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Worsley - the fight to retain the unique heritage of this canal-side community

PUBLISHED: 10:13 14 January 2014 | UPDATED: 16:28 13 January 2018

The Packet House

The Packet House


Sue Riley meets some of the people who are fighting to retain Worsley’s traditional atmosphere

Bridgewater CanalBridgewater Canal

Los Angeles. Paris. Worsley. Just a few of the places multi-millionaire footballer David Beckham has called home over the years. Worsley may seem the least glamorous but in the north west it’s one of those ‘leafy villages’ close to Manchester which people aspire to live in. It’s also a very convenient place with easy access to the motorway network. It’s just seconds away from the M60 which effectively bisects the village with its quiet canal, woodland walks and handful of shops and pubs.

Footballer Ryan Giggs is a resident currently investing in the village with his part ownership of Milan restaurant. He recently appeared in person at a council planning committee to see his plans for the refurbishment of the restaurant, to be renamed George’s, get the go-ahead.

On that occasion the consensus of locals thought the plans would benefit the area but that’s not always the case.

Iron footbridge over the Bridgewater CanalIron footbridge over the Bridgewater Canal

The area has a population of about 10,000 but there’s a determined core of residents on a series of groups and bodies ensuring the village maintains its olde-worlde charm.

After all, it was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and the place where the Bridgewater Canal was conceived causing the rapid expansion of cotton manufacturing, iron and coal mining.

Its history is everywhere, but the key area is the Delph where coal was brought from the mines via an underground canal system and then transferred to Manchester on overground barges. This month Salford City Council will hear whether its £3.5million Lottery bid to reopen Worsley Delph to the public is successful. If they get the money work will start next winter to dredge the Delph and open workshops underneath Worsley Road as information areas while also upgrading the towpath at nearby Boothstown and Barton.

At one stage Worsley’s historical importance led to it being on the government’s tentative list for World Heritage Status but was removed when UNESCO set new priorities to qualify for the honour.

These days the village, once painted by LS Lowry, is mainly a place for commuters. Some of the houses dating from the 1750s to the present day are charming and many edge The Green which was once a works’ yard. The only sign of that now is the top of a factory chimney at the edge of the green space, the only monument to the Duke of Bridgewater who built the canal system.

On the outskirts of the village is 30 hectares of unspoilt woodland. Last year multi-millionaire Fred Done donated £300,000 to a project to clean up the Old Warke Dam which his impressive home overlooks in Worsley Woods.

He launched the BetFred business with his brother Peter with just one shop and now the pair are worth a joint £850m. Yet Fred remains faithful to Worsley and many of his family have homes in the area too.

The project has seen the dam de-silted, overgrown vegetation removed and a small jetty built. Andrew Darlington, chair of the Old Warke Dam Society, said: ‘After a 40-year wait, the pathways have been upgraded and vegetation removed. It’s the jewel in the crown. People do not know it’s there, it’s been improved dramatically and it’s much more pleasant. It was a very frustrating period but things started coming together in 2011. It was the case of a lot of people working together.’

That view is echoed by Beryl Henson, who said: ‘It’s all voluntary work, between all of us we try to organise events. It’s such a nice to place to live.’ So when the library was under threat of closure a couple of years ago the residents set up a roster of volunteers to help keep it open. In fact there’s a core of people in the village who are on a range of groups and committees including RAID (Residents Against Inappropriate Development) which recently defeated initial plans for a £53m residential and leisure development at the side of the Bridgewater Canal.

Taylor Wimpey UK and Peel Investments (which owns 12,000 acres around Manchester and Salford including The Trafford Centre and the Manchester Ship Canal) had applied for permission to build 600 houses alongside leisure facilities including a marina and cafe, retail units and informal green space on a 83-acre site in the Broadoak area.

RAID member Anne Broomhead said: ‘It’s known as leafy but by the time they finish it would not be. It has a unique history but we do want to see progress.’

In recent years locals have seen off plans for a racecourse with hotel and golf course and are now monitoring a scheme to create a new five star hotel and golf course on the site of Worsley New Hall. If it goes ahead it will be the third large hotel in the village and also the third golf course. ‘People move into this area because the schools do have a good reputation and because of that they are oversubscribed,’ Anne added.

Despite all the plans for the future, Worsley remains a key part of British industrial history. And in true English tradition there’s a lot of quirkiness there too. After all, where else in England could you hear a church clock strike thirteen?

The story goes that the workers in the Duke of Bridgewater’s boatyard were often late back from lunch because they said they couldn’t hear the clock strike 1pm so the canny Duke had the chimes changed to thirteen. Now that clock is housed in St Mark’s Church and if you visit just before 1 (its timekeeping is a little quirky too!) you will be able to experience your very own Tom’s Midnight Garden moment.

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