AN author is set to share the life and times of her Irish Blackburn family - including the town’s first-ever Victoria Cross winner.

Clare Harper has been researching the Pitts, through her great-grandmother Elizabeth, from the 1830s onwards.

Her great-gran’s first cousin was James Pitts, who was given the VC for a heroic stand at the Battle of Caesar’s Camp during the Boer War.

Last year she published The Catechism of the Pitts - A Hundred Years of an Irish Family in Blackburn.

Next week she will be discussing her findings at Blackburn Library.

Pitts’ memorial stone lies outside Blackburn Town Hall alongside fellow VC recipients from the borough.

But when Clare began to delve into the archives she discovered James was not the only one of her descendants to see military service.

Great-grandfather Hubert Blakelidge served in the Second Boer War and at Diyatalawa prisoner of war camp in Sri Lanka with the King’s Royal Rifles as a teenager, guarding Boer inmates.

Clare said: “The family story about Jimmy’s gallant stand at Caesar’s Camp involved the propping up of corpses to deceive the Boers, a tale I later realised borrowed heavily from Beau Geste. But perhaps there was some truth in this story?”

Her research took her to countless Lancashire publications through the British Newspaper Archive, where she say she unearthed “tantalising hints of family secrets and scandals”.

Clare was born in Ghana but her parents had strong Blackburn roots, growing up on the same street, with her father John Brian Harper attending Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and mother Patricia a student at Notre Dame Convent Grammar.

The book is split broadly into three sections - the first centres on Dickensian Blackburn and takes in the cotton riots of 1878.

For the second part, Clare details James Pitts’ experiences at both the Boer War battles of Elandslaagte and Caesar’s Camp, through to his homecoming and marriage.

The book rounds off with how the family faced the First World War and then became fragmented by migration. She also has a website explaining the book’s genesis.

Free tickets are available for Clare’s talk, which takes place on Thursday, May 19, from 2pm, by emailing