Many links with Whalley

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This week we are going back to have a look at Whalley because the Local History Group there is holding an exhibition relating to the history of the Whalley, writes local historian Roger Frost.

The exhibition started on Saturday, is being held at the Old Grammar School in the centre of the village, but it runs until Sunday. The opening hours are; daily from 10am to 4pm but, on Friday 24th , there is an evening viewing from 6-30pm to 8-30pm.

A resident of Burnley might ask why a recommendation is being made that a visit be made to Whalley. The answer is that these two places are inextricably linked. It is impossible to understand the histories of either of them without having detailed information about both.

The things that hold Burnley and Whalley together include the fact that both are in the Calder Valley, though it has to be acknowledged that, in local government terms, the village is now situated in the Borough of Ribble Valley. This does not change Whalley’s long-standing associations with the valley of the Calder. Residents of Whalley must understand that, though they are now politically in Ribble Valley, much of their history is connected to towns and villages of the Calder.

When Dr Whitaker, a Burnley man, wrote his famous history of the area, he gave it the title “An History of the Original Parish of Whalley” but the book was as much about Burnley as it was about Whalley. In fact, Dr Whitaker’s book remains the starting point for historians of the whole of North-East Lancashire.

Until the end of the 18th Century Burnley and Whalley had similar economies. The dominant industry for both places was wool but the production of timber, and small scale agriculture, were also important. Of course, the Industrial Revolution changed all that, but do not regard Whalley as a place which was by-passed by the Industrial Revolution. The village had its mills and iron works too. The difference was that the great changes brought about by newer methods of production, were more intensively introduced in Burnley.

In the 19th Century Burnley grew into a great industrial town. It just happened that the resources – coal in particular – that were necessary for the transformation that took place could be found in the Upper Calder Valley.

The Lower Calder Valley, the location of Whalley had had its day in earlier centuries. Whalley was already an important religious centre when the Cistercian monks from Stanlow Abbey in Cheshire decided to move to the village. When they got there, they found that there was already an important church in the village, one which had the status of a minster. The monks found, too, that the incumbent (the vicar) was not all that pleased at their arrival. He did little to co-operate with them and effectively delayed their settlement in the village for over a decade.

Eventually, the monks constructed, in Whalley, the second largest monastic institution in the county. It played “second fiddle” only to the great Cistercian house at Furness, in the far north of Lancashire.

Long before the monks arrived in Whalley, Burnley was merely a chapelry of the great parish of Whalley, which was one of the largest of its kind in England. The parish was so large that all of North-East Lancashire, with the exception of Blackburn, a parish in its own right, was within the parish of Whalley.

It is not all that surprising that to become the vicar of Whalley was one of the most sought after ecclesiastical appointments in the north of England. At one time, the vicar had almost 20 curates working for him in curacies stretching from west of Whalley to the Yorkshire border at Widdop. At this time St Peter’s in Burnley was, technically, not even a church; it was a chapel served not by a vicar, as was the case at St Mary’s in Whalley, but by a parson. The parson of Burnley, in reality a curate, was subject to his local vicar, and that vicar lived in Whalley.

However, in something of a twist of fate, the roles of Whalley and Burnley were reversed. Within the lifetime of Dr Whitaker, who held the livings of Whalley, Blackburn and Heysham, as well as his own curacy at Holme Chapel, the foundations by which Burnley became a much sought after ecclesiastical appointment in its own right were laid. This was the consequence of the Burnley Curacy Act which allowed the curate of Burnley to dispose of much of the valuable land attached to St Peter’s. In doing so, he made himself the third richest clergyman in England.

Back to the 13th Century, when the monks finally arrived in Whalley, in about 1296, their patron, Henry de Lacy the earl of Lincoln, made it possible for them to settle in there. He granted them some privileges – rights to the fisheries of the local rivers and the right to appoint clergymen to livings in the ancient parish of Whalley – but he did not forget Burnley. It was Henry who obtained the Charter, from Edward I, which allowed Burnley to hold a weekly market and an annual fair.

I realise that some of you will find it difficult to come to terms with much of this but it really is the case that the histories of Burnley and Whalley are connected. That is why I am interested in the histories of both places and, when asked, along with Ian Thompson, who took the photographs, to write “Whalley and Around Through Time” I felt that I had to do so.

The book, I hope, is not my final word on Whalley. So far as I am aware there is no social and economic history of the village. Dr Whitaker, whose book was first published in 1799, was not much interested in those things. In his day the history of ordinary people, and everyday things, was not thought to be important enough to be included in a book. In fact, whenever Dr Whitaker found himself having to mention, what was then, for example, a modern industrial process, he noted the soot, the noise, the damage to the environment and lamented the passing of the craftsmen with whom he was familiar. He did not want to see the world he knew changed beyond recognition.

However, there will surely be information in the exhibition, put together by the Whalley Local History Group, which will interest us in Burnley. Do your best to visit Whalley’s Old Grammar School over the next few days. As I write this column, I have not seen the exhibition, but, by the time you read it, I will have been and I hope that I will have found what I am looking for, not merely the history of the village but an assessment of the important role played by Whalley over a much larger area.

The images I have chosen for today’s Retro are of places that you might visit when you are in Whalley. Some have been chosen because of their connections with Burnley. That said, it is my opinion that Whalley is worth a visit at any time of the year, though I am not looking forward to one I have to make next week. My dentist is in Whalley!