ROGER FROST: Burnley from above - St James’s Street

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Last year I published a series of aerial photographs of Burnley. The individual photographs were taken from a panoramic view of Burnley centre, dating from the middle years of last century, which I had divided up into four images and described in four articles which, from the comments I received, many readers enjoyed.

Today, we start another series of pictures which are taken from another very large photograph taken at the same time and by the same photographer.

The large picture shows Burnley south of St James’s Street though parts of the town centre north of the street can also be seen. Today I have chosen to start with the top right hand corner of the large picture and that section of it is reproduced for you. It shows St James’s Street running the length of the photograph with Manchester Road running from a place where the Calder passes under Manchester Road that highway’s junction with St James’s Street in the top half of the picture.

The images you are going to see are of Burnley at a most interesting time in its history. I nearly wrote “in its development” but some would argue that this word is not appropriate as since those days a number of things have happened to the townscape of Burnley that are not much appreciated.

There is very little new build in the photograph we publish today. However, there is one, of two such buildings which can be seen, above the middle and to the right of the picture, a building still under construction when the photograph was taken.

This helps us to date the photograph because building work, on this structure, started in 1959 and was not completed until 1961. Today, the building, which is situated at the corner of Parker Lane and Red Lion Street, is used as Burnley Borough Council’s Contact Centre but it was built as the head office of the Borough Building Society.

Top ten

Many of you will remember that Burnley once had two permanent building societies. The Burnley Building Society was by far the larger, and its offices can be seen just below the Borough’s. At one time the Burnley was in the top 10 of the national building societies and it was described as “one of Britain’s great building societies”. This was in 1977, in the days when the movement was loyal to its mutual origins. The Burnley took over the Borough in 1968.

Burnley has had a long connection with the building societies movement. The earliest society, the Hall Union Club, predated 1800 and another, the Burnley Benefit Building Society, commenced in 1815. These were “terminating societies” which, once they achieved their initial goals were wound up and any remaining funds distributed to the surviving members or their heirs.

The Burnley Building Society of 1850 was a permanent building society, meaning that it did not have the limited remit of a terminating society. Confusingly, it was also known as the Burnley Benefit Building Society at the outset but it changed its name to the one by which we remember it, the Burnley Building Society, in 1875.

The Borough was founded as a branch of the North Craven Industrial and Provident Land & Building Society in 1872. However, at a meeting held a year later, some local members disagreed with the original society and resolved to set up their own society which they initially called the Borough Industrial and Provident Land & Building Society. It was registered on March 21st, 1874, and, though it remained relatively small, it had, by 1967, 200 branch and agency offices throughout the United Kingdom.

Lost jobs

One of the great tragedies of local commerce, at least to my mind, was the take over of the combined Burnley society in 1982 by the Bradford Provincial Building Society, which became the National and Provincial. This arrangement did not last long but the effect on Burnley’s economy has been little short of devastating.

The combined Burnley, which, by the time it was taken over, also included the Whitehaven and the Westmorland Building Societies, lost its head office and staff, together with its new computer centre, and its staff, initially to Bradford. These were just the kind of “white collar” jobs that Burnley needed, and still needs.

I have undertaken a little speculative research on what might have happened if the Burnley had continued to grow at the rate of the Skipton, for example. I realise that this little exercise is pointless but I estimate that, had it existed today, remained mutual (but had set up non-mutual service subsidiaries) there could have been 5,000 jobs within the combined group, the majority of jobs in Burnley.

Sold out

Those who “sold out” the Burnley, as my father indignantly put it, earned his undying opprobrium and I have sympathy for his views. He withdrew his savings and put them in the Marsden and I only closed my accounts with them when it shut its Briercliffe Road branch.

You will have noticed that, so far, I have only mentioned two of the buildings in this picture. As I have written before, I can study photographs like this one for hours still finding things of interest in the later stages. A brief guide to what you can see begins in the middle at the bottom.

The large building to the right is Brunswick Chapel at the corner of Manchester Road and Elizabeth Street. Behind that is the full length of Nicholas Street which is crossed by Grimshaw Street. There are some very impressive and historic buildings in this part of town most of them listed in a town centre walking guide which can be obtained at the Tourist Information Centre.

On the same street at the offices of the Borough Building Society notice the long, low building. This is the Savoy Cinema. Above that you can see awnings out at the shops in St James’s Street and the two cinemas, the Palace and the Grand but the old bus station. Coming to the top left, you can see the front wall and roof of the magnificent 1870 Market Hall and below it the second of the new generation of buildings, part of the very undistinguished Empress Grill, on what was then Howe Street.

Below the shops attached to the Empress Grill block there is Coal Street, and, to the right, St James’s Row, a street which I ought to write about in more detail in a future article.

Old chapel

The big black building on the near side of Hargreaves Street is the old Central Methodist Chapel which was a much better building than its modern replacement. Something you might have missed is the vacant plot of land to the right of the chapel. This is in Ormerod Street and was once was the site of the Church Institute and, latterly, the Roxy Cinema both of which were burnt to the ground in a great fire in about 1960. Of course, in the foreground, almost in the middle, is the second Burnley Town Hall of 1888.

I hope that you agree that the photograph is full of interest. If you want a copy of the whole picture, including the other three parts, please contact me on 01282 435863. The photograph measures approx 20 by 16in. and the cost will be about £5.