​​Blackburn When I Was A BoyReminiscences from 1879A talk with Blackburns Oldest Inhabitant 
 More Blackburn Memories 


 These reminiscences were written by Charles Holt Stirrup and printed in the Blackburn Times on July 15th and 28th 1933, and they look at Blackburn in the 1880s.
Charles Holt Stirrup was the eldest son of William and Frances Stirrup.  He had two brothers Stanley and Reginald.  His father was a “Boot and Shoe Maker" and had his shop at 8 New Market-street, their home for many years was on Preston New-road.

Charles married Mary Elizabeth Metcalf in 1894.  For a time he was a free-lance journalist in America, he later started a “direct advertising agency” in London.

Blackburn When I Was​​ A Boy

By Charles Holt Stirrup
The other day I took a stroll along some of the streets of central London accompanied by an old friend newly arrived from Australia after an unbroken absence from England covering 33 years. “Changes everywhere,” he remarked reminiscently; “many, many changes.  Yet the face of London is much as it was when I left.  Some of these streets are almost exactly as they were.”
His thoughts reminded me of my impression of Blackburn when I paid a short visit to my native town a little while ago.  How familiar nearly everything seemed, though I had not lived there for nearly 40 years!  My recollections made me feel old, for, they carried me back to my boyhood days of the eighteen-eighties.
Yet as I walked up Preston New-road I saw that the hand of time had left very little impression on it—hardly any at all between Sudell Cross and the “Fox and Grapes.”  A few more shops at the town end, then the same houses and churches, the same Park entrance, the same vistas along the roads running north and south.  The trams supplied the only striking modern note.
There were no trams when I first knew Preston New-road.  No buses either, though a 15-minute horse-bus service was started later.  It did not amount to much.  The vehicles were small, the floors were strewn with straw in the winter, there was no conductor.  Passengers dropped their fare into a box.  Still, the town felt that progress was being made when those buses started to run.
Darwen-street, Penny-street, Church-street, King William-street, Victoria-street, Richmond-terrace, in those thoroughfares I saw few changes, except that many of the shops were no longer in the old hands and the tramway office occupied the site where once stood the residence of a well-know medical man, Dr. Pollard.  The Post Office is not where it was and, of course, the Public Buildings in Northgate are a most notable improvement.  The Town Hall has, I think, been enlarged since my boyhood, but the Market House and Fish Market, the Exchange Hall, the Public Library, the Arcade, the Theatre Royal, the Old Bull and White Bull Hotels, the Old Bank and the Manchester and County Bank, showed to me at least no outward sign of considerable alteration.
I noticed one change, however, in the centre of the town which did not appeal to whatever aesthetic sense I may possess—the more or less permanent stalls close to the Market House.  In the old days the stall were taken down and away during Wednesday and Saturday nights.
Well do I remember the old Railway Station, and that is going back nearly 50 years.  It was about a quarter the size of the present one and dirty.  The platforms were only a few inches high and passengers for the Manchester, Liverpool and Preston trains walked across the line running in the opposite direction.  I loitered for hours in that station on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, generally with my school-chum Harry Armistead, later in medical practice at Oswaldtwistle and now, alas, but a memory.  We were keen “collectors” of engine names, which each of us kept in a little book.
Facing the station and open to the wide world was a narrow black and often noisome stream since, fortunately, covered by the Boulevard.  The station and the Boulevard, with the fine big space between, constitute by far the biggest improvement in Blackburn affected in my time.  The work was carried out about 1884-85.
Another improvement which came a little later was the formation of Queen’s Park—Blackburn’s recognition of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.  Of the opening ceremony I remember nothing, but I do recall that the boating facilities on the lake quickly became popular.  Among the younger generation it was considered very dashing to take a girl for a row on those pleasant waters.  But the Queen’s Park, new and in some respects novel though it was, did not even at that time seriously rival the Corporation Park in local affection—lake or no lake.  The beauty of Corporation Park was enough in itself, and when the band stand was constructed there were many who not only thought it unnecessary, but feared that concerts would tend to lower the charm of one of the loveliest enclosures in the Kingdom.
Some of the Unco’ guid feared even worse things and prophesied after darkness disorder and wickedness.  But they were wrong.  Those were the people who agitated for the closing of the side gates at dusk.  For the Park was—and maybe still is—the lovers’ paradise, and side gates were open all night. That, to certain minds, meant evil.  They wrote to the papers about it.  And in this also were they wrong.
 Probably only a small percentage of my readers can remember the visit of the Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward VII., to lay the foundation stone of the Technical School on that one-time area of hovels, Blakey Moor.  That was a day.  Blackburn had been agog for weeks and did the honours of the occasion right royally.  The line was stoutly barricaded, the decorations were splendid, there were several great triumphal arches, the weather was gloriously fine and warm, and as the Prince drove down Preston New-road, accompanied by a prancing detachment of the 9th Lancers, he was greeted with tremendous enthusiasm by huge crowds that had gathered from all parts of East Lancashire.  My pal Harry and I were all over the place and enjoyed the single distinction of talking with some of the Lancers while they waited to escort the royal visitor from the Town Hall, where he had lunch, to the station.  That memorable conversation took place in a stable, and as nearly as I can recollect the stable was where the Palace Theatre now stands.  We gave two of those dazzling heroes a shilling to buy drinks with, an act of generosity of which we boasted for many a day.
I have not seen the Grammar School for many years, but as I understand there are 500 boys there now, it must have been considerably enlarged since my time, when there were not more than about 190 of us.  Mr. Ainsworth was the head master, and Mr. Syclemore his chief assistant.  Still, some of the boys made names for themselves when they went out into the world.  One of my schoolfellows was John Garstang, now the distinguished Professor of Archaeology in the University of Liverpool.  Another was Edward Shillitoe, who entered the Noncomformist ministry and achieved considerable reputation as a poet.  He contributed a number of short articles to popular weekly papers before he left his teens behind him.  Before going to the Grammar School I was for a couple of years at Wields Academy.  Mr. Wield, a short stout and of course, bearded man, lived in the square-fronted house on Preston New-road a few yards beyond Duke’s Brow.  The school was a separate building in the rear, and the playground was enclosed by a high stonewall, over which, at the Adelaide-road end, a few idle spectators would watch our games.  Sometimes they offered us gratuitous criticism and advice and, throw snow-balls at us, thereby starting a brisk fusillade both ways.
The first of my three schools was the Commercial School in Duke’s Brow, a brick building at the corner of Alexandra-road.  Mr. James Sayle conducted it.  I remember him as a kind, yet sad-looking man, tall and lean.  Some years later he frequently acted as umpire at East Lancashire cricket matches.  The boys’ chief pastime was a game with marbles called “chuck-it hole,” at which I became highly skilled.  Every boy carried about with him a linen bag containing a few or many marbles, according to the varying fortunes of the game.  A full bag, weighing a pound or two, was exhibited with great pride.  Two of the older boys, with whom I was occasionally privileged to play, became two if the greatest footballers of their time, indeed of any time—Edgar Chadwick and Johnny Holt.
big lamp.jpg

The big lamp in the centre of Sudell Cross was one of the town’s landmarks.  Its standard had, I think four arms, each supporting a gas-lamp.  There it was that sweethearts met by appointment; indeed, it was the most commonly used meeting place in Blackburn.  By the lamp stood a horse-trough, once the scene of an incident which caused a tremendous sensation.  A weekly scandal-sheet called the “Blackburn Spy” had made annoying references to certain ladies.  This was continued, despite warnings sent to the editor.  One day a friend of these ladies chanced to meet the editor at the Sudell Cross, and seized the opportunity to duck him in the horse-trough.  Police Court proceedings followed, from which the champion of fair dames emerged triumphant.  I was extremely proud of the fact that he was my Cousin, Walter Stirrup.

Walter was one of our celebrities, being captain of the Blackburn Harriers and the best-known local runner of his day.  He was a “distance” man.  When the great American world-champion, L.E. Myers, visited England about 1886, he competed in an open handicap race at the Rovers’ Leamington ground.  Myers made a striking figure, for he always wore a white turban and ran in long raking strides, with great ease and grace.  As was expected, he won, but Walter was a good second, and local pride was satisfied.
That race was, of course, run on grass, as were memorable “sprint” events at Witton (the Witton F.C. ground) between James Southworth, of Blackburn Rovers fame, and Bradley, of Huddersfield.  Both were tall magnificent men, and in their several desperate struggles inches only separated them but Southworth had slightly the better of the pedestrian argument.  Jim was undoubtedly the fastest full-back in the kingdom 40 years ago.  He belonged to a musical family and played the violin in the Theatre Royal orchestra, his brother John, that superb international centre-forward, playing the trombone.
There were annual athletic sports on the Alexandra Meadows grass as far back as memory will take me.  My clearest recollection of them is the bicycle races on the “penny-farthing” machines before the introduction of the “safety.”  At cricket matches on that pleasant lawn-like ground I spent many happy hours.  Albert Smith and George Carter, the polished batsman; Ralph Bell, the fast bowler;  “Bummer” Hamer, the mighty, laughter-provoking slogger—I see them in my mind’s eye as clearly as if it were but yesterday that I watched them play.  Frank Sugg, first-wicket-down for the country, was match professional for some time when circumstances permitted and gave many fine exhibitions.  Of the regular professionals I best remember Price, a Notts. man, and Ackroyd, a tall loose limbed Yorkshire colt.
When Price took his benefit one year he was fortunate enough to obtain the friendly assistance of the mighty Arthur Shrewsbury, then easily at the head of the batting averages.  A record crowd assembled to see the great man.  When he came out to bat and took his place at the wicket, one and all of us felt that at the end of the innings he would be at least 100 not out.  He scored a single, then two to murmurs of ecstatic admiration.  “He’s just toying with the bowling,” we said to each other; “it’s child’s play for him.”
Then an utterly incredible thing happened.  We gasped dumfounded, our eyes staring unbelievingly.  But there he was, walking back to the pavilion.  Arthur Shrewsbury, master of every art in batsmanship, who had scored centuries on every county ground and won test matches in both England and Australia, had been clean bowled his wicket shattered for three.

Football!  What memories that word conjures up.  Never shall I forget the painful excitement of the Cup-ties of 1883-6, and the terrific enthusiasm when first the Olympic and then the Rovers returned home with the “little tin pot.”  Fifty years ago Blackburn was already famous not only for its Rovers and its Olympic and to a lesser extent, its Witton and its Park-road teams, but as a veritable hot-bed of budding talent.  There were hundreds of boys’ clubs, scores of whose players afterwards became well-known professionals.  One of these teams, the Little Dots, were said to have been undefeated for years.  About 1890 the Etrurians were among the best amateur organisations in the North of England.  My First glimpse of big football was obtained when my father took me, a very small boy, to see the Rovers play Darwen at the Alexandra Meadows—then the home of the blue and whites.  Darwen were among the leading clubs, and local rivalry was intense, even bitter.  From that time on I was one of the most fervid of the Rovers followers, and knew the idolatrous bliss of hero worship.
When the accommodation at the Meadows became inadequate, and the Rovers decided to construct a new ground at the top of Leamington-street, people living on and near Preston New-road were greatly annoyed.  It turned into a monkey-parade every Sunday evening; now it was to be filled with a river of football enthusiast twice on Saturday afternoon!  But the Rovers went to Leamington-street, and they achieved football immortality.  My cheers must have helped them towards that glory; they were loud enough anyhow.
Recently the possibility of playing football at night in artificial light was discussed at length in the sporting columns of the newspapers, and one or two trial games were played in London, all as if such a thing had never happened before.  But those who thought saw talked without the book.   I saw an exhibition game between; I think the Rovers and the Olympic, played in artificial light about the year 1885.
That was not at the Leamington ground or at the Hole It’th Wall ground, right at the top of Shear Brow, where the Olympic had their pitch, but on the old athletic ground at Ewood, the site of the greater Ewood Park of today.  The play followed fairly well.  My impression is that the event was an early test of the power of the electric arc lamp, probably the earliest in connection with sport.
Another of my visits under parental control, to Ewood, left a vivid impression.  We were to see the final for the East Lancashire Charity Cup.  Our efforts to get on one of the steam-trams in Darwen-street were unsuccessful, so we decided to walk.  As we were nearing the ground a tram, going fast, passed us, and my father said, “Look how packed it is.  I’m glad we’re not on it.”  It was swaying dangerously, and as it descended the dip towards Ewood we saw it turn over.  Many of the passengers were seriously injured and unless my memory betrays me, one or two of them fatally.
My introduction to the lighter social accomplishments took the form of my first dancing lessons.  My mother had (and I am happy to say still has) decided opinions on these matters and when I was about nine, took me one Saturday afternoon, much against my will, to the children’s class at Mrs. Taylor’s Dancing Academy.  The classes were then held in a long, narrow, pleasant upper room somewhere near Victoria-street, and there I learned the polka, the mazurka, the schottische, the lancers, and the quadrille; the waltz came later.
Mrs. Taylor was an exceedingly nice and kind lady, and had great gifts as an instructress.  Her charm of manner made her highly popular and, especially after moving to commodious quarters in Preston New-road, she enjoyed much success.  She was assisted by her two sons.  One of her classes, held, I think, on Thursday evenings became a regular social institution and many married men, induced by their respective wives to repair the neglect of the past, there acquired some measure of dancing proficiency.  Perhaps Mrs. Taylor is best remembered for her annual children’s fancy dress ball in the Town Hall when, year by year, crowds of parents and friends were spectators of a delightful and clever display.
The Liberal and Conservative Balls were great events, with Herr Vetters Band from Manchester generally providing the music.  It was at one of these affairs, escorting my mother that I first appeared in all the glory of a dress suit.  I recall that I wore loose cuffs, a dicky and a ready-made tie.  Also I had a coloured silk handkerchief carefully tucked into my waistcoat, in accordance with the fashion of the period.  My opinion of myself that night was not modest.  Forgive me; I was only 17.
Even though we had no cinemas in the 80’s of last century, the town did not lack a fair supply of entertainment; indeed, I am inclined to think that those must have been the Theatre Royal's palmiest years.  Some of the best travelling companions appeared on its boards, among the most popular being the J.W. Turner Grand Opera organisation. Osmond Tearle, father of Conway and Godfrey, often played Shakespearian roles there, and I saw the first presentation in the town of  “ The Gondoliers.”  “The Yeomen of the Guard,” and “Dorothy.”  Shiel Barry in “Les Cloches de Corneville” was always a big draw.  J.L. Toole, then an old man, was, frankly a disappointment.  We went to see him expecting to laugh uproariously; but didn’t.
Every year there was a pantomime.  The first one I ever saw was in the old Royal—“Robinson Crusoe,” I think.  It was a real pantomime, with a “Gorgeous Transformation Scene” and a Harlequinade.  Mr. and Mrs. Duval ran the theatre at that time; later, after it’s rebuilding, the genial Mr. Harry Yorke was for years a most popular host.  On special occasions he would sing some of his own songs, including:
“Aw’m allus glad to see a man like thee.
Tha’rt as welcome, lad, as welcome as welcome as con be;
Hang thi hat  wheer tha ar’t able.
Bring thi chear up to th’ table.
For aw’m allus glad to see a mon like thee.”
At the Prince’s Theatre there was a melodrama of the good old kind—curly-haired hero, persecuted heroine, hissing villain (with wax pointed black moustache) and comic crook with a good heart.  That was forbidden pleasure to me, but, boy-like, I occasionally spent sixpence at the pit entrance to see “ The Stranglers of Paris,” “The Divers Luck,” “Secrets of a Great City,” and other full-blooded shows.  But the Prince’s sometimes became fashionable, as when the Blackburn Amateur Operatic Society played “H.M.S. Pinafore” for a week, and when, one afternoon, Charles Wyndham and Mary Moore came from Manchester to appear in “David Garrick.”
Entertainments of many kinds were given in the Exchange Hall, these alternating irregularly with political meetings, bazaars, and the like.  The Cecilia Concerts were conducted there—important social events those—but for my own part I preferred the Christy Minstrels and, above all, Hamilton’s Diorama, which might be regarded as the forerunner of the modern movies.  Guided by a gentleman with a long pointer, we were taken pictorially round the world.
There was always a “Grand Spectacular Scene,” the one I remember best being the ships of the British Navy moving into fighting position, thanks to the lighting arrangements behind, then spits of fire and smoke came from the guns, to which the forts responded.  The ships were hit occasionally, but the forts suffered much more, eventually being reduced to ruins.  At last the Egyptian flag was lowered in sign of surrender and, to the tune of  “Rule Britannia,” we all applauded with patriotic enthusiasm.  There was genuine entertainment value and some instruction in Hamilton’s Diorama.
The Town Hall was not used much for entertainment purposes, except balls and concerts, but many excellent lectures were given there.  I always made a point of being present when Father Perry, of Stonyhurst College, the eminent astronomer, was the lecturer.  He never talked above the heads of his audience, but was singularly lucid and interesting and had a vein of humour which added greatly to our enjoyment of his discourse.
A place of recreation rather than entertainment was the skating rink in Canterbury-street.  It was one of the earliest roller skating rinks in the country, but I doubt whether it enjoyed much success.  To the best of my recollection, nearly 50 years have elapsed since it was closed.  I was a very small boy when I was taken, two or three times, to see the skaters, but I remember nothing of it later.
I saw a show at the Palace when I was last in Blackburn, a good one, and involuntarily thought of the music-hall we had in the town when I was a fella-lad of 17 or 18.  It was called the Lyceum, and situated in Market-street Lane, just off Darwen-street, and within a few yards of the Castle Inn, on the opposite side.  Small, frowsy, old-fashioned even then, it was patronised by young bloods of the town—more or less surreptitiously.  That is to say, they refrained from mentioning it at home their visits to that temple of unrefined pleasure.  They went as a rule on Monday night at half-time, when admission to the best seats was 9d.
The artists who appeared on the tiny Lyceum stage were, of course, third rate and the favourite songs were beerily course or about “life”—often treated sentimentally—in the wicked west end of London.  “Outside the Cri. Outside the Cri…Thank God she perished outside the Cri,” wailed a fat “lion comique” in ill-fitting evening clothes as he took off his silk hat in reverence to the memory of the unfortunate girl who had been knocked down by a hansom and killed outside the Criterion Restaurant.
Occasionally, however, a “star” was engaged.  One of them, an entertainer at the piano, the celebrated Mr. Corney Grain, declined to perform when he saw the place; but the incomparable “London Idol,” Miss Vesta Tilley, then at the beginning of her career was made of sterner stuff.  The hall was besieged throughout the week of her appearance.
There was another music-hall or sing-song resort in Blackburn a little before my time.  Report gave it a very bad reputation.  It was situated on the edge of town just off Addison –street.  There were grounds attached to it, and these, it was said, were the scene of the lowest type of sport and much drunkenness.  When it had for years been a moral plague-spot and an offence to all decent people, public clamour led to its being closed and the hall became the first church of St. Barnabas in Blackburn.
The Rev. P.E. Thomas was curate-in-charge at St. Barnabas’, and had a terribly uphill fight while he built the new church a few yards away.  My grandmother had a great admiration for Mr. Thomas and attended his services.  She frequently took me along with her, and I clearly remember the one-time music hall.  The stage was still there, but had been converted into the altar.  The pulpit also was on the stage.
Another substitute far a church to which I was taken as a small boy was the old St. Silas’ school-house on Preston New-road, used for worship before the present St. Silas’ Church was built.  Which reminds me that all that area north of the road to the rear of the school-house was open land on which were two or three football pitches, so much used that there was very little grass.  I often played there my self.
But our family church was St. John’s, with its old fashioned boxed pews.  The choir sat in the organ loft in the Rev. John Baker’s time, but were brought below, and surpliced, after the interior of the church was partially reconstructed.  The restoration service, held on a week-day, was distinguished by the presence of Dr. Thomas, Archbishop of York.
On my way to church on a Sunday morning I would see Dr. Morley, brother of the great statesman, outside his house in Richmond-terrace, providing porridge for the birds.  A man of heterodox opinions, he would look a little aggressively at the churchgoers, as if to say that his religion, expressed in feeding the sparrows, was quite as good as theirs.  The doctor was famous for his caustic wit, freedom of tongue and handsome appearance.  His trim grey moustache, keen eyes behind pince-nez, glossy, slightly-tilted silk hat, and cigar, were well known on every important football ground in the country.  Vice-president of the Football Association, he was the most outspoken and most frequently reported ornament of the winter game for more than a generation.

A stone crashing through a window heralded the beginning of what I now call my memory.  For in my minds eye there is nothing further back than the day when the “Rioters” went up Preston New-road and demonstrated their grievances by breaking windows.  There was a dispute in the cotton trade and the police became aware that the disorderly element meant to get rough along the town’s principle residential thoroughfare.  Warnings led to a general lowering of blinds as a protective measure, and I recall how dark our house seemed when the Venetians had been let down.  We were living at the corner of “the road” and Leamington-street at the time and one big stone came our way.  I yelled with terror, but broken glass represented the only damage we suffered.
An event of a pleasanter nature that interested me greatly was the visit of Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley to Blackburn.  He brought a cavalry detachment with him and stayed with General Feilden at Witton Park.  The park was thrown open to the public.  On one afternoon the soldiers gave a display similar to what we see nowadays at the Military Tournaments at Olympia.  And, of course, there were fireworks at night.  That was inevitable on all such occasions.  “Sir Garnet’s” visit was talked about for years afterwards.
Still another event that stands out clearly among my recollections was the famous “Jackson Case,” which led to the judicial ruling, often quoted in our Courts, that a man cannot compel his wife to live with him against her will.  Mr Jackson, a handsome man of independent means, was well known to me by sight, and I often heard ladies refer to him as “such a perfect gentleman.”  He and Mrs. Jackson were living apart, and as she refused to return to him he kidnapped her as she was leaving a Clitheroe church one Sunday morning and carried her off to his residence near Duke’s Brow, Blackburn.  Then he barricaded the house, which at once became the centre of national attention.  Her relatives made several attempts to get Mrs. Jackson out, and at last the law intervened.
While the siege lasted there was at all times a crowd looking on, hopeful of thrills.  They didn’t see much, however.  Occasionally some interested party banged in vain at the front door, and from time to time food was hoisted in a basket to an upper window.  All kinds of absurd rumours went the rounds, and folk who were easily credulous whispered that the kidnapped lady was bound hand and foot to a chair and was at the point of death.  But Mr. Jackson was far too kind a man to ill-treat anyone and, in general, sympathy was with him.  Many people, especially schoolgirls, regarded his action as highly romantic and likened it to the gallant deeds of the knights of old.
I was not in Blackburn when the Crown Hotel, Victoria-street, was blown into the air by an accumulation of gas in its cellars, but I do recall an explosion of another kind—that which followed the railway company’s announcement of cheap excursions to Blackpool and Southport on Sundays.  There was great indignation among those who opposed Sunday recreation and a mass meeting of protest was held in the Town Hall.  I never heard more impassioned oratory.  If I remember rightly the excursions were soon withdrawn.
Sunday observance was much more sternly practiced then than it is now.  There was no golf.  Respectable people did not drive out into the country, though they might walk as much as they pleased.  It was considered improper to buy a Sunday newspaper, or at least to carry one through the streets.  I have a vivid recollection of being stopped near home by an elderly gentleman who knew me and being severely reprimanded for having “encouraged the sale of a Sunday newspaper.”  The incriminating evidence was in my hand.  It was clear that my preceptor thought I was on the road to ruin.
People may have been better in the 1880’s than they are in the 1930’s but I very much doubt it.  There is more “freedom” on the seventh day than when I was a youth, but is the day less decently kept?  Anyhow, there is not nearly so much drunkenness on Sunday nights these days as in those, and the last time I was in Blackburn I did not see wagonette after wagonette, or the modern motor-coach after motor-coach, laden with roistering “bonafide travellers,” retiring home after a day’s debauch, as I did once upon a time.I was not in Blackburn when the Crown Hotel, Victoria-street, was blown into their by an accumulation of gas in its cellars, but I do recall an explosion of another kind—that which followed the railway company’s announcement of cheap excursions to Blackpool and Southport on Sundays.  There was great indignation among those who opposed Sunday recreation and a mass meeting of protest was held in the Town Hall.  I never heard more impassioned oratory.  If I remember rightly the excursions were soon withdrawn.
I said at the beginning of these memories that it seemed to me much of the central part of the town had changed but little in the last forty years.  But great are the changes on the outskirts!  I noticed these particularly at Wilpshire, where I spent many happy boyhood days with young friends.  It had a separate entity then; now it is part—a very pleasant part, but still a part—of the town.  It has far more houses and all sorts of modern improvements.  But to me, at least, the charm and village quietness of the old Wilpshire are gone.
Meins-road was entirely rustic and very beautiful when I first knew it, and remained so for years afterwards.  It was delightful, on a summer’s day to turn into the cool shades of the leafy paradise and then to go on the north wall of Witton Park, with tree-covered Billinge Scar to the right, and so to the path that led over open fields to Pleasington.  To the best of my recollection, the only buildings one passed near to in walking from Preston New-road to Pleasington were a small farm and the Priory.
The Motorcar is responsible for much.  It has gone far towards destroying the beauty and charm of many of our country roads, including Preston New-road.  I hardly knew that fine highway when I saw it from a car, for the first time in many years.  Dozens of houses, garages with their coloured advertising signs, small structures for various purposes, and so on—a live road, undoubtedly, but much of what is new is garishly ugly.
It was serenely quiet and unspoiled when I used to walk its entire length for the sheer joy of doing so.  Beyond the Yew Tree Inn—alas the tree is gone—you were in remote parts, except on Sunday afternoons.  Very few pedestrians, very few vehicles, two or three mansions in spacious grounds.  The Windmill corner and Half-Way House were isolated.  For six or seven miles just a very quiet road, hedges, fields, trees, semi-solitude; practically nothing to remind you that two great towns were so near.  It was only when you had crossed the Halfpenny Bridge that you got in touch with evidences of things urban.
There is a saying in America that if you intend going back to the old hometown don’t delay your return more than seven years.  If you wait longer you’ll find old friends scattered and, for you at least, the old atmosphere gone.  Well, it is now forty years since I, wearing a tailcoat and a silk hat, left Blackburn for London, travelling in a train without corridors, which at the time were unknown.  When I go back for a day or two I feel that I am a stranger on more or less familiar ground.  I wander about, like the ghost of my dead self, trying to capture a few fragments of the past.  If I am lucky—it has happened occasionally—someone will come up to me and say, “Why, it’s you, Charlie, isn’t it?  Yes of course it is”—and he’ll hold out his hand, mentioning his name.  An old school fellow but changed almost beyond recognition.  Then I eagerly ask him questions, about Tom and Jack and Billy, to be told of only too many that their race is run.
Still, there are the others who are going strong, the years sitting lightly upon them.  Whether by design or happy chance, it is great to meet them again, for then, like Iolaus, I am restored to youth, if but for a brief Hour.
In writing these rambling recollections I have trusted entirely to memory, not having made the least attempt to verify anything.  So it may be that here and there I have fallen into an inaccuracy.  In general the pictures in my mind that I have endeavoured to transfer to paper are vividly clear, and such is the way of life, become clearer still as the years go by and the gulf between then and now ever widens     

back to top 


Reminiscences from 1879​​


It will help in reading this article if you had an old map of Blackburn handy
From the Blackburn Times December 15th 1939.
By Alderman W. Kenyon
Many articles have been written on “Old Blackburn,” giving different descriptions, according to the particular writer’s personal observations.  I have enjoyed reading them all.
I feel at the moment that my knowledge of things may produce another article from a different point of view.
For instance, starting at the Railway Station front.  It would be hard for people of the present day to imagine a timber yard, which began opposite High-street and the top portion near the station entrance.  The station had only two platforms.
The east side of Station-road from High-street to “Fish hillock” is much the same, with Springwell House and property behind.  It will interest the people of the present day to know that in the days referred to a “well” of beautiful spring water existed.  It is regrettable to relate that to-day it resembles more of a rubbish heap than anything else.
Bridge-street (now called the Boulevard) stretched from Station-road to Jubilee-street.  A wall about four feet high offered protection from the river.  The land on which now stands the Palace Cinema was vacant.  A footbridge was the means of entering Dandy Walk and passing the old blacksmith’s shop on the left one emerged into Darwen-street.  The blacksmith’s forge was famous for the haimes and chains, which was a flourishing business in the good old horse days.  The smithy was pulled down by the writer, after a photographic record had been made of it.
The width of the present Post Office was occupied by a low range of shops, in the middle of which was Poldings, Corn Millers.  The entrance was through an old fashioned porch, such as are to be seen at country farms.
From Dandy Walk to the “Old Bull corner” is very little different to the old days save for many alterations made to the hotel, the top storey of which was one of the large alterations.
The south side of Church-street is much the same, save for the interior alterations in many of the shops, and new shop windows.
Boots’ shop was occupied for many years by the late Sir Edwin Hamer as auction rooms.  Later by the Standard Press printing works.
On the North side of Church-street stands to-day Sagars, jewellers, one of the very few old Blackburn business families remaining.  Adjoining was a drapery and carpet warehouse, owned by the father of the late Alderman Nuttall.  In my mind's eye I can see the carpets hanging out of the windows, immediately opposite the church gate.  There was no Arcade then.
Proceeding down Church-street to Salford Bridge the boys would go down and “wade” or climb hand over hand on the girders and some come out at the Boulevard end.  We had “watchers” at the Salford end to shout when the “Bobbies were coming.”  Many were the times we had to stay down a long time to tire the “Bobbies” out and then slink home to receive a drubbing from our parents.
At the corner of Woolworth’s building was a doctor’s house, the gable of which was covered from top to bottom with beautiful ivy.
Before the building of the present Rialto Cinema the whole of Penny-street was one long mean street, with Shakeshaft’s tallow works behind.  Proceeding up penny-street to the Cemetery, there has been no material change.
Form the Cemetery gates to Brownhill was one long sweep of land with not a single house on the east side.  To-day, with the exception of one small plot, there are hundreds of houses.  In addition, there is the very fine housing estate.  To the writer this site has added interest from the fact that together with ex-Alderman J. Fielding and another councillor (whose name I forget for the moment) we decided to buy the land.  Later we found that Messrs Duckworth and Eddlestone had already given land valued at £1,000.  The Engineer Mr. Gooseman approached Mr. John Duckworth and asked would he allow the gifted portion to be included with the Corporation’s.  He readily agreed.  That is the reason you find houses inside a park, surrounding the flower beds, suggested site for a bandstand, bowling greens, tennis courts, and lower down a children’s “wading” pool.  Of the many housing estates I have seen in England and the Continent there is not one approaching the idea of Brownhill.
Let me here take you on to “Bonny Inn Moor.”  The present Salesbury Church was not there then.  It was here that the most famous of the “Buck Matches” were played.  The Players were “Put” Reynolds, a publican from Furthergate, and a young man whose name, I think, was Pemberton.  There were no trams then and what a day it was to walk to Wilpshire to see this fine old Lancashire game, which is not known to-day.
The matches were for a stake of £25 a side.  The amount on Reynolds’ side was made up of shillings and half-crowns from supporters.  The competitors went into training, and were examples of fitness on the day of the match.  Then we had “knur and spell.”
Whilst on the subject of sport, I think it will surprise the boys of to-day to tell them we had six really good football teams, namely, Blackburn Rovers, Blackburn Olympic, Crosshill Etrurians, Witton and Park Road.  And what “Derby “ days—Rovers v Olympic, Rovers v Darwen, Rovers v Accrington, etc.  I could fill pages on football of that period.  The Rovers on Leamington Ground, Olympic on Hole I’ th’Wall, Witton at Redlam Brow (after-wards opposite the old Witton Conservative Club,) Park Road on Audley Fields (now Queens Park,) and Later Audley Hall adjoining Eli Heyworth’s Mill.
The Etrurians and Crosshill were two very excellent amateur teams.  I think I am right in motioning the two Garstangs, one annex-director of the Rovers.  They are both living to-day in Blackburn.  When I hear the present day supporters mention all the stars of the past few years, and I reply with Jimmy Brown, “Skimmy” Southworth, “Doc” Greenwood, “Herby” Arthur, Hugh McIntyre, Johnny Forbes, Tom Brandon, Al. Warburton, Alf. Astley, Jack Yates, etc., they tell me to “waken up.”  My reply is for them to apply that remark as I had never been asleep.  All honour to the football pioneers of those days.  I am not forgetting Bob Crompton and others but they came at a later period, and I don’t mean to say there is no good football to-day, far from it. I am still a regular attender.
Well now, I will leave that subject and ask you to retrace your steps to Sudell cross, where you found:
“There was a lamp at the bottom of Preston New-road,
And it stands in the midst of the street.
It was placed there by a comical mayor,
And it’s there where the young couples meet.
Any night in the week, if you’ve only the cheek,
You may go and behold a good view.
Why they meet after dark, and stroll of towards the park,
I can’t make it out, can you?"
I think it was our Blackburn poet who wrote the above, and it was sung by L.F. Eddleston, the comedian in the local pantomime at the Theatre Royal. In Ainsworth-street, when the proprietor was Mrs. Duval.
Proceeding along Preston New-road on the left, before you reach Alma-street, there was a timber yard owned by the Aspden family.  From here to Billinge End-road is much the same with one exception, the new Sacred Heart Church and the rest of the Harrison Estate developed as a residential area.
Turning down Alma-street you will come to Blakey Moor from Snig Brook to North-gate.  Do any of my readers remember the character of this area, Queen-street, Cannon-street, Engine-street, where it was considered dangerous to go down after dark?  If you do, then in the light of to-day, you must agree that the transformation is the finest town development ever made.  Costly?  Yes, but out of it has arisen the Sessions house, Police Court, King George’s Hall, Blakey Moor School, the Technical College, and the new St. Paul’s-avenue.
At the time critics said that the character of the district would establish itself in another part of the town.  To my knowledge that has not happened.  Present-day rate-payers cannot imagine a cattle market opposite the Technical College.  Yet there it was, together with Railton’s Foundry.
Crossing through Barton-street you will ultimately arrive at the Employment Exchange, a building which was formerly called “Oddfellows’ Hall,” and in its day was a well known music-hall.  Mitchell’s garage was the Artillery Barracks, and across the way in Freckleton-street was the Parish Church vicarage.
From here to Lyon-street, Bank Top, there is only one real alteration, and that is the Roxy Cinema Block.  From Lyon-street to Griffin-street there was no access to Galligreaves-street.  A very beautiful sand delph barred the way, rising about forty feet high.  To-day we have Stansfeld-street, etc., also St. Luke’s Church, on perfectly level ground.  Galligreaves Hall was behind the delph.
Turning back to George-street corner in Darwen-street was another timber yard, and adjoining, a very famous gathering place for boys, known as “Pey Andry’s.”  Pey is Lancashire for pea.
On through the bridge, along Great Bolton-street we arrive at Ewood Bridge.  It was where that a tramcar overturned, resulting in death and injury to passengers.  The Aqueduct Hotel stood further in the road than at present and, together with a blacksmith’s shop, owned by Mr. Derbyshire, father of the now famous Bengal Court judge Sir Harold Derbyshire, was acquired by the Corporation for street widening and new bridge.
From Ewood Bridge to the St Bartholomew’s Church was a fine stretch of land.  This was acquired by a few Blackburn sportsmen, who formed a company to run a “trotting track.”  This did not last very long.  The racing was really interesting to watch, and the track was so level the horses were never out of sight.
Now I come to a most interesting period when it was acquired for the Blackburn Rovers Football club.  I always understood that amongst others, the late Mr. John Lewis, the famous referee took a prominent part.  The ground is still regarded as one of the best in the Football League.
From Park-road, up Lower Audley, there is nothing new until we arrive at Queen’s Park.  Part of this magnificent park was once Joe Nightingale’s farm, the remainder being known as Audley Fields.
Sixty years ago there was no Cherry Tree housing estate, no Pleasington fields as now laid out, no Queens Park district nor Intack housing.  Brownhill, Skew bridge area, Leamington-road to Revidge area, no Arterial-road and Lammack, no Revidge-road nor Pleckgate as they exist to-day, no bowling greens, tennis courts, nor putting greens.  But we had the Corporation Park, which will still bear comparison with any other park of the same area in England or the Continent.
In this somewhat scrappy review I may have left out many things that my readers will remember.  As I said at the beginning, it is those things you observe that you speak about.  I have no doubt that if certain places were mentioned, I should recall them quite easily.  I was born in Blackburn and have taken an intelligent interest in the development of the town.  In some of the changes I have been at the head of the department that made them, and, above all, I still have a excellent memory.  I should be delighted to hear from any reader comment on any item I have mentioned.  I love my native place and think that as a commercial town there is none to beat it.


A Talk With Blackburns Oldest Inhabitant​​

Alexander Sharples was the son of George and Ellen Sharples of Ramsgreave.  He  was born on the 19th of April 1806 and baptised in the Parish Church on June the 1st of that year.  He married Sarah Walsh in the Parish Church on the 9th of November 1828. Alexander Sharples died at his daughter’s house, 1 Whalley-street, on the 5th of  June 1901, just a few months after giving this interview. He was 95 years old.  He was buried in the Blackburn Cemetery, Whalley New-road on Saturday 8th of June.

Taken from the Blackburn Times of February 2nd 1901.

alex sharples Image1.jpg

“God Save the King,” cried Blackburn’s Chief Magistrate to the assembled thousands in front of the Town Hall on Monday morning last, and from the lips of the oldest man in Blackburn, standing across the way, on steps of the District Bank, came the echo, “God Save the King.”  His form was a little bent with age, but a smile lit up his features, as he raised his hat above his snow white head and waved it, as a token of loyalty and allegiance to Edward the Seventh, who had just been proclaimed King.  For a good many years I have watched him walking about the streets or standing on the Market Place and Boulevard listening to little groups of debaters and it is a pleasure to me to count “Old Alic,” as he is familiarly called amongst my acquaintances.  His presence at the proclaiming of the new King suggested the idea that the old man who has lived an honest and respectable life in our town for nearly 95 years, deserved to have the fact chronicled in the local Press.  So slipping my arm through his I said, “Come with me, Alic, my landlady will lay dinner for two, and over a cup of tea afterwards we’ll have a chat about old times.”  “I’m noan partic’ler,” was his reply.  “It’s not long since I had breakfast, but I can always relish a good cup of tea.”  Long before he had finished his tea I had my pencils sharpened in readiness for taking down some of his experiences for the readers of the “Blackburn Times.”
“You seem to like your tea sweet, Alic,” I said, as three lumps disappeared in the cup, and a glance at the sugar bowl indicated he doubted if that was sufficient.
“Aye, aye, sir, I’m making up for lost time; when I wur wed in 1828 sugar wur 14d a pound.  We only got four ounces and four ounces of butter then to last two of us a week.  Now it’s cheap enough, and poor folk ought to be thankful they live in such grand times.  I cannot tell how they can find in their heart to complain as they do to-day, they know nowt to what I do.”
“Then you don’t long for the good old days to come over again?”  I enquired.
He shook his head and said, “No, I’m gradely pleased that flour is cheap, folks are weel of if they’d nobbut think so.  However they can say times wur good when flour wur 4d. a pound, and that was only poor stuff, puzzles me.  There is plenty for everybody now, but it weren’t so when I wur born.”
Map of Seven Acre Brook image2.jpg

And when and where did that interesting event take place?”  I asked.
I was born at Sevenacre Brook—we allus called it Sennaker Brook—on April 19th 1806, so you see, I’ve lived in the reign of four kings and the grandest woman that ever was made into a Queen.  I wur sorry when I heard she was dead, for she was a good woman.  I can just remember my father being poorly and lying in the house dead, and that’s 92 years ago.  My grandfather was Overseer for Ramsgreave and had a farm, so my mother went home with her three children when my father died.  We had to start work very early in them days, and I had to fetch t’ beeast from t’ fields before I was four year old, and I did that and odd jobs about shippon and farm until I was nine.  I wore lasses’ until I was quite a big lad, then when I was seven my mother made me a suit out of my grandfather’s.  I shall never forget that first suit, for it was a lap coat of velvet, with four big metal buttons on it, and a pair of breeches.  I never had a pair of boots until I was 14, then I bought them out of my weaving brass.”
“Then you’ve been a weaver?”
“I have that and all.  My grandfather sent me to learn weaving with my uncle, who lived in Red Rake, Revidge.  When I was nine years old I used to wind bobbins and do odd jobs half a day, and went to the Free School in Thunder Alley t’other half till I was big enough to reach the troddles, then I had to wire in to weyving.”
“What did you do on Sunday?”
“I went to church on Sunday.  I had to walk down Revidge to the school, and then we processioned at 10.30 to the old Parish Church, where I heard mony a good sermon.  Mr. Starkie was the vicar there, and he was a good un, for he never preyched long sermons.  I used to sit near Mr. Radcliffe, the Clerk, who said Amen.  He wore a gold pen behind his ear, and wur t’ best writer in Blackburn.  I could write a bit, and was fond of copying a proverb that the schoolmaster wrote, “Do nothing of which thou hast not first considered the end.”  It would have been well if the next Clerk had learnt to write that, for he hanged hissel, and the landlord of the Mason’s Arms did the same thing.  They were both lying dead at the same time.  I think there never wur such talk as about them two—Hargreaves and Southworth.  Now folks take no notice if anybody takes their own life, but I think it’s a fearful thing, you see that’s how I wur brought up.”
I restrained my smile as much as I could, and he proceeded in his quaint manner with the narrative.
Dr JW Wittaker vicar of Blackburn 1822 1854 Image 4.jpg

“The old church was propped up with a tree at one end and we were a bit afraid it might fall when there was a high wind, but when Dr. Whittaker came (he was great man, had a lot o’ `larnin`).  The old place was pulled down and it took ‘em six years to build the new church.  There was once a torchlight procession to the old building. That was in 1819, when George the Third was buried.  I followed it down Northgate and King-street to the church, where they had a service at midnight.  The precisionists wur handloom weavers, and one or two Doctors and ‘Torneys; we had no gentlemen in Blackburn then.  I don’t know where they’ve all come from now, but there’s a bonny lot of ‘em, by all accounts.  Then there came the crowning of George the IV. I remember that rare and weel, because we got such a dinner given us that day as I never see afore.  There were rows of forms placed on t’ Shuedill, and we’d beef, pratoes and plum pudding.  We could have done with a new King being crowned every week.”
“Were beef and pudding an extra good meal in those days then?”  I asked.
 “What done you say?  `Extra good, ` I should think it  wor, for folk’s who only got porridge 21 times a week and sometimes a little rice done in `chauvin` dish.  Aye, aye, it was a treat to have a treacle buttery cake.  Then we used to have pratoes and point.”
I pleaded ignorance as to the composition of this dish so he explained.
“We used to eat pratoes with one hand and point with the other to a bit of bacon or ham that hung from the ceiling.”
“Did you not get any eggs?”
“No we didn’t so.  Eggs wornt for lads, and I never saw my mother get one either, but I can eat an egg now,” he added with a laugh, “or a bit of flesh either.  They say that old folks ‘bout teeth shouldn’t eat meat, but it never disagrees with me.  I’ve a very good appetite, and I’ve done better since I got wed than ever I did afore.”
“You married then?
“Aye, to be sure.  All sensible people do; I don’t know what you’re doing that you haven’t popped question yet.  It’s time you did, or else when you get as old as me you’ll be hobbish.”
I was intensely amused, but the last word was Dutch.
“No it isn’t Dutch,” chimed in my landlady. “It’s a good old Lancashire word.  Ask `Jack o’ Ann’s, ` he’ll tell you.”
I wanted to know there and then, so old Alec said it meant I should not have any children to nurse and care for me when my hair was white and all my teeth decayed.  I pushed the story back a line or two, and said: “How came you to be married?”  He gave me such a look, then answered.  “Why, I fell in love to be sure; what else think you” I coarted a great while, and wornt in a hurry to be wed, but I did it at last.  We should have been married on the 5th of November, but it meant losing half a day’s work so we put it off until Sunday the 9th 1828.  I shall never forget that morning, I was about very soon, and a neighbour said, “Why are you stirring so soon?”  “Aw’m bound to be wed,” I said.  “Eh, lad, you’ve a good heart to be wed these bad times.”  “Well,” I said, “It’s for better or worse,” and at nine o’clock we were made man and wife in the new Parish Church.” And with a touch of sadness in his voice, he added, “She was a good wife to me and a good mother to the children.  We started housekeeping on 9 shilling a week.  That was all I could earn then; stuff wur so bad to weyve; but we pulled thro’.  We hadn’t a clock, and we used to take our cloth in on a Monday, and I often wanted to start work when Sunday was o’er, so I used to light a candle at dark, and when it had burnt so low I knew it was Monday morning, and the shuttle used to fly.  Candles were a penny each and soap was 8d. a pound.  We didn’t trouble about overtime, and after a while I got work with a better firm in Shorrock Fold and could earn 17s. 6d.  Then we mended up rapidly, and at weekends I used to take home a pound or two of flesh, which was a lot better than going home drunk as lots of ‘em used to do.  I liked my money too well to spend it in drink, and thus I wur able to save a bit and go in business.  Some folks on t’ Merkut says it’s wrong to save brass, but I think they durn’d know what they’re talking about.  A sovereign is a grand thing to go buying in with, and a man has to look a long while for friends if he has nowt.  The young people might save a deal if they liked, they get so much spending brass, but they all want to gallivant about the country
queen Victoria.jpg

I went to Leeds some 40 years ago to see the Queen and her husband open the Town Hall.  It was a grand sight; it cost 2s. 6d. to go by excursion, but I’ve always been glad I went, and saw them riding slowly by.  I’ve seen a great deal in my time—rough and smooth.  There’s been many a rough do in Blackburn, especially at election times.  I was always fond of politics and a great friend John Booth—a wise fella.  He used to canvas for the Liberals, and he made me into a Radical, but I never cared to make bother; because, say or do what you will, most folks will vote as they’ve been brought up.  We used to have a lot more processions than we do now.  We’d wonderful doings at the Queen’s coronation, and when the new King was married in 1863 there was a bonfire on Revidge nearly as big as a factory.  I shan’t live to see another King, but I should like to see the next Preston Guild.  I walked there in 1822 and I’ve walked to each Guild since.”
“And,” said I, “If all is well, I’ll take you to see it in 1902.”  He thanked me with the energy of a much younger man, and in reply to my enquiries about his health he said he did not ail anything.  He had one or two nasty falls last year, but as long as he could he should knock about, for he considered this was a grand world, and he enjoined attending Mrs. Lewis’s meetings.  He had been going for ten years and liked them better every time he went, and hoped she’d live to be as old as he was to carry on her good work.  He further remarked that his eldest daughter was still living, aged 73, and his youngest child is 60.  Much more that was interesting and instructive was jotted down in my notebook, but for the present the above will suffice.  Before we parted I laid down my pencil and took up the camera, and when the sunlight had printed his features on glass, I grasped the hand of Alexander Sharples, and said, “Heaven bless and spare you to shout in 1906—
edward the VII.jpg
My acquaintances also included Roger Haydock, 91, and Miss Haworth, the oldest woman in Blackburn, who was 92 last September.  Like Mr. Sharples, Miss Haworth was born in the Revidge district and has never lived out of the Blackburn Township.  In a conversation with her on Tuesday she told me that she was winding bobbins when a man came to say the bells were “shot ringing” because of the birth of a little girl who was heir to the throne of England.  “I was eleven year old then,” she said, “and when she was crowned there was such a Blackburn as never was.  I’m sorry she’s dead, but the new King ought to be a good one, for he had such a good mother.  I cannot get to St. George’s Church now, where I’m a member, but I’m thankful to Almighty God that I’ve lived a happy life and hope the new King will have a long reign.”

More Blackburn Memories

Taken from the Blackburn Times of September 21 1929

When I think of the days of my boyhood in Blackburn, I am utterly amazed at the profusion of my memories.  It cannot be that I, myself, am in any way exceptional, for I know I am not; then how is it that after all these years, I have such vivid recollections of people, places and events?  In answer, I have been forced to the conclusion that the town itself is responsible.  It was comparatively small in those days, with a large residential population in its centre; everybody knew everybody else, and nearly everybody else’s business; there was no hustle, but a social life that was placid and agreeable; people had time to talk; anybody’s trouble was everybody’s trouble, and if there were rejoicings they were gladly shared.  Family life was sacrosanct and harmonious: evenings were spent at home, or at the home of a neighbour, and friendships were sincere and lasting.  I am not for a moment going to suggest that these do not exist to-day; they may and I hope they do: but there have been changes; the times have changed; the place has changed; and it is inevitable that the social amenities that the times and place alone made possible should have changed too.
No wonder I sometimes feel like a modern Rip Van Winkle, who has just been awakened from a long sleep, on the top of Pendle Hill; for in all my dreams of Blackburn I see Pendle.  What a wonderful old hill he is; there is no change there, never has been, never will be.  Since the waters under the heaven were gathered together unto one place, and the dry land appeared, Pendle has been just the same; the most immutable monument the world can show.  For centuries he stood in utter solitude, in sterile grandeur: he remembers the ancient Briton, with his woad-dyed skin, making his savage home in the fruitful valley below: he watched the Roman legions, as they built their ford on the bank of the babbling river, and pushed their roads to the North; he looked on whilst toiling Monks erected their Abbey at his feet; and he heard the clatter of Cromwell’s mighty army as it tramped beneath.  Pendle has seen a wonderful panorama of change; but the savage, the Romans, the priest and the “Roundhead,” who gazed at him, saw only what the passing motorist sees to-day.  Pendle cannot change.  There is something more than lovable about the old hill; there is a power in him that demands affection.
The highest hill in the County Palatine!  I know Coniston Old Man is higher, but he is a mountain.  Pendle is a hill, and I have always been glad that when he pushed his long whale-like back through the waters, he refused to go the other 69 feet, that would have transformed him into a mountain.  There is a homely sound about “Pendle Hill,” and neither “Mount Pendle” or “Pendle Mountain” could have created the same intimate friendly feeling.
Now the imagination that sent me to the top of Pendle Hill for a “Rip Van Winkle” sleep of 50 years is quite capable of bringing me back again; so let me “imagine” I have returned to the old town.  Picture me standing at the top of the Park [Corporation Park,] looking down, and you will see me get my first shock.  I have not been there, of course, but in “The Blackburn Times,” a few weeks ago, there was a photograph of “the guns,” and one of the Old Russian cannon was without a carriage and lying prone in the dust.  Does nobody care to-day what happens to those two old cannon?  Let me tell you how I feel about them.  To begin with, I am an Inghamite, and that means that to me “all war is wrong,” and if those cannon simply commemorated a victory in Russia, I would have been glad to see them scrapped long ago: but they meant more than that.  Scores of towns in England had Russians guns, but none made such good use of them as Blackburn did.  Whilst those two cannon were belching thunder in the Crimea, Blackburn was suffering a daily bombardment that was blasting a barren moor into shape, and making a park of it; and when the two victories were won those guns were mounted.​


They were there when the Park was opened; they were part of it; they were to the Park what the Foundation Stone was to the Town Hall.  “The Cannons” were better known than the Market House; they dominated the town; they could be seen from every part of it; they were a landmark for miles around.  The natives talked about them; they made them the objectives of their walks, and everybody was proud of them.  Boys entering the Park by the main gate, would race to them, and sit astride them, while they studied the map of the town below.  One of them, I remember was dented, evidently by a ball of a much bigger calibre than that of the gun itself; and thousands of children have passed their tiny hands over that wound, feeling sure that it had been made by an “English cannon-ball.”  Then, what about them as an object lesson in the world progress?  They represent the type of weapon used within living memory, which is almost unbelievable when they are compared to the engines employed in the last war.
Five generations of Blackburnians have known “The Cannons” I hope you miss them and it is not too late to put back “the ancient landmark that your fathers set up.”  In 1872, when the whole country was rejoicing that the Prince of Wales—afterwards King Edward—had been restored to health, after a long and serious illness, our old town entered heartily into the festivities, and among other attractions, it was announced that “The Cannons” would be fired by the local Artillery.  The volunteer movement was new in those days, but we had a Rifle Brigade as well as an Artillery Corps.  The whole town was “en fete.” And when the Artillery Company left the Town Hall Square, headed by a band, the populace followed in thousands.  The first gun boomed forth its message, and the town re-echoed with delighted cheers; but the second one backfired and fizzed up through the touch-hole.  The crowds waited in an anxious silence, whilst the “piece” was hastily re-loaded.  Amid a stillness that “could be felt,” the firing sergeant applied his fuse and the officer commanding bellowed “Now, put your thumb on the touch-hole!”  The sergeant looked up reproachfully and said, “Go to—.”  The last word was not heard, for at that moment the cannon said “Hush-sh-sh!” and again fizzed through the touch-hole.  As far as I know that was the last occasion on which either of these guns spoke.

In Victorian days, apart from the game of croquet, there were very few forms of sport in which “ladies and gentlemen” could compete; but in 1844 the “grand National Archery Society” was formed, and though the pastime never became popular, it continued in favour with an “exclusive set” for many years, and a club was started in Blackburn in the late [eighteen] sixties.  It must have had a short life, and I should have known nothing about it, but for one circumstance.  There was a hairdresser’s shop in King William-street, which for many years had one window stocked with all the paraphernalia connected with archery.  There were bows, arrows quivers, targets and gauntlets, all beautifully made and of most expensive quality.  One day whilst having a hair-cut, the proprietor told me that when an archery club was first mooted he felt so sure of its success that he laid himself out to cater for its needs.  Unfortunately, however, the idea did not “catch on,” and he was left “high and dry.”
It was early in 1878, when the same gentleman was again trimming my ebon crop—a crop that I still possess, though alas, the dark pigment has evaporated,—he barked a “stage aside” into my ear, so loudly, that all the other customers in the salon were made aware that he was going to “cut his losses,” and clear out “all that bow and arrow stuff, lock, stock and barrel.”  He was a good barber, if he did mix his metaphors; what he ought to have said was of course, “feather, tip and string.”  The result was, that “for a song” I became the proud possessor of a bow and six arrows: they were not toys, but the real thing, and just about the most dangerous weapons that could have been put in the hands of a lad of 15.  I took them to school, and in the playground at Lower Bank made my one and only shot.  After having fixed a home-made target on the Dukes Brow wall, I stood with my back to the gooseberry garden, and let fly; but before that arrow had gone five yards, I had changed my mind about a lot of things; in the first place I had ceased to believe the story of William Tell, for nobody could possibly hit an apple with a shaft that squirmed like that; then what about poets?  I had always understood that they were people who were allowed to talk nonsense, because they had a “poetic licence,” but Longfellow must have known all about archery when he wrote “The Arrow and the Song,” and said:
“I shot an arrow in the air,
It fell to earth, I know not where.”
That is just what happened to my arrow, for it missed the target, missed the wall, flew across the road, and landed somewhere in the garden of a house opposite.

I went round to retrieve it, and had got to the gate when it was flung open by an old gentleman who stamped with rage and waved my arrow above his head.  It was Councillor James Beads, but everybody called him “Jim Beads.”  They always did that with town councillors: when a man had once been round hawking votes he lost his title for ever.  If you had said to a Blackburn, “Do you know Mr. Beads?”  He would have replied, “No: but ‘owd on, ah reckon tha meeans Jim Beads, oh ay, ah know Jim, ee’s an, owd pal o’ mine.”  It was the same with the M.P.’s: who ever heard of Mr. Thwaites?  He was mostly “Daniel,” though some folks never got beyond “Dan.”
Jim Beads was very deaf, and had the curious habit of placing a finger and a thumb over his nostrils and silently snorting—a habit that was really responsible for his deafness; he knew it but could not break it off.  Well, there he stood with my arrow, glaring, too overcome for words: but at last he snorted and said, “Is this yours?” 

“Yes, sir.”  
“What?  Speak up!”  
“Yes, sir!” 
 “What do you mean by shooting at my window?”  
“Please sir I didn’t.”  
“You didn’t?  Go and look at that window!”  
I went and there near the left hand bottom corner of the front room window was a perfect little hole, through which my missile had sped, without cracking the glass.  Wonderingly I returned to the gate to find that a small crowd had collected.  That crowd was my undoing, for when “Jim” saw it, he remembered he was a Town Councillor, and rose to the occasion magnificently.  How he talked!  For five minutes I was the subject of his lecture, being constantly prodded with what he called “this deadly weapon,” by way of emphasis, after which he wound up with a crushing peroration on boys in general.  When at last he paused, I thought he had finished, and so did he; but some fool in the audience said “Hear, hear!” and that set him off again.  I had been learning French from “Froggie” Mercier for years and used to wonder what he meant when he talked of a “mauvais quart d’heure,”[bad time]” but I never wondered again, for that quarter of an hour with Jim Beads was the worst I had ever known.

But the incident was not closed then, for on the following evening I was pottering about the garden, which was opposite my home in Richmond-terrace, when in walked a tall military looking gentleman, in a grey suit, and a felt hat with a flat top.  It was very nearly the kind of hat to which a daily paper awarded a prize some years ago, and which nobody, except Mr. Winston Churchill, had the pluck to wear.  My visitor was the Chief Constable, Joseph Potts, who lived in the Town Hall.  I knew him well, for his daughter, Eleanor, was chumming with one of my sisters. 
He said, “Hello Willie, have you a bow and arrow?”  
“No, sir.”  
 “I had yesterday.”  
“Where are they?” 
 “Who burnt them?” 
 “Because I broke Jim Beads window.” 
 “Your sure they’re burnt?”  
“Oh yes, sir.” 
 “Will you promise me not to buy any more?”  
“Yes, sir, I’ve already promised mother.”  
“That’s all right.  Good-night, boy.”  
“Good-night, sir.” 

That was the end of it; and I fancy it was the end of archery in Blackburn: if it was, then I fired the last shot!

One of my happiest memories of old Blackburn is the one connected with “the Exhibition” of 1873 in commemoration of the opening of the New Library.  We had not many notable buildings in those days, so we were inordinately proud of our latest acquisition, and celebrated its inauguration by turning it temporarily into the most perfect little exhibition that was ever seen.  It was small, of course, but a complete model of what such a show should be, and wonderfully well carried through.  I am not going to attempt a description of it: that would be impossible, but I should like to name one or two features that left a lasting impression on my young mind.  First in juvenile importance came the cellars, for the whole of the basement had been transformed into a vast underground cavern; the programme called it “A Fairy Grotto,” but to us boys it was “The Smugglers Cave.”  Visitors moved along in single file, down a narrow path that undulated and twisted round rugged rocks and ghostly stalagmites; the roof was domed with jagged stone, from which hung glistening stalactites; there was a meandering stream, a waterfall and dripping springs.  The cave had two mouths, through which sunny scenes of the outer world could be seen: one a rural landscape; the other the open sea, with a lugger in the offing.  It was that lugger that made us think of smugglers.  O, it was a grand show!
My other interests were in the “Machinery Section,” which was not in the main building, but in a large annexe thrown out behind.  The motive power was supplied by a smart little beam engine, that operated a network of shafting.  Most of the machines were connected with the cotton trade; from an old fashioned hand-loom to the latest devices for the weaving of plain and fancies.  The most conspicuous thing in the place, however, was a silk loom from Coventry, weaving book markers in rows.  These were ribbon affairs, about eight inches by two inches, with fringed ends, which depicted some Biblical scene, with a text printed beneath in “old English” characters.  The whole appeared to be a most complicated mass of mechanism, when compared with cotton looms; but perhaps the contrast made it all the more interesting.  Book-marks were popular as presents in those days, much as were birthday-cards at a later date.

Hugh Boyle.jpg


To me, as to every other youngster in the town, the most exciting part of the whole exhibition was Boyle’s revolving toffee pan, in which the “Rainbow Balls” were made.  This was copper receptacle, about a yard in diameter, all curves and no corners: it was tip-tilted, and rotated almost vertically, so that the contents appeared to be constantly running up one side and slipping down again; the idea being to keep them on the move.  The attendant used to throw in a few thousand caraway-seeds on to which he poured liquid sugar of various hues, at short intervals.  And as we watched, those seeds became pellets, then bullets and finally balls; whilst all the time they were changing colour.  Later on of course the process was reversed for all those balls were destined to find their way into youthful mouths, where they were sucked and sucked, though periodically hauled out by sticky fingers, whose owners played the game of guessing what colour would turn up next.  Yes, I have very happy recollections of that wonderful little exhibition!
The Boyles—I never knew the style of the firm, though three sons, Jim, Hugh and Harry, were school friends of mine—had a shop in Victoria-street, in the window of which they used to display a tableau at Christmas time.  The first one was a scene in the Arctic regions, with Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated ships, the “Erebus” and “Terror,” lying wrecked amid the snow and ice: there were floes and bergs, dogs and sledges, explorers, polar bears and seals; illuminated by the Northern twilight of the Auroras Borealis.  All made of sugar and cleverly carried out: very pretty, but very sad!

Blackburn was quite a nice place to live in those days, and I can only hope that those of you who dwell there to-day have recollections as pleasant as mine.