This summer an iconic mascot from Halton’s industrial past will return to the village to open a new business venture.
On August 31, Rajah the Elephant will come back to where she was born: the old Luneside Engineering works at Halton Mill, now reopening as an environmentally friendly enterprise hub.
When Halton Mill was owned by Luneside Engineering, many high specification components were produced within the mill’s old walls.
Perhaps the most original and surreal product were the almost life-sized walking mechanical elephants that Luneside Engineering made from the late 1940s for the tourism firm Macadese Entertainment Ltd.
The elephants were powered by 250cc petrol engines, could carry six children and soon became a fixture on Morecambe promenade. Luneside Engineering applied its passion for precision to the manufacture of these elephants, using plaster workers from Paris to create a realistic facade to conceal the mechanical innards.
Demand for the elephants grew and soon children all over Britain were enjoying the surreal thrill of riding an elephant down a windy promenade.
Where the elephants went, excited children followed.
Each winter elephants returned to Halton Mill for maintenance before returning to the seaside.
Luneside Engineering closed in 2004, and the site was bought a few years later by Lancaster Cohousing for their pioneering eco community.
Chris Coates, one of the original members of Lancaster Cohousing who has managed the renovation of the mill, said: “We got Halton Mill as part of the deal.
“We decided to create a low carbon workspace for small enterprises, local people, community organisations, freelancers, artists and crafts people, and to give it a community feel.”
One day Chris was talking to a tree-surgeon who said he had been an apprentice at Luneside Engineering.
The former apprentice told Chris about the elephants and that a photograph existed of an elephant walking out of the mill’s double doors.
A quick Google search led Chris to the website cyberneticzoo, which provided a brief history of the elephants.
“What was truly exciting was a picture dated from 2010 showing a mechanical elephant used by the Crosby Lions, a charity involved in the Crosby Carnival,” said Chris, “I wondered whether this was one of ours.”
So Chris emailed the Crosby Lions to ask whether they still had the elephant.
They did, an elephant called Rajah, but they were uncertain of his history.
Chris sent Ivan Swainbrick, the Crosby Lions “elephant handler”, patent blueprints for a Luneside elephant, and Ivan confirmed that Rajah was indeed made by the firm.
Ivan agreed to bring Rajah back to his birthplace, as the guest of honour for the official opening of Halton Mill where he will meet both former employees of Luneside Engineering and the future tenants of Halton Mill.
He will also be offering elephant rides, for children aged between five and 15 depending on their height. Everyone is welcome to the opening between 1pm and 4pm, with the official opening at 3pm.