In 1882, two years before the arcade was built, the following properties were in existence on Church Street from King William Street to Shorrock Fold;
1:Gregson, James K; Chemist and Druggist.
5&7: Walmsley William; Commercial Dinning-rooms.
9: Pinder, John; Draper.
11: Union Club.
13: Pines John.
17: Sager R.H.& J.; Watchmakers and Jewellers.
21: Cunliffe William Henry; Painter, Decorator, Carver & Gilder.
23&25: Dickson and Nuttall; Wholesale Drapers, Silk Mercers and Carpet warehousemen.
27: Whittaker William; Boot and Shoemaker.
29: Lancashire & Yorkshire Bank
Most of this property on Church Street was demolished to make way
for Thwaites' Arcade.
The photograph was taken by John Frankland about 1882
Properties on Lord Street from King William Street to the Old Square;
33&35: Cunliffe Thomas
Parker T. & P.
12: Cronshaw, Robert.
10: Woods, Thomas
8 Preston, William
2&4: Aspden George.
Church Street has a very interesting history; it was from early times, the very centre of Blackburn, and was probably there when the parish church was first built; it would have been the area where the early inhabitants of the town built their houses. The Feilden family had built a house on Church Street adjacent to the gates of the Parish Church in about 1728. The Parish Cross and Stocks were almost opposite to the entrance of the arcade. The old parish draw-well was also at the top of Church Street, unused for many years, it was found again a few years before the arcade was built when work on the sewerage system was being carried out.
For generations, the Blackburn’s Market was held at the top of Church Street and Darwen Street until a new market house and market was built on King William Street, previously known as Livesey Street, in 1848. It was also, on this part of Church Street, that Charles Tiplady and some of his associates opened the first Conservative Club.
The shop of William Cunliffe, painter and decorator, was where, in 1612, Judge Walmsley died. A monument was built for him in the old parish Church which was a copy of that of Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset which was in St. Nicholas's Chapel, West Minster Abbey.
21 Church Street, was formerly the house of Luke S. Walmsley, a nineteenth and early twentieth century local art dealer, poet, and historian. In earlier times this same property had been the town house of John Paslaw, the last Abbot of Whalley. It is claimed that a letter found in the house implicated him in the Pilgrimage of Grace. He was executed at Lancaster for High Treason in 1537.
Luke Walmsley gave a description of the house in his series ‘Gossip About Old Blackburn’ printed in the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph between 1919 and 1922. He said;
“It was the town house of Abbot Paslaw, and the last relic of ancient Church Street, with the old [church] tower [demolished in 1870] the last of ancient Blackburn.
“Inside was rambling and quaint. The room to the front over the shop was bright and sunny, and ever lively. The windows were constructed in domestic Gothic, with stone mullions and transoms, odd panes proudly glowing in goblin-like squints from a huge bulls-eye. To be sure the floor was a bit shaky and hollow here and there. There can be little doubt its pleasant aspect would afford the faithful Abbot many a happy hour in peaceful days when never dreaming of his sad and tragic end…The house was two storeys only, besides the cellar. Before its conversion into a shop it had been entered as a house by several steps.”
Before the Arcade could be built three properties had to be demolished on Church Street, they were; James Bradley, butcher, W. H. Cunliffe, painter, and Dickson and Nuttall, drapers.
In an article called “Local Reminiscences,” published in the Blackburn Standard 19th March 1898 “Stroller” had this to say about the arcade; “I often ask myself the question what have we gained by the destruction of the older buildings in Blackburn. I remember the days before Thwaites Arcade and the present neighbouring shop… I am not altogether satisfied that the changes are in reality improvements. The front in Church Street is more of a straight line, but as Richard Jefferies said of Paris, it is none the prettier for its uniformity.” So, like to-day, some people thought demolishing old buildings, even to make way for such buildings as Thwaites Arcade, was not good idea.
Dickson’s and Nuttall’s shop is described by Stroller as “Beautiful old-fashioned, snug looking place.” Also demolished was a building in Shorrock fold which had been used by the coroner,
Demolition of property started in February 1882 and took about two years to complete. There were some difficulties encountered in the work and the newly built Post Office on Lord Street which opened in June 1880, had to be underpinned as did two shops and the Star Inn, located in Shorrock Fold. The Blackburn Times reported that during the demolition; “No business had been interrupted nor has a single accident occurred.”
Building of the arcade started immediately after the demolition, to the designs by Thwaites own architect and surveyor, H. Thompson.
The Lord Street frontage of the arcade. Above the shops are the
Orange Club Rooms
It took 2 years to complete the Arcade with all the work being undertaken by local tradesmen. A description of it was given in the Blackburn Standard of the 16th February 1884, which said;
“The arcade consists of 24 shops in the passage, with two shops in church Street. Each shop is 16 square ft. and are glazed with the “best polished British plate-glass”, above the walls are covered with light blue tiles with a darker shade of blue. Each of the shops as a storeroom of the same size above, this room is reached by an ornamental spiral staircase. The passage way through the arcade from Church Street to Lord Street is 15ft wide and of concrete with glass at intervals at the side and in the centre to light the cellars below. The roof of the arcade is made with ornamental girders which were cast at Seth Lang’s Greaves Street foundry, and glazed, it is also lighted at night by a large number of patent lamps done by Bray and Co. Beneath the Arcade reached by a spiral staircase, is a passage the same width as the one above with fire proof cellars of the same dimensions as the shops. These will be let either to the tenants of the shops or to market stall holders, for whose convenience a slope has been provided, so that trucks may be run from the Market ground into the passage. Above each entrance are carved in stone the arms of Mr D. Thwaites, with the motto “Ferni et fixi”. The outside presentation of the building is of the best patent brick, with abundant stone dressing. At each end of the Arcade are ornamental sliding iron gates which will be closed at night, they form, when shut a convenient porch with exquisitely executed floral designs in relief plaster. From Church-Street a spacious stone staircase leads to the rooms above which are let to the Central Conservative Club. The first floor contains a reading room 34ft by 15ft; a sitting room 21ft by 12ft, and a card room 12ft square. The landing is of tiled mosaic work of pretty design. On the second floor are two billiard rooms. The first measures 39ft by 27ft, and is lighted from the side and the roof, the latter lights being of stained glass. The second billiard room, which measures 27ft by 27ft is even better lighted, the glass of the roof being plain. Also, on this floor is a card room and a committee room with a store room where coal will be hoisted from the yard below for use in the club. At the Lord-Street end of the Arcade is the Orange Club rooms, these are of similar dimension to the above. The Blackburn Times also gives the names of the local contractors who carried out the work they were; Excavating and mason’s work, J. Fecitt; bricklayers, J. Byrom; carpenters and joiners, Marshall and Dent; plumbers, Edwin Cunliffe; Plasterer’s, A. Airy; Flaggers and slaters’ R. T. Eastwood; painting W. H. Cunliffe.
The opening ceremony took place on Friday February the 15th 1884 at 12.30; it was performed by the Mayor, Alderman James Hoyle, in front of a large crowd which included Daniel Thwaites. The Mayor was presented with a silver key with gilt wards and handle, it was inscribed; “Presented to James Hoyle Esq., Mayor of Blackburn, on the occasion of his opening Thwaites Arcade February 15th, 1884.” The key was given by James Sager, jeweller, of King William-Street. Opening the gates at the Church Street entrance he declared the Arcade open.”
The Mayor proposed a toast to the success of the Arcade. That evening, at the Grosvenor Hotel a dinner was given to the 150 people who had worked on it.
Two photograps showing the Church Street entrance, Left and the Lord Street
photographs taken July 1971
The first tenants in the Arcade were;
1&2: William Whittaker and Sons, boot and shoe maker.
3: Mrs. Catherine Whittaker, Confectioner.
4: William Henry Cunliffe, painter and decorator, carver and gilder, artist, colourman
6&7: Miss Priscilla Ashhurst, fancy goods dealer.
8: J. T. Shaw and Co, tea dealer.
9: Margaret Ellen Parker and Eliza Holloway, milliners.
10: Samuel Pickering and Sons, shirt makers.
11: Criterion Clothing Company, tailors and clothiers.
12: Robert Parker and Sons, grocers and provision merchants.
14&15: Cash and Co., boot and shoe makers.
16: Thomas Forrest Smith, house furnisher and hardware dealer.
17: John Henry Preston, hosier, glover, and gentlemen’s outfitter.
18: Joseph Miller, hosier.
19: Joseph Law, new and second hand bookseller.
20: Francis Cowburn, hairdresser and umbrella manufacturer.
21: Hill and Dale, patent medicine vendors and fancy goods dealer.
22: John Oldfield, tobacconist.
23&24: John Gallagher, clothier, hatter, hosier, and glover.
At 10.30 am on Thursday 18th of January 1901 a fire broke out in the cellars of the Arcade, although Thursday was half day closing for shops in the town, there were still quite a lot of people shopping there, due to it being the annual sales. Substantial damage was done to goods being stored in the cellars due to both fire and water, however, the building itself went unscathed.
At the beginning of WW2, it was feared that mass air raids would take place, not just in the capital but all over the country.
Throughout the country, Anderson shelters were distributed to house holders with large enough gardens, public shelters were built on spare land, cellars in shops and church crypts were also converted into public shelters. Blackburn was no exception. The Blackburn Times reported in September 1939 that;
“Blackburn has now public shelters for 5,500 people in the event of a raid by enemy aircraft. In addition, several private trading concerns have taken steps to afford protection for staffs [sic] and customers, and premises have been scheduled by the Borough Engineer’s department for conversion at first opportunity.” Many shops in and around the town centre were used including the cellars in Thwaites Arcade. Each of the shops in the Arcade was designated a number of places, and in total the cellars could shelter 727 people.
Another consequence of possible air-raids was the black-out. The strict regime meant showing the smallest of lights was an offence, which could result in prosecution. Putting up blackout curtains and boards so not a chink of light was showing became a ritual to householders and shops. It was said that at this early period of the war, more people were killed or injured on the roads because of the black-out than was caused by the war itself. It was not all doom and gloom as an article in the Blackburn Times of November 1939 shows;
“Thwaites Arcade Beats the Black-Out” was the headline, the article went on to say; “Enterprise on the part of the Shopkeepers in the Thwaites Arcade, Blackburn, has beaten the black-out
Turned by the lighting restrictions into an eerie tunnel after dusk, the Arcade is once more an avenue of brightly lit shops—but no light will escape.
To regain these pre-war conditions, the shopkeepers combined in seeking permission of the Chief Constable and owners of the property to put into operation a scheme for erecting light-traps at each end of the Arcade.
Fitted with plywood, the sliding iron grills that close the entrances are moved partially across at dusk, and the gaps are shielded by wood partitions. This arrangement permits shoppers to move freely in and out.
The biggest advantage of the return to normal lighting is that shoppers are once again able to see the true colours of the goods displayed in the windows—a great boon when Christmas stocks are on view.”
The empty shops in the arcade prior to demolition in 1971.
After the war the Arcade returned to normality, and continued as a prestigious shopping centre which Blackburn could be justifiably proud of. Each year, at Christmas time, the Arcade was elaborately decorated for the festive occasion.
However, Blackburn was in a state of change. In the 1960s a lot of property in the town centre area was not fit for purpose. It was decided that a new town centre was needed to enable it to compete against other towns who were also modernising. Even today, among the older generation the debate goes on as to whether the council was right in demolishing the old market house and clock tower with some even arguing that the out-door market should have been retained. Regardless of what the people thought the entire town centre was demolished. Some well-known land marks were lost to the bulldozers.
Barretts Directory of 1966, five years before demolition, show the last occupants of the arcade, they were;
1&2: S. Eastham Ltd., Florists.
3: P. W. Hart, boot dealer.
4: F. Lewis Ltd., outfitters.
7: Bonneys, draper.
8: Isabel Winter Ltd., ladies’ outfitters.
9: R. Porritt, draper
10: A. Worswick, optician and jeweller.
11: E. Uttley.
12: F. Fairclough, baker and confectioner, restaurant.
14-18: Hadfield’s, gowns.
20: F. Lewis Ltd., outfitters.
22: Timothy White and Taylors, chemist.
25: Tuckshops Ltd.
Demolition of Thwates Arcade in 1971.
In the right-hand photograph the cellars
used as air-raid shelters in WW2 can be seen.
The rebuilding of the new centre was done in phases, the final one included the demolition of the property between Church Street and Lord Street. Lord Street had, until 1907 been the home the the old Post Office which later became a snooker hall, where legends such as Alex Higgins and Denis Taylor regularly played and many another lad learnt the game. Demolition work began in 1971, undertake by S.J. Sears of Accrington Road. All the north side of Church Street as far as Victoria Street was demolished and rebuilt. The arcade would have stood where the entrance for delivery vehicles is. Lord Street disappeared to become Lord Square until even that was built over. In 2001, Church Street; which for centuries was the main thoroughfare of Blackburn, was pedestrianised with Street sculptures and seats replacing the car. The bottom end of Church Street survived much longer. Woolworth’s store, built in 1926 was finally demolished in 2010 and the new Market built in its place.
Would the Thwaites’ Arcade, the market hall and clock tower have been demolished today or would the planners have been more sympathetic and tried to incorporate them into the new buildings. I suppose we’ll never know!