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  • Thu Oct 27, 2016 London

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    The snakes and ladders of society A chronicle of drama, scandal and success in London, Paris, New York and elsewhere

    Where Dibnah mucked around

    As Fred Dibnah’s former home comes to the market, Matthew Steeples is reminded of a true BBC legend


    As the nation continues to cringe in horror every time the name “Savile” is mentioned, memories of another BBC relic of the 1980s resurfaced when it was revealed that Fred Dibnah’s former home is for sale.


    Dr. Frederick “Fred” Dibnah MBE (1938 – 2004)
    121 Radcliffe Road, The Haulgh, Bolton, Lancashire, BL2 1NU (originally known as Park Cottage)

    For those of our readers who weren’t fortunate enough to be alive when Dibnah graced our screens, he, unlike Savile, was a legend who truly deserves the accolade of such a title. This thrice-married Lancastrian was a steeplejack who became a television personality just as his breed died out. He didn’t understand why he’d become famous and of it commented:


    “It’s a funny thing, this celebrity. If you don’t wave back you’re a miserable bugger, if you do wave back you’re a big-headed bugger. I don’t know.”


    Fred Dibnah in his garden
    A view of the “garden”

    Fred Dibnah preferred to think of himself as “just a bum who climbs chimneys” but he ought instead be remembered for his forthright manner. Amongst the legendary comments this “chimney feller” came out with were remarks like:


    “The modern world stinks… We’ve become a nation of con men, living by selling double-glazing to each other… Teaching boys to bake cakes? That’s no way to maintain an industrial empire… Them fancy London types don’t know the pleasure of eating chips with fingers… I prefer the past to the present. Because life today, with all its modern technology, isn’t very good, is it? And the future looks even worse.”


    Dibnah bought 121 Radcliffe Road in Bolton in 1967 for £5,000. A Grade II listed former park keeper’s lodge, the building is known as “Two Cats” locally because of the coat of arms of the Earl of Bradford on one of the gables features two leopards and is said to have been built in 1854.


    The cottage was the setting of the filming of many scenes from Dibnah’s shows and it was here also in 2003, whilst undergoing chemotherapy, that Dibnah decided to embark on the construction of a replica coal mine with his friend Alf Molyneux. His rationale for this was simple: “It’s not everyone who has a coal mine in their back garden.”


    An attempt to auction the house with a guide price of £300,000 to £350,000 in 2007 failed because of a boundary dispute
    A Bolton & District Civic Trust plaque commemorates Dibnah having lived there from 1967 until 2004

    Leon and Jeanette Powsney purchased the derelict property in 2009 for £185,000 and set about turning part of it into a 5-bedroomed home for themselves and the remainder into The Fred Dibnah Heritage Centre.


    Visitors, who come by the coachload, are able to tour the yard and see Dibnah’s machinery. Amongst that on show are steam-powered workshop with a circular saw, a band saw and a hydraulic hammer. The 70ft mine shaft remains and in addition there is a 50ft chimney, a gift shop and a small tearoom. The venture turns over about £100,000 per annum and is now for sale through agents Intelligent Business Transfer.


    Mr Powsney, who is planning to move abroad, commented:


    “We’re selling it as a going concern. It was a business set up against all the odds, we saved it from being flattened and from being redeveloped. We have worked hard to make the centre what it is, and have invested a lot of money in it. We think there’s potential for a buyer to make a tidy profit from it, but we’re looking to relax a bit more now.”


    If the asking price of £1,250,000 sought by Mr & Mrs Powsney is achieved, I’m sure the legendary steeplejack wouldn’t disagree that here is a case of: “Where there’s muck, there’s brass.”


    For further details about 121 Radcliffe Road, The Haulgh, Bolton, Lancashire, BL2 1NU contact Intelligent Business Transfer on +44 800 612 7718 or go to:


    To visit the museum contact Leon Pownsey on +44 (0) 1204 531303 or via email at:


    Watch a video of Fred Dibnah in his garden:


    1 comment on “Where Dibnah mucked around”

    1. That’s a lovely piece Matthew and I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. I am part of the family company who made all of Fred’s later programmes for the BBC (from 1998 until his death). And was lucky enough to be there when some of those famous quotes were made!

      Along with all the programmes that were made for TV we’ve also produced other Dibnah DVDs. They’re all available in our shop at with a free Dibnah gift with every purchase. If you think it may be of interest to your readers I can give you an exclusive code for a 10% off anything in the shop.

      One particular disc that may be of interest based on your piece is the Dig with Dibnah DVD as along with the full 1hr programme there are another 2hrs of extras not seen on TV.

      Just get in touch if you’d like the code for your readers

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