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Growing up in Burnley in the Fifties, football and all - Rex Watson

The reminiscences and thoughts that follow may or may not resonate with older readers. We all have different experiences, and we all have different thoughts about our experiences. Historians and sociologists will have their archetypal descriptions of particular decades, but maybe our personal recollections make us beg to differ.

Once upon a time, birthdays came along once a year. Some will say they still do, but as you get older they seem to come along more frequently. So I had better complete this before the next one (a biggie) catches me out !

I was born in Burnley in 1944, and spent my whole boyhood there, going off to university in 1962. My family (parents, sister ten years older, and me) lived in the northern end of the town, on and near the ‘ring road’. Houses were built along these from say the twenties to at least the forties, in towns across the country, policy gradually changing later with increased traffic. The first house we lived in, till I was about eleven, was actually on the ring road.

This brings me to the first mention of our beloved national sport. As a kid in Burnley there were two aspects of the game, playing, casually and at school, and watching Burnley FC. For the former, the grassy verges on both sides of the road, with ideally spaced fairly mature trees, provided a good ‘pitch’ for a kickabout for as few as two ‘players’. Visibility was good in both directions, traffic fairly light, and I don’t recall my parents being concerned, though I hasten to add they were caring enough for my welfare in general. Again though, when we kids were ‘playing out’, we didn’t have to say for the most part where we would be, and we roamed at will, perhaps within a radius of half a mile of home. What a contrast that is to today


! Getting on to half a mile off in fact was the local ‘rec’ (recreation ground), Rakehead, where impromptu games of football would take place with boys from a wider area : if one was going when you got there, you just chose a side and waded in, no adult input at all. Oh, and the surface was cinder, no such luxury as grass. We all had some cinder in our knees, long into adulthood.

Man C v Burnley lancs latest
rex and sister on Pendle, Burnley FC lan

Rex and Sister 

One of my group of friends went off at age eleven to private school. It was good to see him again at Christmas, but he brought with him a ‘football’ with a very odd shape, and announced that even if you weren’t a goalkeeper you could handle it : not that his game had goalkeepers anyway ! In fact Burnley only had one rugby club, though of course a host of soccer teams. Actually we didn’t ever use the word ‘soccer’, we knew what we meant when we spoke of ‘football’. The distributions, in industrial Lancs and Yorks, of soccer and rugby (two codes) are fascinating.

Most of my gang (very largely boys) were at the same school, Heasandford. Most of us lived in the same mainly middle class area I have described, but others, certainly in the wider milieu of Rakehead, lived in the generally working class terraced houses to be found on and around Briercliffe Rd. Heasandford school was surrounded by these terraces. Having said all of this, I don’t think that ‘class’ was in our consciousness, not least because in many cases, such as mine, my (paternal) grandparents were at least in their younger days working class, and certainly lived in the town in a typical terraced house. Moreover, there was no ‘social science’ at school, primary or secondary (Burnley Grammar, though here sixth formers undertook the catch-all General Studies A-level). History as a subject of course concerned national matters, mainly wars and politics, though not with much on the economic, social or labour aspects. For me it was family history, from c1964, that triggered my interest in the local, etc.
But back to football. My wife will probably tell you that our marriage was bigamous, in that I was born wearing a claret and blue scarf, and have never worked out how to loosen it. Burnley of course is a classic northern town best known for its football, even though it is often quoted as being the largest cotton weaving town in the world at the end of the 19th century. We lived a little over a mile from Turf Moor. My father was quite a keen fan, and took me initially to reserve matches from the age of six or so, then first team from about eight. By ten or eleven I would go with friends of my age. No particular danger was seen by parents. Opposing team fans would mix freely with locals, with generally good natured behaviour from all. Yet crowds were typically of the order of 30,000. The only piece of advice that my father instilled was that when leaving, in a slow moving crowd, you should keep your arms up, not allowing them to become pinned. Sometimes I would be on my own, and in those days matches ended at 4.40 sharp, no ‘time added on’ usually. I had my own spot by the tunnel exit at the cricket field end, and when the final whistle blew I was off, at top speed, to be back home for the results on Sports Report at 5.00. Talking of cricket, for matches late and early in the football season you could, at one end, watch the cricket through the wooden panels at the back of the stand. 
From the age of about fourteen a group of us would travel, on the football train specials, to away matches in Lancs and West Yorkshire. This included of course the title clinching win at Maine Rd in 1960. Other matches I remember with fondness are the Newcastle match about 1952 where Tommy Cummings scored his wonder goal, the 1956 9-0 annihilation of New Brighton in the Cup, and the 1962 Cup Final against Spurs at Wembley (not so fond though of that result).

In short, this was an era of mainly standing (the grandstand on Brunshaw Rd was the only seated area, rather posh and not cheap), no floodlights (till 1958), open air, usually with rain, in much of the ground, and players who lived in the town, in digs if unmarried (many were Scottish, Irish, or north-easterners). One permanent feature of the Burnley fan is to expect them to lose, even in the successful days of say 1956 to 1963. The exploits of the 2022-23 team feel very unnatural, great though they are !
Other aspects of my life, as for many people, derived from interests of other family members. My grandfather in Burnley, of whom I wrote on the site a little time ago, was a keen rambler, likewise my father. Pendle was regularly ascended, and later in my teens I think that, usually with one or two friends, I climbed every Lake District mountain. Both my father, in his younger days, and sister were keen tennis players, and I joined and played for local Parks teams, later in life becoming a player of decent standard elsewhere. Both these physical activities, in contrast to football, were perhaps ones somewhat associated with the upwardly mobile. Having said that I remember one miner you just did not beat at tennis !
Family then is one main influence, of course, on what we are. This may be genetic, or to do with lifestyle and interests. My grandfather was good with figures, a cotton trade union secretary in his later working life. My father became a bank clerk. My grandfather particularly encouraged me, and my sister, to play card games, notwithstanding a nonconformist background ! As a result I could do elaborate sums before starting school, and was very bored with the subject when I got there ! Inevitably I became a mathematician.


I could write more, of Guy Fawkes, of Burnley Fair, of Good Friday and the monkey, of first footing on Jan 1st, of trainspotting, of towering snowdrifts aged nearly three, of the strange species called girls, of shovehalfpenny at the Grammar school, of marbles, of collecting bus tickets, of the frightening farmer occupying the field behind our house, of our window cleaner who always gave me a penny, of fear of swimming (I’m keen now), and more. But I hope the foregoing shows the main features of (my) life and some attitudes in the town just postwar. And of the beautiful game.

Rex Watson

A Confederate Englishman.  

Henry Wemyss Feilden 1838-1921. 

By: Dr. Roger Smalley 

confed flag.jpg

Profits from Textile manufacture made the Feildens a family of power and influence in nineteenth century Blackburn. William Henry Feilden bought the Witton estate and feniscowles, became a baronet, a JP, and deputy lieutenant of Lancashire. He devoted much of his time to military affairs, an interest inherited by his second son Henry Wemyss who, after Cheltenham and Sandhurst, took up a commission with the Black Watch in 1856.

Henry’s regiment saw service in India during the Mutiny of 1857-58, and after its suppression Feilding transferred first to the Eighth Regiment of Punjabi Infantry which fought in the Second Opium War, and then to the East Sussex Regiment of Foot. However, he resigned from the British army on the outbreak of civil war in America in order to help the Confederacy in its struggle for independence. Like many of his social class and textile manufacturing background he sympathised with the southern states which supplied their mills with cotton, a source the Union blockade threatened to disrupt. But Feilding also saw the war as an opportunity to enrich himself by running the blockade with European goods that would fetch high prices in Confederate markets.

On 8 September 1862, he was on board the ‘Flora’ when it slipped past Union patrols and reached Charleston, South Carolina, early the following year. He immediately sought a role in the Confederate army and was appointed captain and assistant adjutant with the Department of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard. Much of Feilden’s work involved writing letters transmitting orders to troops within the Department and supervising the movements of civilians. Surviving documentation suggests he acquitted himself well in front line fighting also.

Feilding was undoubtedly committed to the Confederate cause and believed in the institution of slavery, but he used his position to profit from regular blockade running with cotton bought cheaply in South Carolina and sold for much more in Nassau.

In December 1864, Feilden married Julia McCord, the daughter of a Chareston lawyer, but, sonn after, they were forced to evacuate the city because of the arrival of Union troops, part of Sherman’s March to the Sea. So Feilden fought in the wars’ final battles with General Johnson’s army and surrended with it on 26 April 1865. It was not until the following year that he was able to arrange passage to England for himself and his wife. They were back in Blackburn by July 1866.

Julia stayed at the family home, Feniscowles New Hall, whilst Henry resumed his career with the British army. In 1875 he was appointed naturalist to the British Arctic Expedition in search of the North Pole and his contribution earned him recommendation for the award of Companion of the Order of the Bath, and further scientific work. He also fought in the First Boer War in 1881 before retiring with the rank of Colonel in 1890. The Feilden’s finally settled in Sussex where their neighbour was Rudyard Kipling. Both men acted as recruiting officers when war broke out in 1914.

Henry Wemyss Feilden’s military career was, perhaps, unusual because of his service in the Confederate army. No biography has been written, but a selection of his letters was published in 2013. The editors take a sympathetic view of Feilden’s work in America and are keen to endorse Kipling’s opinion that Feilden was, ‘the gentlest, gallantest English Gentleman who ever walked’. Whilst this may be true of much of his character and behaviour it ignores the fact that he was a racist who thought African Americans were better off enslaved than free. This was a common enough attitude amongst the British elite, especially those with connections to textile manufacture. It contrasts with the support famously expressed for the Union and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation by Lancashire cotton mill workers. Are there any cases or workers going beyond enduring unemployment and starvation? Did any of them take a further step and crossed the Atlantic to enlist in the Union army?

These questions and Henry Wemyss Feilden make this particular part of Lancastrian history most intriguing and as of yet still much uncovered.


Dr Roger Smalley.

The early Mormons in Lancashire

The Mormon church, or to give its formal name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was formed in New York state in 1830, by Joseph Smith. Its centre moved westward  over the next fifteen years or so, mainly owing to successive periods of persecution. It finally settled in near virgin territory in the Salt Lake valley in what became the territory then state of Utah. Missionaries came to the UK in 1837, landing in Liverpool. Over the next 18 months or so they established groups known as branches in many parts of the country, strongest in Lancashire. The American missionaries largely returned home after this period, but had set up a sufficiently robust system to exist and indeed to an extent flourish without them. From 1840 numbers of Americans returned, and the Church thrived, particularly perhaps for the next two decades. There were also successes in Europe, notably in Scandinavia. A principal aim was to encourage emigration, to build up numbers in America. This started in 1840, and remained official policy until quite late in the century. The well known belief in and practice of polygamy (in America) would of course also have the effect of increasing numbers ! Part of the success of this novel religion can no doubt be put down to excellent organisation by the American leaders. For example the organ ‘Millenial Star’, for the UK, started production in 1840, and emigration was largely on chartered ships, on which conditions and discipline were regarded as superior to other ships.

LL Marh23 Early Mormon Record_edited.jpg

The first ten years or so, from 1837, coincided with a period of severe economic conditions in the UK, eventually eased somewhat later in the 1840s with the repeal of the Corn Laws, improvements in living conditions in towns and cities owing to municipal action, and for other reasons, though of course this easing was very gradual. The Mormons brought the promise of a better life across the sea, and hard though the crossing and travel within the USA might be, along with ‘pioneer’ conditions to start with on arrival, they might well have had a point. Many early British Mormons were perhaps of ‘artisan’ class, and in quite a few cases formerly Primitive Methodists. There are examples of Primitive Methodists being Chartists, and these connections give an idea maybe of the type of individual to whom Mormonism might appeal. Of course when an adult became a member, any spouse and children would often follow. Having said that, there were sadly cases of families splitting because only one parent followed the new faith. (Not that this was confined to Mormonism.)

There is plenty written on the Mormons in America, mainly of course by Americans, often themselves Mormons. This includes the epic stories of the handcart and other journeyings westward : the railroad to Utah was not completed until 1869. There is literature too on the Atlantic crossings. When it comes to life in Britain for the members of the Church there is a relative paucity of material. There are works on particular areas, on particular families, and at least one collection of miscellaneous essays. But any comprehensive academic study remains to be written, there is no definitive work. Yet the sources are plentiful. Foremost amongst these are detailed membership lists, surviving for many branches, Also, branch meeting minutes exist in many cases, though access to these is restricted by the Church.

There are also diaries and journals written by Church members (see picture of first page of one such), and much in local newspapers. Many journalists were most disparaging through much of the remainder of the century about the religion. Below I give some of the major sources. My own view is that we are dealing with an important social as well as religious phenomenon.

My own family history contains members of the Church, some of whom emigrated. These were in the Middleton area, and I was led to research and write the story of early Mormon activity there. See ‘Mormons in Mid Nineteenth Century Middleton (Lancs) and Vicinity’, 2013. Other sources include the following.

P.A.M. Taylor, Expectations Westward ; The Mormons and the Emigration of their British Converts in the Nineteenth Century, 1965.


Conway B. Sonne, Saints on the Seas ; A Maritime History of Mormon

Migration, 1983. (Eds) Richard L. Jensen and Malcolm R. Thorp, Mormons in early Victorian Britain, 1989 (sixteen essays on a variety of aspects).


(Eds) James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, Manchester Mormons ; The Journal of William Clayton, 1840 to 1842, 1974 (Clayton was from the Manchester area.).

James B. Allen, Ronald K. Esplin and David J. Whittaker, Men with a Mission, 1837-1841 ; The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1992.


Rex Watson

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