ROGER FROST: The history of Duke Bar

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AFTER several weeks of looking at aerial photos of Burnley we return to our more usual format of considering a postcard of old Burnley. Those of you who have enjoyed the examination of aerial images will be pleased to know I have access to a few more and will be introducing you to them in the coming weeks and months.

I am sure that all of you will recognise the area of town – Colne Road – where these pictures were taken but, as the card has not been used, there is no stamp or date of postage on the back. The card is in really good condition but it is older than it might, at first, appear to be. It was produced by a local company, Constantine’s of Accrington, a firm I have mentioned before but about which, sadly, I know very little. I will have to do something about this sometime.

The top image is of the Duke of York at Duke Bar. To the left of the hotel is Colne Road and, to the right, with the tram on it, is Briercliffe Road. Notice the overhead cables (wires we once called them) which carried the electricity for the trams. You can see a good example of a cable column in the middle of the lower picture.

Where it was possible to attach brackets, to carry tram cables, to buildings, this was done. Of course, the agreement of the property owner was necessary but, often, there were no buildings near enough to the highway or the buildings were not tall enough and an expensive column was necessary. Notice the column near Thursby Gardens (bottom picture) was long enough to carry two cables but the ones on the right and left of the top picture were less impressive and performed a different function.

You might not be able to see it, but both of these images contain a great deal of detail. Unfortunately, this does not extend to the names on the individual businesses and I can’t read the destination board of the tram, both in the top image. Had I been able to decipher some of the names of the shops it would have been very helpful but I have another picture of the top image, taken by Frith’s, the nationally famous postcard-makers.

That card is dated 1906 and it shows almost everything that is on the Constantine picture of the Duke of York. I used the Frith’s image in a book I wrote, with the late Ken Bolton, and which was republished by Frith’s as “Burnley”, in their Town and City series.

If you look at the extreme left of the top picture you will see there is a large illegible sign. However, the Frith’s postcard is clear and it tells us the premises housed the Duke Bar Bottle Stores. The sign also contains the name of one of Burnley’s brewers, Grimshaw’s. The shop must have been what we would call an off-licence, though it is clear, from the Frith image, that the business also was a grocer’s as there is a sign for Bovril and another for Sunlight Soap.

The top picture also contains a “gawmless”. It is difficult to make out but it stands in the road, almost directly beneath the famous clock on the Duke of York. For those of you who do not know, a gawmless is a street lamp, originally (as here) gas lit, and getting its name because locals thought it to be “gawmless” as it was always standing in the middle of the road! There were gawmlesses at all of Burnley’s more important road junctions and this one, at Duke Bar, was one of the most well-known. It was not the original. That was at the junction of St James’s Street and Manchester Road and was erected, in 1823, as an advert for the Burnley Gas Company.

I expect readers will know how it was that Duke Bar got its name. This is of relatively recent vintage because the name comes from two sources; the Duke of York Hotel, which is named after Queen Victoria’s uncle – the famous Grand Old Duke of York of the nursery rhyme – and the fact that, at about the same time, toll gates, popularly known as toll bars, were erected across both roads.

The road here was turnpiked in the 1760s and 1770s and the private company, which made the investment to improve the road, was given the right to build toll houses so that they could get their money back and make a profit on their enterprise. A toll house was erected here, in about 1770, and early drawings survive of the original building which was called Hebrew Bar.

It might surprise you to learn that the first of the roads shown here to be turnpiked was Briercliffe Road. The original turnpike came down Briercliffe Road (then Burnley Lane) from what is now Marsden Road at Lane Head. It was not until later that Colne Road above Duke Bar was built. The land here was very badly drained and, as you would expect, there were few properties in this area whereas there were several communities along Marsden Road. It made sense for the road builders to plan to route they did at the time but, later, the upper part of Colne Road was constructed.

I ought to say something about Thursby Gardens. As you can see, they are shown in the bottom picture. They still exist but they are not as extensive as they once were because, in 1937, the Prestige Factory was built on part of the gardens.

The site of Thursby Gardens lies on land formerly known as Cronkshaw Meadow and is between Burnley Central Station and the site of Bank Hall. This house was once known as Bank Top (hence the old name for the railway station) and it was a large half-timbered house possibly until about 1780 when it was pulled down and replaced by the stone-built Bank Hall which many of you will remember. Originally, it was a private house but it also served as a military hospital in the First World War and a maternity hospital after that.

The health authorities did not do a good job of maintaining the hall and what had been a fine house was pulled down in the 1990s, its site becoming a home for the elderly. The Thursby family, which owned collieries in Burnley, inherited the house once General Scarlett’s widow, Lady Charlotte, died in late Victorian times.

It was Sir John Hardy Thursby who, in 1906, gave the land for the gardens.

It was intended that it would have a number of sporting facilities including tennis courts and that through the gardens there should be access to the railway station. Part of this access is shown in the picture but Constantine’s have got its name wrong. They call it Station Road. We all know that the correct name is Station Approach.

I always thought this to be a splendid name and, when it is considered Bank Parade and North Parade are close by, at one time those involved in the development of this part of town must have had lofty plans for the area. Unfortunately, any plans that might have existed did not materialise but it is nice that part of the green oasis of Thursby Gardens has survived, possibly against the odds.