Bacup is a town within the Rossendale borough of Lancashire, England. It is located amongst the South Pennines, along Lancashire's eastern boundary with West Yorkshire. The town sits within a rural setting in the Forest of Rossendale, amongst the steep-sided upper-Irwell Valley, through which the River Irwell passes. It is east of Rawtenstall, north of Rochdale, and east of Preston. At the time of the United Kingdom Census 2001, Bacup—which encompasses the outlying communities of Britannia, Stacksteads, Rockcliffe, Trough Gate and Weir—had a population of 12,763.
Bacup emerged as a settlement following the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain in the Early Middle Ages. For centuries, Bacup was a small and obscure centre of domestic flannel and woollen cloth production, and many of the original weavers' cottages survive today as listed buildings. Following the Industrial Revolution Bacup became a mill town, its landscape dominated by distinctive and large rectangular woollen and cotton mills. Bacup received a charter of incorporation in 1882, giving it municipal borough status and its own elected town government, consisting of a mayor, aldermen and councillors to oversee local affairs.
In the late 20th century Bacup became part of the borough of Rossendale – at which time the town was suffering from chronic depopulation and urban decay with little in the way of infrastructural change in a century. Nevertheless, Bacup's historic character, culture and festivities have encouraged the town's suburbanisation and redevelopment as a commuter town; English Heritage has proclaimed Bacup as the best preserved cotton town in England, and its town centre is designated as a conservation area for its special architectural qualities.
The name Bacup is derived from the Old English fūlbæchop. The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names translates this as "muddy valley by a ridge"; the fūl- element, which meant "foul" or "muddy" was used in the earliest known reference to the area, in a charter by Robert de Lacey, around the year 1200, as used in the Middle English spelling fulebachope. The prefix ful- was dropped from the toponym. The -bæchop element is less clear, possibly meaning "ridge valley", or else "back valley" referring to the locale's position at the back part of the Irwell Valley.
Bacup and its hinterland has provided archeological evidence of human activity in the area during the Neolithic. Anglo-Saxons settled in the Early Middle Ages. In the 10th century the Anglo-Saxons battled against Gaels and Norsemen at Broadclough in northern Bacup. Medieval Bacup was an obscure and lightly populated chapelry linked with the parishes of Whalley and Rochdale, and divided between the townships of Newchurch and Spotland in the hundred of Blackburn. This chapelry spanned scattered hamlets and farmsteads spread across the hillsides and open moorland.
The geology and topography of the village lent itself to urbanisation and domestic industries; primitive weavers' cottages, coal pits and stonequarries were propelled by Bacup's natural supply of water power in the Early Modern period. The adoption of the factory system, which developed into the Industrial Revolution, enabled the transformation of Bacup from a small rural village into a mill town, populated by an influx of families attracted by Bacup's cotton mills, civic amenities and regional railway network. Locally sourced coal provided the fuel for industrial scale quarrying, cotton spinning and shoe making operations, stimulating the local economy. Bacup received a charter of incorporation in 1882, giving it honorific borough status and its own elected town government, consisting of a mayor, aldermen and councillors to oversee local affairs.
Bacup's boom in textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution resulted in the town developing into a prosperous and thickly populated industrial area by early-20th century. But the Great Depression and the ensuing deindustrialisation of the United Kingdom largely eliminated Bacup's textile processing sector and economic prosperity.
Bacup followed the regional and national trend of deindustrialisation during the early and mid-20th century; a process exacerbated by the closure of Bacup railway station in 1966. Bacup also experienced population decline; from 22,000 at the time of the United Kingdom Census 1911, to 15,000 at the United Kingdom Census 1971. Much of Bacup's infrastructure became derelict owing to urban decay, despite regeneration schemes and government funding. Shops became empty and others appeared tatty or downmarket. The houses along the main roads endured as the original terraces from Bacup's industrial age, but behind these, on the hillsides, are several council estates.
Records in 2005 show Bacup to have some of the lowest crime levels in the county, and the relative small change to Bacup's infrastructure and appearance has given the town a "historic character and distinctive sense of place". In 2007, the murder of Sophie Lancaster attracted media attention to the town and highlighted its urban blight and lack of amenities and regeneration.