Milnthorpe's such a good read
PUBLISHED: 10:30 11 April 2011 | UPDATED: 15:13 31 August 2018
It's half way between Land's End and John O'Groats and, as Mike Glover discovers, it's an in-between sort of place Photography by John Cocks
Where is Milnthorpe? Between Carnforth and Kendal on the A6.
What is there to do? Blandford Fine Art is worth a visit and the restored Heron Corn Mill is nearby. A little further away is Levens Hall with its stunning topiary. It’s also a starting point for some good walks, especially towards the coast.
Are there refreshments? The village has three pubs with the Cross Keys probably the most prominent plus some cafes and restaurants nearby.
In his definitive history, Chronicles of Milnthorpe, writer, historian, teacher, politician and marmalade-maker extraordinaire, Roger Bingham described it as an in-between place.
It is halfway between Land’s End and John O’Groats, halfway between village and town, half-way between Cumbrian and Lancastrian. If you doubt the last, listen to the local dialect.
But not fitting into an easy pigeon-hole continues to suit Milnthorpe. One word that does describe it is thriving, and, appropriately for the home of Roger, its connection to books is doing particularly well.
The primary school, which puts reading at the core of its curriculum is expanding. The library has recently doubled the hours it is open. And the local book publisher grows year on year.
The fact that Milnthorpe, with a population of about 2,000, depending which surrounding hamlets are included, has a book publishing business in its centre is surprising enough.
That it has doubled its staff to ten in the last five years with all the challenges facing the publishing â industry, is even more remarkable.
Cicerone Press was set up by Walter Unsworth and his wife Dorothy, along with Brian and Aileen Evans 40 years ago, after moving from Preston where they ran Carmor Press. Walter still lives in Harmony Hall in Milnthorpe.
Cicerone is housed in two converted cottages in Police Square. Walter was a keen climber and walker and wanted to be nearer the Lake District. It started by publishing his accounts of great climbs, including Everest. They also published social histories, including Roger’s Chronicles.
The business was bought by Jonathon and Lesley Williams 11 years ago and under their direction has returned to its roots, focusing on outdoor titles, with guides on UK and worldwide walking, cycling and climbing.
Typically they publish about 30 books a year and have 290 in print.
They are also digital publishers (see www.cicerone.co.uk). You can explore the furthest corners of the world reading a Cicerone guide on your i-Pad.
They are part way through a series of a Lakeland Fell range, but other recent titles include Mountaineering in the Moroccan High Atlas and Hitching and Biking Peru’s Inca Trails. All books contain a narrative, maps, photographs and routes.
‘There seems to be an endless appetite for books about the Lakes, but also for treks and climbs off the beaten track throughout Europe and the rest of the World,’ said marketing manager, Sarah Spencer.
Also thriving is Milnthorpe Primary school with a rising roll of 116 three-to-eleven year olds, as well as 60 part-time nursery pupils. Their
success, confirmed by a recent Ofsted report, is based on a strategy to get children interested in books from the age of three.
‘Reading is a priority. If pupils cannot read they cannot access the rest of the curriculum properly. We aim to make sure pupils leave at 11, confident and fluent readers,’ said head teacher Carolyn Singleton, who moved to Milnthorpe from Blackpool four years ago.
The school prides itself on close links with the community, which works both ways, with readers and the local allotment society coming into the school, and pupils joining in concerts in the local church and at old people’s homes.
‘We are certainly fortunate with so many local people expressing good will to the school,’ added Ms Singleton.
Another boost to book fans in Milnthorpe came when opening hours at Milnthorpe library were extended by 85 per cent with the introduction of a new customer contact centre in the village.
The new Local Links centre is a one-stop-shop where residents can get information about council services from advisers, who will also give information on behalf of the district council, Job Centre Plus, Citizens’ Advice and Age Concern.
Local links library officer Ann Proctor is trained to deal with enquiries ranging from applications for school meals grants to how to report problems with street lighting.
But the extended hours has also brought an increase in use of the library facilities.
Senior assistant in charge, Stephanie Nellist, said: ‘Books are still our main business and the extra hours have gone down well with our customers, with an increase in choice and borrowings.’
Books bring us back to Roger Bingham who as well as being a writer is also a former senior teacher in Westhoughton and Lancaster, among other places, a parish councillor, who has never missed a meeting in 31 years, a district councillor, a county councillor and President of the local Conservative Association.
He was born in Milnthorpe, two months prematurely and delivered by his father the local GP, 68 years ago. He was educated locally, went to Cambridge University and then to Trinidad to study slavery, with an eye on a career in the church. Instead he went into teaching and then writing, both inspired by his love of history.
What he doesn’t know about Milnthorpe isn’t worth knowing.
But of all his achievements the one he feels most excited about this Spring is winning first prize in the military section (as his father was a commando as well as a GP) in the latest Worldwide Marmalade Festival at Dalemain, with a 1970s Women’s Institute recipe using Seville Oranges.
‘Everyone thinks I am so impractical that the first prize was the proudest achievement of my life,’ he said, with the merest hint of a twinkle of self-mockery in his eye.