Some Blackburn History
‘Lancashire and textiles have been closely linked since the 13th century. The manufacture of woollen goods came first, then linen, and then fustians, which had a linen warp and a cotton weft. Cotton came to predominate later in the 17th and 18th centuries. Lancashire's famous damp climate might have many drawbacks, but it did favour the spinning of fibres and all over the county people eked out a living, combining small scale farming, weaving and spinning. Blackburn was the market town for East Lancashire and was poised to become the centre of the cotton industry, not only in this country, but the world.’
I have not really taken the time to see the place where I live or to investigate what it once was. I had no idea that at one time all the eyes of the world focused quite heavily on Blackburn and what went on here.
I have found things that make me proud of this town.
A history deeply entrenched in work, a people that did what was needed in order to survive.
‘Cottontown tells the story of a manufacturing process that started in isolated cottages on the wind and rain swept West Pennines and ended with derelict weaving sheds and the demolition of tall, soot blackened mill chimneys. In between was the boom time, when Cotton was King and Blackburn was the weaving capital of the world, when millionaire magnates lived in country mansions and the workers made the best of it in overcrowded, uncomfortable, unsanitary conditions.’
This was a cotton town primarily. Prolific and thriving, its use of criss-crossing canals and major trade routes to all points south from Scotland and Wales increased its importance.
Up to 15 years ago we also had a coal distribution network with weighing yard right here, just down the road apiece from where I work today.
‘The industrialisation of the cotton industry sucked in workers like a fire sucks in air. The population of towns like Blackburn and Darwen increased threefold in the first half on the nineteenth century. With few exceptions living conditions were grim. When one worker complained to the mill owner that the houses weren't fit to live in, he was told they weren't for living in, they were for sleeping in, the mill was for living in.’
I sit at my nice clean desk typing away and complain about the seat not being very comfortable! These people lived hand-to-mouth, days in the mills from being as young as four years old. Getting trapped and caught in machinery was an accepted risk for these people and mills claimed many lives. And for what you ask? Food and lodgings mainly. The northern work ethic brought many people from far and wide. Integration started with an influx of Italian and American businessmen. The workers of the north with their ‘can-do’ attitude were in hot demand.
Perhaps it’s inevitable then that Blackburn became populated by bars, theatres and cinemas.
Blackburn was at the centre of cinematic revolution and it’s believed this was fuelled by world trade flowing through here and the exotic tastes and needs of this industrial melting pot.
‘It was believed that Blackburn had the world's first purpose built cinema. This was the Alexandra, on Dock Street, which was reputedly built in 1906, which would have made it the oldest. However evidence shows that it was not completed until 1909’.
As a testament to its sheer size it’s also worth mentioning Blackburn had 14 cinemas. 14! I guess all those poor workers needed some recreation after days as long as 16 hours working in mills.
The ‘knocker up’ would do the rounds in a morning, rousing all the workers from their beds.
Perhaps this lead to the later phrase pertaining to being in a family way: ‘knocked up’?
Handweaving was gone and mechanisation was here. The government was forced to address the increasing need of the people living and working here. There was little or no structure for health care and at times policing of the people.
‘Police Commissioners and Local Boards of Health had been enough to run towns for many years before industrialisation and subsequent rapid growth. Services and facilities were now needed with public bodies to manage them. Blackburn was incorporated in 1851 and Darwen in 1878. The vision, energy and indeed money, of early industrialists and councillors led to the building of public halls, libraries, hospitals and schools. Later a combination of central government legislation, wider enfranchisement and local taxation through rates ensured that public services were properly established and funded.’
The dreaded council tax we all love to hate! But it is clear to see its honest beginnings and intentions. In order to keep workers in Blackburn with their families, facilities needed to be invested in. It was only in later years that these investments went down on the Governments agenda.
I am trying to trace family names and links in the area for anyone linked to Greens, Pickins, Cherries and Coupe’s.
I will figure out my family’s role in Blackburn in due course.
That’s all for now.
Thank you for reading.