Keighley Road, early twentieth century, outside the Commercial Hotel

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dame school

Mrs Cryer’s “memories” are a remarkable resource for those interested in the social history of Colne in the middle of the nineteenth century. She takes her readers on a guided tour of the town and, among the many stops she makes, there are a couple at educational establishments which featured in her childhood.

As far as the old grammar school is concerned:

There was a passage through the stoops at the front of the Grammar School. The school, you must remember, was in full swing then, under the headmastership of Mr. Harrison, a worthy man and a great scholar. How many old Colne boys to-day have kindly memories of their old teacher, whose voice is now as still and silent as the old school itself, once the scene of so much youth, gaiety and life? My brothers were, all four of them, educated there, William and Jonathan under Mr. Harrison, Edmondson and John under a former master, whose name I have forgotten. Bazaars, magic lanterns and even lotteries used to be held in the top room above the school, reached by the steps leading up from outside.

Mrs Cryer was born Margaret Jane Ward at Walk Mill House in Colne, on the 6 Dec 1841. She attended a so-called Dame School in Colne, where one of her friends was Esther, the daughter of William Hodgson, vicar at Christ Church. Esther had initially been educated at home, not far from the school for the poor her father struggled to establish. Mrs Cryer gives us a wonderful insight into the schooldays of the daughters of the better-off in Colne:

One of the best known educational establishments of that day was Mrs. Blackburn’s boarding and day school for young ladies. It stood in Keighley Road, opposite the old toll bar and near where the Commercial Hotel now stands, then kept by Mrs. Strickland. Nearly all the best people sent their daughters to Mrs. Blackburn’s School. Mrs. Blackburn herself – a stately dame, in rustling black silk, and with her hair arranged in loops over her ears, and wearing long, black ear-rings, after the fashion of Queen Victoria – used to sail into the schoolroom punctually at nine in the morning, and, standing near her desk, she would say Good morning,ladies and we would rise, and, after a curtsey, say, Good morning, Mrs. Blackburn. Then the lessons would begin. Do they teach Scripture lessons in the schools to-day? Not much, I fear. They did then, and, in my opinion, boys and girls grew up better men and women for it. A Mr. Marine came to teach music on a Wednesday, and a Mr. Tallon taught French on Thursday; and there was a lady who came from Burnley to teach us wax flower-making. We paid a guinea a quarter, French, music, and flower-making, of course, being extras. I never saw Mr. Blackburn. It was whispered that he had been a ne’er-do-well, and had left her. Then, like so many more brave women, she took up the reins of life, and succeeded. She had her mother living with her, and kept a neat, clean woman servant, named Betsy, who made splendid mint sauce for, every now and again, a favoured few, I amongst the number. She would give a tiny spoonful; just to taste, you know. Amongst my school friends at Mrs. Blackburn’s were the two Misses Midgley, from Trawden, and Miss Mary Midgley, from Carry Lane Head; a Miss Bolton, who lived next door to the school; the two Misses Hartley, from Laneshawbridge; Miss Esther Phoebe Hodgson, whose father was incumbent of Christ Church; Miss Matilda Sagar, of Heyroyd House; the two Misses Thompson, from Swanfield; Miss Ann Hartley, and her cousin Miss Holroyd, from Burnley; the two Misses Denbigh, from the same place; a Miss Bolton, from Barrowford, and Miss Smith her cousin, who married Mr. Willie Hallam, of Marsden Hall; Miss Armistead, of Wheatley Lane; the two Misses Grimshaw, of Crow Trees, Barrowford; the two Misses Phillips, of Greenfield; the Misses Ann and Fanny Watson, of Greenfield House; Miss Baldwin, of Spring House, who married Mr. T. Bolton, of Messrs. Bolton and Carr, solicitors; and the Misses Jane and Annie Earnshaw, of Craven Bank, Colne. There were many more, but these names come most readily to my memory. Some have, alas passed away to the world of shadows. Still, there are some left who are doing God is work in this world, and these memories will remind them of the past happy days, ere the light of youth had faded.


Memories of Colne – Mrs Cryer

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Old Grammar School

In 1812 a new grammar school building was opened in Colne, next to the parish church. By then, grammar schools already had a very long history. The original purpose of medieval grammar schools was the teaching of Latin. Over time, the curriculum was broadened, first to include Ancient Greek, and later English and other European languages, natural sciences, mathematics, history, geography, and other subjects.

It is unclear when a grammar school was first established in the town. The new building certainly replaced an earlier school, the first record of which dates to 1667, when it is mentioned as already existing in the will of Thomas Blakey. He bequeathed £40 to pay for the schooling for four poor scholars at the school, and in 1726 the incumbent and churchwardens of the parish church purchased a piece of land “for ever to be to the schoolmaster of the grammar school of Colne.” (1)

Tradition has it that John Tillotson (1630-1694), later Archbishop of Canterbury, attended the grammar school at Colne a few decades before Blakey’s bequest. Whilst there is no evidence from the time to support the claim, there is none to the contrary either, and no good reason to doubt it. The association has been a standard element of what has been written about Tillotson’s life and Colne’s history for centuries. In 1811 for example, Samuel Lewis told of how the old school-room was taken down and that Archbishop Tillotson “received the rudiments of education at this school”. (2) Later, in 1836, Edward Baines repeats the connection and tells us something of the original school: “[it] was antique building, supported on crooks”.(3) James Carr’s Annals of Colne gives a more complete and perhaps more fanciful account! (4):


In 1867 James Bryce visited the school as part of a government enquiry into endowed schools, and his report tells of the ups and downs of the school’s fortunes in the preceding decades. From a high point in 1825, when 100 boys attended, the school “sank very low, and two masters in succession left it starved out.” It revived under the next and then fell after his departure. At the time of Bryce’s inspection the school was on the up again with an “energetic teacher [who] maintains sufficiently good discipline, and has given the school an air of briskness which many schools of much higher pretensions want.” Girls were in attendance too, although well outnumbered by the boys (36 to 6). In terms of academic progress:


This promise was not borne out though. In March 1889, J W Halfhead, who had been appointed master in 1872, died after a long illness. The newspaper report of his death said the school “has diminished in influence, and lately was practically closed.” There was no success in finding a replacement – the meagre stipend being a problem – and it was suggested that the school’s relatively small endowment be used to pay for scholarships to Burnley or Skipton grammar schools instead. The school was still closed in 1892, when there was a dispute between the Church and the local council about who owned the building and who should be on the school’s board of trustees. In January 1901, with questions still unresolved about what to do with its endowment, a Burnley Express article stated “The School has ceased to exist.”(4)



  1. See James Bryce’s 1868 report on the school in , Resports from Commissioners, Volume 28, Part 14, Sessions 19 Nov 1867-31 Jul 1868
  2. Lewis, Samuel A Topographical Dictionary of England.., 1811, p600
  3. Baines Edward, History of the County Palatine and Duchy of Lancaster, vol III 1836, p240
  4.  Carr, James Annals of Colne, 1878, p175
  5. The Leeds Times January 04, 1873; pg. 5; Burnley Express and Clitheroe Division Advertiser Wednesday, March 13, 1889; pg. 2; Burnley Express and Clitheroe Division Advertiser, Wednesday, January 09, 1901; pg. 3
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view from the tower

After leaving the bells behind, it was up to the roof of the tower, one of the highest points in the town and a great place to take in (or try to) everything from the immediate surroundings to the distant horizon, in all directions.

From the top of St Bartholomew’s church tower, Colne:

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the bells, the bells

I got quite excited today at the unexpected chance to explore the bell tower of St Bartholomew’s Church. The bell above, one of eight, was made in London and installed in 1814 along with 5 others. The other two date from some time later.

I had a go at ringing a couple of the smaller ones. It was much harder than I thought it would be and the whole business of ringing bells properly was explained to us by a few of the current ringers. It is a very complicated business!

After leaving the ringing room, it was up more spiralling steps to the bells above.

They are loud. This is the smallest one:

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Colne from the air

This image, of Colne railway station and the surrounding area in 1925, is one of 95000 on the Britain from Above project website. The photographs were all taken by Aerofilms Ltd, a pioneering aerial surveying company established in 1919, and have been digitised with the support of Heritage Lottery funding. They can be downloaded for free (for non-commercial use) at:

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alehouses in Colne 1655

“A list of all the Alehouses in every Townshipp within the hundred of Blackburn as followeth”

[rather a list of alehouse keepers]

Coulne Towne

X John Emott

X Arthur Blacoe

X Abraham Sutliffe

O Geoffrey Shacklton

O Michaell Doughtie

O Rob[er]t Fawlkener

X George Fairebancke

O Henry Holgate

O Henry Stanworth

O John Heartley

O John Holgate

X Widdowe Duxbury

O Mr Chris[to]fer Banbrigge

O William Greene

X Rob[er]t Swayne

X John Blakey

O Widdowe Hargreaves

a O Rob[er]t Baron

O William Risheton

O James Hudson

X Steephen Tillotson

O Widdowe Blakey

X Richard Craven

Counstable Danyell Leacocke

X Richard Dobson

Notes: from Lancashire Archives reference QDV 29

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