Days when you had to carry a gun in Burnley

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In the old days Yorkshire Street was known as Eastgate, “the path or way to the East”.

The route made its way along the present Yorkshire Street to Brunshaw Road, via the present Harry Potts Way, to Pike Hill, Higher Red Lees, Overtown and Southward Bottom to Holme Chapel.

Construction work being undertaken on the present Culvert between 1925 and 1926.

Construction work being undertaken on the present Culvert between 1925 and 1926.

A number of the milestones along the route – the first is built into the wall at Turf Moor – can still be seen.

Of course the road, once an important turnpike, led to Yorkshire.

At Overtown, which is one of the villages of Cliviger, a choice had to be made. The traveller could opt for the ancient route over the Long Causeway or he could take the newer road through the Cliviger Valley.

We all know Heptonstall and Todmorden were, as they remain, the first significant places on the Yorkshire side of the county boundary.



Heptonstall was later replaced by the newer community of Hebden Bridge but it was Halifax which was the destination for many of the travellers setting off from Burnley.

These were the days when Halifax was one of the great centres of the wool industry. With its Piece Hall the town was essentially the northern market for that industry, the place where the wool masters and the wool merchants met to trade in what was the country’s staple commodity.

There were other, smaller markets. One of these was on the Lancashire side of the county boundary at Colne and another was situated at Heptonstall. This latter, and the Piece Hall in Halifax, have survived but the equivalent in Colne, which was built in 1775, was demolished, much to the consternation of local people, by the less than progressive Colne Council in 1952.

Burnley never had a Piece Hall, though, until the late 18th Century, Burnley’s main industry was wool rather than cotton. In fact one of Burnley’s biggest wool firms, Crossley’s, which had been operating in town since the 16th Century, moved to Halifax in 1792 and became the world renowned Crossley’s Carpets in the 19th Century, a fact often overlooked by Halifax historians.

The lack of a Piece Hall made Burnley a significant place on the route from the East Lancashire towns to the market in Halifax. Masters and merchants from Blackburn, the area around Accrington and the Clitheroe district had to make their way through Burnley and this, in part at least, accounts for the large number of inns, with facilities for horses, in Burnley town centre.

All of those associated with the wool trade, and who made Burnley the starting point for their sometimes dangerous journey over the Pennines, had to make their way to the part of town that we are going to look at today.

The old Eastgate, one of the many Burnley names which include the word “gate”, eventually became Yorkshire Street and the other main street name associated with the area was Gunsmith Lane. This street connected Yorkshire Street and Church Street and the name refers to one of Burnley’s oldest industries, the making of guns.

We tend to forget Britain was once like parts of the United States in that many of its citizens owned guns.

In America, the right to possess a gun is enshrined in the Constitution but in Britain, before the arrival of modern police forces, it was a necessity.

There was no effective police force, as we would understand the concept, though each community had to have its own part-time constable and some towns had night watchmen who had enforced the curfew in earlier days and had “watched” the town for criminal activity at night.

When travelling in the Pennines, especially in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, many thought it wise to carry a gun. There are numerous accounts of robberies taking place in the more remote parts of the area. Of course guns were used by both sides and sometimes they were discharged.

Most gentleman had guns not only for the purposes of protecting property but many of them enjoyed a bit of sport and shooting was popular among some members of the better off families. Guns were required, therefore, for sport as well as protection.

The Yorkshire Street and Gunsmith Lane part of town was originally part of the estate owned by Whalley Abbey.

At this time it was mostly agricultural land though there were a few properties close to both streets. The Parsonage House was close to where Gunsmith Lane met Church Street though the property was on the other side of the river.

At that time it was possible to cross the Brun by the use of some picturesque stepping stones which were to the south of the present Coach and Horses. In later years they became something of a danger and were replaced by the famous Police Bridge.

The Coach and Horses, in the 17th Century, was a private house which, difficult to appreciate these days, had lovely views across the river in the direction of the Bankhouse area.

Where the St Peter’s Centre now stands, at Keighley Green, a name now lost to most of us, there was the ancient archery butts. In time this area was developed when a number of wool masters established their warehouses there. They were joined by small, mean houses for the textile workers needed as the wool industry expanded in the 18th Century. In fact Keighley Green became one of Burnley’s earliest slum areas.

Across the river, apart from Church Street and what became Hill Top, development was much slower. The land was quite good and, by the middle of the 18th Century, a number of small market gardens were established in this area.

We know something about one of them because it is described in several accounts of the area but we do not know when the first house on the site was built.

I refer to the site many of you will recall as being occupied by the Yorkshire Hotel. The building you will remember was a much later building but photos survive of an earlier structure, an attractive house, and this shows all the signs of dating from the early 18th, possibly the late 17th, Century.