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Blackburn - (The Battery)
Lord Panmure, the Secretary of State for War presented two Russian cannon captured at the battle of Sebastopol to the town on 22nd June 1857. They were fired on the opening of the Corporation Park in June 1857 to remind the people of the British victories. A carriage drive was constructed to the battery by unemployed operatives during the cotton famine in 1863-4. Two German guns from the Great War were later added.
The occasion of special significance in Blackburn was the opening of the park, which drew a capacity crowd of 50,000. At the time, despite its population booming with its growth as a cotton town, Blackburn had barely that many residents.
The official opening of the park itself was in October, 1857. Although its open spaces were a huge attraction, the particular lure was enough to also entice 15,000 visitors from out of town. The highlight was the cannons firing. On the park opening day there was music, with a band heading the civic procession from the Town Hall to the platform erected in the park for the opening ceremony. This also celebrated something of a bargain land deal on the part of Blackburn Corporation six years before the new park was opened.
The park's site of some 50 acres had been bought for 3,257 pounds from Lord of the Manor Joseph Feilden. This was done with the stake money of 4,700 pounds that the town had secured from the sale in 1845 of land at the Town's Moor, off Bolton Road, for the construction of the Bolton and East Lancashire Railway's new station.
So the night-time firework display that followed the park's opening was obviously an affordable extravagance. But the bangs that the crowd wanted to hear most of all were those from the firing of the two 24-pounder Russian guns that had been presented the previous June to Blackburn by war minister Lord Panmure. This followed their recovery from Sebastopol after the Crimean War which had ended 12 months earlier.
The guns were sited high up at the top of the park, at a spot still known as The Cannons. "Thousands of people entered the borough from the neighbouring towns to witness the ceremony, for the expected firing of the recently-acquired Russian guns had caught the public imagination," reported the Northern Daily Telegraph in a feature on the park's 70th-anniversary in 1927.
And the Illustrated Times' eye-witness on the actual day wrote: "Not only were the Sebastopol guns, presented by Lord Panmure to the borough, fired in rapid succession, but some miniature pieces of ordnance contributed to do honour to the occasion, and to alarm most of the ladies present."
The next time the guns roared, they drowned an alderman's speech of thanks to the Mayor, William Pilkington, for the four fountains he had donated to the park. More speeches, more trumpet blares and more cannon blasts followed before the VIPs returned to the Town Hall for a feast while the day closed with the fireworks display at which, the Illustrated's report added, "almost everyone belonging to Blackburn was present."
Left - the entrance to Corporation Park.
The opening celebrations of Corporation Park was not the only time the cannons were fired however. Many will have heard about the suffragettes waking up the whole of Blackburn one Sunday morning in 1914 when they fired a Crimean War cannon at the top of Corporation Park!
The pair of 24lb cannons, donated to the town on the express orders of Queen Victoria, had roared and thundered when the park was opened soon after the Crimean War of 1853-56. There were fireworks, rockets which launched cascades of coloured fire, and illuminated set pieces.
In the early 20th century it was noted that the cannons hadn't been fired since the 1850s. So the women campaigners must have spent a lot of time cleaning out one of the heavy barrels which had become choked with stones, gravel and earth over nearly 60 years. The suffragettes then packed in about one-and-a-half pounds of explosive, lit the charge and, presumably, ran for cover before they were blown to bits. Houses around the park were reported to have been shaken by the blast and the police and fire departments were inundated with people wanting to know what was going on. Many people thought there must have been an explosion at Addison Street Gasworks. People who were in the park saw a flash of light and reckoned it was a lightning bolt.
The suffragettes left behind a brown paper parcel with a large piece of calico cloth inside. Written in blue pencil were the words: 'Wake up, Blackburn!' Hunger-striking suffragettes were sent home to regain their strength, before being rearrested and thrown back into prison. Also in the package was a copy of the newspaper The Suffragette and a book by Christabel Pankhurst, who was Emmeline's daughter.
The women's suffrage movement fizzled out with the start of the Great War. Early in 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed, enfranchising women over the age of 30 who met minimum property qualifications. More than eight million women gained the vote. In November that year, the Eligibility of Women Act was passed, allowing women to be elected into Parliament and the Representation of the People Act 1928 extended the franchise to all women over the age of 21. Women finally got the vote on the same terms as men.
It's surprising how many Blackburn folk would like to believe the guns are still in position at the top of the park on Revidge. Unfortuntely they were taken for scrap in the Second World War, after their wooden carriages had rotted away, along with a tank in Queen's Park. Back in the 1930s it was popular for children to climb on the cannons straddling the cannon at the tip to admire the view. Alas no more. The battlements are still there and are now home to a viewing platform.
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