Accrington, Lancashire, England

Our next trip into Lancashire was to the town of Accrington, roughly halfway between the larger towns of Blackburn and Burnley, in East Lancashire. The town was full of surprises, and we arrived early in the morning, ready to explore…


Status: Hyndburn District, Lancashire, Town, England

Date: 20/06/2014

Travel: Northern Rail (Preston – Accrington)

Eating & Sleeping: Greggs, Costa Coffee

Attractions: Town Hall, Market Hall, Market, Haworth Art Gallery, Carnegie Library, Coat of Arms, Gothic House, St John’s Church, St James’s Church, Baptist Church, Conservative Club, Post Office, Jubilee Clock, Yorkshire Bank Building, Accrington Brick etc

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When we arrived, we wandered through to the town centre from the train station, and we were greeted by the magnificent Town Hall, which set the precedent for many other buildings we would encounter throughout the day. The town is the administrative centre of the Hyndburn District, and the only major town it contains.

It’s a stunning building, and fits nicely with the other Town Halls of the local towns in other districts, including Blackburn, Burnley, Colne and Nelson. It was originally built between 1857 and 1858, as the Peel Institution, which contained various functions. This lasted until 1878 when it was converted into the new Town Hall, a statement of Victorian architecture, due to the town becoming a Municipal Borough that same year, essentially it’s own district. Many of these boroughs were created throughout the country, but in 1974 they were abolished and new districts created, with Hyndburn coming into existence, although Accrington retained its administrative duties here.

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Directly opposite the Town Hall is a large stone Coat of Arms, which was once part of the “Accrington District Gas & Water Board Office”, built in 1890. It was a large building located just next to the modern day position of the Coat of Arms. This was later demolished, but the Arms were thankfully saved. They were put on show to the public back in 2010 in memory of Mr Alan Benson (1925 – 2009, former chairman of the Accrington Civic Trust) and unveiled by Peter Britcliffe, the leader of Hyndburn Council. The detail on the Arms is superb, but I am unsure what exactly the Coat of Arms belonged to, but it’s possible they belonged to the former Accrington Borough.

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The architecture around Accrington is very impressive, and the Yorkshire Bank next to the Coat of Arms has these beautiful stone lions above the doorway. This area of Lancashire, East Lancashire, has some fantastic stone buildings, with street after street of these stylish structures. It’s very common in East Lancashire, and neighbouring Yorkshire, to find these kinds of buildings, with nearby Burnley another great example.

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The next building along from the Town Hall is the Market hall, which is possibly even grander than the Town Hall itself, with the well styled clock above the main entrance. It was built in 1869, and aside from the many stalls inside, there are 37 stalls making up the outdoor market on the far side. Whilst I am unable to find a date for when Accrington was granted a Market Charter, there was a corn market here in the 16th century, and most charters were given in the 13th century so there was probably a local market back then.

Inside the Hall there is lots to explore, and if you climb the stairs up to the first floor you get a great view over the stalls…

In the first picture you can see the view from the first floor, with the many stalls clustered below. Most things imaginable are sold here, including Meat and Vegetables. Also on the top floor are a number of interesting finds, starting with the fully working electric brick machine. It’s a scale replica of a 1906 “Bradley & Craven Ltd” Double Stiff brick making machine, which can actually create little plastic bricks. The original bricks would of course be made out of clay, and Accrington is quite famous for its Accrington (NORI) bricks, which have been used throughout the world in many famous buildings, from Blackpool Tower to the Empire State Building in New York. The bricks were manufactured between 1887 and 2008, and the name NORI comes from the world IRON which was on the factory chimney, but most people looking from underneath saw it as NORI. IRON was a previous nickname for the brick dues to their incredible strength. The information board gives a short history of the brick, including most of what I have included here.

As well as the model, we also found a second (yet different) stone carving of a Coat of Arms. This Coat of Arms belongs to Accrington Town Council, which was created in 1878 by Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901). Whilst it is unknown which building this copy originates from, it could have been any number of different candidates from the Tramway Depot to the Corporation Stables, but even so they have been saved, and the Arms were unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip in 2012 during a visit to mark her Diamond Jubilee. The Arms depict:

Very Top: On top of the Knights Helmet is the Crest of Accrington, made out of a bent Oak Branch, which is bent to look like an A, as the first letter of Accrington. (Also in Anglo-Saxon Oak means Ac). The whole name was originally Akerenton, which comes from two parts, Acorn (as an expanded form of Oak) makes up the “Aecern”, again in Anglo-Saxon and the final part of Accrington, the ton section comes from “Tun” which means farmstead. Together the two words comes together to make Accrington, hence the Oak tree on the crest. Obviously the pronunciation has changed over the centuries to create the modern form of the name.

Top Left: A Lion, which references the De Lacy family which held the town by a grant from King Henry II in the 12th Century.

Top Right: A Gold Stag which represents the Coat-of-Arms of the Hargreaves Family who were the owners of Broad Oak Calico Print Works in the town.

Middle: A Spinning Jenny from a Cotton Mill, invented by James Hargreaves (1720 – 1778, Inventor from Oswaldtwistle, Accringtons adjoining town) in 1764.

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Outside the Market Hall, still heading away from the Town Hall, is the Jubilee Clock, commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002, and unveiled by the then Mayor of Hyndburn, Councillor Mrs Sandra Hayes. There are many such items around the country and it’s great to see the country celebrating one of our most beloved monarchs. The Clock stands at the corner of Peel Street and Blackburn Road.

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Just up from the Town Hall and the Market Hall, on the aptly named Church Street, is St James’s Church, founded back in 1546. It stretches the length of two streets that lead up to it, one coming from near to the Town Hall and one from the Market Hall. At the far end of the Church is a memorial commemorating the granting of “Freedom of the Borough of Hyndburn” in 2002 to the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, who have served in various wars to great acclaim. A Lancashire Rose is featured in the top left hand corner of the Memorial.

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We moved on, into the pedestrianised sections of the town centre. If you look at the end of the street, the Town Hall is just out of sight off to the left at the junction, and behind the large Accrington Pals sign and it’s accompanying building is the Outdoor Market behind the Market Hall. There are the usual high street shops, and back behind the spot where I took this picture is the entrance to the Accrington Arndale Shopping Centre, which is easily visible from the train line as you pass through Accrington heading towards Burnley. It used to contain a fantastic clock in the main square however this has long since gone, which is a shame as I was quite interested in getting a look at it.

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Just outside the town centre, is the structure that affords the views of the Arndale as you pass through the town. The Accrington Viaduct is a monumental achievement, running through the town with a total length of a few hundred feet. 19 arches have carried trains 60 feet above Accrington, since the line opened in 1848, with the Viaduct itself being completed a year earlier. Originally Accrington was on the East Lancashire Railway, with trains running West towards Blackburn from Leeds, and South towards Bury, Salford and eventually Manchester Victoria from the other end of the line in Yorkshire. This was closed thanks to the Beeching Axe in the 1960’s, so trains only run from Leeds to Blackburn currently.

There has been a reprieve on the line however, as the Todmorden Curve is being rebuilt and from the end of 2014 this will enable direct services from Accrington to Manchester once more. When the Viaduct was originally built there were 21 arches, although I am unsure what happened to the extra two. During the 1860’s the bridge was restored, and it remains in a great condition today.

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Moving away from the town centre, we took a mystery tour further out to see what we would find, and sure enough, we came across a number of interesting buildings, complete with plaques to identify them. The first of these was a furniture shop, called Maundy Furniture, in Queen Street. It wasn’t always one of these however, as it was used as an office by Charles ‘Torney’ Hall, who was a solicitor in the late 19th/early 20th centuries and had his offices here. At the time he was a well known character, and had an eccentric dress style. He lived in, and built, nearby Gothic House, which we would find on the way back to the station later on.

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Continuing through the town, we came across the stunning Post Office, which looks more like a grand Georgian manor than anything else. The detail is excellent around each window, and as I can’t actually see the words “Post Office” engraved on the stone anywhere it is possible that it was in fact a manor prior to it’s current use. Whatever it’s original use, it has been kept in good condition so I hope it stays that way. From here we started heading up a bit of a hill, from where we could look down onto the town centre, with the imposing figure of the Church of St John the Evangelist looking on behind us…

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The Church sits near the summit of the hill and is clearly visible throughout the town thanks to its prominent position. The tower is quite interesting as it looks like the spire was an afterthought and added to the top of the tower, although I believe it was designed this way. Also, the spire is Octagonal, and the whole structure is made out of rock faced with sandstone. One name is recorded with the Church, that of H. Macauley, so he was either the architect or the main builder on the project.

The Church’s namesake, St John, supposedly wrote various works in the New Testament of the Bible, and if so he would have lived between around 15 AD and 100 AD.

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Wandering back in the general direction of the train station, we found Gothic House, which I mentioned earlier, built as the residence of Charles Hall presumably around the 1850’s. It now contains the Education Office, moved here from the Peel Institute in 1909. A plaque on the right hand side of the doorway helpfully identified the building, and there are many of these throughout the town providing useful information to history hunters like us.

Sitting off to the left of Gothic House is the Carnegie Library, built in 1907 by Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919), the famous Scottish/American Industrialist originally from Dunfermline, Fife (where a statue of him stands) who provided money all over the UK for public libraries, and we have encountered many of them so far in our travels.

Both of these buildings are in a square arranged around St James’s Church which I talked about earlier in this post.

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One more road separated us from the train station, and the spire of the Church on the left is visible behind Gothic House in the previous picture. This is Cannon Street, and you might have noticed that the Church, called the Baptist Church, is very similar to St John’s, with the small turrets around the base of the spire which again looks like it was an afterthought. The Baptist Church dates back to 1873, and is also made out of rock faced with sandstone, making the two churches almost identical. Sadly it was looking a bit worse for wear when we visited, as it was boarded up, along with the building directly opposite it, the old Conservative Club (the 2nd building along on the right) built between 1890 and 1891. This building would look fantastic if it was restored, but I fear that would take a lot of funding to achieve.

There is one other building of note in this picture, number 21 Cannon Street, on the right hand side at the very edge of the picture. It was built as a Town House sometime around 1860, and is built in the same lovely sandstone that makes Accrington such a joy to explore. It is one of numerous similar examples around the town.

So that was Accrington, a pleasant little town in the East of Lancashire that has made history in various fields, and has stunning architecture on almost every street. We have been meaning to come here for a while as we have passed through the town a few times on the train heading for various destinations in both Lancashire and Yorkshire. Direct trains from Blackpool – York (via Preston, Blackburn, Burnley, Hebden Bridge, Halifax, Bradford and Leeds) serve the town, as well as local services between Blackpool – Colne (via Preston, Blackburn, Burnley and Nelson), and of course the new services to Manchester will begin by the end of the year.

Local buses can also take you to any of the local towns with Blackburn and Burnley being the closest. One other attraction in the town that we didn’t get chance to visit is the Haworth Art Gallery, which contains the largest collection of Tiffany Glass in the whole of Europe, created by Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848 – 1933, American artist). The Museum is housed in a beautiful house from 1909, built as the home of William Haworth, and designed by Water Brierly (1862 – 1926). It was later gifted to the town in 1920, and is located on the South side of the City Centre.

We enjoyed our trip to Accrington, and it’s another great addition to our Lancashire Portfolio.

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