All that blood-red stone in the heart of town can seem oppressive at times, but raise your eyes and there are little bits of magic to be seen. Like this intricately-carved stone plaque, which would have done credit to many a mediaeval cathedral, close to the entrance to the shipyard offices in Bridge Road, Barrow Island. I wonder how many people notice this? The BSBC referred to is the Barrow Ship Building Company. The stag’s head comes, I believe from the arms of the Scott family, Dukes of Buccleuch, who put up part of the capital for the whole Barrow project.
While doing some research for this piece I stumbled upon a piece about Barrow published in the New York Times in 1881. It does a good job, I think, of evoking the grandeur that was Barrow.
Last night, it being a lovely mild evening, I walked home from the Bridge Club across the High Bridge, and saw the dock calm and like a mirror. So, naturally, I had to take a picture for the blog. The
Trident Shed Devonshire Dock Hall looks almost beautiful in such conditions. It goes to prove that miracles are sometimes possible!
Earlier in the year there was rather strange phenomenon here late at night. The gulls. back when half of them weren’t busy sitting on eggs or nurturing chicks, were attracted to the lights and fluttered around the shed in large numbers, the yellowish light reflected of the pale bodies so that they looked like gold dust shimmering in the air. Next year I may take the Nikon out and try to photograph it.
Not that many people bother to walk across the bridge. That’s a shame, as there are many treats to be seen for those who take the time to look.
It will soon be Wimbledon time and in time-honoured tradition by the second day we’ll be waving goodbye to the last gallant Brits. Ever wondered why Britain is rubbish at tennis? I don’t. It’s not to do with hothousing a hand-picked elite, it’s much more fundamental than that.
Partly it’s to do with rubbish facilities like these neglected grass courts. I’m tempted not to say where they are, but they are at the club where I play bowls and the bowling green is very well attended to. I only have bowls membership, but one can have tennis membership and even tennis plus bowls membership. Those latter categories, while not as exclusive as tennis club memberships might be in Surrey, say, or Hertfordshire, are not especially cheap and you certainly don’t get much for your money. Not that I’ve ever seen anybody playing, mind, while the bowling green is in constant use.
Oh, and the other part. Let me tell you a story. I was generally dismissed as rubbish at sports at school so was never taken seriously. I liked playing tennis, however – my father was a useful player in his time and had trophies to prove it – and when I spent time in France the family I stayed encouraged me in a way that nobody in England ever had. They implored me to develop my talent and told me I must join a club. So, when I got home, sixteen and eager, I persuaded my parents to sub me into joining the local tennis club as a junior at not inconsiderable expense, so that I could go along to the coaching session. I also had to invest in proper tennis whites, not something the French were all that bothered about. All that mattered for the French was that you played tennis as often as you could. The first time I went to coaching, I waited while the littlies – under tens, mostly, had their session, and then went on the courts for coaching with the older juniors. Older meaning 12-14 mostly, so I was much older and bigger than most of them. After ten minutes or so, the coach – a Mr Brian Lacey: I haven’t forgotten you bastard, if you’re still alive – took me aside, offered me my session fee back and told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t good enough for his coaching group, as “most of these are county standard and have been holding a racket since they could walk.” The last shred of my pride and confidence I used to refuse the refund. I went straight home, shut myself in my bedroom and cried for the rest of the weekend.
I never played tennis again.
Barrow’s municipal trams ceased to run in the 1930s. This was part of a greater crime committed in the name of selfishness the private car; all but Blackpool had banished their trams and even Blackpool’s were restricted to a limited tourist rout along the prom (albeit with a useful extension to Fleetwood.) We are now, of course, regretting this in the days of fuel crises and green awareness, and some cities are spending vast sums reimplementing their trams. In most of the rest of Europe they were more circumspect.
There’s no obvious prospect of Barrow getting trams back but in one part of Barrow Island, at the top end of Michaelson Road by Devonshire Buildings, some of the tracks remain on a stretched used as a car park.
I like trams. All other things being equal, a city with trams is a more pleasant and civilised place than one without.
I don’t know that this unglamorous little cut actually has a formal name. It connects Duke Street, by the Town Hall and main bus stops, with the main shopping area of Portland Walk and Dalton Road and passes by the service entrance of the Forum 28 arts centre on the way. Legionnaire’s Alley will do nicely, though the Borough Council would probably not agree.
In 2002 Barrow, not normally accustomed to national attention, hit the headlines when an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease killed seven local people. All of them had been walking down here, and the infection was traced to the outlet from Forum 28’s air-conditioning system, which sprayed a mist of contaminated water droplets from filthy tanks on to the hapless passers by. Enquiries were held, scapegoats found, wrists slapped, and the real corner-cutting guilty parties allowed to get away with it, more or less.
It is no longer thought to take a deep breath and run through as quickly as possible with a handkerchief pressed to one’s face. Furthermore, late in the evening it’s quite a good place late in the evening to chat to the road crews of the acts appearing on the Forum 28 Stage (some of them more than respectable names I might add, if from a bygone age.)
There’s something reassuringly enduring about iron. Even if the iron ore mines and the iron works are long gone, their legacy lingers on as we have already seen with a large number of surviving Barrow street signs. Not only that; in these days of constant shifts in corporate ownerships and branding, and consequent frequent changes of corporate identity, the plain words VICKERS LIMITED set in wrought iron have outlasted the mighty engineering company by a good many years now. Of course, many Barrovians still speak of what is currently BAE Systems plc as “Vickers”. And real Barrovians think in terms of Vickers Armstrong. It’s more than a name, it’s a whole town’s culture.
When I was little, a railway track issued from this gate and joined the tracks that ran the length of Bridge Road and North Road. Those tracks are now a linear car park. A great shame.
I’ve been out of town all day today, traipsing round the Westmorland Moors (is that a tautology?) So I’m afraid I haven’t got a fresh picture for you today. Instead, here’s a two-year-old shot taken at the North End of Walney a couple of years ago. The North End is covered with sand dunes with a scattering of ponds, and is a nature reserve as home to reptiles and amphibians, notably the Natterjack.
Incidentally, in case you were wondering, my definition of Barrow for the purpose of this blog is the old County Borough of Barrow, which included all of Walney but not Dalton, Askam and a rural hinterland currently included in the Borough of Barrow-in-Furness.
Remember corporation bus services, which provided frequent and cheap local transport in the days before the idea took hold that getting too close to the lower orders was demeaning and Maggie Thatcher abolished them in favour of clogging up the roads with 4 x 4s? We could do with a few more of them now that the oil crisis is beginning to bite (and it ain’t going to let go now, believe me.)
I said I’d grab the chance when the preserved and lovingly rebuilt old Barrow Corporation Transport buses came out to play, and this sunny (but distinctly blowy!) bank holiday weekend is the one where they do so most often. Here we are, in the guise of BCT no 170, waiting in less-than-savoury Cornwallis Street to take the nostalgic for a ride. I’ll leave it up to others to provide the technical details should they so wish. I’ll content myself with a thrill at seeing the inky-blue livery, such a contrast with the sky-blue Birkenhead buses I was used to. (what colour were your local buses?)
They missed a trick though, not showing the colour-coded destination blinds, but you can see there’s no place for a route number.
The first lesser black-backed gull chicks I’ve seen this year – and at least the first within snapping distance of the Nikoff at full digital zoom (so the standard of the picture isn’t great but forgive me.)
These quintessentially Barrovian birds aren’t only seen nesting on the marshes of south Walney; this one is part of a substantial colony that nest on waste ground right in the town centre, next to the Devonshire Dock and right underneath the busy Michaelson Road High-Level Bridge. They share this space with rabbits, who have their own purpose-built warren on the land, and a couple of opportunistic magpies for whom gull eggs are a special treat. The rabbits may often be seen grazing around the nesting birds and the two species live in harmony. Not so the magpies, whichare persistent but get kept at bay by wing-wielding, beak-snapping threat displays. By the gulls, I mean, not by the rabbits!
The Sjaelland, registered in Korsør, Denmark, sits at anchor in Buccleuch Dock next to Morrisons car park, where it serves Barrow as coffee shop, restaurant, bar and nightclub. Its future is chronically uncertain and as long as I’ve been living here it’s been about to sail to a new location in Liverpool. As of today, however, it’s still there and still open and doing almost negligable trade (but then I’ve never been there in the evening or at night.)
It’s a great shame that the Sjaelland, or Princess Selandia as it’s owners prefer to call it, isn’t a Barrow-built boat. It was built at Århus and spent a previous existence plying between Korsør and Nyborg bearing trains, cars and passengers.