Local landmarks: Darwen Tower
Darwen Tower has stood sentinel over the “Happy Valley” for well over 100 years... Find our more about its history...
On a clear day, from the top, you can see for ever – the Welsh mountains, the southern heights of the Lake District, the western edges of the Pennines and even, so they say, the Isle of Man.
Darwen's Victorian forefathers certainly stretched the imagination of local folk, far beyond the soot-grimed chimneys and the mills; the back-to-back terraces and the cobblestones, when they built the famous landmark.
In spite of the grim conditions in which most Darweners lived and worked there was plenty to celebrate in the closing years of the 1800s. The extensive sweep of the moors had just been freed after years of often bitter wrangling and Queen Victoria was about to reach her diamond jubilee.
What better way to mark the occasions than by building a lasting monument high on the surrounding hills and with a vast panorama over Lancashire?
The idea of a tower was first put forward by a correspondent signing himself - or herself - "Landmark" and it appeared in the Darwen News of January 13, 1897: "... a landmark to be seen far and wide and, whilst commemorating the record year, it would also fulfil a similar function with regard to the celebration of the Freedom of the Darwen Moor."
Many years ago the moors were well trodden by pack horse and pedlars, farmers and workers trudging to their daily toil. But in the late 1860s the Lord of the Manor, the Rev. W. A. Duckworth, began blocking ancient rights of way over the moors rich with game.
Five men - three labourers, a gardener and a mason - took up the fight and were joined by hundreds of local folk. Eventually, after bloody skirmishes, prosecutions, and protracted negotiations, nearly 300 acres of moorland passed into the possession of the people in September, 1896.
The suggestion of a tower the following year quickly took off. Councillor Robert Shorrock, chairman of the parks committee, formally proposed at a town meeting that a tower be built above Red Delph quarry and more than £1,500 was quickly raised by public subscription.
The first sod was cut on June 22, a public holiday, before a large crowd and the festivities, which included a giant bonfire, went on well into the night.
A tender of £773 3s 5d from local builder James Whalley, of Sunny Bank Saw Mills, had been accepted and during the following months two of his stonemasons, Peter Brindle and Harry Flew, toiled away often in appalling conditions, swept with rain and sleet and often frozen to the marrow.
They walked over the hills from Wheelton every day and decided not to lodge nearer their work as they had some gardening to do when they got home! Tons of fine-grained red sandstone from the nearby quarry were used in the construction of the octagonal 86ft tower which stands on a base 1,225 ft high.
The opening ceremony, on September 24, 1898, was performed by the Rev. Duckworth and he took the opportunity to make a plea to townsfolk to cause as little disturbance as possible to game, especially in the mating season. More than 3,000 people assembled for the festivities.
It has certainly stood the test of time -100 years of battering from the weather, hooligans, moorland fires and swirling soot and smoke from the forest of chimneys in the valley below. The tower even survived a war-time suggestion that it should be demolished as it was feared it could be a useful landmark for enemy bombers!
Three approaches from wealthy Americans who wanted to buy the tower for the front of their ranches were dismissed as hoaxes. "Would they like a double-deck bus instead," wondered one councillor.
By 1971 the once-proud tower was showing distinct signs of wear and tear. The glass dome had been swept away in the desperate winter of 1947 and vandalism had caused havoc. There was talk of bricking it up or even of demolishing it. But the mayor, Councillor Dr Bill Lees, came to the rescue and, largely thanks to his efforts, the tower was repaired, cleaned and repointed and was topped with a new glass dome.
Now the Victoria Tower is once again a majestic spectacle with an impressive weather-vane reattached and there are well-signed footpaths from Sunnyhurst and Tockholes while a new roadway snakes through the heather and the gorse from Bold Venture.
It’s a long walk, but well worth it.
Article sent in by website user Harry Nuttall
The views expressed on this page are those of the contributor and the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the BBC.
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last updated: 18/04/2008 at 15:05
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