PEEK INTO THE PAST: Burnley’s listed buildings

St Peter's Church
St Peter's Church

“THIS year, 2013, is the centenary of a landmark moment for England’s heritage”.

Thus begins what amounts to a press release by English Heritage. It refers to the passing of the Ancient Monuments Consolidation & Amendment Act which received Royal Assent on August 15th, 1913.

Towneley Hall

Towneley Hall

The Act recognised, for the first time, there are physical remains of the nation’s history which are so special, and so significant, that the state has a duty to ensure their continued survival. This anniversary has made me realise that, though the initial legislation was concerned with the more important aspects of our national heritage, we, in Burnley, owe a considerable debt to the pioneers who put what became the Act together.

The 1913 legislation was introduced in response to an incident in Lincolnshire. Two years before, the owners of Tattershall Castle, which dated from 1440, was put on the market and sold. In a short space of time it passed through several owners until it came to the attention of a consortium of American businessmen who removed the beautiful stone fireplaces from the building with the intention of exporting them to the United States. Tattershall Castle was considered to be the finest example of medieval brick work in England and, soon, there were fears the whole building might be demolished and taken across the Atlantic to be rebuilt in the USA. It was at this stage that Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India and restorer of the world’s most famous building, the Taj Mahal, stepped in and bought the castle.

Lord Curzon, whose very readable biography is entitled “A Most Superior Person”, after something he once said, persuaded the Americans that what they intended was the wrong thing to do. He bought the building and land around it and, in a covert action, set about locating the fireplaces. When this was achieved, they were restored to the castle where they may be seen to this day.

The Tattershall Castle incident resulted in the passing of the 1913 legislation. There had been earlier attempts, in 1882 and 1900, to resolve problems about the loss of ancient monuments which had little or no protection during, for example, the railway building era when numerous historic sites were lost. Some early, what we would call “emergency archaeology” was carried out, occasionally, but it must be remembered that, at this time, archaeology itself was barely established as a discipline.

Shorey well

Shorey well

It was one of the great pioneers of archaeology, General Pitt Rivers, who was appointed the first Inspector of Ancient Monuments under the Act of 1882. He had an uphill struggle to get his work recognised and the Times illustrated this with the comment, “England will not go mad yet on clay funerary urns, flint heads and scrapers”.

Of course, the so-called intellectuals at the Times were wrong – and not for the first time. What they had not realised was that the working man, his hours of work now reduced and his educational achievements higher than ever, was becoming increasingly interested in his surroundings. He not only wanted to support his local football team, he wanted access to the countryside and was beginning to wonder about the place where he lived and what it might have been like centuries before.

In Burnley, the 1880s saw much activity along these lines. It was the time when Tattersall Wilkinson, newly returned from Blackpool, started his search for those who had constructed the large number of ancient burial mounds (tumuli) to the east of Burnley. His amateur digs were well known at the time and the old man made an income showing his fellows the remains at Twist Castle and Ringstones. Mr Wilkinson even put on display some of his finds at his cottage at Roggerham, proving that England, if it did not “go mad”, at the Times would have it, was at least interested in its past.

Incidentally, it was Pitt Rivers who secured, in 1883, the first property for what we now call English Heritage. This was Kits Coty House, the surviving burial chamber of a Neolithic long barrow in Kent.

In 1900, the responsibility for ancient monuments was transferred to the Office (later Ministry) of Works, the forerunner of English Heritage. A number of local sites came under the protection of the ministry and, at the remains of Sawley Abbey, a ministry sign survives.

Getting back to the Act of 1913, its anniversary, later this year, should not go unnoticed. In my capacity as chairman of Burnley Civic Trust. I have spoken to officers of Burnley Council who have already started work on heritage and conservation projects. They agree with me that the readers of this column will be interested in the work they are undertaking and, among a number of what I hope will be positive consequences, I will be writing, in the coming months, about what is happening.

At this stage I cannot be definitive about what we might do, but officers of the council are working on the present Conservation Areas across the borough and are about to start a detailed analysis of the Local List. This is the schedule of buildings of local significance which has remained almost unaltered for a number of years.

I hope the members of Burnley Civic Trust will agree with me that this work will be very worthwhile and their skills, as researchers, photographers etc., will be put to good use. Members of the trust and members of the public will be invited to become involved and it could be that a presentation by officers can be made so the opportunities their work holds out to the community can be realised.

The Act of 1913 is the direct ancestor of the listing process and in Burnley we have a veritable wealth of listed buildings. Most notable, of course, is Towneley Hall which is one of Burnley’s few Grade I buildings. However, it is not generally realised that Towneley Park is separately listed as are seven other structures in the park. They include the magnificent Foldys Cross, the war memorial, the Craft Museum, the Old Stables and a number of farm buildings.

A building often forgotten, but most definitely still at Towneley, is the Ice House and we are particularly fortunate in this respect as we have an image which shows ice, being collected on the lake in front of the hall, to be placed in the Ice House. It is not often the two have survived, if the two existed in the first place.

Here, at Burnley, we can add to the story of ice houses, their design and purpose because of the existence of the building itself and the image.

At St Peter’s we have the wonderful Parish Church but did you realise the church is not the only structure listed in this, the oldest part of town? I have only been able to find one grave that is statutorily listed – the Kay Memorial – but there are others that should be. Other listed buildings close by include the two phases of St Peter’s CE School (the oldest school building in Burnley) and, of course, William Waddington’s masterpiece, the Old Grammar School building. In the latter’s garden, the Old Market Cross is listed as are the remains of the stocks.

Of our churches it is not only St Peter’s that is listed. The Franciscan Convent in Yorkshire Street is listed as is St Mary’s RC church next door. In Briercliffe, the Parish Church of St James the Great is listed. It was known to Archdeacon Carroll as “Burnley’s Little Gem”.

Burnley is an industrial town and we have a number of significant industrial buildings. As I write, work is continuing in the Weavers’ Triangle, or should I call it “The Banks”? This is a project which has produced some controversy and what is to happen here is going to be rather different to that which has occurred in Burnley before.

In the Weavers’ Triangle we are seeing the careful restoration of a spinning mill of 1855 which is going to be put to new uses in partnership with an ultra modern new structure. I can’t wait to see the outcome.

In our other parks a number of structures are listed. An example of one that needs some attention is the Scott Memorial in the park of that name. I know the Friends of Scott Park are aware of this and are working with the council to do something about the condition of the memorial and the bust of the late Alderman Scott. In Thompson Park, the MacKenzie Memorial is in better condition. It can be found near the Rose Garden.

We have a very large number of houses that are listed and I am going to pick out just one of them, the Castle in Manchester Road. If you have not heard about it, Burnley Civic Trust has organised a lecture about the architect who designed the house, Edgar Wood. The talk will be given at Burnley Town Hall by David Morris on Wednesday, April 10th, at 7-30pm.

It could be that future articles in this series will touch upon individual properties. We might look at properties we have lost or, on a more positive note, the successes we have enjoyed in saving some of our listed structures.

Of the latter there are plenty of stories that can be told. I’m looking forward to telling them. I hope you are, too.

Roger Frost