Accrington is on the western edge of the Pennines. The hills look good under snow. The Coppice is the hill that overlooks the town. I have climbed the Coppice many times. Most of those I knew in Accrington had climbed the hill at some point in their lives.
Accrington has the usual neo-classical buildings that enhance Northern towns. The 72 stall market appears three days a week. But the town lacks charm. The history of Accrington has been squandered for a shopping centre and transport.
Still, Accrington has a library, a town hall and art gallery. All appeal. The Haworth Gallery is world-famous for its Tiffany glass collection. The Town Hall is the grandest building in Accrington, and its neo-classicism is worth a prolonged stare of admiration. But the Town Hall is at the back of Accrington and ignored by many.
The more attractive and lyrical spelling, Akarinton, appeared in the 12th Century. The textile, cotton and mining industries of the Industrial Revolution helped create the present population of 35,000. Non-conformism had the urban appeal that the Catholic Church lacked. Think Tamla and hip-hop.
In 1842, 1000 men walked from Accrington to other towns, pulling plugs from the factory boilers. Even then zero hour contracts appealed to employers. In a town of 9,000 people, 100 people had full time work. The Plug Riots followed a meeting in Clayton Le Moor but the violence began in Accrington. Four rioters were killed, and 41 sentenced to death although those sentences were commuted. Riots led to reform. A starving population was not quite what the local economy needed.
In 1860 the cotton market contracted after over-production. Cotton had made fortunes quicker than the Internet. There were nearly as many cotton mills as there are Apple applications. Again the working people of Accrington suffered.
Walk around the town centre, and it is easy to suppose that the locals have gloomy prospects. Someone joked that the council is the biggest employer. But unemployment and home ownership compare favourably with the national average. The town has fewer very rich people than most but they are not missed. 30% of the households in Accrington, though, are working poor and exist on the edge of official poverty. These families are surviving because of debt. Without savings, they are unable to maintain properties. The terraced houses on the main approach to the Coppice provide an attractive border to a wide road. Elsewhere the terraced houses are in poor shape. Vanished industries left engineering skills but none of the existing firms are global corporations. The wag that said the council is the biggest employer is correct.
Jeannete Winterson is an Accrington author. Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit reveals her rejection of the puritanism of the Elim Pentecostal Church to explore her gay sexuality. Winterson said that life in Accrington was awful. A local councillor responded, ‘Considering it was so dull, she had an awful lot of lesbian sex in this town. She can’t have it both ways. It was Accrington sex what sold her book.’
Wait till we get to Barnsley.
Next week – Not Barnsley but Anfield, Liverpool.
Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015
If you want to read more about his travels click here