Sunday, 13 January 2013

Castle Park Stories


The streets of Lancaster are full of stories. From the first Roman settlement, the founding of the castle in the eleventh century, the city's brief boom as a trading port to the vibrant community today, if walls could speak they'd have so much to tell.

Castle Park, the small area surrounding the castle and Priory, is one of my favourite parts of town. With its steep cobbled streets, fine houses and a quayside lined with converted warehouses, all in the shadow of the castle itself, it doesn't take a giant leap to imagine the folk living there two hundred or even five hundred years ago. So when Litfest put out a call for local residents interested in history, photography or writing to participate in a lottery funded writing project, I didn't take much persuading.

You can find out more about the project here, but essentially we have six weeks to put together an exhibition about the area.

There's so much scope in such a small area that it's hard to know where to start. Around fifty people want to be involved with interests as diverse as slavery, the Quakers, maritime and family history. Already we've heard some marvellous stories such as the banter between the prisoners held in the castle and the factory girls passing by. So the story goes, the young women would take great delight in giving the male prisoners a glimpse of the delights they were missing. Brazen hussies! We heard too of the grammar school boys who were allowed to go on the roof of the church before prayers to get a better view of the castle hangings. Let that be a lesson to you all boys!

I have my first Open University tutor to thank for the particular piece of history I'm hoping to explore. She's an expert in Lancaster's connections with the slave trade, back in Georgian times when Lancaster was one of England's major ports. She took us on a walking tour of the city and in passing pointed out a rather fine house just next to the castle. Built in 1720, it was once home to a successful merchant involved in the slave trade. He had a black female servant, brought to England from the West Indies. I've always wondered how this woman came to be in Lancaster and how it must have felt to live under grey Lancashire skies so far from home.

I've only just started my research, but already I've uncovered the most macabre tale. Truly, truth is stranger than fiction.

I wonder what other stories this fine house has to tell?






20 Castle Park, Lancaster

4 comments:

  1. Can't wait to read more, Karen. Sounds truly fascinating.

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    1. Once you find an individual's story it is fascinating. If only I could go to St Kitts to do my research!

      The outcome will be a piece of 'creative non-fiction'. I'm not sure what this is yet, but I'm hoping a workshop in early February will reveal all.

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  2. Well this sounds like a thrilling project! Have you read Gillian Tindall's The House By The Thames: And The People Who Lived There? It's very similar to your project and might inspire you even more!

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    1. I haven't read it Litlove, but thanks for the tip. I'll look out for it.

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