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Theft, revenge and mystery in uncovered in Tockholes

PUBLISHED: 00:18 10 March 2011 | UPDATED: 16:06 21 December 2017

Theft, revenge and mystery in uncovered in Tockholes

Theft, revenge and mystery in uncovered in Tockholes

John Lenehan grabs his camera and takes us around his home village, uncovering theft,<br/>revenge and mystery

Tockholes is just south of the M65 and west of Darwen, wedged between the A675 and the A666.

There was a tribal community there as early 2,000BC and the area is thought to have been inhabited by both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon settlers.

One of today’s occupants is John Lenehan, who lives in the village of Tockholes on the edge of the beautiful West Pennine Moors. He has been a fell runner and walker for almost 34 years and, when not running a business, his other passion is photography.

You can see more of his work on or read his walking blog here

It’s not the epitaph of a happy man. John Osbaldeston, whose gravestone stands in St Stephen’s churchyard in Tockholes, was a pioneer of the textile industry and he should have made a mint.

Instead, he died penniless in the workhouse. As is so often the case, drink was at the root of his problems.

Osbaldeston managed to solve one of the major problems of the weaving industry. While there was an alarm system to warn the loom operators when the downward warp thread snapped, there was no way of detecting a break in the weft that went across the fabric.

A break in the weft could ruin the material and each loom needed its own minder, making it expensive for the mill owner. Osbaldeston invented a device called the weft fork that detected a break and stopped the loom. It meant one minder could look after four looms.

This should have made his fortune but he decided to tell his friends about his invention during an evening at the local pub. Not a good idea when you haven’t secured a patent. When a patent was issued in 1841 it did not have his name on it but those of his so-called friends.

Given that there are still looms around the world using weft forks, John missed out spectacularly. His one act of revenge was to write his own epitaph, a permanent reminder to his treacherous friends. It read:

‘Here lies John Osbaldeston. A humble inventor, who raised many

to wealth and fortune but himself lived in poverty and died in obscurity. The dupe of false friends and misplaced confidence.’

The kindness of the vicar of Tockholes spared him from a pauper’s grave but he didn’t get his final wish. When his monument was erected it simply read: John Osbaldeston, inventor of the weft fork, 1780-1862.

His memorial isn’t the only item of note at St Stephen’s. Tockholes is supposed to derive its name from a mystery object called the Toches Stone. On top of it sits the possible remains of a Saxon preaching cross from AD 684. There is evidence it’s genuine but little is known of the Toches Stone itself.

The Reverend A.T. Corfield, Vicar of St Stephens from 1889 to 1910, joined the two pieces and presumably wrote the inscription. I did read one article that the monument was thought to have magical powers but the only magic I know of is poured in a pint glass at the Rock Inn at the top of the road.

Rev Corfield must have been a busy man as he built both an outdoor pulpit and the public well. The stone to build these was scavenged from Gerstaine Hall, a nice building demolished during construction of the nearby reservoirs. The remains form part of a garden opposite the Royal Arms near the Tockholes visitor centre. The public well is still dressed in flowers at harvest time and is indeed beautiful.

In medieval times stray cattle, like illegal parked cars today, were towed off and placed in a high wall enclosure called a pinfold. They were held there until the owner paid a fine to get them back. Not much different to the car clampers.

We take for granted our indoor toilets but imagine how posh you must have been in the 17th century to have such a thing. There is a fine example at Higher Hill of exactly that, an inside toilet or privy, named a garderobe. Given the position of Higher Hill Farm overlooking the open moors using the garderobe must have been a draughty experience.

Sitting next to the large car park is the visitor centre. Be it walking, running, mountain biking, horse riding, orienteering or simply taking the fresh air, all paths lead from here. Darwen Tower dominates this area. It was built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s jubliee. Whichever way you go to visit the tower involves a steep climb on good tracks but it is worth it. In my opinion it’s best done in early April or October when light refracted from the Irish Sea makes it possible to see the Isle of Man.

A while back the tower was damaged in a storm and the weather vane was blown off.  The Wishing Well is on the outskirts of the village in the grounds of the ruined Hollingshead Hall. It is best accessed from the small car park at Slipper Lowe about half a mile towards Belmont from the visitor centre. It is a strange building that was kept open before vandals struck.

Water is collected in a small reservoir tank behind the upper rear window

and flows out of what presumably was a carved lions mouth. The interior has a chapel-like feel and it is thought the water had healing properties.

The stone benches in the courtyard bear testament that it was a place of gathering. Once a Sunday school, the village hall now serves as a meeting place for the village committee and Parish Council. It is also used for The Tockholes Garden Club, line dancing, exhibitions, and there are music nights and dances.

That’s my Tockholes - come up and see us sometime.


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