The Rum Story, Whitehaven

Until June 1998 Jefferson’s Wine Merchants in Whitehaven was the oldest family owned wine and spirit merchants in the country. Founded by Robert Jefferson in 1785 the family business traded in wines from Spain and Portugal and rum, sugar and molasses from the West Indies. A large proportion of the sugar imported into Whitehaven was from the Jefferson-owned estate in Antigua and it was from there they also imported their famous rum, with all the imports being carried by their own ships.
The wine merchants business operated from the same Whitehaven premises for over 200 years, then after the last two Jeffersons decided to wind things down and close the shop in 1998 plans were put in place to convert the premises into a tourist attraction which explores Whitehaven’s links with the rum trade. Housed within the original 1785 shop, courtyard, cellars and bonded warehouses of the Jefferson family the Rum Story opened its doors to the public in September 2000 and is the world’s first Story of Rum exhibition.
Authentically designed to show the different aspects of the rum trade from its very early days through to more modern times the museum doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the past – crime, drunkenness and slavery, all fuelled by rum, are clearly depicted and information panels tell of the links between rum and the navy, rum and the Titanic, and how Nelson was pickled in a barrel of his favourite brandy after his death.
An archway between what is now the gift shop and the premises next door led to a light and attractive covered courtyard where I found the kinetic clock which performs every half hour and depicts the way rum is made, from the harvesting of the sugar cane to the bottling of the rum itself; it was seeing a picture of this clock in my ‘111 Places’ book which inspired me to visit the museum.
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Behind the clock was the original Jefferson’s clerk’s office, substantially unchanged since the turn of the 19th/20th century. With its high desks and stools, items of office equipment, old safe and hand written records on display it had been the hub of the Jefferson empire for many many years. Although it was free to look inside the office there was an entrance fee (currently £9.95 for adults) for the main museum where double doors took me into an Antiguan rainforest complete with accompanying sounds and humidity.
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One of the busiest ports in the country during the 18th century, Whitehaven had an extensive trade with Africa, America and the Caribbean, and rum and sugar became the town’s driving force. Ships sailed from Whitehaven loaded with manufactured products to be traded for African slaves who were then shipped in appalling conditions to the Caribbean, where they were traded for sugar and rum which were then shipped back to Whitehaven. One of Cumbria’s most famous products, Kendal Mint Cake first produced in 1869, was made with Caribbean sugar imported into the town.
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African village

Slavery chains and shackles

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Rum cellar
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The cooper’s workshop where young men would learn the art of barrel making
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The giant ‘Jefferson Barrel’ could hold 1,720 gallons of rum (7,819 litres) and filled with Jefferson’s Rum today the contents would be worth nearly £40,000 at the current prices. The story of Horatio Nelson’s life and naval career, told on pictorial information panels, was extremely interesting and I learned more about him there than I ever did at school. Starting his naval career at just 12 years old he rose rapidly through the ranks and became a captain at the age of 21, in charge of 200 men in the West Indies. He was respected and loved by all who served under him and after his death at Trafalgar in 1805 his body was brought back to England preserved in a barrel which, although reputed to have been full of rum, was more likely to have been his favourite brandy.
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Many of The Rum Story’s settings are so authentic that they are used for scenes in television dramas and period films, and to see these sets for myself I could understand why as they are so realistic. With three floors of well set out displays and shed loads of information the museum was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been in, though I couldn’t possibly photograph everything there was to see as there was so much of it. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the clock performing as I just missed it both going in and coming out and with only two free hours in Tesco’s car park I didn’t want to linger, however there’s a cafe in the courtyard so I may very well go back another time for a coffee and to see the clock in action.

Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick

Home to the world’s largest coloured pencil, the Derwent Pencil Museum was featured in my ‘111 Places’ book along with another place in Keswick which seemed quite intriguing so towards the end of my first week on holiday I decided to pay a visit.
Back in the early 16th century graphite was discovered in the Borrowdale area of Cumbria, with the first documented use of it for writing and drawing being in 1565. In the early days of pencil making a small cottage industry making artists’ pencils by hand started in Keswick, this then became a commercial venture from 1792 onwards. By 1811 the town had three main manufacturers – John Ladyman, John Airey and Jacob Banks, but by 1829 that number had increased to thirteen.
The Cumberland Pencil Company started life in 1832 under the name of “Banks, Son & Co”. This company passed through several owners before becoming the Cumberland Pencil Company in 1916, and in 1932 the first coloured pencil was produced. In 1980 the company was bought by the American firm Acco Brands, known then as Rexel, and the Derwent name became a brand of their product range.
The factory was renovated several times over the years, the last renovation being in the 1950s, but as machinery and production methods changed over time the factory became unviable. In the mid 1990s plans were put forward to redevelop the building but they didn’t meet the criteria for the Lake District National Park Planning Authority so eventually the decision was made to re-locate to new premises in Workington outside the National Park boundary.
The new factory was officially opened by the Queen on June 5th 2008 though the old factory building still stands close to the River Greta in Keswick, with the Pencil Museum, which opened in 1981, situated in a single story building in front of it. In December 2015 the museum was badly damaged by several feet of flood water when the river broke its banks as a result of Storm Desmond; many artefacts were destroyed and although a lot of the exhibits were salvaged one limited-edition collection was completely ruined and couldn’t be replaced. After an 18-month closure the museum reopened to the public in June 2017 with Countryfile  tv presenter John Craven cutting the ribbon.
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Paying my £4.95 at the door I was given a Derwent pencil as an ‘entry ticket’ then found myself walking through a mock-up of a graphite mine tunnel leading to the main part of the museum. A couple of life-size models represented mine workers and a display case on top of a large wooden box contained three skulls, and while I could ~ maybe ~ see the significance of the models I hadn’t a clue what the skulls were all about. To be honest the whole set-up felt weird and wouldn’t have looked out of place as part of a fairground ghost train.

Emerging from the ‘mine’ I found the rest of the museum to be fairly light and bright, with information panels on the walls showing the history of graphite, the company, and how pencils are made. Several display cases contained examples of various items produced over the years but unfortunately so much glass produced too much light reflection – photography wasn’t easy and a lot of my shots had to be severely cropped or deleted.
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Paint cart and pots

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Painting machine

One thing I did find interesting was the development of the ‘secret map and compass’ pencil. During WW2  Charles Fraser-Smith was known to be a civil servant in the textile department of the Ministry of Supply but in reality he was a ‘gadget man’ working at the direction of MI6, developing and supplying a wide range of spy and escape gadgets for the Special Operations Executive. Always on the lookout for ways to help airmen evade capture, prisoners of war to escape, and secret agents to get information back to Britain, he approached Fred Tee, the technical manager at Cumberland Pencils, to see if a pencil could be made with a secret compartment.
Tee worked out how to make the pencils then he and his fellow managers, all sworn to silence by the Official Secrets Act, would creep back into the factory after hours to do their work. A box of finished pencils would be taken off the shelf and the insides partially drilled out, then a tightly rolled map would be slipped inside each one, the metal ferrule would be placed on the end, a tiny compass inserted and the eraser glued back on; at the end of the job each pencil looked just as it had at the start.
In 1999, as part of the company’s commemoration of the forthcoming millennium, Clive Farrar, the technical manager at the time, wanted to reproduce the WW2 pencil. It was a job which proved to be very difficult even with modern machinery and technology; the story is told by Clive himself in a continuously running video and an example is displayed on one of the information boards.
Also for the millennium the company produced the Borrowdale Collection, a special edition box containing all the Derwent ranges plus some special edition pencils which had been produced over the years. There was no indication of how much this would have cost to buy but looking at the prices of some of the things in the shop and on the website – some items well over £200 – it would have been extremely expensive.
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To commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 Derwent crafted a special Diamond Jubilee Pencil; only two were made, with one being presented to Her Majesty and the other being displayed in the museum. Using previously archived graphite originally taken from the Borrowdale mine where it was first discovered the pencils were meticulously hand crafted by Clive Farrar using the traditional pencil making skills from before 1832. Once painted, the barrels were embellished with caligraphy by Paul Antonio and finished with a crown encrusted with 60 diamonds supported by white gold fleur-de-lys to symbolise royalty.
Also to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee, on the wall nearby was a portrait of the Queen produced by pencil artist Samantha Norbury whose clients include Sir Cliff Richard and well known darts players Bobby George and Phil Taylor. Commissioned by Derwent it was created using only Derwent Artists’ Pencils.
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A set of 72 Derwent Artists’ Pencils

In the centre of the room was the one thing I’d really gone to see – the world’s largest coloured pencil. The idea of technical manager Barbara Murray, the yellow pencil is 26ft long, weighs 446.36 kilos, or just over 984 lbs in old money, and was completed on May 28th 2001.
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Once I’d seen all there was to see, which didn’t take very long as the museum isn’t a big place, I had a browse round the shop where I came across a multi-coloured sheep which had been part of the Herdwick Trail  in 2016. Full size models of 60 ewes and 48 lambs were sponsored by local businesses, decorated by local artists and dotted around the tourist routes from Keswick to Windermere. Eventually they were all auctioned off to enable The Calvert Trust, a residential centre for people with sensory, learning or physical disabilities, to develop their riding school’s facilities.
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Although the museum had been interesting in many ways much of it was given over to displays of different pencils in various tins, tubes and boxes and ‘artistic arrangements’, and while the information boards gave great detail of the discovery and use of graphite and how pencils are made I thought they were rather lacking in the finer details of the history of the place; even the website seems to concentrate more on the products they sell.
With the mock-up of the mine tunnel at the entrance, three random skulls, a seemingly pointless life-size model in a pilot’s uniform standing at the far end, and the multi-coloured sheep in the shop this, to me at least, was a bit of an odd place. It passed 45 minutes of my time though, and having seen the world’s largest coloured pencil in the flesh, so to speak, I can now cross the museum off my ‘places to see’ list.

J B Banks & Son Ltd, Cockermouth

I don’t know where I first found out about the traditional hardware shop and heritage museum in Cockermouth – it wasn’t featured in my ‘111 Places’ book so maybe it was on a leaflet picked up from somewhere a couple of years ago – but while I was in town getting the antihistamines for my horsefly bite I thought I may as well check the place out.
Around 1829 John Banks opened a tin smithy business in a building at the rear of what is now the hardware shop, then in 1836 he added a plumber’s workshop to the tin smithy and opened the shop at the front, with the deeds of the property being signed by William Wordsworth’s father who was then the land agent for Lord Lowther. John’s son, also named John, later joined his father in the business which then became J B Banks & Son. As well as being a successful businessman John Banks was also a local personality of some influence and his proposal that there should be proper control over the ownership of guns eventually led to the introduction of the gun licence.
In 1902 the business employed 16-year old Wilfred Jackson. Every day he would cycle to and from his home, five miles each way, and often acted as the delivery boy, carrying all manner of items for neighbours and customers on his bike. In 1923, at the age of 37 and by then a partner in J B Banks & Son, Wilfred married Daisy Emerson who had a confectionery business in the town and their son Jack was born in 1926. Wilfred worked full time until he had major surgery at the age of 72 then he resumed work on a part time basis until his death at the age of 78.
On January 5th 1933 the business became a limited company and in 1942, at the age of 16, Jack Jackson joined his father Wilfred in the firm, though he took a break from the business in 1944 when he joined the Royal Marines for three years. In 1957 he married Dorothy Eckford and they went on to have three children, Kay, Alan and Vanessa. In 1958 Peter Chandler, who had been Jack’s best man, joined him in the shop and worked there for many years until he retired through ill health.
Jack Jackson, like John Banks before him, was a man of many parts. He was a founder member and President of the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team established in 1953, and by the late 1960s he had bought out the remaining ‘sleeping partner’ in the business. In his spare time he collected all kinds of local memorabilia, particularly antique locks and keys, and in 1969 he became a magistrate, only retiring in 1996 when he reached the age of 70.
On three separate occasions between 1950 and 1970 the shop front was damaged after being hit by lorries going uphill on nearby Castlegate, the steep and narrow road going out of the town. All three lost control on the ascent and slipped backwards, crashing into the shop front. It was also in the late 1960s that the shop was extended backwards and joined to the separate tin smithy at the rear, and it was then that the long forgotten well was discovered in the former shop yard
As a young girl Jack’s youngest daughter Vanessa would get pocket money for cleaning all the brass scales and weights and polishing the mahogany shop counters, then she officially joined the payroll in 1985 at the age of 22. The firm also owns the commercial and residential premises behind and above the business and Vanessa managed the letting of these premises as well as working in the shop. When Vanessa passed away in 2018 at the age of 55 her role was taken over by her daughter Sarah who had become the fourth generation of the family firm when she joined in 2014, and now with Sarah and her dad, Chris, who has taken a more active role in the business, J.B Banks continues to serve its customers and community.
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The heritage museum came about as a result of the devastating flood of November 19th 2009 when the rivers Cocker and Derwent, which meet in the town, burst their banks after heavy rainfall. The shop was flooded to a depth of 4.5ft, counters were overturned, stock was ruined and silt was left everywhere. The clean up and salvage operation took eight weeks, during which ruined stock was removed, the whole floor was replaced, stained and aged and the counters were repaired, cleaned and polished.
Due to an accumulation of paperwork and items collected and stored upstairs over many years there had been no room to put things during the flood so realising that space was needed in case of an emergency Vanessa and expert locksmith Ken Day, who joined the business in 1963 and is still there, took on the task of sorting through everything on the first floor during 2010. With nearly 200 years of history to go through it took quite some time to identify and label all the items found in the old workshop; while many items were retained others were sold and local archives took some of the interesting paperwork for their records.
The workshop and office were left as authentic as possible, with original ‘sit up and beg’ desks, high stools and typewriters from different eras in the office, while in the workshop a massive workbench running the length of six windows was left with vices, hammers, anvils, pipe benders and more, looking just as if the workers had put down their tools and gone home for the day. Once everything was sorted out the public were allowed through the rear doors of the shop on a regular basis from 2011.
Entering the shop from the sunlit street was like stepping into another era. Even though it does sell plenty of modern day items it looked just like the independent hardware shops I remember from my childhood, where you could get almost anything no matter how obscure it was. It also reminded me of the classic Two Ronnies ‘Four Candles’ sketch, and looking round this shop I was in no doubt that it would be possible to buy four candles – or even fork handles.
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Pre-decimal coins and old keys set in a counter top

Through the door at the back of the shop the ground floor of the museum was a mixture of antique tools and equipment, memorabilia and old signs and school photographs, with a unique ATCO Trainer car and the old well in one corner. There’s a long-standing rumour that there may be a secret passage in the well, connecting it to the nearby castle, but so far no-one has ever tried to find it.
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Fire bell from Cockermouth fire station

The ATCO Trainer car was manufactured by Charles H Pugh Ltd of Birmingham, a company better known for the production of lawn mowers. After the introduction of the Highway Code in 1931 and compulsory driving tests in 1935 the car was designed as a Safety First trainer car for school children, to help stem the rising numbers of road casualties by giving them basic training in car handling and road sense from an early age. Built around a 1939 ATCO lawn mower with the cutters removed it had a 98cc 2-stroke petrol engine in the back and scaled-down versions of a full-size car’s controls, with the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals all in the normal positions. With a speed of 8-10mph starting was by a pull handle between the two seats and there was just one forward and one reverse gear.
The original plan was to sell these cars in great numbers to schools and local authorities as part of a nationwide road safety initiative, a plan which received widespread backing from the press, politicians and the House of Lords, and distribution was to be through the motor trade and established ATCO lawn mower outlets. The cars were launched on June 16th 1939 but after only 250 had been built the project was cancelled with the outbreak of World War 2; it was estimated that 200 had been sold with the rest being broken up for the war effort.
With the introduction of fuel rationing, and the car’s small engine being able to achieve a distance of up to 80 miles on just one gallon of petrol, some of the cars were registered for the road to be used by adults rather than children and the Sunday Chronicle of November 26th 1939 featured a picture of an Oxford businessman driving a road registered ATCO Trainer through city centre traffic.
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The wooden staircase to the upper floor of the museum was decorated on both sides with a large collection of old locks and keys, from simple padlocks to plate locks, penny-in-the-slot toilet door locks and even police cell locks. Set back in a corner at the top of the stairs was the small office with its high desks and stools, pre-war items, advertisements and paperwork, all looked over by an oil painting of John Banks.
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1930s radio, still working

The rest of the large space featured the long workbench and tools of the tin smithy and plumber’s workshop on the right while on the left floor-to-ceiling racks contained a diverse mix of tools and various other objects collected over the space of many years, from clogs and clog irons rescued from the old cobbler’s shop next door to a more up-to-date bus stop sign.
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If I had read the labels on most of the items in there I would have been there for hours but with only an hour for on-street parking I couldn’t linger too long, so with three quick photos of the nearby streets with their colourful houses and shops I made my way back to the van.
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The shop is open Mondays to Saturdays from 9am to 5pm and the museum from 9am to 4pm. There’s no charge to look round the museum but there’s a visitors’ book and an unobtrusive donation box on a table near the foot of the stairs. Visitors can take as many photos as they want and dogs are welcome in both the shop and the museum. If anyone reading this is ever in the Cockermouth area then I can recommend a visit to step back in time for while – it’s a fascinating place.

Salford Museum and Peel Park

Salford Museum & Art Gallery started life as Lark Hill Mansion, built in 1809 by Colonel James Ackers and situated in extensive grounds. After 40 years as a private house Salford City Council purchased the building to be used as an educational site, planning to turn it into a public museum and library, and in 1849 Mr John Plant was appointed museum curator and librarian. The building opened as the Royal Museum and Public Library in April 1850, the first free public library in England, and after less than five months was attracting an average of 1,240 visitors per day; extensive refreshment rooms were then opened on the basement floor and two adjoining rooms were added to the library, allowing it to accommodate nearly 12,000 books.
In 1851 three of the East rooms in the museum were knocked into one with proposals to turn the space into an art gallery, then in 1852 a large extension was added to the back of the building, creating a reading room on the ground floor and a museum room above. Between 1854 and 1856 the North and South galleries were opened along with a lending library of 2,500 books, and by 1857 visitor numbers had risen to an average of 3,508 per day. On his death in 1874 Edward Langworthy, a local business man, former Mayor of Salford and an early supporter of the museum, left a £10,000 bequest to the museum and library and this was used to build the Langworthy wing which connected the north and south wings; it was finished in 1878 and officially opened in August that year.
Fast forward almost sixty years and by 1936 the fabric of the original building, the former Lark Hill Mansion, was found to be structurally unstable so it was demolished and replaced by a new wing to match the Langworthy wing. It took two years to complete and was opened in 1938, then in 1957 part of the ground floor of the new wing was turned into Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed Victorian street named after the original Lark Hill Mansion. Although the museum originally had a wide remit when it came to collecting artefacts from different parts of the world it now focuses on social history with a Victorian gallery and hundreds of Victorian objects on display in Lark Hill Place.
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The main entrance to the museum took me through a foyer and into a large and bright reception space with a shop area and a pleasant café beyond it, and on the right was the local history library and a magnificent staircase leading up to the galleries above. After looking round Lark Hill Place, which was my main reason for going to the museum, I went to have a look upstairs; unfortunately a couple of the galleries were closed while the various collections and displays were updated but I had a pleasant wander round the Victorian Gallery, and though I’ve never really liked Victorian paintings I did like the sculptures and the various objects on display.

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In an octagonal glass cabinet was the orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system named after the fourth Earl of Orrery, and though the first one was made for him around 1713 the one on display dates from the early 20th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any really clear shots of it as there were reflections and things in the background on all sides, also I was careful to obey the instruction of ”please do not lean on the glass”
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A section of the fabulous ceiling

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In another gallery was the Superlative Artistry of Japan exhibition, a range of works including paintings and ceramics and several contemporary pieces representing food samples. In the middle of the floor was a wire mesh waste basket crammed full of empty cans – it seemed a strange place for visitors to discard their rubbish but it was actually part of the exhibition.

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Sashimi Boat food sample in vinyl chloride resin, courtesy of Maiduru Co. Ltd

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By the wall in a partially closed gallery was a glass case exhibiting a huge fish, a tarpon caught in the West Indies. There was no date on it, possibly due to some of the exhibits being moved and updated, but the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company operated between 1839 and 1932 so the fish would have been caught sometime during those 93 years.
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The museum building is situated on the edge of Peel Park which was once the extensive grounds of Lark Hill Mansion, so after coffee and cake in the very pleasant café I went to look round the park itself. Following a 7-year campaign by Sir Robert Peel and Mark Phillips MP for a public park it was agreed that part of the Lark Hill estate should be used, and after winning a design competition in 1845 Joshua Major & Son laid out the park. Paid for by public subscription it was the first of three Manchester and Salford parks to be opened to the public in 1846. In 1851 the park was the main public venue for the royal visit of Queen Victoria to Manchester and Salford, a visit which was attended by 80,000 people; in 1857 a statue of the Queen was erected in the park then in 1861 a statue of the Prince Consort was erected after his death.
The peak of the park’s popularity came in the 1890s; by then there was a lake, a fountain, a bandstand, a bowling green and cricket pitch, a skittle alley, seating areas and pavilions. It was the place to see and be seen but years later, in the aftermath of both world wars, many people moved away from the area and the park was no longer the focal point of a community. In the years between 1954 and 1967 it underwent a major redevelopment and landscaping then in 1981 it became part of The Crescent conservation area. Unfortunately the park fell into disrepair in the last few years of the 20th century but after receiving a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2016 it underwent a second redevelopment and reopened in 2017.

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Some very early blooms in a sunny corner

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The River Irwell and some of its residents

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Unfortunately I didn’t get to explore the park as much as I would have liked; although the sun was still shining the blue sky of earlier had been replaced by clouds which were getting darker by the minute so not wanting to get caught in a downpour I cut my visit short and made my way back to the station a couple of minutes walk away. It proved to be a good move as I was just crossing the road near the station entrance when I was hit by a heavy shower of hailstones. I didn’t mind too much though, I’d had my few hours out and got plenty of photos, and now having recently seen photos of the park in full bloom I’ll certainly be going back later in the year when the leaves are on the trees and the weather’s good.


Lark Hill Place, Salford

Lark Hill Place, set within Salford Museum, is a reconstruction of a typical late 19th century street and takes its name from Lark Hill Mansion which once occupied the museum’s site. The street was created in 1957 by the then curator of the museum at a time when slum clearances in Salford saw many areas changed to make way for more modern housing. He decided to salvage and restore several original shop and house fronts and their contents, and with the help of members of the public who donated various objects, and a group of local children who would raid skips for period items and beg or borrow them from their grandparents, he developed Lark Hill Place, with the theme being set on an early winter’s evening in 1897.
From the light and airy museum reception area and café double doors led to a corridor with information boards on the walls, then another set of doors took me into Lark Hill Place itself and I was instantly transported back to the late Victorian era; even at first glance I could see that this place was very unique and extremely interesting.

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Lark Hill Place from the entrance

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Looking left

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Looking right

The street ran left and right from a central ‘square’ and working my way round clockwise from there the corner shop on my immediate left was James Critchley’s clogger’s shop. It originally stood in Whit Lane, Pendleton, until it was demolished, and it supplied clogs and boots to many millworkers and those who worked at the nearby coal mines. Next door was Louisa Greenhalgh’s haberdashery; Louisa’s name first appeared in local directories in the 1840s, listed as a dressmaker, milliner and haberdasher of Bedford Street, Salford. The mahogany door of the shop dates from about 1750 and originally came from Hope Hall, a brick-built house once set in pleasure grounds on Eccles Old Road, Salford, though those have long since been lost to redevelopment.
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Next to the haberdasher’s was William Bracegirdle’s forge which once stood in Salford’s Ordsall Lane. In the late 19th century blacksmiths and wheelwrights were higher up the social standings than other manual workers as they were considered to be the backbone of transport, however when automobiles took over and trade diminished blacksmiths became the first generation of automobile workers, though after 1901 the Bracegirdle family became general labourers.
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Next was the Georgian House, showing what a room in the original Lark Hill Mansion would have looked like in the late 18th century. Much of the furniture is in the Chippendale style and on the right of the room was a square piano made by Christopher Ganer of London in 1789.

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Next door to the Georgian house, and at the end of the street, was the Victorian parlour, richly decorated and furnished and containing two pianos. Above the pianos and against the back wall were several glass domes containing decorative arrangements of stuffed birds, flowers and plants, reflecting the Victorian fascination with natural history and for bringing exotic birds into the home. Although the darkness meant I couldn’t get a clear photo of it, high on the wall outside the room was a fire plate decorated with a liver bird; this came from a property in Salford’s Broughton Street and shows that the house owner had an insurance policy with the Royal Insurance Company which was established in 1845.
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Set back in the far corner was a door with an undertaker’s sign indicating that funeral orders could be taken there even though the undertaker’s premises were elsewhere. Victorian funerals could be lucrative affairs, reflecting the increasing wealth of the industrial classes, but in spite of the potential for undertakers to become wealthy themselves through their work the association with death seems to have prevented them from being seen as truly ‘respectable’; the discreet unassuming sign at Lark Hill represents the careful tone which undertakers used in all their advertising and paperwork, from business cards and catalogues to invoice paper.

On the corner to the right of the undertakers was a Victorian post box and Adolf Renk’s pawnbrokers shop, although the Renk family were never true pawnbrokers; they traded mainly as jewellers and watchmakers. Established in 1836 by brothers August and Charles Renk, originally from Germany, the shop was situated at 144 Chapel Street in Salford. Charles’ son Adolph took over the business in 1903 and it remained in the family until the shop was taken down in 1956, with the main components of it being saved to become part of Lark Hill Place.
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Next door to the pawnbroker’s was the Bracegirdle’s cottage, a simple one-up, one-down affair. William Bracegirdle learned his trade from his father who was also a wheelwright, and he and his wife Elizabeth had four children, Elizabeth, Ellen, Albert and Joseph. Elizabeth worked as a cart hirer while Albert and Joseph became joiners; it’s assumed that Ellen worked away as a housemaid. Their simple home was more sparsely furnished than others, with the one downstairs room being used for cooking, eating, washing and general living, while attached to the wall near the back door was a vertical wooden ‘ladder’ which went through a hole in the ceiling to the bedroom above.
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Next was Mrs Driver’s house with a self-explanatory sign outside the door. Mrs Driver practiced leeching at her home in Bury Street, Salford; she became known as the ‘plaster woman’ as her secret ointment recipe was very popular among the locals. The red and white pole outside the house came from a local barber’s shop; in former times barbers were allowed to carry out bloodletting and minor operations and the poles became symbols of this as the stripes represent blood and bandages.
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Next door to Mrs Driver’s and on the corner of the square was John Hamer’s shop which was originally situated on Salford’s Broad Street. John Hamer was a chemist and druggist and lived with his wife Emma and their three children, Edward, Arthur and Mary; they also had a domestic servant called Elizabeth. In the days long before the National Health Service many people couldn’t afford to see a doctor so would seek the advice of a chemist; John Hamer sold his own remedies, made up in the back room of the shop, and many drugs which are now illegal including opium.
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Across the corner from the chemist was the Blue Lion Tavern which had been a corner-site public house on Cook Street and originally called the White Lion. It was run by Emma Jane Twyford who, in spite of being married, was listed on census records as being the head of her household. Emma was the last proprietor of the Blue Lion as it was demolished in 1892 to make way for a Threlfall’s brewery – the reconstruction at Lark Hill Place was made up from three different pubs demolished during Salford’s 1950s rebuilding works.
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Next door to the Blue Lion was the William and Mary house. Before the Industrial Revolution timber framed houses were common across Salford and one such house dated back to 1306. It was originally built as a manor house for the Wythin Grave family, eventually becoming Ye Olde Rovers Return Inn during the 18th century. It traded as a pub until 1924 then later became a working mens’ café and finally the Rovers Return Trinket Shop before being demolished in the late 1950s.
The William and Mary house at Lark Hill Place was reconstructed with timbers from that building, with wooden panelling from Kenyon Peel Hall, Little Hulton, and a staircase from a house in Gravel Lane, Salford. Representative of a property from the late 17th century it contains objects from the same period, including a high-backed walnut chair, a gate-leg table and a cabinet with marquetry decoration, while on the wall are portraits of Sir Robert Honeywood and Frances Vane who were married in 1631 – Sir Robert was a Commonwealth ambassador to Sweden in 1659.

Set back in the corner to the right of the William and Mary house was the tobacconist’s shop. Eugene Morand, originally from Italy, was a cigar merchant of Chapel Street in Salford; he had a wife, Louisa, and a son, James, and must have been quite a wealthy tobacconist as he also had a domestic servant. According to the trade directories of the time, E Morand Tobacconist’s traded from 1861 to 1893 in Salford, Hulme, and Whalley Range. On the wall to the right of the shop is a Muratti mirror advertisement; it came from a tobacconist’s in Broad Street, Pendleton, and is said to show the actress Lily Langtry who became known as the ‘Jersey Lily’.

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At the end of the street, and facing towards the square, was Henry Radcliffe’s toy shop with its window displaying many different types of toys from the era, including a model ark with a collection of animal pairs, several books and a Victorian rocking horse.
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To the right of the toy shop was the printshop, part of a booming industry in the mass production of text. Salford had its own newspapers, the Salford Chronicle founded in 1868 and the Reporter, founded in 1879. The Reporter changed its name frequently and in later years became the Salford City Reporter, continuing production until 1997 when it merged with the Advertiser. On display in the printshop were a two-handed printing press, several printing tools and a variety of printing blocks.

Next door to the printshop was the music shop containing a wide range of musical instruments and products. Although the commercial potential of musical instruments and recordings developed greatly during the 19th century dedicated music shops were rare in Victorian Salford, with piano tuners being more common. Since more and more people owned their own pianos at home and earlier instruments were becoming harder to maintain the demand for tuning services became too much for the piano makers, so independent businesses and tradesmen were able to flourish, with tuners being well respected.
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On the corner next to the music shop, and the last shop in Lark Hill Place, was Matthew Tomlinson’s general store which originally stood in Fairfield Street, Manchester. It sold a diverse range of products from sweets and chocolate to groceries, fabric dyes, soap and herbal remedies, and several brands on display in the Lark Hill window were still around when I was a child.

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Away from the light and airy main part of the museum, once I’d been in Lark Hill Place for a few minutes I really began to feel as though I’d stepped back in time. Getting photos looking through windows wasn’t easy as there was quite a lot of light reflection but I got enough shots to show what the individual rooms and shops were like. Looking round and getting an insight into Victorian times had been a fascinating experience, and as the museum is only a 10-minute train ride from my local main station it’s a place I may very well revisit in the not-too-distant future.


Visiting the museum (3) – Natural History & aquarium

Bolton’s past industrial heritage has had a very strong influence on the town and its people over the years and the ground floor of the main gallery was dedicated to various aspects of local history. Just inside the wide entrance Samuel Crompton’s original Spinning Mule was enclosed in a very large modern glass exhibition case but there were so many light reflections showing up that I couldn’t get a decent shot of it from any angle. Although the gallery has been modernised to a certain extent it still retains many of its older features and it looked so attractive that at first I was more intent on photographing my surroundings rather than studying the exhibits.

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Main gallery, ground floor

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African elephant viewed from below

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American brown bear, donated by Manchester Museum

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Common shrew

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Harvest mouse

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A colourful bird collection

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I could have spent much longer in the natural history section than I actually did but there was another part I wanted to see and mindful of the time I made my way out through the museum shop and down the second staircase which, like the one I went up, was lined with various paintings on one wall. I remember being taken to the museum by my parents when I was a child and just for fun I would run down one set of stairs while they went down the stairs at the other side and we would meet at the bottom – it was a race to see who could get there first and somehow I always seemed to win.

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The bright and attractive museum shop

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Going down…

Down in the basement of the building was the aquarium – completely separate from the museum it originally opened in 1941, six years before the museum itself, and though the decor and the lighting have been changed over time the layout is the same now as it was back then. At one time the fish collections were limited to British species only, including salmon, pike and trout, but this has changed over the years and the aquarium now has collections from several different countries.
Bolton aquarium

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Nile Tilapia from Egypt

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Piranha from the Amazon

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Stingray from Brazil

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Suckermouth catfish from Brazil

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Lake Kurina Rainbow Fish from Papua New Guinea

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Lake Malawi Chichlids from Africa

Those were to be my last photos of the afternoon, time was getting on and I didn’t want to be late back at the car park. After all these years of not going to the museum my visit had proved to be extremely interesting ; I’d been very impressed with the general refurbishment, the Egyptian galleries and the natural history section and I’d got some good photos too, so maybe on a rainy day when it’s too wet to do a dog walk I’ll make a return visit to see what I missed this time.

Visiting the museum (2) – History, art & textiles

Bolton’s Central Museum hasn’t always been situated where it is now. Back in 1876 Samuel Taylor Chadwick, a wealthy local doctor, left a bequest of £5,000 to Bolton Corporation for the building, furnishing and maintenance of a Museum of Natural History in Bolton Park, which was later renamed Queen’s Park. The bequest came with the conditions that the building must be erected within four years and entry to the museum would be free for everyone. Building work began in 1878 and the Chadwick Museum finally opened in June 1884, with its first curators being father and son William and Thomas Midgley who expanded the museum’s varied collections during their many years there.
By the 1930s it was recognised that the Chadwick building was too small to continue housing the museum’s growing collections so work began on fitting out a larger museum in the current town centre building ; unfortunately the outbreak of WW2 interrupted the works so the new museum didn’t open until October 1947. With the Chadwick building lying empty it fell into a state of decline and eventually the local council decided that the cost of repair and renovation would be too great, so after 73 years service to the town the building was finally demolished in 1956.
The room next to the Egyptian gallery was reminiscent of the old Chadwick Museum, and with a mock-up of the front of the old building and embroidered portraits of its founder and curators on the walls it told the story of the museum’s beginnings and early years.
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A doorway on the right led into the art gallery, and though there were some older paintings on the walls a lot of the ‘art’ was modern stuff. It was very colourful though and I did quite like a painting of ‘four amaryllis in pots’ by someone-I’ve-never-heard-of although most of the other modern stuff didn’t impress me at all. From there I moved on to the textile collection which is one of the largest in the country, though I really only had eyes for some of the bright coloured fabrics on display.
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The textile gallery

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From the textile gallery I moved on to the large main gallery where the upper floor was dedicated to the natural history section with its many displays of animals, birds and sea life from the UK and other countries, but I took so many photos in there that section will have to feature in another post.
To be continued….

Visiting the museum (1) – Elephants & Egypt

As I needed to go into town a couple of days ago I decided to take a look round the central museum while I was there. As museums aren’t exactly on my list of ‘things to go and see’ it’s been many years since I was last in there, however the place recently underwent an almost 2-year refurbishment programme, re-opening last September, and since then more than one person has told me how nice it is now so I thought I should go and take a look. Walking from the car park I first came to the town’s elephants set in a small square a hundred yards or so from the museum. Elephants have been associated with the town since as far back as 1799 and there’s one on the local coat of arms ; the coloured ones were named by local youngsters in a competition.
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In the museum building a curving stone staircase went up from each side of the wide entrance hall, and while those staircases were just as they were when I was a child the museum itself was vastly different. At the top of the stairs was the museum shop and through there was a bright atrium with the various galleries leading off it. I’d been told that the new Egypt gallery was quite exceptional and I wouldn’t disagree – with five rooms leading into each other, bright wall murals, hundreds of artefacts on display and even a full-size walk-through reproduction of a burial chamber it was a great place to wander round.

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Going up….

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I didn’t expect to see this at the top of the stairs!

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The Egypt gallery

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A bright wall mural

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The mummified body of a 3-year old girl

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“The Unknown Man” acquired by the museum in the 1930s and believed to be a son of Rameses ll or Rameses the Great

The “Unknown Man” actually reposes in a woman’s coffin although no-one knows how he came to be in it, but before he was donated to the museum he had been used as a feature in a lady’s drawing room although it’s not known how she came to acquire him. In 1932 the Boris Karloff horror film The Mummy was produced, followed by other films of the same type, so it’s thought that maybe these films influenced the lady’s decision to donate the “Unknown Man” to the museum.
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Original stonework from the tomb of Pharoah Thutmose lll who reigned from 1425 to 1479 BC

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The Egypt gallery was so varied and interesting that it would have taken me a long while to read all the information available and look properly at all the items on display but I didn’t want to overstay my time on the car park so once I’d taken as many photos as I could reasonably get I moved on to the next section of the museum.
To be continued….