Manchester news Tributes to legendary demolition man who set up a popular petting zoo Manchester united news
MetiNews.Com - "You'd need two lives to fit in everything he did."
Breaking News ! Standing 358ft and nicknamed the 'Colossus', it was reputedly the tallest mill chimney in Europe. Its walls were said to be so thick a horse and cart could have walked around the top. And Ben Lancaster had just bought it for £5. He got it for song because the structure, at Schwabe Mill in Rhodes, Middleton, was in desperate need of repair and its owner, prominent Rochdale businessman Barrie Bernstein, wanted it off his hands. But its location, just 4ft away from a main road, meant it had to be taken down brick-by-brick. So that's exactly what Ben - who died at home last Saturday aged 80, after suffering from vascular dementia - did. With his friend Tony Kelly he spent the next three years, from 1979 to 1982, working every Saturday and Sunday painstakingly removing thousands and thousands of bricks. But given his own way it's probably not the method he would have used. Ben (right) pictured in February 1982 as the demolition of Schwabes Mill chimney neared completion (Image: Lily Lancaster) "Without the bureaucrats the job would have taken four days," he's said to have later complained. But he plugged on and when the chimney was eventually felled the bricks were recycled and Ben got the land on which it stood, which had always been the ultimate plan. It was one of several mill chimneys across Middleton the demolition expert took down during the 1980s. His roll of honour included landmarks such as Times Mill, Laurel Mill and Lister Mill and a number of churches across the region. But they didn't all go as smoothly as the Schwabe chimney and it's fair to say Ben wasn't always quite that careful. Read More Related Articles How to sign up to our newsletter to get the latest headlines from the M.E.N. One Sunday morning, demolishing a chimney close to where McBrides factory now stands on the edge of Middleton town centre, Ben got his calculations slightly awry. Instead of falling inwards the chimney collapsed onto the main road. Thankfully no-one was hurt. Another demolition at Laurel Mill at Middleton Junction saw every single window in every house opposite blown out while a brick was sent flying through the hairdressers' shopfront. Again, remarkably, no-one was injured, but Ben's knack for talking himself out of trouble came in handy yet again. Schwabes Mill chimney, which Ben bought for £5 in 1979 and spent three year demolishing brick by brick (Image: Lily Lancaster) Born in Failsworth, Ben grew up in Water Street in Middleton town centre as one of three brothers. After leaving Durnford Street school aged 15 he took a job as a miner at Bradford Colliery in east Manchester to avoid National Service. But his real passion was animals and the environment and from a young age he always had a menagerie of creatures under his care. He once bought the house next door to his, knocked a door into the dividing wall and used it to shelter his animals. Two cows and a flock of geese lived on the ground floor, while the upstairs bedrooms were converted in a pigeon co-op. As a wayward young man he stole a flock of chickens which he thought were being mistreated. When the owner turned up, police in tow, to demand his birds were returned Ben asked, 'How the hell can you tell which chickens are yours?'. His defence fell on his deaf ears and he served a nine month prison sentence at Beela River jail, a former Second World War POW camp, in Cumbria. Ben pictured working on the construction of Lancaster Park and Animal Farm (Image: Lily Lancaster) Ben, whose other interests included American classic cars, bee-keeping, wine-making, local history and sea fishing, had long dreamed of opening a petting farm on land he and wife Lily owned next to Mills Hill railway station right on the border of Oldham and Middleton. But as part of the land, formerly a dumping ground for the old jam works, was in the green belt his attempts were repeatedly knocked back.
. Eventually in 2011 Ben, who lived at Black Pitts Farm in Chadderton in a house he built himself using stone reclaimed from an old railway station he demolished in Rossendale, decided to go ahead and open it anyway. But that didn't go down well with the town hall bosses and a two day public enquiry followed. Ben, a dad-of-five and grandfather of seven, won and retrospective permission for Lancaster Park and Animal Farm was granted in 2012. Since then thousands of families from across Greater Manchester have been through its doors and it remained his pride and joy until his death. Ben's son John Fletcher, 44, said: "When you say a lovable rogue, that's exactly what he was. "He could talk his way out anything, but when you were his friend you were his friend for life. "People like him only come round once in a lifetime.
Ben, pictured with some of his many animals
(Image: Lily Lancaster)
"All the kids used to call him Uncle Ben - he was like a granddad to lots of people. "He loved kids. He had a very tough childhood himself. His dad was gassed in the First World War and then he died when Ben was just 10-years-old. "He had to become the man of the house and I think that's why in later life he loved kids like he did." Daughter Lily Lancaster, 36, said: "He was very ambitious and very determined. He wanted to achieve in things life. "He'd had the idea for a petting farm for 30 years and he kept getting knocked back, but eventually he opened it. "As kids he'd take us for walks in the fields after he'd finished work. "He'd teach us the names of all the trees and birds, how to spot a bird's nest, how to tell if a mushroom was poisonous. "I thought that was just normal. We didn't realise all the other kids didn't know these kind of things."
Ben's best friend Ken Hilton, 67, said: "He was always a grafter. But he couldn't stand authority. He hated taking orders. It was his way or no way, but most of the time his way turned out to be the right way. "But he was just so calm. He had this manner where he could talk his way out of anything. I think without that he'd have got himself in a lot more trouble. "You'd need two lives to fit in everything he did." A funeral is being held on Thursday, October 22. Before the service at Boarshaw Crematorium at 2.20pm, a horse and cart cortege will leave Co-op Funeral Care on Oldham Road, then travel along Townley Street, onto Water Street, past the Ashetton Arms, Boarshaw Road then to Lancaster Park & Animal Farm.
Source = MetiNews.Com