HISTORY: Padiham Town Hall ‘most important 20th Century building in borough’

Peek into the Past 740
Peek into the Past 740

“PEEK into the Past” this week has been written to inform readers about two developments concerning our local heritage. The first is of a new, free publication on Burnley in the Second World War and the second is of details of events to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the opening of Padiham Town Hall by the Rt Hon. Herbert Morrison in February, 1938.

The publication is the result of Burnley Council’s Heritage Lottery funded “Back to the Future” Project which you can find out more about if you visit b2tfprojectblog.co.uk where you will find lots of information about what has been, so far as I can see, the most successful project of its kind ever carried out in Burnley.

Peek into the Past 740

Peek into the Past 740

All of those who have been involved - from the enthusiastic children of four local primary schools to the elderly ladies and gentlemen who have put their long memories at the children’s disposal – have much to be proud of. They, working with officers of Burnley Council, have held numerous events across town, and in Padiham. These include a Mini Olympics, a Library Reminiscent Afternoon, Inter-generational Dances, Victory Parties and final spectacular Showcase & Theatre Production.

There will be a continuing legacy from the project which not only includes the website, already mentioned, but a Victory Garden at Howard Street, a DVD, oral history recordings which will go to the NW Sound Archive, a mural and scrap book.

However, it is my recommendation you get your hands on the wartime trail published by the Back to the Future Project. It is entitled “War Time Trail: A Historical Walk in Burnley’s WWII Landscape” and is published, free of charge, by Burnley Council. The publication comes in the form of a large beautifully designed leaflet which you will be able to obtain at council offices and facilities and at branches of the County Library.

I have to declare an interest here as I am the principle writer of the publication. When invited to be involved, I did not think that what I had been asked to do could be done. So much had been lost, in the past 70 or so years, that I felt walks recalling the war years in Burnley, and its surrounding countryside, would be difficult to make work.

After quite a lot of thinking, and no little research, I realised something was possible and I have to say I have thoroughly enjoyed being involved. In addition, as I told my colleagues, their contributions have made the leaflet much better than it would have been had its writing been left to me alone. This – as I am sure you will agree when you get your copy – is not a case of “too many cooks spoiling the broth”. Quite, the opposite.

In the leaflet, you can find out about the Burnley theatre which was the wartime home of the London Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells, the famous bomb incident in Thompson’s Park, Burnley’s mock airfields and the German attack on one of them.

There is much more to tell – the remaining bomb shelters, an extant machine gun post and the training grounds used by Burnley’s version of Dad’s Army. We even include the odd humorous incident. We can laugh at them now but they were pretty serious at the time. All this is there and you can visit the sites on foot or by car but, be warned, the first walk is 8.5 miles in length and the other, only slightly shorter at 7.7 miles. It is something to do when (and if!) the weather improves.

The project was brilliantly managed by Burnley Council’s Healthy Lifestyles team which is led by Linda Searle who has done a great job. However, I suspect Linda will be pleased give the credit for the success of the project to Alexis Walker who has been its co-ordinator. Alexis has done a remarkable job and we are all in her debt.

Padiham Town Hall

It is 75 years since Padiham Town Hall was opened and, to mark the event, Coun. Bob Clark, former Mayor of Padiham and a leading light in the town’s Archive Group, is to lead three tours of the building. The first are on Tuesday, February 26th, at 1pm and 7pm., and the third is to take place at 10am on Saturday, March 2nd. There are to be displays, in the Town Hall, from the Archive Group, which will also be open on these days and refreshments will be available in the Town Hall.

Padiham Library, which occupies part of the Town Hall, will have displays from 10am to 1-30pm on the Tuesday. The library is normally closed on a Tuesday but it will be opened specially for the 75th anniversary event.

Everyone with an interest in the history of Padiham is invited to attend the guided tours and displays which will be first rate, if the Annual Archive Exhibitions, which are held in Padiham Town Hall, are anything to go by. Mr Clark knows his Padiham history so the tour will be very informative.

Before 1974 Padiham was controlled by an Urban District Council which was formed in 1894. This succeeded the Padiham & Hapton Local Board which had been set up in 1873.

Padiham was unlike Burnley in that it was a second-tier authority. The county council provided a number of the larger services but Padiham still had responsibility for some leisure facilities, sanitary arrangements, the provision of gas, a number of health issues and some engineering services.

That does not sound all that much but when one considers Padiham had powers in housing, electricity generation, highways, water supply, parks, allotments, a market, a fire brigade and the cemetery, it can be seen that few Padiham people would be unaffected by the activities of its council.

In fact, Padiham Council had a number of very considerable successes to its credit. The provision of the swimming pool is one of them but, to my mind, the pinnacle of Padiham UDC’s achievement must be the Town Hall of 1938.

There are few places of the stature, in local government terms, of Padiham which managed to construct a Town Hall as impressive as the one which is 75 years old this month. When the council was formed it occupied the decidedly unimpressive Local Board Offices in Mill Street, now a well known club, and though that building was extended, it was never satisfactory.

Plans were discussed for a replacement on more than one occasion but it was not until 1933 that officers of the council were asked to consider building a facility which would meet a number of outstanding needs – slipper baths, public hall, council offices and lavatories.

In January 1934 the well-known architects Bradshaw, Gass & Hope were selected for the project. They were a good choice and the building we see today was their work.

Some time ago, Burnley Civic Trust was asked if it would host a visit by the Twentieth Century Society to the present borough. The society made it clear the building in which they were particularly interested was Padiham Town Hall and were very pleased the then town clerk opened the building for them to see.

Members of the society were of the opinion that Padiham Town Hall is the most important 20th Century building in Burnley. Who is to doubt their word?