THESE are heady days for Lowther, with the near £9 million restoration scheme for the ruined castle and its hidden gardens producing Cumbria’s latest tourist attraction expected to draw some 125,000 visitors a year.
Wordsworth wrote of Lowther “in thy majestic Pile are seen Cathedral pomp and grace, in apt accord with the baronial castle’s sterner mien.” However, the poet, after staying at Lowther Castle, went on to muse: “Fall if ye must, ye Towers and Pinnacles, With what ye symbolise; authentic story will say, ye disappeared with England’s Glory!”
Well, part of England’s Glory is now being carefully restored with the transformation of the castle ruin and gardens, the latter unseen for the past 70 years. In the recent BBC television Heritage Heroes series, presenter Jules Hudson described the work at Lowther as “an enormous undertaking” and praised the “incredible skills” of those responsible for the restoration.
For one Herald reader the current progress at Lowther brought back memories of the sales by public auction in 1947 of the major part of the Earl of Lonsdale’s collection. On Tuesday, 15th April, 1947, and the two following days, the sales took place “at 11am each day precisely”. Further sales were scheduled for May and June of that same year, by order of the Right Hon. the Earl of Lonsdale, OBE, with the approval of his trustees and the consent of the High Court of Justice.
It must have been quite an occasion, for the sales catalogue listed hotel accommodation over a wide area and stated that “the service of motor buses between Penrith station and Lowther will be augmented for the convenience of buyers”. There were 778 lots over the 23 days of the sales, kicking off with a Louis XV writing bureau and ending with a Sheraton satin wood four chair back settee.
The second series of sales featured many objets d’art as well as prize boxing belts; old masters’ paintings were sold in the third series; and a later sale involved the sale of a library of books ranging from travel and topography to racing calendars.
Perhaps the development of Lowther’s 130 acres as a visitor attraction will belatedly open people’s eyes to a part of “England’s Glory” once again.
POLITICIANS SLUMP TO ANOTHER LOW
ANOTHER week of depressing finger-pointing as the credibility of politics takes another hit. Anyone who thought that Labour had the market in sleaze during their latter years in office now has cause to think again after the revelations about those secret dinners in Downing Street for millionaire Conservative donors.
Tory party treasurer Peter Cruddas was secretly filmed boasting that he could provide direct access to the Prime Minister for “Premier League” donors. Whether these donors were able to influence policy and whether the diners were upstairs or down at Number 10 is not the point. This latest mess he’s got himself into suggests the Prime Minister’s judgement and choice of friends is suspect.
There’s also the issue of double standards for it was Mr. Cameron, when leader of the Opposition, who promised stricter rules on lobbying. Labour’s credibility was shattered by allegations of cash for honours, which forced the repayment of a number of loans. Then some senior politicians were suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party after being filmed offering to influence policy for money. “Shocking” bleated David Cameron at the time. Now his own party is accused of something unpalatable over the dinner table.
Last year the Independent Commission on Standards said the only way to remove suspicion surrounding large party donations was to ban very large donations. Of course Labour would have to look again at its relationship with the unions and the Tories would lose some of their well-heeled backers.
But public confidence in the integrity of politics once again dipped to zero this week. All the main parties are as bad as each other. Until there is a total rethink and we have a system that is honest, transparent and properly regulated, nothing will change. And all Parliament could achieve this week was a ritual blame game which at least attracted the most pungently brilliant comment of the week from political sketch writer Quentin Letts who called it a “Convocation of Cant”.
They’re all as bad as each other and they really don’t get it do they?
WHY HIDE SUNDAY TRADING PLAN?
SUNDAYS were different. No school and not a lot else to do other than spend long days playing football and cricket in the field near where we lived. Using a couple of sticks for goals, we played three and in from morning until darkness finally drove us home for our first food of the day.
These days it’s hard to differentiate Sunday from every other day. There’s football on the telly, the shops are open for a large part of the day and for many families the idea of a day out is to head for the pub while the kids entertain themselves in the beer garden. Whatever happened to the day at the seaside?
Anyone is deluded if they think the Government’s proposal to railroad through a suspension of Sunday trading laws during the Olympics is not a foot in the door for something permanent. For starters, who is going to go shopping when they’ve got tickets for the events or when the 100m final is on the box? This isn’t just about keeping tourists happy during the Olympics. The old fashioned roast beef and Yorkshire pudding Sundays are gone for good. It’s off to the garden centre in the afternoon. Or the supermarket.
Life has changed. I don’t see any way of fighting it. Shops will open when they think there are customers. The idea of Sunday as a “special” day is done. Part of me laments the fact, but, on the other hand, would I want to go back to the dull Sundays of the past? It just seems bizarre that the Government has chosen to hide the fact under the cloak of the Olympic Games.
WHISTLING UP A FOND MEMORY
OCCASIONALLY this column meanders into some rather odd areas, and one of them was the recent mention of my favourite childhood book, Mr. Pink-Whistle.
Another Pink-Whistle fan emerged in the shape of reader Duncan Sanders who called in to the Herald office with a copy of The Adventures of Mr. Pink-Whistle which kept him entertained as a child.
Mr. Sanders was born in 1939 and the book was first published in 1941. He recalls being read the stories by his Uncle George, who invariably gave a little whistle every time he spoke the name of the book’s righter of wrongs. Probably aged four or five, Mr. Sanders carefully wrote his name in the front of the book by Enid Blyton and my mention of Mr. Pink-Whistle reminded him of the uncle who survived the war — and his whistling accompaniment to the tales.
Enid Blyton may not have been a literary great, but she was certainly productive. She wrote an estimated 800 books over a 40-year span, and these were translated into 90 languages. She sold more than 600 million copies of her books. In more recent times her books have been condemned as racist, sexist and non PC. Some have been re-edited, others have disappeared from libraries altogether. Still, Blyton herself once commented that she took no notice of critics over the age of 12.