Just twenty-five years ago the very centre of Carlisle was a jumble of derelict buildings. It was more like a medieval shambles than the heart of a modern city. But the Old Lanes was an area that many city people still remember with great affection.
Vincent White is one of them. Before the Lanes disappeared forever he was there with pen and sketch pad in hand. Sometimes it was in the very last hours before the bulldozers moved in.
He shows the old Keys Lane with upturned paving stones and anarchic weeds, with rendering falling off crumbling brickwork and sagging, breaking gutters and cables. In Crown and Anchor Lane a despairing sign proffered Denture Repairs and hoardings had been erected around Adams Fruit Shop after it collapsed on 14th March, 1978.
The busiest lane was the one that took its name from the Crown and Anchor public house. Its cobbled street was host to such well-known city names as Kelleys the Ironmongers, Pink Panther Records and Northern Vacuums.
Around the corner, in Earl Street, Hetheringtons Auction Mart stood deserted. Grass sprouted from the guttering and weeds grew out of the chimney. Once it had been home to sheep and cattle sales. Flocks of geese wearing leather shoes had been marshalled along Warwick Road and through its doors. The old building simply waited for the end, and its eventual replacement by the new Courts of Justice.
Just along the road, the ornate buildings of Beattie and Co. have survived, although the yard no longer echoes to the stonemasons hammer.
Her Majestys Theatre, which so many people remember with real pleasure, is awaiting the last rites. Its windows are boarded up and the estate agents signs have replaced the play bills that once adorned its fa=E7ade.
The Railway Mission Hall in East Tower Street has disappeared as has the building on the corner which was once home to Mungo Jaxx, the hairdresser, and Grays Art Shop.
Some buildings have remained the same. The Castle Hairdressing Room still sports the stained glass windows installed by Hill and Stephenson, the Decorators who originally occupied the building. The Sportsman Inn next to St Cuthberts is now dwarfed by Marks and Spencers. Dean Taits Lane and the view along Paternoster Row still looks largely as it did in Victorian times and the round tower of the Citadel looks as though it will last until the crack of doom.
Holy Trinity Church which stood serenely above Caldewgate has been demolished and the frontage of Carrs Biscuit Works was blown down in the autumn storms of 1983. The Globe Inn is still there, but minus its stained glass windows and the Joiners Arms is still known universally as The Blue Lugs.
In the villages around Carlisle buildings have come and gone. The church at Burgh has been there since Norman times, but the sports changing rooms at Hadrians Camp have very little time left. The fine old smithy, Vulcans forge, in Great Corby, looks as strong and steadfast as the smith himself and just beyond Rickerby Park, in the fields, is the octagonal folly erected by George Head Head.
Carlisle and its Villages is a deeply personal record of our city. For Vincent White this book has been a labour of love. These very fine drawings are a tribute to the character of the Border City. - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.