ASK Star readers between 1973 and 2009 what page they turned to first every week and it’s a pretty safe bet “Whalley’s World” would be the answer on most lips.

Alan Whalley kept St Helens smiling over four decades as he served up a magic menu of larger than life characters and nuggets of nostalgia every week with his sublime storytelling skill.

Alan passed away last October, but we’re sure he’d be tickled pink to know his award winning words were making a timely comeback to the Star’s pages to inject a little cheer in these days of unprecedented darkness, tragedy and fear. 

This week’s piece from the archives shares some memories of Carr Mill Dam.

THE old water-wheel has been spinning merrily following a query from Billinge reader Arthur Robinson in which he asked whether there was ever a working mill on the banks of Carr Mill Dam.

A cluster of correspondents have now written in, confirming that there was, indeed, a water-powered corn mill close to the ‘Happy Valley’ overflow of that lovely lake-like expanse.

And it appears that it was not the only mill which once operated in that particular neck of the woods.

Joe Powell, who lives in Clinkham Wood, within splashing distance of the historic dam, has researched deeply into that particular area.

From local archives, he dug up a piece by a certain F. R. Pope which states: “The place itself was formerly known as Carr - an old Norse word meaning marsh.

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The mill was a corn mill owned by Lord Gerrard and was water-driven, situated on the ‘Black Brook’ (otherwise known as Rainford Brook) a little below the channel leading water from the dam.”

St Helens Star:

Happy Valley

This ‘double-named’ brook continued to Stanley Bank, in the direction of Blackbrook, where it powered another corn mill.

The Carr mill was also recorded by historian Yates, being shown on his 1786 map which was surveyed in 1780.

A 19th-century map showed the mill to have been situated near the dam’s steep sluice, built during the 1960s to provide additional run-off for the British Sidac company.

And Joe adds: “From my childhood memories of the area, there was never any sign of the mill buildings. But any remnants would probably have been buried under the embankment when the dam was enlarged for the third time to accommodate the nearby railways (the LNWR’s Victorian marker-posts are still to be seen).”

But, he adds, that particular mill was not the first in a district then known as Carr.

He quotes from Gores General Advertiser of February, 1784: “There was also a small private canal between the Stanley Copper Mill at Blackbrook (at the head of an arm of the Sankey Navigation) and the mills at Carr Pool, higher up the Black Brook.”

This was described in 1784 as a navigable canal with a boat on it, operating on the half-mile stretch between the mill at Carr and those at Stanley.

A gleaning from the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire reveals that in March 1720, Edward Hall “secured from Sir William Gerrard of Garswood a 30-year lease of Carr Mill, Ashton-in-Makerfield,” which suggests that, in those ancient times, Carr Mill came within the Ashton diocese.

The Carr mill of this period operated as a forge, apparently forming iron ingots that were floated down to the Stanley Bank slitting mill, where metal was sliced by water power.

In the Historic Society’s section on Charcoal Ironmasters (1600-1785) is the following note: “For the low rent of £32, the lease envisaged the building of one or more furnaces and forges, the rebuilding of the dam head and the possible creation of three or four new mill pools.”

But Joe points out that it was unlikely that more than one furnace was actually built, as there is reference to just a single one in the next lease, dated 1759.

The Carr iron mill was closed about 1750 after a trade slump.

Says Joe: “My own conclusion, as to the siting of the first mill(s) would be on the railway side of the dam, taking a straight line from the Waterside Hotel when looking across to Billinge Beacon.” This, he adds, would fit in with the old ‘buried village’ theory, with the foundations of the original mill probably under water in that area.

Regular contributor Kevin Heneghan adds extra grist to the mill. He says: “The mill was located by the old outfall, where water ran down steps through the Happy Valley and underneath the viaduct.”

Happy Valley is a grassy, sloping stretch of land to which local folk in their hundreds would swarm during immediate postwar The mill was closed when the dam level was raised by four feet, and the last miller, a fellow named Harris, moved to premises on Blackbrook Brow, Haydock, carrying on business there as a corn dealer.

“Older Blackbrookers,” Kevin adds, “will remember this premises as the place where Tom Arkwright later worked for many years as a clogger and boot repairer.”