Meet Richard – Blackburn museum’s oldest and longest-serving volunteer

Published Friday 7 June 2024 at 16:16

With his 90th birthday just around the corner, Richard Croasdale is Blackburn Museum’s oldest and longest-serving volunteer.

And he’s absolutely brilliant!

Like the many artefacts in the impressive collections within the museum and art gallery, Richard has a fascinating story to tell.

At just 15 years old he proudly joined the British Northrop Loom Company Ltd – an engineering firm based in his hometown of Blackburn.

The company manufactured machinery for producing textiles – particularly the Northrop Loom – and was a key player in the town’s booming cotton industry.

Indeed, the firm, which first launched in 1902, expanded rapidly around the time of the First World War and was exporting more than 10,000 machines a year around the world by the 1950s.

And it was the skills that Richard learned there that would eventually bring him to the museum, many years later!

“My friend Jim Halsall was a local historian, and he rang me telling me he had a job for me to do,” he recalls.

“While I was retired, I was already busy volunteering and so told Jim: ‘I have enough of those, thank you very much.’

“But, he insisted this was a job I’d absolutely want to do – re-building a loom that had been donated to the museum in bits – being dropped off in boxes.”

Of course, Richard couldn’t wait to get started.

And what others thought would take him months, actually took him just a couple of days.

Once that was done, he moved on to the others – carefully restoring and maintaining the looms which are part of the Lewis Textile Collection, celebrating the borough’s rich links to the cotton industry.

And the great-grandfather has been at the museum ever since – being a much-valued and much-loved volunteer for the last 17 years, earning himself a prestigious British Museum Award along the way.

“There is so much history here in Blackburn,’ Richard, who, coincidentally, was born in Cotton Street, adds.

“It was the once the weaving capital of the world, and I love to share my stories with our visitors, including the schoolchildren – I feel like it’s better than them just reading about it in a book.

“We have people come from around the world to visit the museum and I love to share the pictures I have and all of the interesting facts I’ve collected along the way, they’re always fascinated.”

You’ll find Richard in the museum – which itself is celebrating a big birthday next week when it turns 150 years old – every Wednesday and Thursday.

“I’ve never driven so I catch the bus into town each week,” he says.

“In fact, I’ve never had a car, a mobile phone, or a computer – I wouldn’t even know how to turn one on!

“Of course, I still fondly remember the days of the trams and have many happy memories of riding on them as a lad.

“I love to volunteer – it feels like I’m giving something back to the place I’ve lived all my life – I love Blackburn, to me it’s a fantastic place, it’s home.

“The whole team at the museum is brilliant too and they all take such good care of me, I’ll be here for as long as they have me.

“As long as I have life, I’ll keep it up.”

Richard has been married to his wife Marjorie for more than 60 years and will celebrate his 90th birthday in 2025.

Together, they’ll mark the museum’s birthday at a special afternoon tea event next week – one of the many celebrations planned in the coming weeks.

Rebecca Johnson, Blackburn with Darwen Council’s Arts and Heritage Manager, said: “We wanted to tell Richard’s story to help mark Volunteers’ Week.

“Richard has dedicated the last 17 years to volunteering here at the museum and he’s hugely popular – sharing his fascinating stories of Blackburn through the years and his knowledge of the cotton industry.

“The museum relies on volunteers like Richard, and they all help make a huge difference – as we prepare to mark our 150th anniversary, we’d like to say a very big thank you to them all.

“Of course, we’re always looking for new people to join in too and what perfect timing as the museum continues to go from strength to strength in its 150th year.”

You can watch our video about Richard marking Volunteers’ Week by clicking here.

And you can find out more about the museum at:

There’s also a piece on the history of its opening in 1874  – you can click here to read it now.

The museum, in Museum Street, Blackburn, is open Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 4:45pm and is free to all.

You can also find Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery on Facebook, Insta, X and YouTube.


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