Pennington Flash – History

A Flash is a water-filled hollow formed by subsidence. Pennington Flash is on land that was prone to flooding from Hey Brook and Westleigh Brook in an area where there was subsidence from the local coal mines. The Brooks flooded every few years, usually in Spring. Before the Flash became permanent the land was used for farming. Two farms became flooded completely and were abandoned: Lower Allanson’s in 1907 and Urmston’s-in-the-Meadows about 1910. The 1893 map shows the area as ‘liable to floods’. Joseph Bates, who became the British Professional Ice Skating Champion in 1902, used to practise on the Flash when it was frozen in the early 1900s. Joseph was born in Bold Street and died in 1924 aged 52.

During the 1920s the Flash sometimes almost disappeared and at other times caused flooding to nearby residential areas. In November 1923 the residents of Plank Lane, on the northern edge of the Flash, were forced to leave their homes because of flooding. Bradshawleach Farm by St.Helens Road on the south side of the Flash was flooded in Spring 1926. By July of that year the Flash had almost disappeared, but in November the water had returned. During a very cold spell skating was possible on parts of the Flash.

Summer 1927 brought another drought and once again there was very little water in the Flash. However floods in September and severe gales in October brought the water level up again. The railway line that crossed between Pennington Flash and Ramsdale’s Flash was under water in January 1928. In May the track was reinforced and the rails re-laid. It was at this time that the local newspapers began to call the Flash a ‘menace’.

Between January and March 1929 the Flash was completely frozen over for the first time since 1907. Unfortunately six lives were lost when the ice broke. Later in the year children paddled and swan in the drought-depleted Flash. Yet again the banks burst in November and water flooded St.Helens Road. A storm in January 1930 caused the banks to break, but later in the year the Flash almost disappeared again with the water only ankle deep. However the water returned in the winter months. A start was made in June 1934 to clear some Bickershaw Pit waste from next to the Flash. By August the Flash was nearly empty and people were able to walk across it. Many people wanted to reclaim the farmland and infilling started in February 1935 for a period of 3 months.

Skating on the Flash in January 1937 was followed by a dry summer. All the fish were poisoned in February 1938 by sulphuric acid in the water from colliery waste. May of that year was very dry and there was a general water shortage.cThe floods returned in March 1939. A Unit of the Fleet Air Arm HMS Ariel, which was operating from Culcheth during WW2, used the Flash for seamanship training. When the Unit closed, the local Sea Scouts were given 2 boats and these were still in use on the Flash in the early 1950s. During WW2, Davenports Farm or Pengy’s as it was known locally, was used more as a scrapyard than a farm. After the War some ex-RAF wingtip fuel tanks were stored there. Some of these were bought by local children who made rafts with them and sailed them on the Flash. However there were several accidents and the practice was stopped. An aircraft fuselage was dumped at Pengy’s and workmen who were digging out the Brook saw it sink over the course of 3 days. It is believed that it is still there.

Pollution in the water killed thousands of fish in August 1951. A weir was built on Pennington Brook by the St.Helens Road Bridge. This controlled the minimum level of water in the Flash. Ramsdale’s Ruck,at the Plank Lane end of the Flash, was used as a dump for underground waste from Bickershaw Colliery. In the early 1960s it was noticed that the heap was sinking and causing mudflats. Ramsdale’s Flash was gradually being reduced. The railway line from Pennington Junction to Plank Lane was no longer used and sank below water level.

In 1953 Manchester Yachting Club was formed and in 1967 all speedboating on the Flash was banned. An elderly angler drowned in November 1964 after his boat overturned. Fishing from boats was banned a few years later. Again in August 1962 freak storms caused more floods. In February 1963 the Mersey River Board decided they wanted to keep the Flash as a reservoir and for flood relief. At the time the water ran in to the Flash 3 times quicker than it ran out. In December 1964 St.Helens Road and the surrounding fields were flooded.

A £4000 plan was put into operation in March 1965 to prevent flooding. There was brown slimy water in Plank Lane, Common Lane and Firs Lane in February 1968 and again in July Plank Lane was awash with 12 inches of water. This flooding was blamed on the Flash. In June 1972, for the 6th time in 5 years, swans taking off and landing at the Flash damaged overhead electricity cables. During the 1960s and 1970s ideas were emerging for developing the site for recreation and conservation. In July 1972 the Council Tip was nearly full and that land was acquired in the November. The surrounding railways had been closed in the 1960s and 84 acres costing £55,000 were bought from British Rail in January 1973. Davenport’s maggot farm was bought. Pennington Flash Joint Committee, under the control of Greater Manchester County Council, was formed in 1976. A total of 858.25 acres, costing £300,000, was bought.

Pennington Flash Country Park was officially opened in 1981. The Flash was originally larger than it is today. The southern end by St. Helens Road was filled with Leigh’s domestic waste and the northern end by Plank Lane was filled with colliery waste. The Park has a number of tracks and paths that offer walks of varying length through the nature reserve. Some of the paths lead to a pleasant section of the Leeds Liverpool Canal towpath and some of the paths follow the routes of the railway lines that used to be in the area. It is possible to walk around the perimeter of The Flash, a distance of about 3 miles.

There are 7 bird hides, some of them having views of smaller flashes. Bunting Hide attracts a large number of common woodland birds at its feeding station. Pennington Flash has always been a birdwatchers’ paradise. More than 230 species have been recorded with each season having something different to offer. Insects also provide some interest. 20 species of butterfly and 16 species of dragonfly have been recorded in recent years. Wild flowers grow in profusion around the nature reserve.

By the main carpark there is an information point and toilets. There is usually a mobile café selling drinks and hot snacks and also an ice cream van in the carpark. This is the place to feed the ducks, geese and swans etc. A children’s play area and recreation and picnic areas are sited here. There is a small charge for parking in this carpark.