It’s not really fair to come to a town like Barrow-In-Furness after walking through the quiet sylvan dells and lofty, windswept heights of the Lake District. It’s not fair for the town and not fair for me either.
However I had problems to solve that sleepy coastal villages and emerald vales couldn’t help me with. Namely, my debit card wasn’t working, I was low on cash, and I was suffering crippling hay fever. I’d also checked my bank account and discovered that some scamming website was withdrawing $21 a month.
No problems that were insurmountable, but taken altogether I felt frazzled and anxious. It wasn’t pleasant.
Overlaying my genuine issues were the rather joyless surroundings I had unwittingly chosen. I could feel my mood darken as I wandered around town.
For example, look at this for a town theatre building and arts centre.
Urgh. Also, despite a fairly usual number of rubbish bins this sort of scene was pretty common.
However a chat online with Luke gave me a few ideas re money and I’d booked into a Wetherspoons hotel/pub so I could regroup and consider my options. I don’t generally use chains when I can avoid them but Wetherspoons, apart from having reasonably priced rooms, allows the use of an app for table ordering. This means I can use my credit card without needing the PIN, which didn’t arrive before I left home. It’s also a convenient way to order food from the table while avoiding bar queues and, as a solo traveller, it means not having to choose between leaving my bag unattended or dragging everything with me to the bar.
Anyhoo. I was in a slightly cranky mood and had perked myself up by deciding to walk around town and make a collage of all the most unappealing sights and then write a sarcastic post about the place.
Apart from just general grot there were some really obvious signs that town wasn’t booming.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thorough boarding-up of a shop front on a main drag.
Believe it or not, the mall below contained actual, open shops. Not that I was willing to walk down and see what sort of shops they were. I assume gang supply stores or something. Speaking of which, when I googled Barrow the first news story that came up was about there having been 12 gang murders in one year and more expected in future. Shame, Barrow!
But at least the city centre was bustling on a Friday afternoon.
Anyhow, that building on the left of the photo above was quite magnificent, so I thought I’d wander around and take a few photos of what turned out to be the town hall.
Here’s a weird panorama photo. The hourly peals from the clock tower were quite impressive.
Around the back (which turned out to be the front – a fact that I later learned was a source of frequent confusion) was a car park where people could park right up against the building. How convenient! And it doesn’t detract at all from the grandeur of the only grand building in town, either.
I noted stained glass in the upstairs windows and thought I’d go in, if possible, and have a look. I tried to open the doors but it was all locked up and it was at this point a security guard asked me what I was doing.
I explained that I was a tourist and had been curious about the stained glass and so he explained that the building was always kept locked because of people ‘kicking off’ when they came for their unemployment benefits etc (shame, Barrow!) but then, very kindly, he took me inside and arranged for one of the stewards, a lovely lady named Sue, to take me on a spontaneous guided tour!
Things had started looking up. There’s nothing I like more than doing something unexpected and this turned out to be brilliant.
For someone who hadn’t worked there very long, Sue knew a great deal about the place. She also gave me a leaflet at the end.
First stop was the little waiting area for visitors. I didn’t really hear any information about this but I like the austerity of the artwork. Also I imagine carved slate is difficult to damage if people ‘kick off’. Very practical.
Next the stained glass windows. They were very detailed and interesting. There were repeating motifs that represented the local toffs (the Cavendish family, represented, rather ominously, by a snake – also not the banana-growing Cavendishes as far as my ten seconds of googling can tell), the shipping industry and a delightful little visual reference to the actual name of the town – a bee and an arrow – B-arrow! It feels a bit like something you’d do if a town hadn’t much going for it but someone had, rather annoyingly, left a blank space in the middle of your new civic emblem and you thought it looked a bit bare.
The stained glass was in a space called The Queen’s Room.
I hesitate to say it looks like something out of Harry Potter because that’s really just ignorant tourist-speak now for anything that looks more than 100 years old … but it did. A bit.
The red-carpeted steps leading up were wide and shallow to accommodate the dresses of 19th century ladies, apparently.
I walked through several very grand rooms that were still used almost daily for a range of services including meetings of the local council, the coroner’s court, celebratory events and many other things.
It was all very grand and in the Victorian gothic style.
The job of the stewards seemed very varied. Taking tours (Tuesdays and Thursdays if you’re in the area and you’d get to go up the clock tower too), moving furniture, keeping an eye on council sessions – if the councillors get too rowdy the stewards may remove the mayor’s official mace and end the meeting! Sue seemed very hopeful of the prospect that she may one day get to wield such awesome power.
‘Semper sersum’ means ‘always aim high’ in Latin. An admirable sentiment that goes nicely with the arrow, if not the reality of the place.
That’s the snake, not a pretzel, in the arms under the ships.
Sue kindly took photos on me in a few spots and I walked away from the Barrow town hall feeling much better than when I’d walked in.
Although I’d seen barely anything of the city I felt I’d seen enough (and I didn’t have energy to walk around Walney Island or any of the actually nice spots not too far away) and retired to my room to plan my next move, deciding to go to London for a few days. There’s a branch of my bank there, I can avoid pollen, and there’s plenty of things I wouldn’t mind doing within a short distance.
I’ll leave you with my favourite photo from the day – my in the mayor’s seat, gavel in hand.