In Clitheroe: From a high hill

“Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

This is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.”

Standing on a high hill in Clitheroe, north east Lancashire, I cling to these lines of Alfred Edward Housman as I am brought suddenly to the brink of tears by this, the most beautiful memorial to the fallen of the Great War I have ever seen.

To the 330 fallen of Clitheroe.

To the 330 fallen of Clitheroe.

In fact this whole hill, a limestone outcrop above the town, is the memorial. Purchased from the landowner by the townspeople in 1920 to remember their dead.

It’s common now to hear the Great War described as a waste of time and human life. A squabble between all the related crowned heads of Europe that went gruesomely out of control, often being described at the time by those in the trenches as ‘hell with the lid off.’

Well those in the trenches didn’t know what the judgment of history might be. They were doing what they’d been asked to do. Fighting a war to maybe end all wars. Fighting so the children, and the children’s children, could live in peace. And I’m grateful and endlessly respectful to them for doing that. So every time I see a memorial I stand before it quietly and remember what they did.

This then is the story of a day spent in peace. The peace they gave us, the fallen of 100 years ago.

We have come to Clitheroe and climbed the memorial hill.

We have come to Clitheroe and climbed the memorial hill.

Sarah has been working hard all week, like most weeks, caring for the bereaved families she works with and helping them say goodbye to their loved ones. She loves her work as an independent funeral celebrant but finds it essential to her own well being to have days off and days out like this one. A day to simply be. To do quiet, ordinary things like explore a small town, drink tea and watch people passing by. A day at peace.

We have lunch here, up by the castle.

We have lunch here, up by the castle.

It’s a small Norman castle from the 12th Century that was in use up to the Civil War of the 1640s. At the end of that war Cromwell’s victors blasted that hole in the wall to put the castle out of future military use.

All wars thinking they are the war to end all wars.

The participants in all wars thinking they are in the war to end all wars.

Watching over the town.

Watching over the town.

East to Pendle Hill.

East to Pendle Hill.

Down to the parish church of St Mary Magdalene.

Down to the parish church of St Mary Magdalene.

And the town.

And the town.

The bustling Saturday streets of the town.

The bustling Saturday streets of the town.

And its quietly lovely terraces.

And its quietly lovely terraces.

Soon we’ll go down and a have a look at all of these.

But first there's something nearby that Sarah particularly wants to see.

But first there’s something nearby that Sarah particularly wants to see.

There it is, just down the track from the castle.

There it is, just down the track from the castle.

The monkey puzzle tree Sarah knew was around here somewhere.

The monkey puzzle tree Sarah knew was around here somewhere.

A magnificent specimen.

A magnificent specimen.

Apart from having days out like this one, another thing Sarah does in time off from her work is run a blog called ‘Monkey Puzzle Meanderings.’ Where her eventual aim is to catalogue all of these ancient trees, with the help of ‘Agents’ who are spotting them for her. Just a few months in her catalogue already contains 150 or so trees, from all over this country and beyond. And it’s growing all the time, to her great delight.

So here she is, right up close to 'BB1'

So here she is, right up close to ‘BB1’

That’s right, they’re catalogued in order of their finding by post code area. This being the first  of 4 ‘monkeys’ we’ll find in the wider Blackburn area today. Much, much more about this monkey over on Sarah’s blog.

We walk down the hill to the town.

Passing this small monument.

Passing this small monument.

To Isabel Robey, one of the ten ‘Witches of Pendle’ slaughtered 400 years ago by the superstitious local nobility. Ten of the many, many thousands of witches killed across Europe in those times.

Sarah stops to admire the serpents on these benches.

Sarah stops to admire the serpents on these benches.

Admiring a serpent would have been enough to cause suspicion of witchcraft of course, so we move on.

The town is in splendid early summer bloom.

The town is in splendid early summer bloom.

Though the still cool nights are resulting in the autumn like reddening of these beech leaves.

Though the still cool nights are resulting in the autumn like reddening of these beech leaves.

More reddening in this shop window.

More reddening in this shop window.

I reflect that though I like football and always want to know how Liverpool and Everton are doing, international football and the World Cup leaves me cold.

We walk around the main streets of the town.

We walk around the main streets of the town.

Wonderful ghost-sign above that 'Anna Louise' boutique.

Wonderful ghost-sign above that ‘Anna Louise’ boutique.

For a small town it's amazingly well off for wool and haberdashery shops.

For a small town it’s amazingly well off for wool and haberdashery shops.

In this one they even tell Sarah about another ‘monkey.’

As good a buttons selection as Sarah's seen since the glory days of George Henry Lee's in Liverpool.

As good a buttons selection as Sarah’s seen since the glory days of George Henry Lee’s in Liverpool.

Meanwhile I'm in the local independent record shop. Not much vinyl, sadly.

Meanwhile I’m in the local independent record shop. Not much vinyl, sadly.

Looking for afternoon tea possibilities I spot these Lancashire Favourites in the chippy window.

All well known things around here, as you’ll see from the links. The last two would even suit vegetarian me. But no. We go to a tea shop.

Splendidly named it is too.

Splendidly named it is too.

From one of my favourite nonsense poems when I was growing up. Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’:

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.”

Inside the café the floor is a map of Clitheroe.

Inside the café the floor is a map of Clitheroe.

We have our tea and scones outside. Admiring the crockery.

We have our tea and scones outside. Admiring the crockery.

And the spoons. Look at that, a USSR spoon!

And the spoons. Look at that, a USSR spoon!

We sit here for a good while, at peace. Noticing how well dressed many of the people are for their Saturday afternoon in town. And though it must have been tempting to pedestrianise the narrow streets over the years, we’re glad they haven’t. The slow moving traffic makes it feel like a proper market town.

We appreciate the local bus liveries as they pass.

We appreciate the local bus liveries as they pass.

A rest from Arriva-everywhere.

A rest from Arriva-everywhere.

Eventually and reluctantly it's time to move on.

Eventually and reluctantly it’s time to move on.

We wonder about the name of this street, next to where we've been sitting.

We wonder about the name of this street, next to where we’ve been sitting.

Sounds ancient?

Sounds ancient?

Turns out it’s old English for ‘strong ladder’ or ‘strong stairway’. Also turns out it’s been given this name as part of a modern day ‘regeneration project’. More than a few locals apparently think it’s ‘claptrap’.

We pass through the market.

We pass through the market.

We walk around the outer edge of the town.

Then walk around the outer edge of the town.

I always like to do this. Sarah calls it ‘beating the parish bounds’ – as indeed I am.

They do good wide alleyways here. Something I've noticed in other nearby towns like Accrington.

They do good wide alleyways here. Something I’ve noticed in other nearby towns like Accrington.

Wonder if they call them alleyways though? Everywhere seems to call them something different.

We find an old well.

We find an old well.

With a handy explanation.

With a handy explanation.

And close to the church we find this magnificent structure, recently restored.

And close to the church we find this magnificent structure, recently restored.

The public library.

The public library.

Finally we reach the parish church, seen what seems ages ago from the high hill.

The Church of St Mary Magdelene.

The Church of St Mary Magdelene.

It's been here a good while.

It’s been here a good while.

Clitheroe42

Sacred.

Clitheroe43

Unusual. So you can sit with the deceased?

The church is open, so we go in for a look.

The church is open, so we go in for a look.

Clitheroe45 Clitheroe46

The story of the organ here, for church organ fans. I know you're out there!

The story of the organ here, for church organ fans. I know you’re out there!

A peaceful day then, in a lovely place. And as we leave the quiet church yard, where people have been buried and remembered for centuries, we both think of those other locals, memorialised up on the high hill, who never came home.Clitheroe50

Knowing now, from Sarah’s work and our own lives, the importance and comfort of funerals, we feel some of the pain of the families of all the Great War fallen. Many lost altogether on the battlefields and none of them brought home.

For reasons of expense plus the damage to morale of so many bodies arriving, the governments of the day decided to bury everyone near to where they fell. Hence the grief that found its expression in so many memorials. In this case, the whole hill dedicated forever, to the fallen who never came home.

Thank you for our day off. Our day of peace. We remember you.

Liverpool Central Library has recently bought this glorious book of photographs of where the soldiers from all of our countries are buried. We’ve got it at the moment, but it’ll be back in there soon if you want to see where they all are.Silent Fields

11 thoughts on “In Clitheroe: From a high hill

  1. robertday154

    Two things of interest:

    1) The serpent-backed bench. That seems to have been a casting offered by Armstrongs’ of Newcastle upon Tyne, and it’s often said to depict the legendary “Lambton Worm”. They were adopted as standard by the North Eastern Railway before 1923, and back in the 1970s when I was photographing old railway stations (before they were modernised, closed or gentrified), they could be widely found all over the North East. Sadly, though, very few of them were as complete as the one you found in Clitheroe: if the seat was tipped over backwards, the tail of the serpent broke off. Oddly, the one other place I’ve found them has been in Austria, where examples can be found in Innsbruck, at the SchlossAmbras sculpture park; and at Graz, on the Schlossberg (another castle mound in the centre of the city).

    2) Alleys. There are, indeed, a range of words for them all over the country. In my native Belper, in Derbyshire, there are at least four: vennels, jennels, channels or jitties. However, because Belper was an early industrial town and never had a vast amount of terraced housing covering large tracts of land, the term is as much used for a paved pedestrian path that runs from one road to another, behind or between the houses.

    Reply
  2. Ronnie Hughes Post author

    No wonder the benches were tucked close against a wall then. For a small town Clitheroe’s a significant railway junction (it’s called an ‘Interchange’ so it must be. Must explain the presence of the benches.

    As for alleys, jiggers, jennels and the rest, maybe they need their own national data base too!

    Reply
  3. Stephen Sullivan (@Oplyst)

    I’ve just been advised by my wife ( a Lancashire lass) that butter pie & black peas are “to die for” but must eaten separately. Black peas are best eaten hot (on “Bommie” night) with loads of vinegar on.
    So there you know next time ha

    Reply
  4. Helen Devries

    A most moving memorial…and how right to cast aside the criticism of the war itself and concentrate on the men who fought it.
    My father lost his elder brothers in that war…bonnie lads all whose motives I suspect bore out the insight from T.M. Kettle’s poem for his daughter…from memory – ‘the silent scriptures of the poor.’

    And on another tack, are black peas the same as Carlin peas? My mother remembers the latter being served with vinegar – she thinks at Eastertide – when she was at Naworth Castle near Carlisle in WWII.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Helen.

      And it does seem that the peas are the same. Called carlin or maple mainly in the north east and eaten at Easter. And called black peas particularly around Oldham and Rochdale. They never made it into Liverpool as far as I know.

      Reply
  5. illustranaut

    What a beautiful blog post, I walked those streets with you with a tear in my eye, god knows how much I miss Clitheroe, feeling thankful for all of those who have given their lives so that we can live in peace. Growing up in Clitheroe has so many fond memories, and the castle grounds are such a peaceful haven, it’s a great place to gather your thoughts and be mindful. P.S. I’ve always had a love if Monkey Puzzle trees too, there are a few I’ve spotted around my local area in North Wales!

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Glad you appreciated the walk. A lot of people have ‘walked’ it with you these past few ‘Remembrance’ days.

      I’m sure my partner Sarah would love to hear more about your North Wales monkeys by the way for her Monkey Map

      Reply
  6. Marc B

    nice little spot is Clitheroe, i was brought up there we owned the ‘Choice Fruit’ shop on Moor Lane, and Grandad had the Grocers in Hillards (a one big, multifloor store in King St – sadly gone) and i went to Pendle Junior then up to Ribblesdale in ’77 i suppose it must have been,.. and i must confess i miss its slower pace of life and semi-rural setting.. i never once saw black peas or any of that weird stuff they’re selling as traditional lancashire food though..

    There was an old world war II tank behing the United Reformed Chburch when we lived on Moor lane (mid-early 1970s) i always wondered what it was doing there.

    I have so many memories of the town and people & family there i often wish of moving back to the area. How nice that would be… nice litle flat somewhere – i’d be happy !

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks for the reflections. Particularly enjoyed ‘I never once saw black peas or any of that weird stuff they’re selling as traditional Lancashire food.’ though

      Reply
  7. illustranaut

    Eh really? Black peas or ‘parched peas’ as I recall them and Butter pies are definitely traditional Lancashire fare, I recall eating the peas hot on Bonfire Night on the Castle field in Clitheroe many a time in my youth, Butter pies were traditionally eaten on a Friday for people who didn’t like fish as eating meat used to be religiously taboo on a Friday, they’re a pie made primarily of potato, onion and of course, butter, they’re totally delish by the way.

    I vaguely remember a tank but I would have been very young at the time, another military link to Clitheroe include the development of the Jet engine, they were tested just off taylor street and up Brooks, now occupied by the appropriately named Whittle Close, after Coventry was bombed in 1941 Whittle and his secret project were moved to the abandoned Waterloo Mill in Clitheroe, the engineers would regularly meet at the Swan & Royal on Castle street.

    Reply

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