Collier Brook Farm in Atherton is in fact much older than it looks and than I originally thought. When walking past the former farmhouse recently, I noticed its rather sorry-looking state, so I decided to see what I could unearth about another piece of local history.
The farmhouse is a Grade II listed building (it was actually listed relatively late in 1991) and the structure is mid-18th century with later alterations, although the building itself possibly incorporates an older timber-framed structure. At one time the interior contained wattle-and-daub walls, 18th century doors, fireplaces and a staircase. However as the building has been unoccupied for a number of years these features have sadly been stolen. The name ‘Collier Brook’ is derived from the Collier Brook which ran through land belonging to the farm. This in turn is named after the Collier family which farmed this particular land in the 18th Century.
The first mention of the farm in local archives is in the Poor Law rate books for Atherton for the start of the 19th century. In 1802 Mrs Betty Megson is listed at the owner (for the late John Collier) and her yearly rate is only 2 shillings and 6 pence as “The house is taken part down and not inhabitable.” This would seem to verify that the farm has 18th century origins and that the current building is an extension of an earlier one.
The Seddon Family
The first traceable residents of Collier Brook Farm are the Seddon family. James Seddon (1779 – 1853), his wife Ann (1766 – 1846) and their ten children John, Thomas, Betty, Ann, Margaret, Samuel, Lydia, Alice, Jane and Martha are recorded as living at the farm from 1803. The first proper surviving census from 1841 shows James aged 62 as a farmer, his wife, four children and two grandchildren. The rate books from the same year reveals that the farm is about 10 acres in size and its value is £47/4/7 (just over £2000 in modern money).
The last census to show the Seddon family living there is the 1851 Census. By this time the family has shrunk to James, his daughter Lydia and his two teenage granddaughters Alice and Martha.
The Davies Family
After James Seddon died in 1853, I imagine the farm was sold or tenanted to another family. However I have been unable to locate it in the 1861 Census and therefore there is a gap here in its history. The next time it re-appears is in the 1869 Slater’s Royal National Commercial Directory under the ownership of Edward Davies.
Edward Davies (1823 – 1890) was born in Liverpool and lived briefly in Wales before moving to Atherton in the early 1830s. He was eventually an apprentice at his uncle’s bolt works located just down the road from Collier Brook Farm. He then owned his own business producing bolts and screws (a common industry in Atherton during the 19th century) firstly at Youth Lane, then Dan Lane, before moving to the Valley and finally establishing a works at Bag Lane, known as Collier Brook Bolt Works as it was located across the road from the farm.
The census from 1871 shows Edward living at Collier Brook with his wife Jane. He was honoured that same year by the Baptist Church for his work as superintendent at the Sunday School. By examining the next census taken a decade later in 1881 we can see that the fortunes of the Davies’ have increased, not only do they now employ a domestic servant, Alice Jones, but the census description shows Edward employed 70 people in his bolt works and 6 people on his farm, which had grown to 64 acres in size. This growing prosperity was also reflected by the building in which the Davies’ lived. In the local newspapers the building is referenced as “Collier Brook House” which sounds more appealing than farm and it lends itself to the Davies’ social prominence. In local trade directories Edward is listed a “private resident’ and was briefly a member of the Board of Guardians of the town. Perhaps it was the Davies’ who started to expand the house with new windows and the addition of a conservatory in the late 19th century.
Unfortunately Jane Davies died in 1883 at the age of 59. Edward remarried later that year to Elizabeth Holt (1849 – 1906) a respectable widow, who for over twenty years was also a Sunday School teacher at the Baptist Chapel. Sadly their marriage was short as Edward died in 1890 after suffering from diabetes and Bright’s disease for some time. He was obviously as well-respected member of local society as his funereal procession was eight carriages long and along the route people had lined the streets and blind were drawn out of respect. Also the bolt workshop was closed so the workers could visit the cemetery.
The censuses for 1891 and 1901 reveal Elizabeth living at Collier Brook with her daughters from her previous marriage; Lydia, Rachel and Ethel. Elizabeth also played a prominent role in Atherton society as part of the Ladies Sewing Meeting and the Atherton Committee Sick Nursing Association. She was also entitled to vote as a County Elector in 1893 but not as a Parliamentary Elector. Elizabeth died after a short illness in 1906, just as she was planning to retire to the coast at Blackpool.
The Whittle Family
Several generations of the Whittle family were the last residents to live at Collier Brook Farm over the 20th century. The farm was purchased by Hugh Whittle (1875 – 1953) and his wife Alice (1884 – 1950) sometime after the death of Elizabeth Davies. They had eight children Richard, Charles Edmund, George, Henry, Ellen, Deborah, Edith Alice and Hugh.
The 1911 Census (above) for the Whittle Family reveals that the house consists of seven rooms, which made it larger than most workers houses at the time. Also in a strange twist of fate, a hundred years after the Seddon family lived at Collier Brook, there is a farm servant living with the Whittle family named James Seddon.
At some point in the first decade of the 20th century a four-roomed cottage was built on the land of farm and it was known as Collier Brook Cottage. It is first mentioned in the 1911 census and home to Edwin Woodward and his family. By 1914 it is home to James and Ruth Woodward and their two sons Harry and William. James Woodward enlisted to fight during the First World War.
In 1919 some of the land which had previously belonged to the farm was purchased by Atherton Urban District Council and in 1921 the first 68 council built cottages were constructed there. These new, modern homes were a world away from some of the slum housing in which others were living in at the time.
After the deaths of Hugh and Alice Whittle in the early 1950s, their son George and his wife Clarice took over Collier Brook Farm. Still living in the cottage was James Woodward until the mid-1960s. Throughout the 1970s the cottage is inhabited by James and Eleanor Turner before it is taken over in the 1980s by the son and daughter-in-law of George and Clarice. George Whittle passed away in 1994 and Clarice a few years later in 1999.
Collier Brook Farm Today
As of December 2016, the future of Collier Brook Farm is rather uncertain. The site was/is owned by William Developments Ltd and they planned to develop the site to contain sixteen new build houses. Sadly the cottage, a later addition to the farmhouse and most of the outbuildings have been demolished to create room. Fortunately as it is listed the house is relatively safe from developers and there were plans to convert it and one surviving farm building into offices.
However it appears the plans for the future of Collier Brook Farm have fallen through and the house is once again neglected and exposed to the elements and to vandals. The scaffolding supporting the structure seems to have become a playground. Now the listed building sits decaying and there is little that can be done about it, sadly this it seems is reflective of certain aspects of heritage in 21st century Britain.
Poor Law Rate Books, Wigan Archives and Local Studies
Leigh Journal, Wigan Archives and Local Studies
Leigh Chronicle, Wigan Archives and Local Studies
Church Records, Trade Directories, Electoral Rolls – http://www.lan-opc.org.uk/Atherton/index.html
Census Information – http://www.ancestry.co.uk
Old Maps – http://www.oldmapsonline.org