In the 1700s, Burnley was a centre of the wool industry. It switched to cotton in the first half of the 1800s. Hargreaves hand-operated spinning jenny was introduced in Blackburn in 1767, the model patented had 16 spindles and was treated with suspicion. It produced thread suitable for weft. Arkwright's power-driven water frame produced twist (suitable for warp) and was more unpopular. In 1777, Arkwright built a mill at Birkacre in Chorley. By 1779, the momentum against power-driven spinning machinery was such that rioters destroyed it. Spinners and investors were driven from Blackburn and Burnley towards Manchester, and it was many years before a spinning mill was built in Burnley. In the early 1790s, construction of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal resumed after a decade-long suspension caused by the American War of Independence. During this time, the increasing economic importance of coal led to a change in the route of the canal. It was moved south, away from Clitheroe’s agricultural lime, to a more expensive route via the Burnley Coalfield. At Burnley, the route almost encircled the town, passing through fields outside it. Although weaving existed in the area, it was a woollen industry for local markets. The canal's opening coincided with the rise of cotton weaving and the use of steam power in textile mills, allowing greater freedom in their placement. The 1840s proved pivotal to the development of the area. Firstly the canal company began allowing mills to take the water they needed for steam engines directly from the canal. In 1848 the East Lancashire Railway opened to the barracks near the western end of Trafalgar Street. And in 1849, the Manchester and Leeds Railway opened a branch from Todmorden to Burnley (extended soon after). A goods shed was sited at Thorneybank at the eastern end of Trafalgar Street. Of the many new Cotton Mills subsequently constructed along the canal, this meant that the greatest concentration formed in what was then part of the township of Habergham Eaves. The second half of the 19th century saw Burnley develop into the most important cotton-weaving town in the world. As Burnley expanded, the area later to be known as the weavers' triangle, officially became part of the town in 1894. By 1911, the towns textile industry was at the height of its prosperity, there were approximately 99,000 power looms in operation, and its population had grown from 4,000 (1801) to over 100,000.
The Weavers triangle is notable for the juxtaposition of so many 19th-century buildings rather than specific buildings. Canal warehouses: At Manchester Road Wharf on the southern side of the canal, there is a group of 3 warehouses each of a different age and style. On wharf I there is an 1801 built two-storey stone warehouse of 7 by 3 bays. it was built parallel to the canal allowing direct unloading from the barges using catshead cranes. On wharf II there is a single-storey open-fronted stone warehouse. This was built in the 1890s. The roof is supported by 4 rows of full-height cast-iron columns. This type of warehouse remained a feature of dock architecture well into the 20th century. On wharf III is a four-storey 1841 stone-built warehouse, that is parallel to the canal. The floors and the queen post truss roof are supported by cast-iron columns. On the road side there is a projecting three-storey loading bay. Weaving sheds: A traditional weaving mill would have a two- or three-storey preparation area for pirning the yarn, beaming and sizing attached to an engine house with a 500 hp mill engine, boiler house and chimney. The line shafts from the engine would pass into a large single-storey weaving shed with its characteristic sawtooth roof with north lights. Weaving was the principal activity here, the larger spinning mills of the Oldham Limited of the late 19th century ware built in towns further south. The Burnley loom was a narrow loom that produced grey cloth suitable for printing. Here we find many such stone-built mills such as the Waterloo Shed north of Trafalgar Street and the Wiseman Street Shed, the Sandygate Shed (c1860), and the brick-built Woodfield Mill (1886). Spinning mills: Victoria Mill is an early four-storey spinning mill from the 1850's built on Trafalgar Street for throstle spinning, There was however a small attached weaving shed. Combined mills: Trafalgar mill to the west of Waterloo shed is an example of a combined mill- one that did the spinning and then passed the yarn to its own weaving sheds. This was a four-storey stone mill built in 1840 as a mule spinning mill and later extended with attached weaving sheds. Sprinkler systems became essential in the 1880s and a water tank was added. Clock Tower mill, on the north side of the canal east of Sandygate was another. It was built c. 1840 by George Slater; there were four- and five-storey spinning mills by the canal and a six-storey 5-by-9-bay with a clock tower, the weaving shed was to the east. John Watts (Burnley) Ltd ran the mill from 1890 to the 1980s. Foundries: Burnley was the home to the Burnley Iron Works large engineering firm, which made mill engines including the Harle Syke engine displayed in the London Science Museum. Butterworth & Dickinson, Harling and Todd and Pemberton had foundries and built looms here. Globe Iron Works was firstly used by but was taken over in 1870 by Butterfield and Dickinson. The Waterloo Iron works was owned by Onias Pickles, who acquired the business of Thomas Sagar manufacturing plain Burnley looms. In 1887 it was bought by the Pemberton Brothers who continued in manufacturing until 1963.
Based at Burnley Wharf by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the Visitor Centre tells the story of the canal, cotton and the Weavers' Triangle. Take a trip back in time and visit the Victorian schoolroom, Edwardian bathroom and weaver's dwelling. You can find out how cotton was made and have a go at weaving. You can also visit the Oak Mount Mill and see it in action or simply walk the canal towapath and surrounding area. The Visitor Centre is the ideal place to find out what life was like in Victorian Burnley. They open specially outside normal hours, including evenings, for party visits. These can include a guided towpath walk through the Weavers' Triangle and a visit to Oak Mount Mill Engine House, ending up with tea and biscuits in the Victorian Parlour. The cost is just £3 a person with a minimum of £30 per party. Tea and biscuits are an additional £1 per person. If the visit includes the engine house, an extra donation of £1 per visitor for the Heritage Trust for the Northwest is requested.
Location : Weavers' Triangle Visitor Centre, 85 Manchester Road, Burnley BB11 1JZ
Transport: Burnley Manchester Road (Northern Rail). Bus routes 1, 1A, 1B, 5, 807, 852, 895, 902, 907 and 914 stop nearby on Trafalgar Street.
Opening Times: April - October. Saturday to Tuesday 14:00 to 16:00
Tickets: Free (Donations welcomed).
Tel: 01282 452403