dam buster

John Fort

John Fort was the bomb-aimer on the Lancaster Bomber AJ-J, one of 18 aircraft taking part in Operation Chastise, 16-17 May, 1943. Operation Chastise is better known as the Dam Busters raid.

John was born at the Shooters Arms in Nelson on 4 July 1912 and references are made online to him having attended Christ Church School in Colne. Whilst no conclusive proof has been found in the school records – the admission registers do not survive for the period and no mention is made of him in the log book – it seems very likely: his brother Robert certainly attended and the school was across the road from Bents Brewery, the Fort family business and home. John’s aunt Annie was a teacher at the school, starting as a pupil there before becoming a pupil teacher. She eventually became head teacher at Lord Street School in the town.

John joined the RAF in 1929 and went on to serve as a member of the ground crew on the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious. When the Second World War came, he volunteered for air crew training during which John was selected as a specialist bomb-aimer. For his role in Operation Chastise John was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Image result for distinguished flying cross

He did not survive the war though. John died in a plane crashed only a few months later, on 15 Sep 1943. He has no known grave, but is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial,  as well as the main Colne war memorial…

…and the Christ Church memorial.

In 2015, the specially-made sight used by John to aim the “bouncing bomb” on the approach to Mohne dam was sold for over £41000. Read more.




Christ Church School records are at Lancashire Archives, reference SMCO/11

Posted in school, war | 1 Comment

leaving a note

front cover.jpgI found this pamphlet recently on a secondhand book stall, my eye caught by the wonderful cover design. It’s a really interesting brief history of the Nelson Weavers’ Association published in 1922 to mark its 50th anniversary.

You can read in full here.

It’s the note written on the back that makes it for me though. The grandiose image on the front contrasts wonderfully with the everyday, gritty request to “.. clean those 2 hens in coal shed” and the equally prosaic “Can you leave a key if you’re out at 5 Dad Please..”

back cover.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

going underground

Bronze Age flint knife found in Laneshawbridge

There’s a website where you can see archaeological finds made across the country by membrs of the public, including many discovered in Pendle. These include some of the oldest evidence of human activity in the area, thousands of years ago, and many other accidental survivals, remarkable hints at past lives from more recent centuries.

Cast copper alloy axe (probably dating to the Middle Bronze Age 1300 to 1150BC) found in Laneshawbridge

TheseCopper alloy whistle, probably for hawking (post-medieval, 1500 to 1800 AD) found in Laneshawbridge

These discoveries, along with over a million others nationwide, have been recorded as part of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. Find out more, and search the database here.




Posted in archaeology, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

the double identity of John Robinson of Colne #1 a meeting in the pub

What follows is a remarkable story. Not just in terms of content, what happens, but perhaps moreso because it has survived. It is a tale of deception, bureaucracy and the hardships of past times, which has reached us in a small bundle of legal papers. This survival is thanks to one man – Colne local historian Wilfred Spencer, who saved the bundle along with thousands of other bits and pieces of the town’s history.

It hard to know where to begin with it really, so we’ll start in a pub, the Bluebell on the outskirts of Colne. It’s as good a place as any.


The Bluebell is now a row of cottages and where perhaps there is a TV, cooker or sofa, one day in March, back in 1787, Philiss Barret met John Robinson. She, like him, was heading into town. Where Philiss had come from we don’t know, but John had just rolled in from over the hills to the east, in search of work. He was a shoemaker and carried the tools of his trade.

We don’t know what was said either, but for John and Philiss this was the start of something. One thing led to another and on 4 March 1788 the two were married in Skipton parish church.


That initial meeting was not just the start of Phillis and John’s relationship, but very much a second start for John, perhaps to him a fresh one. A new leaf.

John had been baptised on 6 January 1760, the son of Jeremiah and Hannah Drake, at Pudsey chapel in the county of York.  John and Philiss’s big day in Skipton was not the first time John had tied the knot: that had been on 27 September 1779 when, as John Drake, he had married Esther Riley of Bramley at Leeds.


John was no stranger to fatherhood either. He and Esther had had 6 children, 2 of whom had died. Esther though was still very much alive.

You see, John had been John Drake, husband to Esther and father of four until a day or so before he turned up at the Bluebell and introduced himself to Phillis as a Robinson, a name he didn’t quite pluck from nowhere: Robinson was his mother’s maiden name.

Drops of the truth leaked out at points over the next 30 years, but it was not until just after John’s death in 1826 that a thorough and expensive investigation was launched and the whole matter, as well as lots of the people involved, ended up before a judge. That’s when it all came out.

The road to the courts was a long one. Even when John met Phillis, just before Colne Fair, back in 1787, he was already a wanted man.

Leeds Intelligencer page 2 27 Mar 1787 - advert.jpg

The Leeds Intelligencer 27 March 1787

Coming soon: how the truth came out……..

Notes: The papers are part of the Wilfred Spencer collection at Lancashire Archives (reference DDSP)

Posted in life, poverty, work | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fox Clough


Posted in images now | Leave a comment

Fox Clough steam engine house

An impressive ruin, remote and mostly hidden by trees, still looking down on the water it was built to deal with over 200 years ago.

Constructed sometime before 1805 (it’s shown on a map of that date) and probably no earlier than the 1780s, the building housed a steam engine.

The south side of Colne’s south valley had been mined for centuries by this time and, out of a drift mine head, just a short way from the engine, down the hill by Waterside Bridge, tons of coal for the town’s mills came from deep inside the hillside.

The steam engine would have been an atmospheric or Newcomen engine of the same type as this one at the Black Country Living Museum:

Protected from the elements in the sturdy stone structure, the coal-fired boiler helped work the beam up and down on a pivot. One end of the beam protruded from an opening near the top and its pumping action was used to draw water up from the mine workings below so that they could be dug more easily and extensively.

Looking out from inside, huge pieces of worked masonry at ground level: what’s left of floor that supported the engine:

Looking in from the front:

And down from the rear:

The opening to the shaft up which the water was drawn is still visible:

Nearby are the remains of a small building – a workshop or store perhaps – and the steam has been covered in places, to allow access to the engine house across it (for coal supplies?) and maybe to better channel away the water brought up from below:

Posted in coal, images now, work | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

when your teeth let you down


Old Man in Waterside.png

The Yorkshire Gazette (York, England), Saturday, May 02, 1840


Posted in health, life, odd, trade, work | 2 Comments