Lancashire Day

There is, I understand, a blogging phenomenon known as ‘newsjacking’, in which you get a post out on the coat-tails of some topical event, thereby (hopefully) sending your views sky high. It is this sort of thing that convinces me I have no journalistic skills: in search of a subject for the New Year I’ve found several half-written posts that might have fitted into that category – if I’d only got round to finishing them at the time. This one is dusted off from November.

Lancashire Day is celebrated on 27th November: founded by the Friends of Real Lancashire (FORL) it was chosen as the date in 1295 when the ancient and honourable county of Lancaster sent its first representatives to the ‘model’ Parliament of King Edward I. It’s the day when we celebrate our county’s history and achievements as well as all those things that makes it both distinctive and individual. All over the historic county, towns and villages will be holding events that mark them out as firmly rooted in Lancashire – whatever local government officials may say.

The reason for this, and the foundation of FORL, is the result of local government re-organisations in the Seventies, which pretty much made a mess of the UK’s 92 historic countiesContinue reading

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Place

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UllsHerdwicks[1]

I have just finished James Rebanks’ The Shepherd’s Life, perhaps the best book I’ve read this year and a beautiful account of the traditional life and perspective of a Lake District fell farmer.  At the centre of the story is a very deep seated attachment to the mountain area where James’ forebears have farmed for six centuries and this has inspired me to write my next blog about the issue of “place.”

As a shepherd James uses a lovely word “hefted” to describe the genetic attachment which a flock of fell sheep have to the particular part of the mountainside where they have grazed for generations of summers.  Place too has an enormous role to play in the human psyche, although increasingly less so since the start of the Industrial Revolution  when the forces of capitalism began to uproot us from the patterns of settlement and work which had…

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Somerset Day

While you are *still* waiting for me to finish my latest post on Warrington, here is a rather nice article I recently found about ‘Somerset Day’ on the engagingly written Zanyzigzag’s Blog, with some interesting bits of information about Somerset’s local history.

Zanyzigzag's Blog

As some of you may already know, despite having lived in London for the past couple of years, I am actually from Somerset, a beautiful county in the South West of England. Although I absolutely loved being in London, a part of me has always felt drawn back to the place where I grew up and I still think of Somerset as my true home.

I read an online article by the Somerset County Gazette a few days ago, which announced that in 2015 we will have the first ever “Somerset Day” – a day to celebrate all that the county has to offer in terms of business, tourism, natural beauty etc. I assume the idea is to make it an annual event from next year onward. I personally think it’s a wonderful idea, because Somerset does have a lot going for it, as a county, and it could be…

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Arriving in Warrington – some thoughts on the out of town visitor

I originally intended this blog to be about buildings history – a particular interest of mine – more specifically, those that line the main streets in Warrington’s town centre; but it seems to be becoming more and more about the planning issues that affect those buildings and the regeneration projects that will impact upon them.

I recently started another spin-off blog, my take on the best places to live in Warrington for those looking to move to the area. It has got me thinking of how the town appears to the outsider, the things that are good and likely to appeal and the things that would definitely put people off.

Re-reading my overview of the town centre, it does seem as though there’s not much to attract at present and it so easily could be different. Warrington has the most marvellous history, (still) quite a lot of great buildings and those local people who are ‘old school’ are incredibly friendly, cheerful, down to earth, straightforward and decent, with a strong sense of community, who will go out of their way to help you.

With so much going for it, Warrington doesn’t seem to make the most of itself. One of the main things I’ve been thinking about, over the last couple of days, is the impression given to the visitor arriving in the town for the first time and at no point is it particularly prepossessing.

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Welcome to Warrington (part three)

Part Two

If you are travelling by bus, you will be taken straight ahead, through the lights and directly up Bridge Street, once the main shopping street for the town and once considered the most attractive street in Cheshire, after Chester’s Eastgate. Looking about you with eager interest at the large Victorian and Edwardian buildings, you see only metal shutters and a distinct lack of people. This is lower Bridge Street, whose preponderance of nightclubs, bars and takeaways not only makes it a no-go area at night, for the majority of those over 25, but has effectively closed the street down completely in the daytime.

Just before the bus sweeps to the right, you catch a glimpse further up the street, a dispiriting clutter of notices To Let’ amidst which the Warrington institution that is the 100 year old department store of Hancock and Wood stands out bravely. Within a few seconds the bus has pulled up and deposited you at the bus stop on Academy Way, a wide road cut through the right side of Bridge Street in the late 1980s, presumably to divert the traffic when they pedestrianised Market Gate at the heart of the town. If you’re quick enough as the bus turns, you can see how the buildings on the left have been sheared though.

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Welcome to Warrington (part two)

Part One

Just past the Royal Oak Branch pub, the vista opens out as you slow down to cross the river. A single storey retail warehouse on the left, a single storey car hire office and associated car park on the right, form an unprepossessing ‘gateway’, with ahead a jumble of brown buildings, squatted over by the vast grey concrete bulk of the British Telecom offices and a large number of immensely, ridiculously, tall street lights.

There appear to be roads in all directions and clogged traffic everywhere, fighting to get into one of the four lanes ahead. To your right, a War Memorial appears incongruously sited, after a small road, running down to the river alongside, was enlarged to form a ‘Gyratory’ crossing point in the Nineties, to relieve traffic congestion at Bridge Foot. It doesn’t seem to have worked.

As you wait at the first set of traffic lights, just before the bridge, your second impression of the town is slightly better. The British Telecom building has sunk more into the background, and is balanced by a large, Art Deco cinema, now a nightclub, to the left, and the 18th century Warrington Academy, famous precursor of Oxford University’s Manchester Harris College, and now the newspaper offices of the Warrington Guardian, in the foreground.

I have disliked this building for many years, without really knowing why; it reminded me of a pink brick dolls house and always seemed somehow wrong. Continue reading

Welcome to Warrington (part one)

Stuck in traffic on a recent shopping trip to Warrington, I was reflecting on the changes to the area since I used to live here.

Coming from the perspective of one who was born and brought up here and then moved away, returning only through the nineties onwards for sporadic visits, my view on things is that of both insider and outsider. I am, as an article I once came across put it, ‘ethnographically embedded’ in a community in which I now walk as an almost stranger.

So. How does the town appear to the visitor, approaching as I was, from the South?

Firstly, having left behind the Cheshire villages of Lymm, Thelwall, Grappenhall and Latchford, and driven over the steep Black Bear Bridge, you follow a wide main road towards the town. To my mind this seems rather a lost opportunity. The bridge forms a natural punctuation point to say ‘from here you are approaching Warrington’; the road should be a gradual transition between the semi-rural suburbs and the town.

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