A look at the rising arts and craft scene in Clitheroe

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 November 2014 | UPDATED: 12:25 10 June 2016

Lisa Walker and Liz Walker at Pendle Stitches

Lisa Walker and Liz Walker at Pendle Stitches

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Long celebrated for food, Clitheroe is now getting a name for arts and crafts too, as Martin Pilkington reports

Keith Parkinson and Beverley Chapelhow at Ribble Valley Art StudiosKeith Parkinson and Beverley Chapelhow at Ribble Valley Art Studios

The medieval castle looms above Clitheroe, a country market town that has retained its market. Independent shops abound, most famously those that attract the county’s gourmets. Now its artistic side is coming to the fore.

Keith Parkinson and Beverley Chapelhow opened Ribble Valley Art Studios in Wellgate in 2012, a creative warren shared with six other artists. ‘Lots of artists work from home in the Ribble Valley, painters, potters, ceramicists and so on,’ explains Beverley. ‘It’s a growing scene, we’re thriving. We teach three adult art classes here a week.

‘We’ve a waiting list for the studio space, so that tells a story,’ Keith adds. ‘And three or four galleries have opened here in the last four years.’

One of those is Longitude, whose Jason Lynchehaun tells a similar tale. ‘What we show here changes, but tends towards more modern stuff and local artists in the main. People definitely want to see more art here, it’s getting a bit crazy, we need more space now!’

Katherine Rodgers at Platform GalleryKatherine Rodgers at Platform Gallery

Judging by the numerous red dots – indicating sold – on currently exhibited pieces (including stunning metal sculptures by Read-based Clare Bigger), that’s clearly true.

The new spaces are building on foundations laid by the local authority years ago, when its Platform Gallery opened in part of the railway station. ‘Clitheroe has a few galleries now, a couple more popped up recently,’ says Katherine Rodgers, Arts Development Officer for the town. ‘Here at the Platform we cover crafts. It’s been around for 20 years as a gallery.’

The Steward’s Gallery at the castle houses exhibitions too, but the council’s efforts spread further afield too. ‘We’re involved with a big public art project in Bowland, celebrating its 50th year as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,’ she adds.

Katherine stresses it’s not just fine art that’s booming. ‘It’s a great area for music too, with the Ribble Valley Jazz Festival, and the Clitheroe proms in the summer. We’ve got some driven people who organise the festivals year after year.’

Joe Harding at Clitheroe BooksJoe Harding at Clitheroe Books

The written and spoken word is equally established. Jo Harding has run Clitheroe Books for almost 20 years, selling new and antiquarian tomes but his involvement goes deeper. ‘We do poetry evenings here – I co-run a group called the Pennine Lancashire Poetry Stanza – and at other places in the town,’ he says.

Jo has a possible explanation for the healthy state of Clitheroe’s arts. ‘I read once that the Ribble Valley has the best-educated population in the country, the most degrees per capita.’

They might be the best-educated and they are certainly among the best-fed, thanks to Clitheroe’s obsession with culinary arts and crafts. Jan Curtis runs Cheesie Tchaikovsky, a deli with a mouth-watering selection of breads, preserves and above all artisan cheeses. ‘We get food-tourists coming from Bolton or Bury say, once a month to go to Exchange for coffee, Cowman’s for sausages, and Byrnes for wine, then here for cheeses – and not one has fruit in it!’ says Jan who started the business 11 years ago.

‘We do bread-making classes here, five people in each one, but I’m fully booked until June next year.’

A stroll away (everything is in Clitheroe) Wellgate Fisheries has been around since 1939. And like the other culinary Meccas here its customers arrive from far and wide. ‘We get people from all over – Burnley, Manchester, Yorkshire...’ says Oliver Miller. ‘They can’t get fish of the right quality locally so they travel to buy it.’

Here too the craft ethos persists, epitomised by the enticingly aromatic salmon smoked on the premises. Oliver learned the skills from manager Gilles Shaw, and is now teaching apprentice Decklan Kay.

All sorts of crafts can be learned in this buzzing environment. Liz Walker of woolshop and haberdashery Pendle Stitches says: ‘We have two ‘Knit and Natters’ a week, give crochet lessons, are starting a lace bobbin club, and have beginners’ knitting classes. We get up to 70 ladies in a week knitting and chatting.’

There’s clearly a social element to the ‘more natter than knit’ (her words) gatherings. Liz believes a combination of TV craft shows and the smoking ban have boosted her recently expanded business. ‘People don’t go out as much now, they stay in with a bottle of wine and do a bit of knitting.’

Laura Kerrigan of The Grand on York Street might dispute that view. The superbly equipped venue recently sold out three nights of new play Stop the Train prior to its London run; has folk, rock and jazz concerts, and gets full houses for National Theatre Live satellite feeds. But that’s only part of what the venue does.

‘The Grand is built on the idea of helping the next generation of artists,’ she says. ‘There’s Grab, an X-Factor-style thing; a programme on Saturdays called Backstage Pass where kids learn theatre techniques; Street Feet for dancing skills; and we have another programme called Be My Band for young musicians to partner and form bands. We get experts in to train them, they can use the brilliant studios here to record, and at the end go onstage with full lighting to do a concert.’

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