The men who made their millions from Blackburn's business were not shy about it. Like the burgeoning bourgeoisie of other industrial centres, they announced their status to their own workers and to 'old money' by moving out of town and claiming their own territory in the suburbs. They built their mansions, halls and castles far enough from town to escape its squalor and fumes, but near enough to be able to deal with business 'hands on' at short notice, and to play their part in Blackburn's civic and cultural life. Whilst in Blackburn's so-called 'Herodian' districts one infant in five never made it to their fifth birthday, Victorian and Edwardian employers imitated the lifestyle of the aristocracy, in which role they saw themselves as the town 'elite' with both the riches and the responsibilities that entailed.
Each of these homes was palatial by comparison with those of its residents' workers, with acres of landscaped gardens, opulent interiors with dozens of rooms, and outbuildings accommodating servants, horses and swimming pools. The turn of the Nineteenth Century saw the completion of Woodfold Hall, a vast neo-classical mansion on the road to Preston at Mellor for cotton magnate Henry Sudell, whose family had been associated with Blackburn's development for four centuries, and who had previously lived in Church Street. After the turnpike road (Preston New Road) was developed in 1826, a series of glamorous homes sprung up around its route: 'Spring Mount' was built at the top of what is now Montague Street in the 1820s, and became the home of Cotton manufacturer and local MP William Eccles after he moved from Clayton Street. Beardwood Mansion, finished by the 1830s, was the residence of John Rutherford, part-owner of Shaw's brewery on Salford bridge, who had been born in John Street. Rutherford was Mayor of Blackburn and MP for Darwen; he played in the early line-up of Blackburn Rovers, and owned the winner of the 1925 St. Leger. By the 1840s, 'Beardwood Hall' later to become 'Beardwood Hospital' was built, and was the home of a series of leading commercial and political figures in Blackburn life. These buildings sprung up alongside other, existing sizeable properties including Beardwood Old Hall and Bank House on Duke's Brow.
1853 saw the opening of Corporation Park, creating a further attraction around which to develop distinctive homes for the town's wealthy: 'Troy' (on the site now occupied by Beardwood School) was built for the retirement of brewer John Thwaites in the 1850s; 'Wycollar' for the millowning Coddingtons (and later the Eddlestons) in the 1860s, and in the 1880s, the Hornby family - which included members of Blackburn's political and sporting elite - moved from King Street to 'Whinfield', later to gravitate further out to Pleasington. Other dignitaries such as William Pilkington, millowner, Mayor and founder of Blackburn Infirmary, moved out as far as Wilpshire Grange in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. The local facilities to support this secluded comfort came to include the East Lancs Cricket Club at Alexandra Meadows from 1863; Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School (which moved from Freckleton Street to its present site in 1886); and Blackburn Golf Club on Revidge Heights from 1894 onwards.
Perhaps the most glorious example of this contrast in lifestyle between Blackburn's industrial leadership and their workers was 'Billinge Scar'. It was built as the home of Daniel Thwaites, who had first moved from hard by his Eanam brewery in Cleaver Street to 'Beardwood Cliff' in 1858. In 1876, however, he built almost from scratch a property which seemed to designed to prove that an Englishman's home literally is his castle. It later fell into the hands of millowner Arthur Birtwistle. A closer look at 'Billinge Scar' tells us a great deal about the life and the values of Blackburn's millionaires.
The glory days of the Blackburn millionaires were little more than a blink in the eye of history. The era of this stark division between rich and poor, employer and employee, powerful and powerless, was superseded in the first half of the Twentieth Century by a combination of trends including the rise of the welfare state and the decline of King Cotton. Their homes became schools, hospitals, or more often rubble. Parochial chieftains - even generous ones - could not resist the powerful economic changes and political expectations developing at the time. The owners of today's industry no longer peer at their workers from the brow of a suburban hill - often they are not even in this country. Perhaps it is worth remembering that the Blackburn millionaires were usually an active part of the town that underwrote their wealth - they spoke for it in Parliament, played for its sports teams and funded its churches, schools, hospitals and clubs. For good or ill, they were part of the cohesion that made Blackburn a force to be reckoned with. It was to their employers' homes that Blackburn workers marched when they wanted a pay rise or when Rovers won the FA Cup: when the millionaires went, there was nowhere to march.
By Matthew Cole
In 1858, Daniel Thwaites had this house built upon the site of an old sandstone quarry leaving town on Preston New Road. Its Italianate design matched that of the home recently built for his brother John half a mile nearer Blackburn at Troy. As these pictures show, the interior of the house boasted ornate fireplaces, ceiling mouldings and rooms for taking leisure - such as a game of billiards - in comfort. Outside there were tennis courts, landscaped rock gardens and numerous outbuildings. After Thwaites moved to Billinge Scar nearly two decades later, Beardwood Cliff was bought by the Thompson family, cotton magnates, from whose family album these pictures come. The building was taken over during the First World War by the Sisters of Nazareth as a home for orphaned children, and in due course became Nazareth House old folks' home. In 1988 the main buildings were demolished as unsuitable, and since then the lodge house on Preston New Road has followed.
By Matthew Cole
View the house at a time when Cotton Magnate John Thompson owned Beardwood Cliff in the 1890s:
Entrance Hall and Stairwell Morning Room and Sitting Room
Dining Room and Sitting Room
Kitchen Garden and Glass Houses
Rose Garden Pond with Fountain
The building which is now Beardwood Hospital has been there for well over a century and a half, and is shown here in W. Burnett Tracy's Lancashire at the Opening of the Twentieth Century: Contemporary Biographies published in 1903. Its residents included a number of Blackburn's great and good: in the 1880s the Astley family, who had made their fortune from a mixture of textiles and groceries; then J.J.L. Irving, a descendant on his mother's side of the famous textile inventor Samuel Crompton, and through her mother of Joseph Lancaster, who built Blackburn's first spinning mill at Wensley Fold in 1877.
Irving himself was an artistic connoisseur, keeping at Beardwood one of the country's finest collections of paintings and china, and also rearing horses. He died at Beardwood in 1917, and the Hall became the home of cotton family the Taylors, pictured here playing host to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the run-up to the Second World War. Finally its residents were the Woolley family, owners of Cupal Pharmaceuticals, and one of whom sat as MP for Spen Valley in Yorkshire during the Second World War.
The building seen here being demolished in the Blackburn Times of October 1936 stood for over a century on the site now occupied by Beardwood Drive, which follows the broad path of the driveway to the house. It sat in six acres of gardens containing a coach-house, servants' cottages, stables, a Summer house, a dairy, a shippon barn and a well. The house itself included eleven bedrooms.
At first its owner was a Blackburn lawyer called Henry Hargreaves, but later in the Nineteenth century it was bought by Mayor of Blackburn and later MP for Darwen Sir John Rutherford. Rutherford had made his money from a partnership in Shaw's brewery on Salford, and spent it on horseracing amongst other sporting pursuits. He died in 1932, and the site was sold for the development of the 'garden city' suburban homes now there. Only an outhouse survived, as the garage of a new house.
By Matthew Cole
This building - or at least another on its site - predates any other still standing in the area, and most of those of the millionaires now gone, but like other mansions built around it, it has links with local dignitaries and bosses. It was owned by Peel and Mather, and by the Thwaites family, before later being the property of the local authority. Amongst its noted residents was Judge Ormerod, and like its neighbours it had room for servants and chauffeurs for their comfort. The picture here shows the building in use as a family home in the inter-war years.
Beardwood Old Hall is a listed building.
Date listed: 19th April 1974
Date of last amendment: 19th April 1974
SD 62 NE 5/34
Regency Gothic. Pebble-dashed, slate roof, L plan. Lower wing faces south and has 2 windows on ground floor and 3 above, all of 2 lights, Gothic style with labels. Glazed porch. Pierced bargeboards and Gothic doors on left hand gable end. Wing facing east is also 2 storeys but taller proportions.
By Matthew Cole
Although there had been local gentry living with servants at Billinge Scar since Elizabethan times, the spot came into prominence only in 1876 when millionaire brewer and sometime Blackburn MP Daniel Thwaites decided to make it his family home. Building around the existing property, Thwaites created what must have seemed an overwhelming structure with an Elizabethan façade complete with battlements, as if to prove him and his fellow industrialists the equals of the aristocracy. Stretching from the cellar to the second floor, there were twelve bedrooms, a coachman's quarters and yard, several rooms for entertaining downstairs, and a library and a school room for his daughter, Elma. When Elma married Robert Yerburgh (the MP for Chester) in 1888, they took over the property and added a conservatory with an Italian mosaic floor.
After they had moved on to Woodfold Hall, Billinge Scar was taken over by William Birtwistle, and from 1921 his son Brigadier-General Arthur Birtwistle: through Abbey, Carr and Woodfold mills and other interests, they were said to control more looms than any other individual in the world. In the traditions of the industrial aristocracy, the Birtwistles owned yachts and cars, and had eight full-time servants as well as gardeners and mechanics with their own inspection pits on site. The five-acre estate came to include tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool, and the Birtwistles' yacht, S.Y. Iolaire, had its own tour itinerary cards printed, detailing visits to golfing resorts around the coast. A brother of the family, Richard, who lived at Springfield House further up Preston New Road, even scored Rovers' first goal in their F.A. Cup win of 1884 - and in his spare time was a director of Roe Lee mills!
The Birtwistles also felt they had social responsibilities: they drew their domestic staff from depressed industrial areas, welcomed an annual parade of children from Blackburn's Ragged School, and provided land in Mellor for the jobless between the wars. It is a reflection of both the principle and the prosperity of the Birtwistles that they were reliable supporters of the James Street Congregationalist Church - but occupied the best and most expensive pews.
Upon the death of Arthur in 1937, the property was put up for sale, but finding no buyer, Billinge Scar was put to public use during the Second World War, and then sold off for materials in the late 1940s. Only the coach house and derelict gardens can be seen today, but these photographs give us a glimpse into the world of the glamorous days of Billinge Scar.
Billinge Scar: The Morning Room
Billinge Scar: The Birtwistle's Dining Room
Billinge Scar: Western Wing
Billinge Scar Green Houses
Billinge Scar Grounds: Ornamental Plant Stand
Billinge Scar Grounds: Greenhouse
Billinge Scar: The Rounded Windows of the Sun Lounge
back to top
Henry Sudell at the height of his affluence, in about 1820, was reputed to be a millionaire. His downfall was the result of losing speculation on a large scale as a merchant in the German and American markets. Sudell’s suspension was announced in July 1827, on which he quitted Woodfold Park with his family, and never returned to Blackburn. The Major portion of the park, was settled upon his family, and was sold about the year 1831 to J. Fowden Hindle. The residue of Sudell’s estates, in Pleasington, Mellor, and Salesbury townships, by order of the assignees were publicly sold, in September 1828; they comprised of about 842 acres of land, and their appraised value was near £60,000. Henry Sudell afterwards resided at Ashley House, Box near Chippenham. Henry Sudell died at Ashely House on 30th January 1856 aged 92.His Household furniture and other items were sold at Auction on Monday 6th of October 1828 and over the next eight days. It seems everything was sold including three copper spittoons, (lot 72) an oak salt box (lot142) 2¾ bottles of hock reputed to be seventy years old (lot 1036). Taken from Abram’s History of Blackburn Town and Parish.
Billinge Scar: The Drawing Room seen from the Sun Lounge