top of page

Access is a Hill

Kelly looks back at the history of access to the Pendle landscape. For each generation the hill becomes a place for imagining new futures.

Image: Screen grab showing the rise in use of the word 'access'

Landmarks leave their mark; like tidelines. A residue of place, it coats the surface of the eye, leaves a shape, an after image that becomes a part of who we are. The sight of the hill’s soft shoulder has always signalled home. I look for it now. A way to orient myself to a place and its pasts. Access memories:

of climbing Pendle on torch-lit Halloweens, townsfolk ascending as

points of light, a constellation moving across the dark hillside.

The hill is a place I return to, a repetition, a circling back through time. To the generations drawn here by mills and mines, this hill was a portal to other worlds. The working poor of industrial towns dreamt in landscape. A dream of green spaces, mountains and high places. They conjured a world with so much sky, so much light and clean air; they could drink it in, survive another week of dust and darkness. The only way we can access these generations is in the things they left behind. National film archives hold moving images of Lancashire mill workers from 1900:

Silent films show crowds of workers spilling from factory gates,

blinking. There’s a sense of release as bodies pour into the light, rushing

like rivers down narrow stone channels between factories and terraced

streets. Watching the film, we’re deaf to the thunderous sound of hundreds

hurrying passed windows. Without their words, we can’t hear the way pitch

signalled the end of a shift and the return to voices. In factories, they found

ways to speak inside the noise. Learned to read the shifting landscapes of

each-other’s faces; lip-read, like actors in some unknown silent theatre.

Stepping beyond the noise, onto stone streets, cotton dust clings to shawls

that cover the heads of women and girls; the ghosts of plant fibres carried

from Cairo, Calcutta, the Mississippi Delta. There’s nothing green in this

black and white world; not the colour, but the sway of trees, foliage,

grasses. The only movement is the mill workers, and black smoke pluming

from chimneys.

"Access to something beyond work; access to time, leisure and wide-open spaces was a desire interwoven with belief in a better world."

Access to something beyond work; access to time, leisure and wide-open spaces was a desire interwoven with belief in a better world. Access to this new world was shaped by a mix of science, faith, political ideology. The footsteps of political and religious movements criss-crossed on moorland, as socialists, church groups and Sunday schools formed rambling clubs – took to the hills. This was an era of the group, of membership in myriad local associations; botany clubs; local history societies, camera clubs; cycling clubs; choirs; unions; workers’ education associations; the Clarion Movement. A social world held together by membership cards, meetings and subscriptions; everyone part of something bigger.

"They conjured a world with so much sky, so much light and clean air; they could drink it in, survive another week in mills and mines."

They walked the hills with purpose; engaging legs, eyes and minds. This landscape opened-up ways of seeing and knowing the world; nature was a science book, a spiritual revelation, and a lesson in the English class system, embodied in land ownership, laws of trespass – Private – Keep Out. Access to nature, to the land, meant challenging the social order. It was the assertion that ordinary working people had rights, to leisure, clean air, health and education.

Tom Stephenson, born 1893, Chorley, started work age thirteen as an apprentice calico printer. After working a sixty-six-hour week, he climbed to the summit of Pendle on Saturday and ‘beheld a new world’. The following Saturday he walked to Clitheroe, joined the library and walked home with Darwin’s Origin of Species.

Science filtered through the bodies of industrial workers. The weaver’s body was an archive of tacit knowledge; mathematics, laws of mechanics and motion were accessed every working day:

Ernest Evans, artisan botanist, Brierfield. In 1889 he began teaching botany at Burnley’s Technical School. He soon became its Science Master and Burnley flowered as a centre for science education; where weavers and miners walked and cycled to evening classes and kept-on going, as far as they could; four evenings a week, over four years meant the chance of a university scholarship. By 1913 there were four scholarships available across the country; three went to Evans’ students - cotton workers who knew the botany and geology of Pendle better than the lines on their own hands.

Image: Evans' textbook, 1920 edition

Botany and geology, it’s what we move through each time we climb the hill. Tom Stephenson recalls Evan’s 25-mile Boxing Day walks;

meet at Burnley

cross Sabden Valley

soft shales between millstone grit

over the Nick of Pendle

down to limestone quarries at Chatburn

grooves and scratches left by ice sheets

sandwiches at Grindleton

cross the Ribble Valley

up to Sankey Brow

folded strata

field paths to Downham

over a spur of Pendle to Barley

a glacier-transported boulder of white limestone

His students walked Pendle again, January 1933, to scatter Ernest’s ashes on its summit.

"Science filtered through the bodies of industrial workers...Botany and geology, it’s what you move through each time you climb the hill."

Those generations that dreamed a ‘new world’, walked on-mass to polling stations, became a landslide and voted-in the post-war Labour government, the welfare state; access to health, education, social housing. Labour didn’t ‘nationalise the land’ but they seeded the National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Tom Stephenson’s campaign for a green line across the land from the Peak to the Cheviots; The Pennine Way. Conservation, greenbelts and planning controls met desires to stop the creep of urbanisation. Beyond the urban, agriculture intensified, mechanised, specialised, scaled-up.

Climbing Pendle in the 1980s there were things unseen, unheard. Gaps I didn’t know were there. The loss of hedgerows, wildflower meadows, ponds, and the loss of species – plants, insects, amphibians, birds. I didn’t know the hill as well as Ernest and his students. We had different ways of knowing. The ‘environment’, as we understand it now, emerged as a concern in the 1970s; pollution, pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers, nuclear power. We walked the hill in the 80s as vegans, punks, anarchists, hunt-saboteurs; travelled to CND rallies in London, Stop the City protests, peace-camps. Young people in de-industrialising town’s around Pendle, dreaming of a new world.

"Our relationship to the land is in another period of transition, infused with new dreams, new visions."

Image: taken by Nadeem Khan', people in the image are Danbert Nobacon, Stephen Hartley and Boff Whalley,

Nick of Pendle early 1980s.

Today, our relationship with the land is in another period of transition, infused with new dreams, new visions. How to access the tools and consensus to mitigate climate change, how to access sustainable land practices. I hear young people talk about habitat conservation, biodiversity, re-wilding, slow-the-flow:

Access is a hill. It’s one we climb afresh, each generation.

This writing has been created and shared as part of Thinking Out Loud - a series of texts and conversations from a wide range of perspectives within In-Situ's practice, that explore the social role of art in everyday life.

Kelly Loughlin is a writer, researcher and curator. She grew-up in South Burnley, walking the hills and researching Lancashire’s working class histories. She is interested in the history of the present, and landscape as always contested.


bottom of page