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What the locals really think of Gisburn

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 October 2015 | UPDATED: 21:13 04 January 2018

Gisburn farmer Frank Wrathall with his wife Trudi and daughter Eleanor-Rose

Gisburn farmer Frank Wrathall with his wife Trudi and daughter Eleanor-Rose


This village community is alive and well with a flourishing market, eating places and specialist shops. Sue Riley reports

Sheep for sale at Gisburn Auction MartSheep for sale at Gisburn Auction Mart

IT was once said that real men don’t eat quiche but the hardworking farmers of Gisburn have no such inhibitions when they dine at the award-winning Gisburn Auction Mart Café.

‘I started experimenting and I made a quiche early on and I thought “will they like this?” They did,’ says Gill Armer, who took over the cafe 16 years ago.

However, it’s fair to say there is a limit to what this clientele will try. ‘I put on chocolate and courgette cake but obviously I don’t call it that. For the farmers, I just call it chocolate cake. There’s tomato, apple and celery soup, but I do not call it that either, just tomato.’ Safe to say that her best sellers of roast beef and steak pie have no secret ingredients.

Hundreds of farmers visit the café up to three times a week when the auctions - selling cattle, sheep, pigs and machinery - are held. Most start with breakfast, stay for lunch and often drop in for tea and cake before they return to their farms. Now Gill is also attracting families and non-farming folk too and the non-stop queues in the café are testament to its popularity. ‘We do a different special every week and to be fair the farmers like anything different,’ she says. Chicken breast wrapped in bacon with stilton sauce is a recent favourite.

Auctioneer Jonathan TurnerAuctioneer Jonathan Turner

The success of Gill and her team has already brought one award and this autumn it’s been shortlisted for the Cafe of the Year in the Farmers’ Guardian.

‘A lot of business is done over a coffee and a bacon sandwich,’ says Jonathan Turner, the seventh generation of his family to become an auctioneer. He says the café is the real hub of the farming community. ‘Look at the size of the farmers, it’s all because of Gill’s cooking,’ he jokes. ‘They’re full of gossip, worse than women!

‘You see, sometimes they will only come once a week and it’s a great time for them to catch up and talk about what’s gone on during the week, a real meeting place. It’s really good for farmers to get them out and talking because they are up in the hills, isolated. It’s a real tradition and that’s why we need to keep these auctions going.’

It’s also a place for young people to learn the old farming ways. Ten-year-old Declan Thornber showed his grandparents’ sheep at the last auction in August. He lives with his parents in Whalley but helps out on the farm in nearby Bashall Eaves during the school holidays. His grandmother Myra Thornber said the lad loves rounding up the sheep and enjoys learning about farming life with her and husband Barry.

Gill Armer who runs the Gisburn Auction Mart CaféGill Armer who runs the Gisburn Auction Mart Café

One farmer who knows all about Gisburn is Frank Wrathall who lives on a 180-acre farm in the heart of the village. He was born 53 years ago and now lives in the farmhouse with wife Trudi and their four children who have all attended Gisburn Primary School where he is a governor. ‘I think it’s a good place to live, good for amenities but I would say that because I have lived here all of my life!’

Gisburn, a village of 500 residents, is just a few miles away from Clitheroe. The A59 dissects it so there is lots of passing trade for the hostelries in the village, including the award-winning Italian restaurant La Locanda, the newly refurbished White Bull pub (its chef is Masterchef quarter finalist Simon Salt) and the deli.

Locals Maxine Bridge and Sharon Smalley set up the stylish Delicious Deli and Café five years ago and it’s been going from strength to strength. The baking is done by farmer’s wife Jeanette Pate and they also employ up to 20 others. ‘We think that at some stage we have employed all the teenagers in the village as pot washers,’ says Maxine, adding that when some of them start university she is given their term timetables so she can fit in more work for them during the holidays. ‘It’s lovely, this is a really vibrant village,’ says the mother-of-four.

On the outskirts is the former residence of the Lister family, a Grade I listed property converted into a private hospital 30 years ago. Then there’s the 1,000-acre Ribblesdale Park estate which surrounds the village and specialises in upmarket holiday homes. Park House, a luxurious boutique B & B in the heart of Gisburn, and the Stirk House Hotel attract visitors from far and wide who want to stay in the Ribble Valley.

This year the medieval St Mary the Virgin Church proved a huge and unexpected attraction when it revealed it had one of the extremely rare ‘Great She Bibles’. Hundreds, if not thousands, flocked to the village to see the rare book which is worth up to £50,000. Printed in 1611, the bible has a misprint stating ‘She went in the city’ instead of ‘he’ and is known to be just one of a handful in existence.

Former Women’s Institute President Lynne Adderley went to see it, saying it caused a real buzz in the village. She’s lived in Gisburn for 13 years but it was only when she was pregnant with her daughter, who’s now four, that she started getting really involved in the community.

‘There’s a lot of things organised in the village, people are just so friendly,’ she says. One place she’s never been in though is the auction mart café. ‘No I’ve never been in there, I feel a bit intimidated!’ Yet it’s where current WI secretary Joyce Moorhouse and her husband David can often be found.

The semi-retired farmers, who have a 200-acre farm a mile out of the village, love the place. David sums it up, saying: ‘I was born on a farm and have been living some 67 years in Gisburn.

‘We are very lucky, we have a pub, a garage, we have an Italian, a deli, an old church. We have kept everything, we are one of the few villages which has kept everything – the livestock market, a woodyard, a stove shop, hospital and a railway line that goes through (the station closed under the Beeching cuts of 1962). Do you not think we are a lucky village to have it all? It’s a good ‘un!’

Antiques teamwork

There’s not many villages of Gisburn’s size that has its own antiques and interiors shop, Opened by Jean Brennan (she’s married to former Burnley footballer Ian Brennan) and Les Hart. They used to have adjacent stalls in the antiques centre in Sabden and then bid against each other at auctions, until they decided to combine their skills and open the shop together. Their shop is a treasure trove of the quirky and unusual, with a mix of European and local finds salvaged from cotton mills and churches in East Lancashire.

Power struggle

One issue which has vexed residents in Gisburn involves plans for a large solar farm which have been approved by councillors in the Ribble Valley.

Nearly 20,000 solar panels will be installed across three fields on farmland in Gisburn despite objections from some local people and Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans, who said it would damage the rural landscape.

The developers say the panels will have ‘minor visual impact’ but would provide clean energy.


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