THE Second World War had been won, but our world was drab and colourless. What was needed was a vision of a brighter and more exciting future. Historian Alan Roberts writes about what Barlick did to brighten things up.



A Festival of Britain was planned with its centrepiece located on the south bank of the Thames on the opposite side to the Houses of Parliament. The festival opened in 1951 on a twenty-seven-acre site and was an instant success. Eight and a half million people visited the exhibition, around one in six of the population at the time. Visitors thrilled to the 300-foot-tall Skylon, shaped like an elongated and super-thin weavers’ shuttle. It was a triumph of engineering and like the British economy at the time appeared to have ‘no visible means of support’. The Dome of Discovery was shaped like a massive flying saucer. It looked like the aliens had already landed, but this was ten years before the first man in space. The future it seemed had already arrived.

The festival concentrated on Britain and not the rest of the world. Separate events were held throughout the country. There was an exhibition on industrial power in Glasgow and one on agriculture in Belfast. A floating exhibition in a converted aircraft carrier toured various places around our coast while thousands of towns and villages held their own celebrations.

Just one building was intended to last and that was the Royal Festival Hall. The remaining buildings and structures were demolished shortly afterwards: there were few traces that a major festival had actually taken place except in Barnoldswick.

A programme of events for the festival year was located in the archives of the Barnoldswick History Society. The opening event was a cricket match in Victory Park where a Barnoldswick XI would take on a West Indies XI. The match promised to be one of the greatest sporting events in the area. The West Indies team might include the three Ws: Frank Worrell who later captained the West Indies and two prolific batsmen Clyde Walcott, arguably the best batsman in the world in the mid-1950s and Everton Weekes familiar to many as a test-match commentator. All three were later knighted for their services to cricket. The Barnoldswick XI contained a core of players from the town with invited guests from quite a wide area.

The Craven Herald reported that the match was much closer than many had imagined. Worrell, one of the stars of the West Indies side from the previous summer, was out second ball without scoring. Walcott, a well-built man proceeded to play some delightful shots all round the wicket. ‘Every shot was on the carpet. The power of his wrists and the way he used his feet was really grand to watch.’ The Barnoldswick band played before the match and during the interval. They were without their euphonium during the break: it had been hit by the ball following a mighty four from Walcott. The crowd was over three thousand.

At the Majestic Ballroom on Albert Road there was a free road safety exhibition organised by the West Riding Constabulary. The town was still in Yorkshire at the time. A road safety field day held at the modern school featured the famous Jotunheim Alsatian Dog Display billed as ‘Britain’s finest trained Alsatians’. Who could resist?

The Irwell Springs Band from Bacup was the first band to perform at Letcliffe Park in a series of concerts held that summer. It proudly announced that it had won the prestigious 1000-guineas Crystal Palace trophy three times, but forgot to say the last time had been almost forty years earlier.

The Youth Drama Festival was also held at the modern school. Opened less than ten years earlier the town was justifiably proud of its new school. Three different theatre groups each presented a one-act play. There was ‘Sanctuary’ from the Methodist Youth Group followed by two comedies ‘Dear Departed’ and ‘Ali, the Cobbler’.

Another sporting highlight was a boxing tournament. Boxers would include Ronnie Clayton billed as the Featherweight Champion of Great Britain and Barnoldswick’s own heavyweight Frank Bell. Standing at 6’ 4” tall, Bell did not disappoint his home crowd and defeated Jeff Kloeck on points after eight three-minute rounds. One of Bell’s claims to fame was that earlier that year he had become the first person to knock out legendary Welsh boxer Tommy Farr, a feat which the reigning world heavyweight champion Joe Louis had failed to do in New York in 1937.

The celebrations were brought to a close with a Civic Ball in the Majestic with dancing to Billy Butler’s Famous Orchestra.

Like many other communities Barnoldswick did make its own small contribution to the Festival of Britain. The King himself hoped that every family in all parts of the country would share in the great celebrations. Millions of people did visit the main site in London, but there was a determined effort that this should be a Festival for Britain, and not just for London and the South-East and yes, there is a lesson to be learnt there.

Barnoldswick History Society meets on the last Thursday of the month commencing in September.