This is a study of the town of Haslingden in Lancashire. Haslingden is a historic mill town, home to cobbled streets, an 18th Century merchant’s house and many 19th Century buildings. Markets have been held there since at least 1555. The purpose of the study is to bring together previously published information on the town and to discover as much as possible about the lives of the people who lived there before the First World War. It is dedicated to Mr Chris Aspin, whose books provided much of the information gathered here.

Lower Deardengate


The town of Haslingden is 8 miles from Burnley, 8 miles from Bury and 8 miles from Blackburn. It lies on the side of a valley, 240m above sea level, between Cribden Hill to the north-east, Haslingden Moor to the north-west and Musbury Heights to the south-west. A stream called the Swinnell flows through the valley bottom. The old town was situated on the high ground to the east of St James’s church. The original market was at Town Gate.





In 1821, 1170 families lived in the chapelry. Of these families, 228 were employed chiefly in agriculture, 509 in trade, manufactures or handicraft; the remaining 433 were either engaged in professional pursuits or unemployed. Of course many inhabitants would have combined farming with weaving, so wouldn’t fit neatly into any category.
The population started to fall after the First World War, and by 1961 it was only 14360.


Bad harvests at the turn of the century added to the economic tribulations brought by the war with France, and the years 1799-1801 were long remembered in Lancashire as 'The Barley Times', from the fact that few people were able to pay the high price of corn.

In April 1800 the Oldham diarist William Rowbottom noted that 'scores of poor wretches' were wandering about plucking nettles, docks and water cresses as a substitute for potatoes.

In 1808, a year of rising food prices, many weavers could earn only between 6s and 10s a week by working 18 hours a day on six days out of seven. Starving weavers showed their discontent at two huge meetings in Manchester (the one on 25 May attended by more than 10,000 people).

In 1811 a petition for help from the Manchester district with 40,000 signatures was presented to the Commons, where it was quickly dismissed.

The antipathy between the government and the people and between the masters and their workers was further intensified in 1812 by a wave of riots. Expensive food, widespread unemployment, alarm at the growing use of power looms and above all the feeling that no one cared about their wretchedness drove the more volatile to violence.

The ending of the war in 1815 signalled the beginning of fresh hostilities in the manufacturing districts. The Corn Law of that year kept up the price of food at the very time when thousands of demobilised soldiers and sailors flooded the labour market. Unemployment rose and wages fell. Demonstrations demanded the repeal of the Corn Law.

In 1819, 200 Haslingden men marched to Burnley for a meeting attended by several thousand people.
The distress persisted and coincided with the introduction into East Lancashire of power-looms. Many blamed the new machines for their destitution. In 1826 serious rioting broke out and 106 steam-driven looms in a Helmshore mill were destroyed. Riots continued throughout the district and in one incident five men and a woman were killed when soldiers defending a mill opened fire after they had been pelted with stones. In the months that followed, the weavers' distress, if anything, grew worse. A survey made in 1833 of 35 small towns and villages in north Lancashire showed that 49,294 people in 8,362 families dependent on handloom weaving had an average income of 1s 3d a week for food and clothing.

The Blackburn Gazette of 9th July 1842 quotes the case of John Rothwell, a Haslingden hand-loom weaver, who in 1801 received 10s for weaving a piece of cloth. In 1842 he received 6d.

A report in the Liverpool Mercury in 1842 painted a dreadful picture:
This part of the country is in a terrible state, for hundreds and thousands have neither work nor meat. They are daily begging in the streets of Haslingden, twenty or thirty together, crying for bread. Meetings are held every Sunday on the neighbouring hills, attended by thousands of poor, hungry, haggard people wishing for any change, even though it should be death.

Conditions slowly improved after the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 and the passing of the Ten Hours [working day] Bill in 1847. But another crisis wasn’t far away.

The closure of the large Helmshore woollen mills in 1852 left Haslingden almost wholly dependent on the cotton industry and when, ten years later, the American Civil War caused the supply of cotton to dry up, thousands were made destitute.


In the 18th century, many thousands of local men earned a living as hand-loom weavers. Nearly all farmhouses had lean-to buildings to house hand-looms. Many town houses had a room on the top floor set aside for the same purpose.

Hand-loom weaving was a profitable industry in the 18th century; so much so that in 1789-90, the road builder John Metcalf had great difficulty finding local men to work on the Bury to Accrington turnpike and its branch from Hudrake to Blackburn.

The last decades of the 18th century saw the mechanisation of cotton spinning in water-powered factories. Domestic spinning disappeared very quickly, but increased yarn output created an enormous demand for hand-loom weavers - at its peak, hand-loom weaving dominated the economy of an extensive area of East Lancashire.

John Aikin, writing in 1795, says:
Haslingden has been greatly improved within the last twenty years, chiefly from the increase of the woollen manufacture, though much of the cotton trade has likewise been introduced within a few years, particularly the branch of making twist for warps, for which purpose alone several factories have been erected in its neighbourhood.
The people were (forty years since) chiefly employed by moneyed men at Rochdale; but now the trade is supported by capitals acquired on the spot by the industry and enterprising spirit of the manufacturers, who have erected inns for the entertainment of travellers, shops and handsome houses for their own residence. A square is lately planned here, and some capital houses are already built in it. A number of mills for carding cotton and sheep's wool and spinning them into cotton twist and woollen yarn for the flannels made here are erected upon the Swinnell.

By the 1840s there were thirteen mills on the Swinnell Brook - nearly all of them cotton mills. The industry required building materials for its increasingly large buildings and for the houses of its expanding workforce, so stone-quarrying became a major industry in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Many manufacturers are listed in Baines’s 1824 Directory; some employed a large workforce, others were one man operations. Here is a list of what they made: barrels, boots & shoes, cabinets, cart covers, checks, clogs & pattens, clothes, cotton cloth, flannel, gingham, hats, heald yarn, looms, nails, reeds, rope & twine, saddles, watches & clocks, wheels, woollen yarn.
The textile industry employed a large percentage of the population, but there were numerous other crafts and trades represented in the 1841 Census. These included shoe makers (26), butchers (13), innkeepers/publicans (21), joiners (46), drapers (18), plasterers & painters (12), plumbers & glaziers (4), blacksmiths (18), stone masons (64), tailors (23). Textile workers included: weavers (925), spinners (121), rovers (17), winders (16) and dyers (15).

Here are some of the largest employers:



Haslingden was a chapelry in the parish of Whalley and the chapelry included communities at Acre, Hud Hey, Haslingden Grane, Flaxmoss, Helmshore, Bent Gate and Ewood Bridge.



StJames2.jpg St James, Haslingden

The first recorded mention of Haslingden Church was in 1284 when it was one of the seven chapels in the Parish of Whalley….in 1296 the Tithes and Alterage and value of the Glebe was six pounds per year and in 1535 the value of the living was put down in the King’s Book as seventeen pounds, eight shillings and threepence. Between 1550 and 1574 the church was re-built in the Perpendicular style. Disaster struck after a long period of burying within the church so that the building became unstable and eventually fell down. The church remained a ruin until the middle of 1773 when money was collected and rebuilding began. During the rebuilding, marriages, baptisms and burials were solemnized in the old tower which remained standing. The third church on the site was completed in 1780 at a cost of one thousand, four hundred and fifty pounds and in 1827 the Tudor tower was demolished costing seven pounds and the present one erected at a cost of nine hundred pounds and the gallery was added in 1878. The oldest gravestone is dated 1629 and registers date back to 1653 with fragments of earlier ones dating from 1609.


In the second half of the century, non-conformist congregations began to grow as people sought an alternative to the Church of England. A Haslingden branch of the Independent Church was established in 1785 and a couple of years later they were able to build a 3-storey chapel in Lower Deardengate. The first Wesleyan chapel was built in Bury Road in 1786 and replaced by a new one on King Street in 1797-8.

king-street-chapel-1908.jpg King Street Chapel, 1908


A Baptist chapel followed in 1811 and The Primitive Methodists opened a chapel in Deardengate in 1831. A Swedenborgian chapel was opened in Pickering Street in 1825, followed by a second in Blackburn Road in 1840. A Catholic church was erected in 1844-5, followed by a second in 1859.

Community Life

A directory of 1824 reports a Saturday market and five annual fairs. The May fair of 1867 had a variety of amusements from a large circus to a peep show. There were a couple of shooting galleries and half a dozen caravans that were said to contain ‘all sorts of nondescript animals from the vasty deep and unknown regions.’

The Factory Acts gave the working classes a certain amount of spare time and numerous societies sprang up. The town’s wealthier residents also indulged in the Victorian passion for societies with the Haslingden Floral and Horticultural Society holding its first show in 1857. Members of all classes were able to join the Rifle Corps, which was formed two years later. The Haslingden Agricultural Society was formed in 1864.

The local branch of the Ancient Order of Foresters used to meet at the White Horse and on Good Friday of 1846 held a spectacular procession via Rawtenstall to Crawshawbooth, returning via Flaxmoss.
On St James’s Day (July 25), the working classes amused themselves with bull-baiting, cock-fighting and horse-racing. The horse-racing on Laund Hey ended c.1811 when the land was enclosed for agricultural purposes. In later years St James’s Day became known as Walking Day:


A public ball held in the town hall on 29th November 1853 was attended by 78 persons. A band played, the Misses Pickup of the Commercial Inn provided wines, liquors, etc. Dancing commenced at half past eight and carried on until late in the morning, with a break at midnight for supper provided by Mrs Gordon, a confectioner.

It was a custom on the first Sunday in May to ramble on the hills.


There was no education of any kind in Haslingden until 1749, when John Heap from Grane paid for a schoolmaster to teach the children of the poor to read and write and to instruct them in the principles of the Church of England.

The Congregational Church established a school in Haslingden in 1802, but education was very hit and miss in the early years of the century - Sunday schools were often the only places where the masses could get some education. By the late 1820's, there were C of E, Methodist and Baptist Sunday schools and they educated, collectively, upwards of 1400 children. There was also an endowed grammar school for ten poor boys and seven day schools. National Schools were opened at Stonefold and Grane in 1837, followed by Church Day Schools in 1860.

The Mechanics’ Institute was founded in 1846 with a new building (now the public library) opening in 1859. A contemporary report stated that ‘there is, probably, no institution of similar character in East Lancashire which can boast so large a proportion of females who are receiving instruction in domestic economy and the rudimentary branches of education’.

There was a workhouse dating from 1749 situated on Spring Lane. It could accommodate up to 150 inmates and in 1837 its governor was Henry Rothwell who received a salary of £14 a year. The site was later occupied by the Haslingden Brewery. From 1851 this workhouse was used only for male inmates while females were sent to another workhouse at Newchurch. A rise in inmate numbers, together with continuing pressure from the Poor Law Board, led to the erection in 1868-9 of a new workhouse at Higher Pikelaw, midway between Haslingden and Rawtenstall.

A directory of 1824 lists sixteen pubs, most of them situated close to the old market square at Town Gate.


Most of the roads linking Haslingden with the surrounding towns are old turnpike roads and were constructed in the latter half of the 18th century. The maintenance of the turnpike roads was the responsibility of the Turnpike Trusts and tolls were collected to pay for this maintenance. The tolls were let for a year at a time to the highest bidder and were collected at Toll Bars or Toll Gates.
There were weekly coach services to Rochdale and Blackburn and an almost daily service to Manchester. Carriers operated between Haslingden and all the local towns. Taking the coach from Haslingden to Accrington (four miles) cost one shilling. The rail fare from Accrington to Blackburn (five miles) was sixpence.

The East Lancashire Railway Company came into existence in August 1846 and the construction of the Stubbins-Accrington railway line in 1847-8 greatly stimulated the development of Haslingden. The line through Helmshore and Haslingden was opened in August 1848 with 26 trains passing through Haslingden each day - 13 in each direction.

Painting by the late William Arthur Kirby (copyright: Chris Kirby)


A search of the 1851 Census for the Haslingden registration district reveals over 3000 born in Yorkshire, over 1100 born in Ireland, 150 born in Scotland and over 90 born in either Cumberland or Westmorland.

Several families who left Ireland at the time of the potato famine of 1845-7 settled in Haslingden, where they were joined by many others in the following two decades. Among the early arrivals was a boy called Michael Davitt, who was to become one of the greatest figures in Irish history.



In 1850, when Michael was four years old, his family was evicted due to arrears in rent. Davitt later claimed that this event, which he remembered, had brought about all of the family's ills. Like many other Irish people at the time, the family decided to emigrate to England. They took a ship to Liverpool and walked to Haslingden, East Lancashire, where they settled.

His parents both worked selling fruit and at other odd jobs. Martin, who was literate and could speak English, ran a night school in their home, which they shared with other Irish families. The family endured the anti-Irish sentiment of the English working class, which believed that Irish immigrants undercut wages. Davitt began working at the age of nine as a labourer in a cotton mill. Two years later, his right arm was entangled in a cogwheel and mangled so badly it had to be amputated ten days later. As was typical for the era, he did not receive any compensation.

According to biographer, Carla King, the accident helped save Davitt from a lifetime of mill drudgery. When he recovered from his operation, a local philanthropist, John Dean, helped to send him to a Wesleyan school. In August 1861, at the age of 15, he found work in a local post office owned by Henry Cockcroft, who also ran a printing business. He joined the Mechanics' Institute and continued to read and study, attending lectures on various topics.


The Irish immigrants tended to congregate in the north-east part of the town, Wilkinson Street in particular. The table below lists the occupants of eleven houses in Wilkinson Street from the 1851 Census where the head of the household was Irish:


Schedule No. Occupation of head of household No. of persons No. of families
82 [lodging house keeper] 16 4
85 rush chair bottomer 6 1
88 lodging house keeper 6 2
91 lodging house keeper 11 2
97 stonemason's labourer 5 2
101 mat maker 7 1
103 stonemason's labourer 14 2
104 stonemason's labourer 6 1
105 stonemason's labourer 9 1
106 cap maker 9 3
107 cap hawker 14 2

The lodgers were almost exclusively Irish and in several cases were related to the head of the household.


Families & Notable People

One of the worthies of the township is Oliver Ormerod, a younger son of Oliver Ormerod of Haslingden; he was born about 1580, educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and wrote treatises against Puritans and Roman Catholics.

One surname dominates the 17th century parish registers: Haworth. Other very common names were Hargreaves, Taylor and Holden. Other common names were Barnes, Duerden, Duckworth, Hey(s), Ramsbottom and Rothwell.

The Holdens lived at Holden Hall for five centuries, but the last male heir, Ralph Holden, died in 1792.

Baines’s 1824 Directory lists the following gentry (excluding clergy):



The map below shows that they all lived in the older part of town and that Church Street was a particularly desirable place to live.



By 1851, things had changed. Church Street had become a hive of economic activity with at least four inns, four butchers, four grocers, four drapers and many other tradesmen based there.


We can get an idea of some of the other prominent families from the street names: Wilkinson Street, Marsden Square, Hargreaves Street, Pickering Street, Hindle Street, Townsend Street, Clegg Street, Ratcliffe Fold.

Sources consulted

O.S. maps
Census returns
Parish registers
Trade directories
Local newspapers
Chris Aspin, Haslingden 1800-1900, 1962
Chris Aspin, The First Industrial Society: Lancashire, 1995
Mike Rothwell, Industrial Heritage: A guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Haslingden & Helmshore, 2009
John Aikin, A description of the Country from thirty to forty miles around Manchester, 1795