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 Outer Circle Real Ale Trail

Blackburn's Outer Circle Real Ale Trail

A circular tour of Blackburn

If you fancy a scenic tour of some of Blackburn’s pubs, jump aboard the Outer Circle bus and buy a £4.20 all day ticket. This will take you not only on multiple journeys around town, but also round Darwen and Hyndburn.

This service started around 30 years ago. It differs from other Blackburn buses by traversing the suburbs and not going into the town centre. It is mainly used by workers, school and college students and Rovers fans on match days.

My journeys usually start and finish on Revidge Road. The Quarryman’s and Alexandra are just down the road from here. At the other end of Revidge, it’s a short walk to the Hare and Hounds down Lammack Road. A similar length of walk down Pleckgate Road takes you to the Royal Oak.

Unfortunately you have to travel a long way before you come across another pub which sells real ale. This pub is Whitebirk’s O’Marley’s Red Lion – arguably Blackburn’s oldest continuously used pub. JW Lees is served in here and occasionally they brew their own ale.

Just a hundred yards up Whitebirk Road is where this bus lives. A bit higher up the hill is The Forester’s. I had some really good Theakston’s Lightfoot in here. I wasn’t so light on my feet after a few of these.

At the top of the hill our bus turns into the hospital grounds. But if you get off and turn left, a five minute walk brings you to a couple of pubs in Blackburn’s wonderfully named suburb of Guide. The Willows is a modern pub with a booming restaurant service, but a good choice of real ale is also available. Good ale is also served in the more traditional King Edward VII further up the road.

Back on the bus, you have to travel almost halfway across town for another pint of real ale. But the journey is worth it as you hit real ale country in Blackburn’s Ewood and Livesey districts. At the bottom of Livesey Branch Road, on Ewood itself is the Fox and Hounds. Derek the landlord has been in the game for years and keeps a good pint of Thwaites.

Further up the Branch Road, you have three pubs selling real ale very close to each other. The Brown Cow, White Bull and Moorgate receive many visits from me during the football season. There is also the Lord Raglan a little further up the hill, just off the Branch Road, on Kings Road.

From Livesey, the Outer Circle travels down Green Lane. At the bottom of here is a ginnel above Cherry Tree Station which brings you out at the Station pub. It is a good choice of Thwaites in here, including some of their craft beer. Across the road in the Beehive is another good choice of real ale.

The Outer Circle travels down Brothers Street from Green Lane. A short walk along the canal from here is the Navigation. This pub is one of Blackburn’s success stories, having shut down at one point. Now it serves a good pint of cask and is the perfect break for a stroll along the cut.

The last leg of my journey home brings me to Witton Stocks. Near the crossroads is the Witton Inn. This is a nice pub, selling nice cask from Three Bees. What could be better? It all makes for a nice cheap tour of Blackburn’s suburban hostelries – apart from what you spend on your real ale tipple of course. So why not invest £4.20 in a bus ticket and go on a real ale tour of your own.

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.

Daisyfield Mill’s Wartime Secrets Surface

Recently released Ministry of Defence files reveal surprising information about the role Daisyfield Mill played during the Second World War.

Daisyfield Mill's part in Hitler's downfall

Daisyfield Mill’s part in Hitler’s downfall

It appears the former Granada TV studio and base of LE Training – codenamed ‘Plantation’ – was used as a secret torpedo manufacturing plant. This was under its guise as a flour mill.

The decision to manufacture torpedoes in Blackburn came about for a number of reasons. Seaports such as Liverpool and Glasgow were far too dangerous places to base munitions factories, due to heavy German bombing. Blackburn remained relatively free of air attacks throughout the duration of hostilities. Even the building of a dummy ROF, near the real plant, hardly tempted Germany’s Luftwaffe.

Daisyfield Mill was chosen due to its ideal location in between the railway and Leeds-Liverpool canal. Materials would be delivered here by train and then finished torpedoes would be floated down the canal to Liverpool, disguised as barges.

Due to the top secret nature of activities in the mill, very few signs remain of the role ‘Operation Plantation’ played in this country’s defence and subsequent victory. There are four stone pillars at the entrances to the mill. These are reputed to be four torpedoes encased in concrete which went missing during the war.

But the sharp-eyed historian only has to cross the canal to find tell-tale signs of what really happened in those troubled times. Woolwich Street, appropriately named, can still be found. But Ordnance Street and Artillery Street are well hidden – like the wartime secrets of Daisyfield Mill.

The Bureau of Blackburn

Blackburn Town Centre’s oldest building is the Grade 2 listed church of St John the Evangelist.  Built in 1788, you can see a potted history of Blackburn’s 19th century movers and shakers by looking around its graveyard.  But those people who welded Blackburn’s culture from the past are about to be wedded to our culture of the present and future. Bureau

A new arts centre is gradually taking shape in the old church.  To be known as ‘The Bureau, Centre For The Arts’.  It was the brainchild of Claire Tymon from ‘Blackburn Is Open’, the town’s regenerative agency, set up to put unused space in the town centre back into use.  This followed the Citizen’s Advice Bureau moving from St John’s across to the library.  It was CAB’s connection with St John’s church which brought about this idea for the arts centre’s new name.  St John’s itself is a fascinating concept of Blackburn’s past and present.  You are immediately reminded this was a church when your attention is captured by sun shining through its beautiful stained glass windows.  Another legacy of former ecclesiastical days is its excellent acoustic quality.

The Bureau is setting up as a Community Interest Company, and Alex Martindale is one of the directors.  He said the Bureau will be split up into rooms.  These will be hired out to artists, exhibitions will be held and a corridor gallery will be created.  The centre is allowed to hold twelve events a year where alcohol can be consumed on the premises.  This will mean one-off monthly events will be organised.  Plans are also afoot to host a beer festival in the building.  This will showcase local brewers, including Three B’s and Hopstar.

Alex expects funding for the arts centre to come from the Arts Council of England, Council and Lottery grants.  There has also been interest from commercial organisations to pay to use space and equipment.  The building is also available for hire.  Work on the centre is progressing slowly, due to it being a new venture.  But Alex says its board of directors want everything planned properly and carried out correctly.

Activities are already taking place on a regular basis.  Blackburn Printfest will be holding a two day celebration of exhibitions, workshops, performances and print fairs. This takes place on 15th & 16th May.  Art Space is a monthly meet up for creatives, held every third Thursday.  Drink & Draw hold classes every second Thursday.  They have a full screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with live models in costume, to sketch alongside.  There is a dress code for this event – Drag!  This takes place on Thursday 9th April between 6:30-9:30pm and costs £5.

Alex says he wants the Bureau to become a fully-fledged arts centre, with studios and regular events taking place.  Information can be found by emailing them: info@bureaublackburn.co.uk  or by visiting their website: http://bureaublackburn.co.uk

You’re a Bast**d Referee!

Blackburn Rovers hold a few football records, but here is one of their funniest.

Rovers may hold the unique distinction of hosting England international matches on three different home grounds in the 19th century. These were at East Lancs Cricket Club’s Alexandra Meadows, Leamington Road, round the corner and of course our beloved current home ground of Ewood Park.

But the international match which causes most merriment was the first one at the Meadows. On the 21st of February 1881 a crowd of 4,200 gathered at Alexandra Meadows, temporary home of Blackburn Rovers, to watch England play Wales in a friendly international. Both Hargreaves brothers and James Brown from Rovers were in the England team.

The ground was covered in snow and slush, a factor which was the main reason blamed for the Welsh gaining an unexpected 1-0 victory. No doubt many disappointed England supporters would have vented their ire at the match officials, keeping up a tradition we see all the time these days.

But the match referee would have been used to the usual insult shouted in his direction. His was the wonderfully named Segar Richard Bastard, who hailed from Bow in London.

It probably wasn’t a good idea to question Segar’s parentage, he was a practising solicitor when not playing football and other sports. He also played the beautiful game at international level himself – just once for England – before refereeing. He was also in appropriate surroundings at the East Lancs ground, having played for Essex at county cricket level. Segar also liked a flutter and would be in good company with today’s footballers as he was one of the first to have owned a racehorse.

At least we can dispel the popular myth of Segar being the inspiration behind some of the chants directed towards referees. These didn’t start until well after his death in 1921. But we can say the referee of the first ever England international home match, held outside London, really was a Bastard.

Itching After Rovers

  • December 25, 2014

Ollie’s Ender Bender

Ollie's last stand

Ollie’s last stand

During a recent holiday in Malta, Sylvia my girlfriend and I visited its capital, Valletta.

We had a look around the harbour and climbed a steep gradient to pass the Carmelite church with its famous dome. But continuing up the same road leads you to a non-religious building which has become a place of pilgrimage in its own right. It was Sylvia who spotted this place, after various attempts were made to find a suitable watering hole. I wasn’t even sure about going in at first, but she was up for a beer.

Simply called ‘The Pub’, it is where the great British actor and hell-raiser, Oliver Reed, finished off life’s last great session. Perhaps the most fitting name for his demise, at least Ollie can say he died in ‘The Pub’ – exactly where he, and many more of us, would have wanted to draw our last breath.

Ollie was only 61 when he died in The Pub on May 2nd 1999. He called in during a break from filming ‘Gladiator’. This multi Oscar winning epic ended up being dedicated to him following his death. Ollie bumped into the Royal Navy crew, from HMS Cumberland, who were on shore leave, and had a great time. The landlord of The Pub said the last round he bought was eight beers, 12 double rums and half a bottle of whisky.

Sylvia and I were much more sedate during our visit to this hostelry. First person we bumped into was Steve; a Malta based Hells Angel, from Preston. He used to frequent Blackburn’s much missed Vulcan Hotel. He rode off into the sunset and few more came in. We had a collection of people from both sides of the Irish border, a German who spoke really good English and a Scouser called Phil.

Like Blackburn’s Quarryman’s, The Pub is only a small hostelry, which creates a good atmosphere when only a few punters are inside. There were only a dozen in when we had our afternoon session here. Prices are a little on the steep side at over €3 for a pint of Malta’s local beer. But with the euro at its low point, it wasn’t bad value at the time.

We enjoyed our afternoon in this appropriately named Valletta building. No doubt its reputation will grow and it will become one of the top attractions to visit in Malta. As Oliver Reed famously said: “You meet a better class of people in pubs”.

What the Dickens: Blackburn’s old Cotton Exchange?

So many happy days of my childhood were spent watching films in the old cinema on King William Street.  I even remember the last film I saw there before it closed as a picture place in 2005.  For the record it was ‘Lord of the Rings’.  Sadly there has been no wizard round the corner to save this magnificent Grade 2 listed building from growing dereliction.

The Last Picture Show?

The Last Picture Show?

The Cotton Exchange and Newsroom opened in 1865.  As its name suggests, it was built to serve the town’s cotton traders and manufacturers.  It was meant to be two wings and a central tower, but only one wing and the tower was completed.  On the bright side, in 1869 one of Britain’s greatest writers, Charles Dickens, gave his last public reading performance in the Exchange.

In 1918 it became a full-time cinema, known as the Exchange Picture Hall.  At one point it had a seating capacity of 1,500.  But various alterations, changes of owners and names of the venue, more than halved this capacity.  By the time it closed, due to the opening of the new Vue multiplex cinema, it had been split into five screen rooms, the largest seating less than 300.

Since the closure, a restaurant, dodgy bar and now a barber’s has used the lower part of the building.  Sadly it has remained empty upstairs.  Unfortunately it is coming up to ten years of idleness for the majority of this building.  So it’s about time some use was found to bring it back to life and stop the onset of further dereliction.

Blackburn town centre has many empty premises, so retail use can be ruled out.  So can office use, due to the scale of development required.  But the building has been used for leisure purposes for over 100 years and this looks the likeliest future outcome.  All sorts of rumours have been banded around about it becoming a nightclub or a scaled down theatre.  But one of the larger pub chains taking over is probably the most realistic venture.  But not in Blackburn in the current economic climate.

At the moment the best we can do is keep the discussions going about the old Cotton Exchange, not letting people forget about it.  It has been ten years since the curtain went down on the silver screen.  Hopefully this beautiful building may still one day resume its place as one of Blackburn’s most visited venues.

Blackburn Town Centre’s Real Ale Revival

Times

Times are a changing – for the better

Blackburn Times is now selling cask beer.  This means most of the town centre’s pubs have real ale available.

At one time we reached a low point of cask ale only being available in just four town centre pubs: Molloy’s, the Adelphi, Postal Order and Jubilee.  Other pubs said they sold cask, but it never seemed to be on when they were visited.

Since then things have improved by leaps and bounds.  The turning point was Last Orders installing a hand pump and selling Tetley’s cask bitter.  Their sister pub, Blackburn Times, took a little longer to follow suit, but has now gone with the flow.  Now it shifts its real ale very quickly and this might make them look at increasing their selection?

We can now even buy real ale on the Barbary Coast.  Zy Bar may be the last name in the telephone directory, but it’s first on the list of Barbary Coast pubs if you want a decent pint.

There are still a few pubs where only chemic is on offer, but real ale is now the name of the game.  It will soon register with them when punters come in and leave straight away when they can’t have a pint of cask.

Things are on the up, but it’s still only seven town centre pubs where you can buy real ale.  For a town of its size, Blackburn should have far more pubs.  But, to use an overworked phrase:  We are where we are.  Before we can expect new pubs to open, or the mothballed ones to come back, we need the existing ones full of punters.

The Times they are a changing – for the better – and it’s now time people stopped whingeing about Blackburn’s town centre, got off their computers and paid the pubs a visit.

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.