Lancashire At War.co.uk
Exploring the hidden history of War sites in Lancashire
Old Firing Ranges, Holcombe
When we first started this website we were told about a nearby rifle range believed to have been used for training troops since the Crimean War. We thought we had found it, but Disused Rifle Ranges, an expert on firing ranges, contacted us to tell us what we had really found.
Our friend, local historian John Ireland (Holcombe Moor Heritage Group / Holcombe History Society), knows a great deal about the history of his local village - Holcombe in Bury. He originally told us about this site on White Hill, above the Ramsbottom - Rawtenstall valley.
The site, we think, predates the MoD firing range on the other side of the hill between Holcombe and Hawkshaw which was created in 1912 and covers 900 acres. Indeed, its eastern boundary is not far from the site of this firing range, lying on the ridge above it.
We were originally searching for a Crimean War era firing range. The Crimean War was between 1853 and 1856. One of the British Army's greatest failures is now famously remembered in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's narrative poem 'The Charge Of The Light Brigade'. It is also the war in which Florence Nightingale became famous when she organised care for wounded soldiers.
One reference we have found is in 'Notes on Holcombe' (published in 1901) by Henry Dowsett, the Rector of Holcombe. On page 49 during a chapter entitled 'The Troughs' (about the nearby glacial feature marked on some Ordnance Survey maps) he states: "The Connaught Rangers encamped on Harcles Hill during the Crimean War". The Connaught Rangers, according to Wikipedia were "The 88th Regiment of Foot (Connaught Rangers) ("the Devil's Own") an infantry Regiment of the British Army, raised in 1793". Unfortunately, Dowsett is not the most reliable source for local history, but it is all we have.
Sadly, what we found on the edge of Harcles Hill and White Hill above Chatterton Close Farm is not the Crimean War era firing range, although we do believe that some evidence exists nearby - we need to go back and look again for it. The structure of the site is marked, but not named, on the Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 map and is visible on Lidar.
What we have found is a later era range with the ramped earth bank, a substantial retaining wall for it, a pit (in which the targets would be raised and lowered either mechanically or by hand) behind the retaining wall, steps out of the pit and side and back walls for the pit. Soldiers, whose duty it was to raise and lower the targets, would have been in this pit area, protected by the earth bank, but not daring to put their heads above it in case of being shot! Stray bullets must have landed above on the slope of the hill.
According to : Disused Rifle Ranges of the UK: "The butts or mantel are the remains of a 1000yrd gallery range, the roof has collapsed into the butts and the backstop has probably washed away. Typically it is a standard gallery range design from the 1890s and still in use today. There would have been four targets on Hythe frames. I have searched the area behind the butts (danger area) with a metal detector and found only the .303 215g and 174gr bullets - the earliest being fired in the1890s".
Disused Rifle Ranges Of The UK thinks this site could still have been used even after the new MoD range was opened.
BELOW LEFT: Old firing butts at the current Holcombe Moor Training Camp - Used during WW1 & WW2.
BELOW RIGHT: Part of the modern firing range
BELOW: More photos of the 1000 yard Gallery Range on White Hill
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