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Darwen is a market town and civil parish located in Lancashire, England. Along with its northerly neighbour, Blackburn, it forms the Borough of Blackburn with Darwen — a unitary authority area. It is known locally as “Darren”, and its residents are known as “Darreners”. The main road through Darwen is the A666 towards Blackburn to the north and Bolton to the south, and ultimately Manchester.

The town stands on the River Darwen, which flows from south to north and is visible only in the outskirts of the town, as within the town centre it runs underground.

Most authorities trace the name ‘Darwen’ to the Brythonic derw “oak”, originally applied to the river; an etymology supported by an older form of the name, Derewent (1208).

The area around Darwen has been inhabited since the early Bronze Age, and the remains of a barrow from approximately 2000 BC have been partially restored at the Ashleigh Barrow in Whitehall. Artefacts including a bronze dagger and urns containing human ashes were found, and a small number of these finds are now on display at Darwen Library Theatre. The Romans once had a force in Lancashire, and a Roman road is visible on the Ordnance Survey map of the area. Mediaeval Darwen was tiny; little or nothing survives. One of the earliest remaining buildings is a farmhouse at Bury Fold, dated 1675. Whitehall Cottage is thought to be the oldest house in the town, and was mostly built in the 17th and 18th centuries but contains a chimney piece dated 1557.

Like many towns in Lancashire, Darwen was a centre for textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution. Samuel Crompton, inventor of the spinning mule, lived there for part of his life. Rail links and the Leeds-Liverpool Canal arrived in the mid-19th century. The most important textile building in Darwen is India Mill, built by Eccles Shorrock & Company. The company was ruined, however, by the effects of the Lancashire Cotton Famine of the 1860s.

Much of the town was built between about 1850 and 1900; placenames, date stones in terraces, and the vernacular architecture of cellars, local stone, locally-made brick, pipework and tiles and leaded glass, the last now mostly gone, reflect this. It was one of the first places in the world to have steam trams. The arrangement of town hall, market, public transport, eating/hotel facilities and the pre-suburban mixed-size vernacular housing, with local variations according to topography, is very characteristic of northern England. The year 1900 perhaps represents the peak of Victorian optimism in the area. The working classes were then much more identifiable as masses than now. George Orwell, for example, described the sound of clogs on cobblestones of the large number of female millworkers. The rise of the Labour Party from about 1900 coincided with a decline in the Liberal Party, which followed the Manchester School in economics, increasingly seen as permitting unjustified exploitation. However, Darwen usually voted for the Conservative Party until a Conservative government made unpopular administrative rearrangements in the early 1970s.

Andrew Carnegie financed a public library here; the town also had an art and technology college and a grammar school. In common with many northern nonconformist towns, there are many chapels of assorted denominations, which flourished until the psychological blows of the First World War.[citation needed]

One of Darwen’s biggest claims to fame is that it hosted a visit from Mohandas K. Gandhi in 1931. He had accepted the invitation from Corder Catchpool, manager of the Spring Vale Garden Village Ltd, to see the effects of India’s boycott of cotton goods. The unemployed mill workers greeted the man with great affection even when they were out of work, as they understood it was not India but greedy and irresponsible mill owners who were responsible for their situation.

India Mill is now home to many companies, including Brookhouse (producers of aeroplane parts) and Capita Group, which runs TV licensing. Since the 1950s, the textile industry has strongly declined in the region, although many industrial buildings from the period survive, now used for other purposes. India Mill and its famous chimney have been sold in a £12 million deal. Among Darwen’s other famous industries are Crown Paints, formerly Walpamur Paints,[10] the earliest British paint manufacturer, which actually named one of its paints ‘Darwen Satin Finish’. Crown Wallpaper manufactured wallpaper, Lincrusta and Anaglypta in the town. ICI Acrylics (now called Lucite International) was where acrylic glass (Perspex for windows and signage, and Sani-ware or Lucite used for the maufacture of baths and shower trays) was invented; it is still manufactured in two separate plants within the town. Spitfire canopies and (later) coloured polythene washing-up bowls were first made here.

The municipal borough of Darwen existed for ninety-six years, from 1878. The borough was merged with Blackburn in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972. The town became part of the Lancashire non-metropolitan district of Blackburn, which was renamed Blackburn with Darwen in 1997, shortly before it became a unitary authority.

The population of the town declined from 40 000 in the 1911 census to 30 000 in the 1971 census.

Locally, Darwen has been represented by Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors in the main council wards for the town. In the 2008 local elections, the For Darwen Party picked up the majority of the wards in the town to put pressure on Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for Darwen to have its own council again. In June 2009 Darwen Town Council was formed.

There are five council wards within Darwen out of the 23 in the Borough of Blackburn with Darwen. Darwen had its own parliamentary constituency until 1983 when it became part of the present Rossendale and Darwen constituency.

The coat of arms for Darwen should not be confused with the coat of arms used by the unitary authority of Blackburn with Darwen, which is the coat of arms for Blackburn.

Darwen was granted its coat of arms on 7 August 1878. At the foot of the coat of arms is the town motto in Latin Absque Labore Nihil, which translates as “Nothing without labour”. The arms depicts three cotton bolls and the River Darwen which runs through the town. The cotton represents the cotton industry in which the town grew and prospered during the Industrial Revolution and the three bolls to represent the three main areas of Darwen – Over Darwen, Lower Darwen and Hoddlesden. At the helm of the coat of arms is a barred helmet representing nobility, and above it the torse in the town colours of blue and gold. At the crest a man stands shouldering a pick-axe, which refers to the town’s motto and also represents the mining industry that was present to the east of the town at that time.

Darwen is a quintessential Lancastrian town in the south-east of the county. Its position in the West Pennine Moors makes its topography relatively arid and it stands within a valley with the River Darwen flowing at its base. The river passes through the town from south to north, subsequently joining the River Ribble, one of the longest rivers in North West England. The town is mainly accessible from the north (Blackburn) and south (Bolton) by the A666 road. Its weather conditions made it perfect for cotton weaving and as a result it became one of the largest mill towns in Lancashire.

The Guinness Book of Records mentions that Darwen had one of the largest flash floods in the United Kingdom.

In 1897 the town council met to deliberate how best to celebrate the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee. The idea of building the Jubilee Tower, in conjunction with public access to the moors, was put forward. A competition to design the tower was won by Ralph Ellison from the borough engineer’s department and on 22 June 1897 work began. On 24 September 1898 the opening ceremony was held, attended by over 3,000 people. Present at the ceremony were Councillor Alexander Carus, Mayor Charles Huntington, the High Sheriff of Lancashire and Lord of the Manor Rev. W.A. Duckworth.

The tower, which is open to the public, overlooks the town from the moors and stands at an altitude of 374m and has a height of 26m. A spiral staircase leads to the top from where, on a clear day, Blackpool Tower, the Isle of Man, North Wales and the Furness Peninsula can be seen. In November 2010 the dome of the tower was blown off by strong winds. The dome was restored in January 2012.

Originally situated in the Peel Street Baths (now the Co-operative supermarket in the Circus), the library was transferred to the new technical school building in 1895. Today Darwen Library stands at the corner of Knott Street and School Street to the north of the Circus. It was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish migrant to the USA who made his fortune as a producer of iron and steel. He donated £8,000 in response to a speculative appeal for funds by the Library Committee. The opening took place on 27 May 1908 and was attended by Mayor Councilor G.P. Holde, Councillor Ralph Yates and Carnegie himself, The library has served the town ever since, with the original lecture hall being transformed into the Library Theatre in 1971.

The Market Hall was opened on 11 July 1882 and the clock tower was added in 1899, when Dr. Ballantyne became mayor. In the 1930s part of the market ground was made into the town’s bus station and still remains today. In 1992 a three-day market was introduced. Although local government proceedings were transferred to Blackburn in the 1970s, the council chambers remained in the building, and were used by the magistrates’ court from 1983 until 1992. The town hall currently houses offices of Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council and the local Neighbourhood Policing Team, and five shop units opened in 2011, and is a venue for meetings of the Darwen Town Council established in 2009.

Bold Venture Park stands to the west of the town, at the foot of the moors and the path which leads to the Jubilee Tower. The land in which the park lies was bought by Rev. W.A. Duckworth. It was built by W. Stubbs of the Borough Engineers and Thomas Hogy the landscaper and gardener, and opened in 1889.

Sunnyhurst Woods was originally owned by the Brock-Hollinshead family and used for hunting stag. The area was later sold to Eccles Shorrock. To commemorate the coronation of Edward VII the land was turned into a public park on 2 July 1903.

Darwen sits in a large valley strung along the A666 road along the valley floor. It is connected to the motorway system at Junction 4 of the M65 at Earcroft, on the town’s northern boundary, and considerable traffic passes through the town centre along the A666, causing high levels of air pollution. The local council has recently attempted to address the situation by adding a new road layout to the town centre, with public transport and junction improvements to reduce traffic.

Darwen stands athwart the Ribble Valley railway line, operated by Northern Rail. Darwen railway station has one train per hour between Clitheroe and Manchester (via Bolton). Darwen’s bus terminal (Darwen Circus) hosts buses up to every 12 minutes to Blackburn/Accrington on weekdays. There is also a service, every 30 minutes on weekdays and hourly on Sundays, to Bolton and Clitheroe, but the Bolton service terminates at 7:00pm. Both services are operated by Transdev Lancashire United.

In 2008 the “Pennine Reach” scheme, to improve public transport between Darwen, Blackburn and Hyndburn, was proposed by Lancashire and Blackburn with Darwen councils, including plans for the addition of bus lanes to the A666. However, it has been controversial, with some residents placing “Say no to Bus Lane, we don’t want it” signs in their windows, and the neighbouring district of Hyndburn pulled out of the scheme.[21] The scheme was put on hold in 2010 as local authorities reviewed their spending after their budgets were cut, before being abandoned later in the year due to lack of government funding, and the councils are now looking at other ways to improve public transport.

Since the opening of the M65 motorway in 1997, many businesses have been attracted to the area, with industrial estates growing to the north of the town at Junction 4 of the motorway. The motorway services opened up a lot of easily accessible land for businesses, allowing large industrial units to be built.

In 2004 Crown Wallcoverings, previously one of the biggest businesses in the town, closed with the loss of more than 200 jobs. The Crown building was a large redbrick ten-storey building with numerous chimneys. In 2006 the empty building and 60-metre high (200 ft) chimney was demolished. In 2008 building work started on the site to build 79 two-bedroom apartments and 56 three-bedroom family homes. The building of these homes was halted during 2009 due to a lack of buyers because of the economic downturn.

The Darwen News published a Maudley Medley on 9 March 1878 which still resigns in popularity today:

Tween two hillsides, both bleak and barren,”
Lies lovely little “Dirty Darren”

In Lancashire dialect, the name Darwen is pronounced Darren, and the locals refer to themselves as Darreners. They are generally resistant to any attempts at submerging the identity of the town within Blackburn. A motorway service area at junction 4 of the M65 motorway lies within the town, and was originally named “Blackburn Services”. Following local protests it has been renamed “Blackburn with Darwen Services”.

The town is the home of the Darwen Library Theatre (an extension to the library), and the TV show Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. Darwen has a few footnotes in entertainment history: its theatre (now demolished) had appearances by Charlie Chaplin, and it featured in a film by Norman Wisdom. George Formby’s wife was from Darwen.

The Beatles played in Darwen on Friday 25 January 1963, at the Co-operative Hall. They headlined the “The Greatest Teenage Dance” which was commissioned by the Darwen Baptist Youth Club. Support acts included The Electones, The Mike Taylor Combo and The Mustangs with Ricky Day.

Darwen Live (formerly Darwen Music Live) is a free two-day music festival held each year over the second bank holiday in May. The main stage is built outside the town hall, and other smaller music stages are usually based around the town in pubs and bars.

Darwen has a brass band, named ‘Darwen Brass’. The band, under MD Steve Hartley, won four consecutive first place prizes in NWCBBA (North West Counties Brass Band Association) contests in the 2009/10 season. The contest successes were in Fleetwood, St. Helens, Preston and Tameside (competing within the 4th section). Following this success, the band was promoted to the 3rd section for the 2010/11 season and finished third at the Fleetwood contest.

The town was the home of Darwen Football Club, formed in 1870 and the first English football club to have paid professional players. The team reached the semi-final of the FA Cup in 1880-81 and played in the Football League between 1891 and 1899. The club was wound up at the end of the 2008-09 season and replaced almost immediately by A.F.C. Darwen. The new club plays in Division One of the North West Counties Football League and is based at the Anchor Ground. Darwen also has a cricket club, Darwen Cricket Club, currently based at Birch Hall Cricket Ground. The club plays in the Northern Premier Cricket League.

To the north-west of the town lies Darwen Golf Club. The characteristics of the course have changed little since the club was established in 1893. Due to its geographical location within the moors, the course is regarded as a tough test of golfing ability. From its peak viewpoint the course has panoramic views of the surrounding area as far out as Blackpool and cascades down into the shadow of Darwen Tower.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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