Tracing route of one of Burnley’s oldest roads

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After our experiment with maps of the Burnley area we revert to photos, this time of the Padiham Road and Gannow area.

I ought to admit this article has been inspired by the number of complaints councillors have had, over recent weeks, because of road works currently taking place in this part of town. As you will see, there was a time when, though there was considerable traffic in Padiham Road, times were more tranquil.

Padiham Road is one of the older routes out of Burnley. It connected Burnley with Padiham (of course), Whalley, once much more important than it is now, and Blackburn. However, the road did not follow exactly the route it currently does and, in the past, was quite a dangerous one to follow.

This does not particularly apply to the Burnley section of the road but there are a number of accounts of the operation of footpads in the Altham and Clayton-le-Moors area. Clayton-le-Moors, in the past, was more commonly known as “Henfield”, or Enfield. The name has survived in the name of the Lancashire League Cricket Club. However, it was in this area the footpads were centred, probably because of the cross roads on the Accrington to Great Harwood and Whalley Road.

Footpads broke the law in the same way more well-known highwaymen did, except they did their deeds (or misdeeds) on foot. Often they wrapped their boots in cloth to deaden the sound of their feet as they approached their victims and operated largely at night. This gave them another name, “owlers”, as they operated at the same time as the birds. There is an Owler’s Lane in Todmorden. In this instance the name derives from the practice of locals who relieved merchants of their cash as they travelled between Manchester and Leeds.

Before I launch into a history of petty crime in 18th Century Burnley, I will remind myself I should get back to Padiham Road in town. There was no Westgate until the construction of the Blackburn to Addingham Turnpike, which was part of a much larger trans-Pennine scheme, in the mid-18th Century. This road passed through Burnley and it was decided the old route, to the west of town, was not suitable for improvement. Westgate, and the lower part of Padiham Road, date from about 1760.

Some of you will know the old route as Sandygate, the lower part of which still survives. Even today, the road is quite narrow but, in the past, a number of buildings jutted out into the road and a section of it was known as the Ginnel, telling you all you need to know about the difficulty experienced in the passage of wider vehicles. The original canal bridge was also something of an obstacle but that was built after Sandygate, to use a modern phrase, was bypassed.

Sandygate, the “path over the sandy land”, at present, comes to an abrupt end at its junction with the present Trafalgar Street. However, until the 1970s, the road continued over Trafalgar Street to what is now Accrington Road. The junction was by the Angel Inn. The road then crossed Accrington Road, by the General Havelock, to Barracks Road and then on to what is now Padiham Road at Gannow Top.

It is only a short distance from there to Cog Lane which, before the construction of much of the present Manchester Road, was the main road to Manchester. The area around Gannow Top, Gannow Lane, Barracks Road and Cog Lane was, as a consequence, once an important traffic hub.

In addition, the Gannow Top area was one of those places between a few centres of population (Burnley and Padiham – Higham and the villages of the Rossendale Valley) and it is not surprising the great Burnley Radical meeting, which took place in 1819, the same years as Peterloo, was held at Gannow Lane End. This was a field which is now under the M65. Its site is the second of the present roundabouts, coming from Burnley, and the area of the meeting, which was held in the open air, included the location of the former New Hotel in Cog Lane, the former Saw Mill in Guy Street and the property in the former Haslam Street. The Gannow Tunnel, part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, passed directly under Gannow Top and the site of the 1819 Radical meeting.

Those of you who know the area will be aware Padiham Road is integral to road communications in the area, but, unfortunately, we know more about the routes of the roads that feed into Padiham Road than the road itself. There was a route which linked Burnley and Padiham in early times but we are not sure exactly where sections of the road might have been.

Of the properties between the two small towns, as they were until the 19th Century, Palace House stands out. We know there was a property on the site of the present house in the early 15th Century and its name is ancient in that it refers to the “palisade” which surrounded the property in the days when part of this area was enclosed in a medieval hunting park. Notice, when you are in the area, just how close the present Padiham Road is to Palace House. Such a prominent house would have been set back from the road which would, most likely, have been to the south rather than north of the property, as it is now.

This is indicative of the possibility the present Padiham Road does not follow the exact route of the original. If you want to see a good example of this, travel to Foulridge Hall, on the Skipton road out of the village of Foulridge. Once you find the Hall, you will see that, from the present main road, a product of the 18th Century turnpike, you cannot see the front of the house. This is accessed from the Skipton Old Road, to the south. The Old Road predates the turnpike by a number of centuries.

It is my opinion something similar has happened at Palace House, though the route taken by the old highway has been lost in the housing developments south of the property.

What we do know is the route of the Padiham Road, roughly from the Mitre, follows the Ridge. This might be a little confusing as Burnley people are used to references to “the Ridge” as being that stretch of land between the present Queen’s Park and Brunshaw Top. However, to those who lived to the west of Burnley (in Habergham Eaves, as it then was) and Ightenhill, “the Ridge” consisted of the land rising from, roughly where the disused Mitre Hotel now stands, stretching towards the Tim Bobbin in Padiham Road.