The British Lawnmower Museum, Southport: gardening habits of royalty and celebrities, a grass-cutting obsessed curator and a lesson in Qualcast mechanics

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Rain has recently fallen on my part of the world for the first time in four weeks; and very welcome it has been! I love the sun and the heat and have basked and baked under the glorious rays, enjoying each day as it has arrived in all its fiery glory. I have trudged nightly, heavy watering can in hand, across the lawn to quench the thirst of wilting flowers. My little lawn has suffered in the extraordinary heat. Straw-like patches have appeared amid the verdant blades. It is incredible how quickly the lawn has rallied after just three heavy downpours; new growth has already sprung forth, and the dry but cooler weather of the last few days has aided the revival. I eagerly await the return of the intense heat but a (hopefully brief) respite is literally a breath of fresh air.

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Lawns. Mine is only small. We Brits love them. We love sitting on them. We love walking barefoot across them. Playing tennis on them is another British pastime. Most of all we seem to love mowing them. All this lawn talk reminded me of a museum I had heard about that is dedicated to that instrument of lawn beautification, the trusty mower. When I first heard about this repository for mechanical grass cutters, I thought it must be a joke. Certainly, these most labour-saving of horticultural contraptions hold pride of place in our garden sheds, but could there really be a museum celebrating their existence? I decided to head to the coastal town of Southport to find out mower (sorry!).

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Shakespeare Street, just a short walk outside of the centre of Southport, is quite ordinary except that it is the location of a centre of national gardening heritage, the British Lawnmower Museum This fascinating place was created by owner, Brian Radam, whose family business, Lawnmowerworld, is adjacent. In fact, visitors must go through Lawnmowerworld – a business which specialises in the sale, servicing and repair of all things lawnmower-ish – to enter the Museum. According to its website, ‘The Museum retains a character not often seen in these modern times’; I would not disagree.

I paid my £4.50 entrance fee and passed through the turnstile which separates the shop from the Museum. Brian – curator and business owner – explained that there would be an audio guide which would provide details about some of the many exhibits and about the history of lawnmowers in general. He asked me if I was interested in the devices, and I confessed that I was not, beyond their usefulness in my own garden, but that I was fascinated by the idea of a museum being dedicated to them. Fortunately, Brian didn’t seem to take offence at my frank response.

 

 

The audio commentary proved to be very informative, containing lots of interesting details about the invention of the first models and how they were initially dismissed by critics who thought they would never take off! The commentary and the Museum’s website inform that ‘the lawnmower was patented by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830’. At the time, Budding was thought to be insane and ‘had to test the machine at night so no one could see him.’ Needless to say, Brian has the prototype in his collection and was happy to demonstrate to me how it worked. Two men would have been needed to move this revolutionary piece of machinery, so Brian had to multi-task in this demonstration.

 

 

Only a fraction of the Museum’s total collection is on display, with the rest being stored away at a secure location. It wouldn’t be possible to show everything. It’s a rare thing to be guided through a museum by a curator. Brian helpfully hovered, powered by enthusiasm, revealing interesting snippets. I learned a lot on my visit, though I have to say that as I’m not mechanically-minded, some of the more technical details went over my head.

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These enthusiastic lady gardeners demonstrate the first petrol powered lawn mower produced by ATCO (Atlas Chain Company) in 1921. It was designed by the factory’s managers after the sad death of the horse which had previously pulled the old lawn cutter around the grounds.
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The world’s biggest lawn mower

 

 

 

 

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Lawn bling

I found the Museum a lot more interesting than I had expected to, and was particularly entertained by the collection of celebrity mowers and devices which the rich and famous have donated. Here are just some of them.

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Eric Morecambe’s mower
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A donation from Richard and Judy
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This splendid lawn maintenance collection was a wedding gift to the Prince and Princess of Wales. I was intrigued to know who would have selected this cutting-edge gift for the couple and what it must have looked like when it arrived gift-wrapped at Kensington Palace.
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Paul O’Grady’s unique instrument
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Slightly macabre in its noose is the mower of Britain’s last hangman, Albert Pierrepoint.
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Nicholas Parsons’ contribution

I asked Brian if he contacted celebrities to request their expired devices. I was quite surprised to hear that it was they who contacted him and invited him to their posh pads to collect the aged contraptions. I was particularly amused by an anecdote about Nicholas Parsons who went on to offer Brian not only the mower originally promised but virtually the whole contents of his shed! With all that stuff to get rid of, Nicholas Parsons could have put on the car boot Sale of the Century! (if you were born after 1970 you will have to ‘Google!’)

On one wall, Brian has displayed some photographs of himself meeting celebrities at various events to do with gardens or machinery or when they have visited the Museum.

 

 

 

 

Brian didn’t mention during our conversation that he is a former racing champion and played down taking part in (and winning) a TV quiz show, various media interviews over many years and participating in other TV programmes and conventions. As a curator, Brian Radam is a cut above (sorry again!) those of most other museums and brings back to life through enthusiasm, knowledge and humour the rusting relics of gardening yesteryear.

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Brockholes Nature Reserve, Lancashire

 

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Brockholes ‘unreserved’ nature reserve is just outside Preston, Lancashire. It is owned by the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside and was developed on the site of a former quarry. I decided that a gorgeous warm Saturday afternoon was the perfect time to connect with the natural world.

As I don’t drive, the places I visit generally must be accessible by public transport. There is no bus service to the reserve, but I alighted at the nearest stop outside the Tickled Trout Hotel on the banks of the River Ribble. From there it’s a 1.3 mile walk along the Preston Guild Wheel recreational pathway which is popular with walkers and cyclists. I strolled at a leisurely pace, enjoying the sunshine and admiring a small herd of sleepy cattle.DSCF5789

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From the entrance to the reserve I would estimate it’s at least another half mile to the visitor village which is where site maps can be picked up.

The Brockholes website informed me that hundreds of different species of wildlife had become established there including otters, brown hares, deer, kingfishers, herons, osprey, Lancashire’s first sighting of a Pallid Harrier and many rare species of birds depending on the time of year. I readily admit I am no bird expert – far from it – and didn’t have any particular expectations, though I would have loved to have seen a bird of prey. I was also hoping for an encounter with some deer and otters.

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On first entering the reserve I passed a ‘no dogs’ sign, there for obvious reasons. Within five minutes, I passed two couples coming away from the direction of the reserve – yes, with dogs! Signs inform that there is CCTV around the reserve, and shortly after I came across a staff member on patrol, so hopefully the Brockholes mammals are kept safe from ignorant people.

The ‘village’ is of an innovative eco design and floats on a central lake surrounded by reed beds. There is a venue for corporate events and conferences, and people even choose Brockholes for their nuptual celebrations, saying ‘I do’ in the woodland, on the banks of the River Ribble or in a dedicated wedding room.  The whole reserve, but especially the central village, is very popular with families.

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The vegetation on both sides of the track was literally buzzing with insect life, an abundance of dragon flies sparkling blue against the wild grasses.

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Butterflies flitted between the wildflowers, most of them too quickly for me to get any clear shots. A Meadow Brown was almost perfectly camouflaged.

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Some wildflowers like the germander speedwell have been purposely cultivated whilst others like the tufted vetch and meadow vetchling commonly occur by roadsides and in wildflower meadows.

Once in the ‘village’ I headed for the visitor centre to pick up a map and then went for a look around.

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The impressive restaurant is available for wedding receptions with a lake view

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Peering over the side of a pond I spotted the shapes of unidentifiable fish of various sizes gliding between cobbles and under the wooden walkway.  A particularly loud girl of about 12 was sulkily protesting that the fish were swimming away out of view….go figure!

A stroll around the accessible side of the lake revealed little beneath the surface except decorative pond ornaments and lily pads, much to the disappointment of the parents and toddlers scanning the depths.

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Therein is the paradox: to bring in the money to look after wildlife, the Trust must attract visitors who splash their cash but whose noise and frenetic activity ultimately frightens away the wildlife.  Catering solely or mainly for serious birdwatchers would not get enough visitors in, hence the ice cream parlour and huge restaurant along with children’s playground and educational centre where lots of little ones were busy with colouring books and crayons. I had mixed feelings about this: it’s brilliant that children are developing an awareness of the natural world, yet I felt that many of those visitors were there solely for an ice cream or lunch in a lovely setting with free admission. The wildlife seemed incidental.

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One of many paths and tracks around the reserve

The reserve covers 250 acres but I stayed quite close to the main paths. I spotted a lookout so went inside expecting a few twitchers with binoculars trained on the lake.

I discovered instead a two-year-old running wild and banging on the glass to the amusement of his parents and another dad pushing a pram back and forth trying to soothe a screaming baby. Back outside then….

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I spent a couple of pleasant hours at Brockholes and saw swans and wildfowl which I photographed from a distance as I was walking back towards the entrance.

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I know from other people’s accounts that it is possible to see rare bird species on the reserve, and such a sight must be thrilling, though most unlikely on a sunny Saturday afternoon in June.

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Astley Hall, Chorley, Lancashire.

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Astley Old Hall, a grade 1 listed historic house in Chorley, Lancashire, originates from 16th century. It sits within lovely Astley Park, just a short walk from Chorley town centre. Although it’s close to home, I had never visited previously and confess I thought that because of its relatively small size and because it doesn’t charge an entrance fee, there probably wasn’t going to be much to see. Wrong! During my hour-long visit I saw some wonderful examples of ornate plaster work, period furniture and intriguing wood carvings.

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The Hall has been adapted and extended over the centuries. In 1578 the original Astley Hall was built by Robert Charnock whose family, wealthy local landowners, had been Lords of that Manor since the 11th century. Readers who have travelled on the M6 motorway may be familiar with Charnock Richard services, situated between junctions 27 and 28 in the village of (unsurprisingly) Charnock Richard, which was given its name by Sir Richard Charnock of that same family in the 13th century.

In 1922 the Park and Hall were given to Chorley Corporation by Reginald Tatton, also a prolific landowner, who had inherited the property in 1906. The entrance archway is early 19th century. I sat in a shady part of the Park for a few minutes and enjoyed the sound of a huge wind chime.

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Beyond a children’s play area, the drive leads to a lake where friendly swans glide around the lily pads to the water’s edge, accepting titbits out of children’s hands. I just wish people – here and everywhere – would heed the signs and not feed them bread which is bad for them.

Visitors are welcomed into the Great Hall by curators who are happy to answer questions. There is no admission fee, which is brilliant, though I wouldn’t have minded paying to look around this splendid museum.

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The Great Hall’s walls are adorned with beautiful painted panels of famous historical figures. The curator explained that although these are believed to be gifts which were installed in the 18th century, they are thought to be as old as the house.

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Look up to see the winning feature of the Great Hall, the plasterwork ceiling.

The drawing room was remodelled around 1665 when owner Margaret Charnock married Richard Brooke. The young newly-weds rejected the then old-fashioned Tudor style in favour of stylish Baroque, hence the ceiling and wall tapestries. Clearly, the furniture is not of the same period and was added in the Georgian and Victorian eras.

The inlaid room was used as a library during the 19th century and was where the gentlemen would retire after dinner. The wooden wall panels were inlaid with patterns in different coloured wood, hence the room’s name. Some of the books on the shelves are centuries old; others are undergoing restoration.

The dining room

A small courtyard area leads to the kitchen which is set out as it would have been back in the day, though the particular day is not specified. I appreciated the attention to detail as these things can often end up looking completely naff, though not to the extent of having real stuffed rabbits hanging from ceiling hooks and birds arranged in a taxidermic table display. Surely, it’s time to let the unfortunate creatures go to their rest.

The morning room was where the lady of the house would take advantage of the good light early in the day for embroidery or letter writing. This room was originally part of the Tudor Great Hall but was separated in the 1660s. More impressive plasterwork was added to the ceilings, and the furniture dates mostly from that same period or the 1700s.

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I asked the curator about the mermaids, fish and other sea creatures I’d spotted around the house, as I might have expected this sort of maritime design in a coastal location, but not Chorley. Apparently, an interest in mythical creatures such as mermaids was common in the 17th century. I didn’t know that!

Upstairs there are two bedrooms, both claiming connections to Oliver Cromwell. It is known that the Lord Protector stayed at Astley Hall after the Battle of Preston in 1648. The first bedroom has been named in his honour.

However, it is thought that he also slept in the second bedroom, that of his host and hostess; it’s not clear why Cromwell would have been bed-hopping beyond the confines of his own chamber, and even more puzzling is why Cromwell was at the Hall in the first place as the Charnocks were Royalists and fought for the King, Charles I.

My favourite part of the Hall is the long gallery on the top floor. Only 20 visitors are allowed up there at any time due to the floor, though perfectly safe, being in need of protection. A 23ft long oak shovelboard table dominates. Shovelboard was a popular game amongst Tudor nobility; brass counters would be pushed along the table as far as possible without them falling off. The table’s sides are covered with intricate designs including grapevines, a unicorn, various beasties and a couple of ….exhibitionists.

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After surveying the Hall, I decided to head to the old stables courtyard for some refreshments at the Ambio Café.

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I had hoped, expected even, that there would be Chorley cakes on the menu, as I am quite partial to these currant-filled local pastries which are similar to Eccles cakes but not flaky, and better in my opinion. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed so I had to settle for a flapjack type thing. I overcame my disappointment in recalling an amusing picture I’d spotted earlier in a shop window.

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I headed off to Booths supermarket for some Chorley cakes to take home…..and very nice they were too!

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Sawley Abbey, Lancashire

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The ruin of Sawley Abbey stands within the Forest of Bowland, an officially designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Lancashire. I may be biased because it’s my home county, but I believe it would be a tall order to find another region of England which has as much variety to offer visitors in terms of open rural landscapes, miles of exhilarating beaches, buildings of historical interest, quaint chocolate box villages and not forgetting bustling towns and cities. Anybody familiar with this neck of the woods doesn’t need an official label to point out the beauty of this part of the shire.

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Situated close to the lovely town of Clitheroe, the Abbey was founded by a Cistercian order of monks in 1146 under the patronage of the extremely wealthy De Percy family of Northumberland. It was smaller than many of its contemporaries such as nearby Whalley Abbey  and Furness Abbey (link to my blog below). By all accounts the brothers of Sawley were not a happy bunch, complaining of poor crop yields and marshy land, and they didn’t reap the great material benefits enjoyed by many of their counterparts at other sites. Another gripe was that Sawley, due to being close to a busy road (nothing has changed there!), was an obvious resting place for travellers who had to be offered hospitality, this eating (pardon the pun) into the Abbey’s resources.

Like almost all Abbeys and monasteries in England and Wales, it was dissolved (torn down) in or just after 1536 when Henry VIII set up the Anglican Church and smashed – both metaphorically and literally – the Catholic Church in England. Many of these ruins are in the north of England. Most were not destroyed completely, as it was said that the King wanted people to see them, witness his power, and understand that he had authority, not Rome. Over time, much of the stone from these ancient sites was used by landowners and local people for new building projects.

The larger structures are long gone but visitors can still get an impression of the scale, stature and the space the Abbey occupied within its beautiful pastoral surroundings. It is now managed by English Heritage. No staff members are on site, but a local key holder opens and locks up daily.

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Nine centuries later, the ruin is still accessed via the extremely busy A59 road, and I can vouch that life and limb have to be risked when crossing. Visitors will also spot lots of four-wheel-drive vehicles pulling steel containers often crammed with sheep. This is the countryside, so it is to be expected, however I always find this upsetting and it is sure to cast a shadow over my day. Once the treacherous dual carriageway has been traversed, a side road leads to where lovely stone cottages line the short road up to the Abbey precinct. I didn’t take any photos of the desirable residences, as people were milling around outside and I thought it a bit rude to photograph them and their homes – and possibly a bit weird….or envious…. or all three.

A stone wall encloses the site and once inside I was fascinated to see some of the interesting architectural features displayed on natural stone shelves along one length of the perimeter.

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Below are some well preserved sections of the original floor. Imagine the painstaking work involved in lining up all of those stone blocks!

 

 

Although I was the only soul around for most of the hour or so I spent a Sawley, at one point a family with boisterous children entered. It seems that the site also doubles as a playground, unfortunately. I found a quiet nook where I could sit, relax, shiver a little despite the deceptive sunshine and enjoy the emergence of spring.

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Lancaster Museum

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Lancaster was only made a city in 1937 but its story can be traced back to the Romans who established their ‘castrum’ or fort by the ‘Lon’ or river Lune.

I am familiar with Lancaster but until very recently had never visited the city Museum, a modest building which one could easily walk past without noticing. It isn’t grand or ornate, but typically of Lancaster buildings it is constructed from stone and blends in with its surroundings. Ironically, it came to my attention on my most recent visit due to the scaffolding, plastic sheeting and forlornness which surrounded it. Thinking it had closed, I carried out a closer inspection, and at the bottom of a polythene walkway found a way in and a warm welcome. There began an hour long exploration of kings and castles; Saxons and stone carvings; industry, craftsmanship, culture and conflict.

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This Roman milestone stands in a somewhat incongruous position at the top of the staircase where the chintzy curtains and electrical wires appear at odds with this object of antiquity. It was made during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (builder of the border wall between England and Scotland)  between AD 127 and 138 and informs onlookers that it is four Roman miles to Lancaster from the spot in Caton where it was found in 1803. Here are some more relics of Loncastrum life….

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An altar dedicated by one Julius Januarius (great surname!), a retired soldier. This home altar was dedicated to a meadow god associated with the river Lune.
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A tomb stone discovered in 2005 near to the main Roman road leading into Lancaster
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Third century carvings which were probably part of a shrine. The heads represent the four winds

Moving on a few strides and several centuries we find ourselves in Lancaster of the middle ages. There are many examples of Celtic and Saxon crosses in ancient church yards all around England, especially in the north. The two below were found during excavations of Lancaster Priory Church.

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Most interesting to me were the informative displays about Lancaster during the industrial revolution, and its development as a centre of stained glass manufacturing.

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At the height of its fame in the late Victorian era, the company of Shrigley and Hunt ranked among the leading designers and manufacturers of stained glass in Britain, rivalling the better-known contemporaries such William Morris and Company
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John O’Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

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The skill of glass making flourished in Lancaster from about the 1870s in response to the growth in church building and the number of prestigious homes which boasted luxurious stained leaded windows.

James Williamson, Lord Ashton, was a leading industrialist and one-time mayor of the city whose family firm produced linoleum (see my blog on Williamson Park). Some fine examples appear in this display cabinet. A few of these fine specimens have cool retro appeal. Oilcloth and linoleum were big business in Lancaster for over a hundred years from the 1840s until the second world war and at the industry’s height it employed over half of the city’s work force.

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Examples of the city’s metal trades are also showcased

What local museum is complete without a badly turned out mannequin or two…or three…or more…? Lancaster has not fallen short and my particular favourite is the lady below undertaking wash day duties. I have early childhood memories of my own grandma having a dolly tub in her out house, decades after it had seen its last load of laundry.

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Lancaster has a proud military history and a section of the Museum celebrates this. I was very interested in looking at the various exhibits which had belonged to real men who had fought in the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, some who died and others who survived to tell their stories. Some of their personal possessions have been donated by family members still living in the Lancaster area.

I was fascinated by the fabric and sewing detail on these uniforms and the fact that some of them looked so small, clearly worn by slim soldiers. It’s difficult to gain a sense of the proportions from this photo.

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On the left we see a regular officer’s coat of the Fourth King’s Own Royal Regiment from around 1820. In the centre is the coat of an officer of the First Royal Lancashire Militia from 1794 – 98 .To the right is the tunic of an officer of the 10th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers.

 

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A German snare drum embellished with the red rose of Lancashire
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This beautiful Coptic bible was the personal proper of Lieutenant Bray and was donated by his family.

 

More mannequins model military attire and weaponry of different eras. In the first picture a kilted Scottish rebel awaits his fate.

This little museum has no cafe, gift shop or any of the multi-media and interactive attractions we have become used to nowadays, but it’s well worth a look if you’re in the city and want to learn more about the story of Lancaster.

 

 

 

 

Carnforth Station Heritage Centre – A Brief Encounter

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Brief Encounter is one of my favourite films – and I’m not alone. It ranks in second place in the British film industry’s list of 100 greatest films. Directed by the much-celebrated David Lean in 1945, the film was based on Noel Coward’s 1936 screenplay Still Life. Filmed at various locations in England, Brief Encounter is set in 1938 and relates the love that grows between Alec, a doctor, and Laura, a middle-class housewife. They meet by chance at a fictional train station, Milford Junction, where Alec comes to Laura’s rescue and gallantly removes some grit from her eye.

A profound yet unconsummated passion develops from that meeting. It’s a very British film of the times; its respectability and restraint make it all the more intense.

There was no big budget and the cast included no A list actors, but Brief Encounter is credited as one of David Lean’s greatest works and was met with wide critical acclaim when it was released. It has gone on to achieve world-wide iconic status.

Carnforth Station sits less than ten minutes outside Lancaster on the scenic line which winds its way along the Cumbrian coast. Designed by architect William Tite and opened in 1846, there is nothing particularly striking about this station, nor – it must be said – about Carnforth. The Station’s claim to fame is that it was chosen as the site of the railway platform scenes in Brief Encounter. Its rural location enabled night time filming to take place whilst avoiding the war time blackout which was necessary in England’s towns and cities.

The Station’s now iconic clock appeared in Brief Encounter, and it is that same clock which today tells the time to passengers and visitors to the excellent Carnforth Heritage Centre. Step inside and you will be transported (pardon the pun) back in time to the heyday of steam travel.

A fantastic team of volunteers works 360 days a year to keep the museum running. Visitors come from all over the world to experience their own brief encounter with British film-making at its best, though they form more of a steady trickle than a flock. I chatted with two Canadian ladies in the gift shop who had digressed from their holiday in the nearby Lake District to see where their all-time favourite film was made.

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The Heritage Centre isn’t just about Brief Encounter. In what was once the main waiting room which is now used for presentations and educational activities, a film runs on loop which shares a potted history of the Station and the wider context of British rail travel in the decades before the end of steam.

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Authentic artefacts are displayed throughout the Centre’s various rooms and a lot of time and trouble have been taken to create a vintage feel.

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A photograph of members of the Women’s Voluntary Service who famously served tea to the troops passing through Carnforth Station during war time

Head towards the gift shop and you will see an array of Brief Encounter themed items on the shelves. I was greatly amused by the boxes of fudge and biscuits, some of which are to be included in suitcases bound for Canada. I bought a mug and ‘far too nice to be used as a tea towel’ tea towel.

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From the gift shop can be heard a melody familiar to fans of the movie: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 –  the soundtrack. Tucked away round a little corner is a tiny cinema where visitors can sit and watch Brief Encounter from proper plush picture-house seats, perhaps whilst nibbling on some of the gift shop fudge.  This is a lovely touch and a nod to the plot, as Laura and Alec initially meet innocently once a week to watch a matinee together.

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The Heritage Centre includes a year-round David Lean exhibition which celebrates the director’s life and work.

At the heart-breaking end of the film Laura and Alec, having decided to put their families and responsibilities before their doomed love, meet for the last time in the same spot where they had that first encounter; the Station’s refreshment room. Those scenes were filmed in a studio, but the set bore a strong resemblance to the refreshments room at Carnforth Station. Though now enjoying modern facilities, it still has a vintage charm.

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It is run by lovely friendly staff who serve a splendid pot of leaf tea; just the ticket on a cold January afternoon whilst waiting for a train back to the 21st century.

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Williamson Park and the Ashton Memorial, Lancaster: The Lino King’s folly and a view to die for

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The wildflower garden taken during a summer visit to the Park

 

Lancaster is the county city of Lancashire and is a place steeped in history. It’s only a small city but has many buildings of historical interest. The city is on a hill, and that, along with access to the river Lune (and from there to the Irish sea) made it an attractive prospect to the invading Romans who bestowed upon it its name – the fort near the Lune. Looking down on the city from near to the top of the hill is the Ashton Memorial, instantly recognisable on the Lancaster skyline even on a grey day in December.

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The Ashton Memorial has been compared to the Taj Mahal, not necessarily suggesting that it is grand or exotic, but because it was built as a shrine in remembrance of a much-loved deceased wife.

James Williamson, or the Lino King, was a very rich and successful business man and philanthropist from one of the city’s most eminent mercantile families. He was also one-time Mayor of the city. The family firm specialised in producing oilcloth and linoleum which they exported all over the world, hence the moniker, The Lino King. Another more formal title bestowed upon James Williamson was that of Lord Ashton. The granting of this baronetcy was always controversial as rumours ran rife that the great man had oiled not just cloth, but the palm of the then Prime Minister to secure the title. Williamson always strongly denied this, but the mutterings continued throughout his life time, leading him in the end to fall out with his home city and become a rich hoarder recluse in London.

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James Williamson, 1st Baronet Ashton

Lord Ashton commissioned the 150ft folly to be built after the death of his wife, Jessie, Lady Ashton. It was designed in the Edwardian baroque style by architect John Belcher and construction started in 1907. Ironically, by the time the Memorial was completed two years later Lord Ashton had remarried.

The grand copper dome of the folly can be seen from far and wide; you are sure to spot it when travelling north on the west coast main line or driving northbound up the M6 motorway. Around the outside of the dome are sculptures which represent commerce, science, industry and art, whilst the same are represented in the form of allegorical paintings on the inside. Unfortunately (for me, not for the people within), an event was taking place at the time of my visit, so I couldn’t peer in through the windows to take photographs of the interior. The folly is a popular venue for weddings and exhibitions, though it wasn’t clear what was taking place on this occasion. I can confirm that though my view was restricted, I didn’t spot any lino whatsoever on the floor.

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The Ashton Memorial affords wonderful views of the city of Lancaster spread out below, and of Morecambe Bay beyond.

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These wonderful views would have been the last thing on the minds of the many convicted criminals who were sentenced to hang on the gallows which stood on the same spot centuries earlier when it was moorland. Long before James Williamson’s time, this place was known as ‘Hanging Hill’ where saints and sinners alike were taken to their fates after trial at Lancaster Castle. Some of those hanged here during the 17th century include the Pendle witches and Catholic martyrs who were later made saints such as Edmund Arrowsmith and Ambrose Barlow. There is no notice or tribute near to the folly, though one exists at another location outside of the Park grounds.

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Williamson Park is a popular place for relaxation and recreation and includes a butterfly house (which I didn’t visit), a café and lots of lovely pathways through wooded areas and lush gardens. The estate was eventually bought by the city of Lancaster for the enjoyment of residents and visitors like me. I find that quite fitting as the land belonged to the city long before Lord Ashton and it’s a lovely place to spend some quiet time.

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