The tallest building in the city of Carlisle is the much debated Civic Centre Tower, headquarters of Carlisle City Council. It is located just down the road from the Castle, on the edge of the famous roundabout called Hardwick Circus. Few people get to visit the top of the tower, but I decided to email the City Council to see if it would be possible as I suspected the view would be worth seeing. They granted my request, and the next day Gemma and I ascended to the roof of the building to look out across the city…
Civic Centre, Carlisle
The tower is one of the defining landmarks of the city, and it is a rather divisive building as well. Many residents hate it, many think its its iconic, but new proposals mean it’s future is in doubt. The latest plans suggest demolishing it the complex and building shops and restaurants in it’s place, so it spurred me on to get to the top whilst I still can. Many people are not aware that you can actually visit the top, all you have to do is ask, so if you contact the City Council then they should be able to arrange it for you.
The Civic Centre was built in 1964, and stands an impressive 135 feet tall. Three lifts can transport you to the roof section, but they require a special key to get this far up. It takes but a matter of seconds to pass through the 10 floors to get to the top, and it has been the home of the Council since it was built. The most well known section is the tower, but the rotunda and rectangular section at the bottom is still part of the overall development.
At the time Carlisle was the county town of Cumberland, which was merged with Westmorland and the far North of Lancashire to create Cumbria. When this happened the Carlisle County Borough merged with other local parishes to create the present day City of Carlisle District.
This is one of the many stunning views available from the roof, looking West through to South West. At the far right of the picture is Carlisle Castle, with it’s might stone outer walls making it an impenetrable fortress. The main stone sections, the Keep, walls and Central Tower date from just after 1122, when Henry I (1068 – 1135) gave the order to build a stone Castle here, to replace the previous wooden version built by William II (1056 – 1100). This was due to the threat of attack from the Scottish as Carlisle is only 10 miles away from the Anglo-Scottish Border.
The main A595 road, also known as Castle Way, runs in front of the Castle, and further up the road past the Castle is a modern suspension bridge for pedestrians to cross the road. A pedestrian underpass runs underneath the road and also gives access to the Castle. Moving left across the picture we reach Dixon’s Chimney, part of Shaddon Mill, which was built in 1836. It opened as a Cotton Factory, and at the time was the largest in England. It became a Woolen mill in 1883 after the Cotton company, Peter Dixon & Sons Ltd went into administration. Today it is inhabited by apartments and the University of Cumbria, after it was converted in 2005. The original height of the chimney was 305 feet, but it was cut down to 209 feet in 1950. It’s grand height was necessary to keep the smog from drifting down into the city itself, and was instead released into the air high above the city.
Next to that is Carlisle Cathedral, one of the dominating features in the city. Although as you explore the city street it looks like its on flat ground, it is on a hill high above the rest of the buildings, and often the first city centre building you see as you drive into Carlisle, particular if you are coming from the Northern end of the city. Construction began the same year as the Castle, and operated as an Augustinian Church for 10 years, before it became a Cathedral in 1233. Find out more in my special Carlisle Cathedral post here.
In the foreground of the picture at the far left is Carlisle Market Hall, one of the few remaining Victorian Covered Market Halls left in the country. It was built between 1887 and 1889, and contains around 100 stores. The stonework blends in brilliantly with the other old buildings around the city, and it looks even more impressive from above.
Looking South to South East, the view from the Cathedral and the Market Hall continues, through to the large Debenhams store at the North end of the Lanes Shopping Centre, which originated as narrow housing streets built in medieval times. These were converted in the 1980’s into shops and became the Shopping Centre in 1986, with a roof added over the top. The rest of the shopping streets are pedestrianised, including the main street which runs between Debenhams and the Market Hall. If you head up this road you will reach the central square of the pedestrianised streets, where the old Town Hall and Tourist Information Office are located. The Market is one of the main bus stops in the city, with various services calling here.
At the far right of the picture is the Carlisle Magistrates Court, directly across the road from the Civic Centre.
Directly to the North of the Civic Centre is Hardwick Circus, shown above. It’s a large roundabout that has a park inside, and you really don’t get a sense of the scale of the place from the ground. It looks incredible from this height, and three walkways run under the road so you can easily cross the roundabout. Behind the roundabout is the Sands Centre, the local theatre and exhibition space where various acts perform each week.
Even further beyond the Sands Centre the hills of the Lowlands of Scotland in the Dumfries & Galloway area are visible, and even the chimneys of Chapel Cross, a decommission power station just outside the town of Annan, also in Scotland can be made out, but sadly they didn’t stand out well enough to make it onto the picture. Built in 1959, it was decommissioned in 2004 and the cooling towers were demolished in 2007.
You can’t actually tell on this picture, but the road leading North away from Hardwick Circus and the Sands Centre is actually being carried by the Eden Bridge, which carries the A7 towards Scotland, over the river Eden which flows beneath it. Built in 1815, it was was widened in 1932 so two lanes now run both North and South. It consists of five large arches supported by pillars in the centre of the river.
The area to the left of Hardwick Circus is called Bitts Park, and connects Hardwick Circus with the large stone walls of the Castle. It contains a hedge maze, various leisure facilities, and a statue of Queen Victoria in the centre, shown above, surrounded by neat flower beds. The Eden flows around the Northern edge of the park, and meets with the river Caldew to form one river which then runs out to the Solway Firth near Gretna.
The top of Debenhams is visible at the very front of this picture, and if you look up the road to the left (called Lowther Street) you will see two circular figures of the Citadel Towers at the end of the road. These identical towers were built between 1810 and 1811, and were designed by Thomas Telford (1757 – 1834, famous Scottish Civil Engineer) although the designs were finished off by Sir Robert Smirke (1780 – 1867, English Architect). The road that leads up to, and through the gap between the towers is called Botchergate and the original gate that guarded the city was located at the South End of the street. This was superseded by a 16th century gate built by Stephan von Haschenperg (circa 1540’s) an architect from Moravia, a historic country that now forms part of the Czech Republic. He was employed by Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) to create the gate. This in turn preceded the present Citadel, which houses courts and a prison, although the towers are mainly used as offices for Cumbria County Council today. The East Tower (the one in full view) has some original 16th century foundations remaining.
Just to the right of the West Tower, but out of shot, is the Citadel Station, the only station in Carlisle, located on the West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow/Edinburgh, with local services all over Cumbria, as well as regional destinations including Newcastle, Preston and Birmingham.
The crowning glory for the fantastic views of Carlisle has to be the hills of the Lake District, visible in the distance to the South of the city. They provide a great backdrop for one of the North’s most historic cities, and who knows what adventures await us on the horizon. I hope you are intrigued enough to check out my dedicated post on the city of Carlisle, and it’s many treasures, which you can find here.