Tiplady - an unusual name with a less than desirable derivation! It is believed to be a nickname for a lecherous man or libertine. However, as we shall see, the subject of his sketch does not really fit this description, being an upstanding member of the community and a family man.
Charles Tiplady is probably most famous for the diary which he kept from 1839 until his death in 1873. It covers the history of Blackburn during that time with details about his own life, such as observations on the weather, his health and excursions that he had undertaken. W. A. Abram the well-known local historian transcribed extracts from the diary after its author's death, which were then published in the Blackburn Times, but he did not include Tiplady's more personal recollections.
Charles Tiplady was born in Blackburn on 23rd June 1808. He was the fourth child of Thomas and Elizabeth Tiplady. His father's family originated from the Bingley area of West Yorkshire and his mother's, the Lomaxes, were a long established family in Blackburn. The Lomax family business was clock and watchmaking, founded by Samuel Lomax whose son James was Elizabeth's father. The Tipladys preserved the name Lomax by using it as a second name for several of their children. Charles had two elder brothers, James Lomax and William, along with a younger brother named. His sisters were Mary, Margaret and Ann.
Very little detail exists about Charles' early life in Blackburn. He lived in the St. John's area and attended St. John's Church where he was later to become a churchwarden and sidesman. He was educated at the National School in Thunder Alley (now Town Hall Street).
In 1830 he went into partnership with his brother William as printers, a relationship which lasted fourteen years. In the later years William suffered ill health, so it was due to Charles' efforts that the business survived. Their shop was situated on Church Street next to Salford Bridge.
In 1834 the Tipladys began printing and publishing a local almanac, containing events that had occurred in the previous year and descriptions of improvements to the town and new buildings that had been constructed. It was issued for many years, Charles continuing to publish it after | William's death. The business also produced books of an official nature such as the Register of Electors, publications of local companies and other notices and pamphlets. Charles came to be known as an authority on local and national matters and was frequently consulted for his opinion when disputes arose.
Charles married twice, both ladies being called Mary. The first was Mary Heaton who he married in 1834. They had two children, Maria Anne who only lived from 1835-7 and a son named Thomas. Mary herself died the year after her daughter, in her 28th year. Both are buried at St. John's Church.
Charles' second wife was Mary Callis. They married in 1839 at the Parish Church of St. Mary (now the Cathedral). Her father William had a grocer's shop at Salford, close to the Tiplady business. Charles and Mary spent most of their married life on Mount Street, moving to St. Alban's Place in later years. They had several sons and daughters, not all of whom survived into adulthood. Elizabeth Mary died at 13 months in 1845, and a son Lomax died at only 15 weeks in 1848. These two infants are buried with Charles' first wife and daughter. Their other children were Charles Lomax, William Callis, Richard, Frances Louisa and Esther. Charles Lomax Tiplady was an accountant and was killed in a railway collision at Blackburn Station in 1881. Richard spent many years in Brazil where he was an engineer involved in railway construction. Henry was at one time a book-keeper. William carried on his father's printing business with his half-brother Thomas (from Charles' first marriage).
In addition to his activities as a diarist, Charles was also a poet and satirist. In 1848 he composed a verse entitled 'On the Opening of the Market House, Blackburn', which was well received. He was active in public life for 35 years. His public service began as one of the town's Improvement Commissioners. He sat on the committee named in the 1851 Charter of Incorporation, but was not a member of the first Town Council.
Politically, Charles was an active Conservative, assisting the elder W. H. Hornby in organising the working men of the party into the Blackburn Operative Conservative Association - he later became its president. He stood himself for council elections, firstly in St. Mary's Ward where he was defeated by 72 votes in 1857. He stood again in St. Mary's the following year, but suffered another defeat. In 1860 he gained the safe seat of St. John's Ward, which he represented until becoming an Alderman in 1865. A principal spokeman for the Conservative Party on the Council, he delivered a great many speeches on wide-ranging topics, but these were often very long-winded and wordy. He retired from political life in 1871.
Like many of his contemporary businessmen, Tiplady was a Mason, and had also joined the Oddfellows Friendly Society at a young age - many passages in his diary are concerned with the numerous Oddfellows gatherings that he attended. He was also a founder member of the Philanthropic Burial Society and was chairman at some of its earliest meetings, defying the attempts of local Chartists to snatch the Society's funds for Feargus O'Connor's Land Scheme.
His financial investments in local schemes and companies, such as railways, gasworks and waterworks, gave him the right to be a speaker at shareholders' meetings and in time he became the director of some profitable local undertakings. The cynical view was that this involvement gave him many opportunities to increase his printing business!
Naturally, as a bookseller and printer, Charles had an interest in the Blackburn Subscription Library where he took on the role of part-time Librarian. He was elected as Chairman of the governing body in 1841 and was concerned with seeking ways of improving the library. The following year he was narrowly defeated (by one vote) in his attempt to secure the post of Principal Librarian. However, the library always suffered from a lack of funds. By 1851 it had closed and the premises and all its contents were sold off.
Throughout his life Charles suffered from bouts of ill-health. In 1828 he narrowly escaped a violent death, but tantalisingly leaves no details as to the nature of this near-fatal incident. In 1864 he underwent a serious operation for the removal of a gall stone which left him very close to death, his recovery taking many months.
His last diary entries record the deaths of many old Blackburn townsfolk. His own demise came on 15th October 1873 at the age of 65 and he was buried three days later at Blackburn Cemetery. The day was very wet, but that did not deter a large number of people from attending the service, including the Mayor and Corporation, the Chief Constable and a detachment of the Borough Police Force. Charles' wife, who had been disabled by a stroke some time previously, followed her husband to the grave in the following year. His son Henry was also buried in the family plot in 1909.
Unfortunately, no pictures exist of Charles Tiplady, but we do have Abram's description of him from 'Blackburn Characters of a Past Generation':
"In person 'Charlie' Tiplady was thin and rather below middle height. His face was pale, his head somewhat square-shaped, and his hair, which he did not lose in old age, was iron-grey. His features were regular and expressed intelligence and dogged determination. His gait was characteristic; he walked with his head forward and eyes bent downward, as if intent on the business he was upon; his walk was plodding and marked at each step by a slight nod of the head. 'He had his weaknesses as a man and his prejudices, but withal 'Charlie' was a capable, useful, public citizen, whom all respected, and not least those who on occasion had been engaged in opposition to him, or in controversy with him, and knew by experience his ability, tenacity, and resources in disputation."
Although not himself directly involved with the cotton industry, Tiplady lived in the town when cotton was beginning to boom and Blackburn was growing into its role as the world centre for cotton weaving. He observed at first hand the many changes this caused socially, politically and economically.
By Diana Rushton & Blackburn Museum
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The Railway Reaches Blackburn
Blackburn's development as an industrial centre brought about many improvements in its communications with other regional, national and even international markets. The boom in cotton manufacture saw a huge increase in raw materials and finished goods being moved in and out of the town. Transport improvements were a product of this commercial growth, going on to help sustain it.
In the mid 18th century, the turnpike roads had been adequate for transporting the relatively small amounts of material produced by local handloom weavers. By the turn of the 19th century, Blackburn's first cotton factories could despatch bulk loads on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (completed in 1810), and were receiving raw cotton along with coal for their steam engines by the same means. Indeed, the canal influenced the location of many new mills along its banks.
However, the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830 ushered in a new period of growth for industrial Britain. Towns all across the country were caught up in the 'Railway Mania' of the 1840s - it was only a matter of time before Blackburn was swept along with it. As early as 1840, a meeting was held by local landowners and industrialists on the possibility of building a railway to Preston, but it was dismissed as being 'impracticable'. The idea was revived in 1844, this time leading to the formation of the Blackburn and Preston Railway Company. The line was planned to link with the North Union Railway at Farington Junction, and included the immense 116 feet high, three-arched viaduct at Hoghton Bottoms.
As an active member of Blackburn's business community, Charles Tiplady was keen to be involved in the promotion and development of the railway from the very beginning, recognising the great benefits that improved communications with the outside world would bring to the town. He also had an eye on his own personal prosperity, purchasing shares in local railway companies. Tiplady's first experience of railway travel was in May 1844 when he travelled to London from Chester:
'SOME PARTICULARS OF A JOURNEY TO LONDON' - 24th May to 3rd June 1844
'Refreshments were provided at the Queen's Hotel, Birmingham and at a place named Wolverton. The first was a dear place, the other modest, but dear or cheap the travellers, amounting to some hundreds, 'ere too glad to obtain any refreshment after the fatigue of an 150 mile journey to dispute the price of the viands.'
The Proprietor of the London & Birmingham Railway having agreed to allow a Holiday Trip at a low rate, I availed myself of the opportunity of once more visiting London in company with Thos. Whittaker and John Ball, Glazier. The fare up and down was £2.'
'No sooner had the Great Steam Engine ceased his Herculean Labour of taking 800 to 1000 beings a distance of 200 miles and safely deposited them in the Station House, than were to be seen some scores of Cabs, Chaises and 'Buses, waiting to convey the motley group of strangers to the extremest parts of the four corners of the Metropolis.'
No doubt impressed by the Herculean Labour of the Great Steam Engine, Tiplady was eager to see the new Blackburn to Preston line opened. From the cutting of the first sod in August 1844, the line took less than two years to complete, being officially opened on June 1st 1846 at the cost of £160,000. According to the Blackburn Standard, the first departure was witnessed by 'thousands who crowded round the station, lined the road for a considerable distance, filled the windows and doors of adjoining houses, topped the walls and nearest bridges from which a view of the train could be obtained', going on to describe the opening as 'one of the most important events for Blackburn that has ever happened'. Tiplady agreed, and being lucky enough to travel on the first train he wrote that
'On this day a new era in the History of Blackburn commenced by the formal opening of the Blackburn & Preston Railway line. The concourse of people witnessing the same was great and it was truly gratifying to witness the splendid appearance of the line, carriages etc. I went down to Farington-and was highly gratified with the trip.'
It was with evident delight that he noted 'My first parcel by the above Railway came to me on Tuesday 2nd June 1846'. Proof indeed that the speed of communications had been irreversibly improved.
The new railway station was seen as a great asset to the town, being built in the Italian style by local contractors Stones & Hacking. Its site on wasteland at Stoneybutts led to the development of the Boulevard. The Blackburn & Preston Company was soon absorbed by the larger East Lancashire Railway, whose headquarters were at Bury. However, it was not long before a rival company arrived to steal the ELR's thunder - and their railway station, the grandly titled Bolton, Blackburn, Clitheroe & West Yorkshire Railway (known as the 'Bolton Company') planned to connect Blackburn to Manchester via Darwen and Bolton. An extension of the line would continue north-east to Clitheroe and Hellifield.
Tiplady was a prominent (and vocal) shareholder of the Bolton Company and quickly became entangled in a mud-slinging contest with the East Lancashire Railway in the pages of the local press. The ELR, jealously guarding its status as Blackburn's 'first' railway, was reluctant to allow the Bolton Company use of its lines and station, except on the payment of an exorbitant toll. They claimed that their station was too small for two companies. Inevitably, the Bolton Company proposed building their own independent station on Bolton Road, prompting the East Lancashire to change their tune and offer to share their accommodation - they wanted to have their cake and eat it. In the pages of the Preston Guardian Tiplady railed against the ELR's awkwardness:'the strong determination of the [Bolton Company] shareholders is that rather than submit to be crushed by the heel of the East Lancashire Railway, they would have an independent station. If the present station house is too small for one company, by what process of reasoning can these simple people persuade themselves or the public that it is sufficient for two lines, one of which will be a direct line from Manchester, the commercial metropolis of the north?'So, within three years of a railway being first mooted in the town, Blackburn found itself with two competing stations. Ironically both companies were absorbed by the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway in 1859, the first chairman of which was Blackburn's inaugural mayor, William Henry Hornby Esq.
Part of the novelty of these early railways was the opportunity they gave local people to make grand journeys to hitherto remote holiday destinations. The railway companies capitalised on this by introducing seasonal 'cheap trips'. The following extract from Tiplady's diary describes a journey he made to York and is particularly notable for the number of carriages that were added to the train as it progressed on its way, a practice that was later banned on the grounds of safety:
'Journey to York, Leeds & Harrogate, May 13th, 14th & 15th 1851`
Having a strong desire to visit York I took advantage of a cheap trip (11s.6d. 2nd Class there and back) from Blackburn on Tuesday 13th. There was a great Race to take place that day between the 'Flying Dutchman' and 'Voltiguer' for 1000 Guineas - I cared little for the race but thought it would add something to my experience by going on the journey.
We started from Blackburn at half past 8 with about 12 carriages (E.L.Line) and had a pleasant trip to Colne. The morning was delightfully fine with occasional cloudiness. At Colne about 13 other carriages joined the train and thus we proceeded up to Skipton. Mr.W. Hirst, pawnbroker, was in the same carriage with myself and we agreed to stop at the same place [in York]. We went on from Skipton at 10am taking up passengers all the way until we reached Shipley, Keighley and Bingley, and about 30 or 35 more carriages well-laden were added to the train making about 60 in the whole. We had here a stoppage of about ¾ of an hour and it was thought at one time we could not well proceed without more strength however, with 2 powerful Locomotives in front and one in the rear, we went on at an easy pace to Leeds, where we stopped about 10 minutes and the line being very level from Leeds to York, one Engine was detached from us. From hence we passed onward through a most delightful country to York, where we arrived at 1.30pm.'Of course, passengers were not the only source of revenue for the railways. The movement of goods, from individual parcels to bulk loads, gave a real stimulus to industry in the town. Extensive sidings adjacent to King Street served the cotton mills around Wensley Fold and Whalley Banks with coal for their mill engines. The huge goods warehouses on Bolton Road and next to the East Lancashire station handled a bewildering variety of commodities, enhancing the town's status as a market and providing an outlet for export materials. The arrival of the 'iron road' ensured that Blackburn did not falter in its journey to becoming one of Lancashire's most prosperous industrial towns.
By Nick Harling & Blackburn Museum
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Railway Viaduct, Hoghton Bottoms. Pen and ink sketch by C. Haworth, c1880.
Blackburn’s second railway station was short lived, having only been built when two rival companies could not agree to share the existing station at Stoneybutts. Closed in 1858 and demolished in 1880, parts of the fabric were used to rebuild Lower Darwen station.
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The 'Plug-drawing' Riots of 1842
Like many other rapidly growing towns of the mid-nineteenth century, Tiplady's Blackburn created its own prosperity and problems in equal measure. There was a price to be paid for the yearly increase in population and the domination of the cotton industry with its 'crest and slump' economy. Social unrest and distress amongst the dissatisfied or poverty-stricken factory hands often spilled out onto the streets in the form of rioting.
Since the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, discontent had been seething in the industrial belt across Northern England and the Midlands. The oppressive Corn Laws, introduced by the Government to prevent cheap foreign imports from undercutting British grown corn, kept the price of bread artificially high, forcing many working class families below the 'bread line'. Even middle class factory owners opposed the Laws, as they subsidised large agricultural landowners at the expense of industrial enterprise. By the 1840s many local elections were fought on this issue, with Whig (Liberal) politicians pledging the abolition of the Laws and the Tories fighting to keep them.
Blackburn's first riots of the decade were sparked off by such a contest. In the General Election of July 1841, three candidates stood for the two seats allotted to the town by parliament. Two of the candidates, Feilden and Hornby, were Conservatives. The third, Turner, was a liberal Whig who supported the abolition of the Corn Laws and so was the popular choice of the working people. However, most of the working class did not have the right to vote at this time, so relied on the votes of sympathetic businessmen and manufacturers to have their candidate elected. The result of the polling was: Feilden 441 votes, Hornby 427 votes, Turner 426 votes - Turner was defeated by one vote.
Tiplady (a staunch Tory) was with the Conservatives in the Old Bull Inn when the news broke. He takes up the tale:
'This announcement exasperated the Liberal mob to such a degree that they instantly resolved to attack-and demolish the Old Bull Inn where the Conservative Committee sat during the election. An immense multitude rushed for this purpose into the Market Place and commenced throwing heavy paving stones-at the windows, which they speedily demolished. They then proceeded to sack the interior, commencing with the Old Traveller's Room adjacent to the street, from which they tossed tables, chairs, sofas, glasses and every other description of furniture. Not satisfied, they hurled huge stones at the front door which ultimately gave way and the mob rushed tumultuously inside, threatening death to all opposition.`
In the meantime, by the exertions of James Neville Esq., the military was called and the Riot Act read, and the Police Constables marshalled in the Market Place, whence they commenced a vigorous attack on the infuriated populous and in a brief space of time put them to rout.
`It was my lot to be stationed in the Bull Inn during the whole fury. In an instant men of the most undoubted courage fled panic-struck into holes and corners, over roofs and buildings, into cellars, attics, stables etc.
I remained with a few until the riot was quelled - this is the third time the Bull has been stormed after an election.'
Tiplady's last comment suggests that such outbursts were a regular occurrence, which highlights the fact that the whole system was weighted against the views of the working class. But Blackburn was not unique in this respect, and a countrywide dissatisfaction led to the rise of the Chartists, a working class political group who wanted to reform parliament. Their 'People's Charter', which demanded voting rights for all men and the introduction of a secret ballot, found favour with many of Lancashire's factory hands. Chartism was seen as an opportunity to improve the status of the industrial worker and to secure his future prosperity. The seeds were sown for the most turbulent summer in Blackburn's history.
Dorothy Thompson in her book, 'The Chartists', described 1842 as 'the year in which more energy was hurled against the authorities than in any other of the nineteenth century…more people were out on the streets during August 1842 than at any other time'. The spark that lit the 1842 powder-keg came at Ashton-under-Lyne where mill owners had attempted to cut the worker's pay by 25%. The Chartists acted quickly to whip up popular anger and discontent in support of their cause (their petition had failed to sway parliament). Huge open-air meetings were held, one of the largest taking place on Enfield Moor between Blackburn and Accrington on June 5th. The decision was made to start a general strike, 'turning-out' all of the factory workers until their demands were met by government.
Blackburn had already suffered riots in May when Turner's attempt to contest the previous year's election failed. Again, the Old Bull Inn was smashed up by the 'Liberal mob'. Tiplady notes that 'John Astley [a local bookseller] was thrown down and killed on the spot. Such is the end of their wild and reckless conduct'. It was into this tense atmosphere that the Chartists and strikers arrived on August 15th.
According to the Blackburn Standard, their arrival 'was not unexpected, and as far as was possible the magistrate had made the most energetic and judicious arrangements'. In other words, the local police had been busy enlisting Special Constables and had arranged for a detachment of the 72nd Highlanders to assist in keeping order. The support of the military could always be counted upon in such circumstances - indeed, many large northern towns had permanent garrisons.
At about 11 o'clock, the first mob approached Blackburn along the Accrington Road, their intention being to 'turn out the hands' and pull the plugs out from the steam engine boilers that powered the mills, causing them to stop (hence the name 'Plug Plot' or 'Plug-drawing' riots). At Furthergate Mill, they broke into the yard, but were confronted by the magistrate Mr. J .Fowden Hindle. He read out the Riot Act and then directed the police and military to take the ringleaders prisoner. However, they failed to prevent the mob from moving into the town as Tiplady notes that,
'In the meantime, straggling gangs of ten or twelve took the advantage of surprising different Mills in the Town and with the exception of about four, the whole were closed before night.'
These 'straggling gangs' reformed on Blakeley Moor from where, after a number of rousing speeches by the ringleaders, they marched systematically from mill to mill, turning out the operatives. From Whalley Banks and Wensley Fold, they crossed to Nova Scotia and then back into town along Darwen Street. At some of the mills, such as those owned by Feilden & Townley and William Eccles & Co., the hands were 'immediately, and without the slightest resistance, turned out', suggesting that there was plenty of sympathy for the popular cause. At others however, such as the Nova Scotia Mill of Messrs.Hopwood & Son, the mill owners resisted and refused admittance to the assailants 'until the arrival of the military'.
The turning point of the disturbances took place on Darwen Street at about 5 o'clock, as the mob attacked the 'Dandy Factory' mill of Mr. Eccles. Many of the prisoners taken earlier in the day had been put into custody at the Infantry Barracks on King Street, and the police now attempted to do the same with those captured at the Dandy Factory. A stagecoach, surrounded by soldiers, had been backed into the mill yard for this purpose but was pelted with cobbles ripped up from the road. As the coach departed it was again showered with missiles and the crowd surged forward to free the prisoners. Tiplady writes that,
'the soldiers were obliged to fire on the mob and several persons were severely wounded, but happily not mortally. The most serious case was that of a young woman living in Penny Street who happened to be returning home from the Mill at the time the discharge of fire arms took [place] and unfortunately two balls struck her, and it was thought that there was little chance of [her] recovery. It is highly to the credit of the Regimental Surgeon and officers of the Regiment, as well as the Surgeons resident in the Town that this poor innocent victim was promptly and gratuitously attended. Up to this time (Aug 28th) the woman survives and is doing extremely well.'
The rioters gradually dispersed at about 10 o'clock, after 40 of their number had been taken into custody. The police and infantry were soon reinforced from Wigan by a detachment of the Lancashire Yeomanry Cavalry, a volunteer regiment consisting almost entirely of wealthy landowners and businessmen, who were no doubt looking forward to stamping their authority on the 'upstart strikers' with the flats of their sabres.
In Blackburn, the strike had failed. It was a story that repeated itself throughout the north west. Two days before the Blackburn riot, soldiers of the 72nd Highlanders had shot dead six protestors at Preston. Tragically, such sacrifices achieved very little.
'In the course of a few days the Mills resumed employment and our population, without exception, returned peaceably to their employment which many of them would never have left but by compulsion.'
Tiplady's attitude towards the riots is typical of his class - he ignores the fact that large numbers of the factory hands turned out eagerly when the opportunity arose. However, Chartism was doomed to failure in Blackburn. In the General Election of 1847, a year after the abolition of the Corn Laws, the Chartist candidate Mr. Roberts polled only 68 votes compared to the returned members Hornby (Tory, 649 votes) and Pilkington (Liberal, 602 votes). Never a hotbed of political agitation, the main desire of the town's operatives was 'a fair day's wage for a fair day's work'. Fair and honest employers commanded greater loyalty and respect than the inflammatory speeches of the political activists.
Nick Harling & Blackburn Museum
Oil on canvas by Sir Thomas Lawrence. John Fowden Hindle was a County Magistrate who became High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1844. During the ‘plug-drawing’ disturbances Hindle was in overall command of the military and police forces who attempted to suppress the mob, and had to read the Riot Act several times. He lived in the splendid mansion at Woodfold Park.
Daily life in a busy town
For any student of industrial history, Blackburn's physical growth from the mid 18th century onwards is a classic case study. The story of the town's astonishing expansion is literally mapped out in a series of surveys that began with Lang's map of 1737. At that time Blackburn was little more than a 'one horse town', a single street with buildings clustered around the parish church and surrounded by fields. Moving on half a century to Yates' 1786 survey of Lancashire, Blackburn appears as a hub of several turnpike roads, reflecting its growing status as a market. We also see the beginnings of handloom weaver's colonies at places like Copy Nook, Grimshaw Park and Pleckgate.
In the early 1820s, when James Gillies made his wonderfully detailed map of the town, the Leeds and Liverpool canal had been opened, and some of the first cotton factories were built along its banks, heralding a new age of the centralized mass-production of cotton goods. We also see the development of iron foundries, making power looms and steam engines for the mills. By 1846 when the Ordnance Survey made their first map of the area, Blackburn had become a thriving industrial centre. The first railway, opened in that year (see following chapter), gave further stimulus to industry, making the period of Tiplady's Diary a boom time for mill building.
But what was it actually like to live in early Victorian Blackburn? When compared with modern life, some major differences are immediately obvious. For instance, life expectancy was a great deal shorter than it is today, especially amongst infants. Even for a fairly well-off family like the Tipladys, the death of new born children could often not be avoided; births invariably took place in the home with only a very basic level of post-natal care available to the mother. It was a very grateful Tiplady who, on August 27th 1840, wrote:
'At about 10 before eleven this evening, my son Charles Lomax was born, and for safe delivery of my Wife I return my humble and sincere thanks to Almighty God'.
Anybody reading Tiplady's diary will be struck by his preoccupation with death. He recorded the demise of many Blackburn folk, either through natural causes, disease, accident or violence. His concerns about his own mortality are understandable however, when one considers that he was in almost weekly contact with death in one form or another. Tiplady was for many years a Sunday School teacher at Grimshaw Park and Thunder Alley schools, and was treasurer of the Children's Sick Society. During one Sunday class he
'spoke to the children on the death of three scholars belonging to the Sick Society, viz. Ralph Shorrock, Martin Lawe and Joseph Eastwood…I then visited some of the sick scholars [including] Henry Barnes who died on the following day.'
Some of Tiplady's pupils would have been 'half-time' scholars, poor children whose parents sent them to work as young as nine years old. The Factory Act of 1844 was the first to ensure that children gained half a day of schooling: previously they had only been expected to attend classes for 2 hours daily. But despite improvements in their education, the hard regime of factory work still claimed many children's lives, either through exhaustion, malnutrition or accidents caused by unguarded machinery.
Fever was the greatest killer in the early Victorian period, being especially rife where sanitary conditions were poor. The people of Blackburn dreaded long periods of either summer drought or mild winter weather, as these brought the twin terrors of typhus and cholera. The absence of effective drainage systems, treated water supply, or flushing toilets provided an ideal breeding ground for these diseases. In 1849, Tiplady railed against the polluted condition of the River Blakewater (see later chapter), but in November 1854 he was more concerned about a sudden outbreak of typhus fever:
'Nov. 12th - SICKNESS OF THE TOWN: up to the above date the Town had continued in a very healthy state, but the dark, damp weather then set in and brought Fever of the worst kind. Amongst the victims of sudden death were…Mr. Richard Backhouse, Solicitor, Mr. Gillies, Land Surveyor, William Ashcroft, shoemaker,…W.H. Taylor, greengrocer, Mr. Thomas Bennett, innkeeper,…and many others. As many as 1000 cases were said to be in the Town at any one time…myself and family, though we have had colds, have been mercifully preserved.'
As can be seen from Tiplady's list, the fever did not respect class or wealth, but must have caused dreadful mortality amongst the poor.
In modern Britain we are accustomed to worrying about the weather and often blame man's interference with the environment for extremes of heat, rain, frost or snow. Yet the diary shows that, even in the mid 19th century, such extremes were not uncommon. The following extracts give a taste of Charles Tiplady's favourite subject:
'Sept 14th 1841 - About 10 o'clock this Evening there commenced an awful and tremendous thunderstorm, the lightning was exceedingly vivid and almost continuous – the rain descending in torrents quickly flooded the lower parts of the Town. Poor Salford came in for a large share of the mud as the river was very high and many of the houses were much inundated.'
'Jan 18th 1855 - There was a sort of fair held upon the Great Reservoir at Rishton where from 8 to 10,000 people visited…the ice was 2 feet thick and thousands of skaters were upon it…Feb 23rd - the water froze close to my bedside and split the water jug.'
'Dec 29th 1860 – The snow which fell on the 18th remained until this night, when a tremendous fall took place making the roads and rails impassable. I have not seen so long a fall for many years - at the front door in Mount Street it was ¾ of a yard deep.'
Beside his observations on the weather, Tiplady often recorded events that took place at home with great detail. These bring a wonderful human element to the journal and make the reader realise that, although 150 years separate us, the emotions and feelings of the Victorians were just the same as ours. For instance, Tiplady's relationship with his second wife could be described as turbulent. In 1858, having returned home late from a meeting in Haslingden, he records:
'got a severe lecture, though [I was] neither cross, drunk nor disorderly - gave immense offence to Mrs. T. by purchasing a white neck-tie in Haslingden. Wouldn't quarrel, so the consequence was that she got out of bed and stayed downstairs until 2 o'clock. What have I done to deserve perverseness equal to this?.'
Sometimes his temper got the better of him:
'Dec 14th 1839 - Up to this day I have lived in great peace and love with my second wife except in three instances which she greatly provoked me. On this day, having let fall some unjust expressions…I felt myself aggrieved and insulted, the consequence was that in the heat of passion to which I am much subject, I struck her and in the evening slept apart. After mature reflection she confessed her faults and forgiveness on both sides ensued.'
Both partners seem to have been prone to fits of temper and the diary is punctuated with incidents of 'domestic strife'. Although Tiplady seems to have been a faithful husband, his wife suspected otherwise and accused him of having affairs with their housemaids on more than one occasion. He always denied it, but admits being tempted:
'May 30th 1843 - I have of late suffered great temptation in regard to one female servant in consequence of having to call her up in the morning - I pray God Almighty for Jesus Christ to give me grace to resist the…unlawful desires and to keep my soul alive to the awful and eternal condemnation [of] fornication, adultery and all uncleanness.'
Tiplady's appeal to God is typical of the man. Like most Victorians, he was deeply religious and attended the churches of St. Mary (parish church), St. John and the Holy Trinity on a regular basis. This made him acutely aware of his own failing morals, particularly in regard to drinking, gambling and travelling by railway on a Sunday. On July 20th 1856, he wrote down seven resolutions which he intended to keep for 12 months 'by the assistance of God'. The list gives us a fascinating insight into Victorian middle-class morals:
'1. To drink no more spirits - unless unwell or find my health impaired
2. Ale and other liquors in extreme moderation
3. Discontinue Sunday travelling by rail unless for Divine Worship
4. Attend two services on Sunday
5. Put by one shilling per day for the children's school
6. Not to 'bet' the most trifling wagers
7. To inculcate Truth and Integrity at home.'
Shortly afterwards he wrote “kept the above Seven Resolutions - one week”, and we hear no more about it! On the whole Tiplady was a responsible family man who had the same concerns about his children's welfare as most modern parents, being beside himself with worry when they were ill or had stayed out all night. Family reunions and weddings were celebrated with great joy, but it is the scarcely mentioned moments of affection between Charles and Mary that are amongst the most touching entries, as on his 52nd birthday:
'On opening my eyes I discovered the following note attached to a new pair of trousers and waistcoat: 'For my dear Old Man wishing him many happy returns of the day and the health to wear these', from which I inferred it was a present from my Old Woman, whom Heaven preserve.'
Tiplady was a busy man in a busy town, his many commitments and meetings reflecting the bustling nature of Blackburn in the mid 19th century. Yet he rarely writes about his own printing business, preferring to record the seemingly endless round of Masonic gatherings, Gas Company meetings and church services. Neither does he make great mention of Blackburn's principal trade, cotton, although many of the characters he knew personally were directly involved in the manufacture of cotton goods. Nevertheless, as a barometer of life in an early Victorian industrial town, Charles Tiplady's diary does a great service in providing us with those little anecdotal snippets that bring history to life.
By Nick Harling & Blackburn Museum
An interesting distant view of the town, looking south from Shear Brow. Blackburn is already dominated by smoking mill chimneys and rows of terraced cottages. On the left, the churches of St. John and St. Mary can be seen, as can the newly built Market Hall. The large building to the right is St. John’s school, built in 1845.
The Cotton Famine of 1861 - 1865
The turmoil of the 1840s was followed by a period of relative calm for the cotton industry. The Chartist movement had fizzled out in 1848 - after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the gradual strengthening of trade union power amongst cotton operatives, there seemed to be little need for direct militant action. Working hours and conditions began to be improved by the first Factory Acts and Blackburn's manufacturers looked forward to an ever-increasing share in the domestic and world markets for cotton goods.
But, across the Atlantic Ocean, war clouds were gathering which would cast a profound shadow over Blackburn's prosperity. The Southern States of America were the chief source of raw cotton for Lancashire's textile industry and at this time black slave labour was still used for cotton-picking, a fact despised by the more enlightened states in the North. This proved to be one of the sparks that ignited America's bloodiest conflict on its own soil - the Civil War. In simple terms, America had divided into 'slave' states (Confederate) and 'free' states (Union) and there could be no peace until one side had sealed a complete victory.
One of the first acts of the Union army was to blockade the export of raw cotton from the South. The impact on Lancashire was instant - manufacturers and operatives alike waited in a state of grim expectation as the supply of raw cotton, the lifeblood of the mills, quickly dried up. The blockade had exposed a fatal weaknesses in the organization of Lancashire's cotton industry. William Gourlay, a Blackburn insurance agent who documented the effect of the Cotton Famine on the town, comments that:
'the spinners and manufacturers of Lancashire were content to build mills and fill them with machinery, and make every preparation for clothing the world in calico - omitting only the important preliminary of making sure that the cotton would always be available.'
For towns like Blackburn where cotton predominated in both the employment of working class 'hands' and middle class manufacturers, the effects were disastrous. Blackburn's population in 1861 was just over 63,000. According to Gourlay's calculations, about 25,000 of these were employed directly in the various branches of the cotton trade, and a further 25,000 relied on a cotton worker for their subsistence (young children, the elderly, sick or infirm). To this figure must be added the workers in trades closely allied to the cotton industry, such as machine-making, engineering, building and so on - approximately 6000 workers including dependants. The bald fact was that 56,000 people, 89% of Blackburn's population, faced ruin and starvation.
Manufacturers did their best to eke out stores of raw cotton, but inevitably wage cuts were followed by short-time working, unemployment and the complete closure of mills. Those lucky enough to have put aside modest savings tightened their purse strings and fell back onto austerity measures, hoping to weather the storm. But the majority were not in such a lucky position and applications for 'outdoor relief' to the Poor Law Guardians increased dramatically, quickly using up the funds collected for this purpose.
Pawn shops did a brisk trade as destitute weavers sold off their trinkets, furniture and finally their clothes in a vain attempt to raise some cash for food. It became impossible to meet monthly demands for rent, so three or more families crammed into one tiny cottage, dividing the rent between them. The owners of cottages, usually weavers who had invested their savings in bricks and mortar, also faced ruin as tenants defaulted on their rent, leaving them with no income from unsaleable property. The streets were filled with that 'middle class nightmare', wandering groups of unemployed young men, with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
The authorities responded to the crisis by forming committees and sub-committees to tackle the most pressing problems, and good Christian folk' like Charles Tiplady were in the vanguard of efforts to relieve the distress. By January 1862, the first soup-kitchens had been opened in a disused mill on Cleaver Street where, on the first day, 130 gallons of nourishing soup were distributed in return for 'soup tickets' which had been handed out to the most needy by the local clergy. However, in order to keep the soup-kitchens open, money was needed - but a local request for funds had a disappointing response. This prompted Tiplady to write a letter which appeared in The Times in April 1862, highlighting the plight of Blackburn's population. The following is an extract:
'Blackburn has witnessed many sad reverses in the cotton manufacturing business, but never since the Bank's panic of 1835-6 has it experienced so extensive and disastrous a reverse as that which now exists and which has reduced a large proportion of the operatives to pecuniary ruin and nearly absolute starvation.
Thrown into adversity by no act or circumstances over which they have any control, we see a numerous and, for the most part, an orderly and industrious population deprived of work, reduced to poverty - to absolute mendacity -while their fellow operatives, a little more fortunate, are subsisting on wages derived from short time, averaging about three days per week, - wages that barely realise sufficient for food and rent. The number of persons absolutely dependent on the pittance allowed by the Board of Guardians and the dole from the Relief Fund is over 10,000, that is about one sixth of the whole population, and I may add that at least 20,000 are on short time. Consequently, one half of the people are sufferers in the general distress.
This appalling distress has hitherto been borne with silent, enduring and exemplary patience and resignation. No threats, no outbreaks, no violent popular demonstrations have been manifested; but even cheerfulness to a certain extent and a wonderful feeling of helping one another have marked the conduct of the suffering unemployed.
A large proportion of the hands are factory girls whose ages range from 13 to 20 years, and who are capable of earning an average of from 10s. to 14s per week. It is painful to reflect that these factory girls have to grieve over the loss of their neat apparel as article after article is pawned or sold for bread. Being a bookseller, I was applied to by a modest girl, 17 or 18 years old, to purchase from her a Wesleyan hymn-book. She had been out of work for 16 weeks-possibly this little hymn-book and her Bible were all the library of this poor girl, all to be sold for food.
Cannot your matronly readers feel for her position and for many such poor factory girls; cannot some of them lend a helping hand? I am sure there is generosity enough in this land of ours to meet this fearful aspect of affairs. A little help will assist many an aching parent's heart, who trembles as he looks around upon his grown up family and contemplates with sad dismay the breaking up of his humble household and the utter annihilation of his own and his children's home.'
Tiplady was accused of having made up the incident of the girl selling her hymn-book. He vigorously denied it but, true or not, his extraordinary letter prompted the desired response - hundreds of pounds poured into Tiplady's Fund from benefactors all over the country. His sentimental approach was, of course, designed to tug at the heart-strings, but anybody visiting Blackburn in the winter of 1862-3 would have quickly recognised the dire situation in the town. Tiplady had pricked the public conscience and the overwhelming response to his appeal encouraged the local wealthy to subscribe sums of money to the relief fund.
The money was distributed by a central Relief Committee, of which Charles Tiplady was a member, who then channelled it into various initiatives attempting to relieve the distress in some way. Beyond those organisations providing the basics of survival such as food, clothes and coal, there were many others who were willing to try and make the times of crisis more bearable for those out of work. Gourlay writes that:
'the Clergy, justly apprehensive that the young women and girls, who early in the spring began to crowd the streets in hundreds, might be tempted into sin, commenced a sewing class-in which the girls were assembled under the care of ladies.'
Sewing classes encouraged mill girls to improve their skills - a factory inspector recalled being astonished that 'one third of the females knew nothing of sewing upon their first attending the classes'. They were taught how to make clothes for themselves, for which material was provided, often allowing them to replace those garments that they had sold for food. For attending the classes three days a week, each woman received one shilling or a good square meal. Similar initiatives were started for men -'Industrial Classes' taught basic literacy and numeracy (many could not write their own name) and useful trades such as cobbling. Such classes not only kept the unemployed off the streets, but the system of payment ensured that the proud weavers did not feel they were receiving charity for nothing.
Less popular were the Public Works schemes in which gangs of men worked in the town's quarries at Shorrock Delph, paved unmetalled roads, or landscaped the newly created Corporation Park. The work was hard, poorly paid, and for many weavers it too closely resembled the 'labour test' imposed on paupers by the Poor Law Guardians. Nevertheless, the work contributed to the improvement of the town and saved the men from 'the temptations of idleness'.
Having reached a low point in November 1862, the Great Distress gradually lessened and by Spring 1865 many of Blackburn's mills were working again. Incredibly, the years of the Cotton Famine saw few mass protests or incidents of violence against the authorities. There was a general feeling that, whatever their class or relative wealth, everybody was 'in the same boat'. If anything, the Famine served to draw employers and workers closer together, the philanthropic acts of one earning the loyalty and respect of the other. Perhaps the last word on the subject should go to the Rev. H. W. Maychurch, addressing a Christmas Relief Dinner for the unemployed in December 1862:
'You have often been taught by misguided men that your masters are antagonistic to you, that they are men who take no interest in your welfare, but are only intent on amassing large fortunes - but I think that what you have witnessed within the last year has shown you that was a mistaken notion. You will find that the masters have a very deep sympathy with you in your troubles. It is very well for men who have large incomes from property to be liberal and give hundreds if not thousands; but it is not a common thing for men who are losing hundreds to give their hundreds', but this is the spectacle which your masters have exhibited. And let us hope that the time will never come when you will dissociate your interests from theirs, or they from yours.'
by Nick Harling & Blackburn Museum
As the cotton famine became more extreme, greater numbers of unemployed weavers found themselves on the brink of starvation. Nourishing soup was a real life-saver, containing beef, barley, groats, peas, onions, carrots, turnips, salt and white pepper.
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The last resort for the unemployed during the cotton famine was to sell their clothing. As winter approached this could have fatal consequences. National appeals such as Tiplady’s letter to The Times prompted sympathetic donors to send money and parcels of unwanted clothing. There were reports from Darwen of weavers wearing hunting coats and riding boots!
Vouchers such a these were distributed by the clergy and other relief organisations to unemployed mill workers during the cotton famine. Tickets were also issued for bread and coal.
Improvements, Incorporation and civic pride
At the time that Charles Tiplady first put pen to paper and began his diary, Blackburn must have been an old-fashioned looking town, with many of its buildings dating to the mid-18th or even late 17th century. Irregular rows of shops and cottages jostled for space with ancient coaching inns and the parish stocks still stood in the old market place. There were no public buildings to speak of, so meetings usually took place at the Old Bull Inn or in the open air on Blakeley Moor. Many of the town's main roads were as yet unpaved and most were still not lit by gas lamps. With no satisfactory provision for cleaning the streets or controlling the pollution of local streams and rivers, the health of the inhabitants was soon threatened by typhus and cholera.
Tiplady was particularly concerned with the poor quality of the town's water supply. Using the pseudonym 'Anti-Pest', he wrote to the Preston Guardian in 1849 on the deplorable state of the River Blakewater:
'Sir,- The inhabitants of this town, I am sure, will feel extremely obliged to you by allowing a communication to appear in your journal calling public attention to that abominable nuisance, the River Blakewater which, in its present filthy state, disgraces the place-this bog of public defilement is beyond comprehension-any man going under Darwen Street Bridge at the present moment would find no difficulty shovelling up the mud literally by cartloads. Call you this a River, ye men of Blackburn? No, no. It is profanation to use the term. If ever the cholera had a suitable nest, or an epidemic a choice location, surely it will be in your stinking cess-pool which you vainly call a 'river'.'
Shortly after, he noted in his diary that:
'It is gratifying to remark that the week following [the letter's] appearance, the Commissioners commenced cleaning the Brook.'
The Commissioners referred to by Tiplady were Blackburn's Improvement Commissioners, formed by Act of Parliament in 1847 and charged with the task of levelling and maintaining public footpaths, ensuring the proper drainage of highways and attending to all matters of public amenity, safety and health. For many years Tiplady acted as the auditor of the Commissioners' accounts, so was in a good position to voice his opinion of their efforts. In 1850 he was complaining again to the Blackburn Standard, this time about the pollution of Alley's or All Hallows spring near the railway station:
'These springs, long before a water company was ever heard of, were the main supply for Blackburn. Even now, by great numbers of the poorer inhabitants, they are resorted to as the cheapest, purest and most regularly well supplied fountains of the liquid element. Yet, ever since the road leading up to the East Lancashire station from Salford Bridge has been formed, the Alley's Springs have been periodically wrecked up with filth, sand and mud, and rendered entirely useless to the inhabitants.'
But things were set to improve. In the same year Blackburn took its first momentous step towards becoming a Borough. The Petition submitted to the Queen highlighted the fact that the town was 'without any efficient or responsible local government adequate to its necessities'. During the examination of the Petition by Captain Warburton, Tiplady spoke up in favour of having 'one governing body for the town'. The Charter of Incorporation was granted by Queen Victoria on August 28th 1851 and opened a new chapter in Blackburn's history.
On November 5th, Blackburn's first municipal elections took place to appoint councillors for each of the six new wards into which the Borough was divided. At the same time, William Henry Hornby (son of John Hornby, cotton manufacturer) was appointed as the inaugural Mayor. In stark contrast to the riotous elections of previous years, the municipal polls were carried out in the 'greatest good humour'. Miller writes that:
'It was as if in recognition of their town's new dignity and higher standing, the people were determined to show that they possessed the maturity of conduct-to be expected from the burgesses of an ancient township and thriving borough.'
Unfortunately, the town's 'new dignity' was spoiled during the Municipal Elections of 1853, when Tiplady described the 'very riotous and disgraceful proceedings - street fighting, stone throwing, bludgeon attacks and violence of every kind without check from the Police', a comment which does not say much for the newly formed Borough Police Force! Interestingly, Tiplady himself was enrolled as a Special Constable during these disturbances.
Despite these setbacks, Incorporation had changed Blackburn for the better, not least with the erection of some splendid new buildings. Previously, the only public building of note had been the Market House, opened in 1848, which Tiplady described as 'neat, handsome and spacious'. He was so impressed that he composed a rather overblown poem which included the lines:
'Beneath thine ample roof in after days,
May constant crowds attend with happy gaze;
Fulfil their need - supply their daily share,
And still redundant loads be left to spare;
Thy stall well heap'd, - thy measures over pour
Into the poor man's lap a plenteous store'.
Surprisingly, Tiplady did not feel called by the muse again when he saw the plans for the new Town Hall, to be built on ground next to the Market House, but he did describe them as 'very beautiful and the Pile of Building will be an ornament to the town'. The foundation stone was laid on 28th October 1852 by Joseph Feilden, Lord of the Manor. An existing photograph of the occasion must be one of the earliest to be taken in Blackburn, possibly by David Johnson who also took a picture of the building shortly after its completion four years later. For some unknown reason, Tiplady did not record the opening ceremony of the Town Hall, but he was present when the foundation stone of the Blackburn Infirmary was laid in May 1858:
'This day may be considered to be the most important in the history of Blackburn-the event was celebrated by way of a jubilee. First there was a Grand Procession in which joined all the leading men of the town - the Corporate Body, the Gentry, the Ancient Order of Freemasons, the Associated Societies, the Grammar Scholars-and a countless multitude of spectators. The procession was headed by several first rate Bands of Music'.
He goes on to describe the balls, dinners and amusements that followed, including a 'balloon ascent which was magnificent indeed'. The Infirmary scheme was subscribed to by many local worthies, the land having been purchased from Joseph Feilden at a reduced rate. Although the building was completed in July 1864, parts of it had already been used to relieve distress during the cotton famine. In contrast, the new Blackburn Union Workhouse, begun in May 1861, used the labour of unemployed weavers to prepare the site. The building, now part of Queen's Park Hospital, cost £30,000 to construct. Its lofty location, visible from many parts of the town, was a constant reminder to the citizens of Blackburn of the fate that awaited those who did not have the income to look after themselves.
Some of the Corporation's new schemes were of direct benefit to all members of the community, such as the 50 acre Corporation Park, first laid out in 1857. The Mayor of the time, William Pilkington, donated several ornamental fountains. A pair of stone bastions were specially constructed at the top of the park to display a selection of Russian guns captured during the recent Crimean wars. The pleasant lakes and tree-lined walks gave everybody the opportunity to relax in semi-rural surroundings.
Perhaps the most impressive building in Blackburn, although sadly never finished, was the Cotton Exchange on King William Street (now a cinema). A group of local cotton manufacturers formed a company to construct the building, which they hoped would reflect the importance of the cotton crade to the town. Previously, all business had been conducted in the commercial rooms of the Old Bull Inn. Again, Tiplady was present at the laying of the foundation stone on March 10th 1863. The marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales was celebrated on the same day and the double celebration included a Grand Illumination, a Monster Bonfire on Revidge, a display of fireworks described by Tiplady as 'poor, expensive and miserable', and a magnificent Banquet 'at which I got more liquor than I ought to have done'.
Most importantly, the laying of the foundation stone was captured on canvas by the artist Vladimir Sherwood, whose enormous picture includes many of the well-known faces of the time (see cover). Councillors, Mayors (past, present and future), Members of Parliament and significant manufacturers are all featured, as are detachments of the Local Rifle Volunteers and the Local Volunteer Artillery. The Volunteers fire a volley, hats are thrown aloft and cheers are raised from the gathered crowds - Sherwood has perfectly captured a moment in Blackburn's proud history. But the painting is also interesting for its omissions. James Cunningham, the brewer and former Mayor, was the Chairman of the Exchange Company, but is strangely missing from the scene, as is the architect William Brackspear. The name of each man in the picture has been faithfully recorded, but the same cannot be said of the women - they all remain anonymous. Finally, we might have expected Charles Tiplady, as an active Councillor, Freemason and businessman to have been present on the platform. But, for whatever reason, we are denied the opportunity of seeing what this fascinating man actually looked like and must be content with Abram's description of 'long-headed Charlie Tiplady'.
By Nick Harling & Blackburn Museum
This splendid view of the new Market Place shows two of the best structures, the Town Hall and the Market Hall. The opening of the latter so impressed Charles Tiplady that he composed a poem in its honour. He would have been mortified to learn that the building was demolished during Blackburn’s 1960s redevelopment.
The Cotton Exchange could have been Blackburn’s most impressive building, but didn’t reach completion, having been started just as the cotton famine crippled Lancashire’s textile industry. Despite the grandeur of the foundation ceremony the project fell prey to dwindling funds: the left hand range and the upper stages of the tower were never built. The building is now a cinema.
Industrial enterprise and endeavour
We have already seen that, by the time Charles Tiplady began recording events in his diary, Blackburn had become a thriving industrial centre. But who were the driving forces behind this success story? It was often the ambition of individual men that shaped the town's commercial and physical growth, establishing family dynasties that were to dominate cotton, engineering and brewing. The lives of three of these men will serve to illustrate that it was personalities, rather than companies, who gave Blackburn's industry that first vital spark.
Hornby is a name synonymous with Blackburn. The family not only produced the first mayor and several Members of Parliament, but also employed a huge workforce at their Brookhouse Mills. But before the industrial revolution, there were no Hornby's in Blackburn - they were a classic 'industrial family' who arrived and thrived with cotton, and John Hornby (1763-1841), as the founding father of the dynasty, was one of the town's first textile entrepreneurs. John's story is not a tale of 'rags to riches', but rather that of a determined young man from a good family of Kirkham merchants. The following extract from the Blackburn Times, chronicles his arrival:
'…he came to Blackburn as a boy of 16 to learn the business of a merchant with Richard Birley [his brother-in-law]'his capital consisted of exactly £25, invested at 5% in the family business. Arrangements were made for him to live with his sister and brother-in-law. He saved £10 out of his first year's allowance and, with gifts and earnings, immediately began to build up his little capital.'
One of the first things he invested in was a local gazetteer, familiarising himself with the area and the arrangement of the cotton trade which, at that time, was still based on the domestic system of handloom weavers producing cloth in their own cottages. Merchants such as John Hornby were essentially middle-men, known as 'putters-out'. They travelled out to the handloom weaver's colonies, providing them with spun cotton (usually on credit), returning later in the month to collect the finished cloth which was then stored or sold on from a warehouse in town. It is important to remember that while the skills of the handloom weaver were in high demand, the relationship between merchant and weaver was an unequal one - the roles of employer and employee were gradually adopted, to the extent that some merchants used their warehouses as handloom 'factories', centralizing production and paying their weavers a wage.
The introduction of mechanised spinning techniques based on the inventions of Hargreaves and Crompton saw the first textile mills constructed in Blackburn. From the profits made as a merchant, John Hornby built one of the earliest spinning mills at Brookhouse in 1828, which initially took its power from the River Blakewater. Powerloom weaving began on the site in 1830. By the time of Hornby's death in 1841, Brookhouse had been transformed into a thriving industrial village, the mills surrounded by streets of cottages built to house the mill workers. Unlike some self-made men of the period, Hornby's benevolence towards his employees and the poor in general seems to have been genuine. Whittle, in Blackburn As It Is (1852) notes:
'He was very charitable to the poor, and he invariably found out where poverty was deserving of assistance - he made a point of upholding and maintaining the wages of the weavers in times of adversity, when the state of trade rendered such protection a temporary loss to the employers.'
Of course, Hornby could afford to be generous. Since 1796 he had lived in a luxurious house on King Street, from where he watched his fortune increase year by year. He died worth a staggering £200,000, having established his family as the premier employer in Blackburn.
John Hornby was just one of many men who made their fortune in cotton. But cotton's success also provided opportunities for other branches of industry to flourish. Blackburn's first iron foundries were established around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, and were mainly concerned with supplying machinery to the textile industry. From the 1820s onwards, the manufacture of powerlooms was perfected by several of the town's engineers - one of these pioneers was Joseph Harrison (1805-1880).
In some ways, Harrison's story is more remarkable than Hornby's. A journeyman blacksmith from Yorkshire, Joseph had heard of the great demand for ironworkers to fit out textile mills in Blackburn. He walked to the town in 1826 with little more than his bag of tools and rented a small smithy in Dandy Walk (a ginnel that runs from Darwen Street to the present Boulevard). Skilled in both wrought ironwork and casting, Joseph soon had plenty of work to keep him busy, from making ornate railings for the grand houses on King Street, to casting lamp posts and bollards. The process of casting from a mould allowed the duplication of identical parts - ideal for mass producing textile machinery components.
To cope with the huge increase in demand for powerlooms, Harrison expanded into the Bank Foundry off Bolton Road, where he produced looms which made good use of new patents to ease labour and increase productivity. As his sons William, John and Henry came of age, they each served their time in their father's foundry. By 1851, business was booming and the Harrisons showed examples of their machinery in the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace, where they were appointed machinists to H.R.H. Prince Albert Shaw, writing in the Blackburn Times gives an example of the awesome capabilities of Harrison's foundry at this time:
'One year after the Exhibition, Messrs. Harrison and Sons received an order to fit up a cotton factory in Sweden with looms, sizing and warping machines-and they executed the order in the short space of eight days, the machinery in one consignment leaving Blackburn for Liverpool in a train of forty waggons.'
Whittle described this shipment as 'one of the largest quantities of beautiful and well-finished machinery ever sent out of the town'. It is little wonder that, having brought such prosperity to Blackburn, the council should offer Joseph Harrison a high public position. Yet he declined the office of mayor on more than one occasion, preferring to see his sons succeed in public life and content in the knowledge that, from humble beginnings, he had left them a valuable legacy.
Unconnected from the cotton industry but nonetheless very profitable on a local level were Blackburn's breweries. The familiar names of Thwaites and Dutton's have long and successful histories, but one of the more interesting stories is that of the Snig Brook Brewery and its energetic director, James Cunningham (1796-1876). Cunningham is an excellent example of a self-made man who found success in both commercial and public life, but his background is unusual amongst Blackburn's industrialists, having first arrived in the area as a butler to William Feilden M.P. at Feniscowles Hall. In his Characters of a Past Generation, Abram writes:
'He was fresh-complexioned, and of expansive countenance; fine eyes; large head, bald on top; and of a breezy aspect generally, as if, when he entered a room, he had just been taking exercise in the open air.'
This wonderful description is confirmed by a portrait of the man in the Museum collection. 'Jemmy' Cunningham was a Scot by birth and seems to have conformed to the national stereotype of being careful with his savings - during his years in service he built up enough capital to buy the Snig Brook Brewery in 1838. The brewery had been established in around 1820, but was not a large concern. Cunningham expanded the business, constructing rows of cottages for the brewery workers, and establishing several 'tied' public houses around the town. He also built himself a comfortable villa near the brewery in 1855. Named Springburn, the building still exists as St. Paul's Working Men's Club on Montague Street.
In public life Jemmy was ambitious, craving the recognition that self-made men often desire. He quickly put himself forward as a Town Councillor for St. Paul's Ward and was voted in as a Liberal, although he seems to have changed his political colours to suit his own ends. In 1858 he was involved in a rather acrimonious contest for the Mayoralty with John Baynes, a cotton manufacturer. Tiplady recorded the incident in his diary:
'November 9th - Alderman Baynes appointed Mayor. Mr. Cunningham addressed the inhabitants on that appointment, showing his disappointment.'
During his term in office, Baynes had revived the project to establish a Free Library in Blackburn, giving a large donation for bookcases and fittings. When Jemmy was made mayor the following year, he sensed an opportunity to score political and personal points over Baynes.
According to Abram, he decided to:
'take up the scheme and secure for himself the chief credit for the foundation of the Free Library, by pushing it forward so that it could be publicly inaugurated during his Mayoralty [and also] started a fund, for the purchase of books, with a donation of £150.'
His motives may not have been entirely philanthropic, but Blackburn got its library! Jemmy must have been acutely aware of his former servile role, which no doubt encouraged his passion for the middle-class pursuits of hunting and shooting. Perhaps because he didn't let a sometimes embarrassing lack of education get in the way of his social ambition, James Cunningham is one of the most endearing industrialists of Tiplady's time.
By Nick Harling & Blackburn Museum
Oil on canvas by J. Lonsdale. Hornby was one of the first men to make his fortune with cotton in Blackburn. The picture shows him in comfortable middle age during the period he lived on King Street. From an initial investment of £25, he died worth more than £200,000, having established one of the town’s most successful family dynasties.
Oil on canvas, unknown artist. Described by Abram as 'one of the tallest and portliest of our Blackburn Mayors', Cunningham’s remarkable transformation from butler to master brewer brought him the social status he desperately desired. A blunt Scotsman, he is mysteriously described in Tiplady’s list of mayors as ‘the inconstant’.
Oil on canvas, unknown artist. This riotous scene shows how volatile local elections could be in the mid 19th century. Political colours are being waved as hawkers sell their wares in the milling throng. More than one person looks the worse for liquor! The building below the church tower is the Old Bull Inn, traditionally the headquarters of the Tory faction and the scene of extreme violence during the election of 1841.
Pen and ink sketch by C. Haworth, c1880. This was one of Blackburn’s earliest steam-powered cotton mills, built around 1790. The roadside alcove in the left foreground contained the ancient All Hallows Well – Tiplady complained about it being polluted in 1850. The houses in the background are on Mount Street where Tiplady lived in the 1840s and 1850s.
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