As Liverpool City does its best to mess up Great Homer Street Market, we visit somewhere not very far away that’s been successfully organising itself around its own street market for nearly 730 years.
About fifteen miles away from home, north of us on the Lancashire plain, is Ormskirk. Our destination for today’s day out, as we continue our regular practices of checking on the well-being of the towns around Liverpool that so enrich our lives, and of course living every day like it matters!
Yes, Sarah’s with me today. I don’t do selfies.
They’ve been running street markets here since Edward 1 gave them permission to do so in 1286. These days, and indeed for as long as I remember, the market runs on Thursdays and Saturdays.
The town is weathering the recession, though there are more empty shop units than normal turnover would be expected to produce. Including a couple of prominent corner locations by the Clock Tower.
But plenty of local independents seem to be pulling the town through.
An old and fantastic pub loads of us from Liverpool Housing Trust used to come to. Years ago when licensing laws were still very tight, the pubs in Ormskirk could stay open all day on market days. So in staunch and selfless support of this we’d all book a half day off work, come here for the afternoon, and then pour ourselves happily back onto the train to Liverpool early that evening.
Well a friend from not so far away Wigan once told me phrases like this would be cried out in cotton mills, to be heard above the sound of the looms, signifying ‘Something’s wrong, stop everything!’ Looking around now I can’t find any cross references. Suffice to say, we may be close to Liverpool here – but this is deepest Lancashire and there would appear to be a buck in the, well, vine. Whatever that might mean?
Yes, ‘Ormskirk’ is a Viking place name. And this here is indeed ‘Ormr’s Kirk.’ Known as the Parish Church of Saints Peter and Paul.
The stained glass, some of it from recent 20th Century bequests, is beautiful.
We get talking to a couple of congregation members who talk us around a place they clearly and deeply love. The regular congregation these days is only around 50 people, though that’s apparently relatively good in these secular days. ‘So I suppose you get your biggest turnouts for weddings and funerals?’ I suggest. ‘Well, funerals, yes. And we have got half a dozen weddings booked for this year. But the hotels have really taken that trade with their all-in packages,’ I’m sadly told.
(Me and Ormskirk? Well mainly because my first girlfriend came from here. And I believe she’s back living here again now. We don’t run into her all day though. But if you ever get to read this, Pat, good wishes from me here in Liverpool.)
Walking on down Church Street.
Time for lunch now. And looking in the window of a shop I remember as a musical instruments shop years ago, we discover it’s now a café Sarah’s heard of, run by someone she knows. We go in.
While we’re feeling warm and contented after a good lunch, a few words of criticism about Ormskirk. In the years since I last came they seem to have given much of it over to cars. Half the town feels like it’s car parks, and there’s a constantly busy inner ring road with cars coming and going from the car parks. This effectively contains visitors like us within the pedestrianised centre of the town and must, I’d assume, have damaged the prospects of the pubs and shops outside the inner ring. I’m sure I’ll be back one day to take a longer look at the wider place, but today it feels somehow smaller than it used to.
Anyway, let’s finish with some more of what’s good about it.
Finally, on the way back to the train, a bit of pure nostalgia for me.
In the early 1970s it wouldn’t be showing current films. Just whatever old ones they could get hold of. So it was good and cheap to get in. And best of all, the back couple of rows had double seats. Perfect for those of us who weren’t principally there for the films anyway. Happy times.
It always is. Every fifteen minutes a train to Liverpool. Who needs a car anyway?