Postcard from past shows Burnley’s better side!

Postcard of Burnley

Postcard of Burnley

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A number of readers like to see examples of what are known as composite postcard images of Burnley. This one will most likely be new to you.

Though the card has two half-pence stamps, bearing the image of a young George V, it is not franked, so I can’t be precise about when the image was posted. I can tell you the name of the firm that made the card – Jackson and Son (Gy) Ltd of Grimsby. The card is in their “JAY EM JAY” series, but again, I am not able to say very much about Jackson’s as this is the only card published by them presently in the Briercliffe Society Collection.

This card, though, is typical of the period in which it was published. I have written before about postcard producers and their preference for producing images that show the towns they depict in their best light. I suppose this was because pleasant images were likely to sell more easily.

However, this was not always the case. A number of local postcard makers, when aiming at a somewhat different market, did produce images of what otherwise may be regarded as a town’s meaner streets and less salubrious districts. It is good they did, even publishing images which contained regiments of mill chimneys, or examples of mine workings, but, to make these cards saleable, there were often lots of identifiable people, often children, in the image.

These days this latter would not be permitted without parental permission but do not get me wrong – the vast majority of the early postcards, featuring children at play, were entirely innocent. Local photographers, with a sideline in making postcards for sale, would encourage children to appear on their cards in the knowledge that, at a half-penny per card, there was likely to be a ready sale and a small profit to be made.

The image you have before you contains four pictures, at least two of which have appeared on other postcards. The Manchester Road scene, bottom left, was published around the time of the First World War. Unfortunately, this card is not dated either in that it does not appear to have “troubled a postman”.

On the other hand, we know when the tramlines were laid in Manchester Road (1904) and an analysis of the buildings shows the photo, on which the card is based, was taken at a time when there was only one dome at, or near, the Red Lion Street junction, see right sky line. The dome you see is that of the former Midland Bank (now HSBC) which was built, in the Queen Anne style, in 1910 and designed by T.B. Whinney of London.

The dome missing is the larger one that was part of the Savoy cinema which was constructed in 1922. Of course that impressive building is long since gone but we know, therefore, the image was taken between 1910 and 1922 and, if I thought about it a little more, I am sure I could get a more precise date.

This image is particularly interesting to me in that it shows an everyday Burnley activity, one which took place virtually every day but which was very rarely recorded photographically. You will be able to see the horse and cart turning into Grimshaw Street, something, that can’t be done these days because of the one-way system. Notice the horses are hauling a heavy load. The cart is piled high with what I would suggest is raw cotton to be spun at a Burnley mill.

We think of Burnley as a weaving town but there were spinning mills operating in Burnley up to the 1960s. Cotton spinning in Burnley was at its height in the middle years of the 19th Century. Often the mills had both spinning and weaving departments, though there were specialist spinners, some described as “heald spinners”. This was very specialist indeed, the combing of yarns, which had already been spun, into thicker, stronger yarns which could be used as part of the heald. This was a device which kept the warp threads separate in weaving and Burnley had one firm of heald knitters, as they were called, Hartley Spencer in Stanley Street.

I doubt whether the raw cotton on the back of the cart in this picture was on its way to Hartley Spencer’s but there were a number of spinning mills in Pickup Croft, near the canal and in the Finsley Gate area.

When you think of it there must have been scores of carts in Burnley used in the same way as this one appears to be. Many of the cotton spinners and manufacturers had their own carts. Others were operated by the railway company and more were run by privately owned carting companies most of whose work was in moving raw cotton, spun yarn and woven cloth from station, or canal basin, to the mills and back again for transport to wherever the finished article was to be used.

The moving of cotton by horse and cart, as described, was a very important, but largely forgotten industry in Burnley in the 19th Century. There were stables all over town, some of which have survived and perhaps the best examples, though not now used for their original purpose, are the ones at Manchester Road canal wharf and the Hargreaves Street (Harle Syke) stables which are now converted into Briercliffe Social Club.

The other image which appears on other postcards is that of the Rustic Bridge at Towneley Park. Burnley Corporation made its first purchase of lands and property at Towneley in 1902 and, at the time, the postcard was issued many of the features extant at the time of Lady O’Hagan, and the Towneleys before her, were still to be seen.

The Rustic Bridge was one of them and such a feature appeared in many private and public parks at this time. Towneley had numerous features which were incorporated into the park by the family. They served as points of interest, or conversation pieces, for those who used the park. Even for the best intentioned of walkers trees, beautiful as they are, do not hold their interest for very long for some people so features like this were constructed.

A number of Burnley’s early parks had rustic bridges – the one at Scott Park being, perhaps, the best known. A more practical bridge for walkers might have been built but a rustic bridge was a cheap and charming alternative.

Unfortunately, the two small photos are not very informative though, to the uninitiated, they helped to give the erroneous impression Burnley was more rural than was the case. The one, top left, is an image of Towneley Park from the Lime Avenue at the rear. The picture, bottom right, is of Queen’s Park on one of its paths. Notice how young the trees are in this image. The Park itself dates from 1893.