'Owd Jemmy' Jenkinson

'Owd Jemmy' Jenkinson of Eagland Hill
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Eagland Hill Pioneers - James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles

James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles (or Hoyles) founded the Hamlet of Eagland Hill, Pilling, in the year 1813 or 1814.

In 1869, the Reverend J. D. Banister described their work in reclaiming Pilling Moss in a series of letters to the Editor of the Preston Herald.

The Reverend James Dawson Banister was appointed to the living of St John The Baptist Church, Pilling, in 1826, a position he held until his retirement, at the age of 78, in 1876. Reverend Banister had a great interest and concern for the well-being of his parishioners, no matter what their religious persuasions were. He wrote as follows:

"It was in the year 1813 or 1814 that James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles (or Hoyles), who were natives of Churchtown and Nateby, selected sites for cottages and farm buildings at Eagland Hill, a portion of the Moss included in the lease of 1797 to Mr George Parkinson. The sites selected were about a mile further into the interior of the Moss than Wood’s Hill, but at that time without any communication with it by any road.

Eagland Hill was a natural mound of sand, slightly elevated, but surrounded on each side by bog and deep and broad tarns. There was at that time no approach to Eagland Hill by any road, save and except such as a vigorous sportsman in quest for game might risk with a fear of occasionally sinking to his armpits in a swampy bog.

It was in this desolate place that these two colonists, James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles, located themselves, depending entirely upon their own energies for their future prospects in life.

It may however be noticed that the Reverend Dr. Slater, a Roman Catholic Priest, had also at that time leased the Bradshaw Lane Moss, an adjoining district of great bog, from Messrs. Hornby and Trafford, and was purposing to erect a farmhouse at Birks, another elevated mound of sand about half a mile west from Eagland Hill. The approach to Dr. Slater’s new projected buildings was intended to be from a northerly direction up Bradshaw Lane, but to reach the site of these buildings he had to form a road over the bog of a mile or more in length from another farmhouse at Bradshaw Lane Head, which he had recently erected. The road from Pilling to to Bradshaw Lane Head was at that time a miserable road, chiefly frequented for carting turves for fuel, and occasionally as an occupation road to certain lands in cultivation after the turbary had been cut away. Dr. Slater built his farmstead at Birks with bricks and had to convey his materials there in any way his ingenuity could devise.

It was as already stated that at Eagland Hill, James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles had fixed on the place for their future dwellings.

James Jenkinson's Cottage

The materials for building were chiefly clay, intermixed with heath to bind the clay together in the walls. The process of building was slow and tedious. When the foundations of their cabins were sunk and levelled, about nine inches in height of clay wall was formed. This height of clay wall had then to be dried, and hardened by the sun and favourable weather.

The superstructure could not proceed until the wall was dry and consolidated. This process of wall building and drying had to be repeated in a similar manner until a sufficient height of wall was attained. The work was necessarily slow, and required much care and attention to keep the walls perpendicular. The walls, however, when well and properly made, were impervious to wind and rain, and were dry and warm, and when lime washed within and without, assumed a comfortable appearance. Lintels of wood over the doorways and windows, and something of bond-timber in the walls helped materially to brace and bind the whole building together and make it a moderately stable edifice.

But while there houses and farm buildings were progressing, these new colonists and their families required the necessaries of life, and these had to be gained by their own daily labour at farm houses a mile or more distant from Eagland Hill. These enterprising and adventurous men had no private means to enable them to build their houses or support their families. Everything depended, with Gods blessing, on their own labours and persevering industry.

By day they generally worked for the farmer at Eskham House, and after their usual daily hours of labour were completed on the farm, they devoted such spare time as they could command to the completion of their future habitations, and the cultivation of a portion of the surrounding bog. In the summer evenings there would be some spare time, after the burden and labours of the day had ended at the old Eskham farm, but in the winter season the days labour and days light would necessarily close at the same time.

These men, however, under all the difficulties and disadvantages, manifested indomitable perseverance. Often I have heard James Jenkinson narrate the severe trials and privations he underwent for several years after he had taken up his abode on Eagland Hill. He has told me how indefatigably he and his neighbours worked by the light of the moon on a favourable night in the cultivation of the Moss land.

Open drains had first to be cut to carry off the water and lay the surface of the bog dry. Then clay or marl had to be applied to consolidate and decompose the Moss and make it productive for crops. Paring the surface sods, or as it was commonly called “push ploughing”, and burning these to ashes, was at first deemed a necessary course of Moss husbandry. The ashes of these sods were afterwards spread over the surface of the Moss as a manure and stimulant to vegetation. These new colonists at the commencement of the Moss cultivation had not the aid of horses, carts or roads to facilitate their labours, and their work to many men would have seemed insuperable. These men, however, persevered in their undertaking under all their difficulties, many a night as stated to me, did these hard working men cut the clay or the marl from a pit and then place it in a pannier and carry the wet and heavy burden on their own backs to the newly drained land.

Here was most assuredly a display of energy under difficulties, a struggle for life and death, and a hoping almost against hope. These men it must be known were not lessees under the owners of the Moss, but only sub-tenants under the farmer at Eskham House, and their conditions from him were to do all the work on the building of their houses as also finding all the materials as well as the drainage and cultivation of the land, without any aid whatever from him. Eagland Hill was a portion of the five hundred acres of Moss land under a lease for three lives as specified in the lease of 1797. At this time, 1814, Mr George Parkinson, the owner of one third of the Eskham Estate was not the tenant in possession of Eskham, but had let the farm to a sub-tenant, so that James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles were several degrees down in the scale of tenancy, and as such could expect little aid under any agreement they made with the tenant at Eskham House.

Nevertheless, under all their difficulties and privations in reclaiming a considerable portion of this Moss, and by dint of energy they accomplished a great work and gave an example in Moss cultivation of what industry and perseverance can effect.

After the erection of the buildings and cultivation of some the land at Eagland Hill, the necessity of roads became imperative. As already stated, the Reverend Dr. Slater was about the same time building a farm house at Birks, and would require a road to his house from Pilling. The settlers at Eagland Hill then formed a road from their own dwellings to the Birks, and then jointly with the doctor, completed a road from the Birks to Bradshaw Lane Head. This road was their first opening to the outside world, and though very defective, it gave them a road to the Mill at Pilling and circuitously to the Garstang Market. As the cultivation of these farms at Eagland Hill increased, the produce also proportionally increased and therefore the farmers needed more direct access to market. The outline of a road nearly due east from Eagland Hill to the road at Wood’s Hill was then formed, but being over the swampy bog all the distance it was a work of time to make it passable. After much labour and expense, this new line of road was completed, and is now the direct road for the farmers at Eagland Hill and the occupiers of several adjoining farms to the Garstang Market.

Following the erection of their houses, cultivation of a portion of the Moss, and the formation of roads to and from their adopted residences and farms, James Jenkinson and Joseph Isles were enjoying in some degree the fruits of their husbandry. They, however, in no degree relaxed in their efforts to extend yearly the cultivation of the great bog. As their families increased and grew up to manhood and womanhood, other houses had to be erected, and in the process of time their sons and daughters became important assistants in the cultivation of the Moss. The families of these first cultivators of the interior of the bog soon began rapidly to increase and multiply and replenish the earth, and to follow energetically in the footsteps in their system of bog cultivation, and the labours of their children have also been crowned with success.

When I state this I do not exclude other parties from a fair share of credit in reclaiming this once barren bog; but I may safely state that these industrious men already particularised were the first profitable and exemplary pioneers of cultivation in the centre of the Moss, and they accomplished the work under God’s blessing by their industry and perseverance.

This extensive tract of bog-land, which had been at the start of the century, not merely unprofitable, but in reality a poison bog, diffusing miasma, ague and low fever among the surrounding population, is now fertile in all cereal crops and other farm products, among which may be particularised, the potato, which is now extensively cultivated and is of the very best quality."

A report relating to the opening of the Mission Church of St Mark's at Eagland Hill, which appeared in the Preston Herald on the 23rd April 1870, also describes the area of former bog-land very favourably, as follows:
"Pilling was all astir on Wednesday; colours were flying in various parts of the district; carriages were moving in numbers on the long winding roads; farmers with their wives and daughters, gaily dressed up, were seen in the locality; and if a stranger had enquired the cause he would have been answered, as it where, "It's th' new church opening to-day." And so it was.

A place of worship centrally situated, at any rate more convenient than any of those already in existence, has long been wanted for the people living near and upon "The Moss". The new building opened on Wednesday is a kind of auxilliary mission church.

It stands upon the highest point of Pilling Moss - a strange dark tract of land with a history full of curiosity and interest, situated on the western side of Lancashire, between the Wyre and the estuary of Cockerham.

Many people have an idea that Pilling is a barren, swampy, dim and unfruitful part of the country, worth nothing, full of the hardest headed of clod hoppers, and given up to seagulls, curlews and uncivilised turf getters. But they are mistaken. In the centre, nay all round that monotonously level region, with its long lines of white smoke, burning from heaps of peat refuse, there are busy souls contending successfully against the rude natural obstacles of a long neglected locality, and turning the peat swamp and the wild bog into a fruitful garden.

Enterprising landlords and industrious farmers have transmuted the incoherent waste, the almost chaotic imbroglio of old Pilling into a charming agricultural arena, sending its produce into the busiest markets and towns of Lancashire, and competing with goods of more favoured places.

To be sure, there are still in the district uncouth and unproductive tracts of ground - patches here and there of boggy, rush-grown and heather covered land; but viewed generally, industry, with its potent alchemy, has changed the scene into one of fertility and use.

Meadow, pasture and arable land are visible in all directions; smiling farm houses and homesteads are dotted over its surface; a new railway will soon bring them into sharp communication with more distant localities; in the very centre of the moss the plough is busy doing its work, slowly, but well, and creating a new life in quarters which Fate seemed to have reserved for sterility and unending waste.

The new chapel, opened on Wednesday, stands upon what is called Eagland Hill. The first house ever erected on Pilling Moss was built here, by Mr James Jenkinson, a venerable old gentleman, now alive at 80 years of age, who laid the foundation stone of the new church on the 13th August 1869."

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