Skelmersdale: Lancashire's first new town is 50

Skelmersdale around 1910
Image caption Skelmersdale grew from a village to a small mining town in the nineteenth century

Sunday marks the 50th birthday of Skelmersdale, Lancashire's first new town.

Built to give relief and a new life to some of the burgeoning population of nearby Liverpool, it was officially designated a new town on 9 October 1961.

Its history, though, stretches much further back than five decades and it can, in fact, trace itself back across almost two millennia.

Skelmersdale was originally a Roman resting point and is mentioned, about 1,000 years later, in the Domesday Book as a village between Dalton and Up Holland.

But it was the industrial revolution which spurred it on from village to town and set the foundations for its new town status.

Mining past

Between 1801 and 1891, the population increased from 414 to 6,627 and it was not only the numbers that changed.

David Sudworth, from Skelmersdale Heritage Society, said the 19th Century brought a change of occupation to the people of Skelmersdale, thanks to the national need for one substance - coal.

"There was a lot of mining in the area and, if you look around even now, you will see remnants of local mining activity," he said.

"We have a lot of street names from where people came to mine here - Durham Street for example - and we have Glenburn School named after Glenburn Colliery.

The mining brought with it prosperity and better amenities.

A town hall was built in 1877, the town was lit by gas the following year and a public water supply was installed in 1879.

Mixed population

It might have remained as a small colliery town had it not been for an initiative after the Second World War.

People in post-war Liverpool were living in very cramped conditions and the idea was to use Skelmersdale as an overspill.

Image caption New town status and the houses it brought with it raised Skelmersdale's population to around 40,000

So, in 1961 it was designated a new town and, three years later, the first new families arrived - and the population boomed to today's figure of about 40,000.

Contrary to the plan though, Mr Sudworth said that not everyone who made a new life in the town was from Merseyside.

"Skelmersdale has a rich history of inviting people from different parts of the area and the country.

"The first family in New Church Farm in November 1964 were actually from Stockport."

But it is not the mix of people that Mr Sudworth said makes Skelmersdale most unique, but the lack of one piece of road furniture which the new town never brought to the area.

"There's no traffic lights, so we don't get any traffic jams.

"The road network was designed in such a way so as to keep the traffic flowing.

"And as it was built for about 80,000 people and that stopped at about 40,000, we've got a road network that could cope with a lot more."

Skelmersdale Library is hosting a series of events to mark the town's 50th birthday, starting with an open day on Saturday. The anniversary events will continue throughout October and November.