The Market House | Blackburn’s Time Ball and Gun | A Market Hall for Darwen? 
Planning and Selection | A Work in Progress | Some Disappointments
The Opening Ceremony | In Recent Years...

The Market House

The Market House was opened on January 28th 1848 by the Chairman of the Commissioners William Hoole. The building was in the early Italian style, with a frontage of 3 gables and a campanile 72 feet high at the west end. The upper section of the tower contained an illuminated clock. The interior was 186 feet long by 109 feet wide.
The architect was Mr T Flanagan and the cost was £8,000. A second Market House originally intended for a fish market was opened in 1870-72. These buildings were demolished to make way for Blackburn Shopping precinct in the 1960s.
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​​Blackburn’s Time Ball and Gun

Any one aged 50 or over and brought up in Blackburn or Darwen will, no doubt, remember the old market house and it’s distinctive clock tower. Perched on the very top of the tower was the Time Ball. The ball was raised to the top of a mast every day and on the stroke of 1pm it dropped down; at the same time a gun was fired to inform people out of sight of the Time Ball that it was 1pm. But what is a Time Ball and why did Blackburn need one? The idea for Time Balls dates back to 1818 when a royal naval officer, Captain Robert Wauchope suggested that one should be set up on the Thames, so that sailing vessels could set their chronometers (a very accurate watch that mariners used to aid navigation). In 1833 the Captain further suggested to the Admiralty that a Time Ball should be built at Greenwich Observatory on the side of the River Thames. In October 1833 the Admiralty issued this announcement
The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty hereby give notice, that a time-ball will henceforth be dropped, every day, from the top of a pole on the Eastern turret of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, at the moment of one o’clock PM mean solar time. By observing the first instance of its downwards movement, all vessels in the adjacent reaches of the river (Thames) as well as in most of the docks, will thereby have the opportunity of regulating and rating their chronometers. The ball will be hoisted half-way up the pole, at five minutes before One o'clock, as a preparatory signal, and close up at two minutes before one.
By command of their Lordships
John Barrow
One o clock was chosen because the astronomers, who ran the observatory, were normally using their telescopes to make observations at noon.  The original ball was made of painted wood and leather. Every day at 12.55pm the ball was manually raised half way up the mast and then at 12.58pm was raised to the top, on the stroke of 1pm the mechanism released the ball, which would then fall slowly back to the bottom of the mast. Other Time Balls started to appear both in Britain and throughout the world some of the earlier ones were:
Liverpool, 1845
Deal in Kent, 1855
Washington DC, USA1845
Sydney Australia, 1858
Port Lyttelton, New Zealand, 1876.

It was 1877 when Blackburn first started to think about erecting its own Time Ball. One of the reasons for it was given in the Blackburn Times of 2 March 1878 which said “ We have on more than one occasion pointed out the irregularities of our public clocks, their differences in time, and their non-reliability in the instances where prompt punctuality was an absolute necessary. Complaints On this score have from time to time reached the Markets Committee … respecting the clock in the Market tower and some months ago the committee took the complaints into serious consideration”. On the 19 July 1877 the markets sub-committee reported to the council that they had “Considered the cost of a Time Ball and vane for the market house tower and recommended that Messrs Reid Bros. of London be instructed to put up a… Time Ball… also that a vane be placed on the top of the tower”. It was rare for an inland town to have a Time Ball; after all, the original concept was to inform mariners of the correct time for navigation purposes. A few inland towns did have them, including Edinburgh and Nottingham, Blackburn would, therefore have the distinction of being one of only a handful of inland towns to have it’s own Time Ball and gun

Reid Brothers, an electrical firm from London, were contracted to supply and erect the mechanism for the Time Ball, and by March of 1878 everything was in place for work to begin. Because there was some fears that the clock tower would be unable to withstand the weight of the machinery, cross beams were first installed before any of the mechanism was fitted.  The construction work took about a fortnight to complete.
The apparatus for the Time Ball consisted of a hollow tube about 18 foot 2 inches (5.53m) this included the weather vane; a copper ball 4-foot diameter  (1.21m) that weighed about 2 cwt (101.60 kilos). The ball was painted a chocolate colour with a broad belt of gilt round the centre and a narrow gilt band above and below. The total weight of the apparatus was 15cwt (762 kilos).  The height of the clock tower was 73 foot (22 m) to the gutter and the Time Ball, when ready to fall was 15 foot (4.5 m) above this The latitude of the ball was 53 degrees 44 minutes 56 seconds north and the longitude 2 degrees 23 minutes 57 seconds west. The cost erecting the Time Ball was £170 an additional £130 was spent on doing essential repairs to the clock tower its self. Each day a current of electricity would be sent from Greenwich to arrive in Blackburn at exactly 1pm and set the ball falling, this service was to cost the council £27 per year, the person who had the daily task of sending the charge was Professor Piazzi Smyth (1819 1900).

A graphic description of how the Time Ball worked was written in the Blackburn Times and is given in full below:

“Up [the] hollow mast the Time Ball will be elevated by means of a windlass and rack and pinion attachment, each day, a few minutes before one o’clock… On the ball arriving at the top of the mast, it will be locked fast into position, by means of a detent or stop, and will at the same time be disengaged from the mechanical elevating gear.  In this position the ball will remain until the detent or stop is released, and then the ball will descend by gravity. A very simple electrical arrangement will momentarily affect the release of the detent or catch and the fall of the ball, the fall being seven feet.  An electro-magnet with an armature and mechanical motor arrangement will be fixed in connection with the detent or catch, which will clip the ball, so that when the current of electricity arrives from Greenwich at one pm. along the wire and enters the electro-magnet, the armature opposite to the pole of the electro-magnet will be attracted, and this will liberate a mechanical arrangement of levers by which a heavy hammer will be brought into play.  The falling down of the hammer will knock away the supporting detent or catch supporting the elevated ball, which will immediately commence to descend the mast, true time being indicated by observation at the moment the ball will leave the point of suspension.  The momentum of the falling ball will be controlled by the action of a column of air, the compression of which, as the ball descends, acting as a break, the time-signal will be brought to rest and remain in readiness for elevation the next day at ten minutes to one o’clock…”

Alongside the Time Ball was to be a gun, which would be fired at the same time that the ball started its descent at one o’clock.  The gun was made by Messrs W. and J. Yates, engineers of Blackburn and presented as a gift to the town. It was cast from a piece of wrought iron and was 12 inches (30.48 cm) long, it had an original bore of 2 inches (5.08 cm) but this was later enlarged. The Gun worked from the Time Ball, It was charged with about 2 ounces (56grams) of gunpowder, a fuse received an electrical spark, which fired the gun.
Thursday 2 May 1878 was the day when the first time signal would arrive from Greenwich, the Time Ball would be manually raised at 12.50pm and at 1pm would begin its descent and for those who were out of sight of the ball there would be the explosion of the gun. In the morning of that day an “impromptu luncheon” was given in the council chambers by Councillor Beads, chairman of the markets committee, which was attended by the Mayor and Ex-Mayor with members of the markets committee.  Mr Briggs MP for Blackburn also attended. Mr Thwaites Blackburn’s second MP could not be present. A toast was drunk,  “Success to the Time Ball”.  At 1pm the signal from Greenwich was received, the ball fell, and the gun fired, however there was a slight mishap when the gun was fired, the effect of the discharge caused dust to be shaken into the works of the clock. After this it was decided that the gun should be moved from the clock tower to avoid damage to the clock mechanism. It was removed and put in storage until a wooden carriage was made; it was then relocated on to the roof of the town hall. The gun was used as a time signal until 1931.  At that time it was removed to the corporation’s store yard at Islington. For some time after it was fired to indicate the start of the two minutes silence on Armistice Day and to herald in the New Year.
The Time Ball and gun gave the people of Blackburn its one o’clock signal regularly until 1903 when the mechanism failed. It was left in a state of disrepair for 19 years. In 1924 it was decided something had to be done, and so the council arranged for the mechanism to be repaired and the Time Ball was once more set in motion. The Time Ball carried on rising and falling every day at 1pm for another 40 years. It was the job of a member of the market department to climb the clock tower and wind the ball to the top of the mast and, apart from the 19 years when the ball did not work, this was done each day. It was the second week of December 1964 that the Time Ball made its final descent by then there was no one to climb the tower to wind it to the top. On 30th December 1964 the clock tower with its Time Ball was demolished to make way for the new shopping arcade and within a few hours another piece of Blackburn history was just a pile of rubble. It was disappointment to most people in Blackburn to see the clock tower demolished. It was widely thought that the tower, along with the Thwaites Arcade, should have been incorporated into the new town centre design but that was not to be. Like a lot more “Bits of old Blackburn” it is now only a memory to the older generation.
Not a lot has been written specifically about the Time Ball and gun, but those books on Blackburn that touch on the subject have differing opinions about how it worked.  Some say that it rose to the top of the mast at noon and then dropped at one o’clock, while others say that it started to rise at noon, reached the top at one o’clock and then dropped. However according to the newspaper reports of 1878 when it was built, the ball was manually lifted to the top of the mast at ten minutes to one ready to be dropped at one o’clock.  As far as I can gather the Ball was manually raised right up till the last days, but perhaps the time it was raised changed to 12 noon at a later date.  Perhaps someone out there knows something about this and can put me right.
Written by Stephen Smith, a CottonTown volunteer 
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A Market Hall for Darwen?

Darwen Market Hall.jpg 

It is difficult now to appreciate the rapidity of Darwen's growth in the 19th century. In one person's lifetime it was transformed from a hamlet of a few thousand souls into a modern town of over 30,000 people, and during the period 1850 to 1880 the population almost trebled. Local government did not develop at the same rate and for a long time the Board of Health was the town's only administrative body. It was not until borough status was achieved in 1878 that an appropriate level of civic response was at last begun.
Private initiative had taken the lead in developing services. The waterworks, gasworks, and tramways were all begun as commercial ventures and indeed the first purpose built market, the Greenway Market, was built with private capital by Eccles Shorrock in 1847. However, the scale of such enterprise was not large enough to meet the town's needs.
It was at the last meeting of the Local Board on 3rd June 1878 that the proposal to acquire land to build a market hall and town hall was made. For many years Blackburn had taken custom from local traders and it was not uncommon for customers travelling from Darwen to have their tram fare paid by grateful Blackburn shopkeepers. Even more than a town hall, a market was seen as essential to the town's independence. 

​​Planning and Selection

The site chosen off Railway Road and adjacent to School Street, was owned by the Reverend Charles Greenway. It was an area of mouldering buildings and malodorous lodges, unpleasant and swamp-like. In order to raise the money, the proposal to build was included in the Over Darwen Improvement Bill, which received Royal Assent on 21st August 1879. It was estimated that the market would cost £15,000 and the town hall £35,000. Inevitably there was opposition from more conservative elements in the town to such a burden on the rates.
The plans were selected by open competition, adjudicated by Mr. Waterhouse, the architect of Manchester Town Hall, and the designs of Mr. Charles Bell of London were selected and put on display in the Co-operative Hall. At a council meeting on 17th November 1879, it was decided to defer the building of a town hall indefinitely and provide accommodation in the new market hall for the town's officials. In the light of Darwen's subsequent absorption into Blackburn, this seems a wonderfully far sighted decision.
On 15th February 1880, Mr. Bell was officially appointed architect and on 18th March, Mr. Hobson Haigh from Manchester was appointed clerk of works. The first problem to be solved on site was posed by the River Darwen, which crossed it diagonally. The river had to be diverted, while a brick lined channel was built to contain it. The channel was roofed over and the river permitted to follow its original course, running exactly beneath the main entrance to the Market Hall.
On Saturday, 2nd October 1880, the Mayor, Alderman William Snape laid the foundation stone. A procession left the Theatre Royal in the afternoon, arriving at the site in School Street where a platform had been erected. There was a crowd of several thousand in attendance. As a preliminary, a sealed bottle containing contemporary papers was placed in a special cavity beneath the foundation stone. Alderman Green presented the ceremonial trowel, which Alderman Snape wielded to good effect and before the red granite block was lowered into place, Mr. Bell presented the mallet. Alderman Snape struck the stone three times and declared it 'well and truly laid'. Mr. Timperley then photographed the assembly. In the evening a banquet for a hundred guests was held in the Co-operative Hall and ladies were permitted to watch from the gallery.

​​​A Work in Progress 

Over the next two years work proceeded satisfactorily. It is an interesting comment on the dangers of working on Victorian building sites,that the contractor should feel it worth remarking at the subsequent opening festivities that nobody had been killed during the building. 5,200 cubic feet of earth had to be removed for the foundations and 168,000 bricks were used in the construction. The roofing required 84 tons of wrought iron and 29 tons of cast iron held together by 40,000 rivets and 12,000 bolts and screws. Among local contractors involved were Messrs. J. Orrel & Sons, who did the base and superstructure, Mr. James Heavyside, who did the slating, Mr. John Knowles, who did the plumbing and glazing and Mr. Robert Jackson, who did the plastering and painting. Other contractors came from London, Derbyshire, and Nottingham.
The Marquis of Hartington, Liberal M.P. for North East Lancashire and Secretary of State for India was invited to perform the opening ceremony. He was a leading political figure of the day and was soon to play an important role in the Sudan crisis, when General Gordon was killed at Khartoum in January 1885. He had officiated at Darwen several times and had a popular following. The opening day was to have been at the end of May 1882, but at the beginning of the month Lord Frederick Cavendish the brother of the Marquis was assassinated at Phoenix Park in Dublin and the ceremony was postponed.

​​​Some Disappointments

Wednesday, 21st June 1882 was chosen for the new opening date. Tradesmen and millowner were persuaded to grant a days holiday and every building in the town centre and beyond was decked out with flags and streamers, and banners bidding welcome to the Marquis. Howeve on the evening of the 20th, Alderman Snape received a telegram informing him that an important cabinet meeting had been summoned for the next day, which the Marquis felt obliged to attend. It was a bitter disappoint ment. The M.P. Frederick Grafton was to act in his place.
News of the disappointment did not become commonly known until the train carrying Mr. Grafton arrived at Darwen. Although the police attempted to prevent all but officials entering the station, some members of the public had boarded the train at Spring Vale to be present at the welcoming ceremony and these quickly spread the word that the Marquis had not come. Mr. Grafton was greeted by the Mayor, Alderman Green and after a short speech in which he conveyed the Marquis's apologies, he joined Alderman Snape in his carriage andwas taken to the latter's residence Lynwood for lunch. The other officials dined at Smalley's Hotel.
A second disappointment was caused by the weather. Any hopes that the morning rain might clear were dashed and the decorations soon had a sorry and bedraggled aspect. Undeterred the procession assembled in Bolton Road and got under way at 2.00 p.m. It was headed by the county police, followed by the local fire brigade aboard one of their engines. Various lodges of the town's friendly societies followed on with their colourful banners, then came the twenty carriages conveying officials and councillors and one carriage conveying three detectives. The 2nd Lancashire Rifle Volunteers brought up the rear.

​​The Opening Ceremony

The procession made its way to Lynwood, where it was joined by Alderman Snape and Mr. Grafton and then returned along Blackburn Road, Duckworth Street, and Market Street, to the new Market Square and the entrance to the new Market Hall. The procession was almost a mile in length and took 18 minutes to pass any given point. The streets round the market were densely packed with people.
Alderman Green presented Mr. Grafton with a golden key studded with turquoises and manufactured by Chubbs of London at a cost of 15 quineas and requested him to perform the opening ceremony. Mr. Grafton duly obliged and the party passed inside. There was a sudden surge by the crowd towards the market entrance and the police were overwhelmed. However, decisive action by the Rifle Volunteers under the command of Captain Baron barred the way; the prospect of steel bayonets producing a remarkable quietening effect on those at the forefront of the rush.
The interior of the market had been lavishly decorated by Mr. Bond of Halifax. Everywhere were streamers, bunting, flags and banners and drapes in regal colours. The speeches were made from the balcony and people packed the main hall and corridors below. Mr. Grafton dwelt on the merits and advantages of self sufficiency and the folly of importing foodstuffs that could be grown and bought locally. Alderman Snape echosed his comments and remarked that whilst he had no objection to people making a pleasant tram journey to Blackburn, he hoped fewer would do so in future for their shopping. Speeches followed by Mr. Bell and the Deputy Mayor and the band concluded the ceremony by playing the national anthem. Mr. Timperley photographed the assembly.
The rain persisted into the evening, but the entrance to the new Market Hall was illuminated by gas lamps and a ball was held inside for the public. Alcohol was not served and the music was provided by the Darwen Temperance Band. Abstinence was not so conspicuous in the Co-operative Hall, where a civic banquet was being held for the visiting dignitaries and upwards of a dozen toasts were proposed. The catering was done by a Manchester firm; possibly the intention to patronise local traders being thwarted by the market not having opened yet for business. Again ladies were permitted to observe from the balcony, though a toast was proposed to their health and the hope expressed that they might one day share in such a feast.
After all the pomp and ceremony came the business of letting stalls. There was some controversy when the Council refused to accept tenders that it considered too low, but it became apparent that a number of traders had attempted to form a 'ring' and were only thwarted by the Council's uncompromising attitude. By 1st July all the fish stalls were let and all the butchers but one. The market opened for business on Tuesday, 11th July 1882. All the stalls were let by the end of July.

​​In Recent Years...

The more recent history of the market is soon told. The clock was added to the tower by Dr. Ballantyne when he was Mayor in 1899. In the 1930's part of the market gound was made available as a bus stand. During the war the roof was blacked out and shades fitted to the lamps and in 1968 the old glass arcade was demolished to make way for a new fish annexe, opened in February 1969. In 1974 the outside market was temporarily accommodated in the car park, while the new covered market was constructed. This was opened in June 1975 and housed sixty-six traders.
Gone now are the days when shopping went on until well after dark and gas lamps cast an optimistic glow over the stallholders goods, gone too are the days when Darwen had control over its own civic affairs, but all those officials and councillors of former times have not laboured in vain, for buildings such as the Market Hall stand as monuments to the initiative and enterprise of almost one hundred years of home rule.