PEEK INTO THE PAST: Transport hub of Burnley town centre

OLD photos of the most familiar parts of Burnley town centre are very popular with readers of this series. I get the most questions and comments about this part of town so am always careful to be as accurate as possible with views like the one today.

As you can see, the image is of the part of St James’s Street, now pedestrianised, but formerly the bus station and, before that, the main stopping place for the trams. In fact, in this picture, something of the tram era survives though buses have taken over.

In the middle of the photo notice the clock. This, for many years, in both the tram and bus eras, was very much part of Burnley centre. It was vital for telling the time in an age when not everyone had their own watch and this clock regulated, in their days, the tram and bus timetables. Lots of Burnley people, and doubtless those from outside town, arranged to meet under the famous clock attached to the office of Burnley’s Tramways Department.

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In the photo, if you look carefully, you will notice some of the buses are awaiting new passengers while parked at pedestrian islands. These islands were created in the tram era and it was once a common sight for as many as four trams to be parked next to each other in this part of St James’s Street. The street itself had been designed to be wider than the rest of the highway and it was here t Burnley’s Open Market was held once it had moved from Church Street in the 18th Century.

The vehicles themselves are interesting and they help us to date the image which is taken from a postcard. Unfortunately, the card is unused and bears no stamp and is not franked. Similarly there is no printer’s name on the card, though the declaration, on the back, that “this is a real photograph” probably tells us all we need to know.

The bus nearest the camera is numbered 154, its registration number HG 6496. From this, if we consult Alan Catlow’s “Burnley, Colne & Nelson Joint Transport”, we learn the vehicle was a Leyland TD5C, on it way to Trawden (route 8). The bus was bought in 1938 and saw service with the local transport undertaking until 1955 when it was sold to Bird’s of Stratford. So thorough is Alan that he even noted the vehicle was fitted with a 7.4 litre oil engine and a crash gearbox in February, 1948.

There are a number of other buses in the photo but only one can be identified. This vehicle is the one to the left of the bus we have already discussed. Its fleet number is 74 and, using the same method of identification, we find the bus was a Leyland TD3 bought new in 1934 and seeing local service until 1951 when it was disposed of to the Burnley firm of Used Units in Whittlefield.

As I indicated, the information about the buses helps us to date the postcard which, therefore, is based on a photo taken in 1951 or before but no earlier than 1934. The vehicles I have mentioned were both put to good use at the time of the Second World War and, though I cannot recall seeing a TD3, at least in Burnley, I know I have travelled on a number of Leyland TD5Cs.

A photo like the one we publish today takes us back more than 60 years to the town centre many of us preferred. If we start at the right, you can probably see “WH” on a drawn awning. These are the first two letters in the name of a company which is still with is, W.H. Oddie, the confectioners. Though the building they occupy in this picture still remains, the firm now has other premises in the town centre.

The next building is the Grand Super Cinema which was built in 1922. It was designed by the Burnley firm of architects, Lancaster, Son & Parkinson and the cinema, which could accommodate 950, was reputed to be one of the best-equipped in the provinces. When I was a boy the building was shuttered and closed but the cinema next door, the Palace, was in full swing and was one of the few I visited.

The buildings on the left of the postcard are not as clear as the ones we have looked already. Right in the middle there is Burton’s, the men’s outfitters, which is still there. These premises occupy the site of the Bull Hotel of 1819, once Burnley’s most important hotel though the store dates from 1933 and was pretty new when the photo was taken.

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Coming along St James’s Street there is the Old Red Lion, once a fierce rival of the Bull. This side of the Red Lion, as now, you can see the Swan Hotel, now the oldest building in Burnley town centre. Behind it is part of Burnley’s old lock up which dates from the riots of 1817.

The row of shops, extreme left, housed some of Burnley’s better known businesses. They include the White Lion Hotel, Greenhalgh’s the dry cleaners, Ralph Mason’s the famous tripe dealers, the Lubeck Milk Bar, the Clock Face Hotel and the furniture dealers Cavendish’s.

Of these the milk bar, with its distinctive white frontage at ground floor level, can clearly be seen. Conversely, the only other building we can identify clearly is Cavendish’s, the building with the white tilework at the upper floor level.

There is another subject which is worthy of comment – the mill chimneys, five of them, I think, in the background. Most of the better postcard makers excluded industrial images from their work. Here we see the mill chimneys which, when the photo was taken, were representative of Burnley in a very real way.

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I suppose it could be said that, though the mills and their chimneys might have defined Burnley, postcard buyers wanted to see shopping parades, churches, museums and leafy municipal parks. Most of Burnley’s postcards fall into these latter categories and it is my view the firms which made the cards believed mills did not add to the attractiveness of the image being sold.

A splendid view of Old Burnley – my opinion of this new image which has only recently been added to the Briercliffe Society’s Collection.