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Blackburn in 1835

BLACKBURN, a market-town and township, and, under the Reform Act, a borough, in the hundred, deanery, and parish of Blackburn. It is 209 miles N.W. by N. of London, 23 miles N.N.W. of Manchester, 12 miles N.W. by N. of Bolton, 15 miles N.N.W. of Bury, 10 miles N.E. of Chorley, and 8 miles W.N.W. of Haslingden.

The parish of Blackburn is very large, extending nearly fourteen miles in length, and ten in breadth. It contains fifteen townships and eight chapelries, viz., Blackburn, Clayton-le-dale, Cuerdale, Lower Darwen, Dinkley, Eccleshill, Little Harwood, Livesley, Mellor, Osbaldeston, Pleasington, Ramsgrave, Rishton, Wilpshire, and Wilton, townships ; along with Balderston, Billington, Over Darwen, Great Harwood, Salisbury, Samlesbury, Tockholes, and Walton-le-dale, Chapelries. This district is only a small part of the hundred of Blackburn, whose boundaries are marked by the hundred of Amounderness on the north-east, by the Darwent and the hundred of Leyland on the west, and by the hundred of Salford on the south. It comprises four whole parishes, Blackburn, Chipping, Ribchester, and Whalley, and parts of Bury and Metton, altogether containing eighty townships. This hundred contributes 302 men to the county militia ; and the inhabitants pay nine parts in every hundred to the county rate.

All this division of the county of Lancaster, originally a wild and barren tract. of country, was bestowed by William the Conqueror on Ilbert de Lacy, whose descendants and followers obtained portions of it, and derived from them their titles. Some of the names of these ancient gentry are preserved in a curious book, a copy of which is in the college library at Manchester, entitled ‘The Visitation of Lancashire, made anno 1567, by William Smith Rouge Dragon.’ Among others are Houghton, of Houghton Tower ; Osbaldeston, of Osbaldeston ; Mawell, of Great Merly ; and Talbot, of Salbery. The manor of Blackburn passed from the De Lacies through several successive proprietors, till it became the property of the first Lord Fauconberg by marriage, whose descendant, Thomas Viscount Fauconberg, sold it with all its rights in 1721 to William Suddell, Henry Fielding, and William Baldwin, Esqrs., for £8,650.

Dr. Whittaker, the historian of this district, states that there was a castle at Blackburn in former times, occupied by the Roman-British chiefs, and subsequently by the Saxons, but no vestige of it remains, and the site itself is only known by tradition. Camden, in his description of this place, speaks of it as a ‘noted market-town ;’ while another writer (Bloom), whose account refers to nearly a century later, describes it has having ‘a great weekly market for cattle, corn, and provisions, on the Monday.’

The town of Blackburn is situated near the centre of the . parish, on the bank of a brook, called, in Domesday Book, ‘Blacheburne,’ but which has now no particular name. It is sheltered by a range of hills, which stretch from the north-east to the north-west as far as Billinge Hill. Like most other towns of the same antiquity it is irregularly built ; and until lately the streets were badly paved and lighted. Under the operation of a police act, which provides for the paving, lighting, watching, and cleansing the streets, many improvements have taken place, and others are in a state of progress. The introduction of gas has been very beneficial to the town, and it is probable that the inhabitants will soon discover the advantage of procuring a better supply of water.

The police regulations in this town are very defective. Having no municipal government, the duties of preserving the public peace devolve upon irresponsible persons, and a sort of supreme authority is vested its two officers, annually elected, called high-constables, one for the higher and the other for the lower division of the hundred. The parochial concerns are managed by a select vestry.

The town of Blackburn depends entirely on trade for its prosperity. As far back as 1650, one particular article of the staple trade of the county was produced here with better success than in any other place, which gave it the name of ‘Blackburn checks,’ a species of cloth consisting of a linen warp and cotton woof, one or both of which being dyed in the thread, gave to the piece when woven a striped or checked appearance, This fabric was afterwards superseded by another, ‘the Blackburn grays,’ so called because the materials of which it was composed were not dyed, but sent to the printers unbleached, or as it is technically described, in the gray state, in order to have the patterns stamped upon them.

In the history of those improvements by which the manufacture of cotton has been brought to its present state of perfection, it would appear that several of considerable importance owe their discovery to the ingenuity and talent of natives of this town. Among the rest, the invention of the crank and comb, for taking the carding from the cylinder of the carding-engine, undoubtedly belongs to James Hargrave, a working carpenter. His patent was one of the earliest that was taken out for the construction of the spinning-jenny.

But, for a long period, the chief article manufactured here was calicoes, for which the Blackburn weavers were celebrated. This branch of trade is now transferred to the power-looms, and the remnant of hand-loom weavers are chiefly employed, at the present time, in making low-priced muslins. A considerable section of the working community are engaged in the mills, which are increasing to such an extent, that nearly 200,000 spindles are at work in the town and its immediate vicinity, yielding an average of between 60,000 and 70,000 lbs. of yarn weekly.

The annual amount of manufactured goods is estimated at more than two millions and a half sterling ; but on comparing this estimate with the production of neighbouring, towns, it must be observed that a much greater quantity of cloth passes through the hands of the Blackburn weaver for the same amount of remuneration, than will go into the looms of those districts where a heavier and more costly cloth is produced.

The commerce of the town has every advantage of water carriage, by means of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, which passes the outskirts of the town, opening to the inhabitants a direct communication between the eastern and western seas. The continuity of the coal-beds on the southern side of the town affords fuel at a very reasonable rate. On the northern side of the district, lime of an excellent quality is found in great abundance.

There are no public edifices in Blackburn, except those which are used for religious worship. The parish church, St. Mary's, in the archdeaconry of Chester, is of very ancient foundation, having been built and endowed before the Norman Conquest. This structure was taken down and rebuilt in 1819, upon the site of the old grammar-school; and in 1831, a few years after it was finished, the new edifice was partially destroyed by an accidental fire; it is again restored, and is much admired for its architectural beauty. The living is in the gift of the archbishop of Canterbury, who is rector. The vicar of the church holds the presentations to all the chapelries of the parish, of which there are eight, but he derives no benefit from their revenues. Besides St. Mary s, there are three other churches belonging to the establishment, viz., St. John's, St. Peter's, and St. Paul's. The last was formerly in Lady Huntingdon's connexion, but the minister and congregation having conformed, it was consecrated a few years since by the bishop of the diocese. One of the other two, St. John's, was entirely built by subscription ; and St. Peter's is chiefly indebted for its erection to the parliamentary grant. The dissenting places of worship are ten in number. Baptists, Independents, Roman Catholics, and Methodists, have each two chapels; and the Friends and Swedenborgians one each.

Among the public institutions for the purposes of education, the free grammar-school may be mentioned first. It was founded and endowed, in consequence of a petition to that effect from the inhabitants, by Queen Elizabeth, ‘for the education, management, and instruction of children and youths in grammar,’ and to have one master and one usher. The present income is reported at £120, 7 shillings and 4 pence, consisting of lands and buildings, which have rather decreased in value. The endowment has however been augmented by benefactions from other sources. The general management of the school and the appointment of the masters is vested in fifty governors, who fill up vacancies as they occur. The charter describes the school as ‘free to all the world,’ though the number in it never exceeds thirty, and these have to pay a small fee to the master annually at Shrove tide. In 1819 the old school-house was taken down to make room for the new church, when a neat stone building was erected near St. Peter's church, in the architectural style of Queen Elizabeth’s time.

There is also a charity-school for girls, founded by a benevolent individual of the name of Leyland, in which ninety girls are clothed, and instructed in reading, sewing, and knitting. The national schools are attended by 800 children of both sexes. To most of the places of worship Sunday-schools are attached, and very considerable attention is paid to the instruction of the poor. The number of children who are receiving some education in this way amounts to nearly 5,000. Religious knowledge is also diffused through the Bible Society, the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, and the London and Wesleyan Missionary Societies, who have all auxiliary branches in this town. Political and general information is circulated by means of two newspapers, the ‘Gazette’ and the ‘Alfred.’ The Independents have an academy here, under the direction of proper tutors, for the education of young men of their denomination for the ministry. A horticultural society, which is in a flourishing state, has a tendency to diffuse a taste for useful pursuits. A savings bank has been open ever since 1818, in which the deposits have been very considerable. There is a general dispensary, established in 1823, partly supported by voluntary contributions, and partly by assistance from the parochial funds. The Ladies' Society for the relief of lying-in women, and the Stranger's Friend Society, are maintained by the subscriptions of the benevolent. Societies for sickness and funerals are very numerous among the working classes, and well conducted.

There are no other public buildings except a small theatre; and a cloth-hall on one side of Fleming-square, for the sale of woollen cloths, at the fairs, which are held on Easter Monday, on the 11th and 12th of May, and on the 17th of October. There are also fortnight fairs on Wednesday, continuing from the first week in February to Michaelmas, for horned cattle. Monday was the ancient market-day in Blackburn, but in 1774 the markets began to be held on Wednesday and Saturday, and have continued to be so held to the present time. The market is well supplied with all kinds of vegetables and provisions suitable for such a population, but the want of proper accommodation for them is a subject of just complaint both among buyers and sellers.

The population of Blackburn has kept pace with the extension of the cotton trade. In 1770 it only amounted to 5,000 ; in 1801 it had increased to 11,980 ; in 1821 to 21,940; and in the census of 1831 the population was returned at 27,091. During the same period, a very considerable increase took place in its dependencies, which advanced between 1801 and 1831 from 21,651 to 32,700. Two of the southern townships of the parish, Over and Lower Darwen, now form, under the influence of the cotton manufactures, a town of considerable size, comprising 9,639 inhabitants, and containing two new churches, which have been recently erected, besides several other places of worship established by the dissenters. About 1-17th of the population of this parish are engaged in agriculture ; about 1-14th are in professions or unemployed, and the remainder are occupied in trade, manufactures, or handicraft. The borough sends two members to parliament.