Gilbert Houghton & the Bombardment of Blackburn

I had two hours to kill in Blackburn this week. It was a sunny day and all the shops were closed. I set off on a long walk from the courts up Duke Brow, a long road up a steepish hill. I was looking for a blue plaque. Alas, when I go to the top, I still couldn’t see it, so down I came, and then I found it. This was the spot on which Sir Gilbert Houghton of Hoghton (sic) Tower bombarded Blackburn. Sir Gilbert, the county’s sheriff, had sided with his friend King Charles in the civil war. He duly lay siege to Blackburn, a parliamentary town, coming only second to Bolton in the fervency of its puritanism. Having confiscated a cache of weapons from Catholics at Whalley, Houghton trained the bigger guns on Blackburn, shelling the town on 25th December, 1642. As the town was a puritan hotbed, few would have been celebrating Christmas, but the experience can hardly have been any less pleasant. Being more a prayer book Anglican, Houghton doubtless enjoyed a Christmas pudding or two at Bank House, in whose grounds he and his canon stood. It’s still there, but now surrounded by nineteenth and twentieth century properties (below).

I didn’t tarry long, for I was still puffing and panting from having marched up the hill. A few idle workmen stood at the corner gossiping, occasionally eyeing me as I snapped the plaque. The noise of children playing at a nursey close-by was heard over the occasional passing car. Though a built-up area, it was all rather peaceful. What a contrast with that same spot 377 years ago. The booms of the canon, the acrid smell of gunpowder, the barked orders, the pervasive black smoke. Few of those walking, talking or playing in the vicinity knew the horrors from there unleased on their town a few centuries ago.

Houghton got his comeuppance. Not only did his siege and bombardment fail, but his own home was blown up just two months later. His surviving son and heir, Richard, was a parliamentarian, his wife’s funeral sermon describing her as ‘an earnest puritan’.

As I returned to court, I pondered the locality’s transition from place of murderous offensive to quiet residential area. Today’s problems and troubles, though serious and deadly, will one day be still and quiet. My flesh, though now a deadly battery of evil, and warring against my spirit, will one day be gone, my body a vessel of purity and light. The earth, though now a place of hostility toward the gospel, will one day be in a state of obedience and harmony with its Creator:

For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. (Hab. 2:14)