Colne and Pendle in Lancashire

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This is a text only page, but I shall shortly include links to photographs of the area.
This article has been created to give people around the world, a glimpse into the history of my home town Colne in Lancashire.

Colne is an old market town of around 19000 people. Colne is currently part of the borough of Pendle which was created in 1974. From 1895 until 1974 Colne had Borough status and last year celebrated its centenary even though it was incorporated into Pendle 21 years previously.

The Borough of Pendle consists of four main towns : Colne, Nelson, Barnoldswick and Brierfield. There are several smaller towns and villages scattered around the borough : Earby, Foulridge, Trawden, Reedley, Kelbrook, Winewall, Wycollar, Barrowford and more.


Links | Pendle | Colne | Nelson | Other towns in Pendle | Villages in Pendle |Religion |Bibliography


Early History of Colne|Mediaeval Colne|16th Century Colne|17th Century Colne

Colne is the second largest town in the Borough of Pendle, Nelson being larger but much younger as a town. The history of Colne goes back much further than becoming a borough in 1895. In fact the history goes back to pre-Roman times.

Early history of Colne

Stone Age

There are traces of Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) man in the area from up to 12000 years ago. Amongst the finds in the area are stone axe heads, pygmy flints, a flint workshop and a Mesolithic camp site. Most of these finds were found around Boulsworth Hill at Trawden.

Bronze Age

About four thousand years ago, the Bronze Age arrived in the area. Colne was situated on a ridgeway trade route between the west coast and the east coast, where Irish bronzes were transported. Near Trawden a bronze age single burial round barrow from around 1500 BC has been excavated by Stanley Cookson at Brink Ends. Finds from this period in the area include an axe head and a flat spearhead.

Iron Age

Much later than in the rest of Britain, the Iron Age arrived here around 750 BC. There is an iron age fort at Castercliffe dating back to the 6th century BC.
Colne itself was probably established during the last few centuries BC. The area was controlled by a warlike people called the Brigantes. Having a good water supply and being on a main trade route along the trans-Pennine ridgeway, it was an ideal place to start a settlement. The names Colne and Pendle are both of Celtic origin.


When the Romans arrived in Britain, Julius Agricola marched his forces northwards and through Lancashire via Chester. Roman forts were established in areas around Colne. A Roman road from Ribchester via Ilkley to York was built. This road passes very close to Colne and partially within the boundaries of Pendle. There is no firm evidence that the Romans had any permanent presence in the area, although that is still being debated by historians in the area. Castercliffe is the site where those believing the Romans stayed in Colne had their outpost.
Roman artifacts have been found in the area, including coins, but this is no evidence to Romans actually being here. The area would certainly not have been to their liking, being hilly, and damp.
The area was never truly subdued by the Romans and they finally left Britain in 410 AD.

Roman roads around Colne

The Germanic Invasions

After the Romans left, Britain was invaded by various Germanic peoples. The Celts mainly retreated to Wales and Scotland, some stayed. Evidence of the Angles is reflected in local placenames such as Trawden and Marsden. Earby is derived from Norse origins, as are the many smaller places which include 'gill' and 'slack'.
After the Vikings established themselves in Northumbria, the area came under their rule.
There are strong arguements that the Battle of Brunanburgh was fought in the area, more specifically near Trawden. In this battle, Alfred of Wessex's grandson Athelstan defeated an army of Picts, Scots, Welsh and Danes and became the first King of all England.

Mediaeval Colne

The lords of the manor

After the Norman conquest, the area was controlled by Roger of Poitou and then around 1090 AD control of the area passed to Robert de Lacy. The de Lacy's maintained control of Colne until 1311 AD. They were based at Pontefract and built Clitheroe Castle as their local stronghold. Clitheroe Castle, just outside Pendle is still with us today. Colne was one of seven manors under the jurisdiction of the Honor of Clitheroe. At this time Colne included Great Marsden and Foulridge.
In this period the Forest of Trawden and the Forest of Pendle were created, enabling the nobles to hunt deer.

Mediaeval Settlements in Colne

Colne itself comprised of two small settlements, Colne town and Waterside. The two settlements were joined by Colne Lane.

Colne town

Colne town at the top of the hill, grew around the church. The church is known to have been built before 1122 AD. The churchyard held the market, probably on a Sunday. Colne was never given a charter, unlike other towns, either because the market had already grown through custom, or it was a royal gift dating back to the time when the king himself was lord of the manor. An annual fair developed. This was held on St Bartholomews Day - 24 August. The fair brought in merchants from afar and would have been one of the highlights of the year.


Waterside at the bottom of Colne Lane grew around the river and the bridge over it. The bridge at Waterside was certainly in existence in 1323 AD and probably much earlier. This bridge was at the start of the main highways to both Burnley and Halifax. These two ancient roads are still in existence today, as is the bridge, albeit rebuilt several times. The present bridge dates back to around 1790 AD.
There was a fulling mill at Waterside by 1300, being one of the earliest fulling mills in England. There was also a corn mill by this time.

The Commons

There were several commons around Colne. The main one called The Common or Lob Common was situated to the north. The lee gate (Lidgett as it is known today) was at the bottom of the road to this common. A small area at the top of Lidgett, still called The Pinfold, was where stray animals were confined. There were other commons at Grindlestonehurst, Tum Hill and at Brown Hill. In the middle ages Colne was a thriving market town, being a centre for the woolen trade. Towards the end of the 18th century cotton manufacturing started to become the main industry in Colne. For the next 150 years cotton was an integral part of the life of everyone living in Colne.

Government and Law and Order

Apart from serious crimes such as murder and theft, most crimes were dealt with by the Halmote whose earliest surving records date back to 1425. The Halmote was the local manorial court. Civil matters such as land transactions were dealt with by the Halmote. It granted licences for trades such as brewing and tanning leather. Byelaws were made by the Halote and officails such as constable and aletaster were elected. Crimes which have been recorded at the Halmote include trespass, straying animals, selling sour beer, and drunkenness. Punishments could be a fine, a spell in the stocks or at the whipping post.


Besides the corn mill and fulling mill at Waterside, coal was being mined in hillside south of Waterside. The trades of wainwright, mercer, butcher, tanner and brewer were all in Colne by 1425. By the 15th century Colne had a thriving woolen industry.

16th Century Colne

By 1500 Colne's population was around 1500. Most people were occupied in the woolen industry, based in their cottages. The main product in Colne was the lightwight kersey. The kersey was a piece of cloth 18 yards long by 1 yard wide and weighed 20 pounds. The process of manufacture was divided with people specialising in various stages. Some men greased and carded the raw woolready for spinning. Many women and children spun the yarn. The weavers wove the yarn into kerseys. The fuller at the fulling mill cleansed and felted the cloth by treating it with soap and fuller's earth. This was to remove the oil and size. The cloth was then beaten to close the gaps between fibres. Colne's fulling mill was built in 1296. After fulling, the cloth was put on tenter frames (tenterhooks) to dry and be straightened. Cloth from Colne was regularly sold in Halifax, Burnley and Clitheroe.

17th Century Colne


The History of Colne - Edited by Dorothy Harrison - Published by Pendle Heritage Centre Ltd - Copyright 1988