Blackburn is a large town in Lancashire, England. It lies to the north of the West Pennine Moors on the southern edge of the Ribble Valley, east of Preston, NNW of Manchester. and is north of the Greater Manchester border. Blackburn is bounded to the south by Darwen, with which it forms the unitary authority of Blackburn with Darwen; Blackburn is its administrative centre. At the time of the UK Government's 2001 census, Blackburn had a population of 105,085, whilst the wider borough of Blackburn with Darwen had a population of 140,700.
A former mill town, textiles have been produced in Blackburn since the middle of the 13th century, when wool was woven in people's houses in the domestic system. Flemish weavers who settled in the area during the 14th century helped to develop the woollen cottage industry. James Hargreaves, inventor of the spinning jenny, was a weaver in Blackburn. The most rapid period of growth and development in Blackburn's history coincided with the industrialisation and expansion of textile manufacturing. Blackburn was a boomtown of the Industrial Revolution, and amongst the first industrialised towns in the world.
Blackburn's textile sector fell into terminal decline from the mid-20th century and subsequently faced similar challenges to other post-industrial northern towns, including deindustrialisation, economic deprivation and housing issues. Since the 1950s the town has experienced significant levels of migration, particularly from India and Pakistan, and consequently has the third highest proportion of Muslims (c.25%) in England and Wales and the highest in the United Kingdom outside London. Blackburn has had significant investment and redevelopment since 1958 through government funding and the European Regional Development Fund.
Blackburn was recorded in the Domesday Book as Blacheborne in 1086. The origins of the name are uncertain. It has been suggested that it may be a combination of an Old English word for bleach, together with a form of the word "burn", meaning stream, and may be associated with a bleaching process. Alternatively, the name of the town may simply mean "black burn", or "black stream".
There is little evidence of prehistoric settlement in the Blakewater valley, in which Blackburn developed. Evidence of activity in the form of two urn burials has been discovered from the Bronze Age in the hills around Blackburn. In 1879, a cinerary urn was discovered at a tumulus at Revidge, north of the town and another was excavated at Pleasington Cemetery, west of the town, by gravedigger Grant Higson in 1996. The presence of a sacred spring—perhaps in use during the Iron Age—provides evidence of prehistoric activity in the town centre, at All Hallows Spring on Railway Road.
Blackburn is located where a Roman military road crossed the river Blakewater. The road linked Bremetennacum Veteranorum (Ribchester) and Mamucium (a major Roman fort that occupied Castlefield in Manchester). The route of the road passed east of Blackburn Cathedral and probably crossed the river in the Salford neighbourhood just east of the town centre. It is not clear whether the road predated the settlement.
All Hallows Spring was excavated in early archaeology in 1654 and found to contain an inscribed stone commemorating the dedication of a temple to Serapis by Claudius Hieronymus, legate of Legio VI Victrix.
Christianity is believed to have come to Blackburn at the end of the 6th century, perhaps in 596, there is a record of a "church of Blagbourne" in that year, or 598 AD. The town was important during the Anglo-Saxon era when the Blackburnshire Hundred came into existence as a territorial division of the kingdom of Northumbria.
The name of the town appears in the Domesday Book as Blachebourne, a royal manor during the days of Edward the Confessor and William the Conqueror. Archaeological evidence from the demolition of the medieval parish church on the site of the cathedral in 1820 suggests that a church was built during the late 11th or early 12th century. A market cross was also erected nearby in 1101. The manor came into the possession of Henry de Blackburn, who divided it between his two sons. Later, one half was granted to the monks of Stanlow Abbey and this moiety was subsequently granted to the monks of Whalley Abbey. During the 12th century, the town's importance declined as Clitheroe became the regional centre. In addition to a settlement in the town centre area, there were several other medieval domiciles nearby.
Industrial Revolution and textiles
Textile manufacturing in Blackburn dates from the mid-13th century, when wool produced by locally farmers was woven in their homes. Flemish weavers who settled in the area in the 14th century developed the industry. By 1650 the town was known for the manufacture of blue and white "Blackburn checks", and "Blackburn greys" became famous not long afterwards. By the first half of the 18th century textile manufacture had become Blackburn's main industry. From the mid-18th to the early 20th century Blackburn evolved from a small market town into "the weaving capital of the world", and its population increased from less than 5,000 to over 130,000.
John Bartholomew's Gazetteer of the British Isles provides a profile of Blackburn in 1887:
Blackburn. parl. and mun. bor., parish and township, NE. Lancashire, [14 km] E. of Preston and [340 km] NW. of London by rail – par., 48,281 ac., pop. 161,617; township, 3681 ac., pop. 91,958; bor., 6974 ac., pop. 104,014; 4 Banks, 2 newspapers. Market-days, Wednesday and Saturday. It is one of the chief seats of cotton manufacture, besides producing calico, muslin, &c., there being over 140 mills at work. There are also factories for making cotton machinery and steam-engines. B. has been associated with many improvements in the mfr. of cotton, among which was the invention (1767) of the "spinning jenny" which was invented in nearby Oswaldtwistle by James Hargreaves, who died in 1770. There are several fine churches and public buildings. A Corporation Park (50 ac. in area) is on the outskirts of the town. Several lines of railway converge here, and pass through one principal station belonging to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Ry. Co. B. returns 2 members to Parliament.
From around 1750, cotton textile manufacturing expanded rapidly. Supplied with cotton by merchants, and paid by the piece, cottagers spun cotton into thread and wove it into cloth. The merchants arranged for cloth to be bleached and dyed. After 1775 spinning mills were built in the town. Early mills were warehouse conversions, the first purpose-built spinning mill was constructed in 1797, and By 1824 there were 24 . The number of spindles reached 2.5 million by 1870, and spinning mills were constructed up to that time – 24 since 1850. Spinning declined between 1870 and 1900 as the sector transferred to south Lancashire.
In 18th century Blackburn, weaving was primarily undertaken by handloom weavers working from their own cottages. However, as powerlooms were introduced into the mills after 1825, the percentage of handloom weavers began to decline and occurred more rapidly in areas closer to the town. Handloom weavers continued to make up a sizeable portion of the workforce in outlying rural areas. The last handloom shop in Blackburn closed in 1894. Improvements to the powerloom in the early 1840s, and the construction of a railway line in 1846, led to greater investment in powerlooms in the second half of that decade. The railway brought opportunities for expansion of the cotton trade, and in subsequent decades many new mills were constructed: 68 weaving-only and 4 combined weaving and spinning mills were built between 1850 and 1870, and 9 weaving mills were built per decade between 1870 and 1890.
Decline of the cotton industry
In 1890, Blackburn's Chamber of Commerce recognised that the town was over-dependent on the cotton industry, warning of the dangers of "only having one string to their bow in Blackburn". The warning proved prophetic when, in 1904, a slump hit the cotton industry, and other industries dependent on it such as engineering, brewing and building. In 1908, another slump saw 43 mills stop production and a quarter of the town's looms lay idle.
Suspension of trade with India during the First World War resulted in the expansion of colonial British India's cotton industry at the expense of Britain's, and the imposition of an 11% import tariff by the colonial British Government led to a dramatic slump in trade in 1921; a situation which worsened in 1922 after the Indian Government raised the tariff to 14%, which led to the number of stopped mills increase to 47, with 43,000 looms lying idle. Two years into the slump, Foundry and Limbrick Mills became the first to close permanently. Not long afterwards, in 1926, the General Strike saw production suspended at half the town's mills and 12,000 unemployed. There was another slump in 1928, and another strike in 1929 after employers requested a 12% wage cut; 40,000 cotton workers struck for a week and eight mills closed, making 28 closures in six years. By the start of 1930, 50 mills had shut and 21,000 people were unemployed. A financial crisis in 1931 led to 24,000 unemployed, with 1,000 houses and 166 shops lying empty in the town. A total of 26 mills closed down between 1930 and 1934.
The industry experienced a short post-war boom between 1948 and 50, during which sales increased, industry training methods improved, and automatic looms were introduced; allowing a single weaver to control 20 to 25 looms. Loom sheds were rebuilt to house new, larger looms. Despite the post-war boom, the cotton industry continued to decline, and only 25% of the town's population were employed in textiles by 1951: it had been 60% up to the beginning of the Great Depression, in 1929. In 1952 the number of weavers fell from 10,890 to 9,020. By 1955 more cloth was imported from India than was exported, and between 1955 and 1958 another 16 mills closed. In 1959, due partly to the re-organisation of the textile industry as a result of the Textiles Act, another 17 mills closed. By 1960 there were 30 mills operating in Blackburn.
Closures continued in the 1960s with the Parkside, Fountains, Malvern and Pioneer Mills shutting in 1964. In 1967 the Eclipse Mill at Feniscowles closed, unable to compete with imported cloth sold at nine pence cheaper per yard than the mill could produce. By the end of that year there were 26 mills operating. The 1970s saw further closures, and the number of textile workers in Blackburn reduced to 6,000 by January 1975, the year in which the Albion and Alston mills stopped production with the loss of 400 jobs. In 1976 there were 2,100 looms operating compared with 79,405 in 1907.
In 1807, the Daniel Thwaites & Co brewery was established.
In 1927, Matthew Brown & Co relocated to the town's Lion Brewery, on Coniston Road, following their acquisition of local brewer Nuttall & Co. Matthew Brown was the subject of a hostile takeover by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries in 1987, and ceased brewing in 1991.