Coal industry changed landscape of Burnley

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The picture today is another in the shorter Retro series I have been writing in recent weeks. A number of you have asked why I have changed the format of the Retro column. The answer is that my family have been going through some tough times.

My brother Stephen became the second of my brothers to die of cancer. Timothy died on January 16th and Stephen on November 21st. Other members of the family have been ill with the same disease and, although I am all right, 2014 has not been a good year for us Frosts. I, for one, am looking forward to a much better 2015 and wish all of you a very good 2015.

A column such as this can’t remain the same for ever. With reference to Retro, I agreed to write it but expressed a preference for addressing a theme rather than merely publishing a lot of old photos with little, if anything, to connect them. This has not been possible in recent months but I will be reviewing, with the Express, what I do in the next few weeks.

The single picture Retro is based round my choice of images of Old Burnley. All the pictures I have chosen are from the Briercliffe Society’s Collection of old postcards and photos. However, I have chosen images which are important to me. This one gives us a very clear close-up view of the railway sidings above the canal bridge in Manchester Road. There is also a panoramic view of Burnley as it was over 100 years ago.

The card was published by Lupton Bros of Burnley and is entitled “Burnley from Spring Hill”, the old name for the part of Burnley between Healey Heights and the River Calder. This area was once part of Habergham Eaves and was not included in Burnley until the creation of the Borough of Burnley in 1861. It might surprise some of you to learn there were more people living in Habergham than there were in Burnley at the time of the formation of the modern town of Burnley.

Habergham had been a township of about 7,000 acres until this time and, over the years since then, it has been whittled down to much less that that, though there is still a parish council for the present civil parish of Habergham Eaves. The boundary between Burnley and Habergham was the River Calder. A consequence of this was that, historically, Towneley Hall was not in Burnley but Habergham.

You can see just how far we are into Habergham in today’s picture by examining the photo. Look for the dome of Burnley Town Hall – it is in the upper part of the image, centre, left. The Calder, as you will know, flows directly besides the town hall, so all of the foreground, to the town hall, is, historically, in Habergham, not Burnley.

The picture is interesting from a number of perspectives. First, it interests those who study the history of the railways of the locality. In the immediate foreground there is the site now occupied by Burnley’s multiplex cinema which, when the picture was taken, was a goods yard with a special interest for Burnley’s coal merchants.

The timber buildings, on the left of the yard, are some of the offices of the local coal merchants. They sold their coal here before it was distributed across town by horse and cart, like the combination shown middle, right in the picture. We have the names of most of the coal merchants who were distributors of coal to the dealers whose job it was to take coal to individual customers in thousands of houses and workshops in town.

In 1914, around when this picture was taken, there were 12 merchants which included four colliery owners. These were Brooks and Brooks, the Cliviger Coal and Coke Co., Hargreaves Collieries (all Burnley firms, each with a presence at the Manchester Road Sidings, as they were properly called) and the Wigan Coal and Iron Co Ltd., which had an office near Rose Grove station.

In the picture you can see the name “Outhwaite and Son” on two of the coal wagons. They had offices at the Manchester Road Sidings and, in 1914, the principal in the firm was Matthew Outhwaite who lived at Raydale House in Nairne Street, Burnley.

An idea of just how important coal was to the Burnley economy can be seen in the number of coal dealers there were in town in 1914. In Burnley there were 104 dealers but these do not include similar firms in places like Padiham, Hapton, Briercliffe and Worsthorne. Of course, many of the firms would have been very small – one or two man operations - but they included Burnley Co-operative Society, which delivered coal to houses across the borough and Alfred and James Eltoft, who had large premises in Yorkshire Street and nearby Hill Top Street.

The card tells us much more than about how coal was distributed in Burnley. On the extreme left, you can see a part of Manchester Road which was rarely photographed. This part of Manchester Road had been known as South Parade, one of the better parts of Burnley in which to live in the early 19th Century, though it declined as a residential area as the cotton industry expanded from the time when the railways arrived in town in the 1840s.

On one of the buildings – extreme left – there is an advert for “Lipton’s Tea”, something you still see in the shops these days. Lipton’s was a national chain of grocers and tea merchants, very similar, in many respects, to Altham’s of Burnley when they were at their peak.

Lower down Manchester Road, you can see the town hall, with its west-facing clock face prominent in the picture. You will know the town hall was opened in 1888, and completed a year later, so this photo must have been taken after that time. In fact, it will have been taken a number of years later as the stone of the building is quite black. When it was built the sandstone was much lighter.

Another thing this image reminds us about is the industrial nature of the town. I have not counted all the mill chimneys that can be seen, and this is not the best picture for an in-depth count, but you can see Burnley was a great industrial town with few parts of Burnley without a mill.

Of course, what is missing is the town centre with its shops and market. If you know Old Burnley as well as I do, you will be able to identify where the shopping centre is. A little of it can be seen at the bottom of Manchester Road, where it joins St James’s Street.

When I have chosen single views for the Retro series of articles, I have often indicated why I have made the choice. There are a number of reasons this particular card has been chosen. There are very few good images of the top end of Manchester Road and this is one of the best but I like this card as I used to use it when I was teaching in Burnley in the 1970s.

What I did was, get a copy of the well-known drawing of “Burnley from Springhill” published in c1850, put it alongside this photo and get the children to tell me in what ways Burnley had changed in the 50 or so years between the two images. Comparing the two really showed that, in those 50 years, a great deal had changed. I realise you can’t do that today but I have used the two images together in a forthcoming book. I think you will find comparing the images very interesting.