Bits Of Old Darwen
The Town In Other Days

From the Blackburn Weekly Telegraph January 17th 1914

There was a Time when cherry trees yielded crops of fruit on the north-east side of Bowling Green Mill—by some claimed to be the first power-loom mill in Darwen—and when the gardens now a part of Low Hill, between the mill and Bury Fold Lane, were all green fields. These times are yet fresh, though so far distant, in the memories of the few real old Darweners who survive. Amongst those who never forget the Darwen that was is Mr. Ralph Shorrock Ashton, whose review, going back to the days of his youth—he is now 83—is crowded with happy recollections of Darwen and its people. Mr Ashton now lives in London, he has been away for many years.
Woodlands, where William Huntington lived later on, and now the residence of Mr. George Yates was built by Mr. Ashton’s father, who came to Darwen in the [eighteen] thirties, and so did Mr. Eccles Shorrock. Mr. Ashton’s father married for his second wife a Miss Shorrock of Prince’s. Ralph Shorrock Ashton laboured for a high standard of life and was connected with the establishment of the old Mechanic’s Institute, to which so many now prominent Daren men admit they owe the foundation of their careers. And he served his district for a term as chairman of the old Local Board. The picture I am able to publish of old Bob Harwood carrying an electioneering board is an interesting reminder of the fights there were for seats upon the Board. Connections of Mr. Ashton’s stepmother’s family were influential at the beginning of the dead (sic) century, when Darwen was no more than a wayside hamlet, separated from outside districts by the difficulties of traveling. They saw it awaken to its possibilities, and in no small degree assisted to develop its energies in many directions. Calico printing and bleaching had been introduced as profitable industries four and forty years before the days of Mr Ralph Shorrock Ashton’s boyhood began. Old James Greenway had added them to the industries of coal-getting and hand-loom weaving. Mr Ashton was born early enough to see power-loom weaving in its infancy at Darwen, though he was not living at its birth. Four years before he saw the light of revolutionary power-looms set up at Bowling Green Mill, popularly known as “Top Factory,” had been smashed by indignant hand-loom weavers, who feared that the innovation meant starvation for themselves, and they also similarly treated the loom of Mr. James Grime. In the evening of Mr. Ashton’s long and eventful life many incidents and stories of the Darwen of by-gone days recur to him, and some of these I have been fortunate enough to obtain from him, and am permitted to include in this series of articles.

RS Ashton.jpgDarwen is not the Darwen it was when Mr. Ashton was a boy. Gone are the well-grown trees from the Anchor to Dove Cottage, and houses and other buildings now stand where they were rooted. The approach to Bowling green Mill from Sandhills had trees on either side of the road, but these have disappeared. The workers at the mill who lived in Bury Fold came by a footpath turning out of the lane at a spot close to Low Hill, and through the fields. The Holmes, Stoney Flatts and the land northward of Darwen Mills were not built upon, and neither was the Lea. Nicholas Holden’s farm near Woodside Mill was in the country. Shorey Bank was a country residence and its gardens full of fruit trees. Behind were grazing fields, sloping down on which flocks grazed, encircled by a rivulet which came down from Marsh House. The fields stretched away to Sudell Road and Trinity Church.
“Hand-loom weaving was common in my early days.” Mr Aston says. “The farmers on the hillsides added little to their incomes by weaving in sheds adjoining their houses. And the occupation was not confined to farmers. As a boy I was much interested in the scenes at Prince’s in the days of old Mr. Shorrock, who gave out yarn, cops and warps to the weavers around to be woven into cloth, which he afterwards sent to Manchester for sale. It was at Prince’s that the father of the late Christopher Shorrock was born.
“Social conditions have greatly changed since the [eighteen] thirties. An average workman who earned 12s a week considered himself well off; masons got from 3s to 3s 6d a day, labourers 2s and quarrymen 2s to 2s 6d, colliers 12s to 15s a week. Hours in the factory were long, from 3.30 in the morning to 7.30 at night, and on Saturdays till 4 in the afternoon. During the winter months colliers never saw the light of day except on Sunday. Food was dear, foreign corn was then kept out to help the landlords, and the principal food was oatmeal porridge and buttermilk. Coal was cheap. Good housefire coal could be brought at 7s 6d a ton and steam at 5s a ton.
“Mrs Shaw—a worthy old lady—lived at the Bowling Green Inn. Soldiers were quartered upon her during the plug-drawing riots of [18]26 and some of them went away without paying though she said they `reckoned fair.‘
“I remember with interest the paper-works at Darwen Mills established and worked by Messrs. Hilton, and supplied with coal from the Dogshaw mines at the top of Darwen Moors. The coal was brought down by a railway running under Bolton Road up past Radfield, and onto the moor. The trams consisted of eight waggons. Four laden with coal drew up the four empty ones. There is a matter of interest connected with the mines. Those called the 20-inch mines were mostly worked in Darwen, Entwistle and Hoddlesdon.
“My early recollections carry me back to an old pit behind Darwen Mills, long since unused as having been worked out. The 20-inch mine supplied good coal, as did the many other mines spread about the valley. The pit behind the mill was about 80 to 100yards deep, I think, but below that mine lies a rich mine about 70 yards lower. This was called the yard mine, but it was not considered profitable to sink down so low owing to the water, which would have to be pumped up at great expense. At Dogshaw on the Moor, 1,400ft. high, I think, which was worked by the railway I have mentioned, there were two mines—the 20in mine and the yard mines—almost on the same level. How came they then in contrast with the mines 70 to 80 yards below Darwen Mills? The explanation is that there is what in geology is known as a fault running along the road leading from Bolton to Darwen, and this marked a great volcanic upheaval in past days. The mines were thrown up on high, and not only so, but they must have had special upheaval to have been thrown up almost to the same level as the 20in mine. The coal from the yard mine was splendid. How glad the people of Darwen would be if now they could enjoy the same supply of coal as that which prevailed even during the [18]50’s, when it was laid down at the people’s doors at 7s 6d per ton, and steam coal obtained at 5s a ton.
“At the beginning of the 19
th century Darwen was traversed by two high roads from north to south. The best of these followed the ridge of the hill on the east side from Eccleshill and over Blacksnape, and was part of the ancient road from Blackburn to Bury and Manchester. The other, a packhorse road, narrow, crooked, circuitous, and ill kept was from Chapels down from robin Bank, across the River Darwen by the ford where Union Street Bridge is now. When in flood the river was impassable, and had power and depth sufficient to carry down a horse and rider, as in the case of Mrs. Bowden in 1804. The track continued passing behind Smalley’s Hotel, now Gregg’s Hotel, down the Green up Bridge street, where there was a second ford of the river up Redearth Road, on to Sough, twisting back again by Watery Lane and the present site of Culvert School, and south-wards over the fields to Cadshaw Bridge and Bolton. It was the main road between Blackburn and Bolton, and there were frequent trains of packhorses bringing commodities and supplies.

Old Bob Harwood.jpg “Squire Greenway was the only man who could live on his means without the necessity of trade or profession. Two others might lay claim to honour. These were old Lawrence Burry, Of Kebb’s and another well-known Character of the days of my boyhood whose chief employment was to take their children’s meals to the mills, stand at the corner and pick up gossip. The father of squire Greenway was a shrewd man, and made his money as a calico printer at Dob Meadows. In those days pieces that were bleached and printed would be put out in the fields on rails to get the chemical effect of the air or to dry. Thefts were committed in the night, and the watchman was given a gun and set to keep sharp outlook. One Morning he met Mr. Greenway with a long face and said `Heigh Mester Greenway, they’n been and ta’en my blunderbuss.` the man was promptly dismissed. Mr Greenway was always dressed plainly, and one day coming to his counting house he was accosted by a traveller who did not known him, and asked him to hold his horse. He did so, and the traveller went inside to transact business. On returning he gave Mr. Greenway half a crow. The old gentleman went inside and asked who the traveller was? On being told he said, `Give him no more orders. If he can afford to give me half a crown for holding his horse a quarter of an hour or so, depend upon it he is getting to much out of me in extra charges.
“Mr Hoghton Ainsworth, who ran the loom-shed called Springfield Mill in Bolton Road, was a stern old Puritan, and claimed to be something of a theologian. His dress was a black tail-coat, such as gentlemen use nowadays for evening dress. And he wore white stockings and low shoes. Mr. Eccles Shorrock senior, was the first to adopt morning dress. A young swell at Blackpool would were white trousers, white stockings, and brilliant patent leather pumps. His shirt front would be elaborately got up with frills that had been put through a goffering machine. And his hat would be a fine beaver.
“My first school was a mixed school for boys and girls kept by an old lady of the name of Mrs. Entwistle. She lived first in a house just opposite Ebenezer Capel, and next in Union Street when New Mill was being built. I can remember the fireproof arches over the boilers falling in and killing a poor man whom we saw carried out on a stretcher.
One of my school-fellows was Miss Pickup, a daughter of William Pickup, of Marsh House. She was somewhat older than I, and very kind in helping me to do my multiplication tables. My next school was that of Mrs Ianson and her daughter, who kept a school in a house at the corner of Bentley’s woodyard, which was then opposite the present Co-operative Stores. The woodyard was the playground of the school-children. The Openshaw’ and the Cunliffes were also at the school.
“Mrs Ianson was postmistress, and I have seen her and her daughter examining the letters very carefully, taking them up and holding them to the light. This was done not because she was prying into people’s secrets, but because those were the days of dear postage, and it was her duty to examine letters and see if they had any enclosures. If any were found the postage charge was doubled. Letters were charged for according to the distance carried. The charge for 300 miles for a single sheet was one shilling. Double sheets were treated as two letters. It was owing to the double charge that the postmistress examined the letters.
“It is a matter of interest to know that in 1831 a meeting was held at Darwen in support of the great Reform Bill. The speakers were Mr. Harry Hilton, the Rev. S.A. Nicholas (of Lower Chapel) Mr. Eccles Shorrock, the Rev. L.A. Hague (of the old Ebenezer Chapel) and Mr. William Hutchingson. Mr. Richard Hilton’s father, I think, of Mr. Henry and Mr. Edward Hilton, was in the chair. Mr. Henry and Mr. Edward worked the paper mill in my young days. In 1832 Darwen, then a small place, paid more duties to Government than its larger neighbour Blackburn. This was owing to the heavy duty on paper which was levied at the paper works before the paper was allowed to be taken away.
“The Rev. S.T. Porter of the old Ebenezer Chapel and of Belgrave Independent Meeting House was the mainspring of the establishment of the mechanics Institution in 1839, and I can see him now in a long dressing gown in a room devoted to the infant institution.
“Every woman had a chance of getting married if she wanted to in the [18]30’s, for the census showed that there were 3,421 males and 3,551 females in the town , and 1,202 families living in 1,252 houses. There were few `quality` folk, and only 28 female servants.
“In Sough Village old James Pickup and William Shorrock lived, and they were two careful bodies. `does ta’ know ‘at when tha’rt spending a ha’penny tha’rt spending both capital and interest,` old James would say. Money was valued because it was hard earned. A man once remarked, `What’s the use of working and saving? Thoase ‘at come after will spend it.` `Aye Aye,` replied the one to whom he spoke `an if they hev as much pleasure I’ th’ spending as I’ve hed I’ th’ saving of it they’re welcome.
“Funerals were made a lot of when I was a lad. At Bowling Green Mill there was a joiner who was better of than many others and wore good broadcloth. He was often asking off to go to funerals, and it was thought the reason was because he was so well dressed and looked so respectable. He was regularly placed on the front seat of the mourning coach.
“Bowling Green Mill taught Darwen how to spin, and gave work out to many of the great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers of the present generation. When it could not spin it made room for Robert Nightingale’s old curiosity shop of domestic and literary stores. And old Robert has passed away, and his shop is closed.”

Print Shop.jpg   old bleach works.jpg

The contemporaries of Mr. Ashton were Mr. Greenway, uncle of the late Rev. Charles Greenway and known as Squire Greenway and had considerable property, The Potters, the Hiltons, who have a vault at Lower Darwen, The Brandwoods, who were colliery proprietors, the Wardleys, the Walshes, Seth Harwood, the overseer, and the pickups amongst others.
Mr Ashton recalls a good story of old Lower Chapel. He says that;
“the children upstairs were under the care of a teacher who would make a ball of his pocket handkerchief and throw it at a boy or girl who was talkative or restless< The late Alderman Christopher Shorrock was a boy who was sent by his father to a special service at the chapel, and his father gave him the money for the special collection. Chris sat in a great square pew one Sunday, and when the collection time came he could not find the money. Every pocket was searched. Marbles, nails, a penknife, and other things were turned out, but the money could not be found. Nearer and nearer came the collection-box, and at length it reached young Chris, whose face was by this time scarlet. The collector was not to be done. `What hesta done wi’ t’ money?` He asked, `for I know thy feyther wodn’t send tha beawt.` He put down his box in the pew, got old of little Chris and turned his pockets out one by one until the money was found.
“Another story of Lower Chapel is that in the days of the candle the chapel-keeper would go round snuffing them with his fingers. Snuffers were at length introduced, but he did not take kindly to the new-fangled things and would go round with the snuffers in his left hand. The candel he would snuff with the fingers of his right hand, and the burnt wick he would deposit in the box of the snuffer.
“Darwen had no lawyers in the old days and we had to go to Blackburn for our law. All the letters were brought by a postman on foot from Blackburn to Darwen. It was not an uncommon thing for Mr Eccles Shorrock to send someone, some times my brother, on horseback to meet old William, and old Waterloo veteran, and get the Darwen post-bag from him.
“The progenitors of Pole Lane Chapel and Ebenezer were mostly farmers and weavers, Nathaniel Hunt, the father of Jeremy, promised £50 to the building fund of Pole Lane. Jeremy, in after days was an enthusiast, and after walking all the way from Pickup Bank to the service at Ebenezer, would go without his Sunday’s dinner in order to give the money to the chapel debt. Another, a young woman, went without her summer gloves, and gave the money at the Sunday School collections. I remember the service; the men in their drab coats, and the women in their big bonnets, with shawls flowing over their simple dresses of brown, blue or red merinos, and nearly all carrying an old-fashioned posy. Ebenezer had a grand base fiddle, which as a child I regarded with awe; William Becket played the fiddle and Jeremy Hunt led the singing.


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