Lawns Farm, Orrell.
A personal view by Helen Ashton, whose family have lived there for five generations.
Pit ponies, steam engines, brick works, nudist colonies, quaker community, POW, Birds Eye peas, prize winning cows and sirloin steaks!
The Ashton Family arrived to rent Lawns Farm in the early 1900’s. The Skelmersdale farm which they once ran was later to become part of the new town, other farms which they tenanted were also lost in the march of time.
When they approached on horse and cart they would have travelled up the bottom meadow now Lawns Avenue and past the hive of industry of the brickwork’s, now the playing field and cattle sheds.
There was no electricity and the water was brought up from a well. All that was left of the thriving mining industry was the ghosts of miners and pit ponies that had toiled underground bringing up coal, and a legacy of pit names and dangerous shafts peppering the fields of Lawns Farm, which to this day still sink at times.
Long gone were the men who sweated quarrying and mining stone from which the local cottages were constructed in times gone by, leaving behind them dangerous caverns, deep pools of water and faces of rock all over the farm and within yards of what is now the farmhouse.
The Ashtons worked the land and grew crops, regularly taking cart loads of produce and straw into Wigan Market coming back with a load of manure produced by the town horses for disposal in the countryside, stopping the horses for a drink at the Halfway House.
Also on the farm at that time was a Quaker community of up to forty men who each worked a small section of land together with others who had cobblers’, tailors’ and joiners’ workshops. The scheme was visited by the lady who later became known to us as Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
At some time the brickworks, which manufactured firebrick and sanitary ware, went into industrial decline and closed down. The site was later to become the local playing field and the storage sheds were later sold to the Ashtons who used them for many purposes including housing for hens and pigs, later replacing the building with a barn suitable for cows.
During the WW11 years the farm carried on providing food for the local community and for many years had POWs working the land alongside the local population and much loved working horses. It does not seem that long ago that my Grandparents used to receive Christmas cards from the Germans who worked the land at Orrell. It was perhaps around this time that my Grandad used to have a bit of fun with the nudist colony next door at the Lawns. He boasts of building the haystacks as high as possible next to the high walls of the colony so that he and his men could take a peak over.
- Although he worked hard he was also a keen rugby player and it was him that offered land for the first Orrell Rugby Club team to play on. He was a founder player at the club but was later basically cut off because he turned to Rugby League.
Gradually, over the years, tractors took over from horses, the number of men employed dropped as the tractors and machines became bigger. The crops changed due to economic climate and demand. At one time peas were grown on a large scale and sold to the Birds Eye Factory. Potatoes were once grown with a packing station on the farm employing over a dozen women to clean, weigh and pack them, as well as dozens of women and children who toiled hard in all weather to pick them from the fields.
Poultry was introduced and Lawns Farm was one of the biggest poultry units in Lancashire, grading and packing the eggs on site. Times changed again, and in the mid 70’s cattle once again had a place on the farm, taking over from pigs and eggs.
At the height of the booming cattle industry Lawns Farm was at the forefront of the cattle world. Cattle were imported from Belgium and young stock, semen and embryos were exported all over the world including Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA. Lawns cattle had won many major show victories including the coveted Royal Show champion in Warwickshire. Gone were the days that cattle used to arrive at Orrell Siding by train and walked to the local agricultural show at Abbey Lakes.
When the butchers’ shops were closing in the village - at one time there was at least six in Orrell alone - Lawns Farm opened a shop which was launched on the popularity of the freezer by the housewife. This thrived for many years but once wives started working and supermarkets opened, forcing the closure of many local shops and the local petrol station, this too came to the end.
Over the last century the tide of industry at the farm has ebbed and waned. I have no doubt each change brought about sadness and local gossip. But times do change.
- The bottom meadow at the farm which is now Lawns Avenue was developed for new homes. The houses were mostly two and three bedroom. Some had a car and garage. Over the last few years many have had extensions of one type or another, adding more bedrooms, bringing more traffic. The majority of houses now have two cars and because of the extensions many are forced to park in the street. Businesses are run from the houses, vans also parked in the streets.
In an attempt to keep Lawns Farm alive, planning permission to diversify into caravan storage was secured. Not something which was wanted, who wants to wake up looking at a caravan site every morning? - But it was noticed that there were many people who could not get storage for their vans and those who store their vans at the farm are most grateful for the service.
Where does Lawns Farm go from here ? Several of the buildings are decaying because of government policy to buy our food abroad making farming an expensive business for all but the largest most modern farms. That same government policy states that farm buildings should be used for alternative purposes and only recently English Heritage’s report Heritage Counts, said that protecting buildings and other historic sites and structures was vital to the future of rural communities.
In 2017 planning permission was sought to convert some old stone workshops into 4 dwellings. At a time when our council is building on green field sites it must make sense to "recycle" the buildings already standing and no longer used, rather than build on fields. "Recycling" these workshops, which were originally assciated with Lawns Quarry, would in fact enhance the greenbelt as some barns would be demolished for gardens.
Lawns Farm has for a number of years been in the countryside enhancement scheme, Countryside Stewardship.
It would be far less stressful for the family and of far greater financial reward to sell up and move on, leaving the farm and land in the hands of developers who, as one Lawns Avenue resident commented, might be even worse than us ! Because of my conscientious upbringing, a family legacy going back a century and my love for Orrell I would find this difficult.