The history of Worton is not something that is ever explicitly spelled out during the Dark Legend books, or at any point in the books that surround it. We only ever get snippets here and there and much of that is modern history.
The oldest thing we know about Worton is dropped in the as yet unreleased fifth book and hinted at in the second. The highest point in the Mender Vale forest, north of the town, is called ‘Witch’s Rock’ and it gets its name from a local event where three sisters were hung for witchcraft during the seventeenth century. The hint in the second book comes in the name of the café, The Witch’s Coven where Will, Dan and Joe have breakfast shortly before everything goes tits up (or after if you want to be pedantic, considering the events of that book aren’t exactly portrayed in any linear fashion.) It’s a slight nod to the distant past.
The idea of Worton having some connection to witchcraft was a very early one and it fits in gorgeously with the history of the wider area. Being in the extreme southern part of Bowland, Worton is a stone’s throw from nearby Pendle, a place that is world famous for its witches. In the year 1612 ten women and two men were accused of witchcraft and eleven of them were tried and ten hanged- One was found not guilty. Tried at the same time were the Salmesbury witches, three women, although unlike the Pendle Witches all three were acquitted. Between Worton, Salmesbury and Pendle there is a triangle of witchiness. There is something called ‘The Pendle Witch Trail’ in the area, it’s big tourism business. I like to think that the Worton witches never had a trial (if they had they would have been hung at Lancaster) and that the Wortonians decided to take matters into their own hands and lynch them based on spurious evidence. The story of the Worton witches would be seriously overshadowed by the Pendle withces, to the point where it is almost forgotten.
At that point in the seventeenth century Worton would have been no more than a collection of farms and isolated houses and it’s only with the coming of the industrial revolution one hundred and fifty plus years later that it would grow into the industrial town we see in the books. For the location this is unusual as most settlements in this part of Lancashire are small and rural. Most of the major industrial centres of the north were in a belt between Liverpool and Hull, many of them around Manchester. Worton is quite a way to the north of that and probably only grew due to the River Mender providing navigable access down to Preston and the Ribble valley, an easy, convenient way to get goods in and out. The coming of the railway in the 1830s would have only expanded the town’s industry- Which was based around lead mining and manufacturing.
By the time of the books Worton’s industry, like of much of industrial Britain, has severely declined and the town has slumped with it. The river is said to be so poisonous that it’ll kill anyone who sets a toe in there. This is thanks to years of people dumping lead waste into it. Being so far back from the M6 (and the main A5069 road into town not being marked as an A road on major maps) hurt the town and whilst some companies still operated from the town (mainly science based companies such as LUPUS,) many found other places, closer to Preston and Manchester, more economically viable.
Whilst numerous investments and rejuvenation projects are apparent in the books (Police Tower, the shopping mall, the Plaza, Chinatown,) most of them are white elephants or failed attempts to bring in tourists. Worton acts as an embodiment of British industry and industrial towns as a whole, lacking a purpose and looking for some way to adapt and survive. Much of Greater Manchester can be seen as a less extreme example of the same sort of thing- Places like Bolton and Rochdale, towns that once thrived, now struggle.
In the fourth book we get a suggestion that Tolkien may have visited Worton when he was writing Lord Of The Rings- Indeed, Tolkien did write bits of the book in the area- and this leads Doug to speculate that he may (in part) have immortalised the town as Mordor. He almost certainly didn’t. Will also says, in book 3, that Jane Austen stole the town’s motto for the title of Sense and Sensibility. She almost certainly didn’t.
Building Worton is a series of posts going behind the scenes of my Dark Legend books- Spawn, Swarm, Stop The Cavalry & Sting- and the world they inhabit. All are available from Amazon and iTunes.