The lane that led to St Catherine’s Well

Halliwell is first mentioned by that name in a chartulary of King John, dated 1203, which belonged to the Lord Abbot of Cockersand, near Lancaster. Later, in the 16th year of the reign of Edward 1 (1293), there was a strange story of a duel fought in the house of Elias de Lever, between Rogerus de Halliwell and Richard Smalltrot. In the encounter Richard was killed by a blow from the mace of Rogerus de Halliwell. The latter was tried for murder at Lancaster but was held to be justified, as Smalltrot was the aggressor.

These dates will give some idea of the antiquity of Halliwell, and there is no reason to suppose that Harpers Lane is not as old as the village itself. The old lane is almost certain to have been one of the ways leading to the well of St Catherine of Sienna, from which the district takes its name. Tradition, which is often right, records that the holy well was much frequented in the 15th century.

The name of Harper goes back to 1644, when a parliamentary ordinance was made, empowering 21 persons to ordain ministers, pro tempore, in the County of Lancaster. Included in the number were four local names: Alexander Horrocks, John Tildesley, John Angier and John Harper.

In the records of the Parish Church there is an account of a vestry meeting, held in 1672, whereby ‘Robert Harper, clerk, undertook to make the clock goe orderly, striking duely the houres and quarters, till Easter next ensuing, upon condition that 40 sgs. be payd him for the year which will then be past’.

A descendant of this family built a farm in the old lane, which afterwards bore his name. The Halliwell Road end was once known as Coopers Lane. There is little left of Harpers Farm, and nothing of Harpers cottages. Later known as Clegg’s Farm, the place became derelict when John Clegg died a few years ago. The building had no special beauty, so there is no need to mourn its passing.

In little more than 50 years Harpers Lane has changed from a rural, lonely lane, much frequented by courters, into one of the handsomest of modern streets. Its architecture is excitingly alive. Victorian grandeur and the ‘new look’ seem here to blend together most happily.

My visit to Harpers Lane was happily timed; a burst of winter sunshine had awakened the birds to tuned pipings and busy twitterings, especially in the lower wooded part of the lane. I spent some time in the flower nursery formerly owned by the late Mr. Ben Hardy, who in his lifetime was one of the best known of local horticulturalists.

Mr. Hardy’s work is continued by his son-in-law, Mr Colin Hamer, and it was from his assistant, Mr. F. Hardman, of Beech Cottage, Smithills Croft Road, that I learned how much the district had changed during his lifetime of more than 70 years. From another source I learned the unmentionable name of the tree encircled seat, at the Church Rd. end of the lane, much frequented by the aged and ageing men whose active days are past.

During the tenure of his office as Mayor of Bolton, the late Ald. James Seddon lived in Harpers Lane. He was one of the most popular, as well as being one of the most conscientious of all the holders of that office, and there is little doubt that his exertions, both as Mayor and Deputy-Mayor, during the four years of the First World War helped to shorten his life.

Whilst in the vicinity, I called upon his daughter, Mrs. Margaret Edge, who told me that her father took his duties so seriously that he was invariably in attendance at the Town Hall by 9 a.m. each day, and he was rarely home before midnight.

Mrs. Edge is our senior ex-Mayoress in service, I should say, not in age, for she was young when her father was in office. She is justifiably proud to be a member of the little circle of ex-Mayoresses.

Sir William Edge, a former Member of Parliament for the town, lived for a time in Harpers-lane, as did his grandfather, the founder of the firm of that name.

There is little more that can be said for this beautiful street, except to say that it need not fear comparison with any of our streets for appearance. None certainly can offer finer views. It is on the fringe of moorland, a funded capital of health which never fails of dividends.

(Copied from the BOLTON JOURNAL of 23 February 1950)