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Victorian history of Read Hall

READ Hall, the subject of the photo we publish today, is not within the borough but is near enough to us to include in this series. In fact, as demonstrated in past articles, there are a number of connections between Read and the Burnley area which almost make the publication of an article in Peek into the Past obligatory.

We will come to the hall later, but Read is less than a mile from the present borough boundary and less than a mile-and-a-half from Padiham.

In the first half of the last century Read was described as a "township containing a populous and respectable village …… cover(ing) an area of 950 acres". The use of the word "respectable" is interesting. Does it imply villages that were not so described were not respectable? It most likely means there were a number of families of, as the Edwardians would have put it, the "better sort" – those with land, in business on their own account or in senior management for others.

The village itself is the product of the second Industrial Revolution, a later advance in manufacturing which was associated with the coming of the railways, and this is confirmed by taking a brief look at the built-up part of the parish.

Here you will find a typical village built to the grid iron plan much favoured by the Victorians. There are still an assortment of businesses in Read but nothing like the number which existed in 1914. In that year Read, in population terms, was just past its peak which had reached 1,369 in 1901. In 1914 Read, in addition to its branch of the Padiham Industrial Co-operative Society, had three people in business who described themselves as shopkeepers (usually general grocers) with two more grocers, one of whom described himself as a "grocer and draper", three more drapers, three confectioners, two plumbers, two dealers and makers of shoes and clogs and numerous other small businesses.

The two mills, Read and Friendship Mills, were operated by the firm of James Kemp & Brother but the leading partner chose not to live in Read but in Sawley. There were a number of other businesses and the firm of market gardeners run by William Whalley, and situated in Whalley Road, is one about which I would like to know more.

You can't miss the site of the parish church of St John the Evangelist as its spire can be seen from almost all vantage points. The church was built in 1886 as a chapel-of-ease to the parish church in Whalley and this should remind us of the name, Read-in-Whalley, by which the township was known in the past.

St John's was designed in the Early English style by the Accrington architect Henry Ross but its site is interesting because it predates just about all the houses nearest to it. The reason for this is that the church was intended to serve not only the growing village of Read but also those who lived in Read Hall and its park and the older hamlets like Turner's Fold.

The Church of England also invested in a school which was opened in 1888/9 and, not to be out be outdone, Nonconformists, in this case Congregationalists, also built a school at the same time. This latter also served as a chapel.

However, the most impressive building by far in Read is the hall. As is often the case the building which is seen today is not the original structure which I have long since thought is a great pity. This is nothing to do with the present building which is a very fine example of its type but the old hall was, for centuries, the home of the Nowell family, members of which have contributed much to our local and national history.

The most well known, at least locally, is Roger Nowell, who held the estate in the 17th Century. However, it is likely his name would have been forgotten had he not been in office as a magistrate at the time of the Lancashire Witches in 1612. It was Roger who sent the unfortunate women of Pendleside to Lancaster for trial and eventual execution and, in ordering this, he inadvertently set up a significant tourist trail which, these days, many people follow in increasing numbers.

The most important of the Nowells was Alexander, who was one of the great English theologians of the Elizabethan Era. He was someone with whom, had we been alive at the same time, I feel sure I would certainly have disagreed. Now is not the time to go into the whys and wherefores but there is something for which Alexander Nowell should have all our gratitude. He was the inventor of bottled beer, a lighter effervescent drink and much more palatable than beers had been before.

I have written about this "invention" in my column in the past. However, a better word would be "discovery" as Alexander came across his achievement by accident while fishing, probably when a youth on an expedition on Sabden Brook, on his father's estate. Isaac Walton describes part of the story in the original of his famous "Complete Angler".

Alexander would not have known the present Read Hall. It dates from 1818/25 and was designed by the architect George Webster of Kendal when he was only 21. The commission was for John Fort who was a wealthy partner in a Sabden calico printing firm.

The present building might have swept away the historic hall but the replacement is perhaps not as appreciated as much as it should be. The building is very fine on the outside, less so inside, but almost the whole of the park, though in private hands, has survived, its Home Farm and Lodge (both by Webster) still in use today. The buildings of Home Farm, constructed as a "model farm", were converted into living accommodation late last century.

I should end by recommending you take the trouble to visit Read. Have a good look around noting the contrasts between the older traditional parts of the parish, the Victorian village with its more recent properties close to it and Read Hall and its estate. There are plenty of paths to follow – and all of them on your doorstep.

 
 
 

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