Can you help with history of non-Conformist churches?

Bethesda Street Church
Bethesda Street Church

This column has, in the past, been able to help one of our local historians with his research.

Stephen Child, formerly Burnley’s deputy district librarian, has written a number of books on local church history, including “From St Peter’s to St Mark’s: A history of Anglican Churches in Burnley” (2006) and “From Towneley Chapel to Christ Church Ecumenical Centre: A History of the Catholic Church in Burnley & Pendle” (2008).

Though Stephen comes from Blackburn, I have not held it against him because, some time ago, he found some research I thought I had lost and he returned it to me. I was really grateful for that and had the pleasure of going on a conducted tour with him of his own church, Pleasington Priory, near Blackburn. It is not surprising, therefore, that Stephen’s third publication was “A History of Pleasington Priory”, published in 2010.

This book is a model of the modern church history and Stephen is now working on a book the subject of which will be the Nonconformist Churches and Chapels of Burnley, and this is where you come in. There are four chapels about which Stephen has very little information – Whittlefield Methodist Church and Lane Bridge Methodist Mission, Burnley, and two Padiham chapels, the Thompson Street Methodist Church and Ebenezer Methodist Church.

It is not often appreciated just how important Nonconformity was in Burnley’s past. There were numerous Methodist, Baptist and Congregational places of worship in the town and its surrounding communities. Many of them have gone almost without trace, their buildings demolished and their records not available to the public. On top of this, a number of works of art have been destroyed, including memorials to those who lost their lives in the tragedy that was the First World War.

Although there were some really big Nonconformist Churches like Brunswick, formerly in Manchester Road, Burnley; Ebenezer in Colne Road, also Burnley, and Claremont, off Padiham Road, there were others that were very small.

I wonder if any of you have information about any of the four places of worship I mention above? Stephen is particularly interested in the dates when these churches closed but I am sure any information about the history of the churches, who might have been associated with them, what organisations they ran, details about their buildings, photos etc will be gratefully received. You can contact Stephen through me on 01282 435863.

In a recent column I mentioned what is believed to have been Burnley’s second Workhouse. There had been an earlier workhouse in the Brennand Street area in the 18th Century though very little is known about it. The building may have been located near what is now the Colne Road end of the street, but it is more than likely neither Brennand Street nor Colne Road were in existence at that time. At best there may have been an unmade path where Brennand Street is today, which might account for the old name for this area, Rake Head – “rake” is an old word for a path. Colne Road, as the workhouse operated before the construction of the turnpike, may have been little more than a track at this time.

We do not know when the Brennand Street Workhouse closed but we do know that, in 1819, another workhouse was built nearer to the centre of Burnley. The site chosen was Royle Road, the continuation, in a northerly direction, of Brown Street which is off the lower section of St James’s Street, Burnley. The building is shown on both the Fishwick Map of 1827 and the Merryweather Map, which was surveyed in the early 1840s, but the level of detail is not very helpful.

I thought the site of this workhouse might be indicated on the very detailed 1851 OS map. This map was a projection of the original OS survey which started in the late 1830s and was completed a few years later. I think the first map to be published, after this survey, was the 6in. to the mile map of about 1844 and this map shows a building I take to be the 1819 workhouse but, again, it lacks the detail necessary to tell us much about the site.

However, the 1851 map gives us a different story. It has its problems, one of which is that the area which it shows has changed so much that it is not easy to work out exact locations today. At the present time the former connection between Brown Street and Royle Road has been lost and less than a handful of buildings in the area have survived to the present day.

There is though one constant and that is the river, in this instance, the Calder after it has been joined by the Brun. The river follows the same course that it has always done and, on its right bank, are the words, “Burnley Union Workhouse”. The building is located on the left at what today is the junction of Royle Road and Ashfield Road, though the latter is not named on the map. In fact it looks as if Ashfield Road had not yet been constructed as workhouse property stretched right to what was then the newly constructed railway viaduct. The workhouse covered an area of 6,000 square yards and the main building, adjacent to Royle Road, was 162ft. in length and 36ft. wide. Between this building and the river there were a number of other buildings which Walter Bennett describes as washhouses and a “shed” in which there were 16 handlooms upon which inmates were expected to work.

The map shows the main building was divided into numerous rooms but how they were used is not indicated and neither is the height of the building though I suspect it would have been of two floors. Behind the main building, which has the general shape of a mule spinning mill, there is a large “yard” divided into five or six parts. Again, the use to which they were put is not indicated but there area at least four substantial walls making three well defined areas.

Another feature worth mentioning is that the main building is not quite as wide as two rows of back-to-back cottages next to the workhouse buildings. Both of these rows, one in Royle Road, the other on the now almost forgotten Cable Street, had 18 cottages and these rows are shorter than the main building at the workhouse. Noting this is useful as it informs us not only how big was the residential building at the workhouse but gives us some idea of how many people might be lodged there.

I said, recently, that it might be possible to reconstruct what the workhouse looked like but, as you will have noticed, if the building was standing in 1851 when the map was published, and it was not replaced until the 1870s, which we also know, the 1819 workhouse survived into photographic times. That is now my quest, to find out if a photo of this building has survived. The first place to start is Burnley’s Local History Library and I would like to thank the librarians there for helping me thus far.