As Burnley grew in the 17th century small-scale, hand-loom weaving had started and the woolen cloth industry began to be important to the town.
Given the hours people had to work to eke out a living there wasn’t much time for entertainment but for those who couldn’t face the trip to Lancaster for the beheadings, hangings, drawings, quartering and burnings, Burnley had its stocks and pillory, whipping post and ducking-stool to give relief from a long week spent over the loom or working on the land.
The stocks were still in use in 1815 when a man in them was daubed with treacle by some Burnley lasses who then turned over a nearby beehive. We’re told the man died of his stings.
With hindsight he’d probably have preferred to be at the Battle of Waterloo, which had just started.
It was another fifty years before the stocks were used for the last time.
If you were lucky you could come across a spot of bear or bull-baiting although the last known bull-baiting might have taken place at an old pub called the Hole i’th’ Wall in 1760. I first became aware of the pub in the late 1940’s and there wasn’t a bull in sight. For those of a gentler disposition there was bear dancing, which hung on in Burnley until 1920. I mean how could a bear compete against silent movies?
By the mid 18th century it became possible to manufacture goods using linen and cotton as well as wool and in 1736 Burnley’s earliest known weaving “shed” was built on the banks of the Calder and the town’s industrial future began to take shape, namely the manufacture of cotton by workers in “sheds” or ”mills” driven at first by waterpower.
The days of Burnley having meadows by its rivers were about to end. So was the quality of the water in them.
But, at least, you couldn’t be burnt or hanged if you were a “witch” because it was in the same year, 1736, that the Witchcraft Laws were repealed.
You could hear the cackling all over Pendle.
One can only hope the Church offered up a prayer of repentance.
It might have been something the Methodist preacher, John Wesley did on one of his four visits to Burnley towards the end of the century. There were about 4000 souls to be saved in an expanding Burnley. If he preached on a Sunday it was perhaps to a captive audience. Some years before local J.P.s had banned, “Leaping, football, quoits, bowls, hunting, tippling in ale houses, swearing and cursing on the Sabbath.”
In 1770 you could even post a letter at the small-whitewashed cottage that was to be the post office for nearly 80 years, postal charges paid by the receiver. Mercifully junk mail hadn’t been invented. Pillar-boxes had, though you’d struggle to find one, by mid-century there were only two.
John Wesley had preached from a mounting block in front of the Thorn Inn, converted as many early inns were, from a farmhouse, one of the 18 or so public houses in Burnley at that time.
If Methodism was born in song, it certainly wasn’t born in drink and he would have been appalled to hear that by 1880, Burnley’s expansion had produced 87 hotels, inns and taverns ready to slake a workers thirst.
The Methodist Chapels that began to spring up before and after Mr. Wesley’s visit didn’t have the same attraction for the huddled masses as the pubs, although both the Methodists and the Baptists would grow congregations big enough to be of significant political importance in Victorian Burnley.Soon, locally mined coal, from what would become an industry in itself, was fuelling the furnaces of the newly invented steam engines now driving the looms. Burnley’s first engine was introduced at the Peel family Mill in 1790, not without threat to Burnley’s handloom weavers who sometimes wrecked the new machinery and got themselves shot in the process.
The coal necessary to drive the steam engines and provide coal gas for lighting was mined at a high human cost. Men, boys, girls and women all worked down Burnley’s mines on a 54 hour , six-day week.
Little had changed in attitudes to child labour, since 1809 when a boy died in the town after cleaning over thirty chimneys in one day.
The early Industrial revolution exacted its dues from children as young as five and it wasn’t until 1872 that the minimum age for boys working underground was raised to ten. The bad news was that they still had to endure a 10 hour day and low and uncertain wages like their fathers.
By the end of the century thanks to its wool and cotton industry, Burnley had been transformed from a huddle of mud huts into “a thriving and populous town”.
The railway had reached Burney in 1848 after the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. With improved road links to Liverpool and Manchester, a population of about 40,000 and that damp climate, Burnley became by 1886, the largest manufacturer of cotton cloth in the world, produced on looms made in the Burnley Iron Works.
“King Cotton” had begun his reign although he demanded a lot from his subjects.