A visit to Lancaster last week afforded time to walk around the city centre and its commercial heart - a thriving compact area enlivened by students and a mix of retail and specialist shops. Market Square is dominated by an imposing edifice which must have hosted an official function in previous era. Today it is a showcase for Lancaster's rich history going back to pre-historic and Roman times.
I was impressed with the amount of detail and sequential displays covering everything from Roman milestones to the King's Lancastrian Regiment and its illustrious campaigns up to the post war era. Equally impressive was the attention given to the city's commercial and industrial past with evidence of the excellence of craftsmanship into everything from floor coverings to ironwork and of course the famous furniture manufacturer - Storeys. A potpourri of local products was tangible evidence that there was far more to Lancaster's history than just its castle. Equally compelling was the nature of the displays - bereft of the current vogue for minimalist content and ever so smart lighting and layouts. None of that here. A professional hand was nowhere in sight at this Museum and this surprisingly told an all the more compelling story as a result.
Local Transport from the city's municipal transport days was not neglected. An early tram and battery bus replacement shown here (in front of what is now the Lancaster Museum).
Once upon a time some (not all) of Blackpool's patrimony could be found at the Grundy Gallery - which had on permanent display a wonderful collection of paintings and artifacts generously endowed by the Grundy family and other long gone civic minded citizens. This has long been banished from sight. Instead the Grundy's physical space, donated to the town, is hijacked for the benefit of showcasing wannabe artists from far and wide and their works - commissioned through obscure arrangements with the Arts Council (another London-based body out of touch with 'the North'). Details of this hocus pocus deal are known to very few. Much like Bismark's comments on the origins of Prussia's claims over the province of Schleswig-Holstein which resulted in a bloody confrontation with Denmark in the 19th Century. The origins were known to only three people, one of whom is dead, another is mad, and he had forgotten.
Lancaster City Museum - well worth a visit. Admission Free. Contributions Welcome - in the heart of the city PS : This impressive Georgian structure served as Lancaster's Town Hall (what else?) up to 1908 when a new (and presumably larger structure) replaced it on Dalton Square. The electric battery buses were not replacement for Lancaster's traditional trams but a totally seperate operation running to the Lansil and Carriage Works - a business which saw both Lancaster trams (some) and Blackpool's Conduit Car 4 (plus others) constructed. The most famous company in Lancaster was of course Waring and Gillow whose stylish (and solidly made) furniture was world renowned. Storeys of Lancaster were the firm providing the fabric for diverse uses. Another famous Lancaster manufacturing company was Williamson's who produced sailcloth and later moved into linoleum, becoming one of the country's largest producers of this floor covering. I am indebted to Derek Redmond for this information. Derek being the country's greatest living expert on all things to do with municipal transport in both Lancaster and neighbouring Morecambe. Both communities having great histories in urban transport. I well recall riding on buses of both municipal systems with Lancaster in particular having a notable idiosyncracy by which fleet numbers used the respective registration number. Of such quirks are histories made.......
A wonderful painted shield with Battle Honours of the 8th Battalion King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment up to the Boer War.
Blackpool too has a story to tell beyond the oft repeated and promoted tales of the Tower, the Winter Gardens and the Grand Theatre; all admirable though these are for the visitor. In fact this town was the birthplace of many rising companies from the late 1900s to the 1950s. Booth's first emporium stood on the promenade, Beaverbrooks sold their first ornamentations in Blackpool, the origins of Jaguar Motors started just off Cocker Square with motorcycle sidecars after the Great War. Another great automotive name emerged following the next War - this time at a Brick Works on Hoo Hill - TVR. Lesser known firms in household goods like Nutbrown, were a local employer, whilst sweet tastes were catered to by Waller and Hartley and Peeney's icecreams. Of course some of Britain's finest coaches and buses were built here by HV Burlingham in Marton, whilst Wellington bombers rolled off Vickers assembly lines at Squires Gate in the 1940s.
These are but a small sampling of many commercial endeavours that provided employment and fed into Blackpool's growth, not just as a seaside resort and place of entertainment, but also as a thriving economy. One which was able to finance Stanley Park, Derby Baths, Grammar schools, public libraries of noteworthy design, an amazing public transport system, and a quality town centre environment.
Somewhere in the town well funded professionals, most if not all from outside this area, have been beavering away over the past year and a half at least to come up with design for a permanent Museum of Blackpool - announced with much to do for installation the Winter Gardens. Very little has actually emerged from their endeavours beyond a half hearted public showing of efforts a year ago - after which a distinct silence settled and cloaked over their hidden design studio. Elsewhere at Rigby Road, a brave effort is ongoing to create a creditable exhibition of the town's tram collection including traditional workshops still used to produce magic in the form of restored veterans. These efforts are on show each summer with the procession of trams from yesteryear, with which we were once overly familiar - and now the objects of visitor delight. Bryan Lindop and a small cadre of BTS staff have achieved far more than any Arts Council gratuities assigned to the town or platoons of well paid 'experts'. A lesson there perhaps?
There is a large gaping void where an equally colourful display of Blackpool's commercial heritage should be on view. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist or years of earnest 'studies' to come up with a meaningful display utilising one of the many 'car parks' under Council ownership. Throw in the Grundy's art collection now squirreled away in packing cases within a remote and anonymous Council store - and another all weather visitor attraction is entirely possible. Blue sky thinking to sweep away embedded self interests can make for real change.