Sketches show a rose-tinted view of Burnley’s past

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I thought long and hard about compiling an “April Fool’s Day” Retro for you but I could not extend it to 10 postcard images, writes local historian ROGER FROST, so I will have to use what I have devised as a “Peek into the Past,” perhaps next year.

What I have decided to do is introduce you to a class of postcard which I do not use all that often in my Express articles. I refer to the artist’s sketch converted into a postcard. Sometimes these are of historic scenes dating from the time that photography was in its infancy but, more often than not, the artist must have had a photograph in front of them when the work was undertaken.

There is another observation that I should make. This refers to a number of the images published in today’s article and that is that the images themselves are photographic but have been treated to look like drawings. I will mention these when I introduce you to the individual cards.

I might have mentioned, in previous articles, that an old postcard image of Manchester Road in Burnley was taken by a photographer when it was summer. Later, the same image was re-issued as a card that would appeal to buyers at Christmas. The summer card shows vehicles in distinct positions on the road and pedestrians making their way either to Burnley centre or walking up Manchester Road but the later postcard, in addition to what has been described, has snow on the ground, snowy roofs and snowy window sills. There is even a touch of glitter on the re-issued image!

Another category of this kind is the illustrated business letterhead. There were lots of these but not all that many of the Burnley ones have survived. One that has is of the former Clock Tower Mills which stood on Sandygate. The image is a bird’s eye view of the Sandygate area done as if it is an architect’s drawing. The mill, as you might expect, dominates the image, but, as you may recall, its site was a difficult one. However, the artist has made the best of the mill, squaring up the buildings and making them parallel to the road, which was certainly not the case. Of course, the firm, the cotton waste merchants and processors, John Watts, wanted to give the best impression of their premises and its surroundings.

This not only illustrates the fact that postcards, and letterheads for that matter, are not always to be relied upon for their accuracy but, sometimes, the makers of an individual postcard might go some distance to deceive their customers. Of course, if the deception can be identified it might not matter all that much and it might be argued that artists should be given the licence to show what they see.

As you will know, it is not the intrinsic value of the cards themselves that interests me, I use my collection as historical evidence hopeful of the accuracy of the phrase which goes to the effect that “the camera cannot lie.” On the other hand, when making use of postcards, especially when they are not photographic, I am always aware that accuracy was not always the intention of the maker.

Care has to be taken with the type of images that we publish today. It is not only that the artist might not be as talented or as accurate as some might hope but, occasionally, one has to be aware of what might be regarded as the artist’s hidden agenda.

This can be seen in the first image that I have chosen, a drawing of St Peter’s Church. The church is seen after the reconstruction work of the late 18th Century – the sundial of 1791 on the south wall is proof of that – but before the Victorian work of the 1850s. This was carried out in the time of the Rev. Robert Mosley Master who was Incumbent of Burnley from 1825 to 1855. The work involved, at least in part, the construction of a clerestory which raised part of the roof of the nave of the church and the making of the magnificent Master Window at the east end.

In the picture neither of these features is present and, if we took the time to look closer, other changes to the building would become evident. What we need to know, however, is that the purpose of the artist was to establish the historic importance of St Peter’s at the time the image was drawn.

Notice, in the foreground, right, the remains of the old Burnley stocks, the town’s whipping post and the base of the 17th Century market cross. These are some of the things that defined Burnley when it was little more than the pre-eminent village of the area. The church, which dominates the picture, completes the story which is that this part of Burnley was historically the centre for religious, judicial and commercial activity.

From a time in the latter part of the 18th Century, Burnley’s market and shopping centre was transferred to a site at the bottom of what is now Manchester Road. The wide part of St James’s Street, to the left of its junction with Manchester Road, became the new Market Ground until it was, in turn, moved to Thorn Croft, the site of the much lamented Victorian Market Hall and the present site of its successor. The initial commercial move coincided with changes in local government and, a little later, when this image was conceived, there were plans for daughter churches to take on the heavy burden of St Peter’s which up to then had been the only Anglican place of worship in town.

All that said, it was often the case that an image of this kind was historically accurate. So far as we know, St Peter’s did look like it is shown in this image. It was a five-bayed building and other images confirm the arrangement of windows at the east end. It is known, also, that the stocks and the base of the market cross were located at this site as late as 1851, at which time Austin and Paley, the Lancaster church architects, were being approached to carry out their impressive work on St Peter’s.

Another image which is also essentially accurate is the one of St James’s Street as it was about 1850. The card is entitled “Old Burnley” and the artist has made his sketch from a position by the pavement in the Market Ground referred to above. The image shows the Swan, the Bull Hotel, the original “gawmless gas lamp” and the shops either side of St James’s Street in the direction of Goodham Hill, now the lower end of St James’s Street.

However, we know that the Bull Hotel, for example, was stone built. There is no hint of that here and the same is true of the other buildings in the town centre. All of them were constructed of stone as well and there is one other thing that concerns me, the quietness of the scene. At this time Burnley was a busy market and industrial town. It might not have been market day but there would have been more carriages waiting for hire than the one in the middle of the picture. And where are the shoppers? There are a few but not as many as would be needed to ensure the commercial prosperity of the town.

Mind you, that was not the purpose of this card and neither was it that of the other cards I have chosen for you to consider today. You will see that most of the cards have few people on them – the scene, whether accurate or not, by a talented artist or not, is the important thing.