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History's Clues: A Postcard from Darwen

By Geoff Timmins
Widening your investigation

Look again at the road surface. The Market Street setts may appear a little uneven in places, but they seem to have provided an adequate surface for horses, carts and trams.

It would seem that setts were used as a road material from the mid-Victorian era onwards, even though newer methods of road construction using broken stone had been available since well before the mid-19th century.

Setts like these ones still lie buried beneath the tarmac roads of many English towns and cities. So why were they replaced during the later 20th century? Well, tarmac may not have looked as nice, but it was quicker and cheaper to lay and - just as important - much less of a headache when ever-increasing wear and tear, and the growing need for under-street services carried in pipes and cables, meant that road surfaces had to be regularly dug up and re-laid.

Then and now

Image of Darwen
Market Street, Darwen, today 

Now have a look at a photograph of the same street scene today. Of course, there have been some major changes. Part of the range of shops shown in the right foreground of the Edwardian photograph has been demolished and replaced by a much less impressive building. (A historian might ask what this suggests about the relative prosperity of the local economy in later 20th-century Darwen, or even about the changing role of municipal authorities.)

There are other obvious changes. Canvas awnings have given way to metal and plastic shop signs, the high street is congested with cars, the tramway is gone. In other respects, however, the impression is one of continuity. It's recognisably the same place.

The layout of Market Street and many of the buildings have not changed much since Edwardian times. As in many other 21st-century town centres, what we see here is in many ways an ageing late-Victorian townscape, with just a thin covering of modernity.

About the author

Dr Geoff Timmins is Principal Lecturer in History at the University of Central Lancashire. His publications include Made in Lancashire: a History of Regional Industrialisation and The Last Shift: the Decline of Handloom Weaving in Nineteenth-Century Lancashire.

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Published: 2005-01-31



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