Published Thursday 21 September 2023 at 14:34
Sunday will mark 125 years since Darwen Tower was officially opened – read our special Shuttle feature written by celebrated Darwen historian, Harold Heys:
September 24th marks the 125th anniversary of the official opening of Darwen Tower after 16 months of hard graft by a small team on the windswept moors.
There was one slight snag. It wasn’t anywhere near finished!
The stone balustrade round the Tower’s ‘waist’ was perhaps three-quarters completed and a few of the eight arches had still to be topped off. Only two of the decorative shields were in place and the land around it was quite rough.
However, the Rev. Wm. Arthur Duckworth, Lord of the Manor, who had given the town the land on which the landmark had been – almost – built and the stone from the nearby quarry, was a busy chap.
He lived in Somerset and his office was in London and, well, he had to be there to officially hand over the key to open the heavy door to the Mayor, Charles Huntington.
Duckworth could make Saturday, September 24, but after that it was anybody’s guess. Heavy rain in the late summer had delayed work on the structure.
Another snag for the opening was that Darwen’s town band had arranged to play that day at Bury and the East Lancs Volunteer Band had to step in to keep the party swinging along. They played the National Anthem too early – so they played it a second time.
More than 3,000 folk from Darwen and surrounding towns and villages turned up to join in the festivities and there was a giant bonfire close by which was blazing merrily by the late evening. Over the weekend more than 250 paid to make the climb to the top.
The Darwen News, not averse to criticising local folk for their parsimony, declared that “had no charge been levied, a huge number of people would have made the ascent.”
Unfortunately, the autumn weather was damp and misty and the view to the Welsh hills, the southern Lakes and the Pennines was rather disappointing.
First official visitors to the top of the Tower were the Rev. Duckworth, Mayor Huntington, and Councillor Alexander Carus, who had been Mayor the previous term when he cut the first sod with a silver spade which now lives in Darwen Heritage Centre after being brought “home” from the South Coast by David Duckworth, a member of the Carus family.
Local historians have been poring over Town Council minutes and filed copies of local newspapers and the Northern Daily Telegraph but haven’t found the exact date of completion when the last piece of stone was put in position.
Perhaps it was the fixing of the lightning conductor, or the stone steps leading up to the base, or a final lick of paint on the wood and glass dome which, incidentally, lasted nearly 50 years till it was blown off in a gale.
A trawl through Darwen Town Council minutes for the period after the official opening reveals very little action to finish the job. It appears that the public were allowed to go to the top of the Tower for the first couple of weekends and then work began again.
In late October, 1898, minutes of the Parks, and Playing Fields committee recorded that work on levelling the ground around the construction site could get under way and that £50 would be allocated to the job. So it’s doubtful that all the remaining work would have been completed by, say, the end of 1898.
It didn’t take long for the Tower to attract the attention of vandals. Police Inspector Piddock reported to Darwen Council’s Parks and Recreation Grounds Committee at its meeting on August 21, 1899 that a chap called Henry Garland had damaged the Tower by carving his name on woodwork.
The committee immediately decided that a summons be issued. We can’t find what happened to the miscreant. He was probably fined a shilling or so. A hundred years earlier the dirty dog could have been heading off to Australia on a convict ship.
The heavy front door quickly attracted the attention of several visitors from towns such as Blackpool, Barnsley and Warrington who had left their names on it, and including a French chap called William de Ryiber, who added his address – 61, Rue de Honoré, Boulogne (sur-Mer).
If the Lord of the Manor, the Rev. Duckworth, had any reservations about the freeing of the moors – his moors – for folk to traipse hither and thither, he held them in check and was most complimentary in his speech about the elegant new Tower which he said looked sturdy enough to take “many a hard knock.”
He asked Darreners if they would take care when walking over the moors and stick to the paths, especially in the mating season. It was presumed that he was referring to the grouse which attracted lots of rich visitors during the shooting season which was then well under way.
The public subscription raised for its erection was divided by Dr John H. Wraith, secretary of the Jubilee Committee, between the cost of the building, about £700, and Darwen Nursing Association of which the Mayoress, Mrs Huntington, was a leading figure.
Darwen folk staged two Tower walks, in 1997 and 1998, to mark the centenary of the start and the opening the following year.
Hundreds came from all over the world including Mrs May Fish, formerly of Hodson Street, who travelled from her home in New Zealand.
“You see the Tower for the first time in many years and you know you are home,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks.
She and her husband Tom died a few years ago and their son Robert and his wife Sandy brought their ashes “home” to Darwen to be thrown into the wind from the top of their beloved Tower.
Harold has written a new book to mark the special anniversary.
For full details, please follow Darwen Heritage Centre on Facebook.