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Things to do in Burnley, Lancashire

Industrial estate in Burnley, Lancashire.
Burnley Industry © Shutterstock / george green

Burnley is a typical Lancashire market town 21 miles north of Manchester and close to the M65.

This moorland town beneath Pendle Hill started as an isolated farming community surrounded by royal forests and manor houses. The town’s name probably derived from Brun Lea which meant "a meadow by the River Brun".

The moors above the town are littered with ancient tumuli, stone circles, hill forts and stone age flint tools and weapons. Roman coins have been found and Gorple Road runs along the route of the Roman Road which ran to Ribchester.

Little history is known before 1122 when a charter granted St Peter’s Church to Pontefract abbey. Built on a hill, the church is at the "Top o’th’Town".

Coal Clough Wind Farm, Burnley, Lancashire, England, UK
Coal Clough Wind Farm © Shutterstock / eelnosiva

The Market Cross is a historic relic dating back to 1295. It now stands in the grounds of Burnley College.

Old disused cotton spinning mill beside the canal in Burnley, Lancashire, England
Disused Cotton Spinning Mill © Shutterstock / Jane McIlroy

In 1600 Gawthorpe Hall was built on the site of a Pele Tower. It was redesigned by Sir Charles Barry in 1850 before he built the Palace of Westminster.

In the same period the wealthy Towneley family built Towneley Hall. It even had its own chapel with an altar imported from Antwerp in 1525. The hall has been owned by Burnley Council since 1901 and now houses a free museum.

Weaving was introduced to the area in the 17th century and during the Industrial Revolution its position on the rivers Calder and Brun made it ideal for mills.

Burnley became of the world’s biggest producers of woven cotton and also developed a flourishing engineering industry. In the 18th century mining was carried out in the area. In 1796 the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was built to transport goods in and out of the town.

In 1825 the town was hit with financial disaster. Holgate’s, the only bank in town, collapsed causing several mills to close and this was followed by a severe drought.


Present Day Burnley

Burnley’s population is about 73,500 at the last count. The grand buildings that remain show Burnley’s former wealth and glory but now it is largely a commuter town for Manchester workers.

Top Withens famhouse
Top Withens Farmhouse © Shutterstock / Nicholas Peter Gavin Davies

It has a compact shopping centre surrounded by rows of terraced housing, now largely inhabited by the Asian community. In 2008 Burnley was listed as the town with the most burglaries per head in England and Wales, but this figure has since improved.

Most local employment is provided by call centres and catalogue shopping companies.


Things to Do Around Burnley

Castercliff Camp at Nelson is an oval shaped foundation with rubble ramparts which were part of an Iron Age hillfort dating back to 600 BC.

Historic Building of Gawthorpe Hall
Gawthorpe Hall © Shutterstock / Debu55y

The National Trust-owned Gawthorpe Hall is an Elizabethan House in Padiham. It was the home of the Kay-Shuttleworth family until 1970 and was visited often by Charlotte Bronte.

Towneley Hall and Park is the centre of local events including car shows and a Hot Air Balloon Festival. The museum has collections of Egyptology, natural history, local furniture and a small art gallery.

For walkers, the Pennine Way is nearby along with the Bronte Way and the Burnley Way which are also popular for horse riding.

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