Billinge Hill, also known as Billinge Lump, is the highest point in the Borough of St Helens in North West England standing at 587ft above sea level it is also the highest point in Merseyside .
It stands in Billinge, which sits between Wigan and St.Helens within the county boundaries of Lancashire. It is one of 176 hills graded as a Marilyn in England. A Marilyn is a hill of any height with a drop of 150 metres or more on all sides.
In other words, a relatively high hill.
The path I took to the hill was along a footpath, locally known as ‘Bobbies Lane’, which for the majority of its length is now edged with residential properties. At the end of the tarmaced footpath that serves the houses the path turns into a narrow dirt trail which eventually leads into Billinge Plantation (or Billinge Woods if you’re local). The stroll through the woods is pleasant and climbs steadily until the trees peter out and a metal stile gate awaits. Once through the gate the incline increases but only for a short distance as it soon culminates in a rather large plateau upon which the structure stands.
Structurally it is very similar to its neighbour Ashurt’s Beacon, being made from sandstone (which was probably quarried very close by as below the west side of the hill was once a stone quarry).
The quarry was closed in the mid 80’s and given over to in-fill. The whole of that side of the hill has now been landscaped and only for the odd methane pipe you would never know it was once there. An interesting fact came to light about the quarry whilst researching this – ‘From Billinge Hill Quarry the methane element of the gas is burned to produce electricity (enough to power approximately 1000 homes) which is fed into the national grid’ good to know it is still giving.
Anyway, I digress, let’s get back to the structure itself.
It was built in 1788 by the Bankes family who at that time inhabited Winstanley Hall and was designed to be a ‘belvedere’ (summer house) for the family and their friends.
The original structure had a timber framed, 4 sided pitched slated roof upon which sat a single chimney stack.
The structure is now minus the roof because of a stray spark from the 1935 Jubilee bonfire setting fire to it. The pictures below illustrate just how close and how large the bonfire actually was.
Although the structure is sometimes described as a ‘beacon’ this seems not to be what the structure was built for. One could argue that given it’s prominence among the surrounding landscape it could be called a ‘sea beacon’ as it was highly visible from the Mersey Estuary. Given the hills uninterupted view it was no doubt used for warning beacons through the ages but evidence tends to suggest that this building was not the beacon as is the case with Ashurst’s Beacon but a family retreat for the gentry of the day to survey their lands and idly pass away the hours.
Over the years the building itself has served as a lookout during and after the war for the Royal Observer Corps. They had a bunker at the site, 60 yards (55 m) West of and below the structure. The bunker would have been used to monitor the location of nuclear blasts and the resulting fallout over Lancashire in the event of nuclear war. The post opened in January 1960 and closed in October 1968.
In 1807 a regiment of soldiers occupied the hill and a survey was carried out. From the top of the hill it was possible with a telescope and a clear day to see 16 counties –
Lancashire – Yorkshire – Cheshire – Anglesey – Flintshire – Caenarvonshire – Denbighshire – Merionethshire – Montgomeryshire – Westmorland – Cumberland – Kirkcudbrightshire – Isle of Man – Derbyshire – Staffordshire – Shropshire.
To one side of the building sits a ‘trigpoint‘ , the fixture atop is looking worse for wear these days but still functions.
As I walk back down the hill the forecast of torrential rain starts to manifest itself with a slight drizzle which once back to the car comes to fruition with the rain bouncing off the windscreen making me wonder how fortuitous I had been to avoid it.