Lower Darwen Village
The building of the mill in 1774, seems to have had little impact on the village, there is very little evidence on Yates Map of 1786 to show expansion of either property or population. It would be true to say that at this time the village was in the centre of a farming area, mainly pasture and meadow for cattle and sheep, with some cultivation of corn. There were two packhorse trails through the village. One left the Roman Road, at Blackamoor, descending Stopes Brow, along Fore Street meeting the other trail at the bridge over the River Darwen. (1) This trail came from Darwen Chapels, after the bridge one trail went to the west and Tockholes, the other north to Blackburn. When the map was drawn there was only one house of note, Highercroft House built in 1634, the house was demolished in the mid 1960s to make way for the ‘Centurion’ public house.
The village was one of the early centres of nonconformism, even before the first visit by Charles Wesley in 1759; there had been regular meetings in the barn of Newfield Farm. It was in the barn of the village farm that Wesley preached on his second visit in 1761. A Methodist school was established in 1828, the Wesleyan Church on Park Lane, (Highercroft Road) followed in 1851, this was demolished in the early 1900s. Prior to this though, the Vicar of Blackburn, Dr. John William Whittaker, alarmed at the growth of the nonconformists encouraged the building of a Parish Church. A church dedicated to St. James was built on Stopes Brow in 1829 a school followed in 1838. The school was replaced in 1873 at a cost of £850, both church and school have now gone, the school in 1996, the church in the 1960s. Modern buildings have replaced both. In 1871 another church was built by the Methodists in Fore Street quite close to where Wesley had preached on his second visit, the building though damaged is still to be found, and in use. Last but not least came the Congregational Church in Sandy Lane, built in 1885, the congregation having used the Mill School for almost fifty years.
The Eccles family had started this school in 1817, but not in the building still standing by Albert Place, this was established by the Eccles’ in the 1840s at a cost of £410. Just by the Railway Station on Parr Lane, the Methodists built a Sunday school in 1904, the building, under-used became neglected and was demolished in the 1980s. In 1896 the Mill School became the Congregational School in Sandy Lane, it was extended in 1910, but is now a retirement home. Before closing this section, this is an extract taken from the Blackburn Times of the 12th April 1862: ‘Independent (Mill) School had 180 pupils, 32 of whom were over 15, taught by 10 teachers, who had 380 books to teach from.’
The benevolent Eccles’s? The farms in the area would supplement their earnings by weaving, the Parish Register of 1774 shows that there were 57 handloom weavers in Lower Darwen. In 1826 during the bad times, Lower Darwen township had only four of 377 families not directly dependent in the textile trade. The village received £75 in 1841 from the Manufacturers Relief Committee according to census figures of the time only 732 people lived in the village. In the same census there is still mention of handloom weavers. For example, Roger Taylor, 35, Crofter, his wife Margaret, 29, Handloom Weaver. The village continued to grow. By 1860 there were 1280, and in 1901 this had passed 2000. In 1861 the village policeman Robert Holme was so badly paid that his wife had to take in washing. At the same time Thomas and Jane Eccles of the ‘Elms’ had the help of three live-in servants, he at that time had 488 people working in the mill. The railway came through Lower Darwen in 1847; Rakes Bridge was built in twelve months. On the 3rd August it was possible to travel to Darwen or Blackburn eight times a day and four times on Sunday. The time it took to get to Blackburn was 5 or 6 minutes, the cost one way was: 1st Class, 4d, 2nd Class, 3d. and 3rd Class, 2d. A primitive wooden station was built on Park Lane, this incidentally was stolen overnight, it was found at Eccleshill being used as a hencote. Sidings were built on the Darwen side of Rakes Bridge, railwaymen joined twelve workers living in the village. Robert Lowe was appointed Station Master in 1899; he must have had job satisfaction for he remained for the next twenty-five years.
In 1861 the Co-op set up shop in the village, the first shop, and the largest was on Fore Street, known as the Lower Darwen Co-operative Society. This was followed by the Conservative Co-operative Society in 1874; they had two shops, one at Raikes Bridge, the other on Sandy Lane. Between them they had almost 500 members in 1914 with combined sales of almost £16,000. One took Thursday as half-day, the other Tuesday, but only Lower Darwen Co-op took an annual holiday. (2) The mills at this time took separate ‘Wakes’ Eccles’s with Darwen, Wards with Blackburn. At this time the village must have been prosperous for there were many shops, even a bank. Fore Street contained a large number of these, the butcher, grocer, tailor, bookmaker and newsagent to name a few. The County Bank used the building that had been the Police Station. At the turn of the century there were three public houses in Lower Darwen, strange for a nonconformist community. At Rakes Bridge stood the Railway Arms a beer house, sadly no more. Just off the road the Hindle Arms is still with us but disguised as the ‘Winning Post’. The Swan that stood in Fore Street was demolished in the early 1900s, another ‘Swan’ was built north of the River Darwen in 1907, but now trades under the name of ‘Uncle Jacks’. There was never any professional entertainment in the village; it was a case of ‘do it yourself’. The schools were used for entertainment, each put on concerts and plays. Christmas would see each church group perform pantomimes. Sandy Lane School’s Christmas show would include prize giving for those who attended the school, the Sunday School, and the village Cricket Team, members of the tennis club, and the bowling club would collect trophies won during the season. One of the Eccles family would give the prizes, most of which were bought by the family. Church groups would meet during the week; the rooms were used for badminton and other indoor games. Youth clubs were set up for the young folk of the village. Both the Methodists and the Congregationalists built tennis courts and Bowling Greens. The recreational ground behind the church became the envy of the two towns either side of the village. Mr. J. R. Eccles arranged with Darwen Corporation the tipping of ashes onto the Cricket ground, so that it became the same size as Blackburn’s Alexander Meddowes. His sister provided the children’s corner, with swings, slides and roundabouts etc. Over the Lower Darwen Co-op were rooms used for meetings mostly political, and a dance floor, the latter used well into the 1970s. Today’s village is a thriving place, but has had to pay a terrible price for it.