Category: Transport

Blackburn’s 200 Year Old Canal Anniversary

October 2016 marked the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Leeds Liverpool Canal.  This stretch, between Blackburn and Whittle-Le-Woods, was the final piece of the jigsaw in Britain’s longest waterway.

A cut above the rest

A cut above the rest

Our old ‘cut’ has changed over the years, mostly for the better.  As a teenager in the 1970’s I first enjoyed walking along the towpath through Blackburn and beyond.   In my pocket was a copy of a Nicholson Waterways Guide to the North West.  Unfortunately our waterway was like an open sewer back then, as industrial decline had finished off its commercial usage.  It wasn’t unusual to see the odd dead dog or cat floating by, along with all sorts of dumped waste items.  But there was a silver lining to this cloud.  A burgeoning leisure industry was starting to open up to the public.  Pleasure boats were replacing commercial traffic.

We even had a marina back then, which we could do with now.  Moorgate Marina was owned by a chap called Joe Bolton and its clubhouse eventually became a nightclub.  There used to be lots of cabin cruisers moored at the marina back them, but narrow boats were a rarity.  This reflected the situation on the canal at the time.  Now the narrowboat is king, but plenty of cabin cruisers are still to be found on the canal.  And in a reverse of fortunes, it is the canal which has become the place to be in Blackburn.  Housing has been built along its meandering western route.  Also the towpath has been resurfaced in such a way as to enable walkers and cyclists the ability to enjoy using it as a thoroughfare.  Anglers also park themselves at the towpath and watch the world go by along with the one that got away.

The canal eventually arrived in Blackburn in 1810, but took a further six years for the ‘missing link’ to Johnson’s Hillock to be completed.  It actually joined what was the old southern section of the Lancaster Canal, but the Leeds & Liverpool eventually took over this stretch to Wigan and continued on to its finishing point at Liverpool itself.  Sadly, the canals fell into decline during the 19th and 20th centuries due to the growth of railways and road transport.  But it is ironic that things started to change following our Blackburn MP, Barbara Castle’s 1968 Transport Act.  This encouraged canals to embrace leisure purposes and became the turning point in the fortunes for many of Britain’s waterways.

Many canals which shut down have since reopened.  This was thanks to the work of enthusiasts and a change of attitude towards their leisure and environmental value from the public and powers that be.  In Blackburn and along the rest of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, our waterway continued to operate where others closed down.  200 years of ‘the cut’ helped make our town into the large industrial base it became.  Hopefully our canal will continue to serve the town and add to its amenities and rich heritage for many more years to come.

Blackburn Bus Station : Open At Last!

Blackburn’s new £5M bus station finally opened on Sunday, May 1st 2016, after several false starts and over a year behind schedule.BS Open

We now have our new modern bright bus terminus open and ready for Blackburn’s travelling public.  First impressions outside look very nice and shiny, a bit like a giant greenhouse, when the sun is shining.  There are even flower beds and concrete slabs which suffice as benches for a sit down while waiting for your bus.  These are already proving popular with smokers and should give extra work to the street sweepers.  At least the Ainsworth Street shops will be pleased, the first thing you see, when looking at the bus station windows are mirror images of their signs.

Inside the building, it is bright and clean, though feels a bit cramped and claustrophobic.  This is down to the usual Blackburn town centre custom of trying to fit everything into as small a space as possible.  Being in a river valley and having the Blakewater flowing underneath – some things never change.  We were also used to having had a large open air facility on the old Boulevard, followed by something similar with the temporary site next door on Brown Street.  But there is always going to be room for improvement with such a new facility, though maybe not too much room to play about with.

My first impression was the design theme of the bus station and the preponderance of these rounded ‘V’ shaped structures everywhere.  Its ceiling reminded me of an upturned toast rack.  There also seem to be other obstacles in your way as you make your way through the building.  These are the information monitor stands and other new facilities added to help bus users.  But having facilities to assist the bus travelling public is something we’re not used to in Blackburn.  An information desk with helpful staff, large monitors giving departure times and bus service numbers and destinations are all very welcome indeed.  One of my old pet hates was sitting in a bus shelter on the ‘Bouly’ and people coming up to me asking if I was waiting for a bus.  And then asking me which one I was catching.  No excuse now, it’s all there in easy to read real-time.

We have a strange situation with our buses these days.  When I first saw the shape of our new bus station, I thought it was going to be too small for a place as big as Blackburn.  Now, after various withdrawals of council and county council subsidies and subsequent cutbacks of services, our new bus station might end up being too big!  On the bright side, Blackburn’s new bus station has opened during an unusual run of warm sunny weather.  Remember winter and the cold weather won’t be long in coming.  Then we will really start to appreciate our new transport facility and especially its handy sliding doors, keeping the cold, the rain and the wind out.

Blackburn’s Outer Centre Circle Bus?

Blackburn’s Outer Circle bus could become the Outer Centre Circle.  This follows a suggestion to take it into the town centre.Outer Circle1

As regular users know, this bus was set up to link the suburbs of Blackburn, without going into our town centre bus station.  But some passengers have found getting off at Daisyfield Toll Bar, where the two Whalley roads start, is only a five minute walk to the bus station.  This would be a lot quicker if the bus diverted its route there and would be worth considering as an additional service for Blackburn’s bus users.

It is an opportune time to consider extra uses for the Outer Circle, especially with it being under review by transport authorities.  Bus services have been gradually cut across town.  Where I live up Revidge, the No.9 route only starts at 9.25am and ends at 1.25pm.  Darwen Coach Services runs a limited service later, covering some of this area at 6.15pm and one more two hours later.  But for workers, shoppers and schoolchildren there is nothing in between.  It is a similar story of service cuts and reductions all over Blackburn.  Even the Outer Circle itself only runs at peak times, with a four hour gap from mid-morning to when it resumes in the afternoon..

If the Outer Circle ran the short distance from its nearest point to the town centre and the bus station, it would provide extra services to all parts of the town’s suburbs where none exist or are very limited.  It would also generate extra passengers, in both directions.  This could help make the bus run all day, rather than having a four hour gap between morning and afternoon services.  In Preston their local bus company copied our Outer Circle with their own version, called Orbit.  But they take their Orbit into the town centre to their bus station.  This has proved a popular service.

I was able to put this suggestion to our local bus provider and a council transport representative when they recently had a drop-in session in Blackburn Mall.  I spoke with a driver, an inspector and a chap from Blackburn with Darwen Council.  All of them agreed it was a good idea and certainly feasible.  Their only concern was adding an extra ten minutes to the existing Outer Circle journey.  But this extended route was certainly worth considering.

Hopefully my suggestion will be taken up and given a try.  We have a new bus station nearing completion.  At first I thought it was going to be too small.  With the subsequent cutbacks in bus serves, it might end being too big.  Why not make use of it then with the one service which brings the town’s suburbs together – our good old Outer Circle.

Blackburn’s Sleeping Policemen Give Us The Hump

Ask any bus or taxi driver what part of their job they really hate. They will tell you about their backs being done in due to driving over sleeping policemen and other road humps.

They give us the Hump

They give us the Hump

I know how they feel from personal experience; my street has a school nearby. So sleeping policemen are crashed out every few yards, including right outside my front door. They are described as traffic calming measures. But few people would describe themselves as calm after going over them on a dark night, especially while dropping off in the back seat of a taxi.

Blackburn’s worst areas for speed humps seem to be Revidge, Highercroft and Shadsworth. A bus ride up Highercroft is like going up and down a roller coaster. Things are not helped by the twists and turns the buses have to take along their route, no thanks to bad parking.

Shadworth’s assault course is more direct, travelling along Rothesay Road. But it’s not only humps which impede the flow of traffic. Speed cushions are also in use here. Those annoying twisting single file chicanes also add to a road user’s misery.

On the other side of town, Wimberley Street has a particularly difficult chicane to navigate, not helped by parked cars. Here one marvels at the skills of the bus driver in action. Sadly, some of the car parking here leaves a lot to be desired.

Pride of place for sleeping policemen must belong to the north side of Blackburn’s infamous Revidge Hump, where you pass the Golf Club. Despite warning signs, this tarmac obstacle seems to catch everybody out. You can sometimes see evidence in the road of this, where dumper trucks have shed part of their load after misjudging the hump.

Unfortunately, sleeping policemen and other traffic calming measures are there for a reason. The drivers who wouldn’t slow down are the reason why they exist in the first place. Sadly, they also add extra time to the fire engines, ambulances and wide-awake policemen’s response times.

These emergency services are often sent to save the victims of accidents caused by those unreasonable drivers whose actions merited traffic calming measures being brought in. But if the humps were taken away, you can guarantee somebody would be complaining within 24 hours about traffic going too fast down the street. Whatever happens with sleeping policemen – somebody’s going to get the hump.

Blackburn’s Beast of Bridge Street

Along the right-hand side of Blackburn Railway Station runs Bridge. Street.  Across from where it meets George Street is a tunnel, leading to the station’s rail yard.  It is known as the Lion’s Cave and is said to be haunted by a ghostly lion.

Haunted by a ghostly lion

Haunted by a ghostly lion

For many years, when the circus came to town, they used to arrive by train at Blackburn Railway Station.  There would then be a procession from the station to whichever venue had been arranged for their event.  This was a way of generating good publicity for them and it would attract large crowds of people who would line the route the circus took.

These colourful processions would give circus performers a chance to show off their acrobatic skills and comedy routine.  This, hopefully, would encourage our townsfolk to come and watch their show at the Big Top.  But the main attraction for most people was trying to catch a glimpse of their circus animals.  Seeing elephants, zebras, bears and big cats was a rarity for most Blackburners, especially before TV was available to the masses.  Apart from zoo visits, seeing wild jungle animals in the flesh only happened when a circus came to town.

Many years ago we had one of these occasions.  A circus arrived at Blackburn Station, but management decided to give their animals and troupers a rest after their long train journey.  They pitched their tents, secured their animals in their cages and then bedded down for the night on land nearby.  They billeted themselves on ground behind Darwen Street, adjacent to George Street, where the River Blakewater flows to the original Darwen Street bridge.

Next morning came a sad discovery.  One of their lions had died during the night.  Despite this setback to their plans, this circus followed that old showbiz tradition of ‘The show must go on’.  Their poor deceased lion was hurriedly buried under their temporary camp site and their procession went ahead – and so did the circus, albeit minus one of its star performers.

This would seem to be the end of the matter.  But strange noises have been heard from Bridge Street railway tunnel over the years.  These have been likened to a lion’s growl.  And when the sun shines through this tunnel at a certain time, it forms shadows which seem to take the shape of a lion (look at the photo carefully).  Could this tunnel be haunted by the one who died in Blackburn and is buried nearby?  Or maybe these reports came from a time when Matthew Brown’s Lion Ales were still on sale?  We may never know.

Crossing The Todmorden Curve

Blackburn now has another railway route into Manchester. You can now travel via Burnley and Rochdale. This follows the Todmorden Curve re-opening after years of campaigning by railway enthusiasts, local councils and the RMT trade union.

Direct trains to Todmorden

Direct trains to Todmorden

It is unfortunate how restoring only 500 metres of railway line over Todmorden’s viaduct has taken so many years to complete. During my own time working on the railway, I had the experience of walking over the curve and viaduct. This was over 25 years ago and even then my workmates said it wasn’t a big job to bring the track back in service. Sadly, as we have seen with our other railway route to Manchester, getting different organisations to talk to each other and agree a plan of action is no easy process. At least the Todmorden Curve was completed before a start was made on double tracking the railway line around Darwen.

Most of us travelling to Manchester will still continue to use this existing route via Bolton. But having an extra service could prove very handy. It also opens up other areas to visit which straddle the route along the Yorkshire border and East Lancashire. This saves time changing at Hebden Bridge, though I would still recommend visiting this enjoyable place, just over the border, by using our direct service to York.

Not far from Hebden Bridge, but on our new railway route, is Todmorden itself. It only takes 40 minutes by rail from Blackburn. Straight across the road from its station is the Queens Hotel. Very nice in here, more of an eating pub, but it still serves real ale. A bit further down the road is Todmorden’s Wetherspoon’s pub. It is called the White Hart and its size can be rather misleading. You can descend to another bar downstairs, without realising how much space this pub has available.

On this occasion I was in with Sylvia, my girlfriend and my mate, Parky. A young couple were eating a mixed grill, when they suddenly had a bust-up and both stormed off, leaving their unfinished meals. Parky and I noticed they ate the rest of their meat, but both left their gammon, so we snaffled it for them. Neither of us like seeing food wasted, this distant memory of my schooldays flashed through my mind. Where we used to say it stopped the pigs from turning cannibal when eating their swill.

Our next pub was the hilariously named Polished Knob. No doubt all the jokes have already been cracked about this pub’s handle. It was a good friendly place with decent real ale too. Our last watering hole, before catching the Blackburn train home, was the Wellington. Another good pint of real ale in here and a good yap with the locals about their new train service. Hopefully their pub and others over there should benefit from this new service. Maybe we might even get a bit of traffic coming over in the opposite direction. Though we have a long way to go in Blackburn before the crowds come flocking over to enjoy our nightlife.

Blackburn’s Own Ground Zero

Building work on Blackburn’s new bus station has ground to a halt again. The site has been likened to the aftermath of a nuclear explosion. Many people say it certainly looks like a bomb has hit it.

Dummy's guide to Blackburn Bus Station

Dummy’s guide to Blackburn Bus Station

People may unwittingly be half right, but they haven’t realised our new bus station is actually being used in a top secret international experiment. This has been set up to find out if cockroaches really could survive a nuclear holocaust.

This was the result of a recent international summit to try and ease growing tension between the world’s nuclear nations. A deal was brokered between Presidents Obama and Putin, Chairman Xi Jinping and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, by Indian multinational food and pharmaceutical company – Venky’s.

Unfortunately for Venky’s, experiments on animals are not seen as conducive to marketing trends in their native country. So it was suggested they invest their research finance, on this occasion, in one of their foreign offshoots. Their expert knowledge of Blackburn made them suggest the bus station development because of its proximity to the town centre. This building site also has an underground river and used to have two breweries nearby. Cockroaches are known to like beer and paved flooring, which also used to adorn the site.

It was suggested to leaders of the nuclear nations how a nuclear war would cost a lot of money and lead to destruction of not only the human race, but every other life form on this planet. Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un countered this by saying he believed cockroaches were the only species of life which could survive nuclear oblivion. This was lambasted by other world leaders as an unsubstantiated myth. So Mr Kim challenged the rest of the world to disprove his theory. This led to an agreement to conduct a scientific experiment.

Unfortunately for Blackburn’s bus users, world peace must come before work on their new bus station can be resumed.

Due to the top secret nature of this experiment, reporting restrictions cannot be lifted and the Official Secrets Act remains in place. So don’t expect any statements from the council or building contractors over building progress until the research has been concluded.

Holidays in the Sun

Twenty five years have now passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Celebrations will be taking place, along with memorials to those who lost their lives trying to cross ‘Der Mauer’. What sticks in my memory is watching those joyous scenes of Berliners being able to cross into parts of their city which had been closed off to them since 1963.

Checkpoint Charlie!

Checkpoint Charlie!

Earlier this year I happened to visit the only other divided capital city, like Berlin at the time, on the edge of the European Union. Unlike Berlin, which was only capital to one of the two Germanys, Nicosia is capital to both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot republics. It was all too weird for my girlfriend, who had never had to use her passport to go through a border crossing in the middle of the same city. But not for me, I’d seen it all before. I visited Berlin in 1982 – at the height of the Cold War.

What made me want to see this city was the Sex Pistols song: Holidays in the Sun. One of my mates was in the Army and stationed in West Berlin. I paid him a visit and landed at Tegel Airport. This used to be France’s military airport, but was then used for civilian flights. British forces still used Gatow and America used Tempelhof airports. At Tegel, armed police, dogs and soldiers were everywhere and my bag was thoroughly searched, along with every other passenger’s baggage.

My Army mate arranged digs for me at one of his German friend’s flat and a great holiday followed. A lot of time was spent going for a beer with my mate and his Army colleagues. Two of them took me for a trip into the Eastern Sector one afternoon. They had to be in full uniform and made me refuse to hand over my passport to the East German border guards. Britain didn’t recognise the GDR, despite helping our GDP by supplying most of the materials for Der Mauer.

No doubt a lot of money was made by a lot of people from building the Wall and making it do its job. My impression of both Berlins at the time was of them being showpieces for two competing political systems, making it a very exciting place. It was obvious this scar on humanity wasn’t going to last forever though. But it was amazing how it all ended in 1989. Many politicians have taken credit for its demise. But some did more than others. President Kennedy’s famous visit in 1963 is probably the one most documented.

It wasn’t Kennedy, accidentally claiming to be a doughnut with his ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech, which brought the wall down. It was two other men who really made it happen. One was the former Soviet leader – Mikhail Gorbachov – who gave the order to allow people through. The other was a Polish trade union leader called Lech Walesa. His Solidarity trade union not only brought down the wall and the Soviet Bloc, they also saved the world from nuclear annihilation.

Unfortunately my contribution to its downfall was rather childish. In 1982 Westerners were encouraged to treat the Wall with disdain and being 22 metres inside East German territory, vandalism and graffiti was actually encouraged. And so after one drunken session with the squaddies, I spat on Der Mauer, relieved myself against it and wrote Blackburn Rovers on its surface. Now it is gone – Auf Wiedersehen Mauer.

River Blakewater – Blackburn’s Hidden Artery

Our two old and new bus station building sites in the town centre have one thing in common.  They both have the River Blakewater flowing underneath them.  This has brought out a few talking points about Blackburn’s hidden river.  The main issue is should it be open or should it remain covered as it flows through the town centre? 

Strangely enough, the Blakewater is a mysterious watercourse to many people.  It seems to be out of sight to most of us throughout its journey from a trickle at Guide to its confluence with the River Darwen at Witton Park.  Also not many Blackburners even realise a river flows through the town centre, or indeed other areas of the town.

Interestingly enough, this river – the Black Burn – which our town is named after, actually has three names.  It starts off from its source, up Guide, as the Knuzden Brook.  It skims round Shadsworth, down to Intack, where for a short stretch it is known as Abbott Clough.  But Whitebirk is where its familiar River Blakewater name comes into use.

Here is Blackburn’s other, albeit less well known, aqueduct.  Our river flows underneath the Leeds Liverpool canal on its way through Greenbank, Cob Wall, Bastwell and Brookhouse, before going underground on Brookhouse Lane itself.  From here to where it emerges on Bridge Street could be classed as one of Britain’s widest bridges.

I can remember the river flowing open to Blakewater Street, near the lowest point of what is now Barbara Castle Way.  My great aunt lived on nearby Anvil Street.  Sadly the river at the time was polluted and was used as a dumping ground by all and sundry.  Unfortunately this should prove to be a warning to those harbouring the romantic idea of opening up the river as it flows through the town centre.  Even after all the culverting and drainage work on the river, it still floods in some places.  Darwen Street traders will endorse this.

But the one place it doesn’t flood is where it has been covered over in the town centre.  Perhaps some plan could be thought up to enhance the use of the river as a tourist attraction.  A branch of the canal, incorporating the river, from Whitebirk to Witton is not as far-fetched as some of the original canal ideas.

But after exploring Liverpool’s fascinating Williamson Tunnels, maybe something could be done to try and link up the underground river and its tributaries with our town’s Victorian sewers.  Maybe then the council could organise boat trips down Blackburn’s own Tunnel of Love.

Bye Bye Blackburn Bouly

End of the road for Blackburn Boulevard

End of the road for Blackburn Boulevard

Work has now started on Blackburn’s new Cathedral Quarter.  It brings to an end over a century of use by Blackburn Boulevard as the town’s main bus station.  All that is left of our old bus station is a building site, surrounded by wooden boards.  But we have been told a phoenix will soon be rising from its ashes.

Station Square, as it was originally called, was actually triangular.  But this just about sums up Blackburn town centre – it’s never been known for getting its geometry right.  At least it was right in the centre though.  Even better, it was adjacent to our railway station, making Blackburn one of few large towns and cities with its own transport interchange.  Unfortunately, things were spoiled by it having a trunk road running through.  This often brought traffic to a standstill at peak times.

Our old Bouly was never a place for the faint-hearted.  I can remember it being populated by skinheads in the late 60’s.  Punk Rockers in the 1970’s and beggars and winos up to its final closure.  It also saw many a fracas between Rovers fans and visiting supporters from other football clubs.

Rowdy and violent behaviour will hopefully be a distant memory for this new cloistered enclave.  Ceremonial wine will be far more appropriate in the Cathedral Quarter than White Lightning and Frosty Jack cider.  Although the Adelphi will be keeping its eye on building work and hoping to benefit from any spin-offs from a new clerical community.

No doubt the finished product will be captured on film.  In 1905, pioneering Blackburn film makers:  Mitchell & Kenyon caught the unveiling of Queen Victoria’s statue.  This was probably much to the bemusement of WE Gladstone nearby.  His statue had already been there 6 years before her arrival.  They famously detested each other and the ‘Grand Old Man’ was subsequently shunted off to Blackburn College, before ending up in his present Blakey Moor home.  He has been climbed on many occasions over the years, having bottles and cans of beer placed in his outstretched hand and Rovers scarves draped around his neck.

Queen Vic seems to have got off lightly, only being left to the mercy of passing graffiti artists.  No doubt she would have banned the felt-tip pen and aerosol spray if they had been around in her day.  Let’s hope the new Cathedral Quarter will meet the Royal Approval and Blackburn’s people don’t end up saying:  “We are not amused!”