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Blackburn Lancashire Townscape.jpg
Blackburn Town Centre
Grid reference: SD685277
Location: 53°44’42"N, 2°28’37"W
Population: 105,085  (2001)
Post town: Blackburn
Postcode: BB1 – BB2
Dialling code: 01254
Local Government
Council: Blackburn with Darwen

Blackburn is a large, industrial town in Lancashire. It lies to the north of the West Pennine Moors on the southern edge of the Ribble Valley, nine miles east of the city of Preston, 27 miles north of the city of Manchester. To the south of Blackburn is Darwen.

At the time of the 2001 census, Blackburn had a population of 105,085.

A former mill town, textiles have been produced in Blackburn since the middle of the 13th century, when wool was woven in homes in the domestic system. Flemish weavers who settled in the area during the 14th century helped to develop the woollen cottage industry in the region.[1] James Hargreaves, inventor of the spinning jenny, was a weaver in Blackburn.[2] The most rapid period of growth and development in Blackburn's history coincided with the industrialisation and expansion of textile manufacturing. Blackburn was a boomtown of the Industrial Revolution, and amongst the first industrialised towns in the world.

Blackburn's textile sector fell into a terminal decline from the mid-20th century and Blackburn has consequently faced similar challenges as other post-industrial northern towns, including deindustrialisation, economic deprivation and housing issues. Since the 1950s the town has experienced significant levels of migration, particularly from the Indian subcontinent, and consequently amongst the cities of Britain it has one of the highest proportion of Muslims (about 25%) outside London. Blackburn has had significant redevelopment in the past 60 years though much through sterile government money.

Name of the town

The name of the town is believed to mean just what it says; a black burn (brook). The name is Old English and first appears for certain in writing in the Domesday Book of 1086, as Blacheborne. It has been suggested by others that black may be from an Old English work for bleach rather than from blæc (black, dark or ink).[3][4][5]

The burn in question appears to be the river now known as the Blakewater.


View north over Lammack and Pleckgate

In the midst of the East Lancashire Hills, some areas of Blackburn are characterised by steep slopes. The town centre is located in a depression surrounded by a number of hills. The area of Revidge to the north can be reached by a steep climb up Montague Street and Dukes Brow to reach a peak of 715 feet above sea level.

To the west, the wooded Billinge Hill in Witton Country Park is 804 feet high, while Royal Blackburn Hospital is situated to the east of the town at a vantage point of 663 feet. These elevations are substantial for an urban area, though in the context of the fells of Lancashire they are perhaps not so.

The River Blakewater, which gives its names to the town, flows down from the moors above Guide and then through the areas of Whitebirk, Little Harwood, Cob Wall and Brookhouse to the town centre. The river was culverted during the industrial revolution and runs underground in the town centre, under Ainsworth Street and between Blackburn's Roman Catholic Cathedral and Bus Station. On the western side of the town centre the Blakewater continues under Whalley Banks and through the Redlam area before joining the River Darwen outside Witton Country Park and continuing on to join the River Ribble at Walton-le-Dale.

The geology of the Blackburn area yields numerous resources which underpinned its development as a centre of manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution. Mineable coal seams have been used since the mid-late 16th century.[6] The Coal Measures in the area overlie the Millstone Grit which has been quarried in the past for millstones and, along with local limestone deposits, used as a construction material for roads and buildings.

The Blackburn area was subjected to glaciation during the Pleistocene ice age, and the sandstone-and-shale bedrock is overlain in much of the area by glacial deposits called till (which is also called "boulder clay") of varying thickness up to several tens of feet. Glacial outwash (sand and gravel) also occur in small patches, including along Grimshaw Brook.[7][8][9]


Blackburn's 1906 clock tower in 1906 with time ball


There is little evidence of prehistoric settlement in the Blakewater valley, in which Blackburn later developed but in hilltops Bronze Age urn burials have been found. In 1879, a cinerary urn was discovered beneath a tumulus at Revidge, north of the town. Another was excavated at Pleasington Cemetery, west of the present town, by gravedigger Grant Higson in 1996.[10]

Roman period

Blackburn stands where a Roman military road crossed the river Blakewater. The road linked Bremetennacum Veteranorum (Ribchester) with Mamucium and probably crossed the river just east of the modern-day town centre. However, it is not clear whether the Roman road or the village came first.[4][11]

George C. Miller in his Blackburn – the Evolution of a Cotton Town says:

The ancient military way from Mamucium (Manchester) to (Bremetennacum) (Ribchester), passing over Blacksnape, plunges on its unswerving course through Blackamoor, over the scarp at Whinney Heights, to pass across the Blakewater in the vicinity of Salford. This fact alone presents a reasonable argument for the existence of a British oppidum or walled village on the site, it being customary for such primitive communities to cluster in the vicinity of a ford or bridge.[12]

All Hallows Spring was purportedly excavated in 1654 and was found to contain an inscribed stone, allegedly commemorating the dedication of a temple of Serapis by Claudius Hieronymus, legate of Legio VI Victrix.[11][13]

Middle Ages

Christianity is believed to have come to Blackburn at the end of the 6th century, perhaps in 596 (there is a record of a "church of Blagbourne" in that year) or 598 AD.[14][15][16] The town was certainly important during the Anglo-Saxon era. It was during this period that Blackburnshire Hundred came into existence.

The name of the town first appears in the Domesday Book as Blachebourne, a royal manor during the days of Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror. Archaeological evidence gleaned during the demolition of the mediæval parish church on the site of the present cathedral in 1820 suggests that a church was built during the late 11th or early 12th century.[16] A market cross was also erected nearby in 1101.[17] The manor came into the possession of Henry de Blackburn, who divided it between his two sons. Later, one half was granted to the monks of Stanlow Abbey. This moiety was later granted to the monks of Whalley Abbey. However, during the 12th century, the town's conjectured importance declined as Clitheroe became the regional centre.[16] In addition to the settlement in the town centre area, there were several other mediæval domiciles nearby.

Industrial Revolution and textiles

Workers producing shuttles, c. 1920

Textile manufacturing in Blackburn dates from the middle of the 13th century, when wool produced by local farmers was woven by local people in their homes. Flemish weavers who settled in the area in the 14th century and helped to develop the industry. By 1650 the town was known for the manufacture of "Blackburn checks", blue and white in colour, with "Blackburn greys" becoming famous not long afterwards.[1] By the first half of the 18th century textile manufacture had become Blackburn's main industry.[18] From the mid-18th to the early 20th century Blackburn evolved from a small market town into "the weaving capital of the world", with the population increasing from less than 5,000 to over 130,000.[19]

John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles provides a profile of Blackburn in 1887:

Blackburn. parl. and mun. bor., par. and township, NE. Lancashire, 9 miles E. of Preston and 210 miles NW. of London by rail – par., 48,281 ac., pop. 161,617; township, 3681 ac., pop. 91,958; bor., 6974 ac., pop. 104,014; 4 Banks, 2 newspapers. Market-days, Wednesday and Saturday. It is one of the chief seats of cotton manufacture, besides producing calico, muslin, &c., there being over 140 mills at work. There are also factories for making cotton machinery and steam-engines. B. has been associated with many improvements in the mfr. of cotton, among which was the invention (1767) of the "spinning jenny" which was invented in nearby Oswaldtwistle by James Hargreaves, who died in 1770. There are several fine churches and public buildings. A Corporation Park (50 ac. in area) is on the outskirts of the town. Several lines of railway converge here, and pass through one principal station belonging to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Ry. Co. B. returns 2 members to Parliament.[20]

From around 1750, cotton textile manufacturing expanded rapidly in Blackburn. Supplied with cotton by the town's cotton merchants, and paid by the piece, cottagers had spun the cotton into thread and woven it into cloth. The merchants had then arranged for the cloth to be bleached and dyed. After 1775 however, spinning mills began to appear in the town. Though early examples were warehouse conversions, the first purpose-built spinning mill was constructed in 1797, and By 1824 there were 24 . The number of spindles in Blackburn reached 2.5 million  by 1870, with spinning mills still being constructed up to that time  – 24  since 1850. Spinning declined in the town between 1870 and 1900 as the sector transferred to South Lancashire.[21]

In 18th century Blackburn, weaving was primarily undertaken by handloom weavers working from their own cottages. However, as powerlooms began to be introduced into local mills from 1825, the percentage of the workforce employed as handloom weavers began to decline. This occurred more rapidly in areas closer to the centre of Blackburn, with handloom weavers continuing to make up a sizeable portion of the workforce in outlying rural areas. Nevertheless, the last handloom shop in Blackburn closed in 1894.[22] Improvements to the powerloom in the early 1840s, together with the construction of the first railway line into Blackburn in 1846, led to much greater factory-building in the town in the second half of that decade. The railway brought opportunities for expansion of the cotton trade, with subsequent decades seeing many new mills constructed:[23] 68 weaving-only and 4 combined weaving and spinning mills were built between 1850 and 1870, and 9 weaving mills were built per decade between 1870 and 1890.[24]

Improvements in powerloom efficiency meant that weaving, which had been the primary source of wealth and income for handloom weavers, began to transfer from the cottage to the factory.[25] This led to high rates of unemployment: according to figures published in March 1826, some 60% of all handloom weavers in Blackburn and nearby Rishton, Lower Darwen and Oswaldtwistle were unemployed.[26] High unemployment in turn led to the Lancashire weavers' riots. At 3:00 pm on 24 April 1826 a mob arrived in Blackburn after attacking powerlooms in nearby Accrington. Proceeding to Bannister Eccles' Jubilee Factory on Jubilee St in the town centre, the mob destroyed 212 powerlooms in the space of 35 minutes. They then turned their attention to John Houghton and Sons' Park Place factory, located nearby, and destroyed another 25 looms, before continuing on in search of more machinery to attack. The crowd began to disperse at around 6:00 pm, troops having arrived as early as 3:30 pm to try to quell the rioting.[27]

Decline of the cotton industry

Cotton mill workers striking in 1920
Albion Mill in 2008 (closed in 1975)

In 1890, Blackburn's Chamber of Commerce recognised that the town was over-dependent on the cotton industry, warning of the dangers of "only having one string to their bow in Blackburn".[28] The warning proved to be prophetic when, in 1904, a serious slump hit the cotton industry, and other industries dependent on it such as engineering, brewing and building.[29] A few years later, in 1908, another slump saw 43 mills close and a quarter of the town's looms idle.[30]

Suspension of trade with India during the First World War resulted in the expansion of India's cotton industry at the expense of Britain's,[31] and the imposition of an 11% import tariff by the Indian Government led to a dramatic slump in 1921; a situation which worsened in 1922 after the Indian Government raised the tariff to 14%, which led the number of stopped mills to increase to 47, with 43,000 looms idle.[32] Two years into the slump, the Foundry and Limbrick mills became the first in the town to close permanently.[31] Not long afterwards, in 1926, the General Strike]] saw output suspended at half of the town's mills and 12,000 unemployed.[31] There was another slump in 1928, and then another strike in 1929 after employers requested a 12% wage cut; 40,000 cotton workers went on strike for a week and eight more mills closed, making it 28 closures in six years.[31] By the start of 1930, 50 mills had shut down and 21,000 people were unemployed.[31] A sharp financial crisis late in 1931 led to 24,000 unemployed, with 1,000 houses and 166 shops lying empty in the town.[33] A total of 26 mills closed down between 1930 and 1934.[31]

The industry experienced a short post-war boom between 1948 and 50, during which sales increased, industry training methods improved, and new automatic looms were introduced; allowing a single weaver to control 20 to 25 looms. Loom sheds were often rebuilt using new building techniques to make them more open-plan so that they could house the new, larger looms.[34] Despite the post-war boom, the cotton industry continued to decline, and only 25% of the town's population were employed in textiles by 1951: it had been 60% up to the beginning of the Great Depression, in 1929.[35] Furthermore, in 1952 the number of weavers in the town fell from 10,890 to 9,020.[36] By 1955 more cloth was being imported from India than was being exported there,[36] and between 1955 and 1958 another 16 mills closed. In 1959, due partly to the re-organisation of the textile industry resulting from that year's Textiles Act, another 17 mills closed.[37] By 1960 there were 30 mills left operating in Blackburn.[38]

Closures continued in the 1960s with, for example, the Parkside, Fountains, Malvern and Pioneer Mills shutting in 1964.[39] In 1967 the Eclipse Mill at Feniscowles closed, unable to compete with imported cloth sold at nine pence cheaper per yard than the mill could produce it. By the end of that year there were 26 mills left operating in Blackburn.[40] The 1970s saw further closures, and the number of textile workers in Blackburn reduced to 6,000 by January 1975, the year in which the Albion and Alston mills also closed with the loss of a further 400 jobs. In 1976 there were 2,100 looms still operating, from a peak of 79,405 in 1907.

Blackburn since 1930

Blackburn suffered badly in the Great Depression of the early 1930s, with unemployment reaching record levels as many of the town's mills were shut down. However, public amenities improved and thousands of new council houses had been built by the outbreak of Second World War in 1939, to replace town centre slums.

Unlike many other industrialised towns and cities in England, Blackburn avoided serious bomb damage in Second World War. However, the continuing decline of the town's old industries saw the town's population fall to a low of just over 100,000 by 1971. However, the town then was revived by a regeneration of the town centre and an expansion of the local engineering industry.[41]


Since the first influx of Commonwealth immigrants to Britain in 1948, Blackburn has seen a significant number of immigrants settle in the town. Whalley Range in the north of the town was a popular destination for Asian immigrants, who now make up the majority of the district's population, in particular. The town did not however fall victim to any of the race riots which blighted parts of northern England, including nearby Oldham and Burnley, over the summer of 2001.[42]


The town centre is currently subject to a new multimillion-pound improvements, and the council has already made some refurbishments and renovations of key public places, notably the Church Street area with its Grade II listed[43] art deco Waterloo Pavilions complemented by street furniture and sculptures. The Mall Blackburn (formerly known as Blackburn Shopping Centre) is the main shopping centre in Blackburn with over 130 shops and 400 further outlets close by.[44] Blackburn Markets are situated opposite the mall on its Ainsworth Street side. First opened in 1964, they are a 3-day market (Wednesday, Friday, Saturday) and the Market Hall (Monday-Saturday). The town centre was expanded by construction of the Grimshaw Park retail development (including Blackburn Arena) in the 1990s. The adjacent Townsmoor Retail Park and Peel Leisure and Retail Park are more recent developments.

Major employers in Blackburn include: BAE Systems (Samlesbury Aerodrome site, located at Balderstone, northwest of Blackburn); Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council; and the NHS.

Sights of the town

Blackburn's Statue of Queen Victoria with the cathedral in the background

Ewood Park stadium, the home of Blackburn Rovers]] football club since they moved there from Leamington Road in 1890.

Queen Victoria's statue stands in the town centre, 11 feet high. Victoria's fourth daughter, Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, unveiled the statue on 30 September 1905.

The Italianate 19th-century town hall and its 1960s counterpart—the reclad new town hall

Blackburn Town Hall was built in the Italian renaissance style, completed in 1856 at a cost of £35,000,[45] equivalent to about £1.5 million as at 2008.[46]

Technical school whose foundation was laid in May 1888 by the Prince and Princess of Wales was completed towards the end of 1894. It is built in the northern renaissance style and has a slate roof, an attic, a basement, and two intermediate storeys. Made mainly of red brick and yellow terracotta, it is profusely decorated and features ornate gables, a round arched entrance with angle turrets and balcony above, and a frieze below the top storey with panels depicting art and craft skills. It is now part of Blackburn College.[47][48][49]

The Wainwright Bridge opened in June 2008. It is named after Alfred Wainwright following a vote by the townspeople.

Blackburn Railway Station features a 24-foot mural by Ormskirk-based contemporary artist Stephen Charnock. It depicts eight famous faces associated with the town, including Mohandas Gandhi, who visited nearby Darwen in 1931. The station was renovated in 2000.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal runs through the town.


Corporation Park's conservatory

Corporation Park, to the northwest of the town centre, was built on 50 acres of land bought from Joseph Feilden for £50 an acre in 1855 and officially opened on 22 October 1857. Shops and mills closed for the day, church bells rang, and flags flew from public buildings. Railway companies claimed 14,000 people travelled to the town for the opening.[50] A conservatory was opened in the park on 16 May 1900.

Queen's Park was opened in June 1887 on land acquired by Blackburn Corporation from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1882. It originally had two bowling greens, two tennis courts, a lake of over 3 acres, a children's paddling pool, a bandstand, and a refreshment room. Two additional bowling greens and a pavilion were added in 1932.[51]

The main lake in Queen's Park.

Witton Country Park is a 480-acre space to the west of the town. The land was bought in 1946; it had been the ancestral home of the Feilden family. It is now the home of Blackburn Harriers and Athletic Club. It is larger than all the town's other parks and playing fields put together.[52]

Roe Lee Park, in the north of the town, was opened on Wednesday 30 May 1923 and was intended to commemorate the visit of King George V. It was originally a 16-acre site with five tennis courts and three bowling greens.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Blackburn)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Burrow, J & Co. (Eds.) (1960), p. 8.
  2. Abram (1990), p. 204.
  3. Miller (1992), p. 6.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Beattie (1992), p. 11.
  5. Survey and making of Domesday The UK National Archives. Retrieved on 1 June 2008
  6. "Coal mining in Blackburn with Darwen". Cotton Town. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2006-10-27. 
  7. Geology of the Blackburn Area, Grimshaw Origins and History, 2000
  8. A Landscape Strategy for Lancashire – Landscape Character Assessment, Lancashire County Council
  9. Contaminated land inspection strategy. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved on 6 July 2008.
  10. "Rare Treasure Found". Lancashire Evening Telegraph. Newsquest Media Group. 1996-03-27. Retrieved 2008-07-06. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Lancashire County Council (2005), Lancashire Historic Town Survey: Blackburn, p. 16.
  12. Miller [1952](1992), p. 4.
  13. Site of All Hallows Spring-Holy well, Archaeology Data Service. Retrieved on 31 January 2007.
  14. Church of St Mary the Virgin, Archaeology Data Service. Retrieved on 31 January 2007.
  15. Burrow, J & Co. (Eds.) (1960). p. 7.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Lancashire County Council (2005), Lancashire Historic Town Survey: Blackburn, p. 17.
  17. Market Cross, Archaeological Data Society. Retrieved on 31 January 2007.
  18. Beattie (1992), p. 13.
  19. Beattie (1992), p. 49.
  20. Vision of Britain: Bartholomew Gazetteer Entry for Blackburn, A Vision of Britain through Time, Retrieved on 21 April 2008.
  21. Beattie (1992), pp. 15–16.
  22. Beattie (1992), pp. 16–18.
  23. Timmins (1993).
  24. Beattie (1992), p. 17.
  25. Turner (1992), p. 9.
  26. Turner (1992), p. 12.
  27. Turner (1992), pp. 18–24.
  28. Taylor (2000), p. 11.
  29. Taylor (2000), p. 18.
  30. Taylor (2000), p. 24.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 Taylor (2000), pp. 47–55.
  32. "Indian Duties". Cotton Town. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  33. "Financial Crisis". Cotton Town. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  34. "Post-War Boom". Cotton Town. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  35. Taylor (2000), p. 83.
  36. 36.0 36.1 "1950s Decline". Cotton Town. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  37. Taylor (2000), p. 87.
  38. Taylor (2000), p. 91.
  39. Taylor (2000), p. 94.
  40. "Local Decline". Cotton Town. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  41. "A History of Blackburn". Retrieved 2011-10-06. 
  42. "Is Blackburn really a town of racial divide?". Daily Mail (London). 2007-05-06. 
  43. "Waterloo Pavilions". Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  44. Blackburn is placed in a similar position to its neighbour Burnley in most consumer spending and footfall rankings. Along with Burnley, Bolton, Preston and Bury are the towns' main retail destination rivals.Tourism in Blackburn with Darwen: Shopping, Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, 8 November 2005, Retrieved on 2 May 2006.
  45. Beattie (2007), p. 139.
  46. "Currency converter". The National Archives. Retrieved 2008-07-08. 
  47. Beattie (2007), pp. 197–198.
  48. "Blackburn Technical School". Cotton Town. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council. Retrieved 2008-04-24. 
  49. Timmins (1993), plate 161.
  50. Duckworth (2005), p. 65.
  51. Duckworth (2005), pp. 78–79.
  52. Duckworth (2005), p. 79.


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