PEEK INTO THE PAST: Burnley’s Saville Row of the 1800s

Peak INot The Past
Peak INot The Past

This week, through the kindness of Mr Brendan Salmon of Barlow’s, the herbalists in Standish Street, we have a splendid photo of Old Burnley to examine.

Though this picture will have been taken about 120 years ago, many of the more senior readers will know exactly where the photographer was when he was at work. For those of you who don’t, we are in Burnley centre at the bottom of Manchester Road and looking down St James’s Street towards Westgate.

As you can see, the photo was published as a postcard but there are no details, on the image itself, of when taken, posted or by whom. However, with regard to the former there is a clue in the picture which will help us date the photo. Notice the name J. Hepworth & Son Ltd, high up on the building just off the centre of the upper part of the picture. Hepworth’s were men’s tailors and outfitters and they first appear at 69 St James’s Street, Burnley, in 1890.

Interestingly they are only mentioned in a single Directory at this address because, in 1893, 69 St James’s Street appears to be occupied by the Liberal Unionist Club and Hepworth’s had moved to 17 Market Street. In 1896 the St James’s Street address was occupied by a firm called Ansell’s, who were also clothiers, and Christian Mitchell had taken over the use of the Market Street premises.

From this, we must assume Hepworth’s were only at 69 St James’s Street for a few years around 1890. I have the Commercial Directory for that year and this part of St James’s Street might well have been regarded as Burnley’s equivalent of Saville Row. Between Curzon Street and Bridge Street there were no fewer than 10 tailors, drapers and hatters, though at least one of them, I feel, catered for ladies rather than men.

In 1890 one of the men’s firms, Richard Boys, of 103 St James’s Street (near Curzon Street), described himself as a “hatter and cricketer’s outfitter”. I realise cricket was much more popular in Burnley in later Victorian times than it is now but I was surprised to see a specialist shop of this kind in Burnley.

If you look at the bottom right of the photo, you might be able to make out the name of one of Burnley’s better known outfitters. The firm was called Cash & Co., and, technically, they were hatters. This was in the days when almost all men wore hats and it was the type of hat worn which determined the status (class) of the wearer.

My grandfather always wore a hat and, if purchasing in Burnley, bought his hats from Dunn’s which was also in St James’s Street. This, though, was in a later age but Robert Frost came from Luton, a town which, before Vauxhall Motors arrived, was famous throughout England as the centre of the hatmaking industry. The local football club, for which my grandfather played as a young man, was known as “the hatters”.

Cash & Co. was not a cheap shop. The firm carried some very good lines in men’s clothes. I recall it changing its name, I think, to Roy Marlor but eventually, like so many relatively local businesses (the firm was based in Preston) it gave way to the larger national firms. Even they, these days, are remarkable for their almost total absence. Only Burton’s and Greenwood’s survive in Burnley these days and Burnley’s myriad of tailors has been replaced by purveyor’s of casual wear to which our father’s and grandfather’s would not have given house room.

The photo is one of those on which I could write a great deal. Let us turn to some of the buildings. We can’t see the building here but there is an advert for the Thorn Commercial Hotel in the centre of the picture. The Thorn was one of old Burnley’s most attractive and appreciated buildings. It stood back from St James’s Street, just to the right of the sign, and, in front of the hotel, there was a small piece of ground, formerly a garden, in which there was a beautiful little hawthorn bush.

The Thorn had been built as a small farmhouse in the days when most of Burnley centre was farm land. Behind the building, which once had its own barns and other structures used in agriculture, there was a large plot of land called Thorn Croft. This became the market square for the much-loved Market Hall which was lamentably destroyed in the later 1960s.

Of course, Burnley’s original market was held in Church Street, close to the church. The market dated from 1294 and it was held near St Peter’s until the later 18th Century when it moved to the wider part of St James’s Street, roughly where the photographer was standing when taking today’s picture. Towards the end of the 18th Century, or perhaps at the very beginning of the 19th, a small market hall was built within the site depicted in the picture before you. It was not until 1870 that the magnificent Victorian Market Hall, that many of us remember, was built.

The main entrance to that building was in Howe Street and, though that highway is not on this photoh, we can work out where the Victorian Market Hall was in relation to the picture. In the middle of the photo, and at the top of it, you can see the top of a tall stone-built structure, the highest point on the picture. This was the very impressive Empress Hotel and the main gates and entrance to the 1870 Market Hall were opposite the Empress.

If you want to work out where, on the ground, these buildings were, make your way to the Mall and, at its junction with Chancery Walk, there is (or was until recently) a large card shop. This business occupies the building which replaced the Empress Hotel. The new building was known, at first, as the New Empress or the Empress Grill and the shop, which occupies the premises, still retains some features that were clearly not intended for retail premises.

Not a building but a gas-lit street lamp is the next structure we will consider. This can be seen in the foreground and it is the original “gawmless”, a street lamp which dated from 1823. The Burnley Gas Company had the lamp placed there as an advert for gas lighting which was very new at that time. The name derives from a little joke told at the time. It was said the street lamp must have been “gawmless” as it stood in the street all the time!

The last thing I will mention is the tram track. No tram can be seen in this photo but the track can clearly be seen. Burnley’s tram system dated from 1881 and, at first, it was steam-powered although horses were used on parts of the route. Here we see a loop in the single track system which was designed so trams could stop in St James’s Street. There was no track in Manchester Road until 1904 so the loop to the left, on the picture, had nothing to do with that.