The intriguing history of Hammerton Street

Occasionally, I have looked at a Burnley street and described its origins and history. Recently, I have been looking at Hammerton Street and the area of which it is a part. This article is the result.

A look back in time at Hammerton Street
A look back in time at Hammerton Street

If you know another Hammerton Street anywhere else in the country would you please let me know? I don’t know of another and the reason, probably, is the street is named after one of Burnley’s early lawyers and industrialists. His name was Holden Hammerton and he owned a legal practice in town, was a landowner and may have owned a coal mine in the Hammerton Street area in the very early years of the 19th Century.

I suspect Holden Hammerton was the son of Gilbert Hammerton who is described as “gentleman” in the 1792 Commercial Directory. Another Hammerton was Philip Gilbert Hammerton who was an artist, writer and art critic in the Victorian period and was very well known in his day. The Hammerton family deserves an article to themselves in future but, today, I want to concentrate on the street.

Before I do, the more perceptive of you will have noticed I have referred to “Holden” Hammerton. I pause merely to point out there is a Holden Street in this part of town, the name of which must also have originated from the second Mr Hammerton.

A look back in time at Hammerton Street

Hammerton Street runs in a lengthy arc from its junction with St James’s Street (opposite Curzon Street) to Manchester Road, just above the Town Hall. Strictly, most of Hammerton Street was in Habergham Eaves, not Burnley, and a large stretch of the street was west of the river Calder, the boundary between Burnley and Habergham.

Those of you who know the street will be aware part of it forms a bridge over the river. All below the bridge are, and have always been, in Burnley, but the street above the bridge is just inside Habergham Eaves. Of course, this mattered little before industrialisation but, when this happened, the boundary between the two townships became significant. A number of nearby streets had to change their names as there were, for example, two King Streets and two Foundry Streets very close to each other, though, historically, in different local government areas.

A good time to look at Hammerton Street is in the years immediately prior to the First World War. At this time a lot of the early buildings survived in Hammerton Street many of which have since gone. Added to this, a very detailed Ordnance Survey Map was published in 1910 and an excellent Commercial Directory was published in 1914. It is worth mentioning the directory contains information, not about 1914, but about the year before when the publication was compiled.

A few words about the street and its surroundings before we look in detail at the street itself. For many years Hammerton Street was a typical mixture of domestic and commercial properties. The 1910 map shows houses, both back-to-back and through properties, a number of shops, at least three places of worship and a number of factories, two of which were very well known iron works. In addition, there were a number of warehouses actually on the street or adjacent to it.

There is something else we should consider. The upper part of the street is adjacent to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The buildings of the Manchester Road Wharf can clearly be seen from Hammerton Street. In addition, this upper part of Hammerton Street (the odd numbered side) contains the district once known as Mount Pleasant, an area of tiny back-to-back houses many of which were pulled down in Burnley’s first “housing renewal scheme” which took place 80 years ago. In fact, it would be correct to say such was the condition of some of the worst property that part of it was demolished just over 100 years ago. I have included an image of Mount Pleasant to give you an idea of what it was like, though the photo I have chosen was taken in the 1930s.

The street is very well known in Burnley for being the home of the former Burnley Co-operative Society. Its proper name was the Burnley Equitable Co-operative and Industrial Society Ltd and it was founded, at the junction of Holden Street and Hammerton Street, in 1860. This was a number of years after the founding of the Rochdale Pioneers Society in 1844 but Burnley had had a number of short lived Co-ops, not all of them retail, before that.

The building in which the Society was founded still stands though it is now occupied by a Burnley-based travel agent. I have often thought the structure should bear a plaque to commemorate the founding of the Burnley Co-op in the building. People, these days, seem to forget how important the Co-op was, not only in Burnley, but in the history of retailing in the country, if not the world.

The purpose-built Co-operative buildings of Hammerton Street date from 1862. The first was the building at the junction of Hammerton Street and Hargreaves Street. It still retains its original date stone and the building itself is very nicely proportioned. Next door is a later Co-op building of 1905 which, though it is much more ornate, is not as good a building.

However, on the other side of Hammerton Street, there are Burnley’s main Co-operative Stores. These date from 1885 to 1899 and are splendid buildings designed in the Medieval Italian style and based on the palaces of Venice when the city was at the height of its importance.

It is worth looking at these buildings in detail and, of course, this is best done when on site. If you spend some time there, look for the plaque which commemorates the opening of the 1885 building by the author Thomas Hughes who wrote the famous novel for boys “Tom Brown’s School Days”. Thomas Hughes was an early supporter of socialism and was happy to be involved with the early Co-operative Movement. For those of you who know the book, this might come as a surprise as the novel is about public school life.

If you find yourself at the junction of Hammerton Street and Hargreaves Street, look up at the largest of the Co-op buildings and there you will see the famed logo of the Co-operative Movement, the famous bee-hive. A particularly fine example can be seen on this building, high above the street, one of the best examples of its type to survive anywhere in the country.

To complete the story of the Hammerton Street Co-op buildings, you will notice the huge doorway to the former Assembly Rooms. These provided space not only for cups of tea for shoppers, for which they are largely remembered today, but also room for the many Co-operative activities which took place there. The 1885 building also provided space for the HQ offices of the Burnley Co-op which was the largest retailer in town. Also, near the 1862 building, there is a newer Co-op shop which many of you will remember, with affection, as the Co-op Jewellers.

On the other side of Hargreaves Street, there is the New White Horse Inn which was followed by Bethel, a Primitive Methodist Church, now the site of the Jobcentre. Then, on the other side of the river, there was the famous factory of James Proctor Ltd, makers of mechanical stokers for stationery steam engines.

This building is particularly interesting as it has had a varied history. Much of it was intended as a cotton spinning mill dating from 1819. This building, though partly unused, is still virtually complete. Later parts of the structure, which were also occupied by Proctor’s, were once used as a skating rink!

On the same side of Hammerton Street, the next area is now laid down to grass, but much of it was once covered by the iron works belonging it Harling and Todd, the Burnley loom makers, which was founded at this site in 1844. The land above once contained River Street and a number of the tiny back-to-back houses I have mentioned before.

The two remaining places of worship were on the odd side of Hammerton Street, the chapel at Mount Pleasant (originally Methodist but later Baptist) and the Spiritualist Hall which was at the junction of Hammerton Street and Whitham Street.

There is a lot to say about Hammerton Street and I might return to it some day. The pictures that accompany this article will have to suffice to complete the picture.