A bright and cool autumn day saw a small but select group on the canal at Finsley Gate in Burnley. We were lucky that Mike Clarke was able to meet up with us and start us off on our walk around Finsley Gate and onto the straight ‘mile’ or Burnley Val.
According to Roger Frost, “the Burnley Embankment is, perhaps, the only outstanding monument relating to transport heritage and history in our borough. It is the largest double embankment in the country – there are other single embankments which are larger but none which have two sides.” Others such as the Barton Swing Bridge, over the River Irwell, or the Anderton Boat Lift, may be better known nationally.
There is the most fascinating history of the importance of the canal to Burnley folk, opened in 1796 in Burnley it wasn’t until 1816 that the whole canal was open from Liverpool to Leeds. In fact it was only the discovery of coal that re routed the canal to Burnley, prior to this the canal was planned to go from Whalley to Padiham and involved with transporting lime around the area. The use of lime itself is interesting as the discovery of the strength of lime mortar enabled houses to be constructed of two storeys, this in turn enabled people to house a weaving loom and thus provide their livelihood. Lime was also used to paint the walls – enabled more light to be available to see to weave and also acted as a disinfectant. The provided safe and regular transport for goods mainly cotton, wool and coal and people at various times. In the early 1800’s passenger boats sailed between Blackburn and Burnley daily, the passengers must have had some fun as there was a fiddler, alcohol could be sold without a licence and this led the Canal police sergeant to say that there was riotous behaviour on Sundays!
Well there would be wouldn’t there? (To paraphrase Mandy Rice Davies..). Cotton workers spent fourteen hours a day in the mill and on Saturdays they were very lucky… they only needed to put in twelve hours work! Due to the Ten hour Act in 1847, women and children were restricted to ten hours per day, maximum 58 hours a week. These people were our great great great grandparents, it more than literally makes you want to weep. Of course the NSPCC didn’t start until the 1880’s and then it was based in the south in London. In some houses there was no furniture, in Colne people sat on stones or old boxes, in Burnley a one room occupancy of twelve was not unusual and sometimes the dead occupied the same room, no money meant no burial.
Mike outlined how the Finsley Gate basin was used, it was a very busy place, full of horses and wagons and men and boats going about their business and daily lives. At one point the canal in Burnley was more successful than the Railway to the detriment of their business. Gradually though the successful invention of Henry Ford led to cheaper and more efficient motorised transport and although the canals no longer thrum to tenor of work, they provide a calm and pleasurable serene way to look at many aspects of nature. (although you have to avoid looking at distractions like litter and rubbish). There is much interesting information about the history of Burnley associated with the canal and should you wish to know more you might want to get hold of one of Mike’s books including one entitled ‘The Leeds and Liverpool Canal: A history and guide”.
Some of us were waylaid and did not finish the walk on the ‘straight mile’ having been tempted with a warming hot chocolate at a well known store near to the canal.
Did you know?
That the Barracks in Burnley, near Gannow top, were placed there due to riots in the local population and also in other nearby Lancashire weaving towns.
That 90 foot high hoods were placed over the lime kilns next to the canal to reduce smoke nuisance in 1849.
The views from the Straight Mile of the surrounding countryside are a sight to behold. How lucky we are to be living in such lovely countryside.
Banner Image:Burnley ‘Straight Mile’ embankment. 1984. The canal looks half drained…. Credit: Mike Clarke