Days when a corn mill stood in Bridge Street

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This week I am going to introduce you to one of my favourite images of Old Burnley. Some of you will recognise it is of Bridge Street as it was just over 100 years ago, but, for those of you who do not know where we are, a small part of the street survives.

This is the property of which the Bridge Bierhouse, formerly the Bridge Inn, is a part. When built, the Bridge Inn was on the corner of Bridge Street and Bank Parade. The name of the inn derived from the ancient bridge over the river Brun which was built so people from the southern part of Burnley could get to the King’s Corn Mill located on the right bank of the river, to the left of the buildings in the middle of the picture.

The King’s Mill was founded by Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, who was Lord of the Manor of Ightenhill of which Burnley was part. In fact, Earl Henry, who died in 1311, was a great friend to Burnley in that it was he who obtained the right, from Edward I, to hold a market here. This was in 1294 and Henry also built the first fulling mill in town, also on the Brun, at this time.

Of course, it was in Henry’s interest to develop his estate. A corn mill, in this case the official manorial, or soke, mill, was the most efficient means of making flour. The mill was leased to a local landowner who then further leased it to a miller, who was, thus, provided with employment. All the Lord of the Manor’s tenants had to take their corn to the mill to be made into flour and the miller was paid for his work by charging for his work or retaining a percentage of the flour milled.

When Henry died, in 1311, his property passed from his heiress to the royal family and, when John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, died in 1398, his son, Henry of Bolingbroke, succeeded to his estates which included the Manor of Ightenhill and its manorial corn mill. However, this Henry was a fugitive in France when his father died. Richard II had banished him and, when the king took control of John’s estates, Henry decided to do something about it.

What he did was wrest the crown from Richard in 1399. Henry made himself king, retaining his father’s title and the estates associated with his father’s Duchy. From that time to this, all monarchs have also been Dukes of Lancaster, the senior of the royal duchies. The Queen is Duke of Lancaster to this day. Note Her Majesty is Duke, not Duchess. Queen Victoria and all Queens regnant since 1399 have also held the title of Duke of Lancaster.

When the Burnley Soke Mill, to use its proper name, fell into royal hands it changed its name to King’s Mill, the name by which it, and its successors, were known for the best part of 600 years.

The fulling mill was situated yards to the right of today’s picture. Its purpose was to be part of the finishing process in the early textile industry. Once wool was woven into cloth it had to go through the fulling process which cleaned the cloth and evened out the weave. As with the corn mill, the Lord of the Manor received an income from the fulling mill, though it was much less than the income from the corn mill.

The market also produced an income for the Lord though, for about 500 years it was held near St Peter’s Church. At some point, in the late 18th Century, the market moved first to the junction of St James’s Street and Manchester Road and, in 1870, near to where it is now, close to the original site of the corn mill.

As you look at the picture, you will notice there is something of a bend in the path on the left of Bridge Street. This indicates where Bank Parade branched off, to the right. Though you cannot see it, in this picture, the Bridge Inn was constructed on the upper part of this junction with a row of five shops attached to the building. These shops are still standing and, in the rooms above them, the Lucas Group established the first of their clubs in Burnley.

The reason for mentioning the junction of Bridge Street and Bank Parade is to let you know the street, above the junction, though it became known as Bridge Street for all of its length to Parker Street, was originally known as Mill Street. The name, as you will have worked out, derives from the corn mill. The street gave access to the mill from all of the manorial farms to the north and east of Burnley of which there was a considerable number.

The part of Burnley you are looking at, in the photo, might not seem all that ancient. None of the buildings, at first glance, appear to be particularly old but, if you factor in, the date of the corn mill, and the nearby fulling mill, both founded in the 1290s, you can see we are dealing with one of the older areas of town.

Less is known about the fulling mill but the corn mill probably went through several incarnations.

The early corn mill may have been very small and it is likely to have been made of timber and stone with a thatched roof made of local reeds. The power was generated by a large wooden water wheel.

We know work was constantly undertaken to keep the building in good repair and that, at some time, it was reroofed with local stone slates.

However, we also know the corn mill was destroyed by fire in the early 1820s when it was rebuilt as a steam powered cotton spinning mill.

A small portion of this building can be seen in the photo but, remarkably, it appears some of the means by which power was generated, when the mill was powered by water, seems to have survived the fire and a photo still exist of this machinery.

If you look at the picture, part of the last of the buildings to be known as King’s Mill at this site, can be seen just beyond the middle of the photo. You can identify the mill as it has a sign on the upper part of its wall which reads, “Burnley School of Arms and Gymnasium: Principal J Gorman”.

This is confirmed in the 1914 Commercial Directory which is also informative about other buildings in this area.

I have recently acquired a much better magnifying glass and, on the photo, I can make out that the small building, just in front of King’s Mill (there is a figure in a shawl and a child in white), has a board on it displaying the name “Lupton”. The Directory tells me this smaller building was the premises of Lupton and Sons, french polishers, the principal of which was William Lupton who lived, not far away, at 51 Master Street, Burnley.

The small building in the picture looks suspiciously like it might have been an inn and, at first, I thought it could be the Crown. However, the Crown, a very well known pub in its day, was further up Bridge Street opposite its junction with Edward Street. I will have to look into this but will keep you informed.

On the near side of Lupton’s building there is another sign pointing to Hargreaves’ Old Brewery and beyond Lupton’s there is an additional sign which informs us King’s Mill, when the photo was taken, was in the hands of Nuttall and Co. Ltd, printers. I think the building with the large four-pane window, just as Bridge Street begins its rise to Parker Street, is the Crown.

In the foreground, left, you can see the Sun Inn which is very clearly marked with a prominent sign which advertises “billiards, wine and spirits”. The Sun was built in 1790 – the date stone survives at Towneley Hall – but this building was constructed as a direct consequence of the removal of Burnley centre from the St Peter’s area to the new centre. The clue is in the date, the time when the new centre was being developed and Bridge Street, as it already existed, was one of the first on which buildings were commenced.

There is much more that can be written about this interesting old photo but I will end with something on the right of the image. I refer to the three golden balls, the sign of a pawnbroker. This shows us where Richard Webster’s Bridge Street store could be found. In fact the letter “W”, at the top of the building, is the first letter of the word “Webster’s” and the store was on the corner of Bridge Street and Cannon Street.