Tourist guide to Blackburn

TRANSFORMED: Blackburn's historic Cathedral and, in the foreground, the sensitvely restored Waterloo Pavilions in the centre of the town

PROUD TOWN: Blackburn Cathedral on the skyline

HISTORIC: Corporation Park, Blackburn

KNOWLEDGE: Blackburn library which has an extensive reference section

First published in News Blackburn Citizen: Photograph of the Author by

Blackburn should be regarded by tourists as the gateway to the Ribble and Hodder valleys.

However, tourists should not forget that the town has very ancient origins and has played a major role in the history of the textile industry.

The hills above Blackburn (this was indeed a dark and peat stained river) were settled in the Bronze Age and a Roman road passed over the river probably in the Salford area of the town.

Salford was actually SALTFORD and the shallow river was crossed by traders who brought salt from Cheshire. Christianity came as early as the fifth century and Blackburn was a royal manor at the time of Edward the Confessor.

The church is mentioned in Domesday but the old building was replaced in 1826 as civic pride demanded a more prestigious edifice.

In 1926 the Church of St Mary was given the status of a Cathedral and ever since there have been impressive improvements and additions.

There is known to have been a church on this site in AD 596 and even earlier there were Celtic settlements on the hills around the town and a Roman road passed through it.

Anyone interested in the history of Blackburn should visit the reference library, town hall complex and the magnificent Museum and Art Gallery.

The money generated during the Lancashire cotton boom resulted in the building of the Town Hall in 1856 and King George's Hall, seating 2,000 people, in 1913.

The museum is a wonderful example of a Victorian building and is rightly Grade II listed.

Here are paintings by Turner, Japanese prints, medieval manuscripts and what is said to be the largest display of Russian icons in Britain.

Add to this an exhibition of Pakistani and Asian artefacts and Blackburn can be proud of being multi-cultural.

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal was just what was required to transport cotton and the Eanam Wharf complex to the east of the town centre is an historical gem.

The history of the canal can be appreciated by walking from Eanam Wharf where there is a small museum and the pleasant Wharf pub.

The warehouses, stables and the Wharf Master's house, which date from 1816, have been preserved.

The towpath leads past old mills, the Blackburn locks and in a warehouse is the headquarters of Groundwork Pennine Lancashire.

Is Blackburn just a relatively modern town founded on textiles? Indeed it is not because there has been a market here since the 13th century.

With the cotton industry growing rapidly a covered market hall was opened on King William Street in 1848 on the site of what is now the equally vibrant shopping centre.

Whilst some may feel that it is sad that the old market hall has gone there is no doubt that there is plenty on offer with lots of varied stalls in the modern market.

It is a product of the mid-1960s and has a mixture of six-day and three-day stalls. Where else could you buy curry, carrots and clothes, samosas, sarsaparilla, sausages and shoes, tripe, teacakes and tanning lotion?

Blackburn has more than its fair share of chain stores, such as Debenhams, BHS, Marks and Spencer, Boots, Argos and WH Smith.

The idea to pedestrianise the centre was inspired and has encouraged people to enjoy strolling around and sampling the many cafes and pubs.

Culture has not been neglected either – there is the Thwaites Theatre, near Ewood Park while King George’s Hall offers a variety of entertainment throughout the year.

The parks of Blackburn are a tribute to the age of cotton with Corporation Park having attractive gardens, colourful walks and attractive buildings.

Blackburn almost but not quite has its own stately home and Witton Park is still a wonderful attraction with 480 acres (195 hectares) of wood and farmland. Witton House belonged to the Fielden family but their 18th century house passed out of their hands in 1947 and was demolished because of dry rot.

Not all was lost and many of the outbuildings have become the focal point for a substantial country park, with playing fields and a quality running track.

There is a little cafe, a display of native small animals including red squirrels and a mini zoo. Walks lead through trees and around ornamental ponds.

A well-marked walk from Witton Park leads to a nature trail and on to to Pleasington, with its magnificent Priory featuring a large rose window.

Pleasington is dominated by the sheer grandeur of its priory but perhaps the name is misleading. It was only built in 1819 as a Roman Catholic institution at the time when religious persecution of the Old Religion was slackened.

The intention was to use ancient architectural styles to provide the feeling of age.

It worked and the gem has the magnificent rose window but the west doorway is actually ancient and once graced that of the chapter house at Whalley Abbey.

Do you agree or disagree with Ron Freethy's guide? Where do you think tourists should visit in Blackburn? Add your comments below.

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