Our Moorland Highways – The “Great Road” from Halliwell to Rivington

The following article was discovered with the late Derek Billington’s unpublished manuscript about Turnpike Roads in Bolton. It is possibly one of the ‘Truth’ pamphlets of Solomon Partington. In 1896 Mr Ainsworth of Smithills Hall decided to close Coalpit Road leading up to the Moors over Winter Hill. Solomon Partington along with others organised a Mass Trespass on the Moor in September 1896 and for the next 20 years continued his pressure for people’s right to roam the moors.

You can read the full story in ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Morning by Paul Salveson.

By fine, 1227, Robert Grelley, lord of Manchester and of many townships in Bolton, Deane and other ancient parishes, acknowledged Henry de Bolton’s right to land between certain boundaries to ‘the Great Road between Halliwell and Rivington.’ This historical revelation condemns root and branch the action in 1897, alike of the man of Smithills and his backers, and the local public authorities. The moorland roads across Smithills Moor, public for a thousand years, have in recent days been claimed as private property by one who is more feudal than the old feudal lords of eight hundred years ago ever were, and the town Council and rural District council, when asked to protect the ancient rights of the people, to their lasting disgrace be it said, virtually took sides with the aggressor. They were elected, among other varied duties, to uphold Public Rights; they assented to the deprivation of the people of roads that had been public through many generations; they were unjust stewards.

The Great Road in 1429

‘In 1429 Thurstan de Holland made agreement with Ralph de Radcliffe (Smithills) touching part of a field called Rodenhey, adjoining the Road leading from Smithills. The boundary began at the bridge leading to Smithills.’ Quite so. We see more than 200 years later than 1227 the Great road from Halliwell to Rivington still existed. It was still the Great Road in the succeeding centuries down to he close of the nineteenth, when there were persons in Bolton who, hampered by no qualms of conscience, conspired to defeat the ends of Public Justice.

Smithills and Rivington Commons

Long anterior to 1227, when we have this unquestionable proof of our Great Road there was Smithills Moor, which was common land. Rivington Moor too, was common land. Dorning Rasbotham JP of Birch Hall, Farnworth in the 18th century, is our high authority, because he was an eminent antiquary and historian, for these assertions.

When Mr W H Lever MP threw Rivington Pike open to the public he was simply giving back to the people that which had belonged to them from time immemorial.

An Unwarped Judgment

Mr Irvine, author of the ‘History of Rivington’, which Mr Lever presented to members of our town Council when Lever Park was opened, admits that the road descending from nears the Pike is very ancient. Yes, that is a section of the aforesaid Great Road from Halliwell to Rivington.

Smithills Common

This great common (vide Rasbotham) has been quite recently unwarrantably enclosed by a stone wall. At this very time it is described in the Corporation ratebooks as a common, and it consists of 539 acres! Being land, it only pays a fourth part of the rate chargeable on buildings. How can roads over public Common be conceived to be private? To the meanest intelligence that would see a preposterous proposition.

Convincing Significance of Smithers Bridge

The key to the whole question of public ownership of roads across Smithills Common is Smithers Bridge, adjacent to the old Smithills Cornmill, a short distance from the Halliwell tram terminus. This ancient bridge existed as already shown close on 500 years ago. Last century, and doubtless long before that, as Baines tells us, it was a ‘Whole County Bridge,’ implying that it was not repairable merely by the Salford Hundred, but proportionately by all the Hundreds of the County. As a set off to this imagine so-called intelligent public bodies actually surrendering the people’s birth-right, and vainly attempting to destroy our roads’ history. The ancient status of Smithers Bridge must carry conviction home to all honest and impartial-minded persons, and it destroys every vestige of pretence that our ancient moorland roads have ever been private except in the imaginative brain of some unscrupulous breeder of grouse. It must be clear to everybody that a ‘Whole County Bridge’ would only be possible on as Great Road such as existed in Smithills (Old Halliwell) in days of yore. Beyond Smithers Bridge on the Great Road there branched Lomax Wives Road, this being the ancient highway to Blackburn and Preston, by way of Longworth and Hollinshead Halls.

Right and Wrong. Good and Evil

However much certain autocratic fools and fawning dunces may sneer at, or cry down, those who had the pluck to stand firm and offer an opposing front to the gradually accumulating mass of Wrong, we may be perfectly certain that their words and deeds will received complete justification in the end by the ultimate triumph of Right. No more pernicious or harmful piece of sophistry can ever be offered to the consideration of the generally feeble-minded and gullible majority than that Evil under certain conditions may be considered good, or Good considered Evil. To an honest man or woman, such reasoning will be at once dismissed as the ‘devil’s argument,’ which it is.

He didn’t mince his words, did he?

Private Land

In the Daily News of March 6th, ‘Uncle Silas’ gives an amusing dialogue on ‘The Monkey and the Two Men’, illustrated by three notice boards – ‘Game Preserves; trespassers will be prosecuted.’ ‘No allotments here.’ ‘Private land’. ‘Well’, sez the monkey, ‘when yow can’t give him work tew dew why don’t he give hissel’ some on th’ land?’ ‘Ha!’ sez th’ man, ‘its very cert’in yow een’t civilised or yow’d ha’ been able tew read what’s on them boards’. An’ then he read what wuz on th’ boards. ‘An,’ says he, ‘th’ land is mine.’ ‘Um!’ says the monkey, ‘Why?’ ‘Why?’ sez th’ man, ‘because it is, that’s why!’ ‘I s’pose,’ sez the monkey, ‘that’s a good reason, but why don’t you let him work on th’ land?’ ‘My poor friend,’ sez th’ man, ‘can’t yow un’erstan’ th’diff’rence ‘tween rich and poor? Can’t yow see that I mus’ ha’ people like him about tew dew work for me when I want it done? An’ dew you think I want such as him livin’ near me when I wants my land for my own pleasure? Don’t yow know that he mus’ always be poor?’ ‘But,’ sez th’ monkey, ‘he’s a civilised lord of creation, een’t he, same as yow?’ ‘In course,’ sez th’ man, ‘but there always mus’ be rich and poor men; an’ I mus’ always be his master.’ ‘Um,’ sez the monkey, ‘now I can see how you’re ‘descended’ from us! Thank yow, thank yow, Goo’-bye! Goo’-bye! Goo’-bye.’ ‘But,’ sez th’ an, ‘what’s yowr hurry? Where are yow off tew?’ ‘I’ sez th’ monkey, ‘I’m off tew my primeval forest afore some’dy jolly well civilises me!’

Jerrymanders Defeated

Our jerrymandering friends, whose attempts to obliterate alike the ancient and modern roads’ history of Bolton have so egregiously failed, were of the class who had their iron heels of tyranny firmly planted on Public Rights in other directions. The year 1897 was prolific in Municipal scandals. One has already been commented on. Another was the Hulton Lane agreement, against which we opened a campaign which caught the public ear, and at a great Town’s Meeting in the Albert Hall, in January 1908, the impious document was practically unanimously repudiated. It was the Winter Hill Road question that was really at the bottom of that great victory of the people over the jerrymanderers, which resulted in the saving of the people of Bolton’s money to the tune of more than £25,000. Another stronghold of the jerrymanderers was the Subscription Library, well entrenched as it certainly was, and riding roughshod over public rights for half a century. The citadel of privilege fell. Milton’s lines in ‘Paradise Lost’ illustrate the morally bankrupt condition of our obfuscators:-

‘To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell;

Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.


But what will Ambition and Revenge

Descend to? Who aspires, must as low

As high he soar’d, obnoxious, first or last,

To basest things. Revenge, at first though sweet,

Bitter ere long, back on itself recoils.’

The Hulton’s of Welsh Origin

The former Hulton’s who poached on St. Helen’s Road, until at length in the locality of Daubhill Station it had been reduced from a width of 21 to 15 yards, were supposed to have inherited their predatory instincts from a Norman ancestry. We can correct that long cherished fiction. ‘The Hulton family was obviously of Welsh origin. The Lancashire members of it – Iorwerth and Madox, sons of Bleiddyn are supposed to have been among the faithful vassals of Robert Bonastre, expelled from Wales about 1167’.

Recovery of Moorland Highways

The Town Council ought to relent of its miserable past. Most of its present members were unconcerned with affairs in the black days of 1897. There is a growing feeling in favour of the impartial assertion of Public Rights. It is the reaction of shame and disgust at the follies here enumerated. The first duty is to demand firmly that the Great Road from Halliwell to Rivington and others connected with it shall be surrendered to the public. In taking that cue the council will have Truth on its side, together with a wealth of public advantages to follow, comprising a site for a Hospital for consumptives and an outlet for the people that will confer an incalculable boon as a health recruiting ground for the toiling masses of this town and district, second to none in the County Palatine. Following in the train of these advantages will come others equally valuable. The roads across Smithills Moor to Horwich Moor will, with the Corporation’s intervention, lead on to the re-opening of the ancient carriage way to Rivington and to Chorley Old Road, the last named having been directed to be made under the Horwich Moor Inclosure Act, 1815. Mr Lever’s new road will be a further gain. When the people’s ancient privileges have been restored the sum of £50,000, nay, nor twice that amount would buy them back into private holdership.