Roy’s passion for history led to village getting a war memorial

They call me a local historian, but I say ‘No, I am a local who is interested in history’ – so says Ribchester’s 77-year-old Roy Skilbeck.

Thursday, 28th August 2014, 7:30 am
Roy Skilbeck next to the memorial with some of his research.

Roy is a fountain of historical knowledge when it comes to both local and military history.

But it was not until the former painter and decorator retired that he was able to delve into his family history and start a family tree.

As he did so, little did Roy know how far the path would take him... from family to local and military history 
after he came across photos of his uncles who had fought in the First World War.

Roy Skilbeck next to the memorial with some of his research.

And it has all culminated in Ribchester now having its first village war memorial containing the names of all those from the village who lost their lives in both the world wars.

It has also led to the publication of Roy’s third book, “Village Pals”, about the young men from Longridge and district who served with the 170th Brigade of the 57th Division during the First World War. The book is dedicated to the memory of all who fought in it.

It is 12 years since Roy embarked on his family tree, his growing interest seeing him publish three books; founding Ribchester’s thriving historical society; becoming a regular a volunteer researcher at the Duke of Lancaster Infantry Museum at Fulwood Barracks; and being the instigator of the village war memorial and its association.

The memorial was officially unveiled earlier this month during a dedication ceremony the day before the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.

Besides the formation of the Ribchester War Memorial Association and the planning and fundraising for the structure, which was achieved in just 12 months, and completing Village Pals, Roy has also found time to give talks (becoming an accomplished speaker) and helped compile exhibitions at Longridge Heritage Centre, one of which is still running.

It has been an exceptional year and Roy says: “It has been a lot of work, but it has been worth every minute of it.”

Taking us back to the beginning, Roy says that what started out as an interest became a hobby and is now a passion.

Roy was born at 28 Blackburn Road, Ribchester, and his father, Walter, died in an accident when he was just 18 months old. His mother, Hilda, who was a Parkinson from Longridge before marrying Walter and moving to Ribchester, died when he was 12.

Fortunately for Roy, he had older siblings and the family was able to stay together. As a young boy in the 1940s he recalls visiting the home of his aunt and uncle in Little Lane, Longridge, where he became aware of a large framed portrait of a soldier on the wall of the dining room.

“On asking, I was told the photograph was that of my uncle, James, who had fought in the First World War,” says Roy.

“Having lost my parents quite early, when it came to me doing my family tree I suddenly realised I had no photos,” says Roy, who discovered a number of photographs at his auntie’s home.

“I didn’t know much about my two Parkinson uncles, James and William. I came across old photos of them both and a group photograph of them in the 2/2 West Lancashire Royal Field Artillery, but of equal interest was the discovery that some 100 men from the Longridge district, including Ribchester, Goosnargh, Chipping and Hurst Green, had enlisted in Longridge on the same day, May 21, 1915.”

After delving into his family history, the Skilbeck side of which took him back to 1670, he says that one night he was in the church’s chancel, looking at the roll 
of honour of the war dead at St Wilfrid’s Church, Ribchester.

“As I looked around to the people who were there I thought to myself ‘No-one here knows who these people on the roll of honour are’,” he says.

“It was then that I started to research through the names and get photographs of them and also research their background; where they died and which regiments they served with.

“I knew most of the family names and which families they belonged to, and I asked around for photos and documents which also tell you a lot. Then I went to the museum at Fulwood Barracks and I researched quite a few of them through there.”

This led to Roy publishing his first booklet, Debt of Honour, about the men from Ribchester and district who had died in the two world wars.

When Roy had finished his first book, he became a researcher at the museum and is now in his ninth year in the role.

With regard to his research into his two uncles and their fellow “village pals” he says he had a stroke of luck when someone lent him a notebook written during the First World War by Harry Clegg.

This mentioned William Skilbeck, his dad’s cousin, as well as other relations, which led to further research.

“I then realised I had enough information to do another book, and once I found these names in Longridge I started to contact relatives and it is amazing how much help came forward,” says Roy.

He has already sold 110 copies of Village Pals with £1 from each sale going to the War Memorial Fund, which is extremely close to his heart.

He recalls that at the beginning of last year he was approached, because of his military interests, to see if he was interested in doing something about the absence of a war memorial in Ribchester.

To cut a long story short, a public meeting was called, a committee formed, fund raising began, donations flooded in, £25,000 was raised, permission to rent a piece of council land was given and designs were drawn up by fellow resident Marc Mallam, resulting in the war memorial being in place and ready for the unveiling on August 3.

Roy says: “We wanted it to be a community thing rather than a few individuals and, fortunately, over the 12 months momentum built up and when it came to the actual unveiling we virtually had the whole of the village involved with supporting it.

“It is a beautiful spot, because it blends in with the surroundings and is so tranquil. Since it has been unveiled there has been a steady flow of people visiting it. I am absolutely delighted with the support we have had from the fantastic committee and the residents of the village. It has been just unbelievable.”

l Roy is still gathering information and can be contacted on 01254 878530.