During my youth, Sunday walks often included a walk from my home in St Annes, along the railway track, on a pathway through what is now the Nature Reserve on Clifton Drive, from Highbury Bridge and what we knew as ‘Gilletts Farm’ (Cross Slack Farm) to Squires Gate. Usually the whole family turned out, Mum Dad, brothers Sisters and my Grandad, the font of all wisdom to me then. ‘Pop’ had been something of a character in his day and recalled his youth playing on the beach and in the sand hills. We had our moments too with visits to ‘Gilletts Farm’ to see Old Billy Gillett’s Ferrets and chat with him about what used to be, although all those childhood conversations now lost in time.
Looking back on those times, those walks along the railway and the associated stories fascinated me. On the other side of the tracks were a couple of old and derelict cottages. Pop said they had had their thatched roofs destroyed by sparks from a passing train. I was to learn that this was all that remained of the ‘Hamlet’ known as Cross Slack. I was intrigued! Who had lived there? What did they do? Where did they go? And, when did all this take place?
Interestingly, the first ‘St Annes’ Railway Halt was located at Cross Slack, opened in 1863. The Halt was relocated to its present site in 1873, retaining its name as ‘Cross Slack’, changing to ‘St Annes On The Sea’ in 1875.
Ditchfield (1909) refer to several definitions of ‘Crosses’ in Lancashire place names, suggesting that they didn’t necessarily have a religious connection. In addition to the Preaching, churchyard and ‘Weeping’ crosses (I.e. those marking stages at which a coffin may be rested on the road to the burial ground), there were those marking Boundaries and Meres; Crossroads, Guide Posts, Memorials and even Murders.
The nearby ditch and track known locally as Division Lane, marked the often disputed and much researched boundary between The Manor of Layton and the Priory of Lytham. Following a judgement in favour of Lytham, Division Lane marked the northern boundary of the Priory land. The ‘Cross’ in Cross Slack determined that boundary. The ‘Boundary’ is referred to by Crofton (1901), where he states ‘This slack took its name from the boundary cross which was erected by Richard FitzRoger about 1199, to mark the limits of Lytham Parish, which was then granted by him to the monks of Durham.’.
Murphy (2009), in his history of the Old Links Golf Club, records the ‘Cross’ being at the ‘western side of the Cemetery of Kilgrimol, now beneath the 10th Fairway, where locals and shipwrecked Seamen were buried until 1872.’ He goes on to define ‘Slack’ being derived from a old Norse word ‘Slakki’, referring to a shallow dell, or the Scottish for a boggy place. Urban (1842) suggests ‘Cross Slack was original termed Churchyard Slack, from there having been a religious oratory or cemetery there’.
Crofton (1901) helpfully provides the origins of The term ‘Slack’ as ‘a hollow or valley, but is generally understood as a valley containing a pool or swamp’.
In any event, a place in the sand where fresh water might be plentiful. Almost opposite Cross Slack, there is still a pool and boggy area on what is now the Nature Reserve.
Maps of the area are not helpful. Many don’t show the settlement of ‘Cross Slack’, those that do show a tiny cluster of houses of 2 to 5, in spite of Census returns showing up to six homes at various times.
Shakeshaft (2008) describes a 1636 lease agreement for ‘Trinity Salthouse of Cross Slack’ and a 1670 Quarter Sessions record relating to a ‘George Saltus of Cross Slack, with additional references to James Webster and John Gaulter being fined 1 penny for failing to provide turf for Lytham Hall in 1691 and an Inventory Value for property owned by Christopher Hoole of Cross Slack in the 1720’s, so it can be assumed that residences occupied the land for over 500 years.
Link to additional maps of Cross Slack
The Hamlet itself appears in Census entries since 1841, sandwiched between ‘Headroom Gate’ and ‘Common Side’, as follows:
In early days, subsistence arming and fishing seem to be the main occupations of the residents throughout, punctuated by salvaging of cargoes and timber from wrecks along the coast. Fuel certainly from driftwood and turves cut and dried from the peaty land thereabouts. Indeed in my childhood, we fed the fire with peat blocks, though I doubt they were cut locally then. The produce and control of the activities of the farm was subject to survey and Manorial Court jurisdiction. In fact Shakeshaft reveals the restrictions placed on the increasing number of cattle grazing the land, with farmers seeking and renting new pastures at Heyhouses, Freckleton Marsh and , size of the farms to likely hold a few cattle, with little arable to support the families and making a contribution to the revenues of Lytham Hall Estate.
Nanny Fisher seems to have been Cross Slack’s longest resident, appearing first in 1841 Census Return as ‘Nancy’, aged 11 years. She’s living with her father, Thomas, still listed as a Labourer at 70 years mother Nancy and siblings Nicholas 15 Edward 11 years. By 1851 Thomas is dead and the Head of the household is ‘Nanny’ at 63 a ‘Servant’, living with Edward now 17 and an Agricultural Labourer. The Census doesn’t mention the Fishers, until 1871 When Edward has his own family: a wife Jane, Daughter Ann, Twins Elizabeth & Mary, and son Thomas. 1881 sees Edward a Farmer with 3 Acres, and a larger family, including a second set of twins. Looking at the plans to Fishers Cottage (Murphy, 2009) it’s impossible to imagine how the family managed in a small 2 up 2 down thatched cottage.
With the burgeoning growth of St Annes, the family develop new skills and clearly earn a living for the family: Edward snr and eldest Son are Market Gardeners, John is a Cab Driver, Jane and Maggie are Laundry Maids. Young Edward becomes a Gamekeeper. By 1901 he’s Greenkeeper for the ‘new’ Old Links Golf Club, the Hamlet having been swallowed into the enlarged Golf Course.
Trailing the fortunes of the families of Cross Slack is frought with confusion, the Marriage Registers of St Anne’s Church and St Cuthbert’s, show much intermarrying of the inhabitants, with all the Surnames featuring. But that’s a challenge for another day!
One of the last cottages to survive, referred to as ‘Granny Fishers’, was the home of Edward (Ned) and Jane and their 9 offspring. Murphy provides a fascinating account of how Granny provided sustenance for the Golfers.
Keepers Cottage, close to the now demolished Railway Bridge and close to the 16th Tee, was occupied by Edward Jnr and his wife Elizabeth and young daughter Doris. It had been provided by Lytham Hall Estate as part of remuneration, when Edward became Gamekeeper. When Edward Jnr became Greenkeeper at the Golf Club, the 1911 Census reveals that the Golf Professional Herbert Stor was a Boarder at the Cottage.
Photographs in the Murphy’s book give a clue as to what happened to both cottages. Granny Fishers cottage was destroyed by fire, (bearing out my Grandad’s account) although the ruins remained until the mid 1960’s. They were demolished to provide the base for a new 16th Tee on the Course. Keepers Cottage, remained the home of the Head Groundsman until the 1940’s.
Cross Slack Farm, or Gilletts Farm, one of 31 local farms (Shakeshaft, 2008, pp xv111-xix) located adjacent to the Old Links Club House and home to the Gillett family since 1869, was demolished in the mid 1960’s. The last resident William George (Billy) Gillett, died on 23 Sept 1963.
The family names associated with Cross Slack remain in St Annes and over the years have contributed to the Town’s good fortune.
This short article has been an attempt to raise the profile of Cross Slack.
There are plenty more opportunities for further research into Family histories, Newspaper Reports and the like, perhaps for a later update.
My Grandad for planting the inspiration for this article
Ted Walker, Archivist & Historian Extraordinaire, St Annes Old Links Golf Club
St Annes Library for their resources.
References and sources:
Crofton, H.T., 1901, ‘Wind Action on the Lancashire Coast: The Sandhills at St Annes on the Sea’, Manchester City News April 27, 1901, Available here.
Ditchfield, P.H., 1909 , ‘The Crosses of Lancashire’ in Fishwick (Ed), Memorials of Old Lancashire, pp113, Bemrose & Son, London, Available online.
Murphy, T., 2009, St. Annes Old Links Golf Club, published by the Club. Pickering & Bowker, London.
Shakeshaft, P., 2008, St Anne’s on the Sea: A History, Carnegie Publishing,
Urban S (Pseud. Edward Cave)., 1842, Early History of the Coast of Lancashire, in Gentlemans Magazine and Historical Chronicle, Vol 18 available at: Google Books as a reprint.
Watson, R., & Marion E. McClintock, M.E., 1979, Traditional Houses of the Fylde, CNWRS, University of Lancaster..
Manorial Records & Manor Court Rolls for Lytham Manor at Lancashire Archives. Catalogue here.