Creative Writing Interpretation of a High Street Sound Walk in Barrow-in-Furness
A vehicle rolls closer
and passes. A reversing alarm
beeps in the distance. Gulls cry.
(Time stamp: 0:24)
In 1911, the Borough Council accepted a grant of £12,000 from Andrew Carnegie to build a new library building and they began building the building, which is why there’s a date over the front door that says 1915, but the war stopped the building and they didn’t start again until after the war had ended and it was finally opened on October the 5th 1922 by the Mayoress, Mrs Walker Fairbairn, with Alderman JH Brown, who was Chairman of the Library and Museum Committee. The architect was Mr JA Charles and Mrs Fairbairn was presented with a large gold key when she declared the library open, and she was also given a copy of Wordsworth’s Poetical Works bound in polished Levant leather. At that point they would issue about a thousand books a day and they had 10,000 borrowers.
I spent a lot of time in Barrow Library cos I couldn’t really afford books as a kid and the library in Barrow felt like a huge library back then. I mean, the kids’ library is on the side of the library but I would always try and get in the adult section anyway because I’d read… I’d read so much stuff and I wanted to read new books and adult books. And I always remember, my library card was like my best friend, really.
Cumbria County Council, they got some funding but it’s a county council building and they wanted to do the seaside theme, which we love – voices murmur in the background – the seagulls and the ship and the sails, and then it’s got some lights in there, and so it all lights up and, you know, having… (A child coughs, the chatter continues and something clatters) When you’re reading pirate books or anything about the sea, it gives you that great experience, being part of it.
So, for me, it was like…
It was like an island refuge of learning and stuff… I learnt most of my stuff from the library, when I was a kid, because I felt like I learnt more out of the books there than I did in a classroom sometimes. But, yeah, Barrow Library, it had a little tiny museum and it wasn’t like a museum now. It was… Barrow has a lot of artefacts, actually. I always remember, it had a penny-farthing bike and it had a mummy’s hand, yeah. It wasn’t on display very…after a certain amount of time. Because it probably wasn’t a mummy’s hand. It was… But it was almost like, you know, those museums that have, like, a load of Roman coins and some things from the abb…Furness Abbey. And it was just like a load of little glass cases and it had a little Victorian woman’s costume and a bit of a carriage and it had some flatirons and things like that. And you’d wander around the cases… And every now and then they’d have a special exhibition but it costs money to put, like, new exhibitions on, so it would just be a little tiny proportion of what the Barrow collection was, really.
The museum itself was opened in 1930 and I expect a lot of people remember going upstairs and looking at the stuffed animals and the ship models, which… They’ve all gone to the Dock Museum. So that closed once the Dock Museum had opened.
I loved it.
(Birds cheap and chatter)
It was great, wasn’t it?
It was only a small room. I was going to say that I loved going to the library but I was more interested in going upstairs to the museum and seeing the penny-farthing.
It was just… It was very sort of dusty like Madame Tussauds’ little room.
(Other woman chuckles)
But it was just magical. I loved it, going up there and looking at the Viking…whatevers, and bits of flint and...
I didn’t see the mummy’s hand but my mam and my Aunty Cath saw the mummy’s hand.
(Foregrounded) I remember a couple of homeless people used to sit in Barrow Library and were allowed…cos all the magazines and stuff they used to get then and they’d be able to read all day, and blokes who were on the dole in the late 70s, early 80s, when there was more unemployment, you know, men would be there looking for jobs but they’d also be passing time and feeling like they were out of the house doing something for the day. So the library wasn’t just about books, it was about reading all the papers or reading particular magazines, specialist magazines they used to get and…
People have always liked coming in to look at newspapers and, unfortunately, we don’t have any now but they actually had 142 newspapers and monthly periodicals in the early days of the library.
It was a community resource. It still is a community resource. I think they’re really underrated. And librarians, the fact that they’re getting rid of librarians… You know, librarians weren’t just people who…like I say, who checked your books out, they were people who would inspire you about books or talk to you about your homework or… and say, ‘Oh, what are you looking for?’ And they wouldn’t do your homework for you but they’d say, ‘Oh, we’ve got three books on that.’ And ‘There’s something in the adult library that you might like as well.’ And all the time you were going back with new books.
Well, the other thing I maybe should have mentioned is the fact that the archives are here now. So the archive office was opened in 1979 and, with the refurbishment, we’re still here.
(Birds chirrup and cheap in the foreground and gulls cry in the background)
And as an adult, I mean, I’ve been back to Barrow Library to poetry readings and we did a live ghost story reading in the library that went out as a podcast. Barrow Library just had the idea of, let’s bring that back, and got us in to do it. And – a power tool whirrs in the background – we got to do it a couple of years. It was brilliant.
(The power tool winds down)
(Heavy traffic passes)
Just trying to get my bearings… Yeah. (Foregrounded) We’re on the east side of the junction between Duke Street, Abbey Road, just east of Ramsden Square – a throaty vehicle pulls up – right by what’s locally known as the – brakes squeak – House of Lords. Historically it’s the Working Men’s Institute, burnt out in January 2017. Sorry state. (He chuckles) It’s no more at the moment than a retained façade and plans are happening… We’re trying to work out what the hell to do with it. And the latest Pevsner guide of Cumbria describes it as, quote, ‘a silly French chateau’. So how the hell are you going to save a building that’s described like that three or four years ago? And apparently the same author says the building behind us, that’s the York-stone former Conservative Club, is ‘looking down disdainfully on the Working Men…’ It’s not true at all. (Vehicles continue to pass) Here in Barrow we have Abbey Road as a planned new street, 1860 onwards. First building on it is the Working Men’s Institute in 1871. This idea that you could lay out what’s called a skeleton plan, a street from somewhere to someone else, known, or unknown, and then start to populate it with a series of pavilions and events, bathhouses, clubhouses, but the first one that’s done is a library, a reading room for the mental improvement of working men. It’s the largest and earliest listed working men… purpose-built working men’s club in Britain. That in itself is significant. Next to it, although there’s a 20th-century bar added to it, behind is what used to be a skittle alley. Behind that was a small-bore rifle range. So the idea, on your street you had activities that went from, around about 1900, greenhouses with growing plants, but before that you were actually doing scale-weaponry training, and a skittle alley. All these lovely things happening. There was supposed to be a gymnasium next to it, at the edge of what’s now the library. So you had this idea of physical wellbeing, mental wellbeing and then physical cleansing with the bathhouse, really simple…lovely. It’s quite an unusual feel to it. It’s not dense, it’s not tight, and the buildings are then trying to compete with the grandeur I think first of all set by the roundabout. So we’ve got these two flanks of banks. The library wasn’t there, the Jute Works wasn’t there. It was very much a kind of, you know, a pioneer town in a Western. There must have been some kind of rule somewhere because the street is twice the width of the height of the buildings on each side.
The statue of Sir James Ramsden in Ramsden Square at the moment faces up Abbey Road but initially this statue was put up… In 1870 he faced the other way. So, he faced down to what is now Halfords and Tesco. And he was turned round, for some reason, in 1891. People have said it was because Princess Louise came and you couldn’t have his back looking at her. But she didn’t come till the early 1900s when she opened the Nan Tait, the Technical School as it was then, and the minutes of the Borough Council don’t tell us why he was turned round. But the other thought is he was turned round because they realised that the wealth of the town wasn’t coming from across the sea in ships, it was actually going to come from this country and would come down Abbey Road, which was the main route into Barrow at the time.
You know, people forget that about Barrow, that we are a community of immigrants, you know. The shipyard, the… Barrow Island Flats was about Irish immigrants coming and, opposite where B&Q was…
..on Duke Street opposite the library, I mean, that was a jute works that they brought to Barrow to…because the Irishmen just used to get drunk and fight a lot and they wouldn’t stay. So they needed a women’s industry.
Sir James Ramsden felt that we needed to have jobs for women and girls. Rather than just single men coming into Barrow to work in the steelworks and the shipyard, if they could bring their families with…it would be a much more settled town.
Keep the men in order – she laughs – because they needed them for the shipyard and the railway and the steelworks that was here.
So they opened the Jute Works but it never really competed with Dundee, which was the main jute works then. And it did have two serious fires, and in the end it was demolished.
Well, before that, there were the Cornish tin miners, who were working on the iron ore mines, you know, when we had the biggest…and then developed into the biggest iron and steelworks in the world at one point.
So, you know, we always have been a… Although we’re out on a little limb here, we always have had an influx of people from all over. I mean, my ancestors are Isle of Man and Irish, and then before that Spanish.
Cos people always think of Barrow as being a very, you know…until recently, as being a very…not ethnically diverse community but there’s been a Chinese community in Barrow for so long. But they’re very, not hidden but they’re… You know, there is a lot of… There’s been a lot of Chinese restaurants and… I’m not saying… That sounds like ‘stereotypical Chinese’ but that community was there…
..and that’s what brought them to Barrow. And, you know, they would… My daughter’s friend, even in the 80s, she went to Manchester to live with family to go to a Chinese school when she were a bit older.
We had the shipyard and we had the iron and steelworks.
And munitions works as well.
We had 46,000 people working in the shipyards and those wom…predominantly women taking… I mean, there were reserved occupations, tradesmen… All the yards that have now been knocked down were women, women working munitions and women from Barrow. And we did get bombed. Barrow station got bombed. Duke Street got bombed. A lot of the area around, around the centre of Barrow, you know, was a high risk. They were under threat. You think, oh, we’re not London out here in Barrow but…
Might as well have been.
..you know, we were a big part of the war effort. We’re… I mean, we’re still a big part of the munitions and nuclear industry, nuclear submarines and stuff. We… But back then we built warships, we built guns, we had… We were well bombable! (She laughs) As they say.
Where the Odd Frog is now, it used to be Gunther’s Beer Keller.
(Birds chirp intermittently)
And you were allowed to… Like, they used to serve in steins and you could dance on the tables and the chairs. That was good… We’d never had anything like that in Barrow. That was great.
Yeah. They had guys in lederhosen doing…
(Hands smack knees and soles)
And that was hilarious.
I had Mam on the table with a stein in her hand in that pub and she was sick when we got home.
Geoffrey Morris Dance Centre.
(Other woman gasps)
I just remembered. On Ramsden Square, it’s a bank or solicitor’s or something now, and Geoffrey Morris was a dance teacher, wasn’t he? And we… I used to go to disco dance classes. I did a couple of ballroom and salsa but I liked disco dance and I got my three medals, my bronze, silver and gold, with a little picture of John Travolta on, which I still have. And that was the place to be was Geoffrey Morris, absolutely.
Yeah, everybody went to Geoffrey Morris.
Oh, God, yeah. Disco dancing lessons in the days of Saturday Night Fever and Grease.
This is Home Images and, you know, it’s an art gallery and it does framing and things but they’ve got a real emphasis on local artists. Worth talking to…
..the people in here.
(Door entry alert beeps)
[Man from Home Images]
So they used to be like a meeting spot for people. They used to meet under the statues in Barrow. So on Duke Street you’ve got Ramsden Square, so they’d say, ‘I’ll meet you under Ramsden.’ So they’d just meet there at a certain time rather than going to Costa for a coffee or anything like that and they’d just chat about the world. They could just stand in the middle of the road and read… One guy would buy a newspaper and read it out to all the other people, or the kids would just play there. There’s a guy telling a story to the old chap, there’s a granddaughter and a nana there, a little girl looking at the boys across the road there, people reading newspapers to each other. So it was like a community, Duke Street.
This was conceived as a grand square. I mean, an extraordinary space.
(Gulls cry in the background)
Paved or hard-surfaced maybe within gravel or whatever from edge to edge. I mean, a huge space that for a community of by then…that may have been getting up to 30, 40,000 people, really bizarre. I mean, this is… This is a decent-sized city square.
[Man from Home Images]
You know, like, the two old dears going into the hat shop across there. The ironmongers where they used to put bags of coal and shovels outside and people’d pick them up. You couldn’t do that nowadays. They’d be gone. They’d be in the back of the car. You know, the policeman walking round watching the two little lads, a bit dodgy there, the young couple, courting couple, the little flower girl up there, the guy carrying the washing for the lady, all sorts of things that were there that you don’t see now.
Architecture is no more than the setting for the activities that go on within it and outside it. That doesn’t mean that it’s immaterial. It has to inform those settings but thinking of the street as a piece of architecture and as a room, we can’t go out and stand in that street unless by some accident, like COVID or a fire somewhere and a street is closed or a performance event.
(Gulls chatter and a bell chimes)
We’re on the corner of Buccleuch Street now, not ‘Buccle-uch Street’ as the people pronounce it from out of town. No, this was always the Midland.
(Bell continues to chime)
Well, I remember my A level art teacher always saying, ‘When you go into town, look up. And when you go down any…well, any part of Barrow, but even down Duke Street, look up and you can see so many beautiful bits of stonework and attic rooms with beautiful window frames.’ And there’s so many different ones and then you can see the odd one that’s been bombed out cos it’s like a 1970s structure stuck in the middle of these lovely Victorian…you know, with lovely little patterns – vehicles revs – in the brickwork.
Yeah, this was always a bank. I don’t know what it is now. I think it was Barclays, Barclays Bank chambers.
(Traffic continues to pass)
This side of the street… The west side is listed. The side that Barclays Bank is on, the east, this is the only listed building. The proportions are speaking to me. I’m enjoying it. (Foregrounded) You could say, really simply in architectural historian terms, it’s an Italianate Renaissance palazzo model for a bank. It’s in a lovely soft yellow York stone but there’s something really quite witty in it. There is nothing symmetrical about this building. Someone has had real pleasure. So if we look at the top level, we get these lovely carved in images or symbols… I don’t know what they are. I need to look at them. They could be flowers. They’ve probably come from an ornament pattern book. But on the left-hand side we’ve got…on a pilaster that’s wide enough to take four of them. The next one along has three. The next one has three. Three. Two and a half. Two. Two. And then again to three. And then that offset irregular pattern comes down to a blank sandstone wall below it, which is directly above what would have been the door to the No.96 – gulls squawk in the distance – that’s then been blocked in to put in the night drop when the whole… So maybe there were offices and what would be traditionally called chambers above it. But someone has had extraordinary fun doing this. I mean, it’s a real drawing board game.
(Heavy traffic passes)
That’s gone. But next to that…there was Halfords, where I bought one of my first bicycles from. And they moved into Dalton Road. (Gulls cry) Freddie Grubb. (He chuckles) It was 27 pound and 76 pence. 50 shilling a week.
(Birds peep and chirp)
I remember my mam telling me when she…when they got bombed out, walking up Duke Street with a budgie in the cage cos although they’d come out of the shelters and gone back to the house, the windows were blown out and everything and the house was a mess but they still… The budgie was still alive. So she had to walk up Duke Street in her nightdress carrying a budgie in a cage to go to their aunty’s for the night.
Boss Hair Beauty. (Vehicle whooshes past) That was always Middleton’s Hairdressers. Had my first DA haircut there. My father went spare. (He laughs) Came back with a DA. That was the thing in the 50s, wasn’t it?
(A laidback vocalist sings as a band plays in the background)
We’re proper on fire at the moment at TNT Records. We have bands upstairs rehearsing every night of the week, two, three bands most nights, drum lessons for all ages, you know, guitar lessons. We like to keep it quite local. (Beat kicks in) We opened in December 2018 and in the first year of business we actually gained a big award, of Record Shop of the Year. The local music scene’s thriving, you know. There’s just not really many places to play at the moment. And it’s got a lot of history with the street. The street, like, it’s a pleasure to come to work to Duke Street every single day. The sun’s shining – guitars thrash – you know, when it does – he chuckles – in Barrow! It’s a great location, nice open road, main road coming in, main bus route. And when we opened the shop, we thought the bus stop out the front, bit of a bit in the way but it really wasn’t. It’s a good thing, to be honest with you. We love being on Duke Street. We’re gonna stay – guitars thrum – on Duke Street as well. You know, it’s a shame to see empty shops in any street in Barrow. So, obviously, lockdown hasn’t helped that at all. Every lockdown we had, less shops reopened. And we’re lucky that the online side of things – male vocalist wails – really, really kicked off for us. And we also now ship out all over the world. You know, we’re getting hundreds and hundreds of orders per week. You know, every building around here on Duke Street is different. Every single building. And Dandy’s over the road, they’ve been here 30, 40 years plus. It’s… You know, they’re, they’re, they’re thriving. They’re what you look at that we want to be looking at and just opening up every single day, just keep moving, keep moving, you know, go with the times, you know. (Guitars crunch in the background) We’ve got quite a few that practise upstairs with us. You can go on all three floors some nights and hear a totally different, different vibe of music and it’s absolutely great.
(A vehicle slows as it approaches)
This space here where the boards are, that’s had quite a variety of businesses on it. (The vehicle pulls up with a faint squeak) Going back to 1900, it was Ashurst’s Garden Centre. (The vehicle pulls off again) They did flowers and wreaths and that sort of thing. (Gulls call in the distance as the vehicle accelerates away) Then the Trustees Bank took it over. Then it became the careers office. Then the United Friendly Insurance. And then the Council put this nice little tribute to the Barrow… Barrow shipyard on it. And, yeah. Don’t ask me when because I can’t remember. It must have been a bit back because they’ve gone rusty, haven’t they? (He and a younger man laugh)
(A vehicle rattles past)
(Clears his throat) I’m no art connoisseur but… (A pause) Yeah, I suppose for tourists…it’s more interesting for somebody out of town. I think most locals my age know how it all started, and are worried where it’s going to finish. (He chuckles)
(Vehicles thrum and whoosh)
And a garden… Here we’re standing by The Book. To be honest, I’ve never seen anyone sitting in it. I don’t know how I would want to sit in it. When you see the original carved panels that are in the town hall that these are based on, they are quite breath-taking pieces of post-war industrial carvings. What it could have done is to link this street with the bomb-damaged rebuilt post-war social housing behind as a linker and a stitcher. And it actually raises another lovely thing that I’m excited by with the Barrow condition, which is, when is a back a front, and when is a front a back? So that’s now named Slater Street but was actually called Back Duke Street and Clifford Street was also named Back Duke Street – vehicle roars closer – so that when you lay out a grid – vehicle accelerates away – as a plan and you don’t, as a non-designer…and you’re not looking at what happens at each corner, what happens at each point, you’re left with this sort of bizarre uniformity.
(A hooter toots and rhythmic music clinks and clonks
at the start of a Welfare State track)
The carnival used to start often at the top of Duke Street and it’d sort of line up kind of at the start and then they’d come down and round Ramsden Square roundabout and then onto Duke Street. The dancing girls were all in a little group bunched together and then they’d be holding hands but then they’d spread out and they could take over the whole street and then they’d…when it stopped, the floats would stop and there’d be a band playing but then the dancing girls used to dance bits of their dance routines. The nanas would have their deckchairs out and everything and camping stools and the blankets and they’d all watch people as they came past. And so the dancers used to stop and the floats used to stop and throw, like, squirt people with water pistols and throw sweets out to the kids and things, and lollipops. It was fantastic. You know, walking down Duke Street, you’d start off from that big wide street and it feels like, yeah, the whole world’s watching you, especially when you’re a kid or…a young mum who’s a teenager – gulls cry – who’s never, you know, done anything creative before. It was brilliant.
My mam got abducted by a caveman and carried up Duke Street!
(Other woman chuckles)
You stood there with your little bag of pennies and your big bag of twopences to throw at the floats and hopefully not put somebody’s eye out. Pubs and the different factories would get together and do a big float, and they’d put a lot of effort into it, wouldn’t they? There’d be a lot of toilet roll used that day…
..and paper flowers, but it worked.
Put a lot of Scott’s toilet roll...
Yeah. It worked.
People used to work on the floats for ages making toilet roll… Mams used to make toilet roll flowers to stick on the sides and the carnival queen always had a float made of toilet roll roses, pink and white usually, and there’d be her and…sat on a sort of throne with her little ladies-in-waiting on the side, and there’d be the retiring queen on a smaller truck usually.
(Woman chuckles with recognition)
It was North Lonsdale Hospital, so one of the earliest ones I remember, they’d be nurses but they were blokes dressed in nurse costumes, probably not very PC now but blokes dressed in nurse costumes pushing a hospital bed would be in the parade because it was all Furness General Hospital and raising money for the extras at the hospital. Equipment, even, for the NHS.
The Barracudas, a carnival band that would accept anybody…
..whether you could just rattle a tambourine, shake a shaker, bash a cowbell. But then, equally, you could be taught to play an instrument. Particularly Barrow Carnival was a good one because we used to get up early, get down to the town hall, get dressed up, get our instruments out and everybody was really excitable and…
Welfare State, one of their shows, they had a song called ‘Lena’s Liners’. I always remember her dancing and she was wearing a boat hat and she had a flag and she must have been in her 70s – whistles and shouts punctuate the music – and the Barracudas changed her life. You know, she’d met them through a talking project with, I think it was Age Concern that Pete was doing things with, finding stories from all the residents, and she was in the Barracudas, shaking a shaker sometimes. Sometimes she’d have a big costume on and, you know, she’d be there with, you know, kids of three and four who were all, you know, wearing…dressed as fish. (She laughs) Trying to control them but, you know, kind of them shimmying in and out like a strange out-of-control school of fish going through town. Or, you know, one year it was…there were people dressed as…their costumes were cranes when Barrow had lots of cranes, obviously, and…when the shipyard had 14 and a half thousand people coming out onto the other end of Duke Street.
(A vehicle rolls past and the music fades)
Standing in front of Mellen’s now, the solicitor’s, conveyor’s, whatever. And this was Beck’s the butcher’s. They sold the best pies in Barrow. Used to… The shipyard lads would rush over the bridge and they’d be queueing here at lunchtime for the…for Beck’s pies. It was a nightmare. You always avoided Michaelson Bridge at five past 12. (Gulls cry) If you were a pedestrian, you’d get trampled to death. (Pedestrian crossing alarm bleeps) If you were a bicycle, you’d get run over. No, you just kept out of the way. No, it was a no-go area. (He chuckles)
(Vehicle roars past)
Jefferson’s took over the next two shops, which I can't remember what they were. That's, as ‘Jefferson’s’ – says now…which originally…it was the Hartington. Yeah, the Hartington, that was built in 1864 as a pub. As you can see, they’ve extended next door, took all these buildings now and it’s a pub-cum-bar and apartments.
But this is now the Jefferson’s Group, as you can see. But originally it was… it was the Elephant, which was like a wine bar. (Vehicles pass) Prior to that, it was called the Wheelbarrow, which was another pub.
Then next door to that, this one, used to be a wet fish shop, Jean’s Wet Fish Shop. As far as I can remember – a heavy vehicle approaches – it used to be the only one in Barrow. He had a roaring trade. (Vehicle rattles away) Yeah, wet fish shop. You know, not fish and chips, you just… The lads that had been down the channel fishing, or out off Roa Island, they’d bring them there, sell them to Jean’s and they’d be on the slab two hours later. You know, really nice fresh fish.
We’re next to Wilko’s now, on the left-hand side of Wilko’s. (A vehicle passes) Going right back, it was Passies. A lot of people remember Passies, a big musical store, fancy goods, this and the other. (Clears his throat) In the 60s, you’d go downstairs, put a record on, listen to it and decide if you wanted to buy it. Well, if you were like me, a bit sneaky, you took your tape recorder and recorded it and said you didn't want it and came out. (He chuckles, a heavy vehicle idles, a gull cries and a pedestrian crossing alarm bleeps) Like a big department store, yeah. Oh, that's right, Dandy’s Furniture Store took it over, who are now further down on the opposite side. They took that over. They moved out in 1999 – heavy vehicle moves off – and it became Yates’s…in later years, became Yates’s Wine Lodge. And then, I think it was about the staircase or something, it was…it was structurally unsound. And as you can see now, it's a car park for the Hartington.
(Birds chatter and chirp)
The Hartington, and then they opened Yates’s, which used to have, like, some live music but usually just sort of, you know, disco-type music. But because they had cheap drinks, it was absolutely heaving. And you stuck to the floor when you tried to go up to the bathroom.
(Other woman chuckles)
And then in the bathroom there was usually about half an inch of water because they couldn't keep on top of the amount of people they'd let through the doors.
Hartington was always really busy and that was just more of a… That would be busy between about 8 and 10, 11. And then they'd move off down Cornwallis Street after that to try and get in before you were charged, because you could get in, if you went in before 11, you didn't have to pay. But then after that they had to pay.
And next door, the…Wilko’s, that used to be the Palace Cinema. (Vehicle passes) I saw my first Superman film there when I was about 12, I think. But as you got a bit older, in your mid-teens, the Palace was a must if you had a girlfriend because it had double seats on the back row. You could have a little sneaky cuddle up there. (He chuckles)
So the Public Hall was originally part of the market and it had the town hall, the original town hall, on top, before they built the present town hall. And then it became the Public Hall. Yes, and that's where people would go and meet their future husbands and wives dancing. My parents-in-law met there, I think.
(Voice booms) It’s called ‘On the Loose’ and for the last time I just want to see you enjoying yourselves.
(People clap and squeal)
Oh, Mike’ll tell you all about the nightclubs and… (Drums clatter) Yeah. (Heavy vehicle pulls forwards) He played for… He played for Phil Collins.
Barrow Public Hall, it’s gone now, sadly. (Music plays in the background) But we used to play there quite a lot as kids in bands, you know. I was only probably 16 the first time I started there, so that would be 65. (He chuckles) And Richard Kaye, the local agent, he always made sure that his local bands, you know, including us, which included everybody, actually…we always got a chance to play with one of the big names that were there. And I remember playing with Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers at the time. A mate of mine, Pete Kassell, played with the Kinks. The Who played there and I was fortunate enough to work for them in the 80s. And Pete Townshend remembered Barrow. He said, ‘I would never go there again.’ He said, at throwing out time when the pubs started pouring into the hall, they all started throwing bottles and coins at ‘em. (He laughs) So they weren't happy with that. The New Revellers would be the resident band. And they would play for…I don't know what time they started but they’d finish by about 10. And then the pop bands would go on after that, local bands. I'm only guessing but I think the Public would hold about 800 to 1,000, maybe, because there was no seats, obviously. Everybody was dancing. So it's hard to tell.
But the Rink on the Strand held 3,000, which… It was a sad loss for Barrow when that went, really, cos it could have been a venue for bringing big acts in but...
I remember playing upstairs at the Criterion Hotel and you played…the drums were set up back to the window. You had your back to the window, so people could actually see there was somebody in there and hear the noise and hopefully come in.
And then there was the Imperial Ballroom, which was a fabulous little place to play. And I remember seeing Patents Pending in there, which was one of the big Barrow bands at the time. And they’d just started, and I couldn't believe it. They had congas and percussion and it just sounded like Santana. In fact, they were doing Santana at the time. It sounded great.
In fact, just over the bridge, on the corner of the bridge, was the Burlington Hotel where everyone used to rehearse, and then you would do a gig in the Burlington and carry your gear over to the Imp or the Cri, by hand. (He laughs) Didn't have much in those days. And play there. And it was…yeah, it was a wild old place. Then Rick Lucas ended up buying all the buildings along there and starting all of his club empire and it carried on from there. I mean, it was crazy in those days, I believe. I mean, I wasn't around to see a lot of it but I did come home occasionally and think, oh, my goodness me. (He laughs) You know, freezing cold and they're just out there in little tops and shorts and I’d think, you know, how do they do it?
As we got older, it was the clubs, really, the… (Clubbers cheer) Like, we'd go to what we called the Strip. ('You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)' by Dead or Alive plays in the background) And Scorpio One on a Friday night used to play all the kind of alternative music in the 80s. So we'd go over to what was the Grain and Grape then. (Clubbers cheer)
And there’d be the cellar... We'd go down in the cellar bar cos they had this really tiny space but they had loads of bands on, alternative bands. So we’d go there and then at about 10 o’clock, half past 10, we’d head over to – clubbers cheer – to queue to get into Scorpio One.
You wouldn't think of it to look at the Strip now because it just looks completely derelict but on a Friday and Saturday night you had to queue to get in every bar and there was a proper, like, 10, 15-minute wait.
(Chatter continues along with the music)
Yeah. And it was quite a mixed bag because there'd be kind of really alternative people but really mainstream people on the Strip back then because it was like the alternative was in the mainstream with bands like the Cure and things happening and… But there were also people who were listening to mainstream pop music, so they’d all be kind of in the same space. (Clubber yells as synths play) And you’d kind of move along from one end of the street to the other, usually – drum machine thumps – via… And there was quite a few… There was… I mean, they changed names but there’d be, like, Martinis, Highlander – clubbers cheer – and then on to…
The Cry. Circus Circus.
Yeah. I think one of them used to be All Sorts before that, didn’t it? (Clubbers sing) They painted it all white and had ladies’ legs underneath the bar for a while and it was… They tried to make it classy. That used to be what was the Grain and Grape. They thought they'd make it modern, like a London-type club – frenetic beat pounds – and it had all these plastic legs of ladies in fishnet tights under…holding the bar up. (She laughs and a clubber yells) Yeah, and people… They had like a little dance floor at the back. They made a documentary and it became – mock dramatic – ‘the Gaza Strip’. And they tried to make out it was, you know, like the Bigg Market at Newcastle, that there was all this violence and stuff. (Clubbers cheer) And there was a bit of fighting. I'm not gonna say that drunk people don't fight but…
It was like anywhere else.
People have a few too many. There's always the odd character that's called somebody else's pint a half. And fist…you know, a few slaps and fisticuffs started and it's usually soon sorted out.
(Frenetic beat continues)
The reason that the Strip was there, though, was because the police station was opposite and the police wanted to be able to police everybody.
Yeah, it was a bonus for…for the police, you know, if there were any, what shall we say? I won’t use the word trouble…exuberance. They could literally grab their ear and drag them across to the police station. They didn’t need the Black Maria. They could just walk them across the carpark.
(Clubbers cheer as a song plays in the background)
So with the Gaza Strip, I think most of those could be developed into restaurants and cafés, perhaps have flats above to make use of that upper-level space. (Song fades) I think you could… Because we’re a seaside town, effectively, you could turn those places into arcades, amusement arcades, and try and make it more into an attraction for people who are outside as well.
(Gulls cry and traffic whooshes)
The town hall, I mean, amazing. I mean, just extraordinary. There's a lot of, you know, we were talking about the statues being turned round. The great architects who were working here and the town architects, although they were Lancaster-based, Paley and Austin, thought they’d got the town hall in the bag, and six local architects supposedly asked the town to go for a competition. And through the competition, it was handed to an Irish practice that did Chester Town Hall as well. And the judge is Alfred Waterhouse – gulls squawk – the architect of Manchester Town Hall, probably one of the greatest architects we've had. And people might just see in his work a Victorian architect. Oh, no, he really knew how to blend that…the spaces between heaven, earth and… I mean, all the kind of great thing…of great architecture was going on in them. I'm not saying necessarily it is here but this is a kind of fabulous gesture that if you were in a small, decent-sized – a car passes – Belgian square, you’d turn a corner into a large market square, that would be at the end of it and it would be fantastic. Here it's just kind of shoehorned into a space – another vehicle passes – in 1882 with the end of a street that had previously had a beautiful market behind at one side and ended in this termination of little farms. (A heavy vehicle passes) And then along comes this beast and it's back to the tomb, the memorial, like… Everything around it is not good enough for it. Let's tidy it up. And the town hall’s got, I think, four fronts, four backs, never really know your way around it, but I will never forget Parkinson's law. One of Parkinson's law…the one that is never talked about is this law of architecture and that great institutions – motorbike accelerates past – will destroy themselves at the point of memorialising themselves in architecture. British Empire with the Raj with Lutyens, and he just goes through this catalogue of all these projects. And I started noticing… Once that's locked in your mind, you can't… AT&T in America, they build the disgusting Chippendale tower by Philip Johnson. It is de-monopolised within years of that happening. And in a way, one might say the town hall is just the climax of that kind of…what Barrow was just as the world takes on the iron. And the lovely gag for me is at the other end…is the 1922, or 1915, 1922, Carnegie library, endowed by Carnegie. Carnegie puts in writing that actually he was embarrassed about what he stole when he came to Barrow to have a look at the iron, steelworks in the 1870s, or the 1860s. Came, he saw, he thought, I can do this better in the States. (Motorbikes roar past) And he was then able to re-endow most of the Western world. So with…with libraries. And it’s lovely that at the opposite end of…this sort of aspiration that this…this cornucopia was going to go on forever – gulls cry – and then that it's not bailed out but there's a kind of charity gesture at the other end from the person who'd learnt really how to take that on rather than concentrate on this mad kind of late mediaeval representation of oneself. It is a space that just needs to be enjoyed as a party space, just this fabulous place to vent, hold forth meetings and opinions and…and party.
See the wall over there with the pebbles in? That goes back 400 years. Barrow was just a small hamlet in the parish of Dalton but it all came under the auspices of Furness Abbey. But the farm dates back to then. (A heavy vehicle passes) So it's at least 400 years old and people pass it every day, don’t realise it was here. (Church bell rings) That’s part of the farm buildings there. There’s a dry sandstone wall there. And there's one right down at the bottom on the carpark but sadly it's fell in disrepair. It's only about that high now. Well, it’s just what they found, I suppose, in those days. (Gulls cry) Wouldn’t be mortar, would it? It’d be…well, whatever they built Furness Abbey with. (He laughs)
The Albion’s been here from day one, I think. I think that was the first thing they built, a pub and a church…in that order.
(Piano intro to ‘The Ballad of Jimmy Tunn’ by Welfare State International)
(Sings) This year is full employment on Trident submarines
Working in the shipyard, my belly’s – chuckling – full of beans
Got a crane inside that yard much bigger than Big Ben
Big for lifting submarines in a town where men are men
(Chuckling) A town where men are men.
Well, Larry, we’re here in this beautiful…
[Man from Home Images]
People ask me where I come from and I say I'm from Barrow-in-Furness.
(Piano plays 'Barrow Anthem' by Welfare State International)
When I say Barrow-in-Furness, I always think of the people coming out of Vickers because it's been a long-standing event, really, everybody coming across the bridge. There used to be 16,000 people working in the yard at one time and they'd all come out at the same time, and all try and get across a bridge, which is tremendous. So if you look at that, it's just the people all standing there posing for a photograph. Nobody smiled in those days. In fact, probably a lot of them don't smile coming out of there now anyway, to be honest. But you’ve got the town hall clock on the left-hand side still there, beaming down over it.
You've got Newland Street, which was bombed in the Second World War, where Craven House is now.
You've got the Majestic. It's still there. But that's how it used to be. You just used to go nowhere near Michaelson Road Bridge when Vickers were coming out. And if you were learning to drive, sometimes the driving instructors would take you just as Vickers were coming out to see how good you were. And if you survived that, you could do anything. You can do the M5, you can do the M1, whatever. If you get through that, you’re OK.
(Gentle piano piece continues)
I mean, I remember standing at the other route…at the roundabout, just before the high-level bridge on Duke Street, when my granddad was still working the shipyard. He was one of the last shipwrights there and he came back out of retirement to build the Invincible. We’d stand and wait for him coming out of work. And… I don't know how I was allowed to. I was only about seven or eight. (She chuckles) And I'd stand on that side of the bridge and there'd be about 14,000 people come out and they'd all be running towards you and there’d be like the old Corporation blue and cream busses. And there'd be like blokes, mainly blokes on bikes, but blokes running and carrying their butty boxes under their arms and running like crazy. And it just looked like they'd come out, the buzzer would go off and three gates would come out and they'd all trek over the bridge. But it just, it was like some kind of 1920s silent movie, going home for their tea when you’d still got a pay packet and everybody had fish and chips on a Friday – gulls cry – cos they’d got a pay packet, you know, a brown…brown envelope with money in. It was a rush hour. Barrow had a rush hour and it came over the high-level bridge and onto Duke Street and some would fork off down Greengate Street. But everybody was wanting to get home. They wanted to get home for their tea. They’d been working. And usually what would happen is they’d sort of…sort finishing the job, making sure that they were ready, so they'd all be standing at the gates but they couldn't leave. The gates weren’t allowed to open until the buzzers went. And you’d hear the big buzzers from Barrow. You could hear it on the other side of town almost, and then they'd open the three gates and everybody would set off and they were all trying to beat each other. He was moving. It was like this army of blokes in overalls.
(Piano piece continues and then comes to an end with the softest of flourishes)
(Birds chirp in the background)
The Civic Hall, when I was younger, and my mum worked there then in the cafeteria. And…and then it became the Forum. And then it became Forum 28 in the 80s…late 80s, because when the Forum 28 reopened, it opened as an arts centre. Now its remit is as an entertainment centre because the arts development in this town has sadly gone. So you would get amazing stuff that was subsidised. Now things have to sell, and did sell. I mean, in the 70s, the wrestling sold. I loved the wrestling. They used to have Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. I met both of them. And all the amateur dramatics societies, obviously, who I've not been involved with but, you know, they all…they did big musicals. They would… What they’d do is try and recreate musicals you’d see in London in a small space…in a smaller space, for people who couldn't get to London. And, yes, they were only amateur actors but…and amateur singers, but they were really good, a lot of them. And obviously there'd be a pantomime at Christmas. I'm sure there still is a pantomime, but the pantomimes weren't brought in pantomimes, they were often local pantomimes, which were made and had a celebrity guest and local actors and amateurs. And, yeah, I remember going to the pantomimes and they were fantastic.
And my other favourite memory of the Forum is I got a kiss on both cheeks off Billy Ocean.
(Vehicle door shuts)
(Other woman chuckles)
Town Hall Centenary. (Smoke bombs bang and people clap and cheer) We were dressed as chimneysweeps on the back of a float with a big mechanical elephant.
What were we doing?
We were the chimneysweeps cleaning up the back of the elephant and Queen Victoria’s backside. But I’m quite a big girl. I was a smaller girl then – younger voices chant – but I was still the best-fed chimneysweep – bells ring out with the melody of Big Ben – in the whole of the world, I think. Yeah.
Stood outside the Forum singing to the stars and singing to the sea.
Yeah, with… While people abseiled down the town hall and… (The trumpets of the Vickers Brass Band take up the bells’ melody) It was mag... It was a magical moment.
I'm not often affected but, I mean, I love shows and I love theatre. But it was a moment where you saw Barrow… People were crying. People were literally crying. (Along with clinking and clonking, the band takes up the same melody) And there was hundreds of people. And they weren’t just the kind of people who go and see theatre and arty people, it was people from the town who'd come out and there was, you know, all these smoke bombs going off from the top of the town hall, Queen Victoria's knickers hoisted as a flag and then the choir singing. And everybody was just like…
(The band continues to play)
[Other woman] Different age groups, all different communities – children laugh – were getting involved because Welfare State’s – smoke bombs whistle and bang – come to town, and introduced us to people who… We didn't realise you could actually make a living out of doing that sort of thing. Being introduced to the stuff that we never knew existed, basically. To really invest in musicians – an extra layer of rhythm, high tempo, plays over the top of the band – and performers and makers, and there was just stuff happening everywhere, which culminated in this really wonderful celebration down the length of Duke Street, behind the town hall. (Bird chirps) Yeah, like I say, people from all walks of the community got involved on a huge scale, didn’t they?
And a carnival.
It really was a big, big Barrow bash, basically.
The clinking and clonking both holds to
and partially obscures the original rhythm.
Each refrain answers the one before it
in measured succession.
A sustained whistle gives way to the crackle of drum reports
and faint cheering.
The clinking and clonking gradually fades to expose the underlying rhythm,
before that too recedes
into living memory
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