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 the 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 successor – 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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dam buster

John Fort

John Fort was the bomb-aimer on the Lancaster Bomber AJ-J, one of 18 aircraft taking part in Operation Chastise, 16-17 May, 1943. Operation Chastise is better known as the Dam Busters raid.

John was born at the Shooters Arms in Nelson on 4 July 1912 and references are made online to him having attended Christ Church School in Colne. Whilst no conclusive proof has been found in the school records – the admission registers do not survive for the period and no mention is made of him in the log book – it seems very likely: his brother Robert certainly attended and the school was across the road from Bents Brewery, the Fort family business and home. John’s aunt Annie was a teacher at the school, starting as a pupil there before becoming a pupil teacher. She eventually became head teacher at Lord Street School in the town.

John joined the RAF in 1929 and went on to serve as a member of the ground crew on the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious. When the Second World War came, he volunteered for air crew training during which John was selected as a specialist bomb-aimer. For his role in Operation Chastise John was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Image result for distinguished flying cross

He did not survive the war though. John died in a plane crashed only a few months later, on 15 Sep 1943. He has no known grave, but is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial,  as well as the main Colne war memorial…

…and the Christ Church memorial.

In 2015, the specially-made sight used by John to aim the “bouncing bomb” on the approach to Mohne dam was sold for over £41000. Read more.




Christ Church School records are at Lancashire Archives, reference SMCO/11

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leaving a note

front cover.jpgI found this pamphlet recently on a secondhand book stall, my eye caught by the wonderful cover design. It’s a really interesting brief history of the Nelson Weavers’ Association published in 1922 to mark its 50th anniversary.

You can read in full here.

It’s the note written on the back that makes it for me though. The grandiose image on the front contrasts wonderfully with the everyday, gritty request to “.. clean those 2 hens in coal shed” and the equally prosaic “Can you leave a key if you’re out at 5 Dad Please..”

back cover.jpg

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