Destroying Lancashire’s Archaeology


The steam engine at Queen Street Mill museum, Burnley. This is the only working steam-powered weaving mill left in Europe. Its a site of inter-national importance and a Grade 1 listed building. Lancashire County Council are proposing to close it from April 2016

Lancashire County Council have announced (November 2015) huge cuts to their services. Amongst the many services to be closed (including five museums such as Queen Street Mill above) is a proposal to close the Lancashire Historic Environment Service. This will leave the county without any controls over archaeology threatened by development, just as happened in Liverpool between 2011 and 2014. Archaeology is a non-renewable resource. If this proposal goes ahead archaeological sites will be lost without any record and artefacts destroyed.


The historic environment, and archaeology in particular, is a concern which crosses a wide variety of social, cultural, and economic policy areas from urban design and local ‘sense of place’ to tourism. Failure by authorities to recognise this leads to the erosion of the quality of the environment, poor planning, damage to the local economy and above all the loss of local identity and community self-esteem and well-being.



This is an open letter to the leader of Lancashire County Council in my role as Chair of the Council for British Archaeology North West:

“I am writing on behalf of the Council for British Archaeology North West to protest in the strongest possible terms against the closure of the Lancashire Historic Environment Service.

The proposed closure raises a very serious question regarding what future provision the County intends to make for informed archaeological advice in the planning process, to meet the heritage requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework, otherwise known as NPPF. These provisions are not a discretionary service. The NPPF, and its planning guidance, governs planning policy affecting archaeological sites, monuments, buildings and landscapes, setting out a holistic framework for their constructive conservation. It embraces appropriate development that delivers the long term viability of heritage assets while conserving their significance for the benefit of generations to come and emphasises the importance of the principles of sustainable development applying to the management of change in the historic environment.

The Council for British Archaeology North West believes that Lancashire County Council needs to be held to account with regard to the heritage provisions of NPPF and needs to demonstrate that it:

  1. Will maintain or continue to have access to a Historic Environment Record (HER) as required in NPPF, page 41, paragraph 169.
  2. Will continue to hold evidence about the historic environment and heritage assets in its area and that this will remain publicly accessible.
  3. Will continue to have access to appropriate ‘expert advice’ (from in-house experts, experts available through agreement with other authorities, or consultants and complemented as appropriate by advice from heritage amenity societies) in order to fulfil the requirements of the NPPF.
  4. Furthermore, that the Council be able to demonstrate how it will ensure that all planning applications are monitored by a fully qualified and experienced archaeologist who is a member of the relevant professional body (The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists) and give assurances that there is a system in place to ensure that the significance of heritage assets is fully considered in the planning process.

The Council for British Archaeology North West has been promoting archaeology in the region for more than 40 years. Our membership, many of whom live within Lancashire, comprises 260 individuals and a dozen local archaeology and history societies (with a combined membership of over 600). On behalf of our extensive membership we remind the Council that it is required to maintain or have access to an HER – this is not a discretionary service.

We look forward to an urgent response giving us the assurances we seek under the four paragraphs above informing us how Lancashire County Council will continue to meet the heritage provisions of NPPF in the future.”

4 thoughts on “Destroying Lancashire’s Archaeology

  1. Well done Mike, this is spot on. Until something like this happens, people do not always appreciate what a fragile resource these archaeological sites can prove to be. However, even though these are the Nationally Designated museums for our Textile Industry, their machines and the skills of the people who keep them working are even more fragile.

    One can easily argue that these two mills are not just of National importance, they actually have World significance. Both Mills have different examples of the earliest full size power looms in existence, as far as we are aware, a huge Leach broad loom and a smaller Leach blanket loom, both made in Rochdale before the end of 1851 to an 1830s design.

    Helmshore, as well as housing water powered fulling and finishing plant and the very early Platt collection of Dandy Handlooms, has rare and complete sets of powered spinning plant. These comprise opening devils, with scutching and lap forming machines which supply an entire mule spinning floor to recycle waste cotton which is not only complete, but with 4 fully operational condenser spinning mules it still provides Queen St Mill with weft. I am not aware of another comparable set up anywhere.

    The jewels in the crown are the only completely original pair of Arkwright water frames in existence, (which are in operable condition – I saw them demonstrated for a special event several years ago), together with early preparation machinery of the same era. Queen Street is the other jewel, as the only steam powered weaving mill on the planet still producing cotton on its original Victorian looms.

    In addition to all this is the importance of the buildings themselves which are a key part of the machinery of production – and the sites are Grade 1 listed and a Scheduled Monument at the highest level of archaeological importance. These two places are the only ones left where the spinning and weaving machinery still exists in a sufficiently complete original working environment for future generations to understand how the buildings were developed and designed to fit the machinery so that the machines appear to fit the building. The mill machinery is an integral part of the Listing / Scheduling and qualifies for the same level of legal protection as the sites – which is criminal legislation we believe.

    It is this unique combination of surviving buildings with working original machinery and power plant still in situ and operated on a daily basis that makes these mills so special and so unique.

    It is also the reason why the proposal to close them down and lose all the skilled people that make them work is so unacceptable on every level, be it Local, Regional, National or World Heritage; Employment, Education, Tourism or positive publicity for the North West. It is, as you have pointed out so well , also in contravention of the heritage legislation which was enacted by Parliament to prevent just such a thing from ever happening.

    I look forward to seeing the LCC response you have requested.

  2. This is not a unique problem to Lancashire. Cuts in Council funding is especially severe throughout the North. Heritage Lottery Funding is 40% less than rest of country outside London with London taking the Lion share. 95% of Arts funding is in London. Money for promotion of Tourism in England was supplied by the regional development boards and that was stopped when the Coalition Government came into power so now there is no regional funding for Tourism for any of the regions.

    It is pretty hopeless lobbying Councils because they have very little options left especially with further cuts coming. What can be done? There is a range of funding for community groups. There is starting a Northern Network of a wide variety of people, Federation of Small Businesses, Indy Traders, Environmentalists, Heritage organisations, Community groups, professional Historians, Archaeologists, and Creative Industries. All people who are worried about our Northern Heritage and Culture and the impact that unfettered planning decisions could have on their neighbourhood and the local economy.

    At present we are strongest in East Yorks and Sheffield though we are making links in Manchester Liverpool and Newcastle. If interested get in touch with me at Joy Bullivant Northern Network (Sheffield Branch)

  3. Pingback: Weathering the storm | the incurable archaeologist

  4. Consider and privatization of museums with funds donated by interested philanthropists. It would an irresponsible and tragic act to allow city or county officials to destroy museums and archaeological research.

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