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Blackburn and Darwen

This week Deceased Online will launch a new collection of burial and cemetery records from Blackburn & Darwen in Lancashire. Here I look at the history of Blackburn and the background to lives of many who are remembered in the burial registers.

I grew up in rural Lancashire, about 30 miles away from the heartland of the former cotton industry that is Blackburn and Darwen. Although there were a few mills around the area in which I lived, they were nothing compared with the vast numbers of mills and factories that emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries in Blackburn, Darwen and their near neighbours, Preston and Burnley. Like Blackburn, my village lay in the shadow of the brooding Pennine hills and our grass was bright green from regular rainfalls.
Jubilee Tower, Darwen (c) John Darch
Today, Blackburn is remembered as "Cotton Town", a name that lives on in an excellent local history project:  The origins of the town's textile manufacturing lie in the middle ages when Flemish woolen weavers moved there in the 1300s. By the early 1700s, textile manufacture was Blackburn's main industry. Cotton manufacturing developed in this period, not least thanks to the 1764 invention of the "spinning jenny" by James Hargreaves (c.1720-1778) in neighbouring Oswaldtwistle. The first cotton factory in Blackburn was built by the Anderton family in 1776. By 1824, there were 24 spinning mills in the town. 
Sketch of the improved spinning jenny
By 1835, Blackburn parish had grown to include numerous townships, including the following. Residents of these are among those named in the cemetery records on the database:

Great Harwood
Little Harwood
Lower Darwen
Over Darwen
Walton le Dale
Yate with Pickup Bank

Thousands came from across Lancashire and beyond to work as weavers, spinners and other emerging roles in the thriving textiles industry. Between 1750 and the early 20th century, Blackburn's population grew from under 5,000 to over 130,000. 72 mills were built between 1850 and 1870 alone. Streets of terraced houses were built for the workers, the railways came to Blackburn, and the canals were filled with traffic. Blackburn Cathedral was built in 1826 and the markets of Darwen grew ever more popular. In later years, cotton slumps hit the town hard, with depressions in the 1860s and 1890s, but in the 20th century, the industry went into terminal decline and 43 mills stopped production in 1908. The industry was hit harder in the First World War when trade with India was suspended.
Mahatma Gandhi visiting Darwen on 26 September, 1931
During the Great Depression of 1930s, Darwen received one of its most famous visitors - Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi responded to an invitation from the manager of Spring Vale Garden Village Ltd, Corder Catchpool. As part of his Quit India campaign to end British rule in the sub-continent, Gandhi urged Indians to boycott cotton goods. The boycott had devastating effects on Lancashire cotton workers, with thousands losing their jobs. Although Catchpool's invitation was intended to show Gandhi the error of the boycott, he was received warmly by the local Darwen workers, who instead blamed the greed of mill owners for their plight.

Not everyone in Blackburn and Darwen worked in textile manufacturing. The 19th century also saw the development of coal mining, brewing, paper making, corn milling, brick making and shops.
Blackburn Clock Tower in 1906, showing its broken time ball near the top of the mast.

Next week, I shall look in detail at the cemeteries featured in the Blackburn and Darwen Collection, and the fascinating people who are interred within. For now, I can reveal that it includes records from the beautiful Blackburn Cemetery in Whalley New Road (dating from 1859) and the Darwen Old and Eastern Cemetery (dating from 1862), which lies on the main road coming out of the town.
War Memorial at Darwen Cemetery (c) Blackburn and Darwen Council
I am very pleased to see another Lancashire collection on the Deceased Online database. If, like me, you have connections to Lancashire, please do let us know on our Facebook and Twitter pages, or in the Comments Box below.


  1. Ah, the time passed away, but… .., it's a reminder…..., of…., let love and peace rule all hearts plus brains !!!!


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