Friday, 15 September 2017


I’ve got a little list…
WS Gilbert, The Mikado.
I don’t usually post puzzles at this time, but this is not intended to be a serious attempt to bamboozle my readers. Below are eight photos of Penrith landmarks, all of which are identified and described. The order in which they appear is not significant. So what do these landmarks have in common?

The first two photos are of gateposts:

Gateposts: Corney House, Stricklandgate

Gateposts: Mansion House, Friargate

The second pair of gateposts were once topped by carved stone urns, as the following photograph, taken circa 1910, shows. It was originally captioned ‘The doctor’s wife’, implying that there was only one doctor in town at the time. This seems unlikely:

During the Middle Ages, Penrith was, like most small towns, ravaged periodically by bubonic plague. This probably continued into the eighteenth century. Victims were buried in mass graves to the east of town, in areas that were built on in the nineteenth century. When the plague was raging, all financial transactions between townspeople and outsiders required the buyer to place coins into a stone basin filled with vinegar. Given that the transmission vector for bubonic plague is the fleas living on the backs of rats, I doubt the efficacy of such a procedure.

According to Wikipedia, Penrith’s ‘plague stone’ was fashioned in ‘whinstone’. I had always thought it to be sandstone, but on closer examination I found Wikipedia to be correct, which it often isn’t. ‘Whinstone’ is a quarryman’s term for dolerite, a chemical equivalent of basalt that forms shallow intrusions such as the Whin Sill, which underlies the mountain limestone of the North Pennines a dozen miles to the east of Penrith.

Plague stone

The next photo features more gateposts, these ones dating from the eighteenth century:

Gateposts: Dockray Hall, Great Dockray

The next two photos are of landmarks in the graveyard of the local parish church, St Andrew’s:

War memorial

Memorial to the men who built the L&CR

The war memorial, which takes the form of a Celtic cross, was constructed in 1919 to commemorate the Great War. The Lancaster and Carlisle Railway was completed in 1846 and was subsequently taken over by the London and North Western Railway.

There aren’t many of the traditional telephone boxes designed by Giles Gilbert Scott around nowadays, but here is one outside Penrith’s railway station:

K6-type phone box outside Penrith station

The final photo is of another war memorial, this time to remember the Boer War. It is otherwise known as ‘the Black Angel’ and once stood outside the town hall, but it was moved to Castle Park in the 1960s because it was being damaged by traffic fumes.

Black Angel, Castle Park

This list is incomplete.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

backyard penrith

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the population of my home town, Penrith, was around 3,800, and at that time, many residents lived in named yards in what is now considered the town centre. Many of these were accessible only through a single narrow passageway, which served a defensive function—Penrith is 30 miles from the Scottish border, and in earlier times it was a regular target of cross-border raiders (the sandstone hill that marks the town’s eastern perimeter is still called ‘the Beacon’, a reference to the practice of lighting fires on its summit to warn the townspeople that yet another raiding party was on its way).

Not many of these old yards still survive. In the 1950s, the local council embarked on a program of what it probably thought of as ‘slum clearance’. Several yards were flattened to build car parks. Some were rebuilt in a more modern style, while several others have had doors or gates placed across the entrance by their residents, so they are effectively off-limits to someone like me, who merely wants to record their existence. Nevertheless, I have been able to put together a collection of photos that I hope readers will find interesting.

Some yards are more like alleyways connecting two streets—there were once four such alleys between Middlegate and Bluebell Lane, but only Three Crowns Yard survives in anything close to its original state (the paving is relatively new, and I suspect that the building on the right in the first photo is new too):

This photo was taken from the end of Bluebell Lane looking down the yard, while the next photo shows the narrow passageway leading into Middlegate:

Notice the external staircase, which was a common feature in such yards.

Starting from the same place as Three Crowns Yard but leading to Cornmarket is White Hart Yard, which is wide enough to drive down, although nobody does nowadays:

The next photo was taken from the same point as the previous one looking back up the yard:

Griffin Yard leads off to the right close to the external staircase in the previous photo. The following photo shows the end of the yard, while the next image was taken looking back towards White Hart Yard:

The next photo was taken in what I originally identified as Sutton Yard, but thanks to diligent research by a friend, I can confirm that it is Ramsey Yard—it no longer has a nameplate over the entrance on Middlegate. It now has little of architectural interest apart from the passage leading to Middlegate, with its two date stones, neither of which, I suspect, belonged originally to the building of which they are now part (the buildings on both sides are modern):

In the same general area, there is an unnamed alleyway connecting Elm Terrace with the bottom of Castlegate. The external staircase in the following photograph is no longer in use, because the door to which it once led has been bricked up:

Across the road from the exit shown in the previous photo is Gloucester Yard. There is no name sign here, and the yard takes its name from the Gloucester Arms, one of four Grade I listed buildings in Penrith. Even though the present owners of this public house have reverted to the name it bore before it became a pub—Dockray Hall—the yard has kept the older name. The first photo is a view looking up the yard, while the second, taken from the same place, shows the entrance to the yard. The third photo was taken further up the hill looking down:

The final photo was taken in the now unnamed alleyway connecting Friargate with King Street and shows the passage leading to the latter:

All the photos here except those of Griffin Yard are of through routes. A few courtyard-style yards still survive, but they are now inaccessible.