The destruction of Colne’s historic Cloth Hall

This week we present not one, but two rare photos, these being actual scenes captured during the filming of the now classic 1951 film, “Lancashire Pride”.

Saturday, 4th June 2011, 3:54 pm

Yes indeed, 60 years ago, nonpareil post-war photographer Alan Spencer shot hundreds of pictures during the making of a film which shows so much of a Colne that has sadly gone forever.

Here, in our two pictures, we can see the power-loom rioting scenes, shot on the steps (32 in all) of the proud and historic Colne Cloth Hall. Note, at the top of the steps, the man in the white suit. This is the film’s financier and managing director at Glen Mills, George Whittaker. Also to be seen is the film’s script-writer and historian of great note, Henry Foulds, and not forgetting acting in the film and behind the scenes, the four well-known Colne Robinson Brothers: Harry, George, Joe and Vincent, truly great characters.

The Cloth Hall was opened as the Piece Hall in 1775 for the sale of woollen goods. However, by 1810, King Cotton had taken over and the now called Cloth Hall was named as one of the most important buildings in Lancashire. Throughout the halcyon years of the cotton industry, the majestic Cloth Hall was a Mecca for mill owners far and wide, but with decline of King Cotton and the closure of the mills, the building’s belltower no longer rang out to welcome its once many patrons.

On Wednesday, August 6th, 1952, the Borough of Colne held a general purposes sub-committee meeting at the town hall and chaired by the Mayor Frank Wilson JP. He reported to the five Aldermen and seven town councillors who were present that the Cloth Hall had been bought for £1,500, but the insurance company handling the transaction urged an early demolition of the building. At the very same meeting, the 13 men present then recommended that tenders by the end of the month be received for the demolition of the said property! It was one of the blackest days in the town’s history. The Cloth Hall was bulldozed to the ground by June, 1953.

During the summer of 1988, 35 years on, I interviewed the ex-Mayor and now Colne’s very last freeman, Frank Wilson, for the town’s history film, “We Long Endure”. I asked Frank why those 13 municipal men had allowed such an iconic and historic building to be demolished. Frank’s reply astounded me: “Well Geoff, we didn’t know any better”!

Today, a somewhat forlorn truncated preserved belltower stands in Church Street. Blacksmith Jim Kirk made a metal rod to fit the stone orb over 30 years ago; the belltower still stands orbless. A nearby plaque records “This is all that remains of the Cloth Hall”. Not true. A tenth of the original building still stands (the money ran out) and the huge bronze bell is still preserved; the entrance stone dated 1775, dedicated to the hall’s benefactor, Banastre Walton, lies flat in dozens of pieces at the hall’s original entrance, while on Keighley Road around a dozen fluted finial stones lay undisturbed in a garden waiting to be put together.

As for myself in 1953, as a 10-year-old, I carried to our Hall Street home, a huge stone roof -slate. Today, 58 years on, it is the pride of my old Colne archive.