Blackburn, Lancashire

Historical Description

Blackburn is a municipal, parliamentary, and county borough, situated midway between Preston and Burnley- about 11 miles from each town-and, as a centre of population and commercial activity, occupies the first position in North-east Lancashire. It is a very old town, but only within modern times, and mainly through prosperity in the cotton trade, have its laurels been won and its status made consequential. From a stream called Blake-water or Blake-burn, which flows out of the heights of Oswaldtwistle, runs through a portion of Blackburn, and afterwards debouches into ther river Darwen, the town evidently derived its name. In Saxon times Blackburn was held by King Edward the Confeasor. The earliest reference to it, which confirms the fact of this possession, is contained in the Domesday Survey. " King Edward held Blacheburne" says the Norman record, and tBen it defines the area thereof as "two hides and two carucates of land." Anciently, the land here, as well as that of adjoining districts, chiefly eastward, constituted what was known as Blackburnshire. One of the " hundreds " into which the county of Lancaster is divided, and which includes the land of the " shire" mentioned, goes by the name of Blackburn. The population of the entire hundred of Blackburn is 502,499. By the Blackburn Corporation Act of 1892, which came into operation in 1893, the area included withia the borough of Blackburn (comprising the civil parishes of Blackburn and Little Halwood, and parts of those of Livesey, Lower Darwen, and Witton) was constituted one township or civil parish, designated Blackburn. At the time of the census of 1891 this area contained 24,471 inhabited houses, aad 120,064 population, but the above figures relate to the parishes as exiating previously to the alteration. A range of high land passes through the parish, the trend of it being from Whalley to Billinge Hill. The town of Blackburn is located partly in a hollow and partly on the sides of high, semi-environing land. Owing to the great quantity of smoke which exhales from the chimneys of mills, workshops, &c., the aspect of the town is sombre and heavy; otherwise, through the vale-like, hill-flanked configuration of its position, the scene would be quite picturesque. A considerable quantity of the land around Blackburn was, up to a comparatively recent period, in a bleak, poor condition: much of it is now within the sphere of cultivation and practical productiveness. In various parts of the parish slate of a grey colour is got; at the southern side coal is found; and formerly-many years ago-there was an alum mine in working order in the suburb of Pleasington, on the western side. In 1617, when King James I. visited Hoghton Tower (a fine old structure between Blackburn and Preston), he was taken to view the alum works in Pleasington. The diary of a local gentleman, who was at the Tower when James was there, contains this quaint record of the event:- " Aug 16. About 4 o'clock the King went downe to the Allome mynes, and was there an houer, and viewed them preciselie." In 1642, during the Civil War, James, Earl of Derby, at the head of an army of 5000 Eoyalists, unsuccessfully attacked Blackburn; the "greatest execution" being done, as an old chronicler oddly describes it, by a ball whicli entered a house near the church and " burst out the bottom of a frying-pan." The Earl of Derby, in 1643, entered and for a short time occupied the town with a body of Royalist troops. In 1892 the rateable value of the borough, for county purposes, was £4:68,574. Blackburn was made a parliamentary borough in 1832, under the Reform Act of that year, and it is represented by two members. By a charter dated 28th August, 1851, Blackburn became a corporate borough. Its corporation is at present composed of a mayor, 14 aldermen, and 42 councillors. Extensive drainage and other sanitary works, as well as many miscellaneous public improvements, have been carried out by this body. Blackburn Poor Law Union consists of 24 townships. On the southeast side of the borough there is the Union workhouse, a building opened in 1864, at a cost of nearly £30,000, and possessing accommodation for 700 inmates. New offices for the Union were opened in 1889. The County Court (for recovery of debts, &c.) is held every Monday, in a buildine specially erected in 1861-62, and including registrar's offices, at a cost of £3000. The jurisdiction of the court applies to or is co-extensive with the townships forming the Poor Law Union. A Court of Quarter Sessions was established here in 1886. Under the Local Government Act of 1888 Blackburn became a county borough. The textile manufacture of the place was commenced about 1650. For the weaving of a check cloth composed of linen and cotton-dyed in the warp or the woof portions so as to alternate the colours- Blackburn was first noted. The check cloth was supplanted by one of a grey description. Then calico weaving came to the fore. In 1764 James Hargreaves, a Blackburn carpenter, invented the spinning jenny, which greatly accelerated the manufacture of cotton goods here. In 1826 power looms were introduced, and tlieir appearance greatly exasperated the operatives, who sought revenge by the smashing of machinery, &c. From 1851 to 1861 there was much prosperity in the local cotton trade; the prosperity went on at a liigh rate, almost without interruption, mill and house property underwent a great development, and there was an increase in the population of the borough equal to about 37 per cent. during that particular decade. In what was known as the " cotton famine " Blackburn was very severely hit. At the worst period of the trouble-in December, 1862-more than half of the population were living on the subscriptions of the charitable and the relief administered by the Poor Law Guardians. In 1878 there was much commotion in and about the town; the local cotton operatives struck against a proposed reduction of wages, rioting followed, and in the course of it a suburban residence was burnt down, and the military had to be called out to restore order. There are in Blackburn 110 mills and sheds set apart for cotton weaving; they contain 64,000 looms, and the operatives employed in connection therewith number between 25,000 and 26,000. The spinning department embraces numerous establishments, which at the end of 1892 contained 1,335,414 spindles, and employed about 10,000 operatives. Since 1870 the spinning trade has been somewhat 178 on the decline. Blackburn is noted for its inventors and mechanics-a class who have principally manifested then-ability and enterprise in the improvement and construction of power looms. The chief mechanical trade is that of loom-making-a trade which includes or combines the making of winding, warping, and sizing machines. Railway accommodation is good and extensive. The first line made was from Blackburn to Preston; it was opened in 1846. A great development has since taken place. The Lancashire and Yorkshire, the London and North-Western, the Midland, and the Great Northern companies all put in an appearance-here. A very spacious new central station was completed in 1888. A steam tramway runs through the principal streets. A similar tramway, opened in 1881, connects Blackburn with Over Darwen, and there are also lines to Church, &c. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal-an important inland waterway-goes near the town. The public buildings are numerous and excellent. In the centre of the borough there is the Town Hall, a structure in the Italian style of architecture, which was opened in 1856, and which cost, with its fittings, about £50,000. Within this building are the council chamber, a fine assembly-room, court-rooms, offices for the various corporate departments, the police, &c. The magistrates forming the borough bench sit daily in one of the courts. The county magistrates meet every Wednesday, in a court-room separately located from this building. Not far from, and on one side of, the Town Hall, stands tho Market House-a commodious structure opened in 1848 at a cost of about £8000. Between the Market House and th& Town Hall there is the Market Square, the formation of which, along with the purchase of contiguous property for extension purposes, cost about £20,000. A first-rate market for farm produce, &c., is held every Wednesday and Saturday, and there is a great market on alternate Wednesdays, from the first Wednesday before 2nd February to Michaelmas. Fairs for horses, cattle, Yorkshire cloths, &c., are annually held on May 11 and 12, and on October 17. Horse fairs are likewise held on the second Monday in June and the first Wednesday after October 16 in each year. The Exchange is situated at the north-western angle of the Market Square; the whole of the design has not yet been carried out, but the building, so far as it has been constructed, is a fine one. In the immediate neighbourhood of the Town Hall there are, in one edifice, the Free Library and the Maseum-originally opened in 1862 in the Town Hall, and removed in 1874 to the building now occupied by them, which was specially erected for their requirements, and opened in the year last named. Here also, in addition to books, curiosities, &c., is the nidus of an art gallery. In the same street as the Free Library and Museum, and directly opposite, are the School Board's new offices, opened in 1891. There are in Blackburn 47 elementary schools- 45 under voluntary management and 2 under the Board- and in addition a day industrial school, with accommodation for 200 truant children. In the latter half of 1892 the total number of children on the rolls was 24,135, or one in five of the whole population, and the average attendance was 18,377. The expenditure of the School Board for the year ended 29 September, 1892, including interest on and repayment of loans on capital charges, for erection of school buildings, new offices, &c., was equivalent to a rate of 2'18d. in the on the rateable value of the borough. There is a School of Art and Science at Sudell Cross, and in another part of the borough-Blakey Moor-a Technical School is in course of erection. The foundation stone of this school was laid by the Prince of Wales in 1888 ; the cost of the site was upwards of £5000, and the construction of the edifice-will, it is estimated, involve an expenditure of £25,000. Public baths erected by the corporation, at a cost of £3500, were opened in 1868. The Infirmary, a noble-looking pile of masonry, in the Italian, styIe, occupies a commanding eminence on the south side of the town. It was founded by a donation from Mr William Pilkington during his mayoralty in 1856-57, and many subscriptions, &c., were added to his initial gift. The building was opened during the " cotton famine." The total cost of it, including recent additions and internal fittings, has been about £35,000; the endowment fund is £60,000; and the annual income and cost of management amount to something like £6500 each. There are three-theatres and numerous clubs-political, social, and literary- in the town. The Orange Hall was opened in 1890. Journalism is represented by two evening dailies and two weekly papers. Corporation Park is on the northern side of the borough, on a fine slope of Rividge Hill. It is about 50 acres in extent. The land was purchased in 1855 by the Corporation for £3237. The same body afterwards laid out the grounds-making beautiful walks, drives, fountains, lakes, &c.-at a cost of about £20,000, and in 1857 the park was opened. From the top of it there is a fine view of the town and the surrounding districts. Many new buildings-mansion-like residences, villas, terraces, &c.-have been erected in the neighbourhood of the park, and this side is the most attractive or fashionable residential part. Blackburn Gas Lighting Company was founded in 1819; in 1877 the whole of its buildings, plant, &c., were purchased by the Corporation. The works of the old water company, established in 1848, became by purchase the property of the Corporation in 1875. The gathering ground for water is about five miles south-east, and the supply is good. The out townships of Lower Darwcn, Livesey, Witton, and Little Har-wood are provided with water by the Corporation from the same source. The local charities are numerous, and almost all of them are of modern foundation. The nucleus of the Lancashire Independent College, at Whalley Eange, near Manchester, was formed in Blackburn. An institution designated the Independent Academy was established here in 1816, by the Congregationalists, with the object of educating young men for the ministry of their denomination, and the work of it was continued until 1843, when its professors and students were transferred to the College at Whalley Eange. A free grammar school was founded and endowed in 1514 by Thomas, Earl of Derby, in connection with his chantry in Blackburn Parish Church. This was superseded by a grammar school which Queen Elizabeth founded and endowed in 1567-a school which, with the exception of requiring a small gift by each pupil to the master at Shrovetide every year, had to be " free to all the world." The first Sir Robert Peel, who was born at Peel Fold, near Blackburn, was educated at this old establishment. Robert Bolton, a notable Puritan divine, and one of the most erudite men of his generation, was likewise a scholar here; as also was Anderton, who subsequently went to Christ's College, Cambridge, and was termed, on account of his eloquence, "The golden-mouthed Anderton." The present grammar school building is quite a modern one; it was completed, along with the headmaster's house, in 1885, the total cost being about £7000. In the borough of Blackburn there are now 67 places of worship-viz., 21 Episcopalian, 10 Congregational, 3 United Presbyterian, 2 Baptist, 9 Wesleyan Methodists, 5 United Methodist Free Church, 6 Primitive Methodist, 5 Roman Catholic, 1 Society of Friends, 1 Sweden-borgian, 1 Wesleyan Free Church, 1 Catholic Apostolic, 1 Salvationist, and 1 Undenominational. The original parish church was, it is conjectured, built about the year 596. In the reign of Stephen (1135-54) it was supplanted by a new one. This second structure was replaced by a third in or about the year 1350. And the third was superseded by the present building, which was erected in 1820-26, at a cost of £26,000. In 1875 the parish church was entirely renovated and reseated. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Manchester. According to the most reliable records, there have been from 1070 (earliest available date) up to now 34 rectors and vicars of Blackburn; the present vicar being the Rev F. A. R. Cramer-Roberts, D.D., who was instituted in 1887, and simultaneously made coadjutor-bishop of the diocese of Manchester. There is a cemetery, open to all denominations, about a mile on the north-eastern side. The cost of purchasing the land and laying out the same was about £18,000, and the ground was opened for burial purposes in 1857. All the banking, postal, telegraphic, and telephonic facilities reckoned essential to a large modern business centre exist at Blackburn.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient County Lancashire
Ecclesiastical parish Blackburn St. Mary
Hundred Blackburn
Poor Law union Blackburn

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The Registers of Blackburn 1600-1660, are available to browse online.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Blackburn from the following:


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Newspapers and Periodicals

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