Barnoldswick Local History Articles

Saturday, October 18, 2003


Have you ever wondered why Mill chimneys are so ornate at the top? Only one chimney in Barlick retains its ‘oversailer’ and that’s Bancroft. This wasn’t put on simply for fancy, it had a purpose. The early mill owners soon realised that if their chimney had a fin round the top of it the smoke tended to get away better if there was any breeze at all and oversailers became a standard design.

The stones of the oversailer, or in the case of Bancroft, the huge terracotta blocks, needed some weight on the back end of them to make them stable and so a drum of brickwork was added to hold the back end of these cantilevered stones in place. The head of the drum was finished with a stone or cast iron cap ring. Again, Bancroft has a moulded terracotta cap.

There was a fashion after WW2 to fit smoke dispersing fins on some chimneys. I think Howarth’s, the steeplejacks from Colne used to fit them. None of them were ever fitted in Barlick and they never became popular.

When we started the refurbishment of Bancroft Engine in 1978 the first major job we did was get Peter Tatham in, he was a very good steeplejack from Milnrow near Rochdale and he made a beautiful job of the chimney head which saved it for future generations. This brings us back to my mate who collects the chimneys. I met Peter through him and over the next ten years Peter did many jobs for me on large chimneys. He taught me much of what I know about the practical aspects of maintaining high structures, he’s dead now, the Capstan Full Strength got him in the end I think but I still remember him fondly, a fine craftsman and a good friend.

When Peter stopped working shortly before his death I asked him to recommend another jack and he told me to go to a firm called Brooke Edgeley of Batley. I did so and never had any reason to regret it. I’ll always remember the first time Brooke Edgeley laddered the chimney at Ellenroad. The lad who did the job reached the top and when he came down he asked me who had done the job of rebuilding the chimney cap. I told him it was Peter Tatham and asked him why he wanted to know. He said it was the best job he’d ever seen and he would have liked to have been apprentice to the man. I have always thought that was perhaps the best compliment Peter could have had. I went straight down and told Dot his widow, she was so pleased to hear it.

There are all sorts of stories about chimneys, they seem to fascinate people. They say that even during the day, if you go into a chimney bottom and look up it you will see the stars. I have to report I’ve been in lots of chimneys and the only stars I’ve seen are when I’ve banged my head.

I can tell you a true story about a ‘haunted’ chimney. When Peter Tatham and his young apprentice were re-building the top on Ellenroad chimney we knocked a hole in the flue box at the bottom and had a rope running into the chimney bottom, round a snatch block and 220ft up to the top where it went over another pulley and came back to the bottom. It had a heavy weight on and a hook because it had to be heavier than the 220ft of rope going up or it wouldn’t come down.

I went in one morning and the young lad was there getting ready for the days work and he said to me “That chimney’s haunted!” I asked him what made him think that and he said that even though there was no wind, if you stabilised the weight and the hook in the bottom of the chimney and left it for ten minutes it was swinging from side to side, touching each wall of the flue. I told him to show me. We stabilised the hook and went for a brew. Sure enough, when we came back the weight was swinging like a pendulum. The lad got quite excited and said “I told you so!”.

He was all for going home but I persuaded him to stay and told him that it wasn’t haunted. What he had got was the best Foucault Pendulum in the world. A French scientist called Foucault invented the pendulum in 1851 to demonstrate the effect of the rotation of the earth. What happens is that the earth isn’t perfectly spherical and as it rotates it wobbles slightly. I know it takes some grasping but what was happening was that the pendulum was actually staying still, it was the earth that was moving. He went away and a couple of days later told me he had been down to the library and read it all up and decided I was right! I’ll bet that lad went far.

If you look at a chimney against a background of moving clouds it looks as though it is falling over. But you know it isn’t because something that size can’t move. You’re right, it isn’t falling over, but you’re wrong if you think it isn’t moving. All chimneys move gently all the time. If there is any wind they move even more. I can tell you that it’s a strange feeling being on top of a chimney in a strong wind, Ellenroad chimney used to move quite considerably, Peter reckoned they could move up to eighteen inches in a really strong wind.

So what holds them together? The answer is the weight of the chimney. The mortar between the stones or bricks doesn’t stick them together, it gives them a perfect bed. If you go to the top of a chimney with a hammer and chisel and drive the chisel into the joint under a brick it will come away very easily. Go to the bottom and try it and you will have to smash the brick to powder in order to get it out. This is what makes the structure so strong. In 1995 a lot of archive film was shown of towns that had been bombed to destruction, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The only structures that remained standing were the chimneys. Next time you see any film of that, take notice.

Well, you all know a bit more about chimneys now! Thanks for letting me goof off. I promise I’ll start another series about someone you know next week.

SCG/19 October 2003
1,110 words.


I went to a birthday party last week down the country. It was a joint party for a couple I have known for years and seeing as how the husband was sixty years old they decided to have a reight good do. All I’ll say about the party itself is that they catered so comprehensively that they gave me a doggy-bag to bring home, six pounds of cooked beef, a quarter of a Stilton cheese, three fruit cakes and a big platter of meat sandwiches! We all need a party like that every now and again.

My mate is a man of many parts and has an unusual hobby. He collects mill chimneys. That’s right, proper, full size mill chimneys. He has about fifteen of them now I think. I should say immediately that he is perfectly sane and I wholeheartedly approve of what he has done. So I’m going to tell you a few stories about mill chimneys. Before Betty and one or two others start groaning, stay with me, it’s not as boring as it sounds!

One of the most prominent symbols of the northern industrial scene used to be the mill chimneys. Look at any old photograph of a mill town and the first thing that strikes you is the forest of tall stacks that dominate the scene. They are almost always shown belching out black smoke. This is invariably cited as evidence that the mill engineers in those days made smoke all the time and this is why the towns were so dirty.

It is undoubtedly true that the mills did contribute to the smoke and dirt but remember that every building in those pictures was burning coal and making a contribution. I don’t know what the relative consumption of mill coal as opposed to household coal was but I would guess the domestic flues were contributing more dirt than the mills. Open fires in houses are very inefficient, they waste 95% of the heat in the coal. The mills weren’t as wasteful as they were made out to be, they had efficient furnaces in their boilers and the engineers were always looking to cut coal consumption down.

So why the pictures of smoking mill chimneys? I reckon it was down to the photographers. Chimneys equal smoke and they soon learned that if they went to make their picture first thing in the morning, preferably on Monday, when all the mills were firing hard to get their boiler settings heated up they would be making smoke. Just what the photographer ordered. So, whilst the chimneys undoubtedly did make more smoke than modern plants they weren’t always as black as they were portrayed.

Barlick and Salterforth had sixteen chimneys if we count the Gas Works and the Corn Mill. We have four now, Bancroft, Crow Nest, Westfield and Fernbank. The only one of them that is complete is Bancroft. By complete I mean exactly how it was built. I think you might have guessed that I don’t count tin chimneys. They are important and are interesting structures but nowhere near as nice as old fashioned brick and stone ones.

The early chimneys in Barlick were stone. Mitchell’s Mill, later Clough, was the first in about 1820 when they installed their steam engine. I think that one was square. Butts Mill was built in 1846 but didn’t start until 1848, that chimney was octagonal with a 40 ft extension added to the top after Bracewell bought the Ingleton coalfield in 1874. The coal was not first quality and they needed more draught to burn it. Wellhouse mill was built in 1854 and the chimney was a round stone one and very massive. I have always wondered how it managed to stay straight, the ground down there is very soft and for years the owners had problems with walls settling out of plumb and having to be rebuilt. In 1865 Coates Mill was built and had a square stone chimney on a massive plinth. I’m not sure when the Corn Mill put its steam engine in but their 80ft high chimney was stone and square. I never saw the gas works chimney but I have a copy of a report which states that the original chimney (1887?) was a stone one and was demolished in 1906 and replaced by a new brick one built by Mr D Lee of Pocklington. This one was 80ft high, 11ft diameter at the bottom and 6ft 9inches at the top.

The first brick chimney in Barlick was the Calf Hall chimney built in 1889. No more stone ones were built and all the brick chimneys were round. Now have you ever wondered how they built round chimneys with square bricks? It’s a good question and the answer is that they didn’t. The bricks were made specially for chimney building. There were two types, the stretchers which have their long face on the surface, and the headers or tie bricks which bind two adjacent courses together and are wedge shaped. They only show their curved ends on the face of the structure. Both types were made curved on the face and back and furthermore, were made to suit different diameters as all chimneys have ‘batter’, in other words they taper towards the top.

The usual batter on chimneys in this area is one inch inwards on the radius for every yard of height. The bricklayers measured this by using a specially shaped plumb board with a plumb weight hung on it. The chimney face of this was planed to the correct profile and the back edge was curved so that nobody could make a mistake and get it the wrong way round. The last chimney built in this area was at West Marton Dairy in the 1960s. It was a square brick chimney and the reason I mention it is that during the construction the foreman brickie was off with ‘flu and while he was away they used the batter board the wrong way round and the chimney had a dog leg in it. They had never shaped the back of the board to make it obvious which way it was to be used. They stripped the outer case of the chimney back to the mistake, cutting all the tie bricks and re-built it to the correct batter.

Well, it’s obvious there’s more to this subject than meets the eye, so more next week.

SCG/19 October 2003
1,058 words.


You wouldn’t believe the response I’ve had after my articles on the county boundary! Thanks for all the feedback. I realise that the people who bother to respond are the ones that agree with me but from the number of calls I reckon the people agitating for divorce from a possible linkage with Blackburn are on a winner.

I was plotting my next series of articles but a new item this morning triggered me off on another train of thought. The bad news is that it’s about the economics of care home closure but bear with me, it’s worth thinking about.

The news item was that bed blocking by elderly patients is costing the NHS £170million a year. What this means is that the number of places in care homes has been squeezed to the extent that if an elderly patient in hospital is well enough to discharge but cannot manage at home they have to be kept in hospital until a place becomes available thus blocking that hospital bed for acute patients.

How can something like this happen when we have thousands of highly paid and intelligent bureaucrats running the country for us? The common phrase is ‘lack of joined up government’, in other words, one department looks at the benefit to them of an economy but doesn’t consider where the cost is being moved to. In this case money is saved on care home provision but becomes a burden on the NHS.

All I want to say about this particular problem is that this was fairly obvious to us when we were fighting for Cravenside. Remember, we won that battle but lost the war in respect of the homes that closed. What I want to alert you to is the wider implications of this sort of decision because it is so important to our quality of life.

The technical term for the economist’s tool for assessing the consequences of decisions like this is ‘Cost Benefit Analysis’. What this means is that all aspects of a case should be examined and a balance sheet drawn up of the costs versus the benefits. We do this every day when we go shopping and the longer the term the purchase affects our lives, the more carefully we examine the price. The benefits of course aren’t always money, they can be saving of time, quality of life or even health.

Suppose you are buying a washing machine, you weigh the price against the convenience, the saving in time, the saving in cost as compared with using the laundrette and these factors guide your decision. So you see, you are all experts in economics, you use cost benefit analysis every day.

As many of you know, the case of Rainhall Road School is never far from my thoughts. Here we have a building which is an asset to the town and was originally financed by local money. County Hall decided that it was redundant and closed it. At the same time they found out that Coates School needed more classrooms and had to spend money on that. Over two years later this splendid building is still decaying in front of our eyes. County can’t even be bothered to sweep the yard or tidy the flower beds up. We keep being assured that ‘consultations are taking place’.

Two years ago I forecast that the time would come when it would be announced that the building had a fundamental flaw, say dry rot, and we would be told it would be ‘uneconomical’ to put it right. Demolition will be the only solution and County will have a prime site to sell. I keep asking the question but nobody has ruled this possibility out.

My point is that proper analysis of the cost and the benefit of using this building should be carried out. County would say that this has been done and led them to the course of action they have taken. However, you can bet your mortgage money that nobody looked into things like how much it costs parents in time and money to send their children longer distances to school. Were the costs of making teachers redundant taken into account? Did the possible benefits of re-opening the school as a fully equipped community centre figure in the calculations? There is plenty of research data which shows that the greater the investment in early activities for children, the lower the crime figures and subsequent cost to the community is in twenty years time. How about the impact on class sizes and the knock-on effect on the children? Were the benefits of this considered? The bottom line is this, has the closure of the school improved or worsened the town?

If you are still not persuaded by my argument, consider this. It was enlightened long-term cost benefit analysis that produced the Beveridge Report under a national government and this resulted the Welfare State. Think how your lives have been enhanced by this. Contrast this with the lack of long-term analysis that gave us the Beeching closures and the more recent disastrous privatisation of the railways. We sowed the wind and now we are reaping the storm.

The accountants rule the world. The problem is that, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, ‘They understand the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ Thirty years ago a man called Ivan Illich wrote a book called ‘Tools for Conviviality’ which addressed the social consequences of purely financial decisions. I remember one striking example he gave which was that in any cost benefit analysis of road transport the cost in terms of time to people waiting to cross the road should be taken into consideration. This demonstrates precisely the factors that are left out of decisions such as the closure of schools and care homes.

I make no apology for using the same picture I used when I last whinged about Rainhall School. Would County Hall like this in front of their main entrance?

SCG/17 September 2003
1,001 words.


One or two little mysteries were cleared up this week when I got a call from Harry Purcell about Jim Marsh and his cloggers shop at Dam Head. He said that when Jim Marsh’s business shut down in the 1930s Hackings bought it and used it as a garage for years. Harold Newbould had a lean-to next to it. I was right in thinking that the small shop under the end of Damside Cottages was another clogger’s shop, it was run by Albert Leaper and he started up when Marsh’s shop closed.

Harry also talked about the block of buildings below Gott’s Garage which was built by the Hacking family in 1909 as a four bedroomed house, shop, bakehouse and stables. I’ve always thought what a well-built row this is and have been intrigued by the fact that it has a much bigger overhang on the roof than most buildings in Barlick.

My picture this week this week is of the kissing gate from Wellhouse Street into the garden fronts of Wellhouse Square. The idea of these gates was that they allowed pedestrian access but stopped farm animals from entering. They were fail safe because they didn’t have to be fastened like a normal gate, nobody could forget and leave the gate open. If you keep your eyes open you’ll find other examples of them, or the remains of them as you walk round the town. There are two stones at the Esp Lane end of Shitten ginnel, stones on the garden fronts of 19 and 20 Row off Back Co-operative Street and one into the field at the Calf Hall end of Shitten Ginnel. You will find others.

These gates were only needed when there was a danger of farm animals getting into private property or a thoroughfare. We have to bear in mind that when Wellhouse Square was built it was surrounded by fields with animals in. There is almost no chance of a stray beast nowadays in the streets of Barlick but in the late 1850s or early 1860s when the Square was built it would be a real threat. It’s hard to imagine now but when this gate was installed you could walk from here across to Newtown in fields all the way.

So what’s so interesting about these lumps of stone? The first thing to notice is that by the time the first houses, the top four houses East Hill Street were built, a kissing gate wasn’t deemed necessary. There is no evidence that one was ever installed. The two bevelled upright stones are massive because on the garden side there is a considerable drop to the path. The bevels don’t run all the way through and they are very worn on the top edge. If you look very carefully at the dressed faces of the stone they have been chased to accept some sort of fitting which has nothing to do with their present role. There is also the flaw in the stone nearest the street which has been reinforced by a flagstone set on end and bolted through the upright. For these reasons I thing these stones have been re-used, they were second-hand when the gate was installed.

The back stone of the alcove is obviously second-hand. It has holes in it for iron railings and the leading with which the rails were fastened is still there in the four holes at the top. This is also a massive stone and has settled over the years. I find myself puzzling as to why they didn’t cut it off to size when it was put in. One reason could be that old stone is not predictable when you cut it. A new slab of this size could be cut with confidence but the masons may have feared that this stone was in danger of breaking along a fault rather than where they wanted to cut it. So they installed it as it was.

The next question that comes to my mind is this; if these stones have been re-used, what was the building they were in before they were used here? Bracewell, who built Wellhouse Square owned Butts Mill and at the time when this gate was installed, the Cotton Famine could have started and we know from Atkinson’s History of Barlick that the slack time was used to reboiler Butts and Mitchell’s Mill as well. Did this mean that there was some second hand stone about from these alterations? The reason why my mind goes to mills is that the two bevelled stones look like engine or mill construction to me. The large flag with the rail holes could be the same but we can still find examples of this construction used on houses like the one at the junction of King Street, Rainhall Road and Newtown.

When the Square was built they levelled the site and because of the rising ground behind, a substantial breast wall had to be built to retain the field behind where East Hill Street was built later. There are stones in this wall which are obviously re-used and on the whole, the materials are all large sized. If I was to guess I’d say it was rubble from the demolition of a large building. The question is, what building? It wouldn’t be far away.

It’s a puzzle and I don’t know the answer. However the lesson these stones give us is that there is something to be learned from objects we see every day. Even the stones can speak to us. We’ll be guessing most of the time but at least we’ll have the questions in our minds and sooner or later another clue will pop up that will have a linkage. If we hadn’t looked at the stones in the first place we would never have recognised the connection.

One other little clue I picked up this week. I was walking down the street past Cravenside and noticed that the toothing stones on the end house were almost rounded. Evidence of re-use? I don’t think so. I reckon that a lot of little feet with clogs on have worn them off as they used the stones to climb up for a dare. That’s another guess but I’d take a small bet I’m not so far off! Have a look when next you pass and see what you think.

SCG/10 September 2003
1,069 words.