Places matter: Ormr’s Kirk

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!

We get the train from Liverpool Central.

We get the train from Liverpool Central.

Yes, Sarah’s with me today. I don’t do selfies.

And soon arrive.

We soon arrive.

It's Saturday morning and the market's in full swing.

It’s Saturday morning and the market’s in full swing.

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 medieval centre of the town is thronged with stalls. Bread, fruit, pies, mattresses, Dyson cleaners, purses, watch straps and much, much more.

The medieval centre of the town is thronged with stalls. Bread, fruit, pies, mattresses, Dyson cleaners, purses, watch batteries and straps and much, much more.

Including clothes from 'major' brands.

Including clothes from ‘major’ brands.

We've come looking for The Cheeseman, best crumbly Lancashire, but he's not around. Sarah consoles herself with a new purse.

We’ve come looking for The Cheeseman, best Crumbly Lancashire, but he’s not around. Sarah consoles herself with a new purse.

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.

And just like Bootle the other week, they've got one of these.

And just like Bootle the other week, they’ve got one of these.

But plenty of local independents seem to be pulling the town through.

Greenhalgh's, craft baking for 50 years.

Along Burscough Street, Greenhalgh’s, craft baking for 50 years.

Our friends Rennies, from Bold Street, have got a branch here.

Our friends Rennies, from Bold Street, have got a branch here.

And there's the 'Buck i'th vine

And there’s the ‘Buck i’th’ vine’.

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.

And the meaning of the name?

And the meaning of the name?

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?

Since I was last here, years ago, they've opened up lots of little passageways.

Since I was last here, years ago, they’ve opened up lots of little passageways.

For shops, arcades and to add to the general urge to explore the place. Makes us both feel like we're on holiday.

For shops, arcades and to add to the general urge to explore the place. Makes us both feel like we’re on holiday.

And through the end of one of the alleys we spot Ormskirk's jewel.

And through the end of one of the alleys we spot Ormskirk’s jewel.

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.

It's open today, so we go for a closer look. Neither of us have ever been in here before.

It’s open today, so we go for a closer look. Neither of us have ever been in here before.

Ormskirk16 Ormskirk17

The oldest part of the church, a Norman window.

The oldest part of the church, a Norman window.

Sarah tries out the pulpit, but no sermon follows.

Sarah tries out the pulpit, but no sermon follows.

The stained glass, some of it from recent 20th Century bequests, is beautiful.

Ormskirk20 Ormskirk21 Ormskirk22 Ormskirk23 Ormskirk24 Ormskirk25We 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.

But what a place, with its tower and its spire.

But what a place, with its tower and its spire.

One of only three in all of England.

One of only three in all of England.

Though I used to come to Ormskirk a lot when I was younger, I've never looked round this graveyard.

Though I used to come to Ormskirk a lot when I was younger, I’ve never looked round this graveyard.

The young not being much conscious of or interested in death.

The young not being much conscious of or interested in death.

We go back into the town.

We go back into the town.

(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.

Why would you call a pub with such a strange name something relatively ordinary?

Why would you call a pub with such a strange name something relatively ordinary?

A shop in two halves. They're queuing at the butcher's. And in the other half we buy our Crumbly Lancashire.

A shop in two halves. They’re queuing at the butcher’s. And in the other half we buy our Crumbly Lancashire.

Back round in Burscough Street. Lovely tiling on an empty shop. It could be your's?

Back round in Burscough Street. Lovely tiling on an empty shop. It could be your’s?

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.

'Brew and Bake' - on the corner of Derby Street and Burscough Street.

‘Brew and Bake’ – on the corner of Derby Street and Burscough Street.

It's lovely and the food's great.

It’s lovely and the food’s great.

We stay for cake too. Highly recommended.

We stay for cake too. Highly recommended.

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.

Here's another arcade.

Here’s another arcade.

Containing, to Sarah's delight, this specialist haberdashery shop.

Containing, to Sarah’s delight, this specialist haberdashery shop.

And back on Church Street once more, we go into this specialist knitting shop.

And back on Church Street once more, we go into this splendid knitting shop.

Where Sarah adds to her stash of wool, lace, patterns and needles.

Where Sarah adds to her stash of wool, lace, patterns and needles.

Finally, on the way back to the train, a bit of pure nostalgia for me.

This used to be the Pavillion Picture House, 'The Pivvy'

This used to be the Pavillion Cinema, ‘The Pivvy’

Me and Pat would often walk up these steps and through those doors.

Me and Pat would often walk up these steps and through those doors.

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.

And as Sarah and I arrive at the station our train home's just arriving.

And as Sarah and I arrive at the station our train home’s just arriving.

It always is. Every fifteen minutes a train to Liverpool. Who needs a car anyway?

Other towns around Liverpool we’ve checked on recently? Chester, Southport, Bootle and Crosby. And more to come.

5 thoughts on “Places matter: Ormr’s Kirk

  1. stan cotter

    Brilliant Ronnie, I spent many hours cruising round Ormskirk after my wife died, including many visits to the Buck i’th’ Vine (and others). The church with the spire and a tower, the story was that two ladies put the money up for the church to be built. One wanted a steeple, the other wanted a tower, so they got both. The fact is that a local monastery was being demolished and the bell sent to Ormskirk Church but the spire wasn’t strong enough to take its weight, so a tower was built to accommodate it.

    When you walk through the alley from the station through the bus station to the High St, if you cross straight over there’s a small gallery/showroom where you can also get coffee and a sandwich,they employ people from a local hostel to give them experience and responsibility taking orders and serving tables. Well worth a visit!

    Thanks again for another excellent blog

    Reply
  2. Jimmy Mo

    Ormskirk and around have some really lovely bits, but I think you’re spot on regarding car use. It just seems dominated by the main A roads (probably not unlike many other small towns), and it’s really detrimental to the character of the place.

    As a cyclist / walker / beer drinker, I just avoid the place more often than not. Can’t remember the last time I stopped for a pint…

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      If you go on the train, Jimmy, there’s a path from the station goes under the road to get you to the Buck i’th’ Vine safely. But coming home we decided to have a look at what else was around and had to run across the ring road between speeding cars!

      Reply
  3. Martin Greaney (@histliverpool)

    Great exploration! I really want to visit Ormskirk again. I think I’ve only been once, when I was signing books in the (very un-local!) Waterstones, and didn’t get a chance to have a proper look around. The churchyard’s shape, and some stonework in the church, suggest a pre-Norman Conquest age for the church, and of course Ormr is a very old name, which is a clue in itself. Nice to see the alleys too. I should get out there!

    Reply

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