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North West England

The north east of England has a different character to the north west. This is in large part due to the main route to Scotland running from Stamford to Doncaster, to Scotch Corner, Stainmore and then to Carlisle. Lancashire in the west was bypassed, which resulted in this area becoming isolated. Lancashire was generally quieter and more peaceful, avoiding most of the insurrections that caught up the rest of the north. This fed into the nature of the area. The people were popularly known to be more easy going; the word "softer" has been used. This difference even led some historians to create rather shaky theories about different sets of Vikings influencing east and west.

 

The traditional eclipse of the north west by its more powerful northern neighbour was to change in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Important developments in the Industrial Revolution took place in north west England. Manchester became a centre for industry, and in the 1840s this city became an international symbol for a new industrial age. At its height Manchester would generate wealth to rival London itself. The complicated social changes that came with industrialisation also have roots in this area. Although it is dificult to put an actual date on the formation of the Labour Party important steps in the party's history were made in the north west. A Bradford labour union sponsored Alderman Ben Tillet in the parliamentary election of 1892. Tillet lost, but the following year Keir Hardie chaired a meeting of labour organisations in Bradford, which helped create the Independent Labour Party.

 

 

 

Lake District

The north west also has the beautiful Lake District area which inspired a cultural revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A group of poets and writers centred on Coleridge and Wordsworth created what is known as the Romantic movement. They often wrote about man's relationship with nature, a relationship that the Industrial Revolution forced people to explore. The Lake District today is perhaps the definitive example of man working with nature. The area is thought of as a region of natural beauty, when it is in fact the result of human activity over thousands of years. Forests have been cleared, and land kept open by sheep grazing. The entire Lake District is almost a Capability Brown park, a place looking natural, but the result of man's work. Indeed the beautiful Tarn Hows near Coniston, one of the Lakes' most visited places, was created in the nineteenth century by damming a stream and joining together three swampy pools. The Tarn and all its surrounding landscaping are man made parkland. Although the rest of the Lakes show a more indirect human influence, their appearance is still determined by man. I like to think of the Lakes as Coleridge's fantastical world of Xanadu, a place full of measureless chasms and natural wonders, which are nevertheless part of the great Pleasure Dome built for King Kubla Khan. Conservation has always been a hot topic in the Lakes, with Wordsworth leading campaigns to stop the masses coming in, and Canon Rawnsley setting up the National Trust here. But the lakes are what they are because of mans' activities.

 

 

 

Mathew Street, Liverpool. The Cavern Club entrance was on this street

In the 1960s a further cultural revolution centred itself on England's north west, this time in Liverpool. Young people, and their music became important. The Beatles were the most influential of the bands that came out of Liverpool at that time. Categories of importance were changing. Rather than music being made by trained people using expensive traditional instruments, the late 1950's saw the skiffle craze where music was made by thousands of enthusiastic, untrained young people using ordinary household items - washboards, broom handles and bits of string on a tea chest. Just as ordinary household items were used to make music, subjects for songs were similarly democratic. The Beatles were to make ordinary streets in Liverpool and zebra crossings in London famous. Penny Lane in Liverpool is not an obviously important place, until you take a walk along it with Penny Lane in mind. The childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mendips and 20 Forthlin Road are now owned by the National Trust. I understand there were some at the National Trust who objected to properties such as these being taken on, but a looser conception of what is important and unimportant is a crucial characteristic of the world that emerged in the Sixties.

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