going underground

Bronze Age flint knife found in Laneshawbridge

There’s a website where you can see archaeological finds made across the country by membrs of the public, including many discovered in Pendle. These include some of the oldest evidence of human activity in the area, thousands of years ago, and many other accidental survivals, remarkable hints at past lives from more recent centuries.

Cast copper alloy axe (probably dating to the Middle Bronze Age 1300 to 1150BC) found in Laneshawbridge

TheseCopper alloy whistle, probably for hawking (post-medieval, 1500 to 1800 AD) found in Laneshawbridge

These discoveries, along with over a million others nationwide, have been recorded as part of the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme. Find out more, and search the database here.




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the double identity of John Robinson of Colne #1 a meeting in the pub

What follows is a remarkable story. Not just in terms of content, what happens, but perhaps moreso because it has survived. It is a tale of deception, bureaucracy and the hardships of past times, which has reached us in a small bundle of legal papers. This survival is thanks to one man – Colne local historian Wilfred Spencer, who saved the bundle along with thousands of other bits and pieces of the town’s history.

It hard to know where to begin with it really, so we’ll start in a pub, the Bluebell on the outskirts of Colne. It’s as good a place as any.


The Bluebell is now a row of cottages and where perhaps there is a TV, cooker or sofa, one day in March, back in 1787, Philiss Barret met John Robinson. She, like him, was heading into town. Where Philiss had come from we don’t know, but John had just rolled in from over the hills to the east, in search of work. He was a shoemaker and carried the tools of his trade.

We don’t know what was said either, but for John and Philiss this was the start of something. One thing led to another and on 4 March 1788 the two were married in Skipton parish church.


That initial meeting was not just the start of Phillis and John’s relationship, but very much a second start for John, perhaps to him a fresh one. A new leaf.

John had been baptised on 6 January 1760, the son of Jeremiah and Hannah Drake, at Pudsey chapel in the county of York.  John and Philiss’s big day in Skipton was not the first time John had tied the knot: that had been on 27 September 1779 when, as John Drake, he had married Esther Riley of Bramley at Leeds.


John was no stranger to fatherhood either. He and Esther had had 6 children, 2 of whom had died. Esther though was still very much alive.

You see, John had been John Drake, husband to Esther and father of four until a day or so before he turned up at the Bluebell and introduced himself to Phillis as a Robinson, a name he didn’t quite pluck from nowhere: Robinson was his mother’s maiden name.

Drops of the truth leaked out at points over the next 30 years, but it was not until just after John’s death in 1826 that a thorough and expensive investigation was launched and the whole matter, as well as lots of the people involved, ended up before a judge. That’s when it all came out.

The road to the courts was a long one. Even when John met Phillis, just before Colne Fair, back in 1787, he was already a wanted man.

Leeds Intelligencer page 2 27 Mar 1787 - advert.jpg

The Leeds Intelligencer 27 March 1787

Coming soon: how the truth came out……..

Notes: The papers are part of the Wilfred Spencer collection at Lancashire Archives (reference DDSP)

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Fox Clough


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Fox Clough steam engine house

An impressive ruin, remote and mostly hidden by trees, still looking down on the water it was built to deal with over 200 years ago.

Constructed sometime before 1805 (it’s shown on a map of that date) and probably no earlier than the 1780s, the building housed a steam engine.

The south side of Colne’s south valley had been mined for centuries by this time and, out of a drift mine head, just a short way from the engine, down the hill by Waterside Bridge, tons of coal for the town’s mills came from deep inside the hillside.

The steam engine would have been an atmospheric or Newcomen engine of the same type as this one at the Black Country Living Museum:

Protected from the elements in the sturdy stone structure, the coal-fired boiler helped work the beam up and down on a pivot. One end of the beam protruded from an opening near the top and its pumping action was used to draw water up from the mine workings below so that they could be dug more easily and extensively.

Looking out from inside, huge pieces of worked masonry at ground level: what’s left of floor that supported the engine:

Looking in from the front:

And down from the rear:

The opening to the shaft up which the water was drawn is still visible:

Nearby are the remains of a small building – a workshop or store perhaps – and the steam has been covered in places, to allow access to the engine house across it (for coal supplies?) and maybe to better channel away the water brought up from below:

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when your teeth let you down


Old Man in Waterside.png

The Yorkshire Gazette (York, England), Saturday, May 02, 1840


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read all about it….the small ads



situations vacant



for sale 1


black bull.jpg







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Colne’s first railway #1

Colne first became part of the passenger rail network when the final section of the  Leeds and Bradford Extension railway was opened on 2 Oct 1848. The following year, on 1 Feb, this was met end-to-end by the Blackburn, Burnley, Accrington and Colne Extension Railway, and Colne Station was opened.

There was already another railway in town though.

Railway Street is nowhere near the Colne’s train station or any existing railway line. This has not always been the case, but it was no ordinary station or line which gave the street its name. In January 1836, Ingham Walton, a surveyor from Barrowford, received a letter which talked of the intention of the trustees and executors of John Hargreaves to build a railway, “already staked out“, from Colne Waterside to the town of Colne to transport coal from the drift mouth.

The “drift mouth” was the entrance to Foxclough Colliery on the south side of Colne Water, a little to the east of Waterside Bridge. The railway, or “Tram Road”, can be seen on the 1845 6 inch to the mile Ordnance Survey of Colne.

1845 Waterside drift

The five feet to a mile Ordnance Survey map of 1851 shows it and the colliery it came from in wonderful detail. I wonder how far the tramroad went into the hillside? The engine house would have contained a steam engine – well placed for fuel – but it is not clear from the map what it was there for. Was it pumping water from the mine into the river? Or, was it hauling hewn coal from inside the hill?


The tracks crossed the river and headed up towards town until the steepness of the hillside meant a tunnel was necessary.


It was some undertaking; not only did the river have to be crossed, but some smaller watercourses and several lanes or tracks too. How all this was achieved? What was the bridge over the river made of? How much and how long did it take to build? Did the tramroad go under or over the lanes, and channels?

The more you look at the map, the more complex the arrangement appears. In the section shown below for example, the initial two tracks seem to become part of a wider system, with two additional tracks running in parallel and extensions right – to the skin house (tannery) – and its boiler – and left, or are these simply walkways or walls ? Their angular nature suggests this as more likely. The absence of a key to the map (I’ve not been able to find one) makes it difficult to interpret.


The coal ended its short journey across the valley in a yard next to one of the town’s increasing number of mills.


Perhaps the most intriguing question is how the process of getting coal from one end of the tram road to the other was powered. Presumably, prior to the building of the tramway, coal was drawn up to town in carts by horses. Was horse power replaced by steam power when the tramway was completed? The engine house at the drift mouth does have the appearance of being an integral part of the tramroad but, if a steam engine was used to haul the coal trucks from mine to town, it would have been better placed at the higher end of the system.

engine house

I suspect that the steam engine was pre-existing and used for pumping water from the mine (there was certainly one further up the hillside, doing this job from at least 1805), the tramroad a separate development, giving the horses and their loads a much more straightforward journey into town.

Notes: letter to Ingham Walton – Lancashire Archives ref DDSP 79/3/1/10/7; 1851 map, Colne Library

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