Forestry Commission: 01606 882167
When visiting the woodland site at Sutton Manor in St Helens, perhaps to view the stunning new Dream sculpture, it's hard to appreciate that until quite recently this 230 acre site, located in the south of Sutton, was a highly productive colliery with enormous slag heaps. As one walks across the green open space, which is now managed and cared for by the Forestry Commission, one should reflect upon the fact that there are huge quantities of unmined coal still lying underneath your feet that are now highly unlikely ever to see the light of day. Also that so much blood, sweat and toil took place in near darkness beneath your footsteps throughout most of the twentieth century which cost the lives of sixty men.
The last coal mined at Sutton Manor Colliery was on Friday 24th May, 1991 with British Coal, (the successors to the National Coal Board), claiming that the pit was unproductive having apparently lost £23 million over the previous five years. Others point out that there were 40 years of coal reserves. At its peak during the 1960s the colliery employed over 1,000 miners and was annually producing over 300,000 tons of coal. However, all that's left to remind visitors to the site of its illustrious past are the old NCB gates in Jubits Lane.
By the end of 1992, the whole colliery site had been flattened. Budge Mining (now known as UK Coal) then spent two years with six staff in a mobile washroom, washing the coal that they picked out of the spoil heap. Then in February 2001, the Forestry Commission leased the site from St Helens Council and after consulting with the local community put project Wasteland to Woodland into operation.
There is a remarkable botanical diversity on the site which results in a diverse fauna, including Burnet moths on lucerne. Orchids and other wildflowers also thrive on the site and and the 'poorer' soils, which have not been improved for tree planting, result in drifts of yellow trefoils which are a food plant of Burnet moths and common blue butterflies. Some 'escaped' garden flowers add to the interest on the site, such as the blue iris just inside the Main Gate.
A path at the woodland's perimeter runs adjacent to the M62 motorway for almost a mile. Despite the constant noise of the motorway, owls can be seen and heard hunting at night and during the day buzzards and kestrels can be observed, as well as rabbits, hares and partridge.
The top of the Manor Woodland at the apex of the former colliery's spoil heap, where the Dream sculpture is situated, is over 200 feet above sea level. From here visitors can enjoy views across to the Pennines, Clwydian hills and even Snowdonia. To the north is Billinge Beacon with Rivington Pike and Winter Hill (with the television and radio transmitters) further away. Shuttingslow (the highest point in Cheshire) and Bosley Cloud can be seen to the southeast. Daresbury Tower, Halton Castle, Delamere and the Widnes-Runcorn Bridge are visible to the south.
The chimneys of Fiddlers Ferry power station dominate the south-westerly skyline. In addition the 281ft spire of St. Elphin's parish church in Warrington, the third highest church in England, can clearly be seen. On a good day football lovers can spot Manchester United's ground at Old Trafford and the Reebok stadium in Bolton. The Trafford Centre, Thelwall Viaduct, Frodsham Hill and Alderley Edge can also be identified. Every few minutes planes perform 180 degree banks over Sutton Manor in preparation for landing at nearby John Lennon Airport and can be seen descending up until a few seconds before they land. Manchester Airport can also just about be discerned in the far distance.
In November 2006 the Sutton Manor site was added to the six locations throughout the UK which had already been chosen to create and host a work of art as part of the Channel 4 Big Art Project. In June 2009, Jaume Plensa's 'Dream' sculpture was officially opened and is now sited at the apex of the former spoil heap. It's visible for miles around attracting huge numbers of visitors.
Content © Stephen Wainwright www.suttonbeauty.org.uk
Sutton Manor is part of Bold Forest Park.