Darwen Industrial Heritage Trail

In the early 18th century the only real industries noted in Darwen were coal mining, quarrying and wool weaving.  The township had yet to develop and consisted of a number of separated Folds or hamlets which can still be identified on the maps today.  The woollen industry was replaced by the cotton industry, carried out mainly in weaver’s cottages and farms on hand looms with the women employed on the spinning wheel and the men operating the loom.  The introduction of large scale production at the start of the 19th century saw the decline in hand loom weaving and the power looms and spinning machines of the industrial revolution took their place.  Throughout the 19th century the cotton industry grew in importance as the number of mills in the town increased, but at the same time there was a thriving paper industry based around the River Darwen and making good use of the plentiful supply of water pouring down from the moors.  Other industries arose during the same period, but did not last the test of time such as calico printing and bleaching.

With the rise of the cotton industry there was a need for the ancillary services and industries, as Darwen was growing not only in size, but also in stature as a major manufacturing base.  So coal retained some of its importance with the need for fuel to run the steam driven engines running the power looms.  Two rope works were established to create the connection between the drive wheels and the rotating axles in the spinning and weaving sheds.  Quarries turned out the random stone used in building the mills and eventually brought about the need for the stonemasons when the stone required dressing.  Engineers and Foundries were essential to provide the machinery and equipment for the furnishing of the mills.  Leather workers were required to produce and maintain the drive belts which connected direct to the looms and spinning machines.  When coal was exhausted clay was found in the layers around the seams and this gave rise to the Fire Clay Works producing sanitary pipes and other associated items.  Eventually there was the rise of the brickworks which replaced the need for the quarries with their random stone – now large mills and factories could be created in standard design with standard sized and shaped bricks instead of stone.

From the start of the 19th century to the start of the 20th century the population of Darwen had grown from around 3,600 to over 40,000 by 1911.  Trading on a global market took its toll on the Cotton Industry in Darwen which was producing mainly for the Indian market.  Also the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War and its blockade of the Southern States from where most of our raw material came from caused problems throughout.  Eventually through events such as WW1, global depression followed by WW2, the industry collapsed and many mills closed.  Paint production and plastics manufacture partially replaced cotton, but the employment opportunities slowly melted away.  Now there are only around 25,000 people living in Darwen, and with its commuter status growing, the number of major industries in the town has declined.

The trails included here aim to show what evidence of our past is still there.  They also show how many of the once thriving cotton mills have been re-purposed to good effect.  The trails can be followed in number order, but that is not necessary.  Following the maps and the numbers you can create your own route through Darwen’s Industrial past.  At times you may feel closed in by the number and nearness of the mills to each other, but also look for the green spaces dotted about throughout the town.  Many of these have been created by the filling in of the reservoirs which fed the mills with the essential water for the steam driven engines. Also, look out for the preserved machinery standing so proud on our main road, representative of both the cotton and paper industries, and the power of the steam driven engines at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

Click here to view the images for the Darwen South Heritage Trail.

Click here to view the images for the Darwen North Heritage Trail.