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Tourist guide to Darwen
Darwen should never be regarded as an off-shoot of Blackburn because it deserves to have a place in history on its own account.
It began as a farming and quarrying village until the start of the Industrial Revolution. Firstly it produced coal, bleach and fabrics and later cotton and paper.
The town is dominated by the impressive Jubilee Tower which resembles a space shuttle ready for take-off.
Situated to the west of the town on a hill standing 1,225 feet (373 metres), the 85 foot (26 metre) tower was completed in 1898 paid for by public subscription.
The tower is a dual monument celebrating free access for all who enjoy fresh air in their lungs and also as a tribute to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, dating to 1897.
These days we have freedom to roam but the landowner in Victorian times had a grouse moor above the town and kept the local working folk, who only wanted some fresh air, well away.
The people won a hard-fought court case in 1898 and money came pouring in to celebrate the fact.
What a boon it must have been for hardworking Darreners to climb up from their dusty mills to the tower and the heathery moorland and enjoy the song of birds instead of the clatter of looms.
Another symbol of how hard the textile workers laboured is the magnificent India Mill chimney, one of the most famous in the whole of Lancashire, which can be seen at its most impressive from the viewing gallery of the tower.
The old name for chimneys was 'smoke pokes'. India Mill's 800-foot high chimney was built to resemble the campanile (bell tower) of St Mark's Square in Venice but its cotton exports to India funded the 300 foot high structure built in 1867.
These days the mill, like most others in Lancashire, has closed, but is used by several light industries and the chimney is safe for the moment.
All the bricks for the mill and its chimney were made locally and provided work for a great many people at the time.
Darwen celebrates its textile history all along its main street by having displays of old textile machinery often brightly painted and well labelled. This functions as an open air museum.
The old market hall is a joy to shop in and opposite this are small marked walks, one of which takes to Sunnyhurst Woods. This is a marvellous walk along the streamside and up to Darwen Tower.
The visitors' centre is sited in the old gamekeeper’s cottage dating back to Victorian times when Darwen Moor was a fiercely protected grouse moor. The kiosk which provides excellent meals (you can even celebrate a marriage there) was opened in 1912 to celebrate the coronation of George V.
In 1931 the town played host to the Indian leader Gandhi, who was attending a conference of Commonwealth heads in London.
India was then threatening to reduce its imports of cotton and develop its own textile industry.
Gandhi came to Darwen to see the mills in action as they produced cotton goods which were exported to India.
Darwen is the place to enjoy walking and in 2005 the Friends of the small but attractive Whitehall Park off the Bolton Road restored this treasure.
Another glorious walk full of fauna and flora is the 85-acre (34 hectare) Sunnyhurst Park and Woodland.
The wood was also purchased for the people of Darwen by public subscription in 1902 to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII.
The plants around the woodland area were made famous in 1980 when David Bellamy identified some 96 species.
Darwen's own skilful botanist Peter Jepson has produced an excellent booklet about the flowers and was also instrumental in the design of a fern garden close to the Information Centre, which was once a gamekeeper's cottage.
Darwen has a fine reputation for developing parks.
At Bold Venture, for example, a long-disused quarry was landscaped to produce wooded areas, open spaces plus a lake and fountains.
We all need space to stroll and clean air to breathe but such novelties must have been even more essential when coal fires and factories were belching out smoke and mills were hot and dusty.
Darwen has done well to balance the old and the new and the market hall is a perfect example of this.
Where else would it be possible to buy tripe and onions and vindaloo curry?
The town at this time is literally a real hot spot, but the local fish and chip shops are worth a special journey to sample.
Do you agree or disagree with Ron Freethy's guide? Where do you think tourists should visit in Darwen? Add your comments below.