The 19th century had been a time of enormous change for Great Harwood. The first census in 1811 showed a population of 1,676 one hundred years later it had grown to 13,815. Where once there had been groups of cottages and farms there was now a cotton manufacturing town of some importance. In 1912 looms outnumbered people and by 1919 a total of twenty two textile mills had been erected but, as in the previous hundred years, there would be good and bad times for the town.
The new town hall was completed in 1900 and in June 1903 the opening ceremony of the Mercer Memorial Tower and Clock, built by by public subscription, took place.
Social activity was well catered for by the the many societies and clubs associated with the churches but in 1903 the residents also had the choice of twelve public houses and two beer houses in which to pass a quiet hour or there were three off licenses for the home drinker.
An addition to the town's social life was the Mercer Hall which was to have a large hall for local events such as balls and a smaller hall for private functions. Work began in 1913 but was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1914 and was not completed until October 1921.
It was first suggested in 1910 that the town should have a supply of electricity but nothing had been settled before 1914. The idea was taken up again in 1921. Cables were first laid to the Mercer Hall and Town Hall and connected at 5:30 p.m. 19th October 1922.
In 1925 the Lomax family sold, by auction, the Clayton Hall Estate including much of Great Harwood. The sale broke up the holding between various buyers meaning that after almost nine hundred years there was no longer a Lord of the Manor.
The loss of the Indian market in 1930 on top of the general depression of the time caused much distress in all cotton towns, mills reduced operations or were closed completely. At one time 75% of the people of Great Harwood were unemployed and many weavers were forced to leave, some going abroad, in search of work and in 1931 the population had fallen to 12,878. In September 1931 Mahatma Gandhi visited North East Lancashire and although the architect of the Indian boycott of Lancashire cotton he was greeted warmly. He met some unemployed cotton workers and Mr. Sunderland, Great Harwood Weavers' Union Secretary, travelled to West Bradford near Clitheroe and told him that of the 17,000 looms in Great Harwood's mills 14,000 were stopped. Times were so hard in the town that the cricket club had only two bats, a good one and a very poor one, so when playing away matches the excuse was made that someone had put an old one in the bag by mistake and a good one was then borrowed from the home team.
Lord Fenner Brockway visited Lancashire to see for himself the poverty that existed in the cotton towns.
Even in these hard times the town was expanding slowly with new semi-detached houses being built for the more affluent inhabitants.
After the Second World War more houses were needed and pre-fabricated bungalows were quickly erected at Greenhill (bottom left in photo). Intended to last about 10 years these "prefabs" were eventually replaced in 1966-7 some twenty years later. Permanent housing was also built by the council at Waverledge the first being ready in 1948. Prosperity returned to the town which was no longer as dependent on cotton. In 1951 there were 15 mills employing about 1,100 weavers from a population of between 10-11,000 but there were other industries too, leather, coated felts, shoe manufacture and OXO (beef extract stock cubes). More private house building took place during the 1960s at the east end of town bordering Whalley Road.
At 10:47 p.m. 30th November 1957 the last scheduled train left Great Harwood. The railway had assured the town's expansion at the end of the 19th century but was now losing money. It had once been the only means of efficient transport into and out of the town but the station's position was inconvenient for most people and it could not compete with lorries and buses.
The latter part of the 20th century was a period of industrial decline. Only two weaving sheds remained in production by the late 70s and they too have now closed, shoe and OXO manufacture came to an end in 1992. Smaller units have been developed within old mills and there are purpose built units on the industrial estate at the eastern end of town however the numbers employed in Great Harwood have fallen. Even so the town itself has continued to expand with housing developments to east and west and even on the site of Butts Mill.
In 1974 Great Harwood was amalgamated with five other towns to form the Borough of Hyndburn so, it has been claimed, losing control over its own affairs which have passed down from the Lords of the Manor through the Vestry, Nuisance Control Committee, Local Board of Health and Urban District Council.
What does the 21st century have in store ?
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Great Harwood Appreciation Society