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History Detectives reveal little known link with Thwaites

The team of Empire Archivists have been working through the summer to collate the full history of the theatre in time for the centenary of the venue in 2010. 

Historian and volunteer, Melanie Warren has spent time pouring over the original legal deeds and discovered to her surprise that the original land by the side of the river was owned by Elma Yerburgh, the only child of Daniel Thwaites II.  Melanie said 'Some people will already know this fact but it's the sort of detail that we are re-unearthing and making sure we document as part of the story of the fascinating building, that may have been lost.'

Harriet Roberts, Chief Executive said she was delighted to find out that there has always been a link with Thwaites right from the beginning and that it's almost like history has come full circle with the generous support and sponsorship that has made the renovation of the building possible in recent years.

Do you have information about the Empire Theatre for the history detectives - call, ring, email.

Elma Yerburgh (1864-1946)

Elma Yerburgh

The only child of Daniel Thwaites II, she assumed complete control of the firm on her father's death when she was only 24. Nine years later, when the limited company was formed, she was appointed Chairman, which she remained until her death in 1946.

Elma became a legend in her own lifetime. A shrewd businesswoman, she had no time for inefficiency. However, despite her cool, calculating business brain, she still remained a sentimental woman, who was always aware of other people's needs. The many appeals for help received by her rarely, if ever, fell on deaf ears.

As one of the most generous benefactors of Blackburn, her kindness earned her the title of 'Lady Bountiful'. Blackburn Royal Infirmary, of which she was president for 11 years, received a lot of help from her. She and her husband gave approximately £40,000, laid a foundation stone in the War Memorial Ward and subsequently opened the ward in 1928. Nine years later, the ward was named after her.

In 1888, the year she took control of the brewery, she married Robert Armstrong Yerburgh, MP for Chester for 26 years, who died in 1916. She was given the freedom of Blackburn in 1935 and was a County Magistrate. She was also invited to become the town's Mayor, but decided to decline the offer.

One story of Elma Yerburgh sums up the traditional family way she ran her business. She was well known in the brewery for walking around and asking about the welfare of her employees. If there had been a long illness in the family of a worker, an envelope containing a pound or two found its way into needy hands. When told that, now and again, someone had taken advantage of her generosity, she splendidly replied: 'As long as I do not miss helping someone in real need, I can stand being bitten.'


Release Date: Thursday 6 August 2009