PEEK INTO PAST: Padiham’s amazing buildings

WE don’t get to Padiham often enough in this series but when I saw this image, on sale at a postcard fair, I could not resist making a purchase.

I am sure you will all know the building – Padiham’s famous town hall – but you might not be aware this is the first time “Peek into the Past” has published a multi-image card in which all the images (five of them) are of the same building.

Like Burnley Town Hall, the equivalent in Padiham (to my mind at least as good, if not better in some respects, than the former) was designed to provide a number of functions. In today’s image you see views of the county library, the concert and dance hall as well as the council chamber shortly after they were opened at Padiham Town Hall. Burnley Town Hall, in its early days, not only had a council chamber and the expected offices it also boasted a police station, 30 cells, a splendid magistrates’ court and the former central baths.

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The card we publish today made me think Padiham, for a relatively small town, has some impressive buildings. The town hall I will come back to but I will remind you of just a few. The first has to be the parish church of St Leonard which, though on an old site, dates from 1866-9 and was designed by one of the most important of our impressive list of local architects, William Waddington. Then there is Nazareth Unitarian Church of 1872-4 which was designed by a member of the congregation. Virgil Anderton was also active in Burnley designing a row of shops, still complete and very much in use, in St James’s Street.

I have always been fond of the two bank buildings in Burnley Road. Barclays was designed by Nelson architect William Dent and the building is odd as it is on a triangular site, as is the Duke of York, in Colne Road, Burnley. The NatWest Bank is a really impressive building taking its inspiration from the Elizabethan era. It is the kind of building modern finance houses would not contemplate providing in our straightened times – except if they were designing a headquarters in the City. A town like Padiham would have to make do with a little featureless box of cheap brick or rendered breeze block if it had not already got this splendid, if a little over the top, building.

Padiham has some very good streetscapes. I particularly like parts of West Street, with its lovely little handloom weavers’ houses, and Gawthorpe Street, built by the Kay-Shuttleworths who lived at Gawthorpe Hall. There are also some good buildings in Church Street, one of which is coming up to 400 years old and is now the well-known Cellar restaurant. On Burnley Road there is the distinctive Sweet Home which was built, in 1856, as a small row of houses by a Friendly Society, one of the best examples of such property in the area.

I have to mention the farm buildings in Green Lane and, one of my favourites, Stockbridge House in Victoria Road. This is a 17th Century L-shaped house with great mullioned windows and a charming sun dial, dated 1829, over the east doorway. When I first saw this property it came as a surprise. I was introduced to it, in my early days as a member of Burnley Council, by planning officers who had arranged a tour of projects placed before the Planning Committee as it was then known.

Not being from Padiham, I have had to admit, at least in those days, I knew little about its buildings. Stockbridge House, in Victoria Road, an attractive street in its own right, not only was an interesting building it had attractive gardens. On the day of the visit the latter were all the better for the good weather but I was impressed such a house has survived so close to the town centre. Of course it is one of several to have done so but I did not realise that then.

The remaining outstanding building associated with Padiham is, of course, Gawthorpe Hall, now a National Trust property and open to the public, housing the Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth collection. I have always enjoyed my visits to Gawthorpe and staff there are involved in a wide-ranging public consultation to improve the visitor experience even more. There are lots of things that can be achieved from improving the gardens, the walled garden and Great Barn. Expect some positive changes, resources permitting, in the near future.

Back to the town hall. It was opened in 1938 and is by the architectural firm Bradshaw, Gass & Hope of Bolton. The building is of brick but classical in design with a stone portico of four stylized Corinthian columns. When Burnley Civic Trust acted as hosts to the Twentieth Century Society, Padiham Town Hall was one of three structures they wanted to see in the borough. The others were the Anderson Frieze, formerly at the Thompson Centre but happily reassembled at Crow Wood, and the Prestige building in Burnley’s Colne Road.

Because of the kindness of Mrs Elizabeth Bolton, town clerk of Padiham, it was possible to visit much of Padiham Town Hall and members of the Twentieth Century Society, who had travelled from all over the country, were thrilled to have had access.

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Every year Padiham Town Hall’s Concert & Dance Hall plays host to the town’s splendid archive exhibition and, this year, the exhibition takes place on the weekend of October 1st and 2nd. The venue will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on both days and admission is £2. Refreshments will be available and everyone is welcome.