If you’ve ever visited York, there’s a good chance that the tale of the city boasting 365 pubs will be familiar, with a different pub supposedly for each day of the year.

However, back in 1893 Blackburn was able to beat that record hands down, with a survey ordered by magistrates in that year confirming that there were no less than 495 licensed houses.

There is a full list of these in the late George Miller’s book, “Blackburn’s Old Inns” (1993) which was originally published by the former Blackburn Times newspaper in 1970 as “Old Inns and Coaching Houses with other vanished scenes of Blackburn”.

The book is long out of print, but copies can often be found in the usual second-hand book outlets. Included is a full list of the 495 licensed houses and this was a mix of Beer houses and Public (free) houses, the difference being that the former could only sell beer, whereas the latter could sell both beer and spirits. The list makes an interesting read and names a small number of pubs where pints are still pulled right up to the present day – there are seven (from the 1893 list) remaining open in the town centre. Can you guess which ones these are? I’ve included the answers at the end of the article. It’s probably fair to say that George Miller’s book is to local pub historians what the Bradshaw’s Handbook is to Michael Portillo, in his popular Railway Journeys series.

It was estimated by Miller that there was a drinking establishment for every 242 inhabitants within the Borough of Blackburn and that most of the sites were less than a hundred yards apart. That would have been some pub crawl! It’s therefore perhaps unsurprising that a London newspaper in 1830 had described Blackburn, as a town, as “the beeriest in the country” and a year later in 1831, the Blackburn Temperance Society was founded and grew rapidly with a different offering of popular live entertainment - minus the alcohol.

The most substantial of the pubs and hotels could understandably be found in the town centre, although sadly the majority of these were lost in the 1950’s and 1960’s during a period of considerable redevelopment. The landscape for the old coaching inns had started to change as early as 1847 when the new railway from Bolton first reached Blackburn and Miller described this as “the end of the coaching era.”

The first of these pubs featured is the Golden Lion which was located on Church Street and established around 1825. Miller reports that the low-lying location of the Golden Lion resulted in it being regularly flooded by the River Blakewater.

Despite that, it “was famous for its excellent home-brewed [ale] and its cellars were stocked with many a hogshead of the best.” Miller described how the pub suffered a particularly serious flood in 1901 when the Landlord of the time, a Mr Alec Forbes, who was in charge of the pub between 1897 and 1925, had the doubtful pleasure of seeing his beer barrels floating down Church Street after the cellar was totally submerged. The pub was closed in June 1958 and demolished shortly afterwards. The new market, around the point of Butler’s Café, is now located where the pub once stood.

The imposing White Bull Hotel on the corner of Railway Road and Church Street thankfully remains to this day, but has not been a public house since 2009 when it was converted into a branch of Ladbrokes. It finished its days as a large open plan bar on the town centre drinking circuit. There was an early mention of the White Bull in a 1739 map of Blackburn and the premises were subsequently rebuilt in 1852. An old advert in Miller’s book promotes the services offered, including hotel and restaurant facilities and a choice of wines and cigars. The feature bulls’ heads located above the three original entrance doors remain in place and many readers will probably remember the eyes of each bull previously being lit up with red lightbulbs.

The Bay Horse on the corner of Salford and Water Street was opened in 1763 and rebuilt in 1884, after its location was moved due to the widening of the old medieval bridge across the river. It did not see out its centenary, being demolished in 1963 as the town centre was redeveloped. It was an attractive building with a real presence and Miller described it as “being the focal point of Blackburn’s social activities for many years.” The original inn was also used by the Salford Bridge Committee, the forerunner to the first town council in 1851. Members of the committee would retire to the Council room in the building, once business for the day was concluded. The Bay Horse was the scene of popular protests during the election riots of 1835 and parliamentary records from the time reference a petition signed by 3,000 Blackburn residents complaining of unacceptable practices that had taken place at the elections, including intimidation. The side of the new Bus Station at the end of Church Street is approximately where the pub once stood.

Standing close to the Bay Horse on the corner of Salford and Penny Street was the Lord Nelson pub which was best known in later years for its colourful flashing OBJ sign, a reference to its owner Duttons Brewery’s Oh Be Joyful traditional ale. Like the illuminated red bulls’ eyes on the White Bull, the OBJ sign will still I’m sure be memorable to many readers. This prominent pub was first opened in 1807 and rebuilt in the 1840’s. It was demolished in the 1960’s around the same time as the Bay Horse, a period when the town centre went through dramatic change and modernisation.

Finally, the Old Bull Inn, which was a substantial inn and hotel, had been a feature of the corner of Church Street and Darwen Street since 1715. The original building was demolished in 1847 and rebuilt. It reopened in 1859 but closed in 1938, the year before the Second World War broke out. A new road scheme had been proposed in 1937 which required the demolition of the building. Ironically, it was an earlier town improvement road scheme that had seen the previous building razed to the ground. This road scheme was cancelled due to the war, so the building became the property of Blackburn Corporation and had a temporary reprieve until it was finally demolished in 1950. Its former location close to the cathedral was then landscaped and remains so today. Miller described the Old Bull as a “fine old inn whose final obliteration was much deplored”. Over the years, the Old Bull also saw use as a Court House and later a cotton merchants exchange.

I have focussed on some of the larger old historical pubs in Blackburn town centre and readers will no doubt have fond memories of many more pubs. I would also like to acknowledge the excellent online Cotton Town resource of Blackburn Library which I would recommend to anyone interested in the history of the town. And a special mention to my good friend Richey Pull of Closed Pubs of Blackburn Facebook group, who is a fount of knowledge on local pub history.

For those of you wondering which seven pubs in the 1893 list remain open in the town centre, the answer is as follows. The Adelphi Hotel on Railway Road, the Merchants (now The Vic) on Darwen Street, The Sun on Astley Gate, The Lower Sun (now Sam’s Bar) on Church Street, the Dun Horse on Market Street Lane, the Old Bank Hotel (now Bar Ibiza) on Mincing Lane and The Sir Charles Napier on Limbrick (although the original building was demolished in 1968 and the pub moved to the old YMCA building which was immediately next door).