The Eden Valley is a beautiful river basin. We have four rivers close to Penrith. The Eden, the Eamont, the Lowther and the Lyvennet. But in fact there is a fifth.
We call it the river of money. It’s important because if you want to be successful here you must use it.
That is illustrated by the story of two of the most successful entrepreneurs in this part of the world
Both use that river. It’s the M6.
Allan Jenkinson is a very very successful man, ‘the woodchip king of England’. Allan employs 1,200 here in Penrith after 40 years of hard graft, he started with nothing. https://www.awjenkinson.co.uk. Allan rightly says Penrith is at the centre of the U.K. which is true. Much of the wood he processes comes from Scotland and the north or is imported into northern ports from Scandinavia. He left school at 16 here in Penrith. It’s eye opening stuff and he is a great guy. He uses the river of money – the M6 – to bring stuff here, to process it, and then to send to destinations around the country.
Then just up the road after the M6 becomes the M74 at Gretna is Alastair Houston who has built a fabulous business there. He is great guy too and a wonderful businessman. Look at this video https://www.gretnagreen.com/family-business-since-1885-a743 about what he has done. Basically he has turned the story of runaway lovers getting married into Scotland’s second biggest tourist attraction. He has three love hotels, brides queue up to get married there and his shops are heaving. So he has got part of the river of money flowing through Gretna.
Now compare that to Penrith. What do we have? We have the most extraordinary history. We have pre Roman remains, Mayburgh Henge by Eamont Bridge. The area is steeped in Roman history as Penrith was the most important area to supply Hadrian’s Wall. Penrith Castle site is thought to have been a Roman encampment and we have the remains of the Roman fort at Brougham. We have the period after the Roman Empire fell when the Borderland was fought over; and the coming of Christianity. Did St Ninian, one of the Irish saints who came to convert us Heathens, really live as hermit in the Giants Caves opposite St Ninians’s Church?
Move forward to the 1400’s. Penrith Castle which was hugely important during this era, it was the centre for the defence of England from the Scots on this side of the Pennines. Richard 111 lived here for a lot of the time between 1471 and 1485 as High Sheriff of Cumberland before he became by a circuitous and potentially dastardly route The King. In the UK we are told the story of a thoroughly bad man who had his nephews murdered in order to become King. This story is hotly disputed in other arenas and lots of people now believe that the Tudors painted ‘Good King Richard’ into a bad king after they rebelled and stole his kingdom. The Richard 111 society http://www.richardiii.net/aboutus.php has several thousand members worldwide. What a fascinating debate.
We have Lady Anne Clifford 1590-1676, arguably one of England’s foremost feminists. Yet despite her inspiring story she has been a bit forgotten. She was an astonishing woman, the greatest northern lady of Stuart England. She lost her lands to her relatives because she was a woman. But this indomitable lady fought a famous court case against them and won and eventually got her Clifford lands restored to her. If a northern woman could achieve that in the early 17th century, what is stopping determined northern girls achieving equality in everything now? She ought to be compulsory for everyone who lives in Cumbria to learn about in school.
Then there is the Battle of Clifton Moor 1754, no one seems to know about that either.
Well that was the last battle ever fought in England. It was a rearguard action fought to cover the retreat of Bonny Prince Charlie after the 1745 rebellion, which he nearly won to regain the crown for the Stuart dynasty, before he was finally defeated at Culloden near Inverness.
Then we have the amazing story of Hugh Lowther 1857-1944 who unexpectedly (he was the younger brother) inherited the family title to become the 5th Earl of Lonsdale in 1882. He was known as the Yellow Earl for his penchant for the colour (not because of his penchant for flamboyant living!). Hugh was a founder and first President of the Automobile Association (AA) which adopted his yellow livery. He lived a life of ostentatious pleasure, lavish entertainment, legendary shooting parties and royal visitors, which included the German Kaiser in 1895 and again in 1902. The Kaiser was so impressed that he bestowed an honorary Title on Hugh Lowther, which is the German equivalent to ‘Master of the King’s Horse’. At the end of his tenure the family money was running dry and the roof of Lowther Castle coming off after the Second World War. A real Downton here in Penrith and with a better storyline than the real one!
With this astonishing history tell me, ‘how good are we at diverting a part of the river of money that goes past every day into Penrith into tourists who spend their money here? Like us we are sure you think we could do so much better. Look at the signs on the M6. Can you imagine an Italian town that doesn’t have a sign for ‘Centro Storico’? But here the signs just tell you how leave Penrith and visit lots of other places but our wonderful town. In the railway station shelves of leaflets; not a single one about the town of Penrith or what you can find here. Really awful signage…the one that takes the biscuit is the sign outside the Tourist Office itself that has no information whatsoever about the sites in our town. Penrith looks tired because of poor management and funding. It is a gem of a place and it deserves to shine.
We need to sort some parking including park and ride facilities; the Local Plan has a good idea here for a multi storey carpark in Myers Lane but it doesn’t go far enough. We need to create easy access from this point over the railway and into the Town Centre. We need signed tourist walks, we need to produce leaflets, online guides and online walks, we need an online video like the one we made in under a week on the cheap for our campaign, we need to tell people where all the wonderful independent retailer’s shops are, where the best cafes and restaurants serving delicious local food are, and we need to use marketing nous to sell our town to people who are driving up to Scotland in their droves.
If we could get this right then we wouldn’t have empty shops in Penrith and we would have a ‘quality problem’ – a Penrith heaving with people like it used to. Perhaps then we could get a market back in Great Dockray and start to showcase the wonderful, fascinating alleyways of our beautiful market town.
Do we need a new town 2.5 miles away to do any of this?
Why haven’t we done it before? Well it’s the fault of our useless hopeless Tory Council.