NEW craft apprentices are being trained in rare heritage skills by the Canal & River Trust in a double win at Burnley’s Finsley Gate Wharf development.
Located on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the 220-year-old former boatyard and canal office have recently been renovated and transformed into a successful restaurant and cafe bar, function room, guest house, community heritage learning hub, working forge and waterside gardens.
The £2.9 million restoration was reopened in July 2021, but Covid and rising material costs delayed work on the final piece of the jigsaw – a small, stone-built washhouse and outdoor toilet, which would once have served the canal supervisor’s house. Constructed in local gritstone, the 160-year-old outhouse, like the rest of the site, was in a poor state of repair, with only five original roofing slates still in place.
Staff from the trust came up with an innovative plan to complete the Finsley Gate redevelopment by using the project as a training opportunity for four new specialist stonemasons.
The young craft apprentices, all from Burnley, were originally taken on under the Kick Start scheme after Covid and are now being formally trained as apprentices in the specialist skill of stonemasonry. Dominic Lafrenz, Tyler Williams, Mason Macari and Luke Haywood spend a fortnight every two months at York College, one of very few in England offering courses in stonemasonry. The rest of the time they are learning practical skills on the job with the trust.
Now under the guidance of the CRT’s North West heritage adviser Bill Froggatt, project manager Mark Wigley, apprentice supervisor Graham Mitchell and craft operative James Archer, they are helping to repair the building and convert it into a new storehouse for the site’s volunteer gardeners.
Bill Froggatt explained: “Canals initially brought prosperity through trade during the Industrial Revolution and it’s wonderful that, in the 21st century, they have been reinvented as a place for people to spend their leisure time, get fit, enjoy the outdoors and feel healthier.
“Finsley Gate was an important regional boating centre in the 19th century, fuelling Burnley’s growth as a cotton town. Known locally as Mile Wharf, it is located on a sharp bend next to the town’s famous one-mile-long embankment across the Calder Valley, one of Britain’s Seven Wonders of the Waterways.”
Bill added: “This has been a perfect win-win project, which achieves the complete restoration of an important Grade II listed site while giving us an opportunity to offer apprenticeships in the specialist skill of stonemasonry to four local residents who were previously unemployed.
“Over the next couple of months, we will be completing the job with a new slate roof, and new windows and doors, created by award-winning apprentice carpenter Mani Lau, from our Bradley Workshop near Birmingham. It will be fantastic to see Finsley Gate Wharf finally restored in its entirety and the former washhouse given a new lease of life.”
The wharf site has already become a popular landmark for local residents who are enjoying a wide range of activities from yoga, paddle boarding and canoeing to craft classes, school visits, heritage tours, light refreshments and dining.
Restoration of Finsley Gate Wharf was funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, supported by Burnley Borough Council and the new site management company Finsley Gate Wharf Ltd.