Within sight of Pendle Hill and easy reach of the Ribble Valley, Great Harwood has always been just off the main road. Lying over the hill to the south of the Ribble Valley and a mile to the north of The Leeds - Liverpool Canal the early east-west trade routes passed it by. A railway branch line did eventually reach the town but that has long since vanished. Even the major roads connecting Blackburn, Accrington and Burnley to the south with the Ribble Valley somehow conspired to pass the town. Today the building of The M65 means it has never been easier to visit Great Harwood. Although still off the main roads it is only a matter of five minutes from the Blackburn East or Accrington junctions of M65 to the centre of Great Harwood.
History of Great Harwood.....by Ian Fairclough et al
Evidence of prehistoric man in Gt. Harwood was uncovered in 1967 when a Bronze Age axe was dug up in the Greenhill area of the town so it is probable that the area has been hunted, if not farmed, for thousands of years. At Colne, about 10 miles to the north east, Stone, Bronze and Iron Age remains have been found and only 2-3 miles from Gt. Harwood town centre is the Iron Age, Planes Wood, promontory fort at Portfield where a hoard of gold and bronze was uncovered.The Roman occupation saw the main lines of communication missing the area as has happened before and since.
At the time of The Norman conquest, Great Harwood was an area of moor, marsh, clearings and cultivated land with many springs and small streams running down the hillside and it was near these streams that the first farms were built. The area formed part of the holdings of the de Lacy family but in 1177 was bequeathed to Richard de Fitton. Subsequently the holding was split and passed, through marriage, to the Hesketh and Nowell families. The Heskeths owned two thirds of the town, the Upper Town, and the manor house at Martholme, the Nowells owned the Lower Town. Great Harwood remained in the hands of these two families for nearly five hundred years.
In 1338, for services in Scotland, King Edward III granted a charter for a Market and Fair to Adam Nowell, Lord of the Manor of Netherton, Great Harwood. Over the years clusters of houses were built in the town centre, Hindle Fold, Lower Fold, Cliffe, Stopes, Butts, Lidgett and Whalley Banks. Families had "town fields" in both the Upper and Lower town, grazing rights on Harwood moor and enough wood for everday needs but the Heskeths and Nowells owned all wood and minerals, all corn had to be ground at their mills and "Suit and Service" had to be given at the Manor court of the Heskeths. Often the crops would fail to ripen, or just fail, and families had to turn more and more to their handloom weaving.
As a self contained and largely self sufficient community the growth of the township was limited by the number of people it could support, in 1660 there were 213 taypayers. In 1762 the Heskeths and Nowells were given the right to enclose the moor. New farms were built which prospered untill the building of the Dean reservoir in 1872 which eventually led to farming in the catchment area being banned because of the fouling of the land.
No land was sold in Great Harwood until 1770 when Alexander Nowell was getting into financial difficulties. When he died two years later the Lower Town was put up for sale. Some farms were bought by local people but the majority were bought by James Lomax of Clayton Hall, Clayton-le-Moors. He owned coal mines in Clayton and leased land off the Heskeths for the same purpose. In 1819 Sir Thomas Hesketh sold the Upper Town to Richard Grimshaw Lomax.
The changes taking place in the cotton industry during the first half of the 18th century meant distressing times for Great Harwood handloom weavers. 1826 was a particularly bad year with Relief Registers revealing that of 250 families needing help 230 families were handloom weavers; nearly two thirds of the householders.
Bank Mill, Church Street, was the first power
mill built in the town in 1844/5 taking advantage of local coal and the water of
Nap Brook. Over the next two decades another ten mills were built. A spur to
renewed building and a further boost to the towns prosperity came in 1877 with
the arrival, a little late, of the railway and by 1919 a total of twenty two
textile mills had been erected. In 1925 the Lomax family sold, by auction, the
Clayton Hall Estate and there is now no Lord of the Manor the land being owned
by various people.