The urbanisation and development of Skelmersdale largely coincided with the Industrial Revolution. Industrial scale coal mining began in the early 1800s and continued to expand during that century to give rise to Skelmersdale as an important colliery village. By the late-19th century, Skelmersdale had acquired a reputation as "a particularly bare, unpleasing district" owing to its coal mines and brickworks.
Skelmersdale was designated as a new town in 1961.
Skelmersdale means "Skjaldmarr's valley", from the Old Norse personal name Skjaldmarr + probably Old Norse dalr (or Old English dæl) "dale, valley". The name was recorded as Skalmeresedel in 1136. One place-name book suggests that it may be of Celtic origin, with the place-names being in Celtic place-name order, i.e. "Element/personal name/word", rather than "Personal name/word/element", as with Old English place-names.
It is known locally as "Skem", with a further distinction being made between "Old Skem" (the area which was a small mining town prior to 1961) and the broader swathe of development which has now developed.
Skelmersdale's population in 1851 was only 760, but 50 years later it had increased to 5,699. It was a busy coal mining town. Sadly, there were over 100 fatalities in Skelmersdale collieries from 1851 to 1900, according to the Reports of the Inspectors of Coal Mines, and an unknown number of serious injuries. In 1880 there were 14 Skelmersdale colleries - most of them closed in the 1920s and 30s.
The miners, many of whom were Welsh immigrants, brought with them their own brand of non-conformist Christianity. By the start of the 20th century there were at least six dissenting chapels in the town: two Wesleyan (Berry Street, closed in the 1920s, and Liverpool Road, closed 1969), an independent Methodist, a Primitive Methodist, a Congregational, and a Welsh Chapel (closed in 1963). Today, there is little to remind people that the town was ever associated with the once great Lancashire Coalfield. The River Tawd flows through Skelmersdale into a country park. The main country park is at Ashurst Beacon, a hillside location that is also home to a Golf Club.
Due to the arrival of a large number of former Liverpool residents, the town retains a strong association with Liverpool to which it is linked via the M58 motorway.
Skelmersdale endured mixed economic fortunes during the last three decades of the 20th century. With the economic downturn in the late 1970s large industrial employers left town en masse, resulting in an increase in crime, drug abuse and poverty. Today, however, West Lancashire has one of the lowest recorded crime rates in England.
2006 was to see a regeneration drive for the town coordinated through English Partnerships and the Northwest Regional Development Agency and publicly headed by the designer Wayne Hemingway. Among the proposals was a new central focus for the entertainment and commerce for the town in the evening.
The layout of the town is unique for the oversized roundabouts (the largest of which is "Half Mile Island") and a complete absence of traffic lights. Skelmersdale's road system has improved with better signage, although visitors still frequently get lost.
The M58 motorway (Liverpool - Wigan Motorway) runs along the south of Skelmersdale from the nearby M6 motorway to the Switch Island interchange at Liverpool. The A570 and the A577 both provide connections.
The New Town areas of Skelmersdale have a road-naming system where "Road" and "Street" are rarely used and single-name roads are common, e.g. "Abbeywood", "Fairburn", "Thornwood". "Road", "Street", "Lane" and "Drive" do appear in road names, but only in the parts of the town (bordering on Ormskirk, St. Helens and Wigan) that pre-date the New Town development.
Roads in the industrial estates and the main roads in the town such as Gillibrands Road follow the usual naming conventions.
Skelmersdale also is home to a large public library whose facilities include free internet access and an extensive local history section.
The town is also host to a quite famous archery club, The Bowmen of Skelmersdale, whose members hold over 70 national records and Fourteen world records. The world records are held by three individuals from the same family.
So What Do Sam Fox and Skem Have in Common? Is Skelmersdale Finally Ready to Fulfil Its Potential? Tony Barrett Speaks to Designer Wayne Hemingway
Feb 07, 2006; Byline: Tony Barrett WHOEVER came up with the saying "between a rock and a hard place" might well have been thinking of...