Beginnings 2.

By the golden age of Queen Elizabeth I, Burnley had grown to around 1200 inhabitants and a lot more mud huts, all bringing in good rents for the de Lacy’s. What few Dominican monks that were left after Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had dissolved the “alien” monasteries, learned to speak English and decided to become Protestants. Those that didn’t went to ground. There is a priest’s hiding hole in a farm 3 miles away in neighbouring Padiham.

Two of the richer landowning families, the Catholic Towneleys who had the good fortune to be related by marriage to the Norman De Lacy’s and the Protestant, wool producing, Shuttleworth’s, built the splendid Towneley and Gawthorpe Halls.

You would have thought that these two aristocratic families would have stuck together but come the Civil War they would be on opposite sides at the 1643 Battle of Read Bridge just outside the town. Read is one of those places where very little has happened since. By 1960, when I had a temporary job emptying dustbins there, everyone was in denial.

“A battle? Don’t be daft! Not round ‘ere, lad. I’ve lived ‘ere all me life and I’ve never heard of a battle. You don’t mean t’Battle of Edge Hill? Now, that really were a battle.”

Burnley established a grammar school in 1559, complete with cane. A school that I was to enter, free, 394 years later courtesy of a Labour government and the controversial examination called the 11+. By the time I arrived, there were ugly rumours that some of the staff had been there since it opened.

Whether you went to the grammar school or not, exams of a different kind had to be passed by Elizabethan Burnley boys between the ages of seven and 17 as they practised on the archery butts. They had to have a bow and two arrows. This meant that they got a bit of exercise as well, running backwards and forwards to retrieve them every two shots. Grown men up to 60 got four arrows, which is only fair because if you got to 60 years old in Tudor Burnley you were very old indeed and wanted to do less running. I suppose they got the boys to retrieve the arrows for them.

“I’ll give you a groat, lad. So you can go on Burnley Fair.”

“Mek it two, yer miserable old git.”

394 years after its foundation, the cane was still in operation at Burnley Grammar School and I was one of many to feel the pain and humiliation of its lash, corporal punishment still being deemed to be a necessary part of a boy’s education.

As indeed in the 18th century was cockerel fighting or the gentler sport of “cock-shies” when the grammar school boys just threw stones at the cockerels instead, especially on Shrove Tuesday when a bonfire was offered as an added attraction. Entrance fee was a penny, the money going towards the headmaster’s salary, so he wasn’t going to ban it, was he? The last cockerel standing was declared the winner which must’ve been something of relief until it realised that it had next year to look forward to at which point it’s probably wished it had even been born a turkey.

I suspect that this thirst for blood must go back to the Normans who probably had the word, “violent” etched into their pointy helmets, although I’m sure they were always nice to their mothers. The Normandy Normans were originally Vikings, North men, so they were genetically blessed in the dark arts of terror. It’s just that they were a bit smarter than their ancestors. They’d removed the horns from their helmets and learnt French for a start.

To be continued ….


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