PEEK INTO PAST: The history of Heasandford

Heasandford Mill, one of the first to have electric drive for its looms.
Heasandford Mill, one of the first to have electric drive for its looms.

LAST week we started what I thought would be a “three parter” on the Brun Valley Forest Park which is now being developed to the east of Burnley. This has grown into a four-part series but, as you will know, the new park will include the established Queen’s, Thompson and Bank Hall parks but it will also encompass parts of Heasandford, Extwistle and Rowley.

In the first article I attempted to give you a flavour of the Extwistle area. Today we are going to look at Heasandford but I ought to point out that parts of Heasandford are already included in Bank Hall Park, Burnley’s newest park.

Peek In'Pheasantford Cottage' became one of the victims of the expansion of Bank Hall Collieryto The Past

Peek In'Pheasantford Cottage' became one of the victims of the expansion of Bank Hall Collieryto The Past

Heasandford is one of the traditional names by which parts of what is now Burnley were once known. Historically, Heasandford was in Briercliffe in the same way that Walshaw, Cockden and Pighole are today. However, the story of Heasandford is complicated and it is not only its name which is the source of debate.

Let us start with the name. The earliest spelling we are sure of is in a document of 1496. Before this, the area is mentioned but not directly by name. We will come to this later. The 1496 spelling is taken to be “Fezandforth” and this has been used to connect the area with the pheasant, the game bird. There is a street nearby called Pheasantford Street but it is unlikely this is the origin of the place name.

This early spelling gives us enough information to work out what it might have been which inspired it. The first syllable is a corruption of “hey”, an enclosure, and this, as we shall see, is what the first mention of the area refers to even though the name itself is not given.

The second syllable “sand” is significant because there were a number of “sand” names in this area in years gone by. The only one which survives is “Sandholme” which is remembered in the name of the aqueduct which carries the Leeds & Liverpool Canal over the old mineral railway near Thompson Park. Originally, the name probably referred to a piece of land raised above the level of local property and which contained building sand. “Sandholme” means “sandy island”. There was a Sand Hall Green in this area in 1400.

The river Brun at Heasandford. This photograph is about 100 years old. The picture looks in the direction of Netherwood, the farm buildings in the middle distance. The barn on the horizon is at High Houghton.

The river Brun at Heasandford. This photograph is about 100 years old. The picture looks in the direction of Netherwood, the farm buildings in the middle distance. The barn on the horizon is at High Houghton.

“Feysandforth” concludes with a syllable which usually refers to a ford, a point where a river or steam can be crossed but where there is no bridge. The river Brun is very prominent in this part of town and it is known that at the site of the present Heasandford road bridge there was once a ford. The name means, therefore, the “enclosure by the sandy ford”. Other early spellings include Haysandforth, 1500, and Fezandforthe in 1596, but they all mean essentially the same.

I referred to an enclosure and there is a reference to such a thing at Heasandford in the 13th Century. In those days much of the Burnley area was given over for hunting and was kept for the de Lacy family who were Lords of Clitheroe. In 1240 a deed indicates that, in the Heasandford and Mustyhaulgh area, (these were not named but it clear the document refers to them) the killing of deer was reserved to the de Lacy family. This may have been the enclosure that the name Heasandford indicates.

Alternatively, there is another potential explanation and this refers to Oliver de Stansfield who had acted, in the service of the de Lacy family, as Constable of Pontefract, as receiver of the honor of Clitheroe and as Steward to Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln. Oliver was a knight and it is thought he came from Todmorden where the names of the townships in which Todmorden stands are Stansfield and Langfield.

Oliver, and Henry de Lacy, were contemporaries of Edward I at a time when the king was involved in wars in Scotland and Wales. However, it appears Oliver was rewarded, towards the end of the 13th Century, and after years of service to the de Lacys, with the gift of Heasandford and Worsthorne. Land had, therefore, been separated from the larger estate – or enclosed – and this may be the origin of the place name.

The first overlookers at Heasandford Mill

The first overlookers at Heasandford Mill

By Earl Henry’s action Worsthorne was raised to the status of a manor but, technically, Heasandford House, its Manor House, was not within the manor as it was not excluded from Briercliffe. In other words, Oliver’s estate covered land in both Briercliffe and Worsthorne but all of it was administered from Briercliffe, which was itself not a manor.

Oliver had the right to all the rents and services of the inhabitants of Worsthorne, as would any other Lord of the Manor, and for this he paid 2d a year to the de Lacy family. It sounds like a good bargain to me but it is worth noting he was paying rent, a small one it is sure and one which might reflect the gratitude of his de Lacy masters for the service Oliver gave them. Note also that Oliver had not been given Heasandford or Worsthorne out right.

It is thought Oliver built the original Heasandford House and though there are some parts of the building that are very old it is likely the property was rebuilt, using some of the original timber, in the 16th Century, and rebuilt again in the 18th Century. Documents from the Haydock family, who succeeded the Stansfields, indicate what the building was like in the 17th Century but few, if any, of the features described then have survived to the present day.

Heasandford House remains an interesting property but it is clear many of its later owners did not have the status or wealth of Oliver de Stansfield who founded a Chantry Chapel at St Peter’s Church, Burnley. Today, this part of the church is known as the Scarlett Chapel, after another significant military figure, and, when you next visit St Peter’s, look in the Chapel for what is said to be Oliver’s tombstone.

As I have said, nothing is straight forward with regard to Heasandford and even this tombstone, if it is Oliver’s, is odd in that it contains the signs (a sword) of a military man and a cross which Burnley’s historian says may indicate Oliver was once in Holy Orders. I am not sure I agree with Mr Bennett on this point as the usual sign, on a medieval tombstone, for a priest is an incised chalice.

What is clear is that of the properties in this part of Burnley, Heasandford House was the principal. The other ones we have mentioned are Mustyhaulgh, which, old as is the site, has only ever been a farm, and Sand Hall, a property about which we know very little. Do not, however, get the idea that because it was known as a hall that the building was large and impressive. Hall houses are originally properties which conformed to a particular design – they could be large, like Towneley, or very small, like Hufling Hall.

The Heasandford area must have been very attractive in the past. It had the rushing waters of the Brun, its lovely ford and very good tree cover. Eventually other houses came to join Heasandford House, but the rural idyll was not to last for long. The river is the initial reason for the changes that have taken place.

At the ford, an early water powered mill was constructed. The water to drive its wheel came from the waters of the River Don just before it joined the Brun. Perhaps I ought to explain that though the Don still joins the Brun it was the case that, in the past, Swinden Water joined the Don rather than the Brun. It might be a bit confusing, but when, some years ago, the county council and the rivers authority, did some pioneering work on the watercourses here, to get rid of pollution from old coal workings at Rowley Colliery, they changed the flow of the Brun so it is joined by Swinden Water before it takes in the Don. This was not the case before very extensive work was undertaken.

Anyhow, the water, for the early mill, flows into a pond on what is now Netherwood Road before it gets to Heasandford House where a race was constructed behind the house. The water was then delivered to the mill wheel some distance away.

This was just about the first industrial enterprise in the area and I have not seen an image of the building. I know, though, that the owners of the original Heasandford Mill, the Whitham family, went on to operate Finsley Mill and Plumbe Street Shed in Burnley. You will be familiar with the present Heasandford Mill, the red brick building occupied by Althams, who built the mill when they were also involved in cotton textiles, but this building dates only from 1905.

It was the extractive industries which brought about the biggest changes in Heasandford. There were two great coal mines in the district. The one at Rowley we have already mentioned but the other was Burnley’s biggest, Bank Hall Colliery, now the site of Bank Hall Park. In addition, the Heasandford area contains some very valuable clays used in the making of bricks by the Heasandford Brick & Lime Company which had premises on the canal bank near the present Queen Victoria Inn. Incidentally, the clays were extracted at the site now occupied by the Burnley Youth Theatre and the quarry there, when it was in operation, was one of the most famous in the country, not for the clays, which it produced in thousands of tons, but for the geology of the site.

As you can see Heasandford has an interesting history. There is considerably more to the area than I can fit in one article, so we will be looking at Heasandford again next week.

By Roger Frost