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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logbook #4


Here are a selection of entries from the Christ Church School logbook 1871-1901, including death, bad weather, a mother kicking up a stink, punishments, treats, epidemics and bunking off to see the circus.


21 Dec 1871 – A treat of spice, nuts and oranges was given to the children this afternoon by Mr Hodgson

28 Jun 1872 – Many of the children away in the Hay field

29 Jul 1872 – Many of the children away This morning chiefly half-timers because the mill was stopped.

30 Aug 1872 – Punished Benjamin Eastwood for absenting himself from school, his mother brought him to school on Thursday morning and wished him to be punished.

6 Sep 1872 – Albert & Mary Heap returned to school this week having had to stay at home to work

16 Sep 1872 – Many of the children absent on Thursday afternoon. gone to Colne to see a Circus come in. Punished those that went by keeping them in school working during the playtime.

19 Dec 1872 – Many children away on Tuesday morning there having been a great fall of snow during the night.

18 Nov 1875 – The attendance is much lower this week on account of many children being sick. Martha A Hartley is dead.

31 Aug 1877 – Gave a Holiday on Monday next for Barrowford Rush-Bearing

8 Mar 1878 – Many scholars are in the measles and whooping cough.

5 Mar 1880 – A school at Winewall was opened on Monday and about 40 scholars have gone there. This has brought the average attendance very much down

14 May 1880 – ….about 17 more scholars have left Winewall School

5 Aug 1881 – Gave a half holiday on Thursday afternoon when the children had bun and tea etc. They also played on Mr Aykroyd’s field till 8.30pm

10 Mar 1881 – The average [attendance] is the highest this week that we have had for more than 12 months, it being 79.4

21 May 1883 – I hereby promise a 2/6 reward to any scholar who shall complete 445 attendances in this school…J Bradshaw [master]

21 Mar 1884 – Infants had an object lesson on Thursday (Crockodile) [sic]

9 Sep 1887 -Ellen A Alston has left for full time at mill

4 Nov 1881 -The Children’s Concert took place on Monday when the school was filled with parents and friends.

27 Apr 1888 – Mr J Tillotson visited the school on Thursday and Friday and brought John Blaycock with him who had been playing truant

22 Oct 1888 – Gave a holiday on Friday because the Plumbers were putting Gas Fittings in school

4 Oct 1889 – On Tuesday morning Mr Addison gave a Temperance Lecture to the Children

9 May 1890 – Ethel M Hudson died last Sunday, she was at school on Friday afternoon

8 May 1892 – Minnie, Margaret, John W and Ann E Marshall were expelled on Thursday by Mr Austen because their mother kicked up a row and used profane language in the school

7 Jul 1893 – Gave a holiday for the Duke of York’s marriage

13 Jul 1894 – Messrs Hawley commenced their work on Monday with respect to the extension of the school

15 Nov 1894 – Broke up on Thursday for a fortnight on account of the alterations of the school. Slaters came today.

18 Jan 1895 – Gave a holiday on Friday because of the plasterer taking possession of the school of his account

27 Nov 1897 – Miss Potter ceased teaching on Friday the 27th. She was about to be married. [women were not allowed to carry on teaching once married]… closed 6 weeks for measles

21 Oct 1898 – Many more children are away with scarlet fever this week

17 Nov 1899 – The Medical Officer of Health has closed the school owing to Epidemic of Measles until Monday 11th December. Medical Officer further closes the schools – to reopen on Jan 8 1900

12 Jun 1900 – This afternoon there was a very severe thunderstorm commencing just after 3 o’ clock and continuing for about half an hour. Work was suspended as many of the children were terrified and the assistant mistresses as well.

1 Aug 1900 – Visiting Day. Over thirty parents visited school this afternoon. The needlework was exhibited and the greater part of it sold. The children performed their musical drill.

24 Sep 1900 – The school was visited this morning by a lady teacher from Canada (Ontario) She spent some time observing the work of the school.

15 Dec 1900 – Children’s concert. A rough night rather interfered with the success of the concert financially. However it is hoped that about £7 will be cleared, which will be spent on apparatus and pictures.

22 Jan 1901 – Death of Queen Victoria 6.45 pm

30 Jan 1901 – Proclamation of King Edward VIII’s accession in Colne. All scholars in town assembled in Park School Yard at 12.45 to hear Proclamation read by His Worship The Mayor, Alderman Foulds Esq, JP. All schools in Colne have half-holiday.

Source: Christ Church School Colne log book (Lancashire Archives reference SMCO 11/1)


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one class and another

ChristChurch1851-2We have heard a lot about the efforts of William Hodgson to establish Christ Church School in Colne. It’s worth remembering that this was not to be a school for all – it was specifically aimed at the children of what might be called the “working poor” in the town. To one side of these you had the not-working poor who were unlikely to be able afford to send their children to school and, on the other, those of greater means who might aspire to send their children to a local dame school or to Colne Grammar School after some home-schooling. And let’s not forget that among the “working-poor” were the children themselves, many (most?) employed helping mum and dad weave and keep house.

The census entry above says it all. From 1841, when Reverend Hodgson was desperately trying to recruit students to make the school sustainable, his son, John aged 9,  was a “Scholar at home”. No doubt he was receiving a different kind of education more suited to his parents idea of his future – certainly not that of a handloom weaver’s son.

Mrs Cryer, in her Memories of Colne, tells us about her own education in the mid nineteenth century, one which featured another of Hodgson’s children and gives us wonderful insight into the schooldays of the better off:

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.

So, while the children of the poor either went without any formal education, or at most paid a few pennies a week to receive the basics, the daughters of the “best people” in town learned the gentler arts in a more refined environment for 4 guineas a year.

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the building of Christ Church School #4


“when we had no work we could not spare twopence a week for schooling, and now when we have work our children must wind and nurse!”

The school was open, but only on Sundays, there being no money for a full time teacher for the first few years. In order to fix the situation, having found a likely candidate, William Hodgson went back to the National Society for more money.

18 Dec 1843

Reverend Sir,

I am now able to nominate as master for my school Mr John Jackson, a trained master from the Chester Training School. It is arranged that he shall commence his labours on the 15th of January. Should your Committee require to be further satisfied as to his qualifications, a letter addressed to him at

Diocesan Training College


would be attended to; or if after the 22nd instant addressed to him at

St Michael’s on Wyre

Nr Garstang


The grant which came from the Society was nowhere near enough to cover Jackson’s wages, so Hodgson rashly offered to cover any deficit out of his own pocket and pushed on regardless.

7 Feb 1844

Reverend Sir,

I beg to inform the Committee of the National Society that Mr John Jackson commenced his duties as National School Master of Christ Church Colne, on the 15th Jan 1844.

It must have been obvious to Hodgson within the first few months that he was in trouble: there was no way the children’s fees were going to cover the cost of teaching them. Later in the year he was writing of his difficulties and asking to be dug out of a financial hole – there were simply not enough pupils and the school faced closure.

11 Sep 1844

Dear Sir,

The Committee of the National Society has the kindness to make a grant of £25 for one year towards the support of a master at the National School of Christ Church Colne; and when I expressed my fear that that sum would leave me very much out of pocket, you kindly promised that you would again lay my case before the Committee after it was seen how my funds would stand. I beg to request you to do me that favour, and as a guide to the Committee I give the following statement of the average number of children and amounts of fees paid:

                                                                          Av No                      Fees

1st Quarter, commencing Jan 15 1844                    27                       £3 2s 6d

2nd ditto                                                                         37                        £4 11s 5d

3rd ditto calculated from weeks already past       42                       £4 16s 0d

Supposing the 4th quarter to be equal to the 3rd (which considering that it will be getting cold and west is doubtful) the fees will amount to £17 6 2. The salary of master being £60, the Society’s grant of £25 would leave me £17 13 10 out of pocket. I have not the most distant hope of collecting any portion of this deficiency and therefore hope that your Committee will give me additional help. A great portion of the District was canvassed by myself after the School opened, but the almost unvaried reply of the people was this,- “when we had no work we could not spare twopence a week for schooling, and now when we have work our children must wind and nurse!” I feel much disappointed that the School has done no better, but am thankful that I have been able to try it and to give the people the opportunity of sending their children. You will see a slight improvement, but whether so much as to induce the Committee to make a grant for a second year is perhaps doubtful. The committee however will see that without their renewal help the school will have to be closed at the end of this year.

The school didn’t close – again the National Society eventually responded with more funds. Hodgson wrote in thanks, relief and, it seems, feeling as though he had failed.

11 Nov 1844

My dear Sir,

I beg to offer my most sincere and unfeigned thanks to the Committee of the National Society for the additional and fully-sufficient help which they have voted me for the present year. As I had given up all hope of being refunded, – it came the more acceptable and excited the more gratitude. I shall (?) forward a statement of a accounts immediately after Christmas when the year will be completed.

I am so disappointed in our attempt so far failing that even should the master be willing to take your grant with what the fees might make I should feel some hesitation. However I could only accept it on condition that he would be satisfied with the grant and the fees. I should feel obliged if you would advise me as to whether I should make an offer of that sort to a man who might be sent from the Diocesan training College. The present master is not disposed to accept such offer. My reason for requesting your advice is my uncertainty as to whether I should be right to accept the grant for a second year having no reason for expecting the second year to do much better than the first. My only hope of improvement would be that parents may begin to see the importance of contriving to obtain a little schooling for their children.

I beg however to offer my thanks to the Committee for their vote of a grant for a second year.

The number of children attending remained low for the next year or so and Hodgson continued to rely on grants from the Society to help with the local shortfall. In September 1845 he still his cap in hand.

Reverend Sir,

The period of the Grant made by the National Society for the second year to my school being to terminate in about two months, I beg to submit the state of my School to the consideration of your Committee, hoping that they may be able to afford me a continuance of their much needed assistance.

The number with which the present master commenced in January was 39; the number at present in attendance is 69.

The average number for the first quarter was 41

the second 56

the third 61

The amount of fees for the year, supposing the 4th quarter to be equal to the 3rd will be £20 6 91/2 which with your Society’s grant (£20) will make the master’s salary

£40 6 9 1/2 The master and the scholars are doing well and I feel happy in being able to report an advance in numbers;- but still, without some extraneous assistance we cannot go on. I should greatly lament the necessity of being obliged to close the school, after having struggled for so long and having seen so much encouragement,- especially seeing that there is hope that by a few years’ assistance our numbers may have become sufficient for the support of the master.

Hoping that my case will meet with the kind consideration of your Committee.

It’s not clear was the answer was, but the school did survive this very shaky and uncertain start. The number of children attending was rising at this point, but still very far short of the 350 Hodgson anticipated. Despite the odds against him and a series of setbacks Reverend Hodgson stuck to his cause, persistent, persuasive and not averse to a touch of emotional blackmail every now and again. As he said in one of his many letters

Sometimes courage almost entirely fails, but there is of course no way but proceeding in the strength of God, and hoping for his blessing.

 Sources: the image of Christ Church – Lancashire Archives reference PR 3173/2; Hodgson’s letters to The National Society are at the Church of England Record Centre, reference NS 7/1/3365

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the building of Christ Church School #3


William Hodgson’s struggles to find the money to build a schoolroom for Christ Church continued. His next letter to the Secretary of the National Society gave more detail of the costs of the proposed school.

Dec 26 1838

Reverend and dear Sir,

I have not before this day been able to seize an opportunity of answering the two letters with which you last favoured me.

I return my warmest thanks for the few hints you offer. Some of the plans you mention are in active operation, and, by the Grace of God, the remaining ones shall not be lost sight of.

All the parts of the estimate have been furnished by men who are accustomed to undertake those respective parts; but in erections of this kind things are always wanted which were not at first foreseen, – and under this [lost] it was that I observed in my last that [lost] should be wanting other things than what are already included. The estimate came in as follows, viz,

christ church costs

In the above, as you will perceive, the expense of ground conveyance, five grates and stoves are not included; the extra of which would probably be about £12. But it is intended to let the work by ticket, by which the original estimate will probably be so much reduced. It is my conviction that the building and fittings up, so far as can be foreseen, need not cost more that the estimate which I have given, and that it cannot be well done for a less cost.

I have in a rough way, sketched the ground plan, because it appeared from yours of the 12th that my statement had not been sufficiently clear. I hope that the plan will meet with your approbation, and if not, shall thankfully receive you kind instructions, fearing that the two Class Rooms may be thought unnecessary, I would beg to say that they would be very useful.

Hodgson had also applied to central government for a grant. The government had made the first such grant only a few years earlier and prior to that had had no involvement in education provision. The most it did by this point was make grants towards the building of schools to be run and financed on an ongoing basis by voluntary organisations such as the National Society (National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales, established 1811

In the end the money necessary to build the school was forthcoming. Final plans were drawn up in May 1840 and it was completed by January of the following year. Hodgson’s money problems were not over though. The school opened in January 1841, but children were taught on Sunday only, presumably by Hodgson himself. The intention had been that money to pay a full-time teacher would come from school fees paid by those attending, or at least be largely covered by these, any deficit being made up by the better-off locals. But, nothing like the necessary number of children came to the school in the first year or so to support a teacher and it continued to open on Sundays only. Hodgson would soon be going cap in hand again.

Sources: the image of Christ Church – Lancashire Archives reference PR 3173/2; Hodgson’s letters to The National Society are at the Church of England Record Centre, reference NS 7/1/3365

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