The name Blackrod is derived from the Old English, and means a black, or bleak, clearing in a forest. Around 1200 the name was spelt ‘Blakerode’, and in 1220 it was ‘Blacrode’. This small town stands on an ancient Roman road, and is built on high ground. It commands a fine view of the surrounding countryside, which would have been heavily forested in Roman times, and it has been claimed that Blackrod was actually the Roman capital of Lancashire.
The main road leading through Blackrod joins Bolton with Chorley and Preston, so Blackrod became an important stop for travellers in medieval times. Later merchants came weekly from Manchester to give out yarn to the local hand loom weavers.
In the first half of the 12th Century, Blackrod manor was in the hands of William Peverel, but it was confiscated by the King in 1153. In about 1190, it was granted to Hugh Le Norreys by John, who was crowned King shortly afterwards. In 1212 ‘Hugh de Blackrod’ was named as tenant. Around 1217 William, Earl Ferrers, who married William Peverel’s daughter and heir, Margaret, took possession. At a later period the manor came into possession of the Bradshaw family.
According to the Manchester Diocesan Calendar, the earliest record of a church in Blackrod dates from 1138, although the actual date of building is not known. Two centuries later, in 1338, Dame Mabella, widow of Sir William de Bradshaw, and the manorial owner of Blackrod in her own right, gave an endowment for a chantry priest in Blackrod, dedicated to St. Katharine. At the time of the Dissolution, in. the mid 16th Century, the Blackrod chapel was dismantled. A church was again built there in the reign of Elizabeth I, and this church was subsequently restored in 1766. In more recent times both the chancel and nave have been rebuilt, in 1905 and 1911 respectively, and today only traces of the older building remain, notably in the lower sections of the tower.
A castle is traditionally said to have stood in the village, and a key and a crown were supposed to have been found at Castlecroft, but these disappeared without trace after being taken to the blacksmith to be cleaned or mended. It has since been suggested that they were accidentally removed by a scrap dealer. Excavations were carried out at Castlecroft, in 1952, in a field behind Pool Green. Although no traces of a castle or Roman fort were found, there were several interesting finds, such as flints from the Bronze Age, medieval tiles, fragments of pottery from the 15th Century onwards, and two silver coins, dating from the Wars of the Roses, struck around 1467. Pupils from Blackrod County Secondary School helped with the work, and the finds were taken to Manchester Museum.
Blackrod was once a major coal mining centre, and by the end of the 19th Century, most of the working male population was employed in the pits. There were once over a thousand miners in Blackrod, however, at the time of the depression in the 1930’s, many collieries closed. Scot Lane Colliery, which had employed over 700 miners, closed in 1932, bringing great hardship to the community.
In the 19th Century the women of Blackrod were noted for their excellence at the old craft of hand loom weaving. Each week merchants from Manchester came to the old Leigh Arms Hotel, once the centre of the village social life, bringing their cops, or spools of thread, which the women wove into fine cloth. The Leigh Arms was demolished when the road was made wider, but the old mounting block from the stables was preserved, and now stands in front of Blackrod’s council offices.
A fair was held in Blackrod each year. It began on the Thursday after the 12th of July. In 1804 there were horse races, a cock-fight and races up Anderton Hall Lane by the young women of the village for prizes such as ribbons and dress pieces.
A grammar school was founded in 1568, by the trustees of John Holme. A new grammar school was built in 1798 to replace the older building, which was later demolished. In 1875 this school was incorporated with the Rivington Free Grammar School and buildings were subsequently erected at the foot of Rivington Pike around 1881. The Blackrod School was then leased to the Local Board. It was extended to accommodate the council offices. New Council offices were built within the library complex and the old building is now a children’s nursery.
In 1846 John Boardman gave a piece of land for the building of a school for promoting the education of the children of the labouring and manufacturing classes in the principles of the Church of England. Ellis Dorning, a mining engineer, gave the land for Scot Lane School for similar purposes to the Parish School, hence the name of nearby Dorning Street. The deeds of Scot Lane School date back to 1866.
The Methodist School opened in 1870, and the Senior School, which is now the County Primary School, was opened in 1939.
Modern local government in Blackrod began in 1872, when a Local Board was created; it provided the water supply and drainage for the township. In 1894 the Local Board was transformed into the Urban District Council, which continued until local government reorganisation in 1974, when Blackrod became part of the Bolton Metropolitan Borough.
Blackrod contains some good examples of traditional stone cottages and farms, although they are gradually disappearing from the scene, with the demand for new houses. Today Blackrod is mainly a residential town and commuters travel to work in larger industrial towns such as Chorley and Bolton.