Note - The Sutton Beauty & Heritage Blog is not being updated and has been
replaced by posts on this website’s Facebook and Google Plus pages

Signs of the Times in Sutton!

I don’t know, whether you’ve noticed but over the last few weeks, blue street signs have suddenly manifested themselves all over Sutton, directing visitors to Sherdley Park, Sutton Leisure Centre, Clock Face, Lea Green, Sutton Village, St.Helens Junction, Burtonwood and the town centre. Excellent news for geographically-challenged folk like myself!

street sign in sutton, st.helens
However, it does seem to me that a bit more thought and attention to detail could have gone into this signage, as two of Sutton’s jewels - Sutton Mill Dam and Sutton Park - have both been excluded. Indeed, pictured is the new sign at an entrance to the Mill Dam in Leach Lane which points to the dam’s waterfall just fifty yards away and which is in quite magnificent flow at the moment. As you can see the sign states 'Sherdley Park' and 'Lea Green' station, which although directionally correct, is a little confusing. Then at the access point to the Mill Dam by the Mill Lane Fish Bar, the new sign that points to the entrance to the wildlife nature park states 'Clock Face'.

As a considerable amount of work has been undertaken over the past two years in improving both sites through the sterling efforts of the Friends of Sutton Park and the Sutton Ward Committee’s Environmental Fund, it’s a shame that prospective visitors can’t be properly directed to them. Very recently more resurfacing work has been agreed for Sutton Mill Dam’s network of paths and a youth shelter and more footpaths are in the works for Sutton Park.

At least the signs are technically accurate, unlike some others in Sutton such as the St.Helens Show ‘temporary no parking' sign from 2006 that is still in New Street opposite Sherdley School. Plus the Local Area Map at the Marshalls Cross Road entrance to Lea Green station spells 'dam' as ‘damn'!

Dream sign at Sutton Manor, St.Helens
People of all ages enjoyed learning about Sutton Manor Colliery and Dream until a thief struck

At least no one has stolen that sign unlike the very nice board in Sutton Manor that detailed the history of the old colliery and the Dream project, which was taken in October. Since the ‘unveiling’ of Dream earlier this year, I’ve witnessed many people reading and enjoying that. Hopefully, a replica will return before too long. (
UPDATE - sign replaced in December '09)

Staring into the Sutton Mill Dam earlier this week, I reflected upon a tragic tale which has been relayed to me by
Brenda Macdonald and her 93-year-old mother Joan Heyes from Sydney, who used to lived in Mill Lane, Sutton. Apparently around 1934-5, a young girl drowned herself in the shallow waters of the dam after discovering that her boyfriend had made her pregnant. The shame was simply too much for her. Perhaps she also feared incarceration in Rainhill Mental Hospital as a result of the horrendous Mental Deficiency Act. I'm trying to find out more about this sad story. I've no surname but do know that her father had died in a mining accident and that she lived in Mill Lane. If anyone can provide more details, I'd be most grateful.  SRW

sutton mill dam waterfall
It's well worth a visit to Sutton Mill Dam to see the waterfall - photographed 26/11/2009

Sutton Mill Dam Back in Great Shape

Welcome sign at Sutton Mill Dam, St.Helens
New sign at the Sutton Mill Dam entrance in Mill Lane (photographed 07/07/08)

If there's been one blot on Sutton's landscape in recent years, it has to be the Sutton Mill Dam. It was opened in 1987 as a wildlife park by Prince Charles after community pressure prevented it from being turned into a dumping ground for industrial waste. However, over the last few years it's been allowed to considerably deteriorate. All types of rubbish have been deposited in the Dam's waters & woodland and vandals have burnt some of the fishing 'pegs' and attacked the wildlife. Over the last three years since Sutton Beauty & Heritage has been photographing the dam, I've been inundated with locals complaining about its decline. One elderly gentleman told me: "Prince Charles wouldn't recognise it today if he returned".

Ducklings at Sutton Mill Dam, St.Helens
Another explained how he'd challenged a man disassembling the Dam's railings in order to make a garden swing for his kids! The water in the lake has also not been looking so good over the past couple of years, seemingly enduring some discharges and it certainly did suffer from the bridge construction work in Walkers Lane last Spring, which badly affected the flow of the Pendlebury / Sutton Brook.

I think in total there were four letters of complaint to the St.Helens Star during 2007. One said:

"I went for a walk around Mill Dam in Sutton the other day and I can honestly say I would rather have walked in a sewer. The place is a disgrace."

Another correspondent to the newspaper wrote:

"Over the last five years, Sutton Mill Dam has gone from a place to be proud of to a place that is anything but."

However, if you've visited the dam over the last few weeks you'll have noticed how much it's improved. A large-scale tree pruning exercise has taken place, the damaged fishing pegs have been repaired, footpaths have been resurfaced and the steps rebuilt. Plus a new sign has very recently been installed at the Mill Lane Fish Bar entrance replacing the vandalised one. Wildlife seems to be returning too. Standing on the west bridge a few days ago, I counted over fifty ducks, ducklings and moorhens.

 Tree pruning at Sutton Mill Dam, St.Helens
A wide-scale tree pruning and removal programme took place earlier this year (pictured 22/02/08)

Sutton councillor
Brian Spencer, whose also the Leader of St.Helens Council, has commented to me about the improvement work:

 The latest work of pruning and making good the footpaths is partly funded by the Woodland Trust and a contribution from the ward committee Environmental Fund which I set up after I became Leader. Further pruning work is scheduled for the future and comments have been nothing but positive up to now. People feel safer and more sunlight can get into the area which helps to keep it dry and walkable. 

 Rex watches the ducks in the lake at Sutton Mill Dam, St.Helens
Rex watches the ducks in the lake before walking up
some of the new steps (photographed 18/05/08)

It's certainly much nicer at the Mill Dam now although it's a shame that the railings have not been replaced and that there's been rubbish dumped in the lake for some five months that's still waiting to be removed.
Congratulations to all concerned and hopefully St.Helens Council and its partners will be able to maintain and improve Sutton Mill Dam's present condition for the future benefit of all in our community. 

Click any image above for a new 2008 Photo-album (10 pictures)

Springwatch at the Sutton Mill Dam

With somewhat disappointing activity on Sherdley Park lake this year, it’s been down to the Sutton Mill Dam to fly the flag. As reported previously in this blog, a pair of mute swans have once again been breeding at the Dam. However, there was disturbing news in the St.Helens Star last week of the male cob getting snagged in a fisherman’s line and consequently unable to feed himself for several days. As an impending father-to-be, this was all that he needed!        

Four cygnets on the lake at the Sutton Mill Dam in Sutton, St.Helens
Four new-born cygnets fresh on the water at the Sutton Mill Dam

When I was there last Friday the pen was still sitting on her nest incubating her eggs but was noticeably unsettled, no doubt missing her partner who was nowhere to be seen. I suspect the cob had been removed by the RSPCA for treatment. But as of Monday this week the pair were back together on the lake proudly showing off their new brood of four gorgeous, fluffy cygnets!              

Four cygnets with pen on the lake at the Sutton Mill Dam in Sutton, St.Helens
Wherever Mum goes, the four cygnets have to go too!

Whilst I was there I was told of a boy that had used a brick to "cave in a duck's head " over the half-term holidays, decapitating it. Later as I was taking pictures of the four cygnets from the west bridge, I spoke to a friendly chap who wondered whether the quartet would be able to survive the actions of the yobs. A very good question indeed.

A moorhen feeds her chick in the Sutton Mill Dam, Sutton, St. Helens
People often stop and talk to me as I photograph or video the dam. I’m regularly impressed by the affection that the locals have for the place. I recall in 2006 someone stopping to say that they'd witnessed a grey heron swoop on an unsuspecting moorhen and carry the whole creature off in its beak. With a lot of heron activity on the Dam at the moment, it's not surprising that the circumspect moorhens tend to keep their young safe under the branches of fallen trees by the side of the lake. However, I did manage to snap some pictures of the moorhen brood with mother moorhen feeding her bedraggled-looking young. (see above)

Young great crested grebe on the Sutton Mill Dam, St.Helens
The great crested grebes have also been breeding. Initially they carry their new-born on their backs as the mute swans do with their very young cygnets. In no time at all though the young grebes are almost as big as their parents but still dependent upon them for food. Mum and Dad grebe can regularly be observed diving into the waters of the Sutton Mill Dam for fish for their babes. Their young’s stripey head and neck (pic above right) does give them a certain pyjama look! Or is it toothpaste? Totally bald they’ve yet to grow their distinctive ornate head plumes which in the past have been a great attraction for hunters and which almost led to the great crested grebes becoming exterminated from the UK.

Duckling in the Sutton Mill Dam in Sutton, St.Helens

The mallards have also been breeding with nine ducklings observed in one brood. Constantly under threat from herons and yobs, the duck numbers on the Sutton Mill Dam never seem to increase. Ducklings do have another menace to contend with, female mallards, who sometimes kill youngsters who've strayed from another brood. The deadliest of the species…? This is not nice but it's nature and happens. You can't similarly excuse those who like to kill the wild fowl on the Mill Dam for kicks.     



Sutton Mill Dam Health Check

With last weekend being the official start of British Summer Time and with the sun shining brightly, I thought I would wander down to the Sutton Mill Dam to see how well it had survived the winter months. It was good to see quite a lot of activity both on and off the water and I was especially pleased to
Great Crested Grebes in the Sutton Mill Dam, St Helens
see that the pair of mute swans have finally returned. They were busy annoying the fishermen on the banks of the Dam, attracted as always by their fish bait. The great crested grebes were there (pictured left) diving for fish. They are wily creatures - a fixture on the lake now - but almost hunted to extinction for their feathers. With a number of youngsters at the wildlife park enjoying themselves, butterflies flying around and buds on the trees, it was all looking very promising for the Summer.

The Peacock butterfly in the Sutton Mill Dam, St Helens
The Peacock butterfly adding colour to the Sutton Mill Dam

The downside? Well considerable damage has been caused to a number of the angling platforms during winter with at least one set on fire. A few trees were damaged during the January gales with one now sprawled across the lake. Another fallen tree on a woodland path is inhibiting access to Clock Face Road (edit 3/4/07 it's now been cleared) . However, it's the dumped rubbish and overall condition of the wildlife park which is the main cause of concern. Standing on the west bridge I could count five tyres and one waste bin that had been dumped into the water nearby. I do wonder how often the council retrieves rubbish from the Mill Dam. It clearly happens but it doesn't seem to be more than a few times a year.

A fishing platform that's been set alight in the Sutton Mill Dam, St Helens
Several of the angler's fishing platforms have been damaged

In 2006 I spent many days at the dam making a video and taking photographs. I was very impressed by the number of locals who would regularly stop to talk to me. They were so passionate about the site and upset at its deterioration. One said "Prince Charles wouldn't recognise it if he came back ", referring to HRH's visit to the Sutton Mill Dam in 1988. Another wondered why those undertaking community service weren't delegated to improve the dam.

The damaged railings in the Sutton Mill Dam wildlife nature park in St Helens
This web site was created to celebrate, not denigrate, the areas of beauty in Sutton, St Helens. However it has to be said that sites like the Sutton Mill Dam could be so much nicer if given some TLC. One local told me last year that he'd seen a man dismantling some of the railings near the west bridge. He passed the iron rails onto his young children who put them in the back of his van. Upon being challenged, the guy said he was going to construct a garden swing out of them! Many years have passed since that incident but as can be seen from this picture (right), nothing has been done to repair the railings.
Sutton Mill Dam sign in Sutton, St Helens
The photograph (left) shows the sign at the entrance to the Mill Dam in Mill Lane. It's a dreadful advert and has been in this state for some time. Of course people shouldn't vandalise and dump rubbish in the first place. But if the impression  is given that noone cares, then some will take that as tacit approval for their acts. I will be writing to those with responsibility for the wildlife park to see what they are doing to improve it and report back.

However, the Sutton Mill Dam gets a positive health check overall from me. It's just in some desperate need of that TLC. But then aren't we all!