Outrage at plans to cut a Burnley park in two

I started a two-part article on Belvedere Road, Burnley, and mentioned it is one of Burnley’s newer main roads, what the name means, how the area around it was developed before 1912, when the stretch from Yorkshire Street to Thurston Street was built, and I promised you this instalment would be quite interesting.

Wednesday, 25th March 2015, 1:08 pm
History of Belvedere Road

Of course, the latter remains to be seen but it is not every street in Burnley that was the subject of a major, and somewhat acrimonious, debate in the Council Chamber. I will come to this later but intend to start this week’s piece on the Cricket Field side of the road, near the junction with what is now Harry Potts Way.

As you will know, there are large hoardings at this point now. However, in the past (and I referred to this last week) it was here Burnley Horse Fair took place. It has been pointed out, at least to me, I might have given the Horse Fair a little more status than it probably deserves. I would say in response that, because so little is known about the fair, I was merely speculating about what might have happened in the days before the road developed.

There is nothing wrong with a bit of speculation in articles like these, so long as the speculation is kept within reasonable bounds of probability. My reference to Burnley having Newmarket-style horse sales was intended to be humorous.

Burnley Horse Fair may have originated in the Middle Ages, though it is possible it was founded earlier than that. The Market Charter, obtained from Edward I in 1294, by Henry de Lacy, Lord of the Manor of Ightenhill, may have regularised something which existed, on a casual basis, before that time. It could have been that there was already an occasional market for horses in the Burnley area and there had been at least the equivalent of a fair somewhere in the locality.

If I was asked to say where that place might have been, I would not have argued that it was located on what was to become, 600 years later, Belvedere Road. The most logical place would have been somewhere in the Top o’ th’ Town area, perhaps making use of the route from the village of Burnley to the open field to the east. This route, an unmade track, more than likely, followed a similar course to Ormerod Road, which was then known as Godley Lane, and, not very far along it – perhaps somewhere near the present Godley canal bridge - the open field began. This latter stretched in the direction of the Ridge, ahead and to the right, and towards Heasandford, to the left. The route to the open field was just that.

In the Middle Ages it was not needed for any other reason, so it would have been just the place to hold the kind of country horse fair that was common, at this time, in communities – even those as small as Burnley – throughout England.

There is, though, in Burnley, something to add into the equation and that is that the Burnley area was a horse breeding centre. There were facilities for this at Ightenhill and it is likely that at least the better off in the district would have had an interest in the same subject.

Remember that, at this time, horses were needed for all sorts of reasons. There was no navigable river in the Burnley area. Similarly there was no canal in the vicinity until 1795/6. The horse was needed for transport, farming, hunting and numerous other reasons. Why would there not have been some sort of fair for horses before 1294?

We do not know when the fair was relocated to Brunshaw Bottom, which is, I suppose, the proper name for the part of Burnley we are considering. When the Burnley area started to grow, in the 18th Century, a small village developed at Brunshaw. There is little of it left today but old maps reveal that, somewhere near the current Clarets shop, and stretching in the direction of Brunshaw Hill, this little community became established. There were a few quite large houses there, one on the site of Brunshaw House, but most of the properties appear to have been small handloom weavers’ houses.

Nearer to Burnley, at the crossroads made by the coming together of Yorkshire Street, Brunshaw Road (as it was then), Belvedere Road and Todmorden Road, there was the building I referred to last week, the cottages by the Cricket Field.

It was in front of these cottages that Burnley Horse Fair was held. There are references to them being used as meeting places for the traders but that is just about all we know about them, at least in this context.

I am stating the obvious when I mention these cottages survived into photographic times and we are fortunate in another respect in that a photographic record of another building in the vicinity also survives.

I refer to a building identified on the 1912 maps at “the Hall”. This was located, in Belvedere Road, almost opposite Ridge Road, a street off Belvedere Road. If you have ever wondered why Ridge Road is built at an angle to Belvedere Road I can tell you. It was built, not to give access to houses, but as part of the route of the ginney track railway to the canal from Rowley Colliery.

At the canal end, there was a sizeable coal depot where there were also staithes for the loading of coal into canal barges. A small section of the ginney track was underground, running under the pavement which links Albert Street and Leyland Road to Belvedere Road.

On the other side of Belvedere Road there was “the Hall”. I include a photo of it and, as you can see it was a timber building just above the Cricket Ground.

In the picture, taken in 1911, there are the members of a church football team together with the men who managed the team members. The name of the church can be seen on the ball. It reads “St Catherine’s III, 1911” and refers to the “third team”. “The Hall” was St Catherine’s Club House and changing rooms.

As I wrote last week, in 1912 there was little between Thurston Street and Ormerod Road apart from the two rows of houses between Thurston Street and Doris Street, which runs between Leyland Road and Belvedere Road. However, it is here the event in the Council Chamber comes to the fore.

In February 1924 the Burnley newspapers were full of a story which captivated the town.

Officers from Burnley Council were proposing to cut Queen’s Park in two! The Burnley Express produced the map showing the “Proposed New Road” cutting across the park, taking out one of the tennis courts and, I think, one of the original bowling greens.

The Express commented that the scheme was to “divert traffic from the Culvert and Church Street (and) to make a wide road from Todmorden Road, in as straight a line as possible, to Colne Road, coming out at a point this side of the borough boundary.... the road would go along Belvedere Road; thence through the fields to Queen’s Park; cut the park in two just above the Thursby Memorial; join the Queen Victoria Road and over Heasandford Bridge; about Browhead Road would strike upwards, skirting St Andrew’s Cricket Field; cross Briercliffe Road above the Workhouse.... Emerging at Cone Road”.

The newspaper added “there will be much public protest and indignation if this part of the scheme is persisted in”. It was referring, not to going through the fields between Belvedere Road and the park, but to cutting the park in two.

Of course, we all know this is what happened, though it may be that the line shown on the map was not exactly taken. It could be that it was moved a few yards to the south west, but I am not sure.

The decision was controversial. Queen’s Park was only 31 years old when the plan to divide it was first aired.

At the time, Burnley people, as they remain, were very supportive of their parks and, it should be noted, that, at the time Burnley only had four parks. Thompson Park, in 1924, had not been developed. Neither had Bank Hall Park, or the Brun Valley Park and Queen’s Park served a much larger area of the town than is the case at present.

It is here we come to the end of our little discourse on Belvedere Road.

I know I have missed out the tennis club, the church, the retirement home and fire station but I will, likely, be mentioning them, in another context, in future.