Remember Dr Fred Dibnah
1938 - 2004
THE FRED DIBNAH HERITAGE CENTRE
121 Radcliffe Rd, Bolton, BL2 1NU
Tel: 01204 531303
FRED'S HOUSE AND WORKS
The house was originally built in 1854 and used as the Park keeper's lodge, the park or woods being part of the Earl of Bradford estate. The lodge was built to serve Bolton's first public park, established by the Earl of Bradford on his estate, but later closed by him.
The house is a unique design and is what is known as a Subterranean property, with two storey living quarters, one at street level and another below street level. It has an arched doorway, with ornamental strap hinges on the front door, and mullion windows each side. There is an Earl of Bradford coat of arms above the door, The house has been known locally as “Two Cats” because of this coat of arms, plus there is a blue English Heritage plaque on the wall dedicated to Fred.
He will have been thinking “Ayup this has potential for all me gear and I could build a workshop for t’steam roller", so he agreed to rent the site from the estate and moved in. Last year an old gentleman aged 86 came to the centre on one of our tours, and when I was telling this story to the visitors this old gentleman said “The chap from the estate that brought Fred here was my uncle, and his name was Fred Settle”. Later on Fred bought the house and land from the estate for £5,000 but there were quite a number of improvements required to the house, and Fred said "I’m not doin t’bloody repairs before I buy it cos it’ll increase t’value and I’d ave to pay more for it so bugger that”. So he made a list of the repairs that needed carrying out on the house and presented it to the estate manager. The house wall at the rear was bulging you can see footage of Fred fitting the rods through the house to pull in the wall on our website, very interesting and entertaining footage) and he also carried out a lot of other work needed for instance he re-roofed the house. He carried out a lot of improvements inside the house putting ceiling and wall beams in and a new window frame in the lounge.
SHOWING THE KITCHEN AREA
Once Fred moved in he moved his steam roller here and at first used to work on it under a tarpaulin, bit by bit he then started to erect the skeleton of what is now known as the main workshop. Initially it consisted of telegraph poles with the tarpaulin as a roof, he then built what is now the actual roof, eventually adding sides to the structure, I believe the sides were “acquired” albeit perfectly legally, from the site of the massive Victorian engineering workshop of Hick Hargreaves which was in the centre of Bolton where Sainsbury’s store now stands.
Even so although Fred now had the luxury of sides to the workshop there was still no frontage, so Fred used to work in the workshop in all sorts of weather. It didn’t seem to bother him as he was used to working outdoors and at great heights anywa. There are lots of pictures of Fred working in there with no frontage but eventually he obtained a frontage for the workshop and made the doors himself which are still there for all to see.
THE RAYBURN COOKER FRED INSTALLED
THE COPPER CANOPY OVER THE FIREPLACE
LEON'S HANDYWORK INSTALLING A BAR!
THE COAT OF ARMS ABOVE THE FRONT DOOR
THE GUEST BEDROOM
The mullioned windows have a selection of stained glass pictures designed by Fred, including pictures of his beloved steam roller Betsy, and the pit head gear forming part of the mineshaft that Fred Built in his back garden. The roof features a beautiful scalloped design of slates, re-roofed by Fred some years back. To the left of the house is the brick extension that Fred built in the 90’s. The house was indeed originally owned by the Earl of Bradford estate. When Fred was still living at his mums house in Alfred street, he used to carry out property repairs for the Earl of Bradford estate, and one day the chap representing the estate that Fred used to deal with came to him and said “Fred I have something that I think you will be interested in”. He then brought Fred to the “Two cats” house - now if you can just picture this scenario, at the time Fred had his steam roller parked up outside his mums terraced house in Alfred street. It had been there for years parked on the cobbled street whilst Fred worked on it, so you can imagine when Fred came to see the “Two cats” house, with approx. a third of an acre of land (at the time there no outbuildings or sheds) you can just picture his face at the railings surveying the site!
Later on he bought a hen shed, dismantled it and then rebuilt it a few feet from his main workshop. This he used to house his tools and other equipment. He would spend many hours in this shed fixing and fettling. Over the past 9 years I have felt truly privileged to spend many an hour in there myself with the little woodburner keeping me warm and cozy, fixing and fettling things. However over the years time has not been kind to the shed and it was in a bad state, so it has been removed and in its place is a lovely new lawn with a decking area where you can relax in what many visitors have described as a lovely little bit of countryside with a view of the river Tonge flowing along.