High above the Gisburn to Barrowford road a simple castellated tower dominates the skyline. It was built by Jonathan Stansfield in the late 19th century, but no-one is quite sure why, although there are of course the stories…
A modern plaque on the tower records that it was built in 1890, and it first makes an appearance, as the ‘Stansfield Tower’, on the Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1891-92. Stansfield is said to have built it so he could see Blackpool tower under erection, or alternatively to give a view into the Ribble Valley. Working without plans, he was apparently gravely disappointed when he found his tower was not high enough to see far at all, for the view was blocked by the mighty mass of Pendle Hill.
Another theory has it that it was built as an observatory for his son William, who was ‘a great student of astronomy’. Or was it a tribute to Stansfield’s first love who jilted him? A final no-nonsense answer is supposed to have come from Stansfield himself: ‘I have never drank or smoked in my life so I am taking this as my hobby.’
One of Stansfield’s contemporaries, the Rev. Gough, composed some lines on the tower that were published in Jesse Blakey’s Annals of Barrowford in 1929. The poem begins:
Friend Stansfield pleased his fancies
With Blacko Tower so high,
That draws admiring glances
From every passer-by.
E’en if no other token
His lasting fame secures,
His name will be outspoken
Long as that tower endures.
Though, like the men of bible,
Whose tower came to a stand,
He found himself unable
To finish all he planned;
More grace to him was given
Than to have had the will
To build right up to heaven
From Blacko’s stately hill.
Jonathan Stansfield was a ‘manufacturer and grocer’ according to the 1871 census return, and lived with his wife, children and a boarder in Back David Street in nearby Barrowford, an ordinary street of terraced houses. Did he really save enough money to build a tower just by abstaining from cigarettes and alcohol? The poem suggests that Stansfield was unable to complete the tower, and legend has it that the building project foundered when he went bankrupt. But Stansfield went bankrupt owing £2,300 to his creditors in 1873, and he didn’t die until 1894. So did he bounce back with great success in the last twenty years of his life, enabling the construction of the tower? The 1890 Ordnance Survey map shows ‘Stansfield House’ close to the tower – was this his new home and the tower an eye-catcher in his garden? This very prominent tower keeps some of its history well hidden.
By 1933 the tower was described as ‘somewhat decrepit’ and in 1948 ‘an enterprise for the restoration of Blacko Tower’, as it was now known, was launched by Mr Frank Barritt of Colne. Parts of the tower had collapsed, only one of the castellations remained intact, and the floor of the viewing platform had rotted away. Local craftsmen gave their time, and with the help of the Scouts the tower was renovated. A plaque was erected which reads:
It’s not clear if the original tower also carried the building date and this biblical reference, or if it was added during the restoration (Barritt was active in the Methodist church). The text it refers to reads:
Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain,
Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.
A close look at the Ordnance Survey map shows that when first constructed the tower was in Yorkshire (but only just), although the settlement of Blacko was in Lancashire. The county boundary changes of 1974 ensured it was united with the village in the county of the Red Rose.
The tower is clearly visible from the road and from public footpaths, but stands on private land and visitors are not welcome. The folly is as inaccessible as its full history, but it remains a dramatic eye-catcher from miles round.
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