Few images remain of Burnley before the age of the camera

Munns Corner, St Jamess Street and Water Street
Munns Corner, St Jamess Street and Water Street
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Whilst Burnley has a magnificent collection of photographic images of the town, and the district around it, the same can’t be said of pre-photographic images: drawings, paintings etc.

I remember, some time ago, being present at the opening of an exhibition of pre-photographic images of Preston, and thinking “wouldn’t it be great if Burnley had the same”.

Apart from a few studies of Towneley Hall and its park, some of the other local big houses and, perhaps, the odd image of St Peter’s church, very few pre-photographic images of Burnley’s past have survived.

It is true that a number of images which are not photographic can be found in local collections but, perhaps the best known – the view of Burnley from Springhill and that of Burnley Centre from the Swan Hotel, both of which I have published in these pages – date from the early 1850s, after photography, though in its early days, had been invented.

Today, I am going to introduce you to two non-photographic images of Burnley. They were both published as postcards at the turn of the 19th Century, though I can’t give a precise date for them and neither can I tell you who the artist, surely the same for both, might have been. The two images are taken from the Ken Bolton Collection, which is owned by the Briercliffe Society, and before Ken had them it appears that they were in the hands of a Mr Brown, but I am not sure who he was.

The first of these images is of Munn’s Corner, St James’s Street in Burnley. Most of the buildings in the image have gone, but if you look, carefully, in the top right corner, you will find that Virgil Anderton’s three-storey shops, which were built in 1876, and which are still standing, can be seen adjacent to the old Boot Hotel. The shops in this row once included, at number 4, C. F. Hargreaves, the Golden Padlock, a hardware shop; at number 12, Lupton’s bookshop and, at number 14, Stockdale’s famous toy shop.

The second image is of Cill House though the maker of the image describes it as “Old Market Cross, Top o’th Town, Burnley”. Cill House lasted well into the photographic era. It was demolished in 1880 when Burnley’s first tram line was constructed. There were, in other words, plenty of opportunities to take images of this site but it is interesting that, when the artist came to give a title to his work, he referred not to the building but to the market cross.

Of course, this site was on Church Street, opposite St Peter’s and, again, if you look carefully, there is a familiar building in the image, though it is not as clear as Anderton’s shops, to the right of Munn’s Corner, in the first image. To the left of Cill House, in the distance, the black three-storey building is still in situ. The property, originally houses, though some have been used as shops, was built in 1837, the year when Queen Victoria came to the throne.

Incidentally, the base of the cross, which can be seen right in the image, is that of the 17th Century version, not of the original 13th Century cross. This latter had become divorced from its site and purpose, and, for a number of years, was located in Bank Hall Meadow, off Ormerod Road, a few hundred yards to the right of the image. That it survived is something of a miracle but the fact that it was detached from its original site could account for the erroneous story about it being a Paulinus Cross. When this was confirmed, I remember being rather sorry in that I had been placed in Paulinus House, when a pupil at St Mary’s RC school in Burnley. Inter-house rivalry was pretty strong in those days!

With the postcard view of Munn’s Corner, I have chosen to publish one of the very best photographic views of Old Burnley. It is full of character showing the town centre, as it was, after 1880 – the single tram line confirms this – but before this part of town was rebuilt at the very beginning of the 20th Century.

Robert Munn was a chemist and druggist, and as was the case of a number of the older shops in town, combined his main business with something else. In this case it was as the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages and Mr Munn was in a good position to be involved with the Census.

His shop was actually on Water Street, not as it appears to be on St James’s Street. Water Street, at the time the photograph was taken, was a quite a narrow street, leading to the river Brun below Cannon Street. The street was much wider than the alleyway it was reduced to after about 1907. Many of you will recall the steep alley, between Burnley Council’s Bus or Transport Office and the Palace Theatre. This was also called Water Street and followed a similar course to the one illustrated here.

If you study these images, as I have, you might come to the conclusion that the artist of the first image used the image reproduced in the photograph to make his drawing. The front of the shop looks very similar, even to the carboys in the window, and, above the door, notice that the same wording is used on the board which announces that Bob Munn, in addition to his role as a chemist and druggist, was also the Registrar.

On the St James’s Street elevation, there is a notice for Cryer’s Dining Rooms which also includes the words “Ales and Beds”. This notice appears on both images. Of course, the photograph is enlivened with people going about the daily business. Look at the young man in the cart, precariously balanced on his rather uncomfortable looking seat.

Then there are the mainly men on the left. One of them is very much aware that a photographer is at work but look at the clothing of the elderly lady in this group contrasting, as it does, with the clothing of the man in the top hat, walking behind her. There are some shoppers and workmen on the right of the image.

Notice also the advert for the Burnley Express on the gable end of the Anderton shops and the adjacent, but tall, brick-built chimney – the only sign of brick in this part of Burnley when it was one of England’s great stone-built towns. The chimney would have been necessary to carry away the smoke generated in the small buildings adjacent to the Boot. One last thing, just look at the chimney pots – seven to each property in the Anderton shops!

The second postcard view is of Cill House which had been for many years, until the later 18th Century, a very important part of Burnley’s old town centre. If you are a regular reader of this column, you will know that I remind you, fairly regularly, about the move effected by the town centre to its current site in the latter years of the 1700s. I have seen an advert in a Manchester newspaper of 1759 which describes a building on St James’s Street as being in the new town centre so you can see how long the transfer took.

We are fortunate to have a copy of a photograph of Cill House though this does not cover the full extent of the drawing. A bit to the right is missing but you can see that, though the base of the 17th Century market cross is not there, the remains of the stocks can certainly be seen as can a bollard close to the gable wall of Cill House.

The windows and door in this elevation are the same, down to the representation of the panes in the window at the top of the building. On the front elevation, notice the small windows of the first property, the older mullioned windows of the second and the large windows of the third (together with a small notice board and an attempt, I think, to reproduce the shutters to the right and left of the first-floor windows). The fourth property is also faithfully reproduced.

In the photograph, the properties built at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign can be seen very well and it is clear that the first of them is a shop. It is difficult, from this image to see, but it was a grocer’s shop built after the centre of Burnley had moved to is present site.

So, there you have it – a little excursion into the story of topographical art in Burnley. It might not have been as illuminating as would have been the case had we been considering one of the larger towns and cities, but looking at the two drawings made me want to consider how accurate the artist might have been. His drawings might be naive but they are not without their utility.