Bezza Bridge

Pink of willowherb
and white of meadowsweet

line the road to Bezza Brook.
Where you cross at Bezza Bridge

step down, step down, step down
in the incantation of the strange-light

hear the brook’s flow see the spirits stream
on the walls of the tunnel of life.

Dwell not on the tunnel of death
lest you hear the Skriker skrike.

Do not look for a rag on the wind
or an eye in the midst of the strange-light.

Bezza Bridge

Fish House Brook

Fish House BrookFish House Brook is a stream in Penwortham, which runs from behind my street, Bank Parade, through Greencroft Valley to the river Ribble. Since I started litter picking in the valley three years ago I have been clearing the brook, walking it regularly and researching its history. This article traces its course from source to mouth and provides snap shots of the ways people have related to it over the last few centuries.

~

The source of Fish House Brook and its earliest stretch have been culverted underground. Its course is indicated by the street names Bank Parade and an adjacent cul-de-sac called Burnside Way. It runs underneath the gardens on the eastern side of Bank Parade.

Bank Parade and Burnside Way, courtesy of Mario Maps

Bank Parade and Burnside Way, courtesy of Mario Maps

A few months ago Gordon at number 14 kindly invited me into his garden to see the site of its steep banking, which is now occupied by a pond.

FHB tributary's old valley BP no. 14 - CopyHe also lifted the grille to let me take a peek at the swiftly flowing underground stream.

FHB culverted tributary - CopyThe brook now emerges from a concrete pipeline behind Malt Kiln Cottage.

Fish House Brook, sourceThe following maps show Fish House Brook running from behind Malt Kiln Cottage into Greencroft Valley in the 1840’s and today.

Malt Kiln Farm and Greencroft Valley

Malt Kilm Cottage and Greencroft Valley 1840’s, courtesy of Mario Maps

Malt Kiln Farm and Greencroft Valley

Malt Kiln Cottage and Greencroft Valley now, courtesy of Mario Maps

Malt Kiln Cottage

Malt Kiln Cottage

Malt Kiln Cottage originally housed a water mill used to mill grain for beer. A picture of the pool behind the mill leat can be found on the Tithe Map (1838). Elizabeth Basquill provides a detailed account of how the malsters in residence used water from the stream and adjacent well to soak barley in a malster’s trough before it was dried and delivered by horse and cart round the corner to the Black Bull pub (2).

Malt Kiln Cottage, Tithe Map, 1838

Malt Kiln Cottage, Tithe Map, 1838

During this period Fish House Brook must have been much larger and more powerful to turn a water wheel. Its diminishment shows the effect of building 300 houses and their accompanying pipelines for clean water, drainage and sewage during the Central New Towns Project in the 1980’s.

Greencroft Valley

Greencroft Valley

Greencroft Valley is the largest surviving green space between the new estates. The old field lines remain intact, indicated by rows of trees. The wooded areas provide living space and nesting places for hedgehogs, squirrels and birds including magpies, wrens, a variety of tits, nut hatches and a woodpecker.

Greencroft Valley

Greencroft Valley playing field

The brook has had its share of pollution problems, mainly from grey water out of faulty washing machines. Since reporting this, it has been less frequent. Frog spawn and frogs have been seen, and a few smaller insects. However, there is no sign of any fish. This is disappointing as the 1840’s map shows a fish pond, which according to the Tithe Map was in Fish Pan Field, suggesting local people used to pan in the brook for fish.

Fish Pan Field

Fish Pond and Greencroft Valley 1840, courtesy of Mario Maps

Fish Pan Field

Greencroft Valley now, courtesy of Mario Maps

The brook is culverted from Greencroft Valley beneath Hill Road South.

Fish House Brook, Culvert under Hill Rd SouthIt emerges close to Rosefold house and cottages.

Rose Fold Cottages

Rose Fold Cottages

According to Elizabeth Basquill the cottages and yard were part of a tannery. During the late 19th century Fish House Brook was used to wash hides. ‘The hides were soaked in slaked lime first, then washed, and the hair and flesh scraped off.’ This process would have caused considerable pollution to the stream. Two adjacent fish ponds, which Elizabeth believes may have existed from the medieval period were ‘later used as tan pits for washing the skins’ (3).

Rosefold

Rose Fold 1840, Courtesy of Mario Maps

Rosefold

Rose Fold now, courtesy of Mario Maps

The first stretch of the brook, heading northeast, cannot be followed behind the houses. Where it makes a rightangle and heads northwest, a footpath runs alongside it. This follows the line of a much older route that led from Middleforth Green to St Mary’s Well (4).

Fish House BrookIt then bends right and passes through Campbell’s Park Homes following its old course round the back of the mobile houses.

Fish House Brook, Campbell's Park Homes

Fish House Brook, Campbell’s Park Homes

Campbells Park Homes, Meadows

Fish House Brook 1840, courtesy of Mario Maps

Campbell's Park Homes, Meadows

Fish House Brook, the Meadows and Campbells Park Homes now, courtesy of Mario Maps

The residential park nestles within the triangle of Penwortham Junction. The train lines pictured closed in 1965 and are now covered by beech, birch, sycamore, bramble and an array of wildflowers, forming important wildlife corridors.

Campbell's Park Homes

Campbell’s Park Homes

Another tributary enters Fish House Brook, running from the back of Far Field across the meadows. The pathway to St Mary’s Well crosses it, and there is a newer footbridge further south. At this time of year the meadows are thriving with mayflowers, buttercups, plantain, wild carrot, orange tipped and cabbage white butterflies and an abundance of bees.

The Meadows

The Meadows

The brook runs through Penwortham Allotments (unfortunately out of bounds) then is finally culverted beneath Leyland Road under Fish House Bridge.

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Brook culverted under Fish House Bridge

The 1840’s map shows a lodge beside Fish House Bridge. Alan Crosby says the bridge took its name from a timber building which ‘served as the quarters of the manorial river bailiff.’ This dwelling was adjacent to the fish garths, which were mainly used for catching salmon between December and August. It was the bailiff’s task to make sure the fishermen from different townships abided by the rules of the fisheries (5).

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge 1840’s, courtesy of Mario Maps

Fish House Bridge

Fish House Bridge now, courtesy of Mario Maps

It is clear Fish House Brook derives its name from the Fish House, and as far as I know, no trace of an earlier name remains.

~

Each of these locations holds a story and discloses a relationship between the brook and the people who have depended on it. Since water started being piped in the 19th century, we’ve had no need to fetch it from wells or streams for drinking or bathing. Due to modern farming and production methods few of us rely on local waterways for fish, mill our own grain or tan our own skins.

This has a distancing effect. Due to continuing building work, I cannot imagine a time when the water from Fish House Brook will be safe to drink. It is uncertain whether fish will return, although some small fish were sighted by mum in nearby Penwortham Brook.

Small fish photographed by my mum in Penwortham Brook. Can you identify them?

Small fish photographed by my mum in Penwortham Brook. Can you identify them?

Whilst it’s impossible to turn back the clocks, I think there is time to get to know and understand our watercourses, and the lives and motivations of the people who have worked with and changed them. This article is an early marker stone on the journey through this process for me.

(1) Courtesy of Mario Maps
(2) Elizabeth Basquill, More Hidden Histories of Penwortham Houses (2011), p6-11, 42-44
(3) Ibid, p34-36
(4) St Mary’s Well was famous for being the cleanest source of water in the area and was attributed healing properties. Local people used to walk a mile to access their favoured water source, and it was also a site of pilgrimage.
(5) Alan Crosby, Penwortham in the Past, (1988), p48

Slow Spring

Celandine by Fish House Brook

 

 

 

 

 

The ground is parched, flowers sparse,
celandine’s only growing
near the stream. There is no grass
on the green but still they’re mowing
the same old tortured track ways.

Someone killed a daffodil
and spread it’s butchered limbs across
the valley. The trees might not fight
back but the winds will undo
our Baconian mechanics.

I was told by an ancient god
this world met it’s end in 2012.
When no-one noticed he only
laughed a little bit- whilst worlds
are always changing people don’t.

* This poem was inspired by a line shared by Coll on the Druid Network Members’ site: ‘Genius is but a robin’s song at the beginning of a slow spring.’ – Kahlil Gibran

The Colloquium of the Brooks

Ribble close to Mill Brook

 

 

 

 

 

On the silted shore of the Ribble
Where the gulls dip and call
The river banks her vista
And the tides ebb and flow
In unending expeditions
From the land to the sea
The brooks broach their quantas
And descry their misery.

Fish House Brook:
How long now?

Penwortham Brook:
Patience little sister, can’t you see the times are changing?

Fish House Brook:
I’m barely in a position to perceive change
Caught in the constrictions of the concrete culverts
Cut by the man-made channels, blinkered in blind
Alley-ways, forced through dire traps and grilles,
Stumbling in terror via that jail house prison
Cruelly manufactured for me below Hill Road South.

Mill Brook:
If you would look beyond those despotic fixities you would see
The dark pall of the industrial era has lifted, your brother
And I are freed from servitude, our water running clearer by the day.

Fish House Brook:
And you see this as consolation?
Do you not remember when the magnitude of our flow
Turned water wheels, had the force to overturn wagons
And shifted the lay of the land to sculpt our valleys?

Mighty Belisama, you must recall our glory days
Before they shifted your course from Watery Lane to Castle Hill,
Deformed our travails, forever destabilised our tables?

Belisama:
Quarrelsome brooks, stare firmly at the quintessence
Of your course and see all that remains constant is change.
Since the ice lords rode our backs, pitched us deeper
Into the frozen earth, and through the aeons before
Our wills and paths have never been wholly our own.

Fish House Brook:
That the principalities of nature shape us I do not disclaim.
But these men… with their yellow jackets
And heaving ploughs, excavators and cranes,
Winding cords, caterpillar rolls, drop down drains,
Their discernment as dense as a builder’s helmet,
Vision blank as a steel lid, they are numb as their machines.

Penwortham Brook:
Not like the orphans who worked my looms.
I remember their knocked legs stumbling to my bank,
How they stared into the rainbow of my polluted depths.
With wide white eyes they contemplated their horror in me,
Knowing not what they were or what I could be.

Fish House Brook:
At least then we were seen. Now the people stagger
By blind as drunks, ditching debris on our banks.

Mill Brook:
Humans… still given wholly to gods
They cannot see. Servile seeking invisible wealth
Not even gleaming gold. Their only idols strip plastic
Features on the screens, flip in pixels to wide dumb grins.

Fish House Brook:
The vapid screens suck out their lives.
They are not aware of, nor do they understand their sacrifice.
Whilst trapped within their drains we wither up and die.

Penwortham Brook:
Belisama, tell her that isn’t true.

Belisama:
How many years have men visited our banks?

Fish House Brook:
Well, I remember when we were treated with reverence.
Do you recall the long days spent by smiths at the forge,
The bold shatter of sparks, the bright ring of the hammer,
The beauty of gifts delivered in resonant ceremonies,
Swords, axes, heads crafted from stone and those of enemies
Whilst now all they drop in is litter and fag ends.

Penwortham Brook:
It was when the factories rose that the human race
Became effulgence and we it’s dumping ground.

Fish House Brook:
Now red fades to grey and the system is dying.
Their wonders drop, one by one, like falling dolls.
They roam the streets, jobless and desolate.
There is no hope in their eyes.
They have no strength left.

Belisama:
Bearers of the brooks, steerers of the streams,
Deliverers of my bright waters. Do not dismay!
Like the course of a river, times will change
We are bound into a whole with sea and rain.
With he who brings the tides come the waves.
I still commune with the lords of the glaciers
And they say we have not got long to wait.

Fish House Brook

Fish House Brook

Rainwater sharp drums the earth’s dark soil,
With a tantalizing splash sinks into her pores.
Through a tumult of tunnels, tumbling forth
From a pipeline vessel comes my concrete source.

Sieving through stones I wind my way around,
Slipping by silt, diving sleek from platforms,
Foaming effervescent, wooden rails hold my course.
I’m driven through the gauntlet like a wilful water horse.

My tributaries tremble through constricting veins
Their water has been stolen by the sewers and the drains.
The contusion of pipes plugging earth’s damp flesh
Dumps on my banks, spitting domestic waste.

My hydrophonic pulse with the force to drive a mill
Springs from showers and spins in washing machines.
Weeping by wounds of flesh pink clay,
I seep through grooves as the land is washed away.

When the earth’s dark skin is sealed under concrete,
The last dash of water in the New Town monster
And my channel dies tight by their eyeless folly
My streaming ghost will scream through the valley.

Dobbie

Full moon breaks the rushes,
quivering lips soft whiskered brush the water,
hair line trail traces black velvet muzzle
which moistens, smacks and laps,
heavy glug of oesophagus
tugs water to the bowels of a dread black creature.
The beast drinks deep, shaggy hide
long and twitching skirts agile cloven feet.
His saucer red eyes hold star glow infernal.
Head raised dripping, he speaks a gargling tale
of strangled marshes, dried out mosslands,
shrunken brooks and pools abandoned,
eternal thirst his cruel domain and an endless lust for riders
to sink beneath the skin of a world unintelligible
to one deep as peat and old as the glaciers.
His lips close slapping. His burning eyes blink.
With a fish-like leap he slips below the water.