People heading for Colne have been known to become rather confused – type the town’s name into a sat nav and it could lead you into the Yorkshire countryside or, worse still, Essex. Both other counties have a Colne Valley, but Lancashire has Colne. Only just, mind you, the town sits within sight of the border between red rose and white.

And although Burnley is the biggest town in this area of east Lancashire, the towns further along the M65 have plenty on offer too. Colne stands between the forests of Pendle and Trawden, on the fringes of the Pennines and is overlooked by a number of brooding hills, including the imposing Pendle Hill, a few miles to the west of the town, which has a unique place in the region’s psyche because of its associations with the Pendle witches.

Colne is a market town which drips with ancient history: parts of St Bartholomew’s Church date back more than 900 years, to 1122 and before that the town had been under both Norman and Celtic rule. The town was a major centre for the woollen trade but with the advent of industrialisation, cotton became the major industry.

In the closing years of the 19th century there were 30 cotton mills in Colne, with even more in the villages nearby. Today, Colne is popular with shoppers, home workers and commuters to jobs on both sides of the county border. A sense of community thrives and there’s a packed events calendar, the highlight of which is arguably the annual Great British Rhythm and Blues festival which draws musicians and fans from across the globe.

Properties in Colne typically spend around 13 weeks on the market and the average house prices here are below the national average at a smidge over £200,000.

Great British Life: Wallace Hartley Memorial, Colne. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonWallace Hartley Memorial, Colne. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson


Wallace Hartley was born in Colne and learned to play the violin as a schoolboy. He was made bandleader for the Titanic’s maiden voyage and although he agonised about leaving his fiancée behind, he thought it would be good for his career.It was certainly good for his reputation – he kept the band playing as the ship sank – the last song is popularly thought to have been Nearer My God to Thee – and 40,000 people lined the route of his funeral in Colne.

A newspaper reported at the time ‘the part played by the orchestra on board the Titanic in her last dreadful moments will rank among the noblest in the annals of heroism at sea.’ There’s a 10ft monument in his honour in the town.

Another famous name from the town was William Hartley (no relation), the founder of the jam company and famed philanthropist. Legend has it that the business started when a delivery of jam failed to arrive, Hartley made his own – they sold well and the business flourished. He launched a profit-sharing scheme and boasted that the wages he paid to his female employees – 80 per cent of his staff – were higher than any of his competitors. He donated large sums to Methodist causes and endowed hospitals in Colne and Liverpool as well as departments at universities in Liverpool and Manchester. He was given the freedom of Colne, in recognition of his good works, in 1909.

Great British Life: Church Street, Colne. PHOTO: Kirsty ThompsonChurch Street, Colne. PHOTO: Kirsty Thompson


Colne is now a popular retail centre with superb links with larger towns and cities on both sides of the Lancashire border. It’s possibly best known now for the Boundary Outlet store which offers a wide range of goods from fashion to furniture, and has been attracting shoppers for 30 years. But there’s much more choice around town for people in need of some retail therapy. There are plenty of locally run shops and bustling businesses and the Victorian Arcade, which was built in 1888, has been revamped and revived in recent years and is now home to a range of boutique stores.

Visitors to Colne are unlikely to go hungry – the town is home to huge range of cafés, pubs, bars, restaurants and shops. It’s also home to the Modern Milkman, a business founded five years ago which now sells milk, juice, eggs and more – all in plastic-free packaging or returnable glass bottle – to more than 100,000 customers around the UK. They won the Retailer of the Year prize in the Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards this year. Locals have been raving about the food at Carlo’s Italian for over 30 years and other favourites include About Coffee on Church Street and Lawson’s Butchers, on Market Street, which sources lamb from a farm in Colne and beef from just down the road in Laneshawbridge.