An A-Z Journey Around Britain

12 Colne, Lancashire



Dickens understood that authentic smiles distinguish the sinister from the sincere and the flawed from the steadfast. Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, is devious rather than upright. In his budget he gave a grant of £580,000 to Colne to refurbish the local theatre. Osborne is generous to Tory constituencies. Colne has a hippie reputation and is sneered at elsewhere in East Lancashire but shares the same Tory MP. The theatre was known as the Municipal Hall but is now called the Muni. The Osborne largesse may be coincidental but it feels like Northern history is being rewritten.

Colne Municipal Hall was, and the Muni is, the main venue in the annual Colne Rhythm and Blues Festival. Although the Festival has been voted the best Blues Festival in Europe, the more famous blues performers have appeared outside the Festival. Apart from regular visits to the Festival, I have also seen, in Colne, Bobby Bland, Irma Thomas, Albert King, Corey Harris and others.   In the decent Italian restaurant, Carlos, I sat at a table next to Otis Clay. I observed a great soul singer relax in a Lancashire mill town.

Located in the valleys of East Lancashire, the town is close to good hill walking. In Central Mexico volcanoes can be seen from every city. Boulesworth Hill does not compare but Colne was the first Lancashire town to win Walkers Are Welcome status. Wycoller Hall is one of the highlights on the nearby 45 mile Pendle Way. Wycoller was the model for Fearndean Manor in the essential Jane Eyre. The Brontes lived just across the border in the picturesque Yorkshire village of Haworth. The ruin of their home is also a feature of a fine walk.

In the 70s, Colne was listed in a guide to alternative Britain. Despite the interest of George Osborne, the hippie influence remains. Most shoppers who visit the town are interested in the factory outlet, Boundary Mill, but there is no shortage of New Age shops and incense and crystal balls. A tourist guide describes Jim’s Vegetarian as hippie and bohemian. It has a fine wood burning stove. Chronic Daze is devoted to ‘smoking and tobacco paraphernalia’, which must have made the police suspicious. But in January 2015 there was only one arrest for a drug offence in Colne, so Mr Daze must be an innocent tobacconist. Kelly Marie, the local medium and ‘psychic messenger’, avoids ambiguity. She provides an ‘angelic welcome’ to all.

Unemployment in East Lancashire is below the UK average. The term Enterprise Zone is often oxymoronic but the East Lancashire Enterprise Estate has attracted 27 businesses. In 1891 there were 31 cotton mills in Colne and a population of 26,000. By 1971 and just before the hippies arrived, the population had fallen to 19,000. It is the same today.

Wallace Hartley was the bandleader on the Titanic. Born in Colne, he would have known the gritstone of the Pennines. Hartley inspires because his band continued to play when facing certain death. In the classic film about the Titanic disaster, A Night To Remember, Hartley lost his gritty Lancashire accent and became a Cockney. Ah, well.

Next week, the town that built a Rolls Royce for Elvis, Crewe

Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.