Lancashire's Ormskirk is an inspiration to all

PUBLISHED: 22:53 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:42 20 February 2013

The lay-out of the town centre has not changed since the 13th Century

The lay-out of the town centre has not changed since the 13th Century

This medieval West Lancashire market town is so special it moved Spike Milligan to verse

THE splendour of England's ancient monuments has inspired generations of writers and poets. Ormskirk is no exception, but what did they do to deserve the attentions of Spike Milligan?

The legend, more accurately described as a load of old tosh, is that the daughters of Orme, the Norse founder of Ormskirk, couldn't agree on whether the church should have a steeple or a tower - so they built both.

How, this came to the attention of the most eccentric of the Goons is just as deep a mystery, but it resulted in him penning the following doggerel:

'A Lady in Lancs said a spire
Is what every good church should desire
But her sis with a glower
Said a church needs a tower
So they built one with both, and it's dire!'

The fact that the steeple was built hundreds of years after the Vikings had retired from pillaging and the tower added over a century later should knock the family row theory on the head. The truth is more likely to be that the church inherited a set of bells from a local priory and the steeple was deemed too spindly to accommodate them.

The result is that the parish church of St Peter and St Paul is one of only three in England with both tower and spire. The churchyard is also unusual, with swathes of Victorian headstones making up a large, slightly macabre 'pavement' complete with a set of tombstone steps.

This is a town packed with interesting features. If you had to answer the question: 'What's so special about Ormskirk?' the safe answer would be: 'How long have you got?'

Its modern character is enhanced by having the hugely successful Edge Hill University on its doorstep, but it is the medieval core of this West Lancashire market town that fascinates historians.

The centre is one big conservation area and it's not hard to see why. I'm not sure what the difference is between a ginnel and a snicket, but I'd be surprised if you couldn't find both here.

Happily, it's not a living museum - Ormskirk has a down-to-earth bustle that goes with its ancient status as a market town. Traders have been selling their wares since 1286 and now it is staged every Thursday and Saturday with up to 100 stallholders taking part.

'The traders take great pride in the market and next summer we will be providing them with new stalls and this will maintain it as one of the most vibrant markets in Lancashire,' said Martin Forshaw, the West Lancashire District councillor who looks after planning matters.

He and his colleague Ian Bond, who looks after heritage and environment issue for the council, have been involved in a public consultation exercise to see what what local people want next for the town.

The likely answer is more of the same, please. After the last appraisal, Aughton Street in the town centre has been resurfaced with natural stone, Coronation Park has been refurbished and upgraded and the clock tower, that symbol of the lord of the manor handing over his powers to the corporation, has had its masonry repaired.

Next on the agenda is the railway station. First impressions are important and the reality is that the Victorian Grade II listed building has become a little dog-eared.

Ian said a 1.5 million contract had been awarded and preliminary work was due to start straight away with the final objective being a full external refurbishment taking it back to as close to its original state as possible, a combined booking hall and waiting room and space for commercial use.

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