Burnley cannons survived war only to be dumped at sea

The other week I noticed some damage had been done (probably the result of a car crash) to the site of the Cannons at the junction of Colne Road and Active Way.

Wednesday, 13th January 2016, 2:04 pm
Updated Wednesday, 13th January 2016, 2:09 pm

This is one of Burnley’s most historic sites so I hope the powers-that-be restore the wall and railings as they should be.

There was a time when “The Cannons” was one of the most well-known locations in Burnley. In the days when rail transport was more important than it now is, large numbers of people got off the bus (or tram) at The Cannons to walk to Burnley Bank Top station to continue their journey to work. There was an alternative name for this stop – “Station Approach” as there was a direct path to Bank Top station. This, in turn, was renamed Burnley Central, a name with which I have never been comfortable as the station is anything but central to Burnley.

Getting back to The Cannons, the site is a historic one for a number of reasons. It was in 1867 that this small piece of land – formerly part of the Grammar School Gardens – was made into a memorial to commemorate Burnley’s connections with the Crimean War. Another reason for the site’s historic importance is the proximity of Burnley’s original 13th Century market cross, the town’s ancient stocks, its early well and the remains of the 17th Century market cross.

These pictures do not include the latter, but you can see the two captured Russian cannons. They were located in part of the Gardens, which contains all the items mentioned, and around them was constructed a small round-capped stone wall on which was erected an ornamental cast iron palisade. It is these I hope are restored properly.

Together with the “gawmless” lamp-post, the surroundings of the site, which include the Grammar School buildings, which can be seen in two of the postcards, and Brown Hill, the large house which can be seen on one of the cards, the site was most attractive. Remember, that, nearby, there was the open land of Cronkshaw Meadows, which later became Thursby Gardens and, later still, the Prestige factory.

On the other side of Colne Road there was Bank Hall and its extensive gardens, part of which is now Thompson Park. You can still see where the old public entrance to the park was located. It is now part of the high stone wall which surrounds the former Bank Hall gardens. Just below the old entrance, through the recently restored railings, you can see the River Brun as it cascades over the ancient Burnley Weir. The weir provided the water to power the King’s Corn Mill which was built in 1292, so the weir has been there all the years since.

There is something many of you might not realise and that is that it was not by chance that The Cannons were sited where they are. At the time of the construction of the site, Bank Hall was the home of General Sir James Yorke Scarlett, the man known to history as the “Hero of Balaclava”. This was one of the more well-known battles of the Crimean War and Sir James won undying fame for his successful leadership of the Heavy Brigade in the battle.

The more famous of the two notable charges in this war, though there were others, is the Charge of the Light Brigade which was an unmitigated disaster. Its fame (or infamy?) is the consequence of Lord Tennyson’s poem in which he writes of the “valley of death”. He makes a great deal of the undoubted bravery of the men who, as military men should, followed orders knowing they were likely not to see their loved ones again.

So the site of the memorial was chosen as it was close to Sir James’s home. He was still alive at the time and it must have given him some satisfaction that his townspeople had chosen to place the memorial where they did. However, Sir James knew the erection of The Cannons was not a memorial to him, it was a memorial to all those Burnley men who had fought in the Crimea.

I have not looked into how many Burnley men were present in the Crimea, but I know there must have been quite a number. In fact, Burnley was enjoying a period of considerable expansion at the time of the Crimea and, at one time, there were lots of street and pub names associated with the war.

Lots of these have gone but the inns include: the Malakoff Tavern, formerly in Trafalgar Street, which was named after the Battle of Malakoff which was part of the Siege of Sevastopol; the General Williams, named after William Frederick Williams, the British commander at the last major operation of the Crimean War; the General Campbell, named after Field Marshall Lord Clyde, which was in Barracks Road, and, of course, the General Scarlett, the first of which was in the old Howe Street.

There were other pubs in Burnley named after the battles of the Crimean War – Inkerman, Alma and Balaclava etc. Street names have been derived from the war and Raglan Road and Scarlett Street are but two of them.

Today’s pictures tell us more about the site of the Cannons but there are a few things we can add. One of the images shows the two Russian cannons, with the Old Grammar School building to the right. In front of the cannons there are two printed signs, one of which refers to a Jubilee. When the photo, on which the postcard is based, was taken, in 1905, it was the Golden anniversary of the capture of the guns, which took place on September 8th, 1855.

The other thing to tell you is that, if you visit the site today, you will see The Cannons are no longer there. They survived the South African war and First World War, but not the Second World War, when they were taken by the War Ministry to be melted down for “the war effort”. However, it was found, when in Portsmouth, that the metal out of which they had been made was useless for modern military purposes, so they were taken out to sea and dumped off Southsea where they remain. A sad end to “Russian guns”, as The Cannons were sometimes called, but, at least, we still have this important reminder.