Great Harwood


This is not meant to be a comprehensive view of Great Harwood, if you want to know more about the history of the town where I was born and lived for 40 years then I can do no better then refer you to I In researching my family history I have come across quite a few interesting snippets and, together with personal memories, mainly of the 1950's and '60's, that is what you will find here.

Where it is :

Great Harwood is a town in East Lancashire near to Blackburn. Although approximately five miles by road from there and three from Accrington it really isn't on the way from anywhere to anywhere and as a result it has a character of it's own.

Character :

From the mid 19th century the main industry was cotton like so many East Lancashire towns, and when I was a boy in the late 1940's and 1950's the rhythm of the day was marked by the factory whistle at the end of a shift. All the mills used the same shift pattern and there was a tidal surge of workers heading towards and away from the mills at certain times of day, accompanied by the clatter of clogs on the flagstones and setts.

Although it was an industrial town it is at the same time close to some very pretty countryside, with the Ribble Valley only three and a half miles away at Whalley. As a boy the family would often go for a walk at weekends to Whalley Nab, Cronshaw Chair or around "Y" Hill and Star Delph, returning via Lee Lane. This was the most attractive part of the countryside that could be reached on a Sunday afternoon walk. From Cronshaw Chair it was said that you could see all the way to Blackpool, but without a pair of binoculars we were never sure if we were seeing Blackpool Tower or a factory chimney in Preston.

Shopping :

Throughout the town corner-shops flourished; as people then did not own cars or fridges they got the everyday shopping on a daily basis. These were not just general grocers but also fruit and vegetable shops, bakers (where hot pies were available to workers on their way to and from the mills) and butchers, together with neighbourhood fish-and-chip shops. You only needed to go down to the town centre for hardware, clothing and one or two more specialists shops.

The ubiquitous Co-op had a main store and offices in the town centre and other shops (I particularly remember the butchers) throughout the town. The offices were where you went to get your "divvi", the dividend paid to members of the local co-operative society based on what they had spent during the year. Woe betide me if I forgot to give my mother's Co-op number if I bought anything at one of their shops. It must have made an impression as I can still remember the number today.

Wakes weeks :

In common with most mill towns Great Harwood had it's "wakes weeks", two weeks in the summer when the mills closed for essential maintenance, and the population decamped by train to the seaside. During these two weeks the town was a ghost town. Shops were closed and newspapers were no longer delivered but boys stood on particular street-corners throughout the town with a small supply for those left at home. Its is probably difficult in these days to imagine just how quiet the town seemed, there was very little motor traffic anyway and the absence of people meant that the whole place had an eerie feel.

Railway :

The railway ran along the bottom of our street and, as I mentioned before, it played an important part in the life of the town for two weeks of the year when it transferred the population over to the coast for their annual holidays. At these times the station was packed with families with their cardboard suitcases waiting for their annual holiday at Blackpool, Fleetwood and Southport. This was still the era of the steam train and the sound of an approaching railway engine would attract boys to the bridge to watch it go by and get enveloped with the steam. However, for day-to-day travel, the B13 Ribble bus to Blackburn was probably the more common mode of transport. Great Harwood was on the "loop line" which meant that it was a prime target for Doctor Beeching's cuts in the late 1950's. First the passenger trains stopped, then the goods trains, then they pulled up the track and finally filled in the cuttings. What was once a busy highway is now a linear park.

Coal mining :

Coal-mining played a part in the life of the town back in the 19th century. My own grandfather was a miner and family tradition has it that he was the last man out the local coal pit when it closed and he was then employed as the safety man to ensure the mine did not flood. The 1841 census shows seven Calverts living at Engine, five of whom, including a boy of ten were coal miners. The Ordnance Survey map shows a place called Wind Engine Clough and as a boy we often spoke about Owd engine. These all presumably refer to a winding-engine or headgear for a pit. The Great Harwood colliery worked part of the Upper Foot Mine, part of the Union Mine (the term mine here is used as it was used in the Lancashire coalfields for a seam.).

The OXO :

Depending on the direction of the wind, at times a particular smell permeated the town. This was when you were downwind of the OXO works. This factory, situated off Windsor Road, manufactured the little cubes of concentrated beef stock which were used to make gravy for the Sunday lunch. OXO were a major employer in the town and the company provided alternative employment to the other major industrial presence - cotton. The smell was not unpleasant but quite different to the prevailing smell in nearby Blackburn where three breweries advertised their presence.

An annual event :

One of the traditional events was the annual agricultural show. One interesting feature of this is that it was held at the "Showground" where the local football club played. It is interesting because the Showground was owned by the Agricultural Society which used it for about two days a year although the football club used it every weekend throughout the football season. This seems to show that the town has not lost touch with it's agricultural roots. Looking through the census for 1841 there are almost as many people shown with an occupation related to farming as there are to cotton.

Sport :

The sports I associate with the town are football and roller-skating. The first is probably no surprise - most towns had their football clubs . The interesting thing about Great Harwood's football club was the calibre of it's players. I was told that at one time it had more England caps than any other club in the country. The story was that a few of the players were ones that had played for Blackburn Rovers, Burnley and Accrington Stanley in the past and had retired from the professional game. England internationals Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas who had played for Blackburn Rovers joined the club in the 1960's and this may be the basis of the legend.

It was a little unusual but the town had a roller skating rink just off Town Gate at the bottom of Church St. As children we would go there on a Saturday morning under the eye of Len Mercer who owned the place.   There was a thriving Roller Hockey team and they won the Senior Cup of the National Roller Hockey Association in 1953/4 and 1956/7.