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  Tonge Moor, Bolton : Article entitled "Buying Back Tonge Moor", published in  The Bolton Evening News, 29th January 1930.

Buying Back Tonge Moor


DURING the last few years the Corporation of Bolton as spent a sum of more than £28,000 on the purchase of land in the Tonge Moor area.  This land has had to be acquired for the purposes of housing inhabitants, and, when the new Hall-i’th’-Wood estate is completed, no fewer than 1,500 houses will have been erected on it.

Altogether about 122 acres have been purchased by the Corporation in the area, which a little more than a century ago, was termed “a certain piece or parcel of Open Common or Waste Land, called Tonge Moor.”  And yet, in our own time, bits of that “waste land” have been acquired by the public at an average cost of £233 per acre!

The site of the 94 houses at Castle Hill, on the north side of Crompton Way, and between Back Tonge Moor Road, and the railway, was purchased at a cost of £360 an acre.  On the other hand, the cost of land for the Firwood estate was only about £130 an acre.

A Place of Footpaths

Let us revert now to the time when Tonge Moor was an “open common of waste land.”  At the beginning of the 19th century the area which we now know as Bolton was a place of footpaths rather than roads.  A turnpike road from Manchester ran through the town to Preston and the North.  The only other road worthy of the name ran over Bolton Moor to Hulton and Newton.  North and east of the town was, in consequence, a wide stretch of comparatively undeveloped land approximately circumscribed by the sweep of the Leeds and Liverpool canal from the west of Horwich, round by Blackburn, to the north-west of Haslingden, where it joined the southward cut of the Haslingden Canal east of Bury to the neighbourhood of Manchester.

In the moorland area were, and, of course, are, many streams.  Those on the northern side feed the Ribble, those of the west become the Douglas, and join the Ribble estuary.  None of these concerns us now.  It is about those streams in the area whose flow is, generally speaking, southward that Bolton lies, and the particular area we are now considering is the tongue of land which lies between the Bradshaw Brook and River Tonge.

We must transfer ourselves in time now to the year 1812.  Tonge Moor was then, indeed, “a certain piece or parcel of open common, or waste land.”  Le Gender Starkie, Esquire, was then Lord of the Manor of Tonge, having achieved possession of the lordship and all it’s material value through the marriage of a member of the family with a daughter of Alexander Norris, of Hall-i’th-Wood.  The Starkies were of Huntroyd, near Padiham.

Tonge Moor, at the beginning of 1812, was an unenclosed area owned by Le Gendre Starkie.  Certain other persons, including the Rt. Hon. Lord Bradford, Thomas Parker and John Gartside, had rights of common, such for instance, as the grazing of cattle or the gathering of fuel, on the Moor.  These persons, stimulated no doubt by the great number of enclosures which followed the General Enclosures Act of 1801, decided that “the said commons and waste grounds” of Tonge Moor “in their present state afford” very little profit of advantage, but are capable of considerable improvement, and the same would, if divided, allotted and enclosed, be of great advantage to the several Persons interested therein.”

Authority for Enclosure

Who can doubt it?  Unfortunately, at the time Tonge Moor lay far beyond the civic comprehension of the burgesses of Great and Little Bolton.  They knew it, of course, as a convenient place for an occasional country stroll.  But that it should ever be required for the purpose of housing future citizens of a vastly extended Bolton was probably beyond their imagination or intuition.  So “the several Persons interested therein” proceeded to obtain the authority of an Act of Parliament for its enclosure, which was granted to them on the 5th of May 1812.

Le Gender Starkie, Esquire, was declared to be the “owner of the soil,” and “entitled to all the Mines, Minerals and Royalties of, within, and under the said Commons and Waste Grounds.”  Commissioners were appointed to set out the necessary public carriage roads and highways, and to set apart not more than two statute acres “to be used for the purpose of Public Wells fir the accommodation of the neighbouring Inhabitants, and public Watering Places for Cattle, and for getting Sand, Stone, Gravel and other Materials, for the making or repairing of Bridges, Highways and Roads within the said Commons and Waste Grounds.”

After this gesture of public benefaction had been made, the Lord of the Manor took to himself one-twentieth of the residue, and the remainder was divided between the several persons holding rights of common.

The sequel is obvious.  Bolton in 1898, extended its boundary to include, amongst other districts, Tonge.  The Great War came, and, following it, a housing problem of great magnitude.  Tonge Moor was still, comparatively, an airy, if not arid waste inviting development, and the consequence is that half the new municipal houses of the town have been planted on it.

At what a price!  For a mere 122 acres we have had to pay more than £28,000.  To have to buy the whole of the present acreage of Bolton at the same price would cost 3½ million pounds sterling – almost four times the rateable value of the borough!  Thus have the public to pay for the use of what was once “open common or waste land.”  And the irony of it is the enterprise of the people, followed by the needs of the people, which have between them created the high selling price of land which a century or so ago was figuratively worth only the price of an old song.