7 May 1904

A Garden Village

For some weeks past, the “London Daily Mail” has been deploring the deterioration of rural North Country as if pretty nearly every available square mile in that part of the world was occupied by forests of chimney stacks, which belch forth volumes of smoke enough to asphyxiate those whose cruel fate has placed them into this benighted portion of the kingdom.

Lancashire figures prominently in the “Daily Mail’s” jeremiad. In these articles, which the writer calls “Life in the North,” an extremely despondent note is sounded. He bewails the rural depopulation and the usurpation of the land by products of industrialisation, and the only conclusion one can draw from a perusal of the article is that a healthy blade of grass or a tree without a blight is a phenomenon indeed in Lancashire.

On Saturday, the unhappy township to fall under the writer’s pen was what he terms, “The deserted village” of Hartshead, of which he draws a mournful picture. That the village of Hartshead presents an appearance of a deserted village cannot be denied. The crumbling tenements and farmhouses that dot the landscape are irrefutable proof of that fact. “The long grass o’er tops the mouldering wall” on many a spot that was once sweet with flowering blossoms, but to draw such a depressing pen-picture as the “Daily Mail” writer draws is to overstate the case somewhat.

Recognising this, a “Reporter” representative called on a gentleman who has made an exhaustive study of such matters, with a view to ascertaining his opinion on the article. After he had perused it he shook his head despondingly, and remarked, “The greater portion of it is too true.”

Pressed for a further opinion of the matter, he said there was no shadow of doubt that the farmers were now struggling strenuously to keep their heads above water. Not that the soil was entirely unresponsive, but, in his opinion, the farmers did not adopt sufficiently up-to-date methods, they were afraid of launching on fresh enterprises, or deviating from the beaten path traversed by their fathers, with the result that they were only able to subsist on the bare sum which was the reward for their labours.

True, they were not encouraged by the lord of the soil, who preferred to rent the land to the modern builder and contractor, who would make the landscape hideous by erecting red-brick jerry-built “desirable villa residences.” Of course, that was quite natural in these times of commercialism.

What remedy would you suggest? queried his interviewer. – Ah! That is the opportunity which the Corporation of Ashton should be quick to grasp. If ever their county borough dream should be realised that would be their opportunity for providing healthy and sanitary homes for the toilers in the mills and workshops. – Asked if he thought the scheme would entail severe outlay, he did not think it would, for the district of Hartshead, already bounteously provided by Nature with her adjuncts, would lend itself ideally to conversion into a miniature garden city.

The trams, which were such a white elephant to the Corporation, would become a paying concern by providing easy access to the village. More so, if the lines were laid along Lees-road to Lilley-lane. By a judicious co-operation of capital and labour, cottages – not rows of red brick erections of ugliness, but ideal ivy-clustered country cottages – might be erected.

And are there not many beauty spots which are subject to vandalism at present he was asked. – Many, but surely with adequate police protection they might be preserved from the destructive hands of such senseless folk, and with protection natural life would derive more propagative strength, and they would become veritable “Haywards Hills,” where wild life in all its wonderful and varied forms could be studied by those whose forte lay in that direction – and there are many such places.

Interrogated as to the right of land, the gentleman said it belonged to the Lord’s estate, or at least the portion of land known as Hartshead Common, the strip of land on which the beacon stood, but old inhabitants had informed him that it had been once common property. By arrangement with the estate however, he thought it might be regained and converted into an attractive resort for the town workers.

But how will the smoke-blight, which kills so many of the natural beauties in the locality, be remedied? was asked. I think rapid strides are being made in the direction of appliances for the consumption of black smoke. The public indignation has been aroused against manufacturers who are so regardless of health and natural beauty, and they are recognising that some measures must be taken against this crying nuisance.

When black smoke is abolished, or greatly mitigated, Lancashire, or at least Ashton, will in some measure resume the rural garb which it were before the advent of steam, and its attendant chimney stacks and smoke.

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