Dr Derek J Ripley on Lancashire innovation

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 May 2014 | UPDATED: 17:48 19 January 2016

Samuel Halfbrass with rabbit balls hanging from his sash

Samuel Halfbrass with rabbit balls hanging from his sash

not Archant

Our resident historian Dr Derek J. Ripley reminds us of some unusual red rose inventions

While I have previously discussed how Lancashire legend William Blunt invented the fridge magnet, readers may be surprised to learn just how many other notable ‘firsts’ can be claimed by our great county.

These days it is practically impossible to walk along a pavement without getting knocked over by a ‘jogger’ - some of whom look as though they are as old as 35 and should know better. But who first invented this activity?

The first reference to running as a hobby was in the Ribbleton Recorder of June 24,1899 (late afternoon edition). It reports how one Wilf Ogden (aged nine) was trying to keep up with a group of bigger boys as they bustled along with their hoops and sticks. When his stick broke, Ogden – to the horror of those watching - picked up his hoop and ran with it. Before they knew it, he was outstripping the rest of the gang and they could only marvel as they saw him reach home many hours before the rest.

When, within just a few weeks, it became the local craze for all boys to carry their hoops, Wilf was again being outrun. It was then he had a brainwave - what if he dropped the hoop and ran without it? Sadly, young Ogden lacked the business acumen to patent his idea, so when running aimlessly without a hoop became fashionable he received not a penny in royalties and died at the age of 54, a broken man.

Lancashire can rightfully lay claim to swimming, too. In the late 18th century, an outlandish fad developed in the sleepy village of Sabden, where three wealthy families (the Fishwicks, the Tetlows and the Haydocks) tried to outdo each other in the size of the bathing chamber in their manorial homes.

In an effort to outshine the others, the baths in their houses were enlarged many times - sometimes as frequently as once a month. At one point, the only way to reach the cold tap (if stationed at the hot), was to move through the water or ‘swim’ up to 25 yards. Reaching the plug required a swim of 65 yards in the Tetlows’ bath.

Such folly could not go on indefinitely. They abandoned their ridiculous rivalry when Lord Fishwick was declared bankrupt in 1793. In an effort to recoup their losses, his heirs later opened up their bath to local villagers, who quickly took up the hobby of ‘swimming.’ A Lancashire first.

I was recently amused by a poster in Carlisle purporting to describe the origins of golf as Scottish. My research shows that a Mr Samuel Halfbrass could be seen on the moors above Clitheroe with what he termed his ‘rabbit balls’ from as early as 1632.

These small, white packets of explosive were placed into rabbit holes to force the inhabitants out, where his dog, Buster, could more easily catch them. Wily rabbits learned to exit their burrows from other holes but Halfbrass countered this by whacking the packets into as many holes as he could with his upturned walking stick. His neighbour, who accompanied him, also took up the practice. Soon all thoughts of rabbit catching disappeared as they both focussed on hitting more packets into holes. Thus was born the game of golf. Nothing is recorded of what happened to Buster.

Forgotten Lancashire and Parts of Cheshire and the Wirral is by Dr Derek J Ripley. To purchase a copy go to www.forgottenlancashire.co.uk

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