Chew Moor: A Crusade of Flowers

Meadow and Hedge Management, Chew Moor, Lostock – September 10th 2023

Autumn Crocus
Autumn Crocus

Bolton’s history didn’t start and end with the Industrial Revolution, the meadow at Chew Moor is a good example of the area’s forgotten history.

In the 1990’s the meadow next to St. John’s Wood, Lostock, was to be turned into a car park until it was designated as a Site of Biological Importance because of the presence of autumn crocus. Autumn crocus (Crocus nudiflorus smith) is native to the Middle-East so how did it end up in Lostock? The answer goes back to around 1100 AD when the land was owned by the Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, better known as the Knights Hospitallers. A stretch of road in Chew Moor village is even called St. John’s Road. This religious order also owned land that included what is now the Smithills Estate and did so up until 1200 AD, at this time, being a Catholic religious order, they were suppressed by Henry VIII and their lands confiscated during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The Hospitallers shouldn’t be confused with the Knights Templar who were more dedicated to martial skills and protecting the lands and wealth of the Catholic Church; the purpose of the Hospitallers was to aid pilgrims in the Holy Land, tend to the sick, and protect Christians under their care. The Hospitallers set up hospitals and hospices across Europe and to each they brought crocuses, the saffron they produced being used as a food additive and high quality dye and pigment; according to research by the late Fred Lovell clothing dyed with saffron was thought to provide protection against plague, the dye deterred fleas and their bites, something that would have been useful while tending the infected. But saffron was also a very lucrative cash crop that was, and still is, literally worth more than it’s weight in gold. In the Middle-Ages it was such an important commodity that saffron fraudsters would be burnt at the stake for their crimes, and in Germany they were buried alive.

The Hospitallers are still in existence and are responsible for establishing the St. John’s Ambulance Foundation which still carries the Cross of St. John as their emblem. Although the Hospitaller’s lodge at Lostock has long since vanished the crocus they introduced is still present and it is for this that the meadow is important. In the past BCV has helped the Chew Moor Conservation Group look after the site, more recently they were sponsored by Barton Grange Garden Centre. They have planted other species such as ragged robin to supplement existing species such as ladies smock and the late Fred’s famous yellow rattle.

Now that the Chew Moor group is unable to continue the work BCV has taken over the management of the site entirely. At the end of August the meadow was mown by farmer Stan and the cuttings removed to reduce the build up of nutrient, this will benefit wild flowers as they prefer nutrient poor soils. We also trimmed the hedge, this will help nesting birds. Our goal is to maintain the species richness that there is and build on it, to make this meadow the best wild flower meadow it can be and protect it for the future, continuing our crusade for wildlife.

Another job we did today was to cut back a few trees and re-install a fence post.

autumn crocus
autumn crocus

The crocus bloom around the end of September and at the time of writing were in evidence all across the meadow, although some have been stepped on or had been damaged by rain and wind. The fact that so many were in bloom last year is testament to the mowing regime, care and effort that has gone into our management of this site. So, if you visit be careful where you put your feet, you are walking through once and future history.

Find this and other posts about meadows here.