Book review by Steve Matthews.
Carlisle History Tour by Billy K Howorth. Amberley. £7.99
A maid in a straw hat, white blouse and long black skirt, rests her hand on the handles of a perambulator, large and black and remarkably well sprung, that is almost as tall as she is. Looking at her are three young boys leaning against the railings of St Cuthbert’s Church. Their flat caps are pulled down tightly on their heads and their short trousers descend almost to the long woollen socks that they wear. These are the people of Carlisle’s history going about their business in the streets we still know today.
In Bitts Park the park keeper leans on his broom as he passes the time of day with a man out for a morning stroll. The Park itself was laid out in the 1890s in an area that was once a rubbish tip. The name Bitts refers to the small pieces of land which were used to graze cattle.
In Botchergate a tram glides past pedestrians standing in a street which today is thronged with traffic. Botchergate was originally Botchardgate and named after the Flemish family who settled there in the time of Henry I. “During the Middle Ages”, Billy Howorth tells us, “it had a somewhat unique and uncivilised character, being home to many hostelries and inns.”
The three tiers of seats in Her Majesty’s Theatre are packed out. The theatre was offering “Stop-over tickets from 7.30 p.m.” Originally built in 1874 as the Victoria Hall, it was re-opened as Her Majesty’s Theatre in 1905 after the original building had been devastated by fire. It was demolished in 1979, after a brief period as The Municipal Theatre and as a bingo hall.
A Victorian engraving shows carriages drawn up in Rickerby Park as their owners watch the soldiers drill in front of their camp. The area, which had been owned by “several wealthy families including the Pickerings, Gilpins, Richardsons and Rickerbys” was first landscaped in 1835. In 1920 it was sold to the Citizen’s League for £11,500 and opened as a public space.
The gardens at Eden Bridge were built by the unemployed during the Depression in the 1930s, using stone recycled from Eden Bridge, which was being widened, and from the old gaol in English Street, which was being demolished.
Marks and Spencer’s now stands on the site of Highmore House. In 1745, during the Jacobite rebellion, both Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Duke of Cumberland stayed in the house. It wasn’t until 1895 that William Wright converted the fine old house into a shop and then in the 1930s it was demolished to make way for today’s department store.
The ancient Guilhall, made from wattle and daub, has survived since the middle ages. Then it was home to the guilds of butchers, merchants, shoemakers, skinners, smiths, tailors, tanners and weavers. In later centuries it housed the assize courts and the quarter sessions. A hundred years ago the name of J Huthart & Co.Ltd. General Drapers was displayed across its frontage and the old hall served as its “Baby Linen, Underclothing and Corset Dept.”
The Carr’s Biscuit factory in Caldewgate once employed over a thousand people. It made over 120 different varieties of biscuit and was the largest bakery in Britain. Th firm claimed that, “The appetite never tires of Carr’s Table Water Biscuits”.
Billy Howrth takes us on an entertaining and informed ramble through the streets of historic Carlisle. Using old photographs and postcards and nineteenth century engravings, he visits 49 locations within the city from the old workhouse at Fusehill to the Victoria Viaduct to the Cenotaph and the Gretna Tavern. It is a small book, but it captures a real flavour of the historic Border City.