A history of shopping in Burnley

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Burnley once had three department stores. A number of readers have contacted me saying that, though they remember the Co-op in the present Market Square (and when it was at its former site in Hammerton Street) they have no recollection of or knowledge of the other two stores.

At least some of you will recall these were Webster’s, in Bridge Street, and Altham’s, in Market Street. I find it difficult to believe Webster’s have been forgotten but it is almost 60 years since they traded at their once famous premises. With regard to Altham’s, it might be that, as they are now associated with travel alone, their former role as tea merchants, grocers and department store owners might have been forgotten by at least some of our more senior citizens.

It just happens I have been thinking, over recent months, of writing an article in honour of the late Mr Lynn Millard. Among his many talents, Mr Millard was an excellent photographer with studios at 59 Pritchard Street, Burnley. He produced a series of photos of Market Street, not long before it was demolished to make way for the present shopping centre. If you examine the images reproduced here, most taken by Mr Millard, you will see a number of them include photos of Altham’s. Indeed one of them clearly shows an advert which reads “Altham’s Walk Round Store”.

Before I consider the photos, let me tell you something about Mr Millard, or Lynn, as he was known to friends. I got to know him because of our mutual interest in local history. He was a regular at monthly talks organised by Burnley & District Historical Society.

The early talks were given in one of the upstairs rooms of Burnley Central Library. I have been in that room when it was full to capacity and Mr Millard would be among the audience. He first came to my notice when he made a few observations and asked questions after a speaker had concluded what he wanted to say. What surprised me was Mr Millard’s knowledge of “Old Burnley”.

I subsequently found out Lynn has been a policeman in town, usually working on a central beat. He got to know many of the shopkeepers, market traders and quite a few of the “characters” (his word) who lived and worked in the town centre. This was towards the end of the era when the vast majority of retail businesses were locally owned and Mr Millard was not alone in lamenting the loss of the local shops and their replacement with bland multiples.

When Burnley Civic Trust was established, 50 years ago, Mr Millard was among its first members. He subsequently rose to the position of chairman and, to the end of his life, attended the Trust’s regular meetings, held in the Town Hall. Often Mr Millard represented the Burnley society at regional meetings of like-minded bodies and when we talked, as we often did, of falling membership in Burnley, he would be quick to remind us a relatively small town like Kendal could support a Trust of over 200 members.

Mr Millard was not someone who merely reminisced about the past. He had a long life and a surprisingly good memory and wanted to put his knowledge and skills at the disposal of the Trust. When we needed photos, he was willing to take them. If we wanted slides to be used to illustrate a talk, he was happy to organise that as well.

The Trust possesses a number of photos taken and printed by Mr Millard and, later, made available to us. Today’s article is illustrated by images mostly taken by him but I have included one or two others from other parts of the collection to give a more complete picture of Market Street as it was 60 years ago.

Now to the images. When writing about a particular street it is, as you will agree, a considerable advantage for that street still to be in existence. Alas, with Market Street, that is no longer the case. Only one of the pictures gives you a clue as to where Market Street was but let me remind you the site of the street is covered by the present Charter Walk Shopping Centre.

There have been a number of ancient markets in our area – like the old market in Haggate, which we only know about because of the location of “ceping field” (market field) just outside the village – but Burnley’s first real market was sited near St Peter’s Church. The Market itself was founded in 1294 as the consequence of Edward I granting the right for Burnley to hold a market to his friend, Henry de Lacy, the Earl of Lincoln and Lord of the Manor of Ightenhill of which Burnley was a part.

The market retained its St Peter’s site until the latter part of the 18th Century when Burnley was beginning to be affected by the Industrial Revolution. The wide part of St James’s Street, at the bottom of what is now Manchester Road, became the second site for the market. Incidentally, the old name for the bottom part of Manchester Road is Market Street and, similarly, an early name for the bridge over the Calder, just above the Town Hall, was Market Street Bridge.

At some time before the middle of the 19th Century the market moved from St James’s Street to Thorn Croft, land behind the former Thorn Hotel. On a map of 1851, Burnley’s Market House is shown on a site many of you will recall as Howe Street though, on the map, it is named as Nile Street. Behind the Market House, obviously a Market Hall by another name, there was the Market Place which occupied the land later to become the site of the street, the shops and the stores I will mention in this article.

In 1870-1 the old Market Square and Market Grounds, that some of us remember, were laid out and the much lamented Market Hall designed by James Green, was built. As this time the name, “Market Street”, was transferred from what is now Manchester Road to the street we see in today’s pictures, though it should be pointed out that, originally, this street was known as “New Market Street” to delineate it from the Market Street already mentioned.

The 1851 map gives us some information about a building which appears on the first of the illustrations I have chosen. It is of the New Market Hotel which, on the map, is referred to as the “Market Hotel”. The first name mentioned here was a reminder the street itself had once been known as Market Street but the building was not intended to be a hotel. It was constructed as a private house and had connections with the ownership of the King’s Corn Mill and Old Brewery which stood on the other side of the Brun, just behind the building that became the hotel.

It would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to say something about the buildings of this part of town. There is no doubt they were a considerable improvement on the single-storey lock-ups associated with the Market which preceded them, but, more than that, there were some very good retail buildings in Market Street. They were much better than the ones the council, in its headlong rush to modernise, managed to build – structures with which we are now saddled.

When asked, as I often am, which of the buildings the council consigned to history some 50 or so years ago, I think were good, these structures always come to mind. It does not take much to work out the buildings, particularly Altham’s, were very well built and thoughtfully designed. Any town would have been proud to retain them and, in fact, a friend from Skipton has often said to me he could not understand why Burnley Council got rid of buildings as fine as these.

Lynn Millard did a great deal for the Burnley Civic Trust. The meetings are not the same in his absence, and I am not referring to some of his more caustic observations. Let these few photos, representative as they are of the many Mr Millard took of our town, be a small memorial to him. He would expect me to add that if you would like to be involved in helping to preserve the “best of Burnley”, as he used to put it, you will be welcome at the organisation, the Burnley Civic Trust, which he helped to found. (You can contact me, Roger Frost, Chairman of Burnley Civic Trust, on 01282 435863).