From the Burnley Express Archive: The Historians

This image comes from the Burnley Express published on October 7th, 1977.

Monday, 1st June 2020, 3:45 pm
Updated Monday, 1st June 2020, 4:48 pm

It is taken from an article entitled “The Historians” which features the achievements of Mr Walter Bennett and Mr Ralph Cross who are described as “Burnley’s two greatest historians”.

The event took place in Burnley Central Library when Mr Bennett and Mr Cross were both honoured for their contributions to local history. The Burnley and District Historical Society organised the event and presents from it were made to the two men by Coun. Jim Meakin and his Mayoress, Mrs Meakin. Also in attendance were Mr J. O. B. Illingworth, the Chairman of the Society, and Miss Jean Siddall, Burnley’s Reference Librarian.

Those of you who read the local history articles, in the Burnley Express, will be aware that the name of Mr Bennett is often mentioned. His “The History of Burnley”, in four volumes, is still the most important work on the history of the town. The books remain the starting point for the historians who have worked on the history of the town in the almost 75 years since the first book was published.

“The History of Burnley” is one of the most comprehensive of its type ever published and, though it was written much later than the histories of similar towns and cities, Burnley has benefited because Mr Bennett has been able to use sources not available to earlier historians.

Mr Bennett was not a local man. He came to Burnley from Staffordshire, in 1920, to become the History Master at Burnley Grammar School. The four volumes took him 30 years to research and write, so he must have started on the task on his arrival as volume four was published in 1951.

The Frost family had a little to do with the book. My father, Walter Frost, returned to Burnley after almost four years as a Prisoner of War. His employers, at Burnley Council, put him on light work, when he returned to the Town Hall. His job? To help Mr Bennett get the book ready for the press which was undertaken by the Burnley Express Printing Company.

I recall Dad being presented with the fourth volume by Mr Bennett, when I was about four years old. Mr Bennett then signed all of Dad's copies after which he then proceeded to read bedtime extracts to me, and my younger brother, Stephen, until we got a television in the Coronation year.

Burnleys two greatest historians, Mr. Walter Bennett (third from left) and Mr. Ralph Cross with the Mayor and Mayoress (right) and historical society chairman (Mr. J. O. B. Illingworth and Miss. Jean Syddall, reference librarian.

The History of Burnley has been with me since but I have been very much aware of Ralph Cross’s work since I met him, when I was a very young man, at a meeting of the Historical Society. He published very little and, when he died, his important Library went to W. J. Smith, the author of the best book on Towneley Hall.

Fortunately, most of Mr Cross’s collection, which consists of thousands of images of the buildings of the Burnley district, and detailed notes about them, are preserved locally at the Pendle Heritage Centre, in Barrowford.

It was right to honour the two men at the same time. They were friends who achieved so much for Burnley and its people.