Pubs and Inns of Blackburn and Darwen
The millworker did not have many escape routes from the drudgery of his life. There was so little time. The demands of the mill took up most of the day and the body’s need to recuperate much of the rest. In the evening, at the end of the day, there might be an hour or two, for the men at any rate and perhaps for younger women with no family responsibilities. For all other women there was no rest at all except in sleep and precious little of that.
There were some, those perhaps with aspirations to middle class status, who would spend time in the Mechanics’ Institute reading newspapers, borrowing books, attending lectures, but for the rest, for the vast majority, beershops, inns, hotels and taverns were their first and last resorts, their destinations and, in many cases, their destiny.
Drink was the quickest way out of town. Fatigue and anxieties would fade and be replaced by a rosy glow. Often there would be a roaring fire. There would be convivial companionship. Sometimes someone would sing or produce a fiddle. There would be games, gambling, tobacco and food in the better establishments. For a few brief hours the cotton worker would be as happy as the mill owner in his mansion with his port and cigars.
There were 207 beershops and 260 hotels, inns and taverns in Blackburn in 1881 when the population was 161,617. In Darwen there were 24 beershops and 53 hotels and inns for a population of 27,626. Most of these had traditional names: The Bull’s Head, Black Horse etc, but a few had rather more imaginative names, names that hint at the romance and poetry that pubs brought into people’s lives: The Friendship Tavern, The Sweet Willow, The Flowing Jug and The Last Rose of Summer.
In his definitive work ‘Blackburn’s Old Inns’, George Miller describes the importance of the public house.
‘We sometimes overlook the fact that these old hostelries played a far more important part in the social life of the community than do their modern counterparts. They were in a large measure self-contained units, each brewing its own ale, making its own bread, cheese and butter and often slaughtering its own cattle and pigs. In addition mine host usually kept a well-filled stable, supplying post-horses and post-chaises to travellers, draft horses to local carriers and often driving a stage or market coach himself.’
For most people the pub was far more comfortable than their homes were. Beer was the staple drink, long before tea became popular and was safer than water, which was often contaminated by drainage from sewers and privies. Business transactions could be carried out in pubs, friends could be entertained there, and there too life’s rites of passage, birth, marriage and death, could be celebrated.