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Skelmersdale
Town
The Concourse, Skelmersdale.JPG
The Concourse shopping centre, Skelmersdale
Skelmersdale is located in Lancashire
Skelmersdale
Skelmersdale
Population 38,813 
OS grid reference SD487062
• London 180 mi (290 km) SE
District
  • West Lancashire
Shire county
Region
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town SKELMERSDALE
Postcode district WN8
Dialling code 01695
Police Lancashire
Fire Lancashire
Ambulance North West
EU Parliament North West England
UK Parliament
  • West Lancashire
List of places
UK
England
Lancashire
53°33′00″N 2°46′34″W / 53.550°N 2.776°W / 53.550; -2.776Coordinates: 53°33′00″N 2°46′34″W / 53.550°N 2.776°W / 53.550; -2.776

Skelmersdale is a town in Lancashire, England, on the River Tawd, 6 miles (10 km) west of Wigan, 13 miles (21 km) northeast of Liverpool and 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Preston. In 2006, it had a population of 38,813. The town is known locally as Skem.

While the first record of the town is in the Domesday Book of 1086, much of the town, including the current town centre, was developed as a second wave new town in the 1960s. The town's initial development as a coal town coincided with the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century; the town lies on the Lancashire Coalfield.

Geography

Skelmersdale is situated in a small valley on the River Tawd. The town was designed to accommodate both plant life and compact housing estates. Even in the town centre there is an unusually large amount of forestation. The large Beacon County Park lies to the east of Skelmersdale, where the iconic Beacon Point lies, along with the golf club.

The town borders the village of Upholland to the east, eventually leading into the Wigan area of Greater Manchester, West Lancashire's administrative centre Ormskirk to the north-west, and Saint Helens to the south. The M58 runs through Skelmersdale.

The New Town is the larger eastern half of the town, the Old Town 'Old Skem' is the smaller portion to the west.

History

Toponymy

Skelmersdale means "Skjaldmarr's valley", from the Old Norse personal name Skjaldmarr + probably Old Norse dalr (or Old English dæl) "dale, valley". The name was recorded as Skalmeresedel in 1136. One placename book suggests that it may be of Celtic origin, with the placenames being in Celtic placename order: "Element/personal name/word", rather than "Personal name/word/element", as with Old English placenames.

It is known locally as "Skem", with a further distinction being made between "Old Skem" (the area which was a small mining town prior to 1961) and the broader swathe of development on the east side of the town.

Early history

Until the creation of Skelmersdale Urban District Council at the end of the 19th century, the town was part of the Parish of Ormskirk in the West Derby hundred, an ancient subdivision of Lancashire, covering the southwest of the county.

In the mid-14th century, the manor of Skelmersdale was held by William Dacre, 2nd Baron Dacre.

Skelmersdale's population in 1851 was only 760, but 50 years later it had increased to 5,699. It was a busy coal mining town. Sadly, there were over 100 fatalities in Skelmersdale collieries from 1851 to 1900, according to the Reports of the Inspectors of Coal Mines, and an unknown number of serious injuries. In 1880 there were 14 Skelmersdale colleries – most of them closed in the 1920s and '30s.

Skelmersdale war memorial
Skelmersdale war memorial

The miners, many of whom were Welsh immigrants, brought with them their own brand of Nonconformist Christianity. By the start of the 20th century there were at least six dissenting chapels in the town: two Wesleyan (Berry Street, closed in the 1920s, and Liverpool Road, closed 1969), an independent Methodist, a Primitive Methodist, a Congregational, and a Welsh Chapel (closed in 1963).

Today, there is little to remind people that the town was ever associated with the once great Lancashire Coalfield.

There were also numerous brickworks in the area, and in the early-20th century Victoria County History, Skelmersdale was described as "a particularly bare, unpleasing district" owing to its coal mines and brickworks.

New town

Skelmersdale was designated a New Town in 1961, designed to house overspill population from the north Merseyside conurbation. The town was the first in the second wave of designations.

Due to the arrival of a large number of former Liverpool residents, the town retains a strong cultural association with Liverpool. Although the traditional accent may perhaps be exaggerated upon in younger generations, the role of Liverpool in the recent history of Skelmersdale cannot be understated, and many do still feel a close connection with the city.

2006 was to see a regeneration drive for the town coordinated through English Partnerships and the Northwest Regional Development Agency and publicly headed by the designer Wayne Hemingway. Among the proposals was a new central focus for the entertainment and commerce for the town in the evening.

In 2012, a £20m vision to create a thriving town centre for Skelmersdale was revealed. It is expected to create as many as up to 500 permanent jobs, and current projections seem to satisfy that target. Although Skelmersdale faces a looming employment crisis, the regeneration of the town centre is a step towards recovery, and up to 100 extra jobs would be generated during the scheme's construction phase alone.

Proposals include a new food store as well as number of bars, shops and restaurants, and plans to include a five-screen cinema are also in the works. A new promenade would be fronted by these establishments to overlook the Tawd Valley Park, and a new civic square would also be created between the Concourse Shopping Centre and the town library. Regeneration specialists St Modwen have been working on the proposals with West Lancashire Council and the Homes and Communities Agency. As of February 2017, none of these developments have yet been realised.

Transport

Road

Hope Island
Hope Island, one of many roundabouts found within Skelmersdale.

Skelmersdale was originally designed to work on a roundabout system, on which it still sits today. For ease of access there is a vast subway network allowing pedestrians to move through the town without needing to cross potentially hazardous roads. However, in recent years, the subway system has been called into question with regards to its safety and sustainability, as they are not regularly maintained by the county council.

There are no traffic lights in the town. Skelmersdale's road system has improved with better signage, although visitors still frequently get lost.

The M58 motorway (Liverpool – Wigan Motorway) runs along the south of Skelmersdale from the nearby M6 motorway to the Switch Island interchange at Liverpool. The A570 and the A577 both provide connections.

The New Town areas of Skelmersdale have a road-naming system where "Road" and "Street" are rarely used and single-name roads are common, e.g. Abbeywood, Fairburn, Brierfield, Thornwood. "Road", "Street", "Lane" and "Drive" do appear in road names, but only in the parts of the town (bordering on Ormskirk, St. Helens and Wigan) that pre-date the New Town development. The road names in New Town areas are also arranged in a loosely alphabetical format with large areas being defined by a single letter, for example Larkhill, Leeswood, Ledburn and Lindens all connect to Ashley Road in the Ashurst area.

Roads in the industrial estates and the main roads in the town such as Gillibrands Road follow the usual naming conventions, although the industrial estates do feature street names beginning with the same letter (such as Pikelaw Place, Penketh Place, Pinfold Place, Priorswood Place) all part of the Pimbo Industrial Estate.

Bus

From September 2011, the company providing most of Skelmersdale's bus services, Arriva, closed their depot in Skelmersdale, which employed 129 people. The depot was first constructed for Ribble Motors in the 1970s, and the premises will now be sold. Skelmersdale is now served by buses from Arriva depots in St. Helens, Bootle and Southport.

Rail

Since the closure of Skelmersdale railway station in 1956, the town has become the second most populous town in the North West Region (after Leigh, Greater Manchester) without a railway station. The nearest railway station is Upholland railway station on the Wigan Wallgate to Kirkby branch line (historically part of the Liverpool and Bury Railway line.) The Skelmersdale Branch previously connected Skelmersdale to Ormskirk and Rainford Junction.

In March 2009, Network Rail proposed to extend the existing quarter-hourly Liverpool Central to Kirkby service, to terminate at a new station in the centre of Skelmersdale. Rainford will then become an interchange station for services to and from Wigan Wallgate. In June 2009, the Association of Train Operating Companies published a report, Connecting Communities, which also recommended the opening of a new rail link to Skelmersdale. This time the recommendation was via the Skelmersdale Branch from Ormskirk. In February 2017, Lancashire County Council identified the site of the form Glenburn Sports College / Westbank Campus site as the preferred location for a railway station for the town. Despite the Glenburn Sports College being owned by the council, the Westbank Campus site is owned by Newcastle College and requires purchase by the council in order for the station to be built.

Cadet Forces

Skelmersdale has units of the Air Training Corps, Army Cadet Force and Sea Cadet Corps. These units take part in the local community life and are routinely seen attending the Remembrance Sunday parade in the old town.

1439 (Skelmersdale) Squadron - Squadron Crest - College of Arms Approved Version
1439 Sqn Crest showing Ashurst Beacon and Canadian Maple Leaf

Air Training Corps

1439 (Skelmersdale) Squadron, Air Cadets, formed at Upholland Grammar School in 1941 as 'The Beacon Squadron' and provided airmanship training for young men and those about to join the RAF in time for the Battle of Britain. The Squadron continues to provide airmanship training to young men and women in addition to other activities. They are based on Daniels Lane.

Army Cadet Force

The Army Cadets are part of 'S' Company of the Lancashire Force. They are based at Daniels Lane.

Sea Cadet Corps

The Sea Cadets are also well established in Skelmersdale as "TS Rodney" and are based at Tawd Road.

Twin towns

West Lancashire is twinned with Erkrath (Germany), Cergy-Pontoise (France), and Silent Hill, West Virginia (USA).

Economy

Although consisting predominantly of housing estates, Skelmersdale's industry includes the Co-operative Bank which employs 650 people, distribution centres for Asda, P&G, Victorian Plumbing, a Walkers snack food factory, Chemist 4 U and many others. Skelmersdale houses the corporate base and a distribution centre for Matalan, the discount clothing and homewares store. Frederick's Dairies, who make ice cream for Cadbury, is located in Skelmersdale.

Town centre

Skelmersdale's town centre is made up of the Concourse Shopping Centre, (colloquially known as "the Connie") as well as an Asda supermarket, a library, a swimming pool and gym named after former Minister of Health Aneurin Bevan, another gym, West Lancashire College's main campus, a car garage and a new development including a Lidl supermarket and a B&M store.

The Concourse is home to a number of national chain stores such as Poundland, Home Bargains and Argos, as well as a McDonald's restaurant and KFC, both of which are located in the nearby car park. In early 2020, a Domino's Pizza chain was opened on the ground floor. The Concourse used to have an artwork by Alan Boyson, in the shape of a pyramid. The pyramid was located in front of the entrance opposite the ecumenical centre until the early to mid-1980s but was removed for safety reasons.

There are also smaller shopping parades in Skelmersdale which include Sandy Lane Shopping Centre, Digmoor Parade and Ashurst Shopping Centre.

Education and Culture

Skelmersdale has a number of primary schools, and had two high schools: Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Engineering College and Lathom High School. Glenburn Sports College closed on 31 August 2016 following an unsuccessful campaign backed by local MP Rosie Cooper to prevent the closure.

West Lancashire College has a campus in the centre of the town. The college merged with Newcastle College in 2007 and was graded as 'outstanding' in a recent Ofsted inspection. In 2021, Professor Brian Cox launched the college's 'School of Science', a £1.3 million facility with the intention of increasing the number of students who study Science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

There is a Transcendental Meditation movement community within Skelmersdale, called "European Sidhaland". It has a Maharishi School which, as of 2019, performed 'well above average' according to Ofsted. In 2011, it was one of 24 schools that applied for and received government funding as a flagship free school.

Skelmersdale is also home to a large public library with facilities including free internet access and an extensive local history section.

The town is host to a number of cultural and social organisations, such as the Artz Centre which provides opportunities in creative fields, and The Birchwood Centre which aims to reduce social isolation and homelessness.

The town featured in TV series Utopia and features in the musical Blood Brothers.

Social issues

According to urban planning consultancy Space Syntax, Skelmersdale's fragmented streets have made its centre relatively inaccessible and this has resulted in segregated land use. According to a 2017 Lancashire County Council report, Skelmersdale has one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty in Lancashire at 27%, and the highest accident and emergency attendance rate in Lancashire for 0-4 and 5-19 year olds. Furthermore, Skelmersdale's poverty levels are above the national average.

Sports

The town's football team, Skelmersdale United F.C., plays in the Premier Division of the North West Counties Football League and was a FA Vase winner in 1971. One of its former players, Steve Heighway, went on to play for Liverpool. Former Everton midfielder Leon Osman, who takes his son to Dalton St Michael's Primary School in nearby Dalton, played for the club in his youth. Former Cardiff City player Craig Noone also once played for the club. Skelmersdale Football Club is currently located at JMO Sports Park in the town.

The town is host to an archery club, the Bowmen of Skelmersdale, whose collective members hold 19 county records and 14 world records held by three members of the same family, (Melissa-Jane, Harriet and Gary Daniel), 6 of which were claimed at the National Flight Championships on 19 August 2006 held at RAF Church Fenton. Furthermore, Skelmersdale Cricket Club was established in 1891.

Notable people

  • Footballer Leon Osman was born in Wigan, but raised in Skelmersdale. He attended Up Holland High School and Winstanley College.
  • Matt Woods, a footballer, was born in Skelmersdale. He played for multiple clubs, but most notably Everton F.C. and Blackburn Rovers F.C.
  • John Anderton, professional footballer born in Skelmersdale.
  • Thomas Aspinwall, trade unionist born in Bickerstaffe but lived in Skelmersdale.
  • Stephen James Bennett, musician and writer
  • John Littlewood, chess player, born in Sheffield, resided in Skelmersdale.
  • Harry Swainston, football player at the turn of the 20th century with Burnley

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