Did the Royal Lancashire Militia practice their deadly craft at Burrs?

Remains of one of the two targets at Burrs. Just beyond can be seen the Caravan Site and Burrs Mill chimney.

Some of the older Bury residents who know Burrs will recall collecting spent rifle bullets from the ‘targets’ to the north of the ‘Brown Cow’, at the foot of the Castle Steads bluff.  But how did the ‘targets’ originate, and who was using them?

The threat of armed rebellion within the industrial heartlands of South Lancashire had been present ever since the Peterloo massacre in 1819.  In 1826 a machine-breaking mob advanced on Bury, and were only stopped by the Yeomanry after they had smashed fifty new power looms at Hutchinson’s Woodhill Mill on Brandlesholme Road (later ‘Boot & Shoe Works’).

Peter Sharples’ painting of Bury from Bolton Road, painted in 1893, but intended to represent the view about four decades earlier. Men of the Militia and the 20th Foot would have been a common sight in the area at the time.

Then the rise of Chartism in Lancashire in the late 1830s frightened the government so badly that they authorised the construction of permanent military barracks at Preston, Ashton-under-Lyne, and at Bury; where the Wellington Barracks was constructed for the 20th Regiment of Foot on Bolton Road, just beyond the western edge of the town.  Although the enlisted men were recruited locally, the officers were invariably from far-distant places, which avoided the risk of units sympathising with any rioting workers.       

O.S. plan of 1890, Bolton Road area. The earlier and larger Wellington Barracks (bottom left) had been expanded, probably after 1881, when the smaller and later Militia Barracks (top right) became disused.

But by the mid. 19th century, new threats to British hegemony abroad were met by the formation of new ‘Militia’ units, which contained part-time volunteers with regular army instructors.  The 7th Regiment of the Royal Lancashire Militia, formed in 1853 in the lead up to the Crimean War, were based at the Militia Barracks on Bolton Road, which was opened in 1859, very near to the older and larger Wellington Barracks.

The Militia Barracks was opened in 1859, but closed in 1881. It then survived for another 90 years, being demolished in about 1970.

And according to the 1871 census return, four members of the Royal Lancashire Militia had taken up residence in the village at Calrows.  Three of these were ‘Staff Sergeants’, all of whom had families with them, whilst the fourth, and most senior, was Irishman Gershom Herrick, Adjutant, who with his wife Fanny, lived in the mansion ‘Woodlands’, recently vacated by the Calrow family.  And one Robert W. Jackson, also from Ireland, Surgeon in the 100th Regiment of Foot, occupied No.7 Derby Cottage, Calrows, with his family.

In 1881, when the 20th Foot became the Lancashire Fusiliers, the 7th Regiment Militia was absorbed into the LFs, as the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, and the Militia Barracks now became redundant after barely 20 years’ use.  Meanwhile, the Wellington Barracks was expanded westwards beyond the protective limits of its original curtain wall, probably to cope with the increase in manpower.

O.S. plan of 1890, showing area at Burrs, between Brown Cow and Castle Steads (top left), where rifle ranges were laid out to fire on a pair of masonry and clay butts, which supported targets.

Although in the 1920s, the targets at Burrs were then in regular use by the Bury Rifle Club, it seems most likely that these two massive masonry and clay structures were built decades before then, for musketry practice by the Royal Lancashire Militia.  Now difficult to find and partially bulldozed away, these shooting butts are one of our last links to a time when the military were a common presence within northern towns, and when civil insurrection was still considered as a potent threat to the established order.    


(1) The late Major John Hallam (1937-2003), of Wellington Barracks, kindly assisted me with research into this topic.

(2) Before 1890, another rifle range existed at Lowercroft, utilising the dams of the middle and upper reservoirs as shooting butts. I can only assume that this was in use by the 20th Foot from Wellington Barracks and by the Militia too.