Keighley Green: from rural idyll to urban blight

It is not only townscapes that change, a fact amply demonstrated in today’s old photos, but the names by which we know districts of the town have changed.

Wednesday, 19th March 2014, 9:00 pm

One such example is the Keighley Green area of Burnley the name of which, like others in town, was in daily use up to a short time ago.

The area is now dominated by the St Peter’s Centre which houses health and leisure facilities, the latter opened by myself when I was Mayor. When referring to this part of town people tend to say “the St Peter’s Centre” forgetting the area once had a very different history.

References to Keighley Green are few in the early days. In fact the area is merely referred to as “The Green” and it is clear this part of the village served the purpose, along with Shorey Green (in the vicinity of the present Shorey Street and former Burnley College building in Ormerod Road), as the village Green.

By 1400, possibly before, archery butts had been erected at Keighley Green. This is likely to have been the consequence of a Statute of 1389 which indicated that all males between the ages of 14 and 40 had to practice shooting at the butts with the long bow, mostly on Sunday afternoons.

The sense of this legislation was soon realised for, in 1415, it is understood there was a contingent of Burnley archers present at Agincourt, Henry V’s great victory against the French in the Hundred Years War.

It might be worth while recreating what the Keighley Green area looked like in the era before industrialisation. From the small number of accounts that survive for the later period, it is clear this part of town was very pleasant. Keighley Green was bounded by the river Brun and Church Street on the east but to the west the boundary was less definite though I would suggest Bridge Street and Mill Street, both of which existed at this time, are the nearest tangible things that might be regarded as a boundary.

In these early days there was no Bank Parade at its present location above the right bank of the Brun and, when it did arrive, parts of it were known by different names – Bank Street and South Parade, for example. It is thought, however, there were several paths across the area which became Keighley Green. One of them came of Church Street, down to Rake Foot, across the river by stepping stones to the right bank of the river heading possibly for the corn mill, or perhaps, Bank House.

The Green was also on the right bank of the Brun. It was not a large piece of land but was relatively flat and there was enough room for the archery butts which may or may not have been what we think as the traditional type. My guess would be that butts were likely to have been composed of straw, perhaps not circular and painted, as they are often depicted, but possibly quite crude. After all, it was not necessary to go to the expense of having traditional butts. All that was required was a target that would do the job.

Around the Green it is known there was some woodland, especially on the western side where the land rises to meet what is now Bank Parade. You will have noticed there are a number of names which include the word “Bank” in them – Bank Parade, Bank Street and Bank House have already been mentioned and, in addition, there are Bank Hall and Bank Top.

All these names refer to a hill which is continuous from the Brun to Broadbank in Briercliffe. Even the “cliffe” in Briercliffe refers to this feature. Much of the Bank was wooded and there are references to its “sylvan beauty” in a number of sources.

Further to the west, in the later 15th Century, stood Kings Corn Mill, which had been founded about 1292; a farm at the bottom of the present Hall Street and, somewhere along the river (I am not sure where) there was a fulling mill. In addition, there was a smithy and a tannery. It was the river responsible for most of the above for some of them required water power.

Another feature of Keighley Green must have been the mill race which delivered water, taken from the Brun at the Burnley Weir, opposite the site of the present Old Grammar School, to a mill pond the site of which can still be determined adjacent to the former Bridge Inn, now the Bridge Bierhouse.

On the east, there was Church Street and the few buildings which lined its course. To the south was the priest’s house, or parsonage, with its small garden and orchard, a croft by the river, which survived into the first half of the 19th Century. Further south again, there was the property lived in by the curates, the White House, which, had it been there these days, would have been on the old part of Church Street, now known as Keirby Walk.

So, using the not always reliable gift of imagination, the Keighley Green area, at the end of the Middle Ages, would have resounded to the gurgling Brun, the swishing sound of the mill race, the distant sound of corn being ground by the huge wheels of the corn mill and, likely, the singing of birds in the trees on the Bank. Added to that the voices of the archers, enjoying the afternoon following the dismal parson’s not so uplifting sermon on the Sunday morning, would have completed the “soundscape” until dusk fell and the curfew commenced.

Of course Keighley Green was not always like this.

By the 18th Century more industry was moving in and the first of some mean cottages were built on what was to become Bank Parade and Massey Street. It was here that early textile factories – both wool and cotton – were built. One of the first was the Mill Dam Mill of c1780 which took its name from the dam which held in the water intended for the corn mill. Near the river Bazing Hall (otherwise known as the Dandy Shop) was built in 1787 with other places of work nearby.

Soon Keighley Green would be filled with unplanned mills and similarly unplanned housing for the families that worked in them. All this was done without proper sanitation. Some of the employers took their water directly from the Brun and returned it to the river in an appalling state. Houses, sometimes back to back, were built almost on top of each other.

In almost no time Keighley Green was nothing but a memory, if even that. There was a printing works, a malthouse for the brewing industry, a huge cotton spinning mill and the whole of this once idyllic area had been destroyed, perhaps for ever.

Now let us look at the pictures with today’s article.

The first is of Keighley Green Wesleyan Methodist Chapel of 1789 which moved to Hargreaves Street in 1840, after which the old chapel became a magistrates’ court and police station with cells. Some of you will remember the building as Burnley Lads’ Club.

This was one of the better developments, if that is the right word, in this part of town. You can see that the chapel was a substantial building and there was “green space” in front of the structure. Unfortunately, this was just about all that was left of Keighley Green when the photo was taken and you will know now the building has been demolished and though part of it is occupied by a nursery for children, the rest of it is under the car park of the St Peter’s Centre.

If you look at the extreme right of the photo you will see the chapel has been joined by some huge industrial buildings. The chapel is separated from Parsonage Mill, the site of the old Parsonage itself, by a narrow strip of land occupied by the old redundant mill race.

The route of the race can still be traced, from its origins at Burnley Weir to the mill which it fed with water, on the detailed OS map of 1910. This narrow strip also separated the chapel from the malt house (extreme right) and the massive Keighley Green spinning mill, just to the left.

The second picture shows Keighley Green in the foreground. Just about the only recognisable building being the former Drill Hall, in Bank Parade. You can see it in the top right hand corner of the photo – it is the building with what appears to be a round window in the gable. Opposite is the garden of the former Keighley Green chapel and, to the left, are old industrial buildings in Massey Street.

Part of this complex is the Keighley Green, or the Clubs Brewery, with just one building, the surviving antique shop, with is square chimney, on the extreme left. In the foreground you can see more than a hint of what this area was to become, just about the most dreadful scrap yard that has ever existed. A few old cars can be seen just behind the wall of a partially demolished mill on the river bank.

In the distance you can see the arches of Burnley’s railway viaduct, with Parkinson’s, the makers of “Kilkoff” and many other remedies, factory just in front of one of the Stoneyholme gas holders.

It is not a pretty sight but the third picture shows marginal improvement. You can see the former Keighley Green Working Men’s Club in the foreground with the “Lonesome Pine” building to the left. On the extreme left notice the present Market Hall has been completed and, on the right, the GUS building and Brun House, two of the ugliest modern buildings I have encountered. That said even they look good when compared to what preceded them.

As for Keighley Green, it is much better than it was but it is never going to be the place it once was, and mores the pity!