Heath Charnock was formerly in the ancient parish of Standish and a list of subscribers for the rebuilding of St Wilfrid’s Church, Standish, in 1582, shows that the number of dwellings in Heath Charnock was 34. A parish census of 1754 gives 57 dwellings and by 1764, the population was 393 persons. The census of 1921 records 1,252 persons – 591 males and 661 females. In 2001 the population was 2,065.
The earliest surviving reference to Heath Charnock is in a Papal Bull of 1190 relating to the Chartulary of Cockersand Abbey, by which the Lord of Heath Charnock, Ranulph Gogard, granted land in the township to the canons in return for their prayers for the souls of the family. For a time in the middle ages, Heath Charnock was known as Charnock Gogard.
Heath Charnock has had several industries. Much of it was agricultural, and as early as 1401 crops of corn, fine wheat, barley, beans, peas and oats were recorded in Plea Rolls. By the nineteenth century, and continuing into the first half of the twentieth, there were numerous small coal pits, with larger mines just outside the parish at Ellerbeck and Duxbury. There were also firebrick works, the largest of which is now under the M61 motorway.
Middletons’ Springfield cotton mill on Babylon Lane was a major employer from the second half of the nineteenth century. After the end of cotton manufacturing the mill site had various uses; it was finally demolished in the 1980s.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
The section through Heath Charnock was opened in 1799 as part of the southern section of the Lancaster canal. This was built in two parts, Kendal to Preston, and Walton Summit (north of Chorley) and Westhoughton., with a tramway connecting the two sections.
The Leeds and Liverpool canal originally planned to have its own section between Johnson’s Hillock and Parbold, but this was abandoned through a lack of money. It then came to an agreement with the Lancaster canal to use its southern section between Johnson’s Hillock and Wigan, taking over this section in 1864
During the nineteenth century it prospered and was used for carrying stone, coal and many other goods. The coming of the lorry finally saw commercial traffic on the Leeds and Liverpool dwindle. Commercial traffic continued along the main canal until 1964. Regular work stopped in 1972 when the movement of coal to Wigan Power Station ceased.
Through the later part of the twentieth century, the leisure potential of the canal began to be appreciated and it is now very popular , partly for its stunning scenery and partly for the long lock-free sections that are ideal for cruising.
The Bolton to Preston railway opened from Bolton to Heath Charnock in February 1841, terminating at a station known as Rawlinson Bridge. The next section to Chorley opened in December 1841, when Rawlinson Bridge closed, and it was fully opened in 1843. This line is still open, with the nearest stations to Heath Charnock in Adlington and Chorley.
A second railway from Wigan to Blackburn opened in December 1869. This closed to passengers in 1960, and to goods in 1971. It joined the Bolton and Preston line near the Adlington Heath Charnock border, diverging to Blackburn after Chorley station. It had a separate station in Adlington called White Bear, with stations at Red Rock and Boars Head between Adlington and Wigan.
A branch of this railway served Ellerbeck colliery, and, just to the north of canal bridge 71 at Rawlinson Lane, the remains of the bridge can be seen where it crossed the canal. The boatyard at this point was where coal was originally transferred from rail to barges, and a facility for this purpose is still visible. Ellerbeck colliery closed temporarily in 1932, and it is thought that rail traffic on the branch ceased at that time. When the colliery reopened in 1933, traffic went by road. The branch was dismantled by 1937. The branch also served Duxbury Park colliery, which closed in December 1917.