A MUSEUM heralded as a vital part of Blackburn's heritage is to close so council bosses can save just £23,000 a year.

The move, just four years after councillors re-launched the Lewis Textile Museum in a blaze of publicity, has been attacked as a "sad day for the town."

But Blackburn with Darwen Council leader Coun Kate Hollern said the closure was a sign of changing times and added: "We don't have a hangman anymore either!"

The museum has existed since 1936 after it was created by industrialist Thomas Lewis, who wanted to provide a lasting legacy to the cotton industry which helped shape modern-day Blackburn.

He donated the building and contents to the borough.

But the council plans to shut it as early as next month as part of a £9million efficiency drive.' Among the exhibits at the Exchange Street venue are a variety of cloth and hand looms dating back to the 1730s, ladies clogs from the 19th and 20th Century and interactive displays about life and living conditions during the industrial revolution.

Plans to move parts of the exhibition to the town's main museum around the corner are now being drawn up.

But the plan, part of the ruling Labour group's budget, was heavily criticised today.

Blackburn with Darwen Council prompted outrage when it announced plans to shut the museum in 1998, and agreed a compromise of making it available to school parties.

In 2002, it re-opened fully in what Coun Hollern, then in charge of leisure, described as a move to improve the variety of facilities for people of the borough.' Around 6,000 people a year have visited since. Civic Society leaders said that was a "reasonable" number, but council bosses say the museum is anunderused resource, despite being free to enter.

Coun Hollern told detractors: "If there is a cheaper way of providing something, we have to do it.

"Times change and those who criticise have to accept that. We don't have a hangman anymore either, because it's not something we do.

"Nor do we employ a gas lighter-upper because we don't need him to light up our street lamps anymore. We can't stay in the past.

"I don't believe there will be any loss of service or facility.

"We aren't selling the Lewis building, but we will lease it out. Councils have to continually find more cost-efficent ways of running.

"It will continue to be an asset to the borough, as it was intended to be when it was given to us as a gift."

Tory leader Council Colin Rigby said: "It is a classic case of the council putting up tax and reducing services.

"It does not send a very good message to people that not even the council is preserving history."

Lib Dem leader Coun Paul Browne said: "They never told us they were going to open it again, and now they're shutting it on the quiet.

"It's a disgrace that the history of the town's industry now does't deserve its own museum according to the Labour lot.

"That building was a gift to the borough as were the exhibitions. They should remain that way. They weren't given to us to make money from."

Simon Jones, NUT executive member of the NUT Lancashire and secretary of Blackburn and Darwen branch, said: "Museums are extremely important educationally and bring our historical past to life and the fact they are closing the museum with such direct links to our heritage is a sad day for the borough."

Blackburn Civic Society chairman Richard Prest said: "It is a shame at the way museum services are cut whenever budgets are squeezed.

"To close something which is a vital part of the town's heritage is to me very short sighted."

The nearest dedicated textile museum in the area is in Helmshore.