cleveleys, who holds an international reputation. Winner of 25 Championships. This record has never been equalled by any Dane in any part of the world. Young stocks always for sale. Stud Fee, £4 4s.

In case you’re starting to get worried, the advert ends:

Apply: Kennel Man, the Towers, Thornton-le-Fylde. Telephone 22, Cleveleys.

What are we doing here? We can do better than this. We can show you a photograph of the famous Conn. Here he is, so famous that you’ve probably never heard of him:

It would appear that the ‘Kennel Man’ in question was a certain Mr Kirwan, owner of the original Cleveleys Inn, although at the time of his ownership it wasn’t an inn any longer but simply his home.
Mr Kirwan originally had kennels attached to his Cleveleys Inn home (which stood, incidentally, where the Olympia stands today) but moved to the Towers when he needed space to expand, which would explain why the school kids locally at the time knew the spot as Kirwan’s Woods. (It might explain the legend of the ‘Great Danes’ Pad as well.)

Not only did the Towers over its lifespan act as host to kennels. It was also once home to Highfield Girls’ College (‘the School in a Garden’), run by Miss E. Aitkin and Miss Gee. You might just about be able to recognise the grounds in the advert below.

Just for good measure, we’ve also got a photograph of some of the students, taken during the Rose Queen Celebrations of the 1950s. By coincidence we came across the following entry in the guest book over at Phil Barker’s site not so long ago ( left by Fiona Hogan:

My mum the rose queen at Highfield College (The Towers) pictured was the last rose queen they had.

In more recent times -- although still a great many years ago as the chronological crows flies -- I personally remember climbing the tallest tree in the Towers, the one that’s leaning dangerously at a forty-five degree angle now but at the time rose to a dizzying height of…oh, at least 2000 feet, perching on the uppermost branches amongst the startled squirrels and surveying the Fylde through a pair of binoculars.
It was a stupid thing for a forty-odd year man to do now that I come to look back on it, but I was extremely drunk at the time and didn’t know any better.


History Hunter said...

Now this was where I spent most of my misspent youth. You can still see some of the brickwork in the ground where the house used to stand. Probably used it as a ramp for our bikes as kids (was going to say our choppers but don't want to hand that to you).

PS .. climbing trees which are at an angle is just cheating. They have to be straight up with no branches till the top :-)

Bwca Brownie said...

1. It's possible to startle a squirrel? Does a startled squirrel look any more startled than a squirrel at rest mostly does?

2. I note the Misses Gee & Aitken get those boys out of their Well Of Loneliness by the age of 12.

3. You must have enjoyed Jim Lees-Milne's account of lots of these houses in his Ancestral Voices.
I did. Mad penniless Lords with fig trees growing through Their Great Halls.

This England, this sceptr'd isle ...

John said...

Am I tired, or are you implying a Roman Villa stood here once? Cool... an excavation is in order!

Bwca Brownie said...

The dogs were brought over during invasions by the Alanis and Asiatic people and also the Romans.For hundreds of years the dogs were cross bred possibly with Irish Wolfhounds and Greyhounds with the end result a taller, leaner, faster, more chiseled German Mastiff or Great Dane.

Jayne said...

Villa Wood? Fig tree? Roman road?
My, that's a handsome canine....

Brian Hughes said...


Same here. I spent my youth divided between the Towers and the woods along the river bank between Skippool and Stanah. I'd probably spend most of my dotage there as well if I wasn't too lazy to walk.


Yes, it is possible to startle a squirrel...just hide in a bush and make a noise like an acorn.

As for the Romans introducing Great Danes to Blighty, I thought it was Freddy, Shaggy, Thelma and Daphne who'd done that.


Who knows...there's a possibility of that. I do know that a Viking longhouse once stood a short distance away...but more about that another time.


I'm not sure handsome's the right word...although Australian women have some perculiar tastes, so I'll take your word for it.

History Hunter said...

What Viking longhouse? or have I just fallen for it!

Brian Hughes said...


I've just written an article that mentions it somewhere amongst its the full location and explanation as to how we know it was there. All will be revealed at some point over the next two months when I finally get around to posting it. In the meantime, I'll see if you can track it down first...

Jayne said...

Dog's have little inclination in climbing trees that have a definite list to starboard...

WV = therglag - the sound of a startled squirrel choking on his nuts.

Brian Hughes said...


Unless they've been crossbred with a goat.

WV="INGENT": The sign above the Post Operative door to the Transexual Ward.

History Hunter said...

Now thats just plain mean lol. How close .. within a mile or closer?

Brian Hughes said...

Yes...within a quarter of a mile. I'll give you a hint...check your tithemap.

JahTeh said...

Your Lardarseness climbed a tree???


Brian Hughes said...

I was young and lithe once, Witchy. Admittedly there were Normans running around setting fire to places back then, but I was as thin as a rake and a swift as a squirrel back in those times.

Then I discovered Pietro's Pizza House and that was the end of that.

Jayne said...

...and the nuts have flourished ever since :P

WV = ovizz - the sound a retreating Norman made when a Saxon long bow found its mark.

Brian Hughes said...


You'd have to be nuts to enjoy one of Pietro's pizzas.

Jayne said...

Pietro sounds like he lost his donkey on the road to Damascus when he should have taken the left turn at Albuquerque.

WV =hochoi - the hot sauce you refuse in favour of wasabi.

Brian Hughes said...

Actually, Jayne, I strongly suspect he didn't lose it, he just used it as one of his ingredients.

Gail said...

what about an excavation then? lets get Tony Robinson & his Time Team

Jon Walters said...

i too spent my youth playing in the grounds. My brother was a student at the collage and often took me round the old school building before it was burnt down, i also remember the old wodden theater and the "security guard" with his german sheperd dog
jon w