Living in Style
The men who made their millions from Blackburn's business were not shy about it. Like the burgeoning bourgeoisie of other industrial centres, they announced their status to their own workers and to 'old money' by moving out of town and claiming their own territory in the suburbs. They built their mansions, halls and castles far enough from town to escape its squalor and fumes, but near enough to be able to deal with business 'hands on' at short notice, and to play their part in Blackburn's civic and cultural life. Whilst in Blackburn's so-called 'Herodian' districts one infant in five never made it to their fifth birthday, Victorian and Edwardian employers imitated the lifestyle of the aristocracy, in which role they saw themselves as the town 'elite' with both the riches and the responsibilities that entailed.
Each of these homes was palatial by comparison with those of its residents' workers, with acres of landscaped gardens, opulent interiors with dozens of rooms, and outbuildings accommodating servants, horses and swimming pools. The turn of the Nineteenth Century saw the completion of Woodfold Hall, a vast neo-classical mansion on the road to Preston at Mellor for cotton magnate Henry Sudell, whose family had been associated with Blackburn's development for four centuries, and who had previously lived in Church Street. After the turnpike road (Preston New Road) was developed in 1826, a series of glamorous homes sprung up around its route: 'Spring Mount' was built at the top of what is now Montague Street in the 1820s, and became the home of Cotton manufacturer and local MP William Eccles after he moved from Clayton Street. Beardwood Mansion, finished by the 1830s, was the residence of John Rutherford, part-owner of Shaw's brewery on Salford bridge, who had been born in John Street. Rutherford was Mayor of Blackburn and MP for Darwen; he played in the early line-up of Blackburn Rovers, and owned the winner of the 1925 St. Leger. By the 1840s, 'Beardwood Hall' later to become 'Beardwood Hospital' was built, and was the home of a series of leading commercial and political figures in Blackburn life. These buildings sprung up alongside other, existing sizeable properties including Beardwood Old Hall and Bank House on Duke's Brow.
1853 saw the opening of Corporation Park, creating a further attraction around which to develop distinctive homes for the town's wealthy: 'Troy' (on the site now occupied by Beardwood School) was built for the retirement of brewer John Thwaites in the 1850s; 'Wycollar' for the millowning Coddingtons (and later the Eddlestons) in the 1860s, and in the 1880s, the Hornby family - which included members of Blackburn's political and sporting elite - moved from King Street to 'Whinfield', later to gravitate further out to Pleasington. Other dignitaries such as William Pilkington, millowner, Mayor and founder of Blackburn Infirmary, moved out as far as Wilpshire Grange in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. The local facilities to support this secluded comfort came to include the East Lancs Cricket Club at Alexandra Meadows from 1863; Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School (which moved from Freckleton Street to its present site in 1886); and Blackburn Golf Club on Revidge Heights from 1894 onwards.
Perhaps the most glorious example of this contrast in lifestyle between Blackburn's industrial leadership and their workers was 'Billinge Scar'. It was built as the home of Daniel Thwaites, who had first moved from hard by his Eanam brewery in Cleaver Street to 'Beardwood Cliff' in 1858. In 1876, however, he built almost from scratch a property which seemed to designed to prove that an Englishman's home literally is his castle. It later fell into the hands of millowner Arthur Birtwistle. A closer look at 'Billinge Scar' tells us a great deal about the life and the values of Blackburn's millionaires.
The glory days of the Blackburn millionaires were little more than a blink in the eye of history. The era of this stark division between rich and poor, employer and employee, powerful and powerless, was superseded in the first half of the Twentieth Century by a combination of trends including the rise of the welfare state and the decline of King Cotton. Their homes became schools, hospitals, or more often rubble. Parochial chieftains - even generous ones - could not resist the powerful economic changes and political expectations developing at the time. The owners of today's industry no longer peer at their workers from the brow of a suburban hill - often they are not even in this country. Perhaps it is worth remembering that the Blackburn millionaires were usually an active part of the town that underwrote their wealth - they spoke for it in Parliament, played for its sports teams and funded its churches, schools, hospitals and clubs. For good or ill, they were part of the cohesion that made Blackburn a force to be reckoned with. It was to their employers' homes that Blackburn workers marched when they wanted a pay rise or when Rovers won the FA Cup: when the millionaires went, there was nowhere to march.