Darwen Lancashire, bleak & barren?

The history trails series looks at a particular place that you can visit now. Images by the author.

Darwen has some hidden gems as well as the new market square, which opened in April 2019. Unfortunately, just before the Covid crisis. Importantly, The square was designed to host community events and offer a space to meet with friends. Since then, these things have been somewhat rare! Now that restrictions are easing, what can we expect from this attractive town on the edge of some beautiful countryside?

Market square, events and more

The attractive new square has a circular central area that focuses attention on the intriguing weaver bird sculpture. Additionally, wooden seating areas are built into the surrounding walls of grey stone. There is also a free standing seating area. Further artwork adorns the support walls. These are of the local “buttery” sandstone, used to build much of the town. Railway road and Church street curve around the edge of the site. Conveniently, buses from Blackburn, stop on Parliament street next to the square. Furthermore, the railway station is only a short walk away.

The weaver bird

In 2019 Blackburn with Darwen council sponsored a sculpture for the new market square. This controversial artwork has been likened to “a plucked chicken” and has already been climbed all over by yobs, despite surrounding railings. The sculpture is woven out of copper sheets, to represent the textile history of the town. It is supposed to represent a peregrine falcon, these are no stranger to the town, as they nest in the old India Mill chimney. Admittedly, a few feathers might have made it less… odd? I like any kind of public artwork, but some disgruntled locals question whether the town should be represented by … a plucked chicken.

History

The Ashleigh round barrow.

Bronze age peoples lived in this part of Lancashire and buried their dead at a site in Darwen. For over 3000 years a round barrow stood guarding the souls of ten inhabitants. Copies of their burial urns can be found in Darwen library. A reconstruction of part of the barrow can be viewed just off Ashleigh street. Additionally, there is an information board that is now looking a bit decrepit.

Roman around

The Romans had a substantial force at Ribchester and the road from there to Manchester, passed to the East of the town. This is still called “Roman Road” which is a bit of a clue! Roman roads tended to be on higher ground, avoiding the boggy and wolf infested valley floors.

Medieval invisibility

There was little occupation in Darwen, even as late as the medieval period. Whitehall cottage is the oldest surviving building in Darwen with a chimney piece dating to 1557. The cottage is on the valley side as the valley bottoms tended to be marshy. As with most northern towns, Darwen is a product of the industrial revolution.

Industrial revolution

Massive growth took place in the 19th century. Subsequently, public health provision did not keep up with the increased population. Whereas, the rich got richer and fled to the suburbs, the working classes slaved in the factories and lived in horrendous conditions.

Samuel Crompton, inventor of the spinning mule lived in Darwen for a time. Most importantly the mule allowed the spinning of more than a thousand spindles simultaneously. Only one operator could run a pair of mules. Likewise, a pair of boys worked as piecers, dodging in and out of the ever moving machinery, fixing broken threads. Consequently, accident rates were high with lost limbs common.

Most of Darwen was built between 1850 and 1900, rows of terraced houses march up the steep hillside like drunken soldiers. The once smoke blacked stone has been cleaned and the railings that disappeared during WW II, in most places, remain.

The railway came to Darwen in 1847, it was built by the snappily titled, Bolton, Blackburn, Clitheroe & West Yorkshire Railway. There is an hourly service between Manchester and Clitheroe, via Blackburn. There are also proposals to extend the service beyond Clitheroe, to Hellifield where the Settle – Carlisle line connects.

The “Jubilee” tower

At the peak of Empire in 1897, Darwen council met to decide on how best to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It was decided that the working classes would be allowed access to the moors and that a tower would be built. Consequently, a competition was held to design the tower. By a strange coincidence, this was won by an engineer in the borough housing department… funny that. Joking aside, this is an interesting building with a spiral staircase and great views from the top.

Walks

The most famous attraction is Darwen tower, walks up to the tower offer great views down the valley. Below India mill can be seen, this is now home to several businesses.

also the lovely Sunnyhurst woods are only a short walk from the railway and bus station.

Sunnyhurst sculptures – a hidden gem

If like me you you love public art, the sculptures in Sunnyhust wood are a hidden gem.

This is an interesting place to visit if you dig a little deeper, hopefully this article will help you explore ….. without the car.

Buses run from Blackburn through Darwen to Bolton.

Trains run from Blackburn, Manchester and Clitheroe.

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