Barbara Riding remembers a forgotten part of Blackburn's history

IMAGINE if you had lived on Revidge Road in Blackburn at the end of the 19th century.

One of Blackburn’s local historians, JG Shaw, wrote in his article Blackburn Waterworks. “the taps in the Corporation Park Hotel and the little toffy shops at the top of the Park have to be placed near the floor of the kitchen or in the cellars, and the flow of water is very slow indeed.”

A reservoir had been constructed at the top of the Corporation Park, which received its water from Guide by means of a pumping station at Mile End. However, 70 houses were in the process of being built on Revidge Road, meaning the water supply would be totally inadequate.

James Varley, of Jas.Varley and Son, marble merchants of St Peter Street, owned some high land further along Revidge Road, overlooking the park. Blackburn’s water engineer suggested asking him to sell 250 square yards of his land so that an iron tank, capable of holding 50,000 gallons of water, could be constructed. He agreed for the price of £50.

By the end of of 1897 a large metal tank was built on the land for which the occupants of the new houses must have breathed a sigh of relief.

The water engineer suggested that it could serve a dual purpose, being also a viewing platform for the public. An iron staircase was constructed up the side of the tank and iron railings round the top for safety. A round bronze plaque was placed in the centre on a small, raised metal table, inscribed with directions and distances and viewpoints that could be seen.

The tank was erected by the firm of Ashton, Frost & Co. Ltd.

In 1940, the children in Standard IV at St Silas’s School learned of a treat that they were going to have. Our teacher, Mr Brown was going to take us to the top of the park to visit the tank. It was exciting. We all knew what a tank was like, we had seen photos of them in the newspaper. Would we be able to climb on it and sit in it and perhaps have a ride?

What a disappointment. It was only an enormous metal platform!

As the years went by we soon learned to appreciate it and the view we had of our town. In one direction we knew where Blackpool and Lytham was, in another, Clitheroe and Pendle Hill or Belthorn and Darwen Tower. It was a favourite place for weekend walks, for showing visitors, and for courting.

The Blackburn novelist Dorothy Whipple fondly remembers the tank in her autobiography, The Other Day. In 1936 she wrote, “In those days people made family excursions in the evening to the top of the tank, an unlovely reservoir, where you could look down on the town with its smoking mill chimneys, and on the other hand 30 miles of fields and woods rolling without interruption to the sea. On a clear day Blackpool Tower showed like a skeleton in the sky, with the big wheel, a little O beside it. Nowadays people go to the sea in cars and motorcycle combinations instead. We had to be content with the view from the tank.”

It was still an unlovely reservoir 60 years later. It hadn’t been used as a reservoir since 1978. The steps had been taken down on safety grounds. There was graffiti all over it and the grass had not been kept trimmed. Even so Blackburn Civic Society thought it worthy enough to receive one of their blue plaques.

North West Water owned the tank but after negotiations with Blackburn Council nobody could agree on the cost for its repair and maintenance, and it was demolished in 2000. So there was nowhere to put the plaque, so I imagine it is in the Museum.

In Scotland near Balmoral lives a lady called Rosemary Nonkin. Her family originally lived in Blackburn and her grandfather, Thomas Frost was one of the a engineers whose company constructed the tank.

When she heard about its demise she got int touch with Blackburn Regeneration Department, saying she thought there should be some memorial for the tank and her grandfather’s engineering company.

As a result, Nick Riley of Groundwork Contract Services designed a Toposcope as a memorial. It is a wall built round an old whisky barrel, with a metal plaque fixed to the top, showing the distances to places as the old plaque used to do.

The inscription round the rim reads: “The Tank on Revidge, Blackburn, a 50,000 gallon water tank was built here at Hardman’s Gap 1897, by Thomas Frost to supply water to the highest houses in Blackburn. For over a century it provided a platform for all to view the panorama from the Pennines to the sea. The tank is gone, the view remains”.

In August 2010 Rosemary, came to Blackburn to see the new memorial and to enjoy the view, although now partly obscured by trees that so many Blackburn folk enjoyed from the tank.