In 1935, the Blackburn Town Council formed an Industrial Development Sub-Committee to help bring new industry into the town. It is from this small beginning that the transformation of Blackburn from a cotton town to a modern industrial town can be dated. The new industries then started included domestic appliances, wallpaper, dog food, clothing, chemicals and leather goods.
The Cotton Employers and the Town Council were still hopeful that the Government would take some action to give cotton a boost. The Mayor of Blackburn, Mr William Coupe invited all the Lancashire Mayors and Council leaders to to a meeting at the Town Hall on February 25, 1936 to plan concerted action to force the Government to assist the cotton industry. They drew up a list of points to be put to the Board of Trade in London, and on April 28, a deputation led by Mr. Coupe presented, a 1200 word statement which pointed out that Blackburn had 32.6 per cent unemployment, that North East Lancashire had made a big contribution to British exports; that India was not buying cotton goods in proportion to our purchase of Indian cotton, which were now three times as high as in 1931; that Blackburn was not getting her share of Government contracts; and finally Mr. Coupe wanted a 10 per cent subsidy on cotton exports. Dr. Burgin, President of the Board of Trade listened sympathetically, but ruled out a subsidy, and could not promise anything definite on defence contracts.
The cotton industry thus declined in the 1930s, and by the end of 1936 there were only 66 working cotton mills, with 37,000 looms. 1937 brought a slight revival in the local industry with new markets in West Africa, and a large order for flags and decorations in connection with the Coronation celebrations on May 12. A wage census published in July gave the average weekly wage for all weavers in Lancashire as £1. 16s. 4d. (£1. 81 ½ p.). In 1937 work started on a Royal Ordnance Factory, the "Fuse Factory" at Lower Darwen, and at Little Harwood, the foundations of the Philips Factory were laid. This firm was to become Blackburn's biggest employer of labour, and played a major role in the town's future prosperity.
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With the cotton industry in decline from the 1930s something had to fill the employment vacuum left by the closure of over half the town's cotton mills. The town would have to find new industries and employment for its citizens. This was to prove difficult as there was no money available to attract new industry to the area. Lancashire was not included as a development area under the Special Areas Act of 1934, this would have meant that Blackburn would have been eligible for some financial assistance. In 1937 Blackburn was added to an amendment of the Act which meant that loans were to become available for new businesses who wished to start business in the town.
There were other incentives such as the Council being able to offer low rents or reduced purchase prices to those who wanted a site to set up a business. Slowly Blackburn began to employ its people in new ways.
Industries that arrived included the Royal Ordnance Factory on a site at Lower Darwen which was to make munitions and would eventually supply jobs for around 2,000 people. The first industrial estate was opened in Whitebirk in Blackburn in the late 1930s. The Mullard firm was established there, a company which made radio valaves and would later become one of the town's largest employers. The company later diversified, making components for aircraft and eventually being involved in the manufacture of components for television sets. C. Walker & Sons later to become known as Walker Steel employed many in the town in the production of steel. British Northrop Loom Co. Limited was a firm founded in 1902, they manufactured looms at Greenbank Ironworks. They were also set to become a major employer supplying textile machinery to the countries which, ironically had dealt Blackburn's cotton trade the death blow.
Eventually as years passed Blackburn made a switch from textiles to being a town whose main industries were light engineering. This would eventually soak up many of the jobs lost in the demise of textile trade. However, many have since commented that Blackburn has never fully recovered from the loss of its prime industry.
By Rachael Spencer
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