Friday, 13 February 2015

My Memories of Haslingden's Early Asian Settlers

The house here in the foreground was their first ever settlement in Haslingden which was on Lower Lane just below Hud Rake (another photo added below)

I can remember the first Asian settlers arriving in Haslingden, I was only about 10 years old it would have been perhaps 1958 approx when four gentlemen who hailed from Pakistan arrived and they were very friendly and enquiring as to vacant properties in the nearby areas. Thinking back it seemed strange to us as youngsters seeing these guys with their unusual looking furry hats, what I believe may have been called "karakul" hats.  They also showed us addresses written on notepaper of properties they wished to view and asked for our help to try and locate them.  I can also remember one of the guys had a little tin of really small nuts which he kept on nibbling at and in turn kept offering them to us.  

The very first house I remember them owning was on Lower Lane (see photo).  I also remember them shortly afterwards also purchasing the old Red Lion pub on Blackburn Road (See photos below) - (this would probably have been around the early to mid – sixties and the pub had been shut down for several years prior to their purchase). More settlers arrived in the town with the acquisition of the pub premises.

Before long those Asian settlers had opened up Haslingden’s first halal meat and grocery shop just further on from the old Pub on Blackburn Road and next door to Harold Alderson’s Newsagents shop and just before you reach Paradise Terrace (Check out first photo below).  I also remember clearly before they had opened their Halal shop they would come down at weekends to Harry Wilkinson's hen pens down across the railway from Carr Hall Street and would purchase from him his none laying hens which had not to be killed but sold to them live.  And you would see them regularly carrying old proven bags which would occasionally flutter with the contents of these live hens. 

The end building on the right was the
first "Mosque" and called the
Islamic Centre
Many years later "The Islamic Centre" mosque was opened up on Blackburn Road within what was the old William Henry Shaw (Coal Merchants) office which was just at the opening at the bottom of Spring Lane and opposite "Station Steps" or almost next to the Victoria Pub (or later called the Magnet or Jesters or these days the La'veranda restaurant). I am sure that this was the very first dedicated mosque building within Haslingden.

That period of history there was a wealth of local jobs in the nearby mills and you could literally walk out of one job one minute and have another job in another mill thirty minutes later.  Employment was nothing like the situation it is today. There were far more jobs than there were people to fill them.
Those early settlers got jobs in the local factories at Thomas Warburton's, also J.H. Birtwistle's, but chiefly at the Vine Fabric Company down at Vine Mill at the bottom of Station Road where they manufactured “Tufted” textiles like bedspreads etc.

This photograph taken from St. James shows to the bottom right hand corner part of the Red Lion Hotel and then if you move further along to your left and the gable end shop with the placard on the wall is where the first "Halal and Greengrocer" shop was.  Sadly all these properties have been demolished.

This photo is courtesy of Brian Smith which Jackie (Haslingden Roots) has kindly sent in shows more of the Red Lion Pub.

Email received  from Dorothy Birtwistle (nee Hargreaves) on 3rd March 2015

I remember the first Asians arriving.  I was teaching at the time at St. James School and our staff room overlooked the Red Lion pub which became the home for many of them. They worked shift work and as one group sett off for work, then another group was seen to be returning from work. I used to see some of them in the Midland Bank sending money home to their families as at first only the men came over.

Information received from Sandra Smith on 3rd March 2015

I remember Anna Mia, who used to go in the Savoy (downstairs). Always playing cards with the lads.
  I remember he was a conductor on the Haslingden buses at I would guess around the 1964 time.  The last time I saw him was in the late 1980s when he owned a Indian Restaurant at Clayton le Moors.

Information from Bob Frith on 3rd March 2015

Sandra Smith like to know that Mr Miah (actually Aslom Miah) is still living in the Valley on New Hall Hey in Rawtenstall, in the same house has lived in throughout his life in England. He is very alert and well, and remains active in supporting his community. I have interviewed him a couple of times about his life, and the experiences he had when he first came to Lancashire from Bangladesh. What is more he has just written a book about these times and all of the lessons he feels that he has learned during his life. It’s an interesting read.

Another interesting snippett from Joyce Thorne (nee Adams) on 8th March 2015

Joyce Thorne (nee Adams) remembers from being a child around the 1959 period when she lived on Spring Lane.  That they used to go to the early asian settlers on Lower Lane and take a couple of cigarettes with them (probably donated either with knowledge or maybe not by their parents), and also they had to take some brown paper with them, and they would make for them large "kites" to fly on a timber frame. She says they were the best kites ever.

Email sent in on 12th March 2015 from Michael and Francis Murray
My family lived in the house with the green door, number 9 lower lane.  We lived there until 1958, when we moved into a council house on cedar avenue

Ilyas Khan

A lovely snippet sent through from Ilyas Khan to our Facebook Haslingden Old and New Page on 1st December 2015

Dear Bryan,  Thank you for a typically thoughtful and thought provoking blog post.  This was especially moving for me, for many many reasons.  I have spent a lot of time (and many nights) in both the first two houses in that wonderfully evocative photograph.  The first house was bought by a close family friend Umar Gul.  He and his wife lived there from the mid 1960's through to about 1972 or 1973 when they moved initially to Rawtenstall and then to Store Street.  They were very very close friends, more or less family, and the widow of Mr. Gul still lives in Store Street, and all her children are grown up and have done incredibly well.  The second house along was bought by my maternal uncle, Amin Bhatti, who lived there with his young family for a comparatively short time from about 1971 to about 1974 when they moved to Lancaster.  I spent more nights than I can recall in that house.  I have a great many memories of many of the early settlers.  My own grandparents were amongst the earliest, having arrived in the early 1930's.  I could go on and on, but wish to thank you for this wonderful gift of the blog and the private website.  The little boy who ran up the road from Hartley Street to his uncle is now in his 50's and I still make sure I come up to Hassy whenever I am back in Lancashire.  I attach a very recent photo of myself for those of you on this site who might remember an earlier and younger incarnation smile emoticon. 

Email and painting kindly received from Heather Holden who lived closeby on Hud Rake

Saw your "My Memories of Haslingden's Early Asian Settler's" this morning and was thrilled to see the house on Lower Lane, which I remember well.  We lived in the row behind (the part of Hud Rake which you can see in your second picture of the house), so I often passed it.  The house became beautiful and exotic looking when they moved in. Yes I agree, around 1958-1959.  I did a sketch of it at the time, then this painting.  This was from when they first came to live here. Was your photo, where the house looks whitewashed, from before or after? Very interesting article.
Heather Holden.

Painting by Heather Holden of Pakistani early settlers house on Lower Lane (click over painting to enlarge)

Thanks Heather for sending this beautiful painting, the more I look at it the more I get from it, and it is great that you have managed to capture a really important time in history. 

Thanks also to Joe Ash who remembered the name of the very first Mosque (The Islamic Centre) on Blackburn Road.


Just found another photo in the archive showing the early house on Lower Lane bricked up prior to demolition and the building of the new Flats (West View)


For the following information I would like to thank James Moran-Zietek for the initial suggestion that I contact Bob Frith who has kindly allowed me to add the following information from the "Different Moons" booklet, produced to accompany the "Different Moons" project by the Horse and Bamboo puppet company exploring the stories of the first generation of people to come to Rossendale from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Written by Bob Frith, at Horse and Bamboo 2014, used with permission.


During the immediate post war period migrations began as a result of a combination of economic and political developments.  After the end of the war in 1945, Britain faced huge challenges.  The economy had to be rebuilt and it was a time of great social change.  The NHS was established, slums were cleared and industries began to expand.  Servicemen and women returned from the war expecting better conditions at the workplace and were no longer prepared to accept pre-war standards.

It was also recognised by the UK government that there was a shortage of labour, so Britain looked for workers from Europe and the countries of the Commonwealth, particularly the West Indies, India and Pakistan.  The Royal Commission on Population reported in 1949 that immigrants of "good stock" would be welcomed 'without reserve'.


The textile industry, on which Lancashire's prosperity had depended, had been in decline before the war but in 1945 there was optimism that it could revive if it was able to reduce its costs.  As a result, the industry enthusiastically grasped the opportunity offered by men emigrating from overseas to work in the cotton mills.  The majority of these jobs were low paid and in the least popular shifts such as night work.

Most of this new workforce were from Pakistan.  Pakistan had initially been divided into West and East Pakistan after partition from India in 1947, but in 1971 East Pakistan seceded, to become the independent country of Bangladesh.  The majority of the men who came to work in Lancashire fully expected to return to their homes in Pakistan or Bangladesh after a period of working here, during which time they would save sufficient money for their families.

From Pakistan the main areas of migration were from the villages around the town of Attock in the North-West; many people in Haslingden come from there and also from Mirpur, close to the border with Kuwait (sic).  In Bangladesh the main centre of emigration was Sylhet, then a poor region in the east of the country.  Many people from Mirpur region and Sylhet settled in Rawtenstall.


Each of the regions of these countries speak different languages - Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, although Punjabi is also spoken along with dialects such as Hindu.  Many of the immigrants from the North and West of the country were Pashtuns, speaking Pashto, while Bengali (or Bangla) is the language of most Bangladeshis, though many who came to Rossendale speak a Sylheti dialect.


Workers usually made their way to Rossendale after arriving in Liverpool, Hull or one of the other ports, or on a flight to London from Karachi.  Many would then use the informal network of contacts within the South Asian community to discover where work might be available.  After settling into a job, it would not be unusual to be encouraged by the mill owners to ask their brothers, uncles, cousins - other male family members - to join the workforce.  In this way several male members of an extended family would often gather to work and live close by one another.

Communications between Lancashire and home at that time were difficult.  There were very few telephones, both in the UK and in the villages in Pakistan and Bangladesh.  Telephone lines were notoriously unreliable.  As a result the new arrivals found it very difficult to keep in touch with families and friends back home, so postal and telegram services provided the main means of contact.  Feelings of loneliness and isolation were very common and hard to bear.

For most of the men, when they first arrived, living conditions in Rossendale were fairly primitive.  Few of the houses they rented would have had baths; toilets were usually not connected to the sewers.  In the 1960s this was not uncommon; many people in Rossendale lived in similar conditions.  Initially, it also wasn't unusual for 10 or more of the immigrant workmen to rent a house together, sharing a limited number of basic dormitory-type beds to cover different shifts at the mill.


Few of the men spoke English particularly well and as a result were unable to understand what services were available to them.  As a result the refuse collection, council wash facilities (such as slipper baths, available at the municipal pools), medical and housing services, were all difficult to access.

Slowly things began to change.  A few of the men got together to set-up informal support groups and organise themselves.  Many of the testimonies from people interviewed for the Different Moons project dwell on this period.  The struggle to improve their living conditions and life-style and the slow process of saving in order to send money home, purchase houses and gain control of their own living requirements, dominated much of their limited spare time.

Many friendships were made with the host community and there are frequent stories of support and help that the immigrants experienced.  Equally there were the challenges of racism and intolerance to be confronted.


For both the immigrant and host communities things changed substantially during the first 25 years following the arrival of the first South Asians to Rossendale.  From the 1970s onwards there had been much debate about UK immigration policy and successive governments began programmes of legislation to restrict the rules governing the right to immigration.  This contributed to and coincided with, the recognition amount many South Asian workers that their move to Lancashire was likely to be for months or years and for many would be permanent.

From around 1970, women and sometimes children and parents, began to move from Pakistan or Bangladesh to be with their men folk.  Families settled in Rossendale together and inevitably this meant that the nature of the local South Asian communities changed.


At work, in housing and education, South Asians often faced the challenges of misunderstandings and discrimination.  To overcome these problems and to improve their standard of living and escape factory work, many became self employed.  As the textile industry continued its decline, Asian-owned businesses created their own jobs, while others worked to increase awareness and change practice within institutions.  As this happened they began to contribute more and more to the local economy and community.


In the sixty years since the first South Asian immigrants arrived in Rossendale things have changed beyond recognition.  Familes originally from Attock or Sylhet now have three generations settled and at home in Rossendale. Despite this, strong links with the mother countries have been retained and many individuals and families return regularly to the villages in Pakistan or Bangladesh that their grandparents left 50 or more years ago.


A settled community of South Asian familes as developed in Rossendale.  It has opened mosque for worship and shops and businesses to cater for food and other necessities.  New generations of young people from Asian families have taken the opportunity to study in college and universities.  Many of these families have achieved a prosperity that the first generation of immigrants would have been astonished to witness, even when it may have been their own aspiration and dream.

However, as a result of rapidly changing economic circumstances and overseas policies there is evidence of a recent growth of Islamophobia within the UK.  No doubt the whole community will continue to rise to these complex challenges to create an ever more intricate social tapestry.  The local South Asian heritage community is vibrant and visible and here to stay, very much part of Rossendale in the twenty-first century.