By Harry Nuttall, Darwen historian
THE chap who jumped off the top of India Mill chimney made a name for himself in Darwen folklore. But nobody is quite sure of his name, other than his Nom de vol – “Steppin’ Lightly.”
It was around mid-June 2007 and ladders and scaffolding had been fastened right to the top of the 150-year-old structure, including the rather tricky overhangs close to the 300ft-high top.
The chimney had just been capped and several layers of brickwork had been replaced.
The job would be signed off in a few days, but there was just time for “Mr Lightly” and a couple of pals to hop on to the builders’ ladders and framework so they might hone their climbing and base-jumping skills...
It would have been hard enough on a warm, sunny day. But in the early hours of the morning, with just a bit of help from moonlight, street lights and their small head torches, it proved no easy task.
Good old “Steppin’” and his pals probably weren’t too scared of coming up against local police officers and being arrested. But they would certainly have been rather apprehensive.
Especially as anyone walking home from a late night out might have raised the alarm. Wonder what response they would have got from a call warning police that some oddballs were taking photos on top of India Mill chimney.
“Steppin’” had a bit of form for this sort of escapade, apparently.
While his two mates readied themselves to go back over the edge on to the cornice and begin the laborious descent, Our Hero decided he wasn’t going to hang around either.
So, after arranging a few photos, he climbed on to the parapet, clocked his car parked safely by Sainsbury’s car park 200ft or so towards the Circus – and, of course, some 300ft below. He took a deep breath – and jumped off.
He soared over the mill car park and landed close to his car. He folded his parachute, packed his gear and, not surprisingly, was off into the distance well before his pals edged their way to terra firma.
So who was “Steppin’ Lightly”? No one ever found out. Rumour had it that he lived over Manchester way and had been planning to tackle India Mill for months as it was, of course, the finest chimney in Lancashire.
Steeplejack Fred Dibnah was a big fan. He admitted he didn’t like some chimneys, but said India Mill chimney was “friendly.” He liked to climb it. First major work on the top of the chimney was completed in 2021 after nesting boxes for peregrine falcons had been put in position.
A display about the history of India Mill and its towering square chimney can be seen at Darwen Heritage Centre.
The centre a small stock of the autobiography of Darrener Pietro Tudda available, priced £15. Proceeds will go to the East Lancashire Hospice.