Blackburn: Books About The Town

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A bestseller in England and celebrated as one of the great memoirs in many years, The Road to Nab End: A Lancashire Childhood is a marvelously evocative account of growing up working-class in a northern English mill town in Blackburn, Lancashire.


From William Woodruff's birth in 1916 in the carding room of a cotton mill, until he ran away to London at the age of sixteen, he lived in the heart of Blackburn's weaving community.


After Lancashire's supremacy in cotton textiles ended with the crash of 1920, his father was thrown out of work. From then on, Billy and his family faced a life blighted by extreme poverty.


For the working-class families of Lancashire, unemployment was an ever-present fear: "If you worked you ate. If there was no work you went hungry." Billy's boyhood was not all misery. Working-class pride and culture made for tight family and neighborhood bonds and added savor to the smallest pleasures in life.


William Woodruff writes with an understated lyricism and an eye for telling details that effortlessly pulls us into another time and place.


  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Eland Publishing Ltd (30 Jun 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906011265
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906011260

Not since George Miller's 'Evolution of a Cotton Town', published over half a century ago, has such a comprehensive history of Blackburn been produced. From the early years to the present day, all aspects are covered. The chapters on recent history are particularly useful.  When George Miller was wielding his pen, cotton was still a major employer and Blackburn and Darwen were distinct and separate communities.  Now cotton has gone and Darwen and Blackburn are one.


  • Hardcover
  • Publisher: Carnegie Publishing Ltd (21 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859361137
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859361139

Covering an eighteen year period in which horses and carts are displaced by motor vehicles, black and white television joins the wireless as home entertainment and children are re-labelled teenagers, this memoir evokes a time of significant social change.


An account of a Lancashire childhood, it delivers snapshots not only of one family and one town, but also of a wider, vanished way of life. Memories of home, school, and leisure activities crowd the pages as Joan, a lower-middle-class girl, travels from infancy through junior and grammar schools to a place at university. In passing she visits places as far apart as Cornwall, the Lake District and Switzerland.


The main location is Blackburn, still a thriving cotton town in 1940 when the account begins, but set on the western outskirts where cotton magnates once built their mansions rather than in the industrial centre. The family: father, mother, brother and sister, live in an old coachman's cottage in the partly developed grounds of one of these properties, so the surroundings and activities are as much rural as urban.


The memories begin with wartime and the departure of the father and two uncles for the RAF, one of them never to return. The hardships of the period form the early background to events important to Joan as her child-sized world expands beyond the enclosed grounds to the local area and school.


The circle widens as she grows and the family fortunes improve, encompassing people she meets, organisations she joins and town activities such as its centenary, far more significant to her than the Festival of Britain taking place at the same time. There is grief, joy, humour and family conflict as Joan acquires the attitudes, interests and knowledge she will carry with her as she leaves for university, but always set against the secure background of a loving family.


This is no tale of the misery and deprivation of so many working-class people who lived in the town but an appreciation of the happy childhood of a lower-middle-class girl. 


  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Breedon Publishing (23 Sep 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1859837220
  • ISBN-13: 978-1859837221


Blackburn Through Time is a unique insight into the illustrious history of this part of the country. Reproduced in full colour, this is an exciting examination of Blackburn, the famous streets and the famous faces, and what they meant to the people of this area of Lancashire throughout the 19th and into the 20th Century.


Looking beyond the exquisite exterior of these well-kept photos, readers can see the historical context in which they are set, and through the author's factual captions for every picture, and carefully-selected choice of images, the reader can achieve a reliable view of Blackburn's history.


Readers are invited to follow a timeline of events and watch the changing face of this quintisental Lancashire town, as Raymond Smith guides us through the streets of Blackburn.


There is something for everyone here, whether they have lived in the area all their lives, or whether they are just visiting this vibrant and diverse town. It also shows how photography has continually evolved to keep up with an ever changing society.


  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Amberley Publishing (31 July 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848685084
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848685086

Blackburn From Old Photographs offers a captivating glimpse into the history of the busy, industrial town of Blackburn. Drawing upon an eclectic collection of over 200 photographs, Ray Smith presents the reader with an insight into the town's past and present life.


Although views of thriving High Streets, vanished buildings and well-known houses are included, the emphasis throughout is on the people who were born, or settled, here. Browsing through the photographs you will notice the increase in the number of vehicles on the road and changes to road layouts. Shops have not only changed ownership but also the goods that they sell or are perhaps now estate agents or charity shops. And industrial estates, houses and office complexes are now part of everyday life in the area.


Many poignant memories are given a new lease of life, offering a trip down memory lane for some; for others this charming book will be a voyage of discovery.


  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Amberley Publishing (30 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1848681445
  • ISBN-13: 978-1848681446



"Humble and self-taught, there is a wholesome quality in the simple verse of these men that we shall seek in vain in the sophisticated products of most contemporary poetry."

George C. Miller.


The present writer seldom reads the well-known poem, from which the lines on our title-page are quoted, without being strongly reminded of his native Blackburn.  It is true that Blackburn, though a "town of toil and traffic," has very few "memories of the middle ages" to delight the diligent student of the past; that it possesses no hoary castle, and no ancient cathedral with "saints and bishops carved in stone" above its doorways.  Nor is it in such a place as Blackburn that the pilgrim will find everywhere around him--


    The wondrous world of art,
Fountains wrought with richest sculpture
    Standing in the common mart.

He who seeks these things may indeed find them, or some of them, in the immediate vicinity--at Clitheroe, or Hoghton, at Whalley, or at Mitton--but in our town itself, since the demolition of the farmer very ancient parish church of Saint Marie, he will find no building old enough to remind him of the days "when art was still religion," and when England's heart was young.  But what he will find is a population descended from the "brave and thrifty burghers" who in the course of a few generations have made Blackburn the largest cotton manufacturing town in the world; and who might with as much truth as the burghers of Nuremberg, boast "in uncouth rhyme," that their busy town has indeed "stretched its hand through every clime."

He will find, too--and this brings us to the immediate subject of these chapters--that a life spent amid the smoke and smudge of the factory and the foundry has not blinded the vision of the Blackburn man to those beauties of nature which may be found so plentifully scattered around him: as soon as he has climbed any of the hills that encircle the town itself.  This strong love of nature, the visitor will find, has been the means of fostering, in many a humble home, the first germs of that poetic genius with which Blackburn has been so richly dowered.

Its position in this respect is, indeed, unique.  As a large town, it is not nearly so old as many of its neighbours; yet it excels them all in the number and versatility of its native poets.  "Proud Preston" was a borough many centuries ago--when Blackburn, though "a market town," was practically only a village.  Lancaster--"time-honoured Lancaster"--is certainly not less ancient as a town than Preston.  Yet neither of these historic towns can boast such poetic wealth as belongs to Blackburn.  To find anything like a parallel, one would have to go as far as Manchester; and there, doubtless,--through that city drawing to itself the poets of surrounding districts,--would our glory be eclipsed.  The Manchester school of poets will be remembered far ages; thanks to the genius of Waugh, Brierley, Swain, and a host of others, aided by the scholarly labours of such men as Harland, Wilkinson, and Milner.  And if our "Blackburn School" be not so eminent, it is at least worthy to take rank close behind that of Manchester as a nursery of native Lancashire literature.

Such names as Baron and Billington, Dugdale, Walker, Rawcliffe, Yates, and others "too numerous to mention," suggest to an old Blackburnian a garland of poesy such as very few towns can show; and it has been through a "hope long deferred," that some one older and better qualified than himself might undertake the task, that the present writer has delayed for several years the execution of a work in which he has long been interested.

 The writer regrets, and apologises beforehand, for his own lack of biographical and other information about many of our local poets--and this regret and apology apply with threefold force to the very earliest of the writers whose poems will be quoted; but he trusts that the poems themselves will be found generally acceptable; some for their real merit--and these, he hopes, will be many--others less for their intrinsic merit than for their historical or topographical interest; and others again--of a lighter kind--as examples of the kind of humour which has found favour in this part of Lancashire during many changeful generations.

Perhaps a few words of explanation may be necessary in order to indicate the rule followed in the compilation of the work.  The immense amount of matter to be dealt with necessitated the adoption of, and the strict adherence to, some limiting principle.  After long and careful consideration, the writer decided to include two classes of poets only: the one consisting of natives of Blackburn or its immediate neighbourhood; and the other comprising poets who had not merely resided in or close to Blackburn, but had been contributors to one or another of the several journals published in the town.  Had the work been extended, so as to include all poets who are known to have resided here, it is quite certain that it would have got far beyond its present size; and would consequently have been too large for publication in one complete and compact volume.

The writer has spared no pains to make the work (within the limits just mentioned) as complete as possible.  He has made frequent and careful inquiries, extending over more than three years, about all the Blackburn poets whose names have, from time to time, become known to him.  There are three, however,--mentioned in a locally well known poem by William Billington,-- whom he has not succeeded in tracing.  These were named respectively Bradley, Stewart, and Hughes; but none of the living poets of Blackburn appear to have known them; and no poems, bearing their signatures, seem to have been locally printed.

In order to add to the permanent interest and value of the volume, Portraits have been given of all the Blackburn poets of whom it was possible to obtain good likenesses.  This has been done at the suggestion of Mr. James Rostron, Editor of the "Blackburn Times," to whom the writer is indebted, not merely for consistent encouragement, but, to a large extent for the opportunity of accomplishing the work: many of these chapters,--since revised and supplemented,--having first appeared in that journal.


The writer thanks the living poets, and the representatives of deceased poets, for permission to quote from printed works; also, in some cases, far the privilege of including valuable poems not previously printed.  He wishes gratefully to record the fact that the living poets have, each according to his or her opportunities,--given great assistance to the work: not merely as it affects themselves, but especially in regard to the preservation of the best work of their literary predecessors.  Finally, he thanks Messrs. Abel Heywood and Son for their courteously-expressed permission to quote from Lithgow's edition of the Life and Poetical Works of John Critchley Prince.

G. H.