Border Post: an irregular contribution from the owner manager of Chapman Bags
Post 1: Carlisle
Until 8 years ago, Carlisle was a City I flew over, drove past or slept through. Then I got involved in Chapman Bags. Since 2006 I have spent a week a month in Cumbria working at the factory. I stay at the wonderful Blacksmiths Arms in Talkin, 15 minutes outside the City. Over that time I have grown to love Carlisle, and here’s why.
You get real weather in Carlisle. You can see it rolling off the surrounding hills. It gets windy on the City hill and the seagulls from the Solway Firth are blown all over it.
The Train Station
Carlisle was one of the busiest stations in Europe, with huge marshalling yards. The Citadel station is a giant block of stone built to receive Queen Victoria when she made a royal visit. You come out of the station and immediately confront the twin forts of the City gates built by Henry VIII. It’s awesome, as my son would say.
My mate with the Vespa van at Caffeine Express makes the cheapest and best station coffee in the UK.
You would think some things cost the same anywhere in the UK, but for some reason pretty much everything is cheaper in Carlisle. A handmade sandwich at Roll Toppers on London Road costs about £2.
The Old Quarter
The Old Quarter of Carlisle lies next to the Cathedral, a maze of small cobbled streets with nice little cafes, bars and restaurants. At the end of the street you see the giant red stones of Carlisle Castle. For some reason, the City Fathers also decided to build a dual carriageway there which kind of ruined things but not enough to prevent my enjoyment of being there.
People in Carlisle don’t mess around. They say what they think and they got on with things. I really like that. Our staff are a breath of fresh air after 3 weeks in London.
Carlisle has a proud manufacturing history. This is the kind of place where people don’t just go out and buy something, they make it. Our landlord Chris Harrison rarely wears a suit, he wanders round in blue overalls and a hard hat. Some of the names have gone, like Cowans Sheldon, once a world leading crane maker. But Pirelli, Metal Box, McVities, Chapman and others remain. Long may it last.
The Borders and the Lakes
Separate subjects in themselves but Carlisle lies right in the middle of two of the greatest regions of the UK. I never tire of them.
I think Carlisle is one of the UK’s undiscovered treasures. It’s authentic and gritty but you can’t really categorise the City, it defies pigeon holing. It gets more interesting the longer you stay there.
Next Week (hopefully): Why Made in England Matters