Lancashire's Chorley - Fighting for the future

PUBLISHED: 21:39 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:14 20 February 2013

Chorley market

Chorley market

The town could be given major boosts by a new statue and an old favourite, as Paul Mackenzie reports

Much of Chorley has been transformed in recent years, with pedestrianised town centre streets, shiny new signs and a swanky new bus station. And the iconic Chorley cake could be next in line for a make-over.

Joe Hall's family have been bakers in the town for more than 75 years and he is now planning to create a sporty new image for the snacks. Joe, the third generation to run the business, is a keen cyclist and wants Chorley cakes to be thought of in similar terms to energy giving snacks like Kendal Mint Cake.

'I am trying to get together with the food technology people at Manchester University to prove that Chorley cakes are the perfect sports product,' he said. 'I did a 300 kilometre cycle ride with 19,000 people in Sweden and I was fuelled by Chorley cakes. The food and drink stops had all sorts of products but I was thinking how great it would be to have Chorley cakes on there. That's where I had the idea.'

About 19,000 people started the event but only 14,000 (including Joe and his three team-mates) made it to the finish line, so maybe there's something in Joe's claims. 'I think of them as mediaeval Mars bars,' he said. 'They're packed with calories, they would have been just the sort of thing people needed to keep them going when they were off on pilgrimages.'

Among the fans of Joe's Chorley cakes is the town's mayoress who gives them as gifts to official visitors but although Joe's grandfather and father (both called Joe) ran the business before him, he didn't automatically follow in their footsteps.

After a spell with the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards where he saw active service in Northern Ireland he returned to Civvie Street in Chorley.

'I was 24 and had just bought a house with my then girlfriend,' he said. 'I was about to go for commission with the Queens Lancashire Regiment as an officer but when I was in the loft I had a huge heart attack and technically I died.

'There was no loft ladder and I had to fall out of the loft. I was so lucky that day. My girlfriend was on her way out to work but she hadn't quite gone out so I was able to get to hospital, otherwise it would have been curtains for me. At that time Royal Preston Hospital was the best place to be in that situation.

'As a consequence there was no way I could get back into the army and I lost my job. Another uncle who was the MD of the family firm suggested I join them. I got involved through necessity but now I am the owner of the company.'

Since taking charge he has overseen a number of changes to the business, with a delivery vehicle taking to the streets and a new town centre shop opening this summer. And they aren't the only changes in Chorley.

Large new housing developments have sprung up on the fringes of the town, there's a new town centre supermarket and there will soon be a new town centre landmark on the famous Flat Iron Market

A statue of soldier from the Chorley Pals regiment, which fought in the trenches of World War One, will be unveiled in the town centre in February. The statue has been created by Peter Hodgkinson who also made The Splash, the statue of Sir Tom Finney which stands outside Deepdale Stadium.

The suggestion for a statue came from one of Chorley's oldest residents who approached MP Lindsay Hoyle. 'Sister Pascal is a nun who has lived in Chorley all her life,' he said. 'She is well into her 90s now and has been a nun for 75 years this year. Her father died in the war and she asked me why there was no memorial to the Chorley Pals in the town. I decided the challenge needed to be taken up and got people together to make it work.

'Having the statue puts right the wrong of there not being a memorial for the Pals. I expect this will be the first memorial to the dead of World War One that has gone since the 1920s.

'The amazing thing is that the names on the plaques on the statue are still common names in Chorley and the surrounding villages now. It's the sort of place people don't want to leave.

'I believe people will come to Chorley from all over to see the statue. I think as a monument it is fantastic and the actual statue is wonderful. I am sure people will come to Chorley to see the statue. It will become a major attraction and I am I sure it will put Chorley on the map.'

Among the people Lindsay approached was World War One historian Steve Williams who said: 'The statue will be unveiled on February 23 and that will be a very emotional day for a lot of us.

'The date is significant because that is the date three years ago when we launched the appeal to raise the money and it is the date when the Chorley Pals marched through the town to the railway station to go off for training before they were sent to war.

'It has all been done fairly quickly, I think to go from an idea to having raised the 107,000 and had the statue designed, made and cast within three years has surprised a lot of people.

'We are hoping the statue will have a similar effect in Chorley to the effect that the statues of Les Dawson and Eric Morecambe have had in St Annes and Morecambe.'

And Steve, who leads tours to battlefields where Lancashire soldiers fought, added: 'It really is a fantastic piece of work. The detail is incredible, the expression on the soldier's face is of resignation but also hope.'

And while the face of Chorley has altered much over the years with the closure of the coal mines, mills and ordnance factory, its fighting spirit has always helped the town bounce back. That soldier's hope could carry Chorley a long way.

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