On the trail of the elusive River Brun

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IN the first of a fascinating two-part feature, local historian JACK NADIN looks at the origins of the River Brun in Burnley

MANY, in fact most locals, know where Burnleys two rivers combine, near the Orchard Mill, now Readers scrap yard off the old Caldervale Road.

Not surprisingly, this place is called the Water Meetings, or by those of a local and broader Lancashire tongue The Watter Matings.

The river on the left here, looking up stream, is the River Brun, from which, according to most historians, the town of Burnley is reputed to have taken its name. Old documents in fact refer to the river as being named the Brown which later became Brun and ley is a clearance or meadowland.

The words combined to become Brunlea or Brunley and over time became Burnley. If that all seems a little complicated there is a simpler explanation perhaps. In northern parts of England, a burn is a stream and combined with the word ley for clearance, we get a clearing by the stream or Burnley.

There is some debate about where the River Brun begins its relatively short journey, but most adopt it as a continuation of Rock Water, the little stream near Hurstwood Hall at Hurstwood village.

In fact, many maps do not name it as the Brun until after it flows under Salterford Bridge. This bridge marks an ancient ford crossing used by traders carrying salt, as its name implies. The infant Brun then ripples onwards until it nears Brownside, another reference to the Brown already related. It flows next into what is now the artificial Rowley Lake and out at the other end of the lake to another water meeting at Netherwood Road, Heasandford.

Here, the River Brun is joined by the River Don, a continuation of Thursden Brook and Swinden Waters, which began as high moorland streams. Just before the River Don reaches the River Brun, there are the relics of some former sluices and dams that caught the waters for use in Heasandford Mill. Many early mills depended on water for power to drive the waterwheels and later for steam for the engines.

The water from this point was channelled through to the little water lodge in the woods further down now a fishermens haven. Beyond the lodge, the channelled water continued to the mill itself and much of this channelling can still be seen in the woods today.

This is not the Heasandford Mill we know today, originally worked by the Altham family and continues now as Althams Travel. The original Heasandford Mill was somewhere nearer Queens Park Road and Bank Hall Park.

Near the confluence of the two streams referred to were two artificial mounds, between which formerly stood a waterwheel. This marked the site of an old mill, which is said to have been run by a former landlord of the old Bay Horse at Worsthorne. On one occasion, the landlords wife had reason to visit the mill on a dark and stormy night and on returning she was swept away by the swollen streams and drowned. Her spirit is said to afterwards ever haunt a certain chamber of the old inn (which has now been demolished) and no peace could be obtained unless the door of this room was kept locked. Tradition has it that she had hidden a hoard in this chamber, which her restless ghost came to guard. Old Worsthorne folk still speak of the doings of Old Thrutch as she was called.

Another version of this local folklore relates to this incident as happening at the old Extwistle Mill, much further upstream and below the ancient Extwistle Hall. From the water meetings at Heasandford, the River Brun flows past the large bulk of the Rowley tip, a refuse disposal site now, but a tip in its truest sense, for here generations of miners hewed waste rock at Bank Hall Colliery. Wagon load after wagon load of this colliery spoil was deposited here creating a huge black stinking mound. It also caused a great deal of pollution to the river and still does, albeit to a lesser extent.

Further downstream we reach the present day Heasandford Mill, or what remains of it the first mill in England to be powered by electricity.

Close by, and oft missed, is Heasandford House, one of Burnleys finest and oldest inhabited dwellings, a quaint old homestead and formerly the seat of the de Stansfields, lords of the manor of Worsthorne.

One of these held the office of Constable of Pontefract Castle and his tombstone decorated with a carving of his sword of office, may be found in the Stansfield Chapel at St Peters Church.

Flowing on the river now passes some allotments, where on the other side can be seen the remains of the quarry of the former Burnley Brick and Lime Co. Ltd, just before reaching the bridge at Queens Park Road, constructed in and around 1928. Onwards she flows the River Brun, passing through what is now Bank Hall Park and under the aqueduct carrying overhead the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Take time to examine the strange masons marks under the aqueduct consisting of arrows, Vs and inverted Ts. No one has really explained these perhaps they were done simply to pass the time of day!

The River Brun was again dammed here while making Thompsons Park, and the water was piped off to supply the Thompsons Park boating lake.

The water runs out again to regain the river at the far end of the lake, near the Municipal College.

All the land around here was once part of General James Yorke Scarletts, Bank Hall estate and was the scene of a drastic flooding in July 1881.

Among other things, a garden was submerged, a bridge washed down, damage was done to Pheasandford Bridge and a valuable horse belonging to the General was washed away.

It was not just confined to the area of the present day park either.

At the Black Dog beerhouse down Wapping, where the present day Woolworths car park is, the water rose to a depth of four feet.

A cellar dwelling around this area was also flooded to the roof. Look for the date July 6th, 1881 and the high water mark low down under the aqueduct close by which recalls this event. The River Brun now flows around the perimeter of Thompsons Park to a point very near the old Grammar School, where yet again its water was trapped for a very early form of industry.

The remains of a great dam here can still be seen, the water went through now unseen channels down to near the parish church, but on the Grammar School side of the river.

Here the water was taken in stone troughs below Bank Parade to a point behind the Bridge Inn and a water lodge for the corn mill, or Kings Mill, erected around 1290.

There was an obligation for the tenants of Burnley to have their corn ground here, both by the Towneleys and later the Shuttleworths.

The grinding wheel at the mill was driven by a water wheel until 1820 when a steam engine was installed.

From the old dam near the Grammar School, the River Brun continues its course down to near the old Burnley Green, near Dawsons Square. Here, before piped water, was Burnleys main source of drinking water at Top o th Town from whence Burnley grew, which came from a crystal clear spring named Shorey Well.

This well was reached from the end of Shorey Street, near the present day college, by descending the bank to the river.

Alternatively, you could go through Dawson Square, down some stone steps and across the river by way of stepping stones. Not surprisingly, the well played an important part in Burnleys past, and there is at least some evidence that it was once treated as a holy well, baptisms took place here and water was obtained for use as holy water in the church.

It also became a meeting place, to pass the time of day, for our forefathers in times now long gone a place to ponder on more tranquil events of the age, than which we punish ourselves today.

Even after the founding of a water company in 1819, the well was still used the water being the sweetest and purest in Burnley it was said. However, with the coming of the more convenient piped water, Shorey Well slowly fell into disuse.

When a young lad named Fletcher was washed away and drowned near the well in April 1906 the powers-that-be decided to wall up the banking at the bottom of Shorey Street and the name Shorey Well became just another part of Burnleys history. At some time between then and 1915 it was removed and placed where it is now, in the Cockpit Plantation behind the former Grammar School.

From Burnley Green and Shorey Well, the River Brun flows under the bridge in Church Street. In times past, in a more infant Burnley, this river crossing was passed by fords and stepping stones. There was a bridge here prior to the 1700s, however, and in 1736 it was rebuilt 16 yards and four yards wide, with walls either side four feet high.

The Brun now skirts a retaining wall around the graveyard of the parish church and there was a remarkable incident in the late 1700s. A group of mourners were burying their dead, when the wall collapsed, undermined by the action of the river. The mourners and the buried were plunged into the river and combined together with the remains of their forefathers. Happily, no one was seriously injured but the bones of the buried were still being found in the river decades later.

W. A. Balderstone in an article in the Burnley News in 1933 told us that: A low dry wall bounded the highway (Church Street) on the further side of which, a narrow field sloped steeply to the Brun, then a trout steam, but harried by naughty boys who knew how to tickle as well as any professed poacher. After heavy rains, the stream would also contain bones, washed down from the churchyard, with which the children played a ninepins sort of game which they called nogs. No television then!

Soon, the River Brun passes close by Keighley Green, which in times past was a proper green and the place where the archery butts used to stand. From 1389, by law, all the males of the village between 14 years and 40 years had to practice shooting at the butts this was usually done on a Sunday afternoon.

The river at this point could only be passed in days of yore by stepping stones, near the back of the present day Coach and Horses pub, formerly Adlington House, the home of the Chaffers.

There were a number of drownings here, as people tried to cross while the Brun was in spate. The Fishwick family also had a tannery on the banks of the Brun behind the Coach and Horses, reached by a narrow alleyway.

I remember being part of a group of lads traversing the river from Salford Bridge all the way up to Thompsons Park, which we often did. Under the arched tunnel of the river, which now carries the bulk of St Peters car park, we dug out from the pebbles an old sword. The blade was rusted, but recognisable and the handle appeared to have been made of brass or bronze.

We did talk of taking our treasure trove to Towneley Hall but I think we swopped it for some fag cards, or marbles. Sorry, Mr Curator of Towneley Hall!

From Keighley Green, modern developments have culverted our ancient River Brun, she makes a brief polluted appearance near the old Salford Hotel, now the Town Mouse, before plunging over the lip of the weir at the Water Meetings, here she loses her name to become the River Calder.

Our Brown River now flows on intermingled with the Calder to meet the Ribble near Whalley, and thence flows onto the Irish Sea as it has done since time immemorial.