If someone returning to Burnley after an absence of, perhaps, 30 years travelled along both the Colne and Briercliffe roads he might not see all that much of a difference.
Looking in the Barden Lane area, especially at its junction with Colne Road, that would not be the case, and a deeper examination of the Daneshouse area would reveal there have been substantial changes with lots of demolitions and some half-hearted rebuilding.
The latter is a disappointment though there might be good reasons for it.
Burnley, for example, remains just about the only borough in the region in which its population continues to decline. The reason for this is that a higher proportion of Burnley is urban when compared with other local boroughs.
Pendle, for example, in addition to its problem areas, such as Brierfield and Nelson, has relatively prosperous rural areas which include the Pendleside villages and the communities which border the Ribble Valley and Craven area.
In Burnley, we do have not dissimilar areas – Cliviger, Ightenhill etc – but they are smaller and, therefore do not offset the problems created by the decline of the town’s urban areas.
We are going to visit one of Burnley’s older urban areas to see what it was like towards the end of the era in which, in some respects, it was relatively prosperous.
This was a prosperity was brought by the success of the cotton and other related industries, but it should be remembered prosperity in Burnley is relative.
It can’t be, and never could have been compared to the prosperity of many other areas even in the north of England - areas like North Yorkshire, Cheshire or even the more local Ribble Valley.
Prosperity in Burnley meant high levels of employment in manufacturing industry where wage rates, for most workers, were relatively low.
One group of workers in Burnley contributed significantly to local prosperity – women, who worked in the cotton textile trade, mostly as power loom weavers.
They were not particularly well paid but, looking at the figures from a national perspective, there was a time when female weavers in cotton mills were earning more that most other women.
The latter were often restricted to working in retail or as “servants” in better off households. Servants, because part of their income was usually paid in residence (living in the household in which they worked) with little money changing hands, were particularly cheap.
My father, and his two sisters, were looked after by two young girls, one of whom “lived in”, because both of his parents were working in the family business. The Frosts were not wealthy but they could afford to employ these two girls because they were paid so little.
A weekly income, in a cotton weaving shed, generally depended on what you could weave and the quality of your work. It did not matter all that much if you were a man or a woman, the piece-rate system meant both male and female weavers got similar wages.
Of course men had certain advantages when promotion was brought into the equation, but a consequence of the wage structure in a weaving shed was that women weavers were relatively highly paid and that, in households where both the head of household and his wife were working, fairly good money was earned.
This was particularly true in the latter years of the reign of Queen Victoria and it was, during those years that the Colne Road and Briercliffe road parts of Burnley were developed.
A walk around the area reveals a number of date stones on residential and commercial property, largely from this era. There are, and were, of course, properties which pre-dated that period, especially in the Hebrew Road area but there, as we shall see, others scattered all over the area.
Burnley’s biggest coal mine, at Bank Hall, was just off Colne Road; Stanley Mill remains in Shackleton Street, which is off Briercliffe Road; Bishop House Mill (now the site of the Lidl store) was in Rylands Street and one of Burnley’s most important employment areas was on the canal bank in the Elm Street area.
In addition, there was the Reedley Hallows Brick Works, and its large quarry, on Barden Lane.
Because the figures for Colne Road and Briercliffe Road are affected by the number of shops I have taken Hurtley Street, in 1914, as an example of the type of people who lived in this part of town.
At 30 heads of household, weavers predominated, the next highest categories being colliers and “labourers” at six each.
The importance of textiles is brought home by references to spinners, engine tenters, beamers and overlookers but there were three cloggers, two “shop-keepers”, four grocers and two drapers on Hurtley Street all of whom, I suspect, were in business for themselves.
In fact Hurtley Street turns out to have had quite a mix of occupations. There were also a number of houses in which the head of household did not work. In most cases there were retired people taking advantage of what they would have called the “Lloyd George”, the pension.
You will have noticed another point, there were a perhaps surprisingly large number of small businesses on Hurtley Street. In 1914 there were lots of such business all over Burnley, but particularly on the Colne and Briercliffe Roads to which we must refer now.