How Burnley’s Tim Bobbin pub got its name
I have been asked to write about the pubs of Burnley and district on numerous occasions but have been reluctant to do so because there are a number of local people who know much more about our pubs than I do. One of them is my old friend Jack Nadin whose book, “Burnley Inns and Taverns”, in the Images of England Series, Tempus, 2007, is not only a delight but it is very useful when contemplating writing anything on the subject. I hope Jack does not mind but I have taken some of the information for this article from his book.
The Tim Bobbin is undoubtedly the best of our local pubs with which to start this occasional series, as the name is so rare. The name derives from the caricaturist and satirical poet whose real name was John Collier. He used the name “Tim Bobbin” (or Timothy/Timmus Bobbin) in his works of prose and poetry which were often written in the Lancashire dialect or, more accurately, the dialect of South-east Lancashire where he lived for much of his life.
In fact John Collier was a man of many talents. He was a writer and a poet, a Dutch loom weaver, a schoolmaster and regarded himself, as did others, as the “Lancashire Hogarth”.
A word about this last point for those who have forgotten their 18th Century English history. William Hogarth (1697–1764) was an English painter and engraver who, though he was born at Smithfield, London, was like, John Collier, the son of a teacher. He was apprenticed to silver-plate engraver but, by 1720, had set up in business on his own account designing and printing book plates and shop-bills and painting conversation pieces and portraits.
Hogarth soon became bored with this work. He revived the “pictured morality” of medieval art by what he called his “modern moral subjects”, mostly drawings, which were then printed and published. The most famous of these are the works entitled “Gin Lane” (1747) and “Beer Street” (1751), the first a representation of the evils of gin drinking, the latter a picture in praise of drinking good, wholesome English beer. These two works appear in just about every school text book on English Social and Economic History and remain very well known today.
A great number of John Collier’s pictures are inspired by such vices as greed and excess so the two men have this in common. John would have been aware of Hogarth’s works, at the time they were published, as they were near contemporaries.
John Collier (Tim Bobbin) was born in Urmston near Manchester in 1708. He was the son of the Rev. John Collier, the impoverished assistant curate of Stretford who, like many men in his position, augmented his income with teaching. Unfortunately, the clergyman became blind and any plans there might have been for his son (one of nine children) to go to one of the two universities were dashed.
At the age of only 13 young John found himself apprenticed to a Dutch loom weaver but found this work repetitious and persuaded his master to release him from his indentures. When he was 17, in 1725-6, he was appointed assistant master at the village school of Milnrow, near Rochdale, for a salary of £10. He succeeded as master in 1739 being appointed to that position by Richard Towneley.
From the mid 1720s, John absorbed all he could of the lives of the people who lived around him. He had a reputation of being a gregarious and hard-drinking man, spending a little more time than he should have done in the pubs and inns of Rochdale.
He was not a family man in these years, perhaps prevented from marriage by his tiny income. Even after 1739, when he took up the position of master at the school, there was a dispute about his suitability for the post and it is thought he did not receive his full salary until about 1744 in which year he married Mary Clay of Flockton, near Huddersfield, Yorkshire. By her he had nine children six of whom, three boys and three girls, survived to adulthood.
It is not known when John Collier started to augment his income by writing and illustrating sheets of satirical poetry in the Lancashire dialect which he had come to admire so much. However, it may have been as early as the 1720s when he started to write in the dialect of the area in which he lived.
Reading some of his works it is clear he loved the Lancashire dialect, particularly some of its expressive words, and, when he was criticised for making his hero something of a dialect speaking simpleton, he defended not only his use of dialect, which was much enjoyed by many of the working Lancastrians who were his readers, but the character he created, Tim Bobbin.
In fact the Tim Bobbin of the stories and the poems was, perhaps, the first time in which the Lancashire simpleton, who eventually won the admiration of everyone, appeared on the literary scene. The character was revived time and again, the most famous exemplar being the great Lancashire comic, George Formby in his famous black and white films of the 1930s and 1940s.
It was not only that John Collier wrote illustrated poems, he was also called upon, often by his friends on the pubs of Rochdale, to draw portraits for which he employed novel means of charging for them. The price of each picture depended on the number of heads he was required to draw!
The first book John had published was in 1746. This was followed by several others and he became one of the best known Lancastrians of his day but, when he died in 1786, he left only £50 in cash. The house, in which he then lived, had been bought for him by one of his sons so, it is thought that, he might have enjoyed a drink into old age.
John Collier was buried, with his wife, in the graveyard of the parish church at Rochdale where there are two epitaphs both of which were written by him. The first reads, “Here lies John, and with him Mary, Cheek by jowl, they never vary, No wonder they so well agree, John wants no punch and Moll, no tea”. The other is a little sad. It reads, “Jack of all trades …. Left to lie i’th dark”, but he was not forgotten.
In 1792 Sir Walter Scott visited his grave and suggested a public subscription be set up for its refurbishment. £1,000 was raised and the memorial that survives to this day was built. By then people had realised John Collier/Tim Bobbin had been the pioneer of Lancashire dialect writing, something which encouraged other writers to and has given pleasure to Lancastrians in the 200 year+ since his death.
These days, not all that many of us write in Lancashire dialect. In addition, I understand the Lancashire Dialect Society is no more. My family coming, not from the Red Rose County, but from the Lake District and Bedfordshire, I am not a dialect speaker but I helped, along with others from the Briercliffe Society, to publish the late Edith Holgate’s Briercliffe dialect poetry, which I recommend to all of you. Her poems, written since the last war, are the direct descendants of the work of Tim Bobbin.
The inn which bears his name is in Padiham Road. The building was originally a small farm whose address was “Burnley Ridge” but, like many other similar buildings, it became a pub, possibly in the 17th Century. It was rebuilt in 1701 and the building enjoyed a reputation for cock-fighting, something John would have known quite a lot about.
In 1819 the Tim Bobbin witnessed Burnley’s Peterloo and, in 1842, the year of the Plug Plot, it was at the Tim Bobbin that the striking weavers of Burnley met before they marched on Blackburn to draw the plugs out of the steam boilers of the mills there, to make sure the Blackburn weavers came out on strike. However, the Tim Bobbin’s greatest claim to fame was its role in the famous case, which I have written about in these columns, when a local man, a regular at the inn, resolved to sell his wife at Burnley market, which he did, settling for two shillings and sixpence!
So, when you in the Padiham Road area, call in at the Tim Bobbin, one of the rarest pub names in the country. So far as I know there are “Tim Bobbins” only at Milnrow, Urmston and Burnley. But why Burnley? This might be explained by the one-time popularity here of Tim Bobbin’s poems and writings and the Towneley connection may be significant too.