Note It’s amazing what can be achieved with a bit of photo-editing software. The Giant Axe had long been on my ‘must-see’ list but, having got a little too carried away on a trip around Lancashire, I found myself in Clitheroe at around 4pm on an October afternoon with daylight fading fast and the rain beginning to fall. I was already late for the ‘Axe’, my last visit of the day and with little prospect of getting there. Fortunately the Lancaster Secretary agreed to leave one of the gates unlocked so that I could get in and, thanks to some local Clitheroe knowledge (thanks Roy) I embarked on a mad ‘short-cut’ across country in torrential rain to Lancaster. Needless to say, conditions for digital photography were far from ideal but under the circumstances, turned out surprisingly well after being subjected to the aforementioned adjustments.
On entering the ground it was hard to believe that not too long ago it was a considerably more expansive venue that the enclosed ground that it is today. A series of fascinating aerial shots from 1963 reproduced in the Winter 2003 edition of Groundtastic showed just how open the ground once was, with the pitch positioned on one side of a large field and surrounded by an oval cinder track with the perimeter rail beyond. It is said that the ground was named after the shape of the field.
Although Lancaster City, who celebrated their centenary in 2005, took up residence soon after their formation (having played their first two matches at an adjacent field, Quay Meadow) the ground pre-dates them by some margin: both the local cricket and rugby clubs having also made it their home from 1841 and 1870 respectively.
During the 1970s the track was removed from around the pitch, and allowed the ends to be squared off, whilst a fence was erected on the Railway (far) side to further enclose the ground. In February 1975 temporary terracing was formed from wooden pallets arranged in tiers around the ground, and actually remained for some time afterwards.
Until they were destroyed in an arson attack in November 1976 two wooden pitched roofed grandstands with a combined capacity of 1,000, stood on the Hubert Place (near) side of the ground. The small directors’ stand that stood adjacent escaped the inferno, but was ultimately replaced when the current concrete and steel grandstand rose from the ashes of its predecessors, with the original benches since replaced by more modern tip-up seats.
The fire also served as a catalyst to move an existing shelter at the Long Marsh Lane end of the ground, which was originally at an angle to follow the curvature of the track, into a more central position behind the far goal. As a temporary measure, seating was installed in lieu of a replacement grandstand. The cover was subsequently extended to span the whole width of the pitch in the late 1990s, and by this time a new concrete perimeter fence had been built to further separate the football ground from the remainder of the Giant Axe field.
At around the same time as the Long Marsh Lane cover was extended, a large concrete terrace was built behind the West Road goal at the near end of the pitch. More recently the sponsors’ lounge that previously looked out from that end of the pitch has been moved to the Railway side, where there is also shallow terracing. DB