Burnley’s proud public buildings of the past

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I am not sure I am using the correct terminology when I write that “Burnley is littered with public buildings” but I feel sure you will know what I mean.

I’ve previously looked at old farms and farm buildings, as well as inns, chapels and churches. I’d like to introduce you to the wealth of our architectural heritage. Many of the buildings survive but, obviously, not all of them. A few readers have said they would have liked me to mention buildings, within the present borough, but outside Burnley. I will do this but to do so, I will have to take up photography again.

Ever since the introduction of digital photography, I have stopped taking photos, largely because I have not got used to digital methods. Don’t get me wrong. I have a digital camera but have not been happy with the results I have achieved with it, so I have ceased using cameras.

There are, and have been, so many public buildings in Burnley that I could continue the theme on Burnley’s public buildings for some time. However, this is a complete reversal of the situation as it existed when Burnley Council came into being in 1861.

At that time (1861 was a census year) Burnley had almost no public buildings even though the population of the new borough was 28,700. Difficult to believe, I think you will agree. But there was no town hall and the new council had to meet in what must have been the only suitable structure, a room in the fire station in Manchester Road.

The building I show here is on the site of the original but, by the time this photo was taken, a number of changes had taken place. The Police Fire Station, as it became in 1891, had been enlarged very considerably and parts of it had been completely rebuilt. By the 1920s and 1930s the council stated the fire service offered to the people of Burnley was one of the most up-to-date in the country.

In the days before Burnley became a borough the town had two “councils” – a Town Committee, which met at the Swan Hotel, and the Improvement Commissioners, who met at the Bull Hotel. Clearly, these were not a public buildings. In fact, when the version of the Bull you see in this picture was built, it was the property of the coal owners, the Hargreaves family of Bank Hall.

After meeting in a room at the fire station from 1862-68, the council obtained the use of a building in Elizabeth Street, the corner of which can be seen in picture three. In fact this image includes the fire station, extreme right, Elizabeth Street, right of centre (it is the street with the large notice board on the corner) and the town hall of 1888, on the left. The Elizabeth Street building had been built as a “Public Hall”, with a swimming pool, and had been used as a theatre before Burnley Council took over in 1868. It was used as the first Burnley Town Hall, 1868-88, though the term used was the “Public Offices”.

Another, and in its day, very well-known public building was the structure known, at first, as the Tram Office. It is the building, left, with the famous clock, in the fourth image. Of course, it was on St James’s Street and was part of what was known as the Tram Centre.

When omnibuses took over in 1935 the building became known as the Transport Office.

Of the buildings that have disappeared, the Victorian Market Hall, of 1870, is the most lamented.

This image shows Burnley Market Hall, probably c1930. I have chosen it because this is how many of you will remember the building, with Warburton’s Drapery and Carpet Warehouse at the rear.

The last image, in today’s selection, is Burnley Technical School of 1909, in Ormerod Road.

This image was taken not long after the building was completed, as the postcard, on which the image is based, was used in 1915.

Of course the history of Burnley College, as it later became known, is a very long and interesting one, pioneered not by the council, or by local industrialists, but by ordinary working men who understood, unlike many of their employers, the importance of education and training.