Burnley's famous brewers of yesteryear

THE Nelson Hotel is the name of the pub in this photo, which was taken more than 100 years ago in Trafalgar Street, Burnley.

If you are familiar with the same area these days, you will know that not all that much has changed, with the notable exception of the name of the pub.

We know it now as the Ministry of Ales which has its own Moonstone micro brewery, one of two brewers which still operate in Burnley. Not many towns the size of Burnley can claim to have two breweries – both of which produce exceptional beers.

I got to thinking about Burnley's former distinctiveness in the food and drink line when I attended a meeting of Burnley Tourism Group a few days ago.

The forthcoming "Lancashire Food & Drink Guide" was discussed and I learned that only one Burnley restaurant is registered with that body.

I also recall that very few Burnley businesses bothered to stage an event in the same promotion last year, in my opinion a sad reflection on the town.

It was not only the brewing of beer (the town once had four large breweries and several smaller ones) which made Burnley distinctive in the past.

We also had a number of mineral water manufacturers, five as recently as 1953. They comprised Cowburns' in Abinger Street; V. Martin Ltd, Parliament Street; Moorhouses (now the famous brewers of beers, but then only suppliers to the brewery trade and makers of the non-alcoholic drinks "Old Kent", "Old Peter" and "Old Boss"); Smith & Thomas in Barden Lane and J. Whewell & Son whose premises were at Hill Top. The latter were the makers of "St Ora" which I still dream about.

Moorhouses are still in the building which they have occupied for more than 100 years and, if you are in Accrington Road over the next few weeks, you will notice the firm has started its 4.2m. expansion scheme. This is great news for an old established Burnley firm, and for the town as well but, sadly, little remains of any of the other firms I have mentioned.

The same can be said of the scores of confectioners which once operated in Burnley. There were 293 of them in 1953, mostly corner shops which baked bread, made pies and cakes though some of them were much larger. None were on the same scale as the present Warburton's and others made toffee like Thomas Nutter Ltd of the Steam Confectionary Works in Bread Street in town.

There was even a chocolate manufacturer, B.C. Murch & Co. (1938) Ltd, of Yatefield Mill in Cog Lane. I had never associated Burnley with Bournville until that firm, which must have been in business for a number of years, came to light. If anyone knows anything about Murch's I would be pleased to hear about it.

In 1953 there were 25 cooked meat stores many of them preparing their own meats for sale in small shops attached to the business but others, including Goodier's in Martin Street, were larger. I don't recall going to many cooked meat shops as mum used to make her own. However, when it came to ice cream it was a different matter. There were six ice cream makers in 1953 and I know for a fact I was a regular customer of three of them – Cece's, Gudgeon's and Ruth's ices. When I was a boy I used to think Tony Cece (I went to school with him) was the most fortunate boy in town!

Of course there were too many farmers, most of them egg or milk producers, to enumerate. There were also a number of milk dealers and dairymen – 17 in 1953 – but some of these, like the Craven Creamery Co. Ltd, at 15-17 Grimshaw Street, got their milk from out of town. I don't think any of them made cheese or butter in Burnley and it could be that my grandfather was the last person to make cheese (and then only for his own consumption) here.

Many people associate Burnley, as with other Northern towns, with tripe dressers and makers of black puddings of which there were 10 in 1953.

By that date the combined industry was very much in decline but some of the larger firms, like Ralph Mason Ltd, then part of United Cattle Products Ltd, still survived. I remember their very good restaurant, which was at 26 St James' Street, not because of the tripe (which I did not like) but because of the silver service which was the norm there.

A picture of local firms and local people making local food for their fellow citizens was the norm only half-a-century or so ago, but, to a large extent, we have lost the connection between local producers and the local market. I know things are not quite as bad as that. We still do have a few local confectionary firms and one of them still made a Burnley delicacy until recently though I have not seen it in the shops lately.

I refer to fig slice which was sweet pastry containing fig jam. When at university I mentioned I liked a piece of fig slice and was faced by blank stares. My friends had not heard of the fig slice. They did not realise such things existed, so I resolved to take a few back with me from a vacation at home and I tried to convert my friends, who came from all over the country (one was a Canadian), to Burnley fig slice.

It was without success but I discovered that, as with Benedictine, Burnley once consumed most of the fig jam imported into the country!

To get back to the picture. The Nelson Hotel was once owned by the Old Brewery which was a Burnley firm, also known as John Hargreaves & Co. Ltd. The brewery was situated off Bridge Street, the site now under the modern shopping centre. Its beers were very distinctive, like nothing else produced in Burnley, and once a drinker was used to Old Brewery beers they would not go to a Massey or a Grimshaw's house.

I won't go into detail about what else can be seen in today's picture as you can see a much of it by visiting Trafalgar Street yourself, but perhaps I should point out the advertising hoarding on the left of the picture. Burnley was once cursed by a large number of similar hoardings but this once was different in that it did not hide an area which had been demolished and was not to be developed for years.

Extreme left, is a Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway sign. This is confirmed by the bottom two lines which refer to (Hunt's) Bank and (Manche)ster, the location of the company offices. The sign was informing those who might be interested that the land behind the hoarding was "To Be Let". Eventually, the Olympia Skating Rink was built there. It was opened by 1909 and on December 5th, 1910, Herbert Henry Asquith, the Prime Minister, came to town and addressed 11,000 people at the rink in support of the Oxford brewer Philip Morrell who was elected to represent Burnley in Parliament in that year.