Gordon's story

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BORN and raised in Preston and never having lived in the Garstang area, there is no way that historian Gordon Storey would claim a Garstonian birthright. But he's in no doubt, when he claims that Barnacre is his spiritual home.

By revealing his claim to ancestral rights, a fascinating but somewhat tragic story comes to life, virtually from beyond the grave.

And the circumstances that lead to Gordon's desire to delve into the past, proves to be every bit as intriguing as the facts that he uncovers.

Although as a young boy Gordon was aware of family connections with Garstang, he was unaware of the extent of his family ties with the area and having grown into a dedicated career man with family responsibilities, he just didn't get around to finding out.

Remarkably, it was over 60 years later, after both Gordon and his wife Barbara had retired, that his quest to research his family history began, through what can best be described, simply, as a twist of fate.

After retirement the couple regularly walked in the Garstang area and they both shared an unusual affinity for Barnacre, which Gordon couldn't really understand at first.

He explains: "We seemed to be drawn to Barnacre for some reason or other, but after we had covered nearly all the local footpaths I began to wonder if there was any history attached to the place.

"I rather doubted that there would be much interest, as it just appeared to be an area with a few scattered farms and cottages."

But there was a lot more to Barnacre than initially met the eye as Gordon was to find out, but not before he had joined the Historical Society and had taken a university course on local history.

He recalls: "I saw an announcement in the local paper, that Fleetwood Historical Society were having a talk on 'North Lancashire Landowners' and I went along hoping to learn something about Barnacre.

"Although nothing came up about the place, I did get information on a course, 'Researching Local History' at Lancaster University and I applied and was accepted.

"After a period at Lancaster I moved on to the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, where I took a combined honours degree in history and sociology, majoring in history."

Ironically, Gordon was awarded his honours degree exactly 49 years after first attending the Harris College in Preston, which later became the university, but more memorably, he received his degree at the same time that his bus pass was issued!

And Gordon remembers well his thoughts at the time, joking: "I must have been an extremely slow learner or a late developer!"

It was during his research into local history at Lancaster University that Gordon first got the family calling, when he came across entries for both his grandparents and great-grandparents from the census returns.

Other members of the family began to show an interest in Gordon's research and it wasn't long before he was inundated with requests to pass on information to various relatives.

He recalls: "As soon as word got around the family of my research, I got a number of requests for progress reports.

"To answer all the questions, I really had to start researching the family history and it was as though fate had taken a hand and both the historical and family research went hand-in-glove."

But his journey into the past, although pleasant and rewarding in many respects, also revealed a darker side, when a tragic family secret was revealed.

Gordon explains: "It is often said that if you are researching your family history and expect to find someone rich and famous, you are just as likely to find the odd murder, which is exactly what I did.

"It was a major tragedy that occurred on Whit Tuesday in 1901, when a young mother who was suffering from severe depression, drowned her three young children in the dolly tub.

"She was held in custody at Lancaster Assizes, but was found unfit to plead and was committed to Lancaster Asylum.

"The tragedy took place over 30 years before I was born and the unfortunate children were my second cousins."

The heart rending story was reported nationally and the wayside cottage where the infamous events took place, became the venue for thousands of sightseers. The cottage has since been demolished many years ago.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom and Gordon succeeded in tracing the Cook family (on his mother's side) back as far as Martin Cook, the son of John, who was christened in Shireshead Chapel in 1745.

On his father's side he managed to get back to 1835 and discovered that his great-grandfather was a Yorkshireman and his grand-father Storey was the head gamekeeper on the Barnacre estate until 1925, when he retired and moved to a poultry farm in Broughton.

Family properties, as well as people, play an important role in Gordon's research, not least because many of them are still standing and form a part of the family heritage.

In particular is Lees Farm, which was the family home for all on 100 years and was first occupied by his great grand-parents Henry and Mary Anne Cook, who moved there from Sullom Cottage and where both his grandmother and mother were born, along with her nine brothers and sisters.

It's difficult to see how they all fitted into the quaint little cottage, but it's understood that the mod-cons of the day consisted of a 'twin seater loo' which may well have helped.

Heald Farm was the home of great grand-parents, Robert and Elizabeth Thompson, before they moved into Longhouse Farm, near Oakenclough, and Gordon's father Norman was born and lived at Keeper's Cottage.

In the 1920s, Gordon's father was a bus driver with Pilot Buses of Garstang, until the firm was bought out by Ribble Motors. After moving to Burnley for a couple of years, he was later transferred to Preston and went to live in Fulwood.

The move from the Garstang area effectively marked the end of an era and after breaking with family tradition after a number of centuries, signalled a new beginning for Gordon's family.

Gordon was actually born in Fulwood and was schooled locally, attending Preston Grammar School before starting work as an apprentice toolmaker.

Over the next year he attended night school classes at the Harris College, before joining the Navy when he was 17.

During the next seven years he served both on shore and aboard HMS Devonshire, a cruiser assigned to training duties in the West Indies, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, before joining the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle, as a leading radio/radar mechanic.

After leaving the Navy, he worked as an instrument mechanic with the Atomic Energy Authority at Salwick.

He moved on to work as an instrument engineer at ICI in Fleetwood, until his early retirement in 1991.

Although Gordon retired some years ago, he is just as busy as ever and is currently the Chairman/Secretary of the Fleetwood Historical Society.

He has regularly given talks entitled, 'The Ancient Township of Barnacre with Bonds', 'Watermills on the River Wyre' and 'The History of the Fylde Waterworks Company.'