Botany Bay

6 June 2018


As you travel up the M61 you know you’re passing Chorley by two distinctive landmarks.

One is the tall spire and imposing church of the Latter Day Saints to your left, called The Preston England Temple.

It was dedicated in 1998, the 52nd such temple across the world, an impressive complex of Olympia white granite from Sardinia and a zinc roof. The site includes a missionary training centre and a family history facility and is the largest Mormon temple in Europe, serving Latter-day Saints from the Midlands and northern parts of England, the whole of Scotland, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The other is a converted and restored Canal cotton mill, now a shopping and entertainment complex, called Botany Bay.

The original mill was built in 1855, for Richard Smethurst, a pioneer in the Chorley cotton industry. Despite the Cotton Famine and closure in 1861, the mill continued to manufacture until the end of the 1950s, when it eventually closed for good.

In 1994 a local entrepreneur purchased the mill and after a complete renovation and restoration, Botany Bay opened on the 1st December 1995. It features five floors of shopping, a garden centre, restaurants & coffee bars, and an indoor play centre, which draws people from near and far. Peter’s idea of hell.

Why “Botany Bay”?

There were a number of mills here from the late 18C, as the area developed as the main port for Chorley. As the nearby Lancaster Canal was built (originally to run from Walton Summit to the Bridgewater, but it never happened after a temporary (then permanent) tramroad was built to connect Preston to the rest of the system) Botany Bay was where the Irish navigators, or navvies, lived. The “navigations” – or “eternal navigations” – they built were intended to last forever.

By the 1830s most navvies were building railways.

It’s now recognised that the great majority of navvies in Britain were English, with only 30% Irish – but the prejudice has stuck. Locals saw it as an area to be avoided – much as you’d avoid the penal colony in Australia. Hence the name.

Botany Bay wharf became an important hub for traded cotton, transport and communication with services running to Manchester, Wigan and Liverpool. When the Lancashire Union Railway opened in 1869, it ran through Botany Bay, over a viaduct across the canal, and began to supersede the canal in coal transport between Wigan and Blackburn. The railway, in turn, remained in service until 1968 until demolished for the construction of the M61. Canal, rail, road.

We were given a lift into Chorley by Dave and Judy, and Sue – off to the market for Rufford new potatoes. ‘Just rub them and the skin comes off a treat’, said Dave. He lives aboard with Judy in a widebeam moored just under the motorway. Sue is a cancer care nurse at the Royal Bolton Hospital, and recognises Peter’s name from the time he was there too. She lives aboard her boat too.

‘I couldn’t stand the noise’, said Peter, as we had a pint of Wainwright at the Lock and Quay on our way home. We drank from Wainwright glasses that instructed us to ‘find your mountain’. Alfred’s words were there – the latest manifestation of the marketing phenomenon he has become – ironic, given his churlish misanthropy. ‘You were made to soar, to crash to earth, then to rise and soar again’, the glass told us. This we must have. ‘I didn’t pay for them; why should you?’ responded the publican, as she gave me two clean ones to take away.


The market was on in Chorley – the Flat Iron Market which dates from 1498 (named that either because the weavers used to hold down their wares with flat irons, or because the space it used to occupy was shaped like a flat iron – or both)  – and we wandered through, hoping for some remnant of the haberdashery trade that would provide me with some further material for Peter’s stole. No joy. Hopefully Blackburn will provide. Time’s running short to the ordination on 30 June.

A good book shop, though – one to browse in. Something caught my eye.

One of the reasons – I reckon – that I love being on water is that I went by ship three times from Australia to England when I was little.

I was seven on the third trip in 1966. The three liners we sailed in were the Castel Felice, The Northern Star and the Himalaya.

And here was a book, all about the days of the £10 assisted passage – that took many thousands of folk to Australia in the 1950s and 60s – seeking a new life far away from the austerities and smog of post-war Britain. The voyage took a month.

The 27,955 ton Himalaya was built in Barrow by Vickers Armstrong in 1949, owned by P&O, and from 1958 until 1974 transported migrants and cruised the seas. It must have been the Himalaya that we sailed on the final voyage to England for good in 1996, because it had a swimming pool. I had my birthday on that trip, and remember, while mum and dad were doing their own thing, that I’d have the run of the ship, wandering all over.

I watched the swimmers in the small pool, shaped rather like the locks we’ve been in, with no shallow end and a swell like the sea all around, and thought to myself – ‘people can swim, so there’s no reason why I can’t. If I stick near the side, so I can hold onto the rail if need be, and kick and doggy paddle, I’ll make it from one end to the other.’ Ten yards, maybe. It can’t have been far, but it was certainly out of my depth. I taught myself to swim. No one watching. No one to tell me not to.

The 24,733 ton Northern Star was built in 1962 by Vickers Armstrong in Newcastle owned by Shaw Savill, specifically for the carriage of British migrants. She was plagued by engine problems throughout the 1960s as she settled into a routine of four round-the-world voyages a year. Eventually, in 1975, she was sold to Taiwanese shipbreakers.

The 12,150 ton Castel Felice began her life in 1930 as the Kenya for the British India Line. During the 2WW she was transferred to the Royal Navy for deployment as an infantry landing ship under the name HMS Keren, capable of carrying ten landing craft and up to 1,500 troops. She was then laid up for three years, but broke away from her moorings in Holy Loch, in Scotland during a severe storm. After extensive repairs in Glasgow she was renamed Kenya, then Keren again, and then again, Kenya. She was converted into a cruiser in Falmouth, Antwerp and Genoa and assumed her last name, the Castel Felice, with a new bow, funnel and masts, she saied from Genoa on her maiden voyage in October 1952. With her sister ships, the Fairsea and Fairsky, The Castel Felice belonged to the Italian Sitmar Line – and between them carried migrants from all corners of Britain, to fulfil the Australian government hope of 65,000 migrants a year.

Here’s a blog from someone who did the voyage in 1964. It could have been me, and mum and dad, in these photos.

It would be great if Jen were still here to discuss this. We did talk a bit about Australia and immigration today and its draconian reputation. That’s not always been the case.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans and over a million ten pound poms immigrated after WWII – when the fear of Japanese invasion stirred the government into a policy of ‘populate or perish’. There was a White Australia policy in place then, until it was repealed in 1966, and Australia began to become the multinational nation it is today. Then all you needed to be was white, of sound health and under 45.

My mum, Pix, remembered the terrible prejudice against the Irish as she grew up in Geelong in the 1940s. That’s all changed, particularly in the cities, where all nationalities are to be found. Now, it’s said, Melbourne is the largest Greek city outside Athens.

In the mid 1960s when our family sailed from Australia to England and back again, we were accompanied by £10 poms off for a new life. It was exciting. I remember the flirtatious charm of the Italian waiters on the Castel Felice; enjoying kippers – and still the taste takes me back; the smell of tinned orange juice, which even now conjures up the other smells of the ship; being dressed up as the Queen of Hearts (I much preferred swimming), and the crossing of the Equator, with a visit from Neptune.

I don’t know where my certificate is now.

We stopped at Columbo, at Mumbai, at Aden, went through the Suez, and at Nice.

I loved being on board ship. Watching the flying fish, the porpoises that accompanied us. Visiting those exotic places, like Aden where we couldn’t go ashore, so the traders came to us, and we bought a table and a leather poof. Watching elephants work in Colombo.

I loved the perpetual motion, the roll and rock at night; the constant power and throb of the engine. Above all, all around the sea, extending to the sky.

To counter her homesickness, mum threw herself into the English countryside. We’d go for blackberries; we’d learn the English birds, trees and flowers. We’d find out-of-the-way spots for picnics, and get lost on walks. She grew to love England almost as much as her native Australia.

Thursday morning early on the canal.


This is the top lock of


So, yesterday, Wednesday, a short distance up seven delightful locks at Johnson’s Hillock.


The bottom lock goes right, as the remains of the Lancaster Canal goes left. Now, to get onto it, you need to continue beyond Parbold, and turn up at Ruffold to the Ribble Link. The link is only open 50 days a year, so the Lancaster is even quieter than the L&L. One day we’ll explore.

The countryside falls steeply away to the left now as the Pennines beginning to climb seriously to the right.


We moor at the Top Lock, where the CRT are supervising Prince’s Trust volunteers to repaint the woodwork and metal of the lock its distinctive black and white.


There’s some good information on this flight about the way the horses worked. One bridge has no towpath, so a hook in the wall enabled the horse to pull in the opposite direction, so the barge came out of the lock. The wear from the rope was there to see.


When the horse was towing out of locks going uphill, the tow line was passed around the shaft of the upper ground paddle. The grooves made by ropes in cast iron are beautiful.


A long afternoon in the sun, and I get on with the revisions for my chapters in Theological Reflection: Methods and then walk with Peter through Wheelton Village and then on in wonderful countryside just under the M61 where a sign for Botany Bay meant we hadn’t travelled as far as it had felt.



The stream below us has nothing in it – no fish, no dippers – which worries us.

There’s a few lapwings in the field, chasing off the crows – so obviously with young.  Swallows and housemartins finding insects on the pounds between locks –

… and an abundance of flowers.


Ragged Robin (not to be confused with campion);


grasses galore …


cuckoo flower …


Meadow vetch …


The may is over; now the elder is in bloom. I used to gather elderflowers when mum made wine.


Blackburn is just around the corner. One of these days Peter and I will do all the Cathedrals we can, by canal or navigable river. This lies before us.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s