13 December, 2011

Preston in Lancashire Recusant council

A visit to Preston on the way home from Barrow. The Harris Museum was closed last time I called as I had called on a Sunday, although the library was open which I thought strange. Nevertheless on a Tuesday everything was open. I started at the top with the art galleries which contained a good mix of art from most centuries. The kindly gallery attendant gave me some leaflets including a historical walk around Preston (of which more later) then began to talk about anything other than painting. Perhaps people usually come in for a warm from the very chilly winds. There was a Stanley Spencer in the gallery and some lovely nineteenth century genre paintings. Portraiture was less interesting although Pauline in a yellow dress caught my eye - the 1944 Mona Lisa.

Leaving the Museum I decided to take the historical walk. This did not start too well - the Old Bull's Head where some election shenanigans took place took precedence to the Minster church of St John and St George. I began to suspect Preston was a rather recusant borough, especially as their badge is a lamb and flag. Missing out the church the next port of call was a fence - previously the site of the Temperance Hall. Formerley a cockpit where people bet on cocks fighting for money it became a place where people signed the pledge. A redemptive change of use. Demolished.
The next place on the walk was where Arkwright invented a spinning frame, and kick-started the industrial revolution. This was the house he lived in.
The next two places on the itinerary were car parks - Look one is the site of a big factory. Demolished. The other the site of the town gas works. Demolished. Oh dear - best to show people something other than car parks (and not even a good one - see later). The Gas Company was started by an RC priest... After looking at a gold thread works (converted to flats) and a statue of Sir Robert Peel in a square, it was time to go past the RC church (even invited to go inside - not me thanks) and the RC School - the first to be gas lighted which I suppose it would be given the founder of the gas company. Strange that the RC church should be mentioned and not the Established church...

The Corn Exchange, the hall of radicalism, was next on the list with its monument to cotton workers killed by the militia in 1842 during a period when mill owners reduced pay by 10%. The walk ended at a massive covered market.

It's rather a pity that nobady thought to include the best car park and bus station in the North West on the tour. Preston Bus station goes on for miles and is an iconic 20th century marvel, well deserving of listing. I used it once and it was easy to use.

There is also a rather nifty taxi rank. All in all Preston was pleasant if chilly.

03 December, 2011

Farnham and Aldershot.

Farnham is a charming little Surrey market town with a castle previously belonging to The Bishop of Winchester. The town is the most westerly in Surrey, just on the Hampshire border.

The castle is in two parts, the Medieval keep and the Bishop's palace bit. The keep is over 900 years old in its oldest pit - a really deep hole in the motte part and was broken down by Cromwell's army. The Bishop's Palace looked pretty much Tudor although built on a Medieval foundation, especially the brick built tower with polychrome brickwork. This looks a bit like Lambeth Palace.

The custodian for English Heritage at the castle keep (the only part open to the public and free) was friendly and helpful and showed me the exhibition about the castle and its bishops.
Castle street is a pleasant street of houses with georgian facades, and the tiny Windsor almshouses, built 'for the habitation and relief of eight poor honest impotent old persons'. The tiny gables and large chimneys give a quaint air to these tiny houses.
The museum explains that Farnhaam has been kept very much in an original state by the work of some estate agents on the Farnham UDC who were keen on conservation of the historic buildings and that everything should be in keeping. And a good job they made of it too. This does not mean that modern art was neglected - the Post Office Mural is a good example although not well maintained.
The Police station also has murals, but a lot less abstract.
Faarnham is the birthplace of William Cobbett who polemicised about the plight of agricultural workers. A tablet to his memory is in the church and his tomb is near the north door.

The church is dedicated to St Andrew and has been re-ordered with chairs in the nave and what the congregation call pavillions, which provide a children's corner, kitchen facilities and flexible meeting space. It's a very big church and these pavillions seem to fit in well with the architecture, although I wasn't sure about the table, lectern and font which looked like posh kitchen units.

Aldershot, or as a friend calls it 'Aldershit' is in Hampshire. Not much of interest architecturally really but it is an army town as was made very clear by a man shouting to his wife with a real parade ground bark. Dearie me.