Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Fight for Grimeshaw Lane

It is fair to say that, at the moment, the outskirts of Lancaster do not look very pretty. The hillsides have fresh scars slashed across them as construction work continues on the M6-Heysham link road.

But, just a very short distance from there, I met a friend, who took me along one of her favourite walks.

Sometimes, history is not visible. Castles, stately homes, archaeological remains - all give us a link to the past which we can see, and hope to understand. At other times, we can only get a sense of what has gone before, and interpret as best we can what is left in our modern world. This makes such places much harder to protect, but it is no less important that we attempt to do so.

A determined group of people just outside Lancaster are trying, at the moment, to do just that, and to save Grimeshaw Lane and Denny Beck Lane from development. The future of Denny Beck Lane, is I suspect, more secure, given that it was victim to atrocious flooding last winter. But what of Grimeshaw? And how can we assess its historical significance?

It is believed that there might be a 'plague stone' on the lane - could this be it?

I began by trying to decipher the name itself:

Shaw (sceaga) - copse, small wood
Grim/e - devil
So Grimeshaw = Devil's wood?

This seemed a bit simplistic, so I delved deeper.

Margaret Gelling, in her book Signposts to the Past, says:  "It has been established that Grim meaning the masked one is a nickname for Woden, alluding to the god’s habit of going about in disguise; and the numerous earthworks called Grims Ditch, Grimsdyke, in many parts of the country are believed to contain this nickname, either because they were believed to be the work of the god, or as a vague expression of superstitious awe concerning their origin.

The use of disguise by Woden is inferred from the many instances in which the corresponding Old Norse god Othin behaved in this way. We do not have narratives concerning the Old English gods of the sort which have survived for the ON deities, and there are many dangers in transferring ON information of a much later date to our own relatively brief pagan period. But a major characteristic like this one seems likely to belong to both traditions.

Not all English place names in Grims- are of this origin. Grimr was a common ON personal name and in the areas of England where Danes and Norwegians settled in the 9th and 10th centuries there are such names as Grimsby, Grimethorpe and Grimscoat, which contain this personal name and are of no special archaeological significance. Even in the Danelaw, however, a Grims- name referring to an earthwork is likely to allude to the god."

From the top of the ridge, the proximity to the M6 is visible

A quick internet search told me ( that "The Grimshaw surname originated in Lancashire in the northern part of England, apparently around 1000 A.D. There appear to be few records of Grimshaw family lines for the first 200 to 250 years. However, it is highly probable that the family’s roots are connected to the town of Grimsargh, which is a short distance northeast of Preston. The earliest recorded Grimshaw was Gilbert, father of William Grimshaw, who held the Manor of Grimsargh in thenage in 1242."

I looked for more information on the placename Grimsargh but could only find this, in Wikipedia: "The name Grimsargh is said to derive from an Old Norse name Grímr. One reference lists it as coming from the Domesday Book's Grimesarge, "at the temple of Grímr (a name for Odin.)" I had come full circle.

So what of the place itself? In Ancient Roads and Trackways in Quernmore/Lancaster Phil Hudson says: "There seems no doubt that in the pre-Conquest period there were some well used trackways which would have been part of the communications network for the many small, often defended circular ring-dyke farmsteads found in the area. Butler (l921)* makes reference to a "ridgeway" that passed through Quernmore on a north-south line, following the high scarp via Grimshaw Lane and across the River Lune ford to Halton.

An extension of this ran through Quernmore from Castle O'Trim up to High Cross Moor. This was probably the route, parts of which are still in use, taken by the Earlsgate, recorded in the medieval period. This route, which could be prehistoric in origin, was possibly the basis for the one which was in place during the Roman period when, it is assumed, there was a main road system in the north west created and maintained by the Romans. It is also assumed that the Romans had a network of minor roads or trackways to give access to their industrial sites and potteries on the eastern side of the valley."

From the top of the ridge, one can walk into Lancaster, and I was told the the witches of Pendle walked this way from the prison to their place of execution. From this high ridgeway, they would have known that they were walking in the direction of home, but never to return.

Although it is possible to 'name-check' these witches, overall this is a new facet to historical investigation for me. We do not know who else walked this route, where they lived, where they were going. I am used to having names as a starting point, even if they are only mentioned once or twice in primary sources. I research people, not places. To walk along that track, following the footsteps of countless  unnamed people, was a new experience. This place is most definitely historical, but it is not going to give up its secrets any time soon.

Or at all.

The campaigners are highlighting the route with ribbons

It is under potential threat of development, and a small but determined group of people is fighting to stop that happening.
If you would like to know more about the campaign, look at the group's Facebook Page 
If anyone has any evidence which they think is relevant they can write to Paul Hatch on 
and if you live locally you can sign the Petition
The plan and information on the process so far can be found Here

Denny Beck

*Butler, M.E. A Survey of the Geographical Factors that have Controlled the History of Lonsdale. Unpublished M.A. University or Liverpool 1921, 3O-4O.


  1. Fascinating information but so sad too. I hate it when this happens. One of my favourite walks, woods and fields, has been given over to a massive construction with dorms for workers and huge car park for hundreds as they modernise Broadmoor and build houses and shops and schools on the farmland. I know what it is like to lose such a haven for wild-life and such beauty. Good luck with your campaign.

    1. Thanks Jane - this area really is beautiful, and undoubtedly ancient. You wouldn't know it from the photos but we met a lot of local people who walk their dogs there,and/or take their children for walks in the countryside. For all that it is right next to a city, and a motorway, it is a haven of tranquillity. I hope it stays that way.

    2. Thanks, Jane (Risdon) - I'm one of the red-ribbon campaigners on Grimeshaw Lane. - Every time I walk the lane, I meet people who love to walk their dog there, or cycle through, or just wander. Recently I met a man who was returning to the ancient grazing wood (Moss Syke Wood, which lies between the lane and the M6 motorway) to revisit where he used to build dens as a lad, with a view to taking his own children there. - Hope you can see our facebook group? Please take a look, via the blog link.

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  3. Thank you Annie. What a lovely piece I hope it inspires more people to visit the area and enjoy it.

    1. I hope so too, Janet. I still find it staggering how close one can be to motorway and main road traffic and yet still find such peace. We even saw a lapwing with chick in one of the fields alongside the lane!

    2. Do you have the photo of the lapwings & chick?! Mine didn't work out.

    3. I've sent it to you via FB messenger :)

  4. For some reason it won't let me reblog. On to Plan B.

    1. Feel free to copy and paste, John, if it helps?

  5. Fascinating reading. This really begins to encapsulate some of the history of the lane and location. Along with the natural hedgerow wildlife of the lane, wonderful landscape views from it, and recreational value, this really is a special place.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Tony. There is certainly something about the place which feels very 'ancient' and it is surprisingly peaceful, given its proximity to the M6. It didn't take me long to get the sense that I was walking a route which had been trodden by many folk across the centuries. Local people passed by, cycling, walking their dogs or just strolling, and provided a continuity; this is a path used by the community, then and now.