Ousel’s Nest: Digging for Victory

27th June 2021, Pond Management, Ousel’s Nest Quarry

Ousel’s Nest Quarry, near Jumbles Country Park, is one of those great examples of Bolton’s forgotten industrial sites eventually returning to nature after decades of damage. Bromley Cross Quarry, as it was then, was owned and managed by John, George, and Richard Phillipson, sources suggest that the site operated between 1880 and 1914, but as with a lot of Ousel’s history dates are hard to verify. The quarry produced sandstone distinctive enough to be named after the quarry, Ousel’s Nest Grit, which was used for a variety of purposes from building to ballast. The Phillipsons also owned Cox Green Quarry, Round Barn, and Hard Rock quarries, and at least one quarry employed over 180 workers, most of the quarries had their own tramlines and railways.

Ousels Nest
2015: Ousel’s Nest Quarry

At the beginning of World War One John and his Son, John Walmsley Phillipson, joined the Royal Engineers and served in France, managing quarries near Calais for the war effort. Being strategic targets they were sometimes bombarded by the Germans. It is thought that George and Richard joined them later, as well as some of their workers. John himself rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was awarded a CBE for his wartime service.

Shortly after the war the quarry moves towards brick making under the name George Phillipson & Sons. Maybe the war had taken it’s toll on the workforce and skilled quarrymen were hard to find, brick making was a simpler enterprise. None of the brothers survived beyond 1927, and John Walmsley died in 1930, but the brickworks continued to operate until 1965.

The site was later used as landfill, although unlike Cox Green it doesn’t appear on the historic landfills list. Public pressure brought an end to tipping and both sites were allowed to return to nature, in 2013 Bolton Council designated the site as a Local Nature Reserve. Today Ousel’s Nest has some of Bolton’s best wild flower meadows, nature’s memorial to Bolton’s fallen quarrymen.

Task Report: Our first tasks at Ousel’s Nest was in 2014, in March 2015 we de-shaded the ponds, for today’s task we returned to try to improve them. The problem we have is that the ponds dry up in summer when they are most needed. Earlier in the year Tom dug a test pit to see if digging out the silt would help water retention, it worked and this was to be the basis of today’s task. Balsam removal was also part the day’s work but there were too few people to make a real difference.

Years of silt and leaf litter was excavated along the middle of the pond, and as we dug we found brick rubble and domestic waste, relics of Ousel’s Nest’s previous use. The excavation soon filled with water, proving that the ponds could be saved. Ideally we need a mechanical digger to do the job as digging wet silt is heavy work and very time consuming. This is something that will be looked at another time. Once the pond was dug out the pooled water in the test pit was released, filling the new pond.

Thanks to Tom for organising and also to everyone else for all the hard work.