Here’s one of my favourite Barrow facades. Oxford Chambers, once home amongst other things to the Central Cigar Depot (whatever that might have been), is now derelect, and judging by what’s happening to its neighbours on Abbey Road opposite the Coronation Gardens it’s probably not long for this world. I don’t know if Ken Mac would agree with me, but I can’t help feeling this wouldn’t be out of place in some parts of Manhattan.
A picture I took a few days ago, as another of Barrow’s pubs falls. One does have to wonder if this is because so many of them are all the same, and not very appealing. All, for example, with the ubiquitous atellite TV with non-stop sport. There’s certainly an opening for a Barrow pub with good beer and the kind of atmosphere that forsters conversation.
I apologise to my readers for not posting yesterday – the first day I’ve missed since starting the project. The truth is, yesterday I was busy writing a piece right up against a deadline, and then when I’d finished in the early evening I felt really ill and unable to do anything. Today I’m running a temperature, feel very weak and have slept most of the say. All warm fuzzies received gratefully!
It goes without saying that, in a town created by Victorian philanthropists, a lot of attention was paid to the moral well-being of the lower orders flocking in from Glasgow, Belfast and Cornwall as well as from the rest of Lancashire. And cleanliness being next to Godliness, what better gift could James Ramsden bequeath than a public bath house?
The Abbey Road Baths were certainly in use as a very elegant public swimming pool in the 1960s, but tastes change, I suppose, and with local government reform in 1974 (which not only plucked Barrow from its rightful place in Lancashire but also stripped it of its autonomous County Borough status), new and thrusting young municipal managers wanted showpiece leisure centres with flumes and wave machines and no room for anything so boring as actually swimming. (Nesh modern people have to have the water warmed up too – now how much does it cost in money and carbon emissions to keep our swimming pools suitably warm?) So the old public baths, however elegant, had to go.
Fortunately the Abbey Road Baths were listed so at least the building survives even if it’s now called Ramsden Hall and houses the Citizens Advice Bureau. It hasn’t met the fate of, for example, the Walney Baths at Biggar Bank, where I made my first tentative efforts to swim and which has now vanished with barely a trace.
You open the little iron door and you pour the coal straight into the cellar or coal shed, see!
Lots of the old coal holes have been bricked up now, but plenty still remain. I spotted this one as I walked aimlessly down Rawlinson Street this afternoon, and I was immediately struck by the colours.
Here’s another of the fine Victorian buildings in Barrow town centre that escaped the successive ravages of the Luftwaffe, 1960s property developers, and the current Tory council. This one is, as it happens, my own doctor’s surgery, where I went this morning for a consultation and this afternoon for my free NHS pneumococcal vaccination (to which I, despite my tender years, am entitled on account of my asthma.)
As far as I know it’s always been home to a medical practice. These days it’s more than the consulting rooms of a group of GPs, it’s a self-contained medical centre offering a wide range of services in the way that today’s NHS managers would like us to have more of. I have mixed feelings about this – it feels a bit mechanical and getting an appointment with my doctor of choice these days is a bit like booking a squash court at the Richmond Town club used to be, and I’ve appreciated the personal attention from a small one-doctor practice in the past, but it is pretty handy.
The big roundabout at the central junction of Abbey Road and Duke Street is no longer the main gateway to town but it still sees a lot of traffic. That’s Jimmy Ramsden himself, all in green with his back to us as he gazes up his great boulevard.
I always think this scene has more than a whiff of provincial France, don’t you? Or is it just my warped imagination?
Coniston Old Man, which is 803 metres high and about 40 kilometres away, is seen here from the old tram shelter which still stands on Walney Promenade at the junction with Central Drive. You might not have seen this view too well, up to forty years ago. Where the shiny new Furness College now stands used to be the ironworks, and it could be hard to penetrate the murk.
It’s been a perfectly vile day in Barrow today. Midsummer? Don’t make me laugh, it’s been blowing a real hooley all day, and for a while it was pissing down. This morning it was only drizzling[*] and I went out for a short run in it – that was more than enough and I wasn’t going out with the Nikoff afterwards!
So, let’s start taking a look at some of Barrow’s distinguished Victorian and Edwardian buildings, beginning with the old fire statiion of 1911 at the bottom of Abbey Road, below Ramsden Square (meaning Jimmy Ramsden stands with his back to it.) It’s not a fire station any more, although the old doorways have been retained. These days it’s home to a bed shop amongst other things.
I only took the picture yesterday so it’s not stale yet.
[*] Where did this recent idea of ‘drizzling’ olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chocolate sauce, etc, onto food come from? That’s not a fine spray that wets thoroughly. The word here is surely ‘dribble’?
It’s been a pretty unpleasant day today. Barrow reverted to form with heavy rain and a strong wind from the south-east blowing right along the dock. Not much fun for humans. But is it too anthropomorphic to suggest that the gulls are having a great time?
These, as attentive readers of this blog may remember, are lesser black-blacked gulls, Larus fuscus, of which one in twelve of the entire world population is a Barrovian. In any conditions, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion when you watch them over the dock that these masters of flight spend much of their time flying, not for survival, but for the sheer joy of flying. On a windy day like this it’s even more impressive, as the birds just hang there, stationary and riding on the wind with the merest twitching of wing feathers to keep them there. Then they simply swerve away, only to return to the games seconds later. Magic!
Not the one in St John’s Wood (I once drove down that unwittingly, and was so taken aback by the suddenly familiar vista with the zebra crossing that I nearly swerved off the road. Subsequently I drove down it many times quite wittingly, often with an unwitting visitor sitting next to me.) Not even the EMI recording studio, and certainly not the Beatles’ final album. No, this is the Abbey Road on which I was born. And a fine piece of road it is, for the most part.
Looking at Barrow today it’s hard to remember the grandeur of James Ramsden’s vision for his New Liverpool. To cap it all, he wanted a grand boulevard to sweep the visitor from the heights of Furness down to his dream by the sea. More than a century and a half on it’s still there. The trams came and went a long time ago, the levels of traffic (without a horse in sight) would astonish him. The bottom end looks pretty shabby these days, and since the Dalton by-pass was opened a few years ago it’s not even the main way into town, but it’s still pretty impressive and not many towns have such an attractive approach. Pity about the mess when you get to the bottom, mind!
I’ve caved in to the Alphabet Friday theme that features in some other CDP blogs, and I’ll continue it as long as I remember. Don’t hold your breath…