Walk 105: Burnley Town Walk: Memories of a time gone by…

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 2.2 miles (3.5km). This walk follows ‘The Burnley Town Centre’ trail, although, as always, we have added our slant & additions to it

Time to walk: It should only take about an hour, but this is a town walk, so you’ll want to stop & explore – we loved the Library & spent over 1 hour in there!

Difficulty: Easy & all on hard footpaths

Parking: Plenty of central car parks

Public toilets: Cafes, bars etc

Map of the route: 

Some people will only look at the surface of Burnley & think it’s another run down northern town. We scratch under the facade & imagine what the town looked, felt, sounded & smelt like in the heyday of the Industrial Revolution – we love places like Burnley!

Burnley is a market town in Lancashire, with a population of 73,021 & lays 21 miles north of Manchester & 20 miles east of Preston. The town began to develop in the early medieval period as a number of farming hamlets surrounded by manor houses & royal forests, & has held a market for more than 700 years. During the Industrial Revolution it became one of Lancashire’s most prominent mill towns. At its peak it was one of the world’s largest producers of cotton cloth & a major centre of engineering

Burnley has retained a strong manufacturing sector & has economic links with the cities of Manchester & Leeds, as well as neighbouring towns along the M65 corridor. In 2013, in recognition of its success, Burnley received an Enterprising Britain award from the UK Government, for being the “Most Enterprising Area in the UK”

In the second half of the 18th century, the manufacture of cotton began to replace wool. Burnley’s earliest known factories, dating from the mid-century, stood on the banks of the River Calder, close to where it is joined by the River Brun, & relied on water power to drive the spinning machines

The 18th century also saw the rapid development of coal mining: the drift mines & shallow bell pits of earlier centuries were replaced by deeper shafts, meeting industrial as well as domestic demand locally, & by 1800 there were over a dozen pits in the modern day centre of the town alone – we’ll come across where one was on this walk

The arrival of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in 1796 made possible transportation of goods in bulk, bringing a huge boost to the town’s economy. Dozens of new mills were constructed, along with many foundries & ironworks that supplied the cotton mills & coal mines with machinery & cast & wrought iron for construction. The town became renowned for its mill engines, & the Burnley Loom was recognised as one of the best in the world

The Cotton Famine of 1861–1865, caused by the American Civil War, was disastrous for the town. However, the resumption of trade led to a quick recovery &, by 1866, the town was the largest producer of cotton cloth in the world. By the 1880s the town was manufacturing more looms than anywhere in the country

The start of the 20th century saw Burnley’s textile industry at the height of its prosperity. By 1910, there were approximately 99,000 power looms in the town & it reached its peak population of over 100,000 in 1911. However, the First World War heralded the beginning of the collapse of the English textiles industry & the start of a steady decline in the town’s population

Shall we go & explore?

Let’s Walk!

1. Our short town walk starts in Manchester Road outside The Mechanics’ Institute

The Burnley Mechanics is a theatre & former Mechanics’ Institute which was built 1854–55 to a design by Todmorden architect, James Green & converted to a theatre in 1979. Sir Charles Towneley opened the institute in 1855 as a club for “reading & discussion by an ‘earnest few’ (workers)

As the town grew, the institute increasingly became a social & cultural community centre, including dances, a library, concert hall & a billiard room. Architect William Waddington enlarged the building in 1888. Burnley Borough Council bought the building in 1959 & leased it to companies for a variety of leisure purposes. In 1979, the interior was reconstructed as a theatre & it became the town’s arts & entertainment centre in 1986

2. Across the road’s the Prudential Building which was originally built in 1880 as the Post Office for the town. Some books refer to its architecture as resembling that of a Dutch building

Keep on the same side of the road up the hill though to arrive at the very grand Burnley Town Hall

It’s worth crossing the road to look at the extremely ornate frontage of the Town Hall which was opened in October 1888

3. Walk down Elizabeth Street which contains many fine buildings of note. Most of the streets in this area are named after members of the Grimshaw family

…especially the Public Hall & Technical School, and at the bottom, the Temperance Hall. The Hall was built in 1909 by the Temperance Society to combat the evils of the demon drink. It later became a cinema

4. Directly ahead’s Burnley Police Station which stands on the site of what was once the town’s cattle market. A Blue Plaque also tells us that in 1868 this was the site of the “great hustings meeting of Burnley’s first Parliamentary Election”. There was also a fairground, a bus station & The Gaiety Theatre here

5. Turn & walk back up Elizabeth Street & turn right into the rather beautiful Nicholas Street which has some magnificent buildings designed in a Florentine Renaissance style by William Waddington. The ones below on the corner (24-22) were originally owned by the Oddfellows Club as a hotel, offices & warehouse in 1869

Next along, 18-20 were built in 1866 for the Poor Law Union. A poor law union was a geographical territory & early local government unit. Poor law unions existed in England & Wales from 1834 to 1930 for the administration of poor relief. Prior to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 the administration of the English Poor Laws was the responsibility of the vestries of individual parishes, which varied widely in their size, populations, financial resources, rateable values & requirements. From 1834 the parishes were grouped into unions, jointly responsible for the administration of poor relief in their areas & each governed by a board of guardians. A parish large enough to operate independently of a union was known as a poor law parish.

Collectively, poor law unions & poor law parishes were known as poor law districts. The grouping of the parishes into unions caused larger centralised workhouses to be built to replace smaller facilities in each parish. Poor law unions were later used as a basis for the delivery of registration from 1837, & sanitation outside urban areas from 1875. Poor law unions were abolished by the Local Government Act 1929, which transferred responsibility for public assistance to county & county borough councils

No’s 14 to 16 were originally private houses but were then converted to offices…

Over the road’s an archway with a steep slope leading down to a yard. Have a quick walk down there & look back up through to Nicholas Street. Where you are now standing was the original level of this street…

6. On reaching the end of Nicholas Street, across the road on Grimshaw Street’s a very ornate building, now a restaurant, which used to be the National Westminster Bank. It was designed by William Waddington & opened in 1876 as the Manchester & County Bank. Have a close look at the intricate carvings above the doorway

7. We do love a symmetrical building & next door’s one that definitely doesn’t disappoint, the Burnley Building Society Offices. The Society started in 1850 & merged with the National & Provincial Building Society in 1983, & then was subsequently taken over by Abbey National

The bottom of the street now opens right up into a large area. The huge building on the right adjoining the Police Station is the Magistrates Court which was built in the early 1950s

In front of it is a statue with a mosaic that was presented by the County Council in 1961 to commemorate 100 years of the Borough

8. This area was created as a Peace Garden. Following the General Election in 1979, the Government wished local councils to spend money on defence against nuclear war. Burnley followed Manchester & joined the Nuclear Free Councils. In 1985, the Peace Committee asked the Council to set up a Peace Garden in line with others across the world

The Peace Committee dissolved when the Berlin Wall came down in October 1985. Later a plaque was also put up to commemorate Diana, Princess of Wales

9. The large building to the left with the spiral slope is the magnificent Burnley Library…

…which opened in July 1930 with the assistance of the great US steel magnate benefactor Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was born into a poor Scottish family & invested millions of his fortune into improving the education of the Scottish people

When we spoke to the locals they described it as a drab building. We asked whether they’d been inside it, which they hadn’t. So go inside & admire the openness of this beautiful building together with the ornate glass roof which gives it an amazing airiness

10. Back out next door the Aenon Baptist Chapel which was built in 1852 & was designed by the same person who designed the Mechanics’ Institute, James Green. The chapel no longer operates as such today. It doesn’t look much from this side & is more ornate from the other

In front of the chapel’s the town’s war memorial

There’s a rather interesting plaque on the wall of the chapel which commemorates the local Burnley Butchers who died in the campaign – really poignant & we’ve never seen anything like this before

11. Continue the trail by walking between the two buildings & turn right towards the Bus Station

Tuen round & see the more elegant side of the chapel

12. Turn left – be careful as this is one of the main routes for buses into the station. On the corner on the right, is the Borough Building Society Offices with its distinct clock on the wall

There’s a rather interesting information board outside the building which shows how Burnley’s businesses export their products to different parts of the world. Well done – that’s a great idea & something that we could replicate in Northampton

13. Let’s explore the shopping centre area of the town so turn right along Parker Lane

Turn right into Boot Way which contains the Jireh Baptist Chapel. It was built in 1858 for the “Gadsbyites”, a Baptist sect found only in this area. On 2 August 1995 the chapel was designated as a Grade I listed building by English Heritage

Unfortunately it’s no longer a place of worship & is now another bar

14. Come back out of Boot Way & continue along to the pedestrianised St James Street which appears to be the main shopping area of the town…

The pub on the right corner is The Boot Inn. This grade II listed building was designed in the ‘Edwardian Baroque style’ in 1911 by Blackpool architect H Thompson. He also designed The White Lion on the opposite corner of Parker Lane. The ‘Boot’ replaced an earlier Boot Inn, which stood on the same site & was originally a small farmhouse. Like several other farmhouses in Burnley, it was converted into a public house in the late 18th or early 19th century

15. Turn left along St James Street…

About 60 yards along on the left’s The Swan Inn which again used to be a farmhouse & is reputed to be the oldest remaining building in the town centre

Walk down the side of the pub to the outbuildings that are the toilets! What these once were are given away by the bars on the windows – this once the town’s gaol

16. Look for a different coloured circle on the pavement near the junction with Manchester Road…

When the area was renovated a couple of old favourites were removed – the bandstand & the object that once stood here known as ‘The Gormless’. This was a replica of a Victorian lamp standard. It was given it’s name due to the fact that it was standing in the middle of the road!

It seems a shame it’s no longer here. The town’s market was held here in the 19th century & the road was then called Market Street

17. On the right of the junction’s Burton’s Building…

The building took 6 years to build between 1933 – 1939 & the four corner stones were laid by the members of the Burton family. Previously on this site was one of the town’s most renowned pubs, The Bull

18. Walk up Manchester Road. Further up you can see where we started this walk, but we’re not heading that far…

On the left’s the rather grandiose red bricked HSBC building…

Keep to the right side of the street to arrive at another of the town’s institutions, the Big Window

We like a brand that does what it says, so have a look down the side street & you’ll see…the Big Window!. The pub dates back to the 19th century &, in those days, a window of this size was extremely unusual

If you fancy an ‘on the go snack’ then this looks incredible value

19. Walk up Manchester Road to the next traffic light junction. Across the road on the left is another, rather ornate building, the Union Bank of Manchester building. The Bank was founded in Manchester in 1836 rapidly growing into one of Lancashire’s more important banks. It absorbed a number of other northern banks including Sewell & Nephew’s Bank of Manchester in 1888; Yates & Co of Liverpool in 1904, the Blackburn Bank in 1906 & other banks in Cheshire & Yorkshire before it too was taken over by Barclays in 1919, though it traded under the old name of Union Bank of Manchester until 1940

The building in Burnley dates from 1894 & was designed by the Burnley architect, William Waddington. In more recent years, Burnley Building Society & its immediate successor, the National & Provincial Building Society, restored the property. Sadly it’s no longer a Bank

20. Turn right at the traffic lights along Hargreaves Street & we’re now heading into one of the old industrial areas of the town with many old mills…

At the end of the road on the right’s the old Post Office which dates right back to 1905…

…& on the other side of the street the building which was undergoing renovation, was once the New Horse Inn. It was here that an unsuccessful attempt to form a Co-operative Society took place in the 1850’s

21. We’ve now arrived at our favourite part of this walk, Hammerton Street which is named after one of Burnley’s early lawyers & industrialists, Holden Hammerton. He may also have owned a coal mine in the Hammerton Street area in the early 19th Century. Hammerton Street runs from St James’s Street to Manchester Road, just above the Town Hall & forms a bridge over the river

The street is very well known in Burnley for being the home of the former Burnley Co-operative Society which was founded, at the junction of Holden Street & Hammerton Street, in 1860. This was a number of years after the founding of the Rochdale Pioneers Society in 1844, but Burnley had had a number of short lived Co-ops, not all of them retail, before that. The purpose-built Co-operative buildings of Hammerton Street date from 1862 & the large buildings, in their Medieval Italian style, are based on the palaces of Venice when the city was at the height of its importance

Have a look down the narrow & dead-end Tanner Street. The society bought & demolished Gregory’s Tannery to make way for new shops…

Look up to the corner of the main building to see a plaque which commemorates the opening of the 1885 building by the author Thomas Hughes who wrote the famous novel for boys “Tom Brown’s School Days”. Thomas Hughes was an early supporter of socialism & was happy to be involved with the early Co-operative Movement, especially during the dark days of the Cotton Famine

22. Walk down Paradise Street which is opposite Tanner Street….

This is probably the narrowest street in the town, but during the textile boom of the 19th century it was anything but ‘paradise’ down here. It really was the heart of the town &, as you move further down, the old textile warehouses squeeze in from either side across the cobblestones – fabulous though!

23. Once through the gap turn left into Coal Street…

…which is so called due to there being a coal pit here in the 18th century. There were many pits around Burnley at that time

At the end of the street turn left along St James Street once more…

24. Walk past Marks & Spencer to arrive at the Empire Buildings which stand out along here due to their Art Deco design, especially the windows

They were built by the Burnley Corporation in 1927. Walk briefly down Brown Street on the right & look in the distance to see the viaduct with its 15 arches that has carried the railway across Burnley since 1848

To the left’s Gas Street. Here in 1818, gas was first generated in the town & was used to illuminate a factory

25. Go back to St James Street & cross over towards Cow Lane. The building on the corner used to be Newtown Mill. Look at the original windows…

Walk down Cow Lane & stand on the bridge – you can really now get a sense of what it was like in the mills when they were at their height

On the left’s the former Proctor’s Iron Works  which were once one of Burnley’s most important foundries. The building was originally a cotton spinning mill & can be dated back to about 1830. It was taken over in 1882 by James Proctor to make Proctors’ Mechanical Stokers. At the time of his death in 1903, it was estimated that in excess of 10,000 of his units were in operation across the world

26. Carry on past the foundry & cross the car park up the steps. Stand on the bridge & again you can feel the days when this area was really buzzing…

Carry on up Holden Street through the square…

…& turn left into the other end of Hammerton Street where there’s another old mill that’s now a bar & nightclub

27. Turn right along the Calder once more…

…& then left up through the car park behind the Town Hall to arrive back at the Mechanics’ Institute where this walk started. If you fancy some refreshments then we can recommend the Wetherspoon’s pub just down Manchester Road called The Brun Lea

The name of this pub recalls the town’s origins in a Saxon settlement called Brun Lea, meaning the field by the Brun or brown field. In 1294, the lord of ‘the manor of Brunleye’, Henry de Lacy, was granted a charter for a weekly market & an annual three day fair. In 1800, the ancient weekly market was moved to a position near the bottom of Manchester Road, then called Market Street. The Bull Inn, one of the town’s most important inns during the 19th century, stood on the corner of Manchester Road, a stone’s throw from this site

The pub has some excellent information & picture boards about the times gone by & stocks a superb range of local beers, all for less than £2.10 a pint!

So that’s the end of our look at Burnley &, yes to the outside eye it may have seen better times. But we challenge you to walk it with an open mind & imagine what it was like in those better times. We really enjoyed it so…

Go Walk!