We moved on from the charming seaside town of Maryport, and soon arrived in the larger town of Workington, and parked up in the town centre to see what we could find…
Status: Allerdale District, Cumbria, Town, England
Eating & Sleeping: N/A
Attractions: Workington Clock, Old Bus Station, Trinity Church, Carnegie Arts Centre, Oxford Theatre, Old Post Office, Portico, The Hub, River Derwent, Helena Thompson Museum etc
As we drove through to the town centre, we passed one of the many churches in Workington. This one is called St Michaels, and resulted from a rebuild of a previous church in 1770, when over two years all but the tower was demolished and replaced.
The first church (for which there is a record) dates back to sometime in the 7th century. In the 9th century monks from the Northumberland Island of Lindisfarne arrived with the body of St Cuthbert when the Danish Invaded and it was eventually taken to Durham. In 1125 the church was gifted to the church of St Mary in York, by Ketel Baron of Kendal. It was this church that lasted until 1770, and the tower has also been restored since.
This was the second church we found driving through to the town centre, and at first as we approached I thought it might be the Town Hall because of it’s grand design, but it is in fact the Church of St John.
I was stunned as we rounded the corner and it came into view, I have never seen a church like it. In the triangular section above the columned entrance it looks as though there was once a clock face there, going off the blank circular inset.
St John’s is a very impressive structure, and came about in 1822 when construction began on a design by Thomas Hardwick (1752 – 1829, British Architect). A year later in 1823 the building was completed, and opened as a Chapel of Ease. This is a building that it isn’t a parish church but is present within a parish for people who can’t easily reach the actual parish church. This is the first time I have actually heard the phrase but it does make sense. See the tower on top? This was originally a wooden one, but it was replaced by a stone tower in 1847.
Although it began life as a Chapel of Ease, today it is the local parish church (since 1951), under the Diocese of Carlisle, based in Carlisle Cathedral.
Whilst Workington town centre is relatively small, there is a wealth of history to discover. We parked up on one of the main roads looking towards the pedestrianised section.
Just across from where we parked is the Library/Tourist Information Office, and just down the road from that is the above building, the old Workington Oxford Cinema. The words “Picture Theatre” are present above the main entrance. It is situated on New Oxford Street, hence the name.
You can instantly tell what it used to be, even before we researched it. The old style front and the dome just scream cinema at you. It was one of four cinema’s in the town, with the other being the Carnegie, Hippodrome and the Ritz. All four have now closed and a modern cinema called the Plaza Cinema has opened instead. The Oxford Cinema is now a pub called the Henry Bessemer, part of the J D Wetherspoon chain.
Almost opposite the Henry Bessemer, over on Murray Road which comes off Oxford Street, is the 2nd building of note in the area.
The plaque visible on the left of the building states the following:
“Workington Bus Station: The first purpose built covered bus station in Great Britain was opened for Cumberland Motor Services by Alderman A. Baines on 19th March 1926”
This makes it a fascinating old building and one I am quite glad has survived this long. The Cumberland Motor Services (CMS) was formed in 1921 by the Maegeen family. The bus station was then opened 5 years later, and designed by H Oldfield, a local architect. Alderman A. Baines was the name of the then Mayor of Workington. The building contained a cafe, toilets as well as space for a number of buses.
CMS eventually became part of Stagecoach North West, after being sold first to the National Bus Company in 1967, and then Stagecoach in 1987.
Moving down towards the pedestrianised sections of the town, there are more buildings of note. On the left is the tower of Workington Methodist Church, which is actually the third version of the church. The first opened on Tiffin Lane in 1791. Up until this point, the congregation had used a room in Ritson Street for it’s meetings. This new church lasted until a new, larger church was built between 1840 and 1843 on Finkle Street. It was named South William Street Church, but it burnt down in 1889.
The current building was built between 1889 and 1890, and has survived ever since. It’s a great looking structure, with the large tower with a beautiful dome on the top.
Next to it is the tall brick tower at the back of the Carnegie Arts Theatre, which opened in 1904 as a free library. Andrew Carnegie (from Dunfermline, Scotland) made a donation to get the place up and running. Today it contains a theatre, live performances and an arts space. The main entrance to the theatre is round at the front on Finkle Street.
At the end of Finkle Street (with Murray Road going off to the left) is the Old Post Office, which is now inhabited by a branch of William Hill betting shop.
It was originally built in 1915 and is furnished in beautiful red brick. Above the entrance on the right on Finkle Street are the words “Post Office” from the buildings construction. The building has a certain charm about it and it is certainly the stand out building on the street.
We moved into the pedestrianised section of the town and came across the newest addition to Workington. This area is called “The Lookout” and features a large mechanical clock designed by Andy Plant.
Standing 15 feet tall, the clock arm rotates to point at the minutes from 0 – 60 shown in a circular pattern around the base of the sculpture. The central ring above the main ball of the clock shows the hours so matching the ring up with the pavement gives you the time. There are a number of portholes located around the main ball, and a few are visible above. If you look through them you get a view out of the main camera on top of the moving minute arm. This rises up above the rest of the clock on the hour to give views around over the Workington skyline.
Every half hour and full hour the clock chimes, with speakers set around the square which contains a number of benches. The area was laid out in 2006 as part of a redevelopment of the town centre.
There are a number of other art installations in Workington, including this one shown above. A plaque on the building next to identifies it as:
“Portico: Designed by Artist Edward Allington, this space uses local Shap granite and sustainably harvested hardwood to create sculptures that furnish an outdoor room and offer calmness, comfort and respite to shoppers. The steel sculptures surrounding the trees and the camera combine elements of the classical and the domestic. The portico form on the large sculpture refers to the name chosen to reflect the welcoming nature of this space. The timeline on the rim of the large sculpture traces events in Workington and world history.”
The benches shown above are only part of the overall Portico Sculpture which has other sections in the area.
Further into the pedestrianised section you can see the large circular disc in the centre of an area known as The Hub. The Hub is the worlds first outdoor 3D soundfield, which contains lighting and a sound system to give an incredible public experience.
This is all part of the new plans for Workington Town Centre which have greatly increased the experience for visitors and locals alike, with a variety of artworks and sculptures located around the town.
Elsewhere in the town there are other attractions, including a number of parks by the River Derwent which flows out to sea here, called Derwent Park, Borough Park and Lonsdale Park. There is also Vulcan Park in the town centre. You could also visit the Helena Thompson Museum, housed in an old building called Park End House. It was closely associated with Helena Thompson, a local philanthropist who left the house to the town in 1940. There are a number of galleries in the building, with preserved rooms from its Victorian days, as well as other rooms containing drawings by Helena and Victorian furniture.
Workington is an interesting town, and whilst it has thrived more in the past, a regeneration of the town centre has improved the town. There are a number of historical buildings to explore, complemented by the modern new artwork installations.
Workington is located on the West Cumbrian Line between Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness via Maryport and Whitehaven, with some through services to Hexham and Newcastle. The A596 and A595 run past the town and take you towards Whitehaven, Maryport and Carlisle as well as the rest of the Cumbrian Coast.
There is a lot to explore in Workington, and the Cumbria Coast as a whole so whether you are staying in the area or just passing through it is a worthy addition to your visit list.