What the locals really think of Parbold

PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 November 2018

View along the Leeds and Liverpool canal with Mill House Gallery on the right

View along the Leeds and Liverpool canal with Mill House Gallery on the right


The busy West Lancashire village of Parbold scores highly for natural beauty and community spirit

Nestled in the Douglas valley, surrounded by rolling countryside, Parbold is a village that, once experienced, is difficult to forget. Skirted by the meandering River Douglas and dissected by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, there are many pretty views to be enjoyed here. Indeed, several artists have been inspired by those views and made the village their sometime muse or their home.

One such artist is David Barrow, who has earned worldwide acclaim for his paintings of Northern Soul, Mod culture and Wigan life. Recently elected into the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts, David was born in Parbold and spent the first eight years of his life there, before moving to Wigan. Strong family links meant that Parbold always remained close to David’s heart and one of his most recent collections of work was inspired by his childhood home.

David’s ‘Parbold Collection’ captures many of the village’s distinctive buildings, its canal side setting and surrounding landscapes, and was exhibited at Hepplestone Gallery in a sell-out show. ‘I have many fond memories of the village,’ says David. ‘I wanted to capture some of the things about Parbold that has kept it special to me for many years.’

One of David’s paintings features Parbold’s 18th century windmill, which is now home to the work of another acclaimed artist, James Bartholomew. Right on the edge of the canal, The Mill House Gallery is the perfect setting to show off James’s contemporary collections of seascapes, landscapes and animal artworks.

Mill House GalleryMill House Gallery

James also has his studio in the building, a light and airy space with views in two directions, of Parbold’s main street, narrowboats on the canal and the hills beyond. The perfect space for inspiring creativity, it would seem.

‘I was walking alongside the canal one day and saw the building was up for rent,’ says James, who lives in nearby Mawdesley. ‘It seemed a really nice spot, so I took it on and I’ve been here 21 years now!’

And that is the thing about Parbold. Yes, it’s picturesque, but it’s the friendliness and the sense of community here that really leave an impression.

This is a village where people really do work together and support each other; new faces are made welcome and local businesses are supported. ‘You can’t be lonely here,’ says Chris Abel, who runs the Parbold Online website and is fully immersed in village life. ‘There’s so much going on and we all work together to make Parbold a lovely place to visit and a great place to live.’

Kate Morgan and Emma Gibson at Coffee Etc.Kate Morgan and Emma Gibson at Coffee Etc.

Chris and his wife Margaret first drove through Parbold in 1968, after relocating to Lancashire for work reasons. They fell in love with the place instantly and, next month, will have lived in the same house in the village for 50 years. Chris set up the village badminton club, still going strong after 22 years, publishes details of walks around the village and volunteers at the local library. His Parbold Online website provides a wealth of information about village life, local services and events.

‘And while I’m doing all that, Margaret helps to run the Parbold Wildlife Group and is one of Parbold’s ‘tree wardens’ who keep the communal green spaces of the village tidy and attractive,’ says Chris. We’re chatting as he accompanies me through the village, where we come to a stop outside the Lou Ren Café, which has been run by Geraldine Unsworth and her daughter Katy since May this year.

‘Parbold is a little gem, I love it here,’ says Geraldine. ‘Everyone in the village is so pleasant. They come from all different walks of life and they genuinely want small businesses to do well.’

Geraldine is close to completing the refurbishment of the building where the café is located, to enable her to offer a wider menu, increase the seating and host more community events. When she moved into the premises, there was a butcher’s counter in the corner of the café from where Paul and Helen Reynolds ran their traditional butcher’s business. As part of the refurbishment, Reynolds Butchers have moved into a new shop space next door.

James Bartholomew in the studio at Mill House GalleryJames Bartholomew in the studio at Mill House Gallery

‘It’s all worked perfectly,’ says Paul who has been a butcher all his working life. ‘When we first came here in May 2017, people were so delighted to have a traditional butcher back in the village after 19 years.’

Paul and Helen source their meat locally from farms in Wigan, Southport and Preston, make their own sausages and home-cure their own bacon. ‘I’m a strong believer that if you get the quality right and offer personal, friendly service, you can’t go wrong.

‘We’ve got to know our customers really well and they tell us we’ve ‘put the heart back in the village’ which is great to hear,’ says Paul.

Alongside the residents of Parbold and its neighbouring villages, the shops, cafes and pubs also enjoy passing trade from the many walkers and cyclists who stop off here, while exploring the local countryside and waterways.

James Bartholomew and Jess the dog at Mill House GalleryJames Bartholomew and Jess the dog at Mill House Gallery

There’s also a strong musical current running through the village, attracting artists and performers of all genres.

An Open Mic session is held on the second Wednesday of the month at Coffee Etc, a not-for-profit café and community centre in the village. The café is run by Parbold Unlimited, a community group which also organises the annual Street Festival of Arts and Music every year at the beginning of September. Over at the village hall, Sue Halton and Clare Gillard of the Parbold Community Association are busy preparing for a number of forthcoming events.

The hall’s impressive auditorium hosts an annual season of concerts organised by the Parbold Douglas Music society and is also home to the award-winning Parbold Picture House, which shows films every other Sunday evening as well as National Theatre Live events.

From piano recitals and Oscar-winning films, to toddler groups and baby massage, the village hall hosts it all.

PCA Chair Sue says: ‘We try to offer something for everyone, and to complement the work that others are doing to contribute to village life.’ That, after all, is what makes Parbold tick.

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The name Parbold comes from the Old English for pear orchard, which is quite fitting given its tree-filled, rural location in the countryside of West Lancashire.

In September 2013, Parbold Douglas Music purchased a magnificent Steinway grand piano and the first pianist to perform on it at the village hall was Nikolai Demidenko. His recital was heralded by Gramophone Magazine as one of the season’s unmissable musical events alongside concerts in Tokyo, Madrid, San Francisco and the Royal Albert Hall.

Volunteers from the Parbold Heritage Group are working with the Canal and River Trust to restore Parbold’s Dry Dock. The graving dock was actually part of the original route of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal before construction was halted and the canal was re-routed to go towards Blackburn and Burnley via Wigan’s collieries.

Parbold has an annual Ukulele Festival in early August. Known as Parbulele, the event sees live performances in Parbold’s pubs, community venues and at a specially constructed ‘Music Village’ next to the canal.

The Lancashire-made Haggis sold at Reynolds Butchers on The Common, Parbold, has been voted the best outside Scotland.

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