NOSTALGIA: Burnley’s property boom of the 16th Century

Peek into the Past 4
Peek into the Past 4

THE history of housing in Burnley in the 16th Century saw a period in which our town saw a good deal of growth.

The Burnley of the mid-15th Century had something like 650 to 700 inhabitants but, a century later, that figure had grown to about 1,200. The area to which we are going to refer contains the “Top o’ th’ Town” (the land around St Peter’s Church and the centre of Burnley Township); part of the “Bottom o’ th’ Town” (near what is now Sandygate); the area which, until recently, was served by Bridge Street (where the ancient corn mill was situated); Bankhouse, to the west of this, and the area around the site of Fulledge House on the present Todmorden Road.

Peek into the Past 2

Peek into the Past 2

Of course, the most built-up part of the township was dominated by St Peter’s Church. The church itself had changed dramatically as it now had a large western tower. We also know the building had been enlarged internally in the 1530s and it is likely the whole of the structure was of local sandstone.

The market was still close to the churchyard and it is likely bargains were still struck close to and, perhaps, inside the church. This, however, is likely to have happened less frequently than in the past. We must not forget it was not only the physical environment that was changing.

The 16th Century was one of the most dramatic periods in our history. The most important of these, as it had such an effect at the time (and since, for that matter) was the Reformation when age-old attitudes to the Church were transformed.

This can be seen in a development in the churchyard which took place in 1520. John del Folds (otherwise del Foldys), was a chantry priest at St Peter’s. He ordered that, on his death, a cross be erected to the south of the church. John would have died safe in the knowledge the worshippers, whom he had served well, would continue to support the Church which had been his life. The Reformation ensured that, though Burnley people would still attend St Peter’s in great numbers, their loyalty to Rome would not go unchallenged.

Peek into the Past 1

Peek into the Past 1

John could not have known of the dramatic changes about to take place not only in his own country but throughout Europe. He might have had some idea Burnley itself was not going to be the same place to which he, throughout his life, had become accustomed. Some of the changes had, as we might say, been flagged up for some time.

When I was at university in Manchester I was often mocked because I claimed I could walk around parts of the city and imagine, with considerable accuracy, what they were like in Elizabethan times. It is possible to do the same for Burnley. Part of the street pattern with which we are familiar had long since been established by this time. The Church Street of the 16th Century followed the same route as it does today though it was much less wide and constructed much more crudely.

There was also a road which followed the route (in part only) of the present Ormerod Road though it was not known by that name. In the 16th Century this road, which led to some of Burnley’s ploughed land, was known as Godley Lane and it followed the course of a small stream, the Crosslach, which rose in present day Thompson’s Park and flowed to join the Brun just above the church.

It seems that, near here, there was a ford which took the road to the other side of the river. Close by, there was Burnley Weir, still in situ today, which was part of the system which delivered reliable supplies of water to drive the great wheel at the corn mill hundreds of yards lower down the Brun.

Peek into the Past 3

Peek into the Past 3

The road then headed in the direction of Bank Hall, above which there was a split, the more important route following the present Colne Road for some distance until it turned to the north and east along what became Hebrew Road to Duke Bar where the road followed Briercliffe Road to what is now Lane Head.

The less significant of the roads to the east of Burnley, left the main line of the highway, a term that was to come into general use in the 16th Century, just above the Bank Hall estate. It headed off in a north westerly direction passing through the area we now know as Stoneyholme, via Danes House and Old Hall, to the Calder at Royle. Church Street followed the Brun to the south, and then to the west, following the line of what is now St James’s Street to the Calder near Sandygate. We do not know what this part of the road was called in those days but it had at least one important junction at what became Bridge Street. I have already mentioned the reason for this – the corn mill which was accessed from a small bridge over the Brun. There may have been a route above the mill. In time this would become Mill Street.

Sandygate was the only route out of Burnley to the west. It gave access to the road to the south, which followed the route of Cog Lane; another to the west, which headed to Blackburn and Preston, and a third, to the north, which passed close to the ancient, but, by the early 16th Century, abandoned Manor House at Ightenhill. This road headed towards the Forest of Pendle, crossing the Calder before it reached Higham, which had inherited some of the functions formerly carried out at the Manor House. From Higham the road leads to Clitheroe.

For much of their distance these roads passed though fields, over open land and through woods. Occasionally, they would serve detached farms and a few crudely built cottages and there would have been rights of way to these remote buildings.

Let us get back to the area near the church and the reconstruction of this community.

Fortunately, there are a number of photos and artist’s impressions of what the area may have looked like. They are based not on archaeological research but the detailed study of surviving historical records mainly by Burnley’s historian, Walter Bennett.

The first is a drawing by John Lowe. It appears in his book, simply entitled “Burnley”, and shows the centre of Burnley a little after the period referred to here.

The fact which tells us this is the case is the inclusion of Burnley Bridge which you can see between the two buildings at the top, left in the picture. The earliest reference I have to this bridge is from the mid-17th Century when it was in need of repair, but I cannot tell you when it was built, though I suspect it did not exist in the early 16th Century.

The rest of the illustration shows the market cross, the stocks and what is thought to have been the whipping post, above and right of the middle of the picture. What by this time was the Sparrow Hawk, otherwise the Towneley Arms, is to the right of the cross and the Market House is to the left of the cross.

In the foreground you can see, to the left, a timber building surviving from earlier times, with a windowless turf house, on the right. These inclusions remind us the change to largely stone buildings did not take place overnight. It took time and, in fact, the older of the thatched buildings, in this part of town, were not demolished until 1893!

I have also included a drawing of the rear of the Market House together with a photo of that building, taken from the front, as it was about 1880. Soon after, this building was demolished. To the right, in the photo, there is the Sparrow Hawk but this picture has been treated to remove the house building then taking place in Ormerod Road when the picture was taken circa 1890.

The fourth picture is a reconstruction of Danes House as it would have been in the 17th Century. There was a building on this site in medieval times but I suspect that building was constructed of timber and had a thatched roof. This building is clearly of stone and, from the evidence of its design, could be no earlier that 1590.

Unfortunately, Danes House, which stood off the present Colne Road, some distance to the north of the canal bridge, was demolished in 1886. However, it is indicative of the first of Burnley’s stone-built domestic properties.

Houses of this kind were intended for wealthier families and, in the case of Danes House, it was the family of John del Folds, the chantry priest, who were the builders. Other houses of the same era include, for the wealthiest landowners, properties like Extwistle Hall (c1580), Royle (c1600) and Gawthorpe (c1600). Lesser, but still quite well off, families built Hurstwood (1579), Foulds House, Briercliffe (1598), Barcroft (1614), Worsthorne Old Hall (1638) and Burwains (1642).

We should, however, ask ourselves why it was that, at this time, people were able to build themselves stone houses? The building of such properties was not “new technology”. After all, these buildings are quite crude compared to the stone building achievements of the ecclesiastical authorities of the Middle Ages.

The answer is to do with increasing prosperity which was brought by a considerable growth in the wool industry and in the beginnings of the exploitation of the natural resources of our area.

The resultant prosperity was the reason for the steady growth in the population of Burnley we have already noted and this can also be seen in the buildings which existed near St Peter’s in the second half of the 16th Century. In about 1550 there is a reference to “the house near the cross” occupied by a Richard Wilson. He is remembered as he had fallen foul of local regulations, brewing ale, which had not met expected standards, and had allowed some of his pigs to uproot and trample his neighbours’ grass. His property was to become the Sparrow Hawk after John Towneley of Towneley bought it in 1586.

Next door to the inn there was the town smithy with its cottage. Behind the cottage there was the home of Richard, of Colne, which had been built a century before. This is likely to have been a timber dwelling and there were more such buildings on what is now Dawson Square.

However, also near the Market House, there was a stone house occupied by Alice Taylor and, note this, “five shoppes”. These were a mixture of dwellings, shops and workshops. Our ancestors were not exactly shopaholics but Burnley was entering more modern times.