Wainwright’s Way is a 123-mile long-distance route linking the place where he was born, a Victorian terraced house in Audley Range, Blackburn, with his final resting place, by Innominate Tarn on Haystacks in the Lake District.
The walk follows in his footsteps linking his youthful walks, the sights he sketched and wrote about in Lancashire and Westmorland, time in Kendal before entering the Lake District, land of his Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells.
I have obtained a guidebook written by Nick Burton which as well as giving a route description goes into detailed aspects of Wainwright’s life. Nick’s first chapter is devoted to AW’s time in Blackburn and suggests a short tour of the sights that he would have been familiar with. I have already made a ‘pilgrimage’ to his Memorial on the hills above Blackburn and now I’ll explore the town centre.
Wainwright lived in Blackburn from 1907 until 1941. How different the town would have been when he went to school and from the age of 13 worked as a clerk at the Town Hall. Blackburn had been a boomtown based on the cotton industry which was slowly contracting, mills were still dominant and the pollution and noise must have been all invading. Rows and rows of basic housing accomodated the workforce of which many faced poverty in the slumps of the 20s and 30s. The town centre reflected its former glory with buildings of Victorian splendour and daily AW would walk to work at the Town Hall in the centre. So much has changed as Blackburn has been redeveloped but Burton tries to show you a glimpse of AW’s time. There’s not much left. The town seems to have suffered from the bulldozer more than others.
The Cathedral stands centre stage, the land around it has become a pleasing open space. There are tombs of past notaries such as the Fielden and Peel families. Queen Victoria’s statue occupies one corner while closer at hand is a modern statue.
On a corner is the ornate old Lloyds Bank and then the remains of a Victorian Exchange Arcade. Northgate survives but with a poor selection of shops. Ahead is Gladstone’s statue pointing to King George’s Hall and courts.
Across the way is the impressive terracotta Technical School and behind is the shell of Blakey Moor Higher Elementary School where AW was briefly a pupil in 1919-20 before leaving for a job at the Town Hall.
Alongside St. John’s Church is the earliest church in the town, started in 1789. Recently run as an arts centre it was gutted by fire earlier this year and looks lost and forlorn. Somewhere in the grounds is a memorial stone to the Thwaites family, local brewers.
Speaking of which their town centre brewery is being demolished since they have moved away. The sight of dray horse waggons a memory. Past the bingo hall, Penny Street has become a large soulless car park next to the new bus station.
Nick Burton suggests a diversion up Old Eanam Road past the old Soho foundry to view a few remaining canalside buildings and wharves. Despite the coming of the railways, there would have still been commercial canal traffic in AW’s time.
In Nick Burton’s book, AW’s sketches from his many books are used to supplement the descriptions. I can find none of Blackburn.
Back to the station and time to escape to the country.