The beginning of the 19th century was a time of change, canals, roads and railways were being built all over England. Inventions in the cotton industry meant the building of mills and people moving from rural to urban areas. Not in Great Harwood. Things carried on much as they had for hundreds of years. The canal had by-passed the town and the railway, which opened in 1848, followed a similar route from Blackburn via Rishton to Burnley. The early part of this century was a time of deprivation for the populace but Great Harwood was to grow from a collection of cottages into a small cotton town ending in times of prosperity, plenty of work and good stone housing for the majority.
In the early nineteenth century this was one of Lancashire's beauty spots. With two streams, one running down the main street, it must have been quite picturesque. At this time (circa 1800) the population was around 1,500 people by 1811 it was 1,676.
Great Harwood's weavers worked for themselves at home or for the masters of small mills but from the early 1800s handloom weaving was in decline although the trade only finally died out in 1870s.
While demand was high there was work for both hand and power looms but life became very hard for the town's weavers during the slump after the Napoleonic wars as the power looms of mills in neighbouring districts produced more varied and cheaper products. 260 families, more than two thirds of the families in the town, were registered as needing help in 1818. Farmers too were affected as the turnpike roads allowed the produce of more fertile areas to reach their local markets and Sir Thomas Hesketh was asked to help by reducing their rents. Instead, in 1819, he cut his losses and sold the Upper Town so ending the family's connection with Great Harwood after more than 500 years. Richard Grimshaw Lomax bought the land for £75,000 so, with his dad's earlier purchases, becoming owner of most of the town.
Despite the hard times the population continued to grow, 2,104 in 1821 and 2,436 by 1831, but many families were having to rely on the local Poor Rate and, later, contributions from Blackburn, Liverpool and London. 1826 was the worst year on record but relief was still being given in 1835.
The Accrington and District Gas and Water Board was formed in 1840, Mr. Joseph Haydock being an investor, and it was expected that the town would be gaslit by Christmas that year.
In the 1841 census there were 415 families in Great Harwood and a population of 2,273. The list of the heads of households shows the greatest number were weavers, 177, followed by farmers, 61, and calico printers, 54. There were 6 innkeepers, 2 beer sellers and 26 different shops.
Bank Mill, demolished in the early 1970s.
Finally the first power mill in Great Harwood, Bank Mill, was built in 1844 and opened in 1845 followed by St. Lawrence Mill a year later. Weavers left their handlooms and others came in from the surrounding districts, the town began to grow and prosper. In 1851 there were 2,548 people in the town but the population exploded in the next ten years. The voluntary officials of the Parish Vestry who had looked after the welfare of the town for centuries were unable to cope with the new demands placed upon them. A major problem was the disposal of the increasing population's waste. Everything went into the brook running through the centre of town including waste from the slaughter houses.
"Our forefathers seemed unable to provide any remedy or means of combating the fevers and diseases which visited the village each year as regularly as the annual Harwood Fair".
More mills were built, eight were operating at the time of the Cotton Lockout of 1858 when the mill owners wanted to cut weavers' wages by 5%. Obviously this did not go down too well with the weavers but with financial contributions from colleagues in surrounding towns, who feared their own rates could follow suit, the 1,299 operatives were able to keep the dispute going for 14 weeks before the owners finally gave way. To celebrate the ending of the dispute, and no doubt a return to normal takings, publicans each gave 18 gallons of beer to be drunk in Towngate and shops donated items for a tea party for teetotalers. The support given by of other Lancashire weavers led to the formation of the Great Harwood Branch of the East Lancashire Weavers Association. To begin with no one dared openly support the union and meetings were held in Clinkham Delph (quarry) and official minutes were only kept from 1869.
Summer 1859 saw a worse than normal visitation of fever. The Nuisance Removal Committee commissioned Dr. Arkwright of Manchester to investigate. His report pointed to the state of sewage disposal (or lack of it), the lack of free water in houses causing drains not to be washed out regularly and the detriment to health of the slaughter houses in Delph Road dumping waste into the brook. He recommended moving the slaughter houses away from dwellings, laying pot sewers and building a small reservoir which would flush the sewers at given times. However Dr. Arkwright failed to convince Mr. James Lomax, owner of the town, to back the Nuisance Committee so no changes were made.
4,070 people were recorded living in the town by the 1861 census. Terraced houses were built for the increasing numbers but they were relying on six wells and one pump for their water.
In 1863 elections were held to select the twelve members of the Local Board of Health which took over from the "embattled" Nuisance Committee some of the twelve had also served on this committee. The priority was the building of the new sewerage system originally commissioned by the Nuisance Committee including the reservoir at Cliffe to wash them out.
By May 1864 work had begun but in mid August some urgency was needed as Fair day was approaching and instructions were send out to finish and clear the affected streets. The work was not delayed by rain as one of worst droughts in history occurred during the summer and the wells could no longer cope with the population so two were deepened and two new ones sunk. It was not enough and six more wells were sunk in 1865. The surveyor reported later that year that:
This must have been an enormous undertaking for such a community.
The original plans for sewering the town included a reservoir at Cliffe to flush the system and in 1864 land had been secured from James Lomax for the building of Dean Reservoir to support this small service reservoir which was completed in 1866.
Bank Mill, Church Street, was the first power mill built in the town in 1844/5 taking advantage of local coal and the water of Nap Brook. Over the next two decades another ten mills were built but poor communications were a brake on any further expansion of the town goods having to be transported in and out by horse and cart. Three mills were built in the early 1860s but this decade was another difficult period for Great Harwood's weavers as the American Civil War cut supplies of cotton and many mills were forced to close.
In 1871 the population had reached 4,907.
An Act of Parliament was passed in 1866 for the construction of a railway from Blackburn to Padiham passing through Great Harwood although it was 11 years before the first train arrived due to construction difficulties including whether a stone or wooden viaduct should be built across the Calder at Martholme. Eventually Mr. Lomax was paid £1,800 to prevent coal being mined beneath the structure and a stone viaduct of 10 arches each of 40 feet span was built.
The station itself was not in the best position for the majority of the population but as close as possible to Clayton-le-Moors where Mr. Lomax lived and he owned the land over which the line had to pass. However the railway provided a spur to renewed building and a further boost to the town's prosperity.
1877 also saw the purchase of more land from Mr. Lomax close to the railway in Heys Lane for the construction of the gas works which were completed in 1884. The gasometer could hold 500,000 cubic feet of gas to serve the town and 120 street lamps.
1879 and Dean Reservoir was finally completed. Eventually farming in the catchment area was banned and some of the farms built when the moor was enclosed 100 years before were abandoned.
The building of another two mills and the extending of existing ones saw the population jump to 6,281 in 1881. Further building, and two more mills, and the numbers leapt by almost a third in the next ten years to 9,073.
The Urban District Council was formed in 1895 and they bought land in the centre of town from the heirs of James Lomax, who had died in 1886, for the new Town Hall. The junction of the four main roads was the ideal site for the new town hall but this row of cottages stood on the site, and had done for more than two hundred years, so it was demolished.
Also in 1895 the Accrington District Gas and Water Company decided to better utilise the water of Dean Reservoir. Edward Talbot, the local man in charge, visited and took advice from the people running the London Filter Beds and in June 1899 the filter beds at Cliffe officially opened providing the town, at last, with purified drinking water "................. the water supplied from them will be as bright and clear as spring water and equal, if not superior, to any water supplied in Lancashire where there are few towns who filter their water"
It had been a time of enormous change and growth for Great Harwood. At the beginning of the 19th century there were barely 1,500 people living in an isolated community making their living from weaving on handlooms and farming. There had been one school, sometimes open, and one church the centre of most social activity. By the turn of century there were four day schools, six churches, 15 mills operating and a population of about 12,000.
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Great Harwood Appreciation Society