VISITORS were given the last chance to look around the Horwich Locomotive Works erecting shop, of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, which turned the sleepy village into the heart of the first Northern Powerhouse. Demolition is imminent at the site to make way for a 1,700-home development. Rosalyn Roden reports.

HORWICHERS, heritage enthusiasts and councillors alike seized the opportunity to see a part of the town’s heritage for the last time.

The Horwich Loco Works erecting shop is due to be demolished to make way for a spine road which is “crucial” to the development and regeneration of the site.

Talks are currently underway to move the first locomotive built at Horwich Locomotive Works, No.1008, to the site. And it might be joined by another well-known engine, the miniature Works Engine ‘Wren’.

Developer Bluemantle, who are behind approved plans to build 1,700 new homes at the land, alongside Horwich Heritage and Bolton Council, organised a series of events to give visitors a ‘last look’ inside the erecting and repair shop.

Speaking at the event on Saturday, David Greenhalgh, leader of Bolton Council, said: “It is great to see so many faces from the Horwich community here today.

“These are exciting times ahead for Horwich. The Rivington Chase development will mark a new chapter. This development will help people to take their first step onto the property ladder.

“This will turn a brownfield site and former industrial estate into a vibrant community, creating jobs, leisure and community areas.

“Everyone will benefit from the new link road, giving improved access to the railway station and M61, which will be among the first in Greater Manchester to be built to this design.

“Just as this area has a bright future, we are also rightfully proud of its rich heritage.

“For decades the Loco Works played a vital role for Horwich and in the history of the locomotive industry.

“The Rivington Chase development will provide many opportunities to celebrate all that was achieved by many generations of loco workers, from the heritage court, to the heritage trails.”

Bolton Council has been in talks with the National Railway Museum in York to bring back some of the engines that were built at the site, which Cllr Greenhalgh says will “stand as monuments”, permanent reminders of the town’s proud history.

At the event, Bluemantle managing director Mark Caldwell also took the opportunity to update residents on the progress of the Rivington Chase site.

He said: “We have been involved in this project for the past 25 years. In the last 10 years we have worked with the council to secure the development of the site.

“This year is going to be an exciting year for Rivington Chase, in particular the construction of the link road.

“We are also excited to bring forward new business opportunities, such as Fluent Money, who are based at the site.

“The heritage of the Loco Works is very important for the people of Horwich and I know many of you will have friends and relatives who have worked here over the years.

“As you know, unfortunately because of the link road, the erection shop is having to be demolished.

“We are acutely aware of the sensitivity around this.

“Crucially, we are working with the council and in line with planning conditions that have been put in place, to see that the heritage and key features of that building are retained within the development.

“The heritage that we can save from the erection shop is going to be a key part of the site, in terms of public footpaths, roads and other design features.”

Rivington Chase, located on the site of the former Horwich Loco Works, is a £262million development that will provide 1700 homes on brownfield land.

In August, planning permission was granted for a link road, which will link Horwich town centre and Chorley New Road to Middlebrook retail park, Horwich railway station and the M61, via the Rivington Chase scheme.

Bluemantle says the road is “crucial” for improving access to the site and relieving pressure on other roads in the area, which get “very congested.”

The site will also have footpaths and cycling paths running adjacent to the link road and other roads throughout the site.

Bluemantle said the “only viable route” for the link road necessitates the demolition of the erecting and repair shop. The shop was a key part of the Loco Works, and was where trains were constructed and maintained for the old Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway. It opened in 1887 and closed down in 1983.

During demolition, historically significant artefacts within the shop will be preserved. A heritage architect from Cass Associates has been appointed, tasked with documenting every element and detail of the building to ensure the key elements are salvaged.

The aim is for the artefacts to form part of a heritage core on the Rivington Chase site, that reflects the history of the area. Residents are being invited to submit ideas for this.

Tim Wheeldon, Chief Operating Officer at Fluent, said: “The conceptual designs have been developed to reflect the local railway and steam locomotive heritage, to recapture décor from the Victorian times to modern day times, in line with the evolution of the railway industry.

"We will also be naming our meeting rooms and communal areas within the building to remember some of the names from days gone by such as: The Engine Shed, The Paint Shop, The Smithy and The Forge to name but a few. Needless to say, we are very excited about the future and the business’ commitment to a longer-term tenancy arrangement in Horwich.”

Works on the dismantling of the Erecting and Repair Shop have begun and the Rivington Chase link road is expected to be fully operational by 2021.