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Sunday, 4 February 2018

Boatyard - Riley Green

Thomas Miller-Crook, my Great Great Great Grandfather,  was a coal merchant born in Withnell in 1792.  When he married Rachael Wadsworth of Gowan's Farm, Brindle on 28th December 1818, his occupation is given as carpenter and coal dealer.  It is said he founded the Boatyard at Riley Green after finding that a repair to his barge was going to cost him more than he wanted to pay! He therefore decided to do his own.

Thomas was purchasing coal at the local pits of Withnell and Tockholes. Later he would transport the coal from the Wigan coalfields to his canalside wharf at Riley Green from where it was distributed to the local villages. His coalwharf was located where the present Canal side house is located.

Thomas continued his farming at Brimmicroft.  The old Brimmicroft Farm where all his 9 children were born, is now demolished but it is believed to on the site where "Quarry Bank Farm" now stands on Bolton New Road, Riley Green.

The following map shows the location of the hamlet of Brimmicroft, Horrobin Farm, in relation to the site of the boatyard. The map was surveyed in 1844-50 and published in 1847.

On the 1841 census it is recorded that he employed 3 'boys' on his farm, 6 men in the coal distribution business, and 15 men in the boat building and sawmill yard. He eventually employed five of his sons. Alexander, in the coal distribution; Eli, James, John and Ralph (my great great grandfather) as boat builders.

1950 Eli working with apprentice Harry Margerison

Thomas died in 1864, aged 66 years. Of his five sons, four worked as boatbuilders but eventually left to form their own businesses (Alexander and Eli in coal, James to establish a boatyard at Bootle. John entered the brewing industry - see post on Stanley Grange).  

The boatyard and sawmill were continued by Thomas' son Ralph, farmer and boatbuilder, who founded Horrobin Farm further along Bolton New Road, Riley Green.  
When Ralph retired in 1903, two of his fourteen children formed a partnership, J & J Crook (James b. 1871 and John b 1875) and they operated the boatyard and sawmill. Ralph had a younger brother, Eli b 1844 who married Ann Elizabeth Thompson. They had a company distributing coal - Crook & Thompson (see separate post) and most of their barges were made at Riley Green by the family - their symbol being the black diamond painted on the front of the boat. Eli was the only child not given the name Miller as part of his surname.

James and John  of J & J Crook, had a brother - Arthur, b 1868; his son was called Eli b 1901. On leaving school Eli continued the boatbuilding tradition working with his uncles at Riley Green. He married Alice Crook, a farmer's daughter from Hoghton.
They had three sons, Arthur b 1927, James b 1930, and John b 1932.

Riley Green Boatyard

Eli became the owner of the boatyard when his uncle, John Miller Crook, died in 1966. (The other partner Jim, died at Brimmicroft Farm in 1933). Eli's son, Arthur, b 1927 married Ann Taylor of Hoghton.  He became an apprentice boat builder with his father Eli and had three children, Paul, Alison and Andrew. He was Mayor of Chorley and member of Hoghton Parish council with my father, Eric, for many years. In later life Arthur continued to make barges with a friend called Douglas Moore. Arthur was the last owner of the boatyard, dying in 2004. The following newspaper article has been given to me courtesy of Helen Cowgill, Arthur's niece and makes interesting reading!

Colour photo and information courtesy of Herbert Miller-Crook (Arthur's second cousin)

My own grandfather, Thomas Miller-Crook b. 1894 was also  boatbuilder (and wheelwright/blacksmith) here until in 1919, working for his uncles before becoming self-employed (see separate post coming soon, The Smithy).

A booklet exists detailing the salvage and restoration of one particular barge called "The Roland". This barge was named after Arthur's Uncle Eli's son,  Roland b 1875. The authors Marilyn Freear and Marilyn Sumner explain the perilous journey of "The Roland" back to Wigan Pier where it is now on show at Trencherfield Gardens as part of the Wigan Pier Heritage Centre beside the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Some of the photos are courtesy of this lovely booklet lent to me by a work colleague, Stan Walmsley, who turned out quite by chance, to be a distant relative! His father had worked at the boatyard and appears in one of the photos.

The boatyard was sold after closure and developed in to a pub. See separate post for the "Boatyard Pub" for more photos.

This photo shows the canal looking towards Blackburn. The coal wharf would have been to the left of the bridge literally in the yard of the present house. (see post on Crook & Thompson Ltd)

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