David (Brass) Versus Goliath

This first appeared in NORTHERN LIFE magazine

April 2015 ISSUE


 We don’t normally do politics here at Northern Life as you know. But this story is right up our street!

We are living in very strange times. Our politicians are ignored and laughed at, and our comedians are taken seriously and applauded. Surely it is supposed to be the other way around? Britain’s politicians have never been so out-of-favour and unpopular. The endless scandals of the last few decades have seriously eroded the public’s trust, and, let’s be honest, any interest in them. People just can’t be bothered taking any notice anymore – the most common complaints are that “they’re only in it for themselves,” and that “they’re on another planet.” This might explain why only 30 per cent of folk bother to go out and vote nowadays.

Well, one man has had enough. In the Ribble Valley, a local businessman has decided that he is so fed up with the local MP – he is going to stand against him in the upcoming general election. But, what place does an ordinary, hard working family man have amongst the privileged, spoilt MP’s from down in Westminster? I popped along to meet David Brass, owner of the most colourful shop in Clitheroe town centre, to find out the full story of his campaign to swap his career in his successful town centre business to become the next Ribble Valley MP.


How long have you lived and worked in the Ribble Valley for?

I’m proud to say that I’m born and bred in this lovely part of Lancashire. I was born at Bramley Mead maternity hospital in Whalley and have lived in Clitheroe all my life. My first work was as a paperboy for Bob Ainsworth, a local independent councillor and newsagent. I started work in this very shop after leaving school at 15, when it was called Dawson’s fish mongers.

You’ve been heavily involved in a lot of community events during that time, such as personally funding a half price ticket initiative in support of Clitheroe FC when they were facing a financial crisis. Please tell us a few more examples of your support for the town through the years.

My wife Mary and I have done all sorts of things down the years. We were enthusiastic members of Rotaract in the town and were significantly involved with the community bonfire and torchlight processions. I also had my head shaved raising several hundreds of pounds. We’ve done loads of quizzes, treasure hunts, raffles and sweepstakes and all manner of fundraising things for local groups and events. My wife and daughter Su have raised hundreds for the poppy appeal by making crocheted poppies.

What is the key message that you are saying to the Ribble Valley people on your election campaign, and what can people expect from you if you were elected as Ribble Valley MP on May 7th?

Hundreds of our customers have expressed their dismay at the negative images associated with our area due to the M.P’s involvement in his recent court case, and they are amazed by his re-selection. In the event of my being elected, I won’t be making promises that I can’t deliver. I will simply do my best.

You are a normal working class family man from the north. There are not too many people like that representing the public in Westminster nowadays. Why do you think that is?

I think it is certainly difficult for individuals to reach Westminster as opposed to career politicians within a party structure. But there are still a fair number of what you could call ordinary folk with their own wealth of life experiences doing a good job in Parliament.

You run one of the best known shops in Clitheroe, and deal with thousands of local people and tourists face to face all day, every day, seven days a week – so it is fair to say that you are in touch with ordinary people – which many people argue is the problem with our politicians nowadays. What are the main things that you hear people saying that they are unhappy about?

Certainly one of the main gripes that people have is the feeling that as individuals, we are becoming less important. Politicians, banks, utility companies all seem to do as they please, with little regard for the consumer. People are annoyed about lots of things, such as waiting times to see their doctor, unsolicited phone calls and the state of the roads and pavements. These are the topics that come up every day when I’m talking to folk.

You will of course be facing several other people in this contest, but the most high profile candidate will be the previous Conservative MP for the Ribble Valley constituency, Nigel Evans who has been the MP for over twenty years. Your campaign slogan is “Back Brass – No More Nigel.” Do you think that people have had enough of Mr Evans now?

It’s been pretty obvious that the majority of people were appalled at the behaviour and other elements of Nigel’s character that were widely reported from the trial. But on top of this, there is a strong feeling that his record as an MP is no great shakes and lots of people that I’m in conversation with on a daily basis think that it’s time for a change now.

It must be a very exciting time for you, knowing that there is a very real possibility that you will swap your job selling newspapers and magazines, to walking the floors of Westminster Palace in just a few months time. Are you not nervous about this?

I’ve not really given it too much thought at this stage! If it happens then I’ll deal with it to the best of my ability. In the meantime, my wife and I will continue doing what we always do, which is running the family business and enjoying family life.

How do you think that the general election will go over all?

Hopefully the Conservatives will win an overall majority, or at least form the majority of the government in a coalition. UKIP will make a few gains and the Liberal Democrats will have a few losses. I think the Scottish Nationalists will have a bigger influence on English matters than they should have! Hopefully, there will be at least one Independent MP elected to the house.

UKIP seem to be swallowing up the dissatisfied voters around Britain who are sick to death of mainstream political parties and the scandals that MP’s are being caught up in, as well as capitalising on the fears people have around immigration. How do you think that UKIP will fare in the Ribble Valley?

If there was nobody standing as an alternative for Conservative voters, then I don’t think many people would vote at all. UKIP doesn’t have a lot to offer in this area. Some folk will vote UKIP, as it’s too much of a stretch to contemplate voting for Labour with their abysmal record on the economy.

If you were elected, would you buy a breakfast for £39 and then claim it on your MP expenses like the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Ian Duncan Smith did? 

I’d expect breakfast for a week at that price! But no, I wouldn’t expect the tax payer to pay for my food. But it must be said that expenses should be claimed for where they are justified. It’s only fair.

What about some new socks?

I suppose if you had worn out your socks by pussy-footing and tip-toeing around the issues of the day, then maybe. But even then, you’d have to be pretty tight to put in a claim for a new pair of socks!

Joking aside, it’s very easy to see why politics is such a turn off for people with the stories we are constantly reading. Do you think that it is possible for somebody like yourself from the real world to stay “down to earth” if you became part of the Westminster bubble?

You’d like to think so. Some MP’s come across as being down-to-earth types and some appear to be in love with themselves. I’d just carry on being myself.

Who is your favourite politician of all time?

Margaret Thatcher. She was the best peace-time leader we’ve had, and she gave Great Britain a presence at the top table of international politics. She achieved this by being strong and purposeful.

And who has been your least favourite?

Chris Patten. In the Ribble Valley by-election campaign of 1991, when Nigel Evans lost, all the great and good of politics were in the area, trying to win votes. You could stand and talk with the MP’s of all the main parties. I tried to talk to Chris Patten and he just turned his back on me. That is a serious lack of manners in my book, so he is my least favourite politician for that reason.

You have a very distinctive suit that you are wearing for the election. What’s the story behind this?

Oh, yes, my “Humbug” suit. I’m wearing this to reflect the nature of politics. It seems to me that if you are in politics, you are able to get away with outrageous behaviour both inside and outside of Parliament, such as the cash for access, sexual misdeeds, expenses scandals, and the list goes on and on. The suit is of course also a nod to Martin Bell’s successful Independent MP campaign in Tatton and his trademark white suit!

What would you like to say to our readers across the north of England who might be one of the 70% of people who don’t bother going to vote?

People have died for the right to vote, both in this country and overseas. I think that it should be a public duty to vote, certainly in General Elections, so as to give a better mandate. It is particularly heartening to me that dozens of people who never vote have said that they will vote this time, and they will vote for me because I am someone who they know and who is approachable, rather than a remote politician.

Good luck with your campaign David and thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to tell us all about it. This is a real David and Goliath fight, and I’m sure that all of the Northern Life readers will be watching the results very closely on the morning of May the 8th.







BBC Introducing Lancashire – Sean McGinty

sean mcginty in northern life magazine steven suttie

This first appeared in NORTHERN LIFE magazine


I have long been a lover of local radio. In fact, from being a very small boy in the 1980’s I’ve taken a massive interest in it. But as computer-run stations and nationally syndicated services have slowly and surely eroded the magic that local radio once created, I am becoming more and more bored by the same old thing, just like many hundreds of thousands of radio listeners who are deserting local radio and re-tuning to Radio 2 instead.

But then, just as I’m about to give up completely – I discover a radio show that completely recharges my enthusiasm and gets me fully, properly excited again. I’m talking about BBC Introducing, a national network of 40 local radio programmes that champion local music in their area. In particular, I’m talking about BBC Radio Lancashire’s “Introducing” show on Saturday evenings, which is on air between 8pm and 10pm. radio lancs

If you want to be completely bowled over by an eclectic showcase of the amazing musical talent that there is here in Lancashire – I can guarantee that you will be surprised by just how much emerging talent there is in the Red Rose county, and then, I suspect that you will feel ever so proud of the whole concept.

It’s always a great feeling to stumble across a genuinely inspirational, amusing and enjoyable radio show that isn’t all about the DJ, but about what the DJ can do for others. I went down to the BBC Lancashire studios to meet the programme’s creator and presenter Sean McGinty, a man so full of energy, enthusiasm and passion for his work that it is easy to see how it all translates so well into such a bloody good radio show.

As he ate a sandwich, eaves-dropped on a band recording a session next door, while trying to discover who blocked the radio-car in with a silver peugeot, I had a good old natter with Sean about his work.

BBC radio lancashire studios in Blackburn town centre

You can tell from listening to the BBC Lancashire Introducing show that you clearly love it. What has been your highlight of doing this show so far? It’s not really on air that I get the real highlight. That comes when I listen through the one hundred and fifty songs I receive a week and hear something that’s just amazing. For example, we play a lot of music from Aquilo. When I first heard their song I was like “wow!” It just hits you and it’s amazing. And now, eighteen months later, they are doing really well, one of their songs is going to be in a film, and being a BBC Introducing presenter, you get a great “wow-factor” when you hear someone with some real talent and a great song.

Another group who are doing great things are Bondax from Lancaster, who are regularly played on BBC Radio 1. They started out on your show. Yes, through us, Radio 1 have picked up on them. Don’t get me wrong, these guys work hard on their own, and they’ve got good people representing them and they’ve done very well without the BBC involvement. Having said that, it’s always good to say “We’ve been on BBC Introducing and we’ve done a Maida Vale session.” They’ve done all that stuff, and they were at Bestival this year, and now they’re travelling the world. It’s a great result for us, but it’s down to the artist. They do all the work, they put all the time in. Just because I play a track by Aquilo, or Bondax, or Rae Morris and say I love it, that isn’t necessarily the route to how they become successful.

The show is now ten years old in Lancashire. Is it getting harder to find exciting new bands and artists to showcase, or does it get easier? I think as technology and social media has developed we are seeing more music sent to us now. We can get any where between one hundred and two hundred tracks sent in each week via the BBC Introducing Uploader on the website, as well as links to songs on Soundcloud and Youtube as well as CD’s in the post. So it is a lot of music that’s coming in to us, and almost all of it is from Lancashire.

What advice do you have for local bands who have the talent, and want to get played, but can’t necessarily afford the studio time to get a professional sounding demo together? Well, Rae Morris is a great example of that. Rae is now signed to Atlantic Records, her new single is being played on Radio 1 and her album is out in January. There’s some really good stuff happening with her right now, but the music that she sent me at first just wasn’t recorded well enough to play on the radio. It was an absolutely beautiful song, and I loved it, but I couldn’t play it. But there are other things we can do, and we invited Rae in and let her do a live session. So assuming they can do that, there’s always different options.

The Extra Third Photography

You came to radio quite late in life after a career in banking and telecoms. What made you give up secure employment and a good salary for a career in a notoriously difficult to enter industry, that probably pays a lot less? I’ve just always loved radio, and I love the job I’m doing and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It is a very different earning potential as you pointed out, but as I’m approaching my fiftieth birthday, I’m really enjoying this, and all the other projects that I’m involved with and that really matters to me.

You must have to spend a lot of time listening to the music that is sent in by hopeful bands, plus you do other slots on the BBC Radio Lancashire schedule. You are also embarking on the difficult task of launching Blackpool’s Radio Victoria as a full time community radio station. How do you get the time to fit all this in? I don’t do anything that’s remotely sociable anymore! That’s it really. I’m very much into social enterprise and not for profit businesses. I was working with the hospital trust in Blackpool and suggested that they go after a community radio license, and they said go for it. So now we have the license, and just need to find about twenty five grand for the mast and various bits and pieces. I really think community radio could be fantastic for the Fylde. So yes, I’m kept very busy but I love it, and you’re a long time dead aren’t you?

Your Introducing slot is on air at 8pm on Saturdays, but it’s available all week long on the iPlayer. Are you finding that this new “on demand” technology is helping you to build a bigger audience? I don’t really look at the numbers. We used to be on Thursday evenings and we had the most radio listeners in the county on that slot, beating Radio 1, Radio 2 and everybody else. When the senior BBC management decided that all of the Introducing shows across the national network were being moved to Saturdays, we lost a lot of listeners. Mainly because most of our listeners were out playing, or listening to bands on that night. It’s possibly the worst night to have a new music show on the radio to be honest. I do get e-mails during the week from people who are listening to the I-player, but I have no idea how many there are.

introducing logo on cassette

What advice would you have for anybody who would like to follow in your footsteps and get a job in radio?Well, don’t wait until you are 38 before you even think about doing it. Do it in your 20’s! What I did was I went to the University of Central Lancashire and started a broadcast journalism course, and then I camped on the doorstep here at BBC Radio Lancashire until they let me in. When they did let me in, I just worked really hard and really long and made sure that what I did was good and eventually I got some regular paid work here.

Your wife must be very supportive of you? Yes, we both changed careers at the same time. I went into this and she went into teaching. She was very supportive of me in the early years, and now I’m supportive of her in what she does. It’s a partnership.

What ambitions are left for the BBC Lancashire Introducing show? Loads! I mean we’ve started doing BBC Introducing Live gigs at the Ferret in Preston which is a fine local venue, and a great place to play. It’s a great night for people who want to support local music and it’s free. That’s on the second Saturday of every month, and I want to build on that and get more gigs in more towns. And of course to continue showcasing the very best of Lancashire’s new music on the BBC Introducing show.

BBC Introducing programmes are on air on your local BBC station on Saturday evenings from 8 until 10pm, and available anytime on BBC Radio I-player.

More about what Sean is doing.

The Clitheroe Prime Minister

The Clitheroe Prime Minister Book Cover

Clitheroe resident Steven Suttie has published his first novel at the website Amazon.co.uk, and the fun and entertaining tale is receiving 5 star customer reviews.

The story is the first modern day novel to be set in the historic rural market town, and it celebrates Clitheroe’s people, its places and the “straight speaking” attitude of the locals.

The Clitheroe Prime Minister is the fun and exciting story of a fictional Clitheroe resident called Jim Arkwright, who is shocked to find that his straight-from-the-hip political views have spread across the internet – and that the British public have overwhelming support for his no nonsense ideas. Within days, the national media have besieged the town in a bid to find Jim and get him to stand as the Prime Minister. The novel is set in the present day, at a time when Britain faces serious challenges with its economy, crime and disorder, youth unemployment and many other social problems.

Steven said “I started writing this last year. It seemed that everybody I spoke to thought that they had better ideas of how to run the country than the government did, and I just started from there. I did lots of research and looked at the issues that are causing so many problems. From there I began creating the lovable, no-nonsense character Jim Arkwright. I wanted to set the story in the Ribble Valley constituency because it really is one of Britain’s finest places, with low high crime, high employment and its a place with tremendous community spirit – all major aspects of the story.”

Steve Suttie Castle Park The Clitheroe Prime Minister

The Clitheroe Prime Minister is a fast paced, exciting novel with lots of laughs along the way. The interesting part is the fact that it isn’t too difficult to believe that such a situation come actually happen. The story could quite easily come true, thanks to the internet age and the manner in which stories, videos and clips get shared around on the web – coupled with the British public’s general apathy for traditional MP’s and politicians. Politics has never been so widely ignored, as election counts average turn-outs under 40% in most constituencies. It was these two facts combined that inspired Steve to write The Clitheroe Prime Minister.

“Although Jim Arkwright is a fictional character, he is very believable because we all know somebody just like him. There is a Jim Arkwright on every street in Britain, in every pub and at every bus stop and these people know the solutions to society’s failures because they are living in amongst the problems, seeing the fall-out from the mad laws and hair-brained policies day to day. Jim Arkwright’s main point is that the government and the Ministers who make decisions on behalf of the British people don’t have a clue what they are doing. Ordinary, working class people would be in a far stronger position to govern than these pampered, sheltered millionaires who enter politics purely for career and ego reasons, according to Jim Arkwright!”

Clitheroe Library

This photograph of Clitheroe Library formed the basis of the books cover, which is supposed to resemble a cartoon vision of Clitheroe town centre with Big Ben included. The author wanted a cover that would capture the imagination of the locals, and tourists too.

000001 Clitheroe CLITHEROE

Steven has set the majority of the story in Clitheroe, with most scenes taking place in well known locations all around the town. “That was the really fun part –I wanted to draw on all the positives of Clitheroe and the Ribble Valley. I’ve  done my best to describe what a very special place this is. Readers from outside the area will certainly be attracted to the town for a visit after reading all about this fantastic part of Lancashire.”

During the day, Steven works for the RSPCA as the East Lancashire Branch Administrator. In order to get the story written, he dedicated two hours per night to his writing. After setting himself a target of writing one chapter per week, the first draft of his book was finished in six months. There then followed several months of editing, rewriting and tweaking the manuscript. The novel has now been launched on Amazon for download onto Kindle readers, tablet computers and even smart-phones. Readers can sample the first three and a half chapters for free.

The book is also available in paperback.

“Although it’s only supposed to be a light hearted “David and Goliath” story about a working class man getting one over on the great and powerful, there are many aspects of the story that are hugely relevant. It won’t be popular with politicians because they get lots of criticism, but I’m very confident that the average, hard-pressed, frustrated person will identify with Jim Arkwright and many of the points that he raises,” added Steven.


On April 2nd 2015 the book reached number 1 in it’s Amazon category of “Political Humour.

This is the books blurb:

“Brilliant fun”


“What a hoot!”


A funny and politically incorrect satire novel that straight talking folk just can’t get enough of.


This is a laugh-out-loud adventure about an ordinary egg & chips eating kind of man, who finds himself accidentally becoming the most famous bloke in Britain.

Jim Arkwright is having a really weird week. After learning that a video of him messing about and talking politics in the pub has gone viral, he finds himself on the radio, wiping the floor with the experts and politicians live on the air. The British public, sick to death of the sleazy, money grabbing, out of touch political figureheads are instantly endeared by the straight-speaking Lancashire man. They love his ideas and his friendly, warm nature.

Jim hears the things that ordinary folk say, on buses, in cafes and down the launderette. Big Jim is a man who is in touch with the public, unlike the nation’s politicians.

The following morning’s newspapers start a campaign demanding that Big Jim should become Prime Minister. But Jim has got a really big job on at work. He doesn’t have any time for all this nonsense.

Can Big Jim be tempted to join the Government? The people of Clitheroe hope so, as the picturesque little Lancashire town has become over-run with media gangs, press trucks, television channels and happy go lucky tourists.

This is a fun, cheeky, exciting and endearing satire novel that readers can’t put down. Britain really has found a new kind of Leader. A working class welder from up north.


WARNING: CONTAINS EFFING and JEFFING! Aye, excuse the french.



The Clitheroe Prime Minister is available now. It can be bought locally at Banana News and Clitheroe books, priced £7.50

You can keep up to date with the latest news and information about the book at the facebook page.

Click here for the Northern Life magazine article about The Clitheroe Prime Minister “Arkwrights Revolution.”

A Video-Promo for the novel is here.

Clitheroe Workhouse 1873 -1930

002 building siter

Clitheroe Hospital is currently in the process of being rebuilt. Local people will be well aware of the heavy construction site at the top of Chatburn Road where the new, modern building is very quickly taking shape ahead of its official opening planned for 2014. Adjacent to the diggers, cranes and heavy machinery stands the original, historic structure which we know as Clitheroe Community Hospital.

001 hospital frontThe building is still providing a hospital service whilst its successor takes shape in the field next door. An artists impression of the new look hospital is below. Personally, I prefer the original building in the picture above – even though the charming architecture conceals a very dark past.

new Clitheroe hospital

The original stone building needs to be replaced by a modern facility that can better cope with today’s medical demands. Sadly, the existing development does not date back far enough to be covered by a preservation order and its long term future remains uncertain, although it is hoped that the fine 140 year old building will be renovated to create affordable housing.

Clitheroe Hospital Entrance

This solid and rugged Victorian building on the very edge of town was opened in April 1873, but its main purpose back then was not as a hospital. This place was a prison in everything but name – the home to 200 inmates; people that were referred to simply as paupers and imbeciles in a time long before political correctness. Although it wasn’t that long ago in real time, it was an unrecognizably dark and squalid era before the welfare state was introduced in Britain to look after folks who were facing hardship. Its hard to imagine today, but here in Clitheroe in the 1800’s – if you couldn’t pay your way in life, you were taken into the Workhouse, along with your entire family if necessary to earn your upkeep. It was as simple as that.

Poor people have always existed, and sadly probably always will. Today, the plight of our poorest members of society is constantly grabbing the news with headlines about benefit restructures, welfare reform and food banks. But even today, in the hard economic times that families are facing, being poor is nowhere near as distressing and humiliating as it was when Clitheroe Workhouse was built to alleviate the problem locally.Clitheroe Workhouse

History tells us that society has always struggled to deal with the poor. In the 1500’s, under Henry the Eighth’s rule – beggars would be whipped and sent on their way. Communities in places like the Ribble Valley would only have enough work, food and shelter to go around the existing population, so strangers who turned up in the hope of a fresh start were viewed suspiciously. Many of these beggars had become displaced for various reasons, including huge numbers of warriors who found themselves having no purpose left after the Wars of the Roses. These hardy, strong men would find it extremely hard to find a new job in a new place. They would quickly be sent packing, despite many being starving, sick or injured. There simply wasn’t the resources to feed an extra mouth.

Neville St. ClairJust over 150 years before the Clitheroe Workhouse was opened, in 1722 the Workhouse Act was passed which gave Overseers and Churchwardens the power to build Workhouses to house the poor. At that time, the problem wasn’t too bad here in the Ribble Valley and two tiny Workhouses managed to keep up with demand. But as time went on, local churches started to become over run with beggars and scroungers and pleaded with community leaders to help them solve the problem.

By 1836, The poor problem was nationwide, and was rapidly becoming worse as the population exploded due to the Industrial Revolution which was completely changing the face of the previously agricultural north. Action was urgently needed to tackle the issue properly. The problem of vagrants and beggars soon affected every parish of the geographical region that now makes up the Ribble Valley.

Clitheroe Poor Law Union was formed in 1837. Its operation was overseen by an elected Board of Guardians, 35 in total, representing its 33 constituent parishes of Aighton Bailey and Chaigley, Chatburn, Chipping, Clitheroe, Downham, Little Bowland with Leagram, Mearley, Pendleton, Thornley with Wheatley, Twiston, Whalley, Wiswell, Worston in the County of Lancaster. In the West Riding of Yorkshire, the parishes consisted of Bashall Eaves, Bolton by Bowland, High Bowland Forest, Low Bowland Forest, Easington, Gisburn, Gisburn Forest, [Great] Mitton, Grindleton, Horton, Midhope [Middop], Newsholme, Newton, Paythorne, Rimington, Sawley, Slaidburn, Waddington and West Bradford.

Clitheroe Workhouse rear

The districts two small Workhouses in Bolton by Bowland and Aighton could no longer cope with the ever increasing numbers of poor people. The problem gradually became worse, and as a result the Clitheroe Poor Law Union began planning a large, purpose built Workhouse to cope with the numbers. The Workhouse building was designed by Jonas J Bradshaw, and took three years to build.

Clitheroe Hospital from gate signs

What we recognise today as Clitheroe Hospital was officially opened on the 21st of April 1873 and it became home for 200 destitute men, women and children. Without a home or an occupation, these “paupers” were forced to work all day, and in return would receive a meal and a bed. The work that took place there centred around the cotton industry. If any Workhouse member refused to work (and some did) they would be dragged by horses to Preston Prison where they would be locked up. The regime really was as harsh as that, and it is difficult to imagine how distressing life must have been inside those walls at the top of Chatburn road, and in the hundreds of other Workhouses throughout the UK just a century or so ago. The only form of entertainment for the Clitheroe inmates came at Christmas time, when the Mayor would visit the poor and spend the evening telling them exciting and fascinating stories about life outside of the Workhouse.

In 1930 the Poor Law system finally ended and most of the workhouses were closed down for good. That year, Clitheroe Workhouse became Coplow View Public Assistance Infirmary – a general hospital for the local population. Eighteen years later in 1948, it became part of the newly formed National Health Service and was renamed Clitheroe Community Hospital.

Overhead Plan of Clitheroe Hospital

This plan shows the site of the existing facility to the left, with the new structure on the right of the picture.

Coplow Staff from Keepers of the House

This picture is taken from F.H. Lofthouse’ “Keepers of the House”  and shows the staff of Clitheroe Workhouse in the 1890’s. This book offers an in depth history of the institution, even including stories about the “inmates.” The link above goes to Amazon, who stock the book, a fine bibliography that was very carefully compiled and written by Frank Lofthouse, the Great Grandson of the first Master and Matron of the Clitheroe Workhouse. The book is also available for loan from the community reference library in Clitheroe.

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s debut Novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister

Whalley Viaduct – a Victorian Wonder

Cutting dramatically through the breathtaking rural scenery of the Ribble Valley is a supreme example of Victorian era engineering at its very finest. But this seven million brick super structure is completely upstaged by the spell binding views in all directions, and as a heartbreaking consequence the dignified and noble Whalley Viaduct attracts very little attention.

Whalley Arches Viaduct 1903

For its time, this viaduct was ground breaking, totally ahead of the game. Had this audacious feat of railway engineering been built anywhere else, it might just attract a little bit more attention and affection towards itself, as its younger brother that spans the river Mersey thirty miles away in Stockport does, for example.

Whalley Arches by InkedSandra

But this modest and majestic 49 arch viaduct stands strongly and proudly in quiet splendour, drowned out by an area of outstanding natural beauty that goes on in all directions and for as far as the eye can see. This was not a good place to build anything to be admired since nature had already raised the bar so highly with magnificent sweeping panoramas of Whalley Nab, Pendle Hill, the Forest of Bowland, Kemple End and on especially clear days, views as far reaching as Blackpool Tower to the west and Pen Y Ghent in North Yorkshire to the east. Facing straight ahead is the mesmerising Trough of Bowland and directly behind is the village and the delightful Whalley Nab – a hilly tree lined meadow so tall, pretty and dainty, you could be excused for believing it was a fictional painting. See pic below.

Whalley Nab

But enough about the scenery… Back to the Viaduct. The 605 metre long super structure known locally as Whalley Arches was built by the Blackburn and Bolton railway company, under the supervision of chief engineer Terrence Wolfe Flanagan. Building began in 1846 and was completed in 1850. The line opened on Saturday 22nd June 1850 and the 340 strong work force behind it enjoyed a celebratory party thrown in their honour, which included a ride across their very own arches in a brand new 15 coach train. The local population came along to witness the opening, and twelve men were armed with truncheons at Whalley station in a bid to keep the peace – such was the fervent enthusiasm to ride on one of the trains that “rode through the sky.”

Judge Walmesley and Whalley Viaduct

It’s difficult to believe that a structure so gigantic and heavy has weathered the Lancashire climate for over one hundred and sixty years and still stands so solid and proud to this day. But then again, when the Victorians built things, they were built to last forever. The red bricked viaduct still carries hourly passenger trains from Clitheroe to Manchester and provides passing for goods trains from all over the north and Scotland.

The work of building the structure that was to remain the tallest and longest railway viaduct in Lancashire came as a huge boon for the tiny village of Whalley, three miles away from the nearest market town hamlet of Clitheroe. All seven million bricks that were used in the construction were made in Whalley, formed from clay taken from Hardle common.

The picture below shows the Arches coping with regular flooding as the river Calder swells onto farm land on the banks of the river. Hilariously, the council are fighting to win a legal battle to build houses on this land. What a hoot! Don’t say anything to them will you?

Whalley Arches River Calder Flood Clitheroe

On a more serious note. Tragedy struck when the viaduct was close to completion. Three lives were lost on the 6th October 1849, when two of the arches collapsed during construction. Builders Johnny Forsythe, Thomas Keefe and Charles Harrison were killed. The arches that fell are numbers twelve and thirteen, counting from the Billington end of the structure. A period of heavy rain was blamed for the arches not setting properly when their timber supports were taken down.

So the next time you are nonchalantly ignoring the Whalley Arches as you drive alongside them on the A59, or as you walk carefree in the beautiful countryside all around them – or as you sit on a train that is quietly rumbling across them, take a moment to consider what an extraordinary structure you are just taking for granted!

After publishing this blog, I was told about an excellent video that has been produced by John Whipp, detailing the repairs to the arches in 2011.This is an excellent film which must have taken many months to film. Click here to open it, and thank you John Whipp for putting such a great film together.

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s debut Novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister

Stuart Maconie Interview August 2012

The following is an interview with northern broadcaster and author Stuart Maconie. It first appeared in Northern Life magazine August 2012, by Steve Suttie. If you can’t be bothered reading it… click here to listen to it instead

Its often said that pies have holes in the top of them so that Wiganers can carry 5 in each hand. Obviously it’s not true, but it’s this kind of northern folklore and banter that litters the writing works of Stuart Maconie – arguably one of Wigans finest exports since the meat and potato pie itself.

When he is not keeping the nations music fans informed and entertained with his radio shows, including the daily BBC6 Music afternoon show with Boltons Mark Radcliffe, Stuart Maconie will be found indulging in his other passion – writing.

Stuart has written several excellent books over the past decade, including one of the finest books ever written about the North of England “Pies and Prejudice – In search of the North” which is a first class account of the quirky, often funny, occasionally sad history of our region over the past few centuries.

But its not Pies and Prejudice that Stuart wants to talk about today – it’s his latest literary work “Hope and Glory.” The blurb says “These were the days that made us, and these are the day trips to find them. Should we do a flask? And are you sure you’ll be warm enough in that coat?”

In Hope and Glory Stuart Maconie goes in search of the places, people and events that have shaped modern Britain. Starting with the death of Queen Victoria, to the Battle of the Somme and the General Strike, and on to the docking of the Empire Windrush and Bobby Moore raising the Jules Rimet trophy, he chooses a defining moment in our nation’s story from each decade of the last century and explores its legacy today. Some were glorious days, some were tragic, or even shameful, but each has played its part in making us who we are as a nation. From pop stars to politicians, Suffragettes to punks, this is a journey around Britain in search of who we are.

In writing this book, you managed to grab national headlines after you created a public outcry in Accrington. What have you got against Accy?

To be honest I was a bit disappointed by that, because it wasn’t the people of Accrington that I upset – it was one or two councillors and civic chamber people, the kind of people who always misunderstand stuff. A similar thing happened in Wigan when people were trying to name a pub after George Orwell. The councillors were saying “Ooh he didn’t say very nice things about our town did he? He said how miserable it was!” But that wasn’t what he’d said at all, he said there was a problem in this town and something should be done about it. He wasn’t writing a tourism brochure for the local council. Some people are just very very small minded. In Accrington I was writing about the towns economic problems, unemployed youths, boarded up shops and its connection with the Battle of the Somme. They came back and said “its not all bad, we’ve got a Costa Coffee you know,” which was just so depressing.

So you don’t regret saying what you did?

To be honest the reaction I’ve had from ordinary people who know Accrington and who live in Accrington has been brilliant. My mum told me that Northwest Tonight had taken cameras down and they’d got the Mayor or somebody on TV saying that I’d done them down, but then they went out on the streets and read out the descriptions I’d written to people in the town centre who said “well, he’s right!” I’ve not got it in for Accington, I’ve not got it in for Wigan where I’m from but I’m telling it like it is, a lot of northern towns have had a bad time for years and years and years. But you can’t walk down the street in Accy and see all the boarded up shops and pretend everythings good. It was just one page of descriptions of what its like to walk through the town centre on a Tuesday afternoon, and lets be honest – its not Venice. I think it was a completely fair portrait of Accrington, albeit a very sad one.

You’ve become something of an ambassador for the North with your writing, TV and radio documentaries about the region. But you live in Birmingham, and you work in Manchester. That must be an awful commute every day?

I was based at BBC Birmingham for years and also worked a lot out of the BBC in London, and that’s how come I moved down there. But I also have a place in Cumbria so I spend my time between the two. I have only been at the BBC in Manchester for a couple of years, but I am looking at moving back up north permanently. I’m currently looking at lots of places like South Lakes, North Lancashire, Ribble Valley, or possibly Peak District or out near Hebden Bridge. Theres lots of great places to choose from and I’m looking at them all.

You’ve been described by the Times as a “national treasure” and by Peter Kay as “the best thing to come out of Wigan since the A58” do you have any other accolades that you are particularly proud of?

I’m quite pleased with my Celebrity Mastermind trophy from 2011, for my chosen subject of 20th Century Poetry! It was quite difficult and it was really nice to do something a bit different.

In the new book “Hope and Glory” you have chosen one major event from each decade of the past century that has shaped the UK that we live in today. Of the 10 different events you have covered which was your favourite to research and learn about?

Surprisingly to me, the Suffragettes interested me the most. I went to Emmeline Pankhursts house in Manchester and that was really interesting. I didn’t really know anything about the Suffragettes and I was intrigued to find out how politically forceful they were. I’d thought they were nice, genteel women in frocks – but they were a full on political force and I enjoyed finding out about their roots in Manchester. I also enjoyed going around and finding out about the Queens silver jubilee, pop rock and live aid. I also very much enjoyed working on the chapter about the Empire Windrush and went to look at where various immigrant communities had chosen to live in Britain.

One Chapter I found incredible was about Queen Victoria, and the fact that she was never supposed to become the Queen!

No, she wasn’t. And her Mum tried her best to stop her from getting to be the Queen as well, but she succeeded through force of personality really, she was a feisty kid. In her old age she became a rather dumpy figurehead and that’s generally how she’s remembered. She was the first person in Britain to be called Victoria!

That leads me on nicely to my next question, because what I like most about your writing is that you repackage well known historic stories and brighten them up with fresh new details. For instance, you tell us that Queen Victoria had 8 separate assassination attempts on her life. How do you find such fine, little known nuggets of information?

I go to all the places, and I wander around and talk to people, and a lot of my research takes place in the local libraries. And life has been made easier with the internet these days as well. But with researching you can work all day on a book and not write a single word and you look back and think its been a wasted day. But its not if you found a little detail out that can help you tell the story differently.

I grew up about 6 miles away from Boggart Hole Clough where, thanks to reading Hope and Glory, I have learnt that it was the birthplace of modern democracy. It was the meeting place of the Suffragettes and where the Labour party was formed. But I’d never heard of this place and if you google Boggart Hole Clough, nothing about its historical significance comes back.

No, it doesn’t. Until now this information has been kept in separate places like in the records at the Working Class movement library, which is a fantastic resource for things like that. And you talk to people like the girls at the Emmeline Pankhurst centre and you find out more stuff. But you’re right, it hasn’t all been put together like this before so hopefully I’ve helped with telling that piece of history now, so that’s good. But yes, it does show that google doesn’t know everything, and I certainly wouldn’t trust everything that’s written on Wikipedia!

Your Wikipedia profile is very kind. I saw it last night researching for this interview.

Is it? Do you know what, I try to avoid looking at anything to do with me because even if its nice I feel kind of stupid and a lot of the time I’ll think “that’s not right” and its just best to keep away from any reviews or things like that because its human nature to think “I didn’t say that” and take issue with it.

The Guardian describes this book saying “Copies should be available in every school” which is a brilliant endorsement. But what were you trying to achieve with this, what drove you around the country researching and telling all these stories?

I’m very keen these days on telling peoples histories. I’m getting more political as I get older and I make no bones about that in the book. I say that whilst it’s a history book, it’s a social history book told from my perspective. I hope is not biased, but there are lots and lots of historians, people like David Starkey and Simon Schama and their history books are about Kings and Queens and battles. I’m more interested in how ordinary people have lived and what shaped their lives. I wanted to tell another kind of history, the history of working class people, women, immigrants and their struggles, about strikes and pop music and a whole different kind of history that’s just as relevant – it isn’t about naval battles or coronations or stuff like that, and that’s what drove me on. I wanted to write a short, accessible peoples history of the 20th century, from a very British, very personal perspective as a kind of contrast to the other kind of pomp and circumstance history that gets celebrated all the time.

How are you finding time to do all the magazine articles, books, daily radio show and your TV work?

Good point, when I took on the daily radio show I did ask for a generous holiday entitlement so I could fit the writing in as well. My next book will be tied into a radio series, so that helps. Its called The Peoples Songs, and it will be on BBC Radio 2. Its basically a history of post war Britain told through pop records. But like a lot of people who are self employed I’m always working and I’m happy with that because the day will come when the phone doesn’t ring and nobody wants to ask me anything. So I’ll just make hay while the sun shines!

You have achieved an extraordinary amount in your career. Are there still any ambitions left to achieve?

I’m a big poetry fan, and one day I’d like to take the plunge and have a go at writing some poetry. But I know so many great poets I’d have to be very very sure I’d done it right before I’d dare let anybody see it.

Thanks for the interview Stuart, before you go, I have to test your Northern-ness. So, if you were forced to do something quintessentially Northern right now… what would it be?

Oh that’s an easy one. I’d pop into the nearest Booths and buy a steak and kidney pie!

CLICK HERE to read about Steve’s 5 star rated novel, The Clitheroe Prime Minister