Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends:
Some things don’t change in Penrith. The Giant’s Grave – two weathered cross-shafts flanking four Norse hogback tombstones – is the same today, apart from a little weathering, as it was in 1900, in 1800 or even in 937, when Owen, King of Cumbria, might have been buried here.
St Andrew’s Church hasn’t changed. That square tower and solid block of Georgian masonry are much as they were in the eighteenth century when the people of Penrith were given a chandelier in token of their loyalty during the Jacobite Rebellion.
And Arnison’s, the ladies and gentlemens outfitters, doesn’t change. It stood on the north side of the Market Place in 1742, before Bonnie Prince Charlie swept south and then fled north again and it stands there today, much as it was then, save for a coat of paint and some rather stylish lettering across the front.
Some places stay the same and the world changes around them. The Musgrave Monument still stands at the heart of Penrith, but there are no old cars with big bonnets and wire wheels and no men in flat caps. The road has mostly been paved over, and today the Monument looks down on some large planters and a few modern street lamps pretending to be Victorian gas lamps.
And the Black Angel, the Angel of Peace crowning the Heroes, the memorial to those men from the town who died in the Boer War, has left Corney Square and the little boys and girls in Edwardian dress. She now raises her laurel wreath aloft well away from the damaging traffic fumes, amid the lawns of Castle Park.
And the castle still stands, now tastefully and safely ruined, a relic of its former days.
But Cranstons has changed. In 1914, Stanley Cranston, master butcher of Kirkoswald, rode his horse and cart around the Eden valley delivering local produce. Today, Cranstons occupy a massive steel and glass foodhall.
In the Beacon Garage and Engineering Works in 1834 brand new cars could be snapped up for a mere £150 and workmen busied themselves at belt lathes, tinkering with engines. The garages and motor traders have left the town centre for the industrial estates on the outskirts.
And Woolworth’s has changed. Three years ago its big, brash red sign still stood in Middlegate. Everything was for sale at half-price. Today B&M Stores is “pursuing a business model very like Woolwoth’s when it advertised goods for 3d and 6d”.
Bryan Lindley and Judith Heyworth have not compiled the usual then and now photography book. Their reflections on time and change in Penrith are more thoughtful.
All towns are changing at an unprecedented rate. Dress shops become tattooists. Bowman’s and Rickerby’s were demolished in 2010 and “steelwork emerged from the mists of January, 2011”, to form the new Booth’s Supermarket. It was opened by Edwin Booth in a horse-drawn dray eleven months later.
The new Sainsbury’s – the traditional supermarket steel shed hidden behind a grand classical frontage – opened in 2011.
The New Squares development is linked with the town centre through Princes Square and Two Lions Square. Pedestrians walk underneath a metalwork arch as they walk from the old town to the new. The arch displays metal silhouettes of the Musgrave Monument, St Andrew’s Church and other landmarks of the old town. It remains to be seen how much further change awaits Penrith.
Meanwhile, The George Hotel, having once played host to Bonnie Prince Charlie, awaits the guests of the coming years. Some things don’t change.
Penrith Through Time is available from Bookends, 56 Castle Street,
Carlisle, and 66 Main Street. Keswick, and from www.bookscumbria.com.