During the 16th and 17th centuries the area was renowned for its woollen cloth. As a self contained and largely self sufficient community the growth of the township was limited by the number of people it could support, in 1660 there were 213 taxpayers and an estimated total population of 300. The Hesketh and Nowell families still owned the town and Roger Nowell of Read Hall, High Sheriff of Lancashire, was responsible for sending the Pendle Witches for trial at Lancaster in 1612.
Trade between towns and villages was increasing in the early 1600s and the town petitioned the Justices of the Peace at Preston for permission, and money, to build a bridge at the ford of the Calder which was becoming difficult to repair and dangerous in times of flood. The Justices agreed to the building of Cock Bridge and that the communities to the north at Clitheroe, Mearley, Downham and Worston should contribute to the cost. Transport was not the only hindrance to trade facing the people of Great Harwood. In 1659 the Drapers' Guild of Preston seized the goods of Yorkshire clothiers who had taken their goods to market there and made them promise to sell only to members of the Guild in the future. The clothiers of Great Harwood and neighbouring towns were also facing the same restrictive practices.
Cotton yarn from the Middle East started to appear in England in the early 17th century and began to replace some woollen clothe. By 1678 it was causing so much damage to the woollen trade that a law was passed that only SHEEPS wool was to be used in shrouds with a £5 fine on the estate of anyone being buried in any thing else. Over the next hundred years the weaving of wool virtually disappeared from Lancashire. Great Harwood was a thriving community in the early 18th century. In 1718 the population had grown to an estimated 700. Church records show plod weaving, a form of check, was something of a speciality of the town. John Wesley visited and preached in the town in 1747 "converting" a number of people from Back o' Bowley most notably the Clayton family and in particular Elizabeth who was to become the mother of Great Harwood's most eminent man John Mercer. In 1778 it was reported that there were no more than half a dozen families of dissenters (Methodists) including the Claytons.
For hundreds of years the town's people had been allowed free use of Harwood Moor to graze their animals, gather wood and cut bracken for bedding but by 1762 the common was little used and the Heskeths and Nowells were given permission by Parliament to enclose the moor. New farms were built some of which were taken over by outsiders. These new buildings often included a "shop" for weaving.
By this time Alexander Nowell was in financial difficulties, renovating Read Hall plus an expensive new wife (allegedly) had strained his resources, and his lands were put up for auction at the Black Bull, Blackburn in 1770. The sale was not a success, neither was the next at the Swan at Whalley the following year only a few farms being sold at each. A third attempt was made at the Queen's Head, Church Street when the Trustees of The Parish Church bought Mercer's Farm in the centre of town, Sir Thomas Hesketh bought the rights to the Fair and Market and James Lomax of Clayton Hall, Clayton-le-Moors bought the rest of the land. He owned land and coal mines in Clayton and leased land from the Heskeths for the same purpose.
Inventions throughout the 1700s increased the cotton weavers' output which became more important to the town and land was leased for the building of cottages. At the time of the first sale of the Lower Town, 1770, only eleven cottages were listed but within a few years rows of weavers cottages had been built in Delph Road and others in Cliffe Lane, Hindle Fold, Lower Fold and Edge End.
Agriculture was becoming a secondary industry in Great Harwood.
At the end of the 18th century Great Harwood was still a community of farmers and weavers. The centre may have been around Queen St. and Causeway Brook but there was no town as such just groups of cottages and farms. Before the arrival of power mills in the 19th century there were said to be 128 dwellings on Whalley Banks which is at the north eastern edge of the manor boundary.
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Great Harwood Appreciation Society