Golcar, streets ahead in the Colne Valley

PUBLISHED: 21:29 14 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:05 20 February 2013

The parish church of St John the Evangelist

The parish church of St John the Evangelist

Penny Wainwright visits a former textile town that has blossomed in the Colne Valley. Take walking boots and a camera, advises one guide to Golcar. It's a good tip: they're invaluable for climbing its steep streets and cobbled ginnels.

The precipitous side of this Pennine valley is what helped Golcar's textile trade to flourish. It was ideal terrain for weavers to set up their looms in cottages where natural light was unobstructed. Many of Golcar's cottages still feature the rows of windows that stretch right across the top storey.

The handlooms are long gone but today the cottages make desirable residences. Walking is the best way to get around Golcar where cars compete for limited space. There's a small, free car park (often full) and on-street parking, which can lead to a few challenges for bus drivers trying to navigate the narrow gap left on the main street, a particular problem when there's a service at St John's Church.

The walking-boots-and-camera advice is not just for visitors. Three ladies who live locally came into JJ's Caf in the village centre equipped with both. They had met to plan this year's Golcar Lily Day and had brought the camera to record some local landmarks for inclusion in a Golcar ginnel trail they were devising.

Why lily? It's Golcar's emblem. The first recorded use was in 1817 but its origins are much older and most likely go back to the Huguenots, whose symbol was the lily, and who fled from religious persecution in France in the 16th century, settling in the Colne Valley where they could find plenty of the raw materials for their famous weaving skills.

So Lily Day was a fitting title for the local festival which was started only last year but looks set to become an annual fixture. Sue Starr is credited by her friends Lenore Beaumont and Betty Taylor with being the driving force behind the festival, but they are all keen to emphasise that it's a collaborative effort.

'Betty designed the plaques for the trail because she has artistic flair,' said Lenore. 'And local businesses are very supportive.' The idea behind Lily Day was to bring the community together.

'When I think about Golcar, I think of music and food,'

said Sue, 'so we set about opening buildings and filling them with music and food.' The 'l' might be silent in Golcar and Colne, but the festival certainly isn't. Churches and halls in the area resound to brass bands, New Orleans jazz, even Jewish klesma music. A stage is erected at Town End in the centre of the village and the car park becomes a market for the day, the stalls with their striped awnings adding to the colourful scene along with Morris dancers, a maypole and a beer tent.

The first Lily Day was held last May. Hundreds of people came. The local museum had 1,000 people through its doors, some of whom had never visited before even though it's on their own doorstep. The specially baked Lily Day loaves soon sold out and the Golcar Lily sausages and locally brewed beer were equally popular.

But the effects of the festival go beyond the day itself. People who hadn't spoken for years were later seen chatting on street corners and an environmental group was formed which organised litter collection and daffodil planting. Two community shops selling donated items raised a remarkable 12,000 in a year, funds that go back into local projects through grants.

'We involve the schools,' said Sue. 'People are digging out old photos and we're hoping to produce a book.' 'We're also hoping to revive the Golcar Sing,' added Betty. 'The original cricket ground venue might not be too popular this year though because there is a match scheduled so they are looking for some other alternatives.' Betty's grandfather had been organist at the church.

The organ at St John's is rather a special one, made by famous Leeds organ builder James Binns in 1903. It's a massive structure, occupying the whole of the balcony at the back of the church, which is one of the so-called 'Waterloo' churches, built with money provided by the government in thanks for the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. Golcar's musical tradition is given full vent in an annual show put on at St John's.

This year it's called 'I'm a pantomime celebrity, magic me out of here!' with words by Sue Starr and music by choir leader Margaret Laycock. Meanwhile, at the back of the church the community room is host to a weekly lunch club. Here's another example of Golcar folk working together, with helpers drawn from Anglican, Baptist and Methodist congregations all cheerfully busy in the kitchen. They could teach Gordon Ramsay a thing or two. Food for the lunches - a roast or pie and vegetables plus pudding - served to the elderly members for only 2.50, is all supplied by local trades people.

Butcher Michael Thewlis not only supplies the meat but cooks it too. His shop is practically next door to the church. There's a mouthwatering display of pies and pasties, all made on the premises from Michael's own recipes. 'If we don't make it, we don't sell it,' says Michael, who trained as a chef and helped build the reputation of Golcar's famous Weaver's Shed restaurant where he worked for a few years. The butcher's shop sits in the village's small but comprehensive parade where you can also find a bakery, florist, pictureframers and gift shop, a Co-op supermarket, chemist and a Post Office that, according to the sub postmistress, is not going to close.

It's a thriving and friendly community - Lenore comes from Kent and says she was never made to feel like a comer-in. Why not go and see Golcar for yourself... and when better than Lily Day? Make a note in your diary now for May 10th.

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