A right Royal mystery in Garstang

PUBLISHED: 15:50 11 October 2011 | UPDATED: 20:07 20 February 2013

A right Royal mystery in Garstang

A right Royal mystery in Garstang

The search is on around Garstang for a scroll written by King Charles II, as Paul Mackenzie reports Photography by Kirsty Thompson

Garstang on a Thursday is a real treat. Market stalls line the high street, the shops are busy and the air is filled with the buzz of friendly chatter. Traders have been gathering in Garstang on this day since the early 14th century when King Edward II granted the town its first market charter and the tradition continues under the watchful eye of market superintendent Eddie Zielinski.

He is in the town centre by 5.30 on a Thursday morning, ensuring everything goes smoothly when the traders start to arrive. The market now has around 25 stalls each week slightly down on previous years, as are markets everywhere, but enough to generate an atmosphere around the town.

But while all seems to be in place traders, check, shoppers, check, tinkle of money changing hands, check omething is missing. In 1679 King Charles II, who is reputed to have spent a night in a Garstang town centre pub during the English Civil War, renewed the towns market charter, making Garstang a free borough to be governed by a bailiff and seven burgesses. The document used to be on display in a town centre shop window but its whereabouts are now a mystery.

Eddie said: I just dont know where it could be. Ive found the 1314 charter in the records office and I have a copy of that. Its only small, about eight inches by three, and is written in Old English but its obviously very important to Garstangs history.

The second royal charter was on a paper scroll which I have been told was displayed on an easel in the old chemists shop window in the 1960s but no-one seems to know what happened to it after that. It would be great to be able to find it and to put it back on display.

Eddie, 61, also had a six month stint as Garstangs lengthsman and is a member of the Town Trust which has responsibility for looking after some of Garstangs historic buildings. Historically, his role would have come complete with the title Town Sergeant and the right to lock up neer do wells in the so-called Small Dark Hole on the high street. The old cell, now an office, stands between the Market House and the Town Hall, both buildings the trust looks after.

Theres a lot of nice old buildings around Garstang, Eddie said. The Market House used to be where they kept the fire engine and right next door, theres the old town hall which has burned down twice. The Arts Centre at the other end of the high street used to be the grammar school and now holds all sorts of exhibitions.

The trust is also responsible for maintaining the market cross which has stood outside the Royal Oak in the towns original market place since the 18th century.

The Arts Centre and the Royal Oak stand at either end of the high street and between them are many of Garstangs splendid selection of independent shops. Even when the market is not on, the choice available around the town is impressive, whether youre shopping for food, clothes or gifts.

And away from the shops, following the riverside path from the pay and display car park beside the visitor centre, you will find the newly improved Millennium Green. A ceremony was held last month to mark the re-opening of the site which lies beside the river and is haven for bird life such as kingfishers, dippers and tree creepers. It is also home to growing colonies of three species of bat, and otters have been seen along the river bank.

Ron Freeland, the chairman of the Millennium Green management tea said: The area had started to look a bit tired, the paths were worn, the land was not well drained and disabled access was poor.

We have replaced paths and added new ones giving various routes around the green and we have improved gates, steps and benches. The biggest thing we have done, but the least obvious most of the time, is to improve the drainage so when the green floods, it now drains away leaving no standing water.

In short, we have made the green safer, more interesting and more accessible. The biodiversity has been massively enhanced and more people are using it. The green was created in 2000 using money from a government grant and Ron, a former teacher who lives close to the green, has been volunteering since he retired four years ago.

I had to keep doing something, he added. I had been too busy for too long to stop completely and its something I really enjoy.

My big challenge has been to open up the green to more people. It is now used by about 300 people a day and on nice days it gets really quite crowded. Its on the Wyre Way so walkers are getting to know it more and all the local school and nurseries use it too.

Where it is: Garstang stands beside the A6, roughly half way between Preston and Lancaster. The Lancaster canal and River Wyre meet just outside the town centre.

Where to park: There is a pay and display car park beside the new Booths store and another next to the visitor centre. Both are well signposted.

Where to eat: Take your pick there is no shortage of restaurants, pubs, cafes and delis, not to mention a wealth of impressive food shops.

What to do: Take a walk beside the river or on the canal towpath, take in an exhibition at the Arts Centre and enjoy browsing the shops around the town centre.

The print version of this article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Lancashire Life

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