Horse racing history of Turf Moor

Turf Moor Garage as it was in 1957. Belvedere Road and the Cricket Field can be seen, right.

Turf Moor Garage as it was in 1957. Belvedere Road and the Cricket Field can be seen, right.

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Regular readers of this column will recall I indicated, some time ago, I would be writing occasional articles about some of the more important of the Burnley streets and highways.

We have already looked at Colne Road and St James’s Street, among others, but today it is the turn of Belvedere Road, one of Burnley’s newer highways.

I think that, in this instance, we should start with the word itself. “Belvedere” comes from the Italian and French and means “bel” (beautiful) and “vedere” (to see). The word means “a fine, or more than that, a beautiful view” but the Italian implies a tower built to command a fine view, rather than the view itself.

I have been thinking about the location of our Belvedere Road, here in Burnley, and, so far as I can ascertain, there has never been such a feature at this location, unless, of course, one counts the upper parts of the Cricket Field Stand at Turf Moor. That said, we should remind ourselves this structure was designed so spectators could look in the opposite direction i.e. at what generations of Burnley FC players were achieving on their famous home ground. To some of us this is clearly more important than speculation about why this particular name was chosen for this highway.

If early maps of Burnley are consulted, there is no mention of a Belvedere Road, though there was an unnamed track in that area by the middle years of the 19th Century. It is not clear, but it might have given access to Ridge Bottom Farm which was set back from the early Belvedere Road, opposite Thurston Street.

There were roads in this area, the main one, and the oldest, being what is now Yorkshire Street, Harry Potts Way and Brunshaw Road. Of course, this highway has been known by other names – Eastgate, for instance, was the name given to the part of Yorkshire Street nearest the Culvert. As you will know, Harry Potts Way is a recent, and much deserved, acknowledgement of the achievement of the former Burnley FC manager who, against all the odds, brought the Football League Championship to Burnley in 1960.

The whole length of this road became a turnpike and one of the Trust’s milestones can be seen built into the brick wall belonging to the cricket ground on what is now Harry Potts Way. Incidentally, this stone was restored by Burnley Civic Trust some years ago. The Trust’s milestones can be traced to Cliviger and towards Todmorden and, when you follow them, you are following the route of the old turnpike.

It might interest you to know the Todmorden Road, which commences opposite Belvedere Road, is only a few years older that its neighbour. This road has had other names as well, Burnley Wood Road and Fulledge Road to name but two.

I have a large scale map of Belvedere Road as it was in 1912. It runs up the length of the cricket field but comes to a sudden stop opposite Thurston Street. The houses of the first two rows, on the left of Belvedere Road, had been built as have the properties in Leyland Road. Park Shed is also shown on the map and it had been completed in 1907 by James Foulds and Sharp Thornber, two cotton manufacturers.

I remember this, one of Burnley’s most impressive mills, when it was occupied by Qualitex. This firm had originated in Colne and was a pioneer in the making of artificial silks. To me, it represented the future of the Burnley textile industry and I was saddened when the firm became the victim of some asset stripping when ICI and Courtaulds became involved. The mill closed down with the loss of hundreds of jobs.

Jack Nadin, in his book “Burnley Cotton Mills”, makes the point that some are of the opinion Park Shed was the last to be built in Burnley. Jack was wise to put the point he was making in that way as there are several mills in Burnley built after 1907, perhaps the best known being Ferndale Mill which was on what is now Eastern Avenue. It dated from 1912, the same year in which Kings Mill, Harle Syke, was built. Unlike the others mentioned so far, this latter mill is still standing, though it is not now used for weaving cotton.

The two rows of houses in Belvedere Road in 1912 were better that those constructed between them and the canal. The majority of the properties in Hunslet Street, Hobart Street, Sandhurst Street, Leyland Road, and some of those in Albert Street, were built as typical Burnley “two up, two downs”. They were intended for cotton workers and, in addition to Park Shed, there is Central Mill which was originally a cotton mill built in 1888.

Getting back to Belvedere Road, even though it is a relatively recent highway, it has an interesting history. As indicated, the north side of the road was the first to be developed in a systematic way. That is not to say the land to the south of the early road was undeveloped. This area was the lower part of the Ridge. Ridge Bottom Farm (was this also known as Lower Ridge?) has already been mentioned but, above that, in the direction of Rowley, there were other properties with “Ridge” in their names. These include, Higher Ridge Farm, which was opposite Ridge Row; Ridge Farm, to the north west of Ridge Row and Ridge Cottage, even further to the north west. All of this area was once known as Burnley Ridge.

However, we know much of the area, these days, as Turf Moor, the same name as the football and cricket grounds. Of them, the oldest is the cricket ground, which was there in the early 1840s. The football ground is something of an interloper, by comparison, as it did not arrive on the scene until 1883. However, before either cricket or football were played here Turf Moor was the site of one of Burnley’s three horse racing tracks.

It is from horse racing that the name “Turf” Moor derives. Turf Moor, therefore, is one of the several football grounds that takes its name from a sport no longer played there. This applied to Derby County’s former ground, the Baseball Ground, and to Wrexham’s ground, the Racecourse.

At the crossroads, where Belvedere Road begins, there used to be some old property which the cricket club once used. They were stone built cottages which look as it they may have been built in the later 17th Century. Of course they are long gone, but it was in front of them that Burnley Horse Fair was held and the first 70, or so, yards of Belvedere Road shares something in common with part of Temple Street in that they were intended for things other than roads when first in use.

Temple Street, which is nearby, was designed to be a rope walk (a place where rope was twisted). The first few yards of Belvedere Road was a place where horses were “run” when they were up for sale. I have always assumed the horse racing and horse sales were not really connected but, if they were, it could be that Burnley might have had its own Newmarket-type sales!

To be honest, I think it unlikely as the horse racing was connected to the military. Burnley, after the riots of 1817, became a barracks town. Military activities, mostly training, was organised on part of Pickup Croft (now the site of the bus station) and at Turf Moor. The latter was where the officers stationed in Burnley, held horse racing competitions between themselves. This became more organised and a proper, if a little primitive, horse racing track, with (if we are to believe a contemporary poster which can be seen at Towneley) its own stands, existed on the site of what are now the cricket and football fields.

The map of 1912 shows the pavilion as being on the east side of the cricket ground and where that facility now is, is shown as a bowling green which had its own little pavilion. The football ground was very small at this time. There were stands on the east and west sides of the ground but there was only open accommodation on the Cricket Field and Bee Hole Ends. At the latter, the Bee Hole Colliery was still in operation, accessed from a narrow strip of land adjacent to the football ground.

We will revisit this part of town when I will tell you the very interesting story of how it was that Belvedere Road was extended to Queen Victoria Road. I can hear a few of you saying “it can’t be all that interesting”, but, let me assure you it is, and you won’t be disappointed.