‘Mr Cotton Town’ helps bringing history to life


TV shows like Who Do You Think You Are? and Time Team prove that history is a hugely popular subject. There has also been a significant increase in the number of people taking an interest in local history – which has never been easier thanks to volunteers like Stephen Smith of local history website Cotton Town.

cotton town

Stephen has been part of the team which researches and writes articles for Blackburn with Darwen Council’s local history website Cotton Town for 12 years. And he has uncovered fascinating stories such as the tale of the Blackburn vampire and the account of swindler William Gourlay who embezzled £30,000 – about £3 million in today’s money.

Stephen had always been interested in local history but became absorbed in the subject while researching his family tree.

He explained:

Once I’d traced my ancestors I wanted to find out more about where and how they lived so I started to look for information about the local area.

He discovered the Cotton Town website and added:

I really enjoyed reading its articles and decided that I’d like to help by contributing.

Stephen, who worked for Lancashire County Council in grounds maintenance before he retired, volunteers with the community history service at Blackburn Library.

My favourite part is carrying out the initial research; I start by looking for material that captures my imagination and then gather together as much as I can on the subject. The team at the library is very friendly and I really enjoy my volunteering work.

Stephen’s current projects include helping to improve the website’s First World War content and creating a digital roll of honour. His nickname is “Mr Cotton Town” and Mary Painter, Librarian for Community History, said:

Stephen is an excellent volunteer. In addition to working on Cotton Town, he is always happy to help with local and family history enquiries; he’s a real asset to the community history service.

Find out more about volunteering at Your Call, Community CVS and Lancashire Volunteer Partnership.

Find out more about the history of Blakey Moor and Northgate as well as the rest of the borough on the Cotton Town website.

KGH cotton town

Originally published by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council,  June 7 2018 for Volunteers Week.


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