ROGER FROST: How the power loom changed the face of Burnley

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This week I complete the analysis of the aerial photo of the central part of Burnley which was taken in 1959 to 1960. The bottom right hand quarter of a larger picture is reproduced today.

Orientation may be helpful. The two main roads you see are – running from the top to the bottom, Manchester Road, and, across the bottom, is Trafalgar Street.

In last week’s article I mentioned some of the old names, now not generally in use, by which the parts of town, then being described, were once known. For today’s image the names would have been Lane Bridge, top right of the picture and Thorneybank and Trafalgar, along the bottom. Also, the picture includes part of the area we now know as the Weavers’ Triangle, but that name is of very recent vintage dating back only to the 1970s.

We start at Lane Bridge. The name derives from the bridge which carries Parker Lane over the Calder, though the site of the bridge is just off the picture, further to the right. In the top right corner there is the cruciform roof St Paul’s which was an Anglican place of worship. Now demolished, the church dated from 1853 though, in 1874, the chancel extensively rebuilt. The whole structure was built in the attractive Norman style which was not commonly used in Burnley.

Between the church and Manchester Road there was the old Burnley Fire Station which, from 1861 to 1868, also served as the meeting place of the newly-constituted borough council. Almost nothing remains of the building today but, just below the junction of Manchester Road and Finsley Gate, a substantial, windowless section of blackened wall, one part of the fire station, still survives.

In the picture the long, low, lighter building just below the fire station, was Lane Bridge Foundry, the building which gave its name to Foundry Street, an old street name in this part of town. The foundry was once known as the building which produced Burnley’s first home-made power loom, the machine most associated with our town.

The man behind this project was George Graham who came from Parton, near Whitehaven, in what was once Cumberland. Parton was an early leader in iron and engineering and Mr Graham was among the men from that village who took the skills they learned there to places throughout England. By 1830 Burnley, formerly a great centre of handloom weaving, was ready for the introduction of the power loom which was in fairly wide use in other Lancashire towns.

In Burnley the power loom had been resisted as every one of these machines put perhaps five handloom weavers out of work. Painful as the coming of the power loom was, had it not been introduced, Burnley would not have become, some decades later, the most important cotton weaving town in the world.

Not only this, but George Graham was the pioneer, in Burnley, of the town’s loom making industry. His firm, which was known as Graham & Shepherd, was not, however, destined to become the most successful of its kind. Another Lane Bridge firm, that of Jeremiah Wilkinson & Co., later known as Butterworth & Dickinson, by the 1870s, was making the very best Lancashire looms, as they by that time had become known, in the world. Later they were exported to wherever cotton was woven by power.

The Lane Bridge Foundry stood at the junction of Manchester Road and Finsley Gate. On the other side of the latter you will be able to see the hipped green slate roof of Burnley’s Labour Exchange of 1938. This building has the distinction of being one of only a handful to carry the cipher of King Edward VIII. The site on which the Exchange stands was once occupied by dozens of tiny pre-Industrial Revolution houses which I have described before in this series.

Further down the picture, we see several long buildings on the canal bank. The first is a printing works, once in the hands of Wilson & Longbottom, and, on the other side of the water, are the former canal warehouses, one light-coloured, the other dark, which were used by the sugar dealers and refiners, Tate, which later became Tate & Lyle.

In the picture, a car is turning into Healey Wood Road but notice the large properties above the vehicle. These buildings were, at one time, very prominent. In fact, this part of Manchester Road was once known as South Parade and, being above the smoke of the industrial town, was home to some of its better families.

On the other side of Manchester Road the large garden area was the bowling green to Nelson House, once the home of one of the Holgate brothers who owned Burnley’s only local bank. I have written about Holgate’s Bank in the columns of the Express before. Sadly, the bank collapsed in 1824, one of many in the country to do so at that time, and incalculable damage was done to the local economy. Nelson House, which was built in the 1790s, is now occupied by Burnley’s Freemasons.

You can see the canal behind Nelson House. I have often wondered what the Holgates would have thought when, shortly after their house was completed, hundreds of navvies started work on the canal. One of the projects on which they worked was the construction of Burnley Wharf and the Toll House which were later joined by the Wharfmaster’s House and the more recent covered warehouse to the left.

The early work associated with Burnley Wharf was undertaken in the second phase of canal building in the town. The first connected Burnley to Gargrave and was finished by 1796 but the second, which involved the building of the Burnley Embankment, the Whittlefield Cutting and the Gannow Tunnel, was not opened until 1802. This section was one of the most difficult parts of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to build.

Last week, the picture did not include the Ministry of Ale (formerly the Nelson Hotel) but I hope you can spot it on the Trafalgar Street in the photo today.

This completes our study of the splendid aerial photo we have been using for a month or so. Remember, if you want copies of the whole picture, contact me on 01282 435863.