A Brief History of Burnley


Brun Lea

Burnley is centred on the confluence of the Brun with the river Calder in Lancashire, UK. It is held to be derived from Brun Lea – meadow by the Brun. Roman coins and other artefects have been discovered there but there is no evidence of settlement until the time of the Normans.
Britannia was expensive to defend. Although the Romans didn’t withdraw entirely from Britain until 407 AD, native Britons on either side of the Pennines were largely self-ruled from the second century AD. Following the Roman period, much of Hen Ogledd (the Old North) was ruled by the Briton-Celtic kingdom of Rheged, which at its peak, stretched from Strathclyde down to Lancashire, where it abutted the Yorkshire-Midlands realm of Elmet.
This placed Brun Lea within the southern marches of Rheged. For a while those marches were known as Regio Dunutinga. The population of North England then was about 1½ million; less than 5% of what is is now. Pre-Norman Conquest, the area was very lightly settled. It is unlikely that there were more than a few hundred people in and around Brun Lea. Briton-Celtic Rheged was incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria by 730 AD. This marked the decline of the Cumbric language which was gradually replaced by Old English. From that time until the Norman Conquest (1066) Brun Lea was part of the ancient sub-division known as the hundred of Blackburnshire. Nearby Accrington and Haslingden date from this Anglo-Saxon period. Under Danelaw there was a thriving Viking community in York and for a time, Blackburnshire lay on the border of the Kingdom of York (or Scandinavian Jórvík) which flourished briefly in what is now Yorkshire between 867 and 954 AD. Outlying marches such as Blackburnshire were much fought over.



Following the conquest, a number of rebellions broke out, led by Northumbria, which then stretched from Edinburgh to the Humber. The result was the Harrowing (1070) where Norman armies slaughtered communities and salted the soil, resulting in 100,000 killed in the North of England. The Normans intended to subdue the heartland of the Anglo-Saxon / Scandinavian presence, which was strongest east of the Pennines.
This – people of the Old North, culturally subordinated to Anglo-Saxon interlopers to the east, who in turn are dispossessed by Normans – creates a complex setting to the character of the area.

The first record of settlement at Brun Lea was in 1122 when a charter to the church was granted to the monks of Pontefract Abbey. For the next two centuries, various spellings were used e.g. Bronley, Brunley, Brunleye; the place consisted of fewer than 50 families.
At 1295 Burnley was within the Manor of Ightenhill which in turn was part of the Honor of Clitheroe. Little remains of pre-industrial Burnley, however the market cross erected then is still in the grounds of the old grammar school. By 1550 the town had grown to a population of 1,200 and the church of St. Peter’s was its centre. Burnley Grammar School was founded in 1559, following the closure of the chantry school.

Burnley in the nineteenth century - map amalgam

Burnley in the nineteenth century

Burnley developed into a market town and weaving was established by the mid-17th century. Within a hundred years, factories sprang up on the banks of the Calder. These processed cotton instead of wool. Coal mining developed rapidly; in 1796, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal arrived and in 1848, the East Lancashire Railway Company completed the line to connect Burnley to this new network, and further improve transport. The 19th century saw the town’s population grow rapidly from less than 5,000 to over 100,000. The Irish Potato Famine led to an influx of Irish during the 1840’s. This was followed by a large influx of Scots towards the end of the century.
Burnley’s population briefly topped 110,000 just before WWI, since which it has declined to under 80,000. A new influx began in the 1970’s of Pakistanis, and people of that origin now represent 25% of the total.
[edited 14/02/2014 note on Jorvik / Danelaw added
25/04/2014 maps added]

[edited 09/08/2015 added link to self-published book: Burnley.

About Terence Park

Board games, US Comic books, SF Paperbacks, Vinyl records; I've plenty of them all. I write SF (the serious sort). I also do spreadsheets.
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