PEEK INTO THE PAST: Burnley celebrates 150th anniversary of borough status award

Burnley is about to commence a year in which we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the awarding of borough status to our town. This was granted by Queen Victoria in 1861 and the Charter, which confirms the award, can be inspected in the town hall.

In the current financial circumstances, I expect this year’s celebrations will be pretty low key. I can’t imagine the council organising a programme of events on the scale which accompanied the 100th anniversary in 1961.

There was a distinct pride about the town in those days. There was a feeling the anniversary was well worth commemorating and just about every organisation in town was involved. We even have a daily reminder of the year in “Centenary Way”, just about the most important of our roads in Burnley.

Some of you will recall the magnificent procession through the town to the Prairie Fields and the ox roasting which took place there. I remember this event and being rather disappointed with the roast ox sandwiches which my father purchased for each of us.


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At the distance of 50 years, I am not sure what I expected. The sight of the roasting ox doubtless increased my expectations but, as my only experience of ox was my mother’s delicious oxtail soup, what appeared on my paper plate, wrapped as it was in a doorstep of white bread, fell decidedly short of what I had been anticipating.

I have lots of memories of 1961 primarily because my father was involved in some of the work which went into the organisation of the centenary celebrations. It has crossed my mind that if any of you have memories of life in Burnley in 1961 – especially if they involve the town’s centenary – I would be pleased to hear from you. With your permission, I would publish details in this column and those of us who can remember the events of 1961 will be able to tell those who don’t what it was like to be part of Burnley 50 years ago. Please write to me at the Express or email me at [email protected]

The pictures we publish in this edition are of a long gone Burnley, one which no one alive today will remember. There is, though, a connection with the 1961 anniversary as both photos appear in the splendid centenary edition of the “Burnley Official Guide”.

They are marked “Burnley Centre” and “Munn’s Corner, St James’s Street” once familiar to all Burnley residents but swept away at roughly the time when the town was celebrating the 50th anniversary of the granting of its charter.


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The picture showing the line of cabs in the middle of St James’s Street is the older of the two and, so far as I know, unless a little of the property on the extreme right survives in some of the buildings at this location today, nothing in the picture has come down to us.

This photo must have been taken before 1876, the year in which the three storied shops (top right) shown in the more recent picture were designed by Virgil Anderton, the Padiham architect. These buildings are still with us today but the other buildings have all gone.

It might be that some of you are a little confused as to where we are. Let me explain. The photographers who took the pictures were standing in St James’s Street near what was then almost a cross roads made by the junctions of St James’s Street itself and Manchester Road and Bridge Street. Of course the more recent picture, taken 20 or so years after the earlier one, is taken from a little higher up the street.

I have long since thought this photo is one of the best we have of Old Burnley. It is, in its original, a good clear image and the picture is atmospheric conveying a real feeling for the town and its people. The horse and cart, the stone setts, the single tram line, the people and even the shop window at Munn’s Corner add interest to the photo.


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The older picture is a little faded and I am a little suspicious of the property in the upper right hand part of the image. The buildings shown there are supposed to depict property at the corner of Parker Lane and St James’s Street.

In those days, as now, the building was the Boot Inn (though in an earlier version) but it looks to me that an artist has had to add to the image and, in doing so, has changed the appearance of this part of town. The essence of the location is still there but a number of things are missing which I would have expected to be visible at this time.

Of course artistic intervention in the production of postcards in the past was very common. My collection contains numerous examples of this.

I have one, a scene in Manchester Road, where snow has been added to an image taken on a summer day! Another has been altered to make more distinct buildings at the Curzon Street junction with St James’s Street when the image was taken from a location at the bottom of Manchester Road.


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Mentioning the latter part of town, the older of today’s pictures shows a gas lamp, extreme left. This is the original “gawmless” though it appears, very formally, on early maps of the area as “Gas Column”.

In recent years the council decided to memorialise the old gawmless with a new lamp at the old location, so when you are next in Burnley centre take these images of “Old Burnley” with you and see how much our town has changed.