Travel Report: Cool Spots Around Lancaster, England.
Cool Spots Around Lancaster.
Following my individual articles on Lancaster Castle, Lancaster Priory and Williamson Park, it’s time to roundup the best of the rest. So why not treat yourself to a brew, sit back and enjoy my Cool Spots Around Lancaster.
I’d really enjoyed learning all about the life of Lord Ashton, Lancaster’s millionaire entrepreneur. Despite having his name muddied by accusations of political corruption, in Lancaster he remained a much loved man. After all, he created the city’s gorgeous Williamson Park. He was also responsible for the the park’s stunning Ashton Memorial, in tribute to his deceased wife.
Moreover, he was a man who paid his linoleum workforce a decent wage and once treated over 10.000 people to a hot, hearty breakfast. Keen to see another of Ashton’s donations, I headed for Dalton Square to look at the Queen Victoria Memorial.
Dalton Square dates back to 1784, but by 1906 was in a state of decay. This is when Lord Ashton stepped in to pay for a complete renovation. At the same time, he hired the famed English sculptor Herbert Hampton to create a large memorial to Queen Victoria.
Hampton used Portland stone for the plinth and pedestal. The bronze Victoria meanwhile faces south, keeping watch over the square. Below her sit four elegant lion guardians. Lower still, spread across four bronze friezes, are an incredible 53 sculpted figures.
Cool Spots Around Lancaster.
Look closely and you’ll realise Ashton paid tribute to some of the most iconic people of the Victorian era. In fact, the relief features images of the poet Alfred Tennyson and two time Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. One can also pick out the war hero and social reformer Florence Nightingale and the naturalist Charles Darwin. Good old Charles Dickens is in there somewhere too.
Lancaster is actually packed with handsome squares. Take, for example, the little cobbled square on Church Street, home to the city’s oldest townhouse. Built in 1625, it was once the home of a man called Thomas Covell, the city mayor and keeper of the castle.
Later, it stood as a boarding house for judges who came to Lancaster to rule at the castle court. Today the building is home to The Judges’ Lodgings Museum. Here, visitors can tour the house, which has a Victorian Childhood Museum and an exhibition of 18th and 19th century Gillow Furniture.
Lancaster’s grandest square is almost certainly Market Square, a bustling trading spot that stretches as far back as 1193! In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Jacobite army rolled into town, where they settled in Market Square.
It was here that Charlie, known as The Young Pretender, declared himself Prince Regent of England and his father “the true king of England”. Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out well for Charlie and his dad in the months that followed. Ah well, they’ll always have Lancaster.
The striking building that dominates Market Square today used to be Lancaster Town Hall. Built in the early 1780s, this delightful Georgian structure now houses the Lancaster City Museum.
Founded in 1923, this small but lovingly crafted museum brings Lancaster’s long and colourful history to life. Indeed it features a fascinating collection of Roman relics in addition to a grisly exhibition on crime and punishment in The Victorian era.
Elsewhere, there are amusing displays on the history of Lancaster’s police force, fire brigade and hospital care. All boards have archive photographs, diary entries, donated antique items and original paintings that bring the stories alive.
One piece of artwork that really caught my eye was a lively watercolour showing the arrival of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1851. The mood is positively celebratory, with locals clapping the royals as they pass through the city on the way to the castle.
Check out the saluting police officers in their black top hats and swallow-tail uniform jackets. Sadly the artist’s name has been lost to time, though the accompanying info states a man from Derby, W Dunn Esq., was kind enough to donate the painting to the museum.
Cool Spots Around Lancaster.
Furthermore, one could easily wile away an hour on the museum’s First and Second World War exhibits. Both focus on the stories of Lancaster’s role in the war effort, telling the tales of those brave souls who lost their lives defending Britain.
As I leaf through my photos from that day, I find my eyes drawn to the somewhat playful Wheel of Misfortune. Fun to have a spin and see where you end up, but also a sad reminder of what a lottery one’s fate can be in a time of war. Especially when, while I type, Russian air missiles are currently pouring down over the Ukrainian city of Kiev.
Back outside, just a few minutes on foot from the museum, it’s well worth cutting through Market Street to King Street via Bashful Alley. This short and narrow alley has a history dating back to the 1700s when sailors would visit the alley in order to meet ladies of the night.
However, several local historians claim the alley got its name in the 1800s. As the story goes, respectable Lancaster ladies used to cut into the alley when passing through town. They did so to avoid the unwanted attentions of rowdy drunkards and n’er do wells who hung out nearby at The Market Street corner.
A visit to Lancaster would be scandalously incomplete without a look at one of England’s most historic theatres. Step forward The Grand, the city’ first live performance venue purpose built in 1782.
Started by an actor called Joseph and a dentist, Edward, it opened to great fanfare across the north of England. Indeed in its first summer of operation The Theatre (as it was known then) staged William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Hannah Cowley’s The Belle’s Stratagem.
Over the centuries the theatre has attracted some major names, including the Italian violinist sensation Niccolo Paganini. Later, in 1843, the renowned architect Edmund Sharpe bought and renovated the place.
During his stewardship, the venue focused on live music performances and hosted a small Natural History Museum. At the time of writing, The Grand is launching a fundraising campaign for a brand new modern foyer.
Another loved Lancaster theatre is The Dukes, which opened its doors in 1971. This is Lancashire’s only producing theatre. It also has cinema screens and puts on dance shows and live comedy nights.
Cool Spots Around Lancaster.
Archaeology buffs will be delighted to learn that there are several Roman ruins peppered around Lancaster. I checked out the remains of a small Bath House. You’ll find it tucked away behind Lancaster Priory, literally a few minutes away on foot.
Experts reckon up to four Roman forts stood here during their occupation of Britain. For more info on the ruin, this detailed article by lancashirepast.com is worth a read.
Naturally, there are some wonderfully atmospheric pubs that do a great job of channeling traditional England. If you’ve only got time for one, make it The Golden Lion on Moor Lane. Those who read my recent piece on Lancaster Castle may recall the infamous Pendle Witches trial in 1612.
Apparently, this is where the doomed “witches” stopped to have one last drink on their way to the gallows. A sign outside honours their memory: Anne Whittle, Anne Redfearn, Elizabeth, Alizon and James Device, Jane and John Bulcock, Katherine Hewitt, Alice Nutter and Isobel Roby.
Happily my drink with Uncle D at The Golden Lion proved a far more relaxing affair. Today customers can enjoy real ales and a wide variety of gins while watching sport on the big screen or enjoying live music nights. In fact, I was lucky enough to catch a group of local seniors performing some folk music in the back room.
The Golden Lion Pub.
Another historic Lancaster Pub I popped my head into was Merchants 1688. This historic bar restaurant serves up fine dining championing local ingredients. I’m talking Lancashire Hot Pot, Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps and Cumbrian Beef.
The site began life as a 17th century wine cellar and today you can enjoy your dinner in its old underground stone tunnels with vaulted ceilings. I went in just for a quick drink between sights, but would definitely do dinner here if I ever make it back. They often have live music and I recall the band scheduled for that evening was the brilliantly named Luca Brasi 4.
Another impressive dining location is The Sultan of Lancaster, set in the shell of an old methodist church. As regular readers know, I can’t get enough Indian food. This place offers a full range of authentic curries to the backdrop of original church features, such as ornate pillars and a carved ceiling.
If the aforementioned options seem a tad fancy, fear not, Lancaster also has you covered for cheap, quick, no-nonsense chow. Look no further than Starvin Marvin and its tempting (?) array of kebabs, burgers and the like. Although, to be frank, a glance at their TripAdvisor reviews doesn’t fill one with much confidence.
Cool Spots Around Lancaster.
Finally, I’ll leave you with an amusing Lancaster spot. Lovers of antiques can head to GB Antiques Centre, England’s biggest antique and furniture complex. What’s more, you’ll find yourself tickled by the large, fibre-glass bull stationed above the main entrance.
The statue stands in memory of a real life bull who escaped a nearby auction mart, before entering the antiques house through a loading bay. It then proceeded to rampage through the centre’s porcelain section, quite literally bringing to life the phrase, bull in a China shop. Sadly, the beast was so out of control police marksmen had to shoot it.
Like this? Why not leaf through my other articles on Lancaster.
Or maybe take a look at my many travel articles from all around England.
I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.
Cool indeed! Thank you 😊
Thanks for reading!
You are welcome!
What a lovely place to explore, Leighton as it looks steeped in history. I love the Market Square with its sandstone ashlar building – there’s no better way to get a crash course in Lancaster’s history than by visiting the City Museum. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva
Cheers Aiva, steeped in history is about right. I’m heading back Lancaster way at the end of the month to see my Uncle, so will no doubt be able to update this piece with a few extra “spots”. Thanks for reading!
Very interesting introduction to a smart city. Despite being well travelled in England (work, football, leisure) I’ve never been to Lancaster even though my nephew was at University there. I do know though that it’s home to an iconic non League football ground with one of the best ever names for a ground anywhere – The Giant Axe.
I didn’t know that Phil, and definitely approve of quirky ground names like this. It definitely beats The Reebok Arena approach to stadium naming. Thanks for checking this piece out and adding your two cents!
Thanks for sharing this. You are an amazing writer but not me. Lancaster would be a place I would love to see.
That’s very kind of you to say Anita. Thanks for reading and leaving such a lovely comment.
So much history in one place. Nice to know Lord Ashton tried to make a good difference with the local people. Thanks for sharing. Allan
Yeah, a few more Lord Ashtons in the world wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Thanks for checking in Allan.
There sure are a lot of places to explore in Lancaster! Those fake people in the museum look pretty freaky haha.
Those models certainly add to the grisly vibe of the Crime and Punishment exhibit. Thanks for visiting Lyssy!
I’ve definitely added Lancaster to my list of places to visit. I need more time in the museums. And what could be more civilized than stopping at the Golden Lion while on your way to the gallows. It’s the only way to go. And I’ll have to spend an evening at Merchants 1688. Thanks for including a photo of your Uncle D. Is he available for tours?
I believe Uncle D is available for tours. And the cost would be a very reasonable “pint” at any Lancaster establishment. So glad you enjoyed this overview of Lancaster’s various bits and bobs. I’ll be heading back up that way with Sladja at the end of the month for a 5 night stay. Looking forward to reconnecting and of course adding some new places for future write ups.
A great highlights tour of Lancaster Leighton and weren’t you lucky with the weather. Up until a few years ago there was a branch of the Waring & Gillow furniture store near us and I can remember it stocking high class pieces.
From my online investigations I saw just how magnificent Gillow furniture is. If I do make it back to Lancaster, I’d like to check that exhibit out. Thanks for stopping by Marion.
That is some memorial to Queen Victoria – so much detail! And I do like the museum building in Market Square … and Roman ruins, wow, that’s something special! Merchants 1688 looks like quite a unique spot to enjoy a drink and dinner. Thanks for showing Lancaster to me Leighton, it was an enjoyable tour!
Thanks Corna, it’s a lovely city with a cosy town vibe to it. There’s so much history, I’m looking forward to a brief revisit at the end of the month when I stay with my uncle, who lives nearby.
Looks like there’s plenty to see and do in Lancaster than one might think! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading your Lancaster series, as it was a refreshing change on the international trips you’ve documented, as it’s closer to your home (and roots). Merchants 1688 looks cozy, and I’d love to have a pop-over for a nice meal and drink!
Thanks Rebecca, it been fun putting these out. Over the next few weeks I’ll be publishing more from Lancashire.
These look like some unusual and interesting spots around Lancaster. I was surprised to hear that there are even Roman ruins there. Merchants 1688 sounds like an awesome place to grab a drink and a bite to eat.
Thanks for following my Lancaster series. Looking forward to going back at the end of the month and maybe grabbing some dinner at Merchants.
Great post – the market square looks lovely 🙂
Thanks for reading Hannah!
I’m not much for antiquing, but with a story like that it would be on my top list for places to see in that city. I really loved the Queen Victoria statue and all the little nods to others of that time. And I had to laugh with the restaurant called Starvin Marvin as that is what my family calls each other before dinner sometimes. All around great post with some absolute cool spots 🙂
Ha, I think my sister and I have said starvin’ Marvin’ plenty of times over the years. I’m glad you enjoyed exploring Lancaster Meg, a bit more from the region coming up in the next couple of weeks.
It looks like Lancaster has much to offer. I love seeing the bright, blue sky in the background. Great post!
Thanks for reading, I’m glad you liked this overview of Lancaster’s many delights.
Great post – so many hidden gems!!!!
Thanks Rosa! Glad you enjoyed this look at historic Lancaster.