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It is 21 miles (34 km) north of Manchester and 20 miles (32 km) east of Preston, at the confluence of the River Calder and River Brun.

The town is partially surrounded by countryside to the south and east, with the smaller towns of Padiham and Nelson to the west and north respectively.

A permanent military presence was established in the town with the completion of Burnley Barracks in 1820. This was followed by a summer drought, which caused serious problems for many of the others, leading to high levels of unemployment and possibly contributing to the national financial crisis of 1825.

By 1830 there were 32 steam engines in cotton mills throughout the rapidly expanding town, The Irish Potato Famine led to an influx of Irish families during the 1840s, who formed a community in one of the poorest districts.

Local place names Padiham and Habergham show the influence of the Angles, suggesting that some had settled in the area by the early 7th century; some time later the land became part of the hundred of Blackburnshire.

There is no definitive record of a settlement until after the Norman conquest of England.

It has been claimed that the nearby earthworks of Ring Stones Camp ( are of Roman origin, but little supporting archaeological information has been published.

Following the Roman period, the area became part of the kingdom of Rheged, and then the kingdom of Northumbria.

Gorple Road (running east from Worsthorne) appears to follow the route of a Roman road that may have crossed the present-day centre of town, on the way to the fort at Ribchester.Over the next three centuries, Burnley grew in size to about 1200 inhabitants by 1550, still centred around the church, St Peter's, in what is now known as "Top o' th' Town".Prosperous residents built larger houses, including Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham and Towneley Hall. Burnley's grammar school was founded in 1559, and moved into its own schoolhouse next to the church in 1602.Burnley's earliest known factories – dating from the mid-century – stood on the banks of the River Calder, close to where it is joined by the River Brun, and relied on water power to drive the spinning machines.The first turnpike road through Burnley was begun in 1754, linking the town to Blackburn and Colne, and by the early 19th century, there were daily stagecoach journeys to Blackburn, Skipton and Manchester, the latter taking just over two hours.

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Burnley began to develop in this period into a small market town.