The growth of new industries in the towns of east Lancashire transformed the landscape and environment, turned the local economy upside down, and drastically altered the character of each place which was affected. But industrial development (and especially the arrival and eventual dominance of cotton) had another important consequence - it reshaped the social structure of every town, making some people wealthy, creating an entirely new middle class, and vastly increasing the size and numerical importance of the working classes. Places such as Blackburn had been country market towns and stayed as such until the 1780s. Then, within half a century ( the lifetime of one individual) they became the workshops of the world. Some of the towns were much newer. While Blackburn had been a significant market town for five hundred years, Darwen was only a village in the later 18th century, but by 1861 it was a town of over 20,000 people. As in all places in any part of the world where an economic and commercial boom suddenly arrives, and where industries and towns grow overnight like mushrooms, fortunes were made and people who were once ordinary citizens suddenly became prominent, powerful, influential and ostentatious.
This change is essential to any understanding of what life was like in the cotton towns. The self-made men had the surplus cash to buy their way into society, politics and local affairs. People respected them but at the same time there were jealousies and rivalries, and some fellow-townsmen who had not made the grade felt embittered and discontented. The leading merchants were not only associated with cotton - in each town there were other industries which also enriched certain individuals - but the eventual dominance of cotton ensured that the millowners were prominent. In Darwen, a smaller town than Blackburn and one which had grown up very rapidly, the cotton interest was especially strong because, in a very real sense, cotton made the town itself. There were papermills and collieries, but nothing could rival the importance of the cotton mills which in 1921 employed almost 56 per cent of the town's workforce.
By Dr. Alan Crosby
The millowners and their families, once they had made sufficient money, invariably chose to move out of town. Most had lived originally in centrally-situated town houses, with small gardens (or none at all) but they now preferred to live on the edge of town, or beyond in a country house. The most successful set themselves up in the style of county gentry. In the case of Blackburn the first really wealthy cotton man was Henry Sudell, who was born in the town in 1764 and in 1797 moved out to the great newly-built mansion of Woodfold, set in a large landscaped park. From this he could drive, with his flamboyantly painted coach drawn by fine horses, into Blackburn whenever business (political, social or commercial) beckoned. His spectacular bankruptcy in 1827, in the aftermath of a cotton slump and ill-judged financial dealings, must have been seen as fair retribution by at least some of his Blackburn contemporaries.
By Dr. Alan Crosby
On a more modest scale, but perhaps no less important in the long run, were the many middle-class cotton managers and minor owners who in mid to late 19th century Blackburn moved from the heart of the old town up the slopes to Revidge, Billinge and Beardwood, creating a fashionable and exclusive new suburb of large and opulent family houses set in wooded grounds and leafy streets. The hill location was not only attractive but also upwind of the increasingly serious problem of smoke from a hundred mills and their belching chimneys. What geographers call the social segregation of the different classes ' their residence in distinct parts of the town' was thus emphasised. The millworkers lived down in the valley and off to the east, the owners and managers were physically, as well as socially, in an elevated position to the west. They were not alone, for another consequence of the growth of a middle class of managers and industrialists was the increasing importance of the professions which served them - the lawyers and solicitors, doctors, accountants, and architects - and the owners or top managers of the shops, private schools and banks which they patronised. These groups, too, moved westwards up the slopes of Preston New Road.
Dr. Alan Crosby
Darwen also had its exclusive suburb, though here the circumstances were rather less favourable. As a considerably smaller town, with fewer mills than Blackburn, and thus fewer mill-owning families or managers, there was never going to be development on the scale of Blackburn's western suburbs. But Darwen also had a lower percentage of professionals (doctors, lawyers and accountants) because it was a more workaday place than its larger neighbour. There was another disadvantage: in Revidge and Beardwood the top of the ridge on which the new suburbs grew was about 500-600 feet above sea level, but the south-west end of Darwen, upwind of the mills and collieries and enjoying fine views down the valley, was at 800-900 feet, markedly more exposed and chilly. Nonetheless, by 1900 there had developed in the Bury Fold and Whitehall area a residential suburb with splendid stone-built houses, standing in large wooded grounds alongside the rushing streams which came down off the moor. With names such as Spring Bank, Briarwood, Woodlands, Ashdale and Heatherby, so beloved of prosperous late Victorian people who had made their way in the world, these houses typified the success of at least one sector of Darwen, and indeed of Lancashire, society in that golden age of local industry.
Dr. Alan Crosby
The newly-prosperous classes in town society sought to achieve other goals. They were able to exploit their wealth and status to carve out positions in local and national politics. The first mayor of the new borough of Blackburn, granted its charter by Queen Victoria in 1851, was William Henry Hornby, the cotton owner, who was also the largest employer of labour in the town. William Feilden, another man whose fortune was heavily dependent on cotton (though he had many and varied business and commercial interests) was one of the town's first two MPs after it had been given parliamentary representation in 1832. The other was William Turner - he, too, had made his money in cotton. By the 1860s the borough council was dominated by men who had risen from relative obscurity to high local prominence through their industrial enterprises. Merchants and millowners ruled the town directly as councillors and indirectly as the leaders of social life and the employers of labour. Darwen, which acquired its local government body, the Over Darwen Local Board, in 1854, became a borough in 1878. The cotton men played a very prominent part in petitioning the Queen to grant a charter, and an equally prominent part in running the town thereafter. Typical were Alexander Carus, who owned St Paul's Mill at Hoddlesden, and who in1889 was 'a Justice of the Peace for Darwen, and occupying as he does such a prominent and influential position in social and mercantile circles - is well known and highly esteemed for his active exertions in promoting the best interests of the commerce and manufactures of Darwen and district, and the physical and moral welfare of the industrial community'. In the same year the Gillibrand brothers, owners of Hollin Grove Mill, were 'both magistrates for the borough of Darwen, and J.W. Gillibrand is also a member of the Darwen Town Council'.
by Dr. Alan Crosby
Eccles Shorrock was the mastermind behind India Mill. He was the second of three generations bearing that name. He was the nephew of the first Eccles Shorrock, a founding Darwen mill owner. Eccles Shorrock Ashton was born in 1827 in Clitheroe. He dropped the Ashton when he was adopted by his uncle. He later had a son, the third Eccles Shorrock.
It was the second Eccles Shorrock who left his mark on the town, whose memorial is India Mill Chimney, a landmark that dominates the town just as much today as it did 140 years ago when it was built.
Similar flattering descriptions - these come from a local trade directory - could be found for virtually all the 'cotton men', whether owners or managers. The former were of course the most influential, for in their hands was the wellbeing of the entire community - the closure of a mill or the bankruptcy of a textile business could mean hundreds being thrown out of work with no means of support. The managers, in charge of the more day-to-day operations in each mill, were no less powerful in other ways, every decision they made affecting the daily lives of the workers and their families. Managers were rewarded by high salaries and became men of status and prestige in their own right, moving to the suburbs, joining the town council, sponsoring local charities, sitting in the best pews at church or chapel. Their influence was pervasive. They were the top men, they and their families formed the most superior circle in local society, their houses were the finest in the town, and their status demanded and commanded respect and deference from the people below them in wealth and position.
by Dr. Alan Crosby