Northallerton knows how to entertain
PUBLISHED: 00:16 05 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:24 20 February 2013
North Yorkshire's county town will leave you with a smile as broad as its High Street, says Chris Titley Photographs by Joan Russell
You might expect Northallerton to be a little stand-offish. After all, it carries the burden of being both the county town of North Yorkshire and HQ to all manner of important institutions: the police, the fire service, Hambleton and county councils among them.
There is certainly a grandeur about that broad High Street, and the imposing buildings which house the bigwigs the 1906 County Hall and Newby Wiske, a 17th century listed pile now home to the police force.But if you were expecting Northallerton to display a London-like haughtiness, youd be surprised.
Perhaps it is the ancient, twice-weekly market, or its history of welcoming travellers via coach and train, but the town is effortlessly friendly.Traditionally in Northallerton you get a true Yorkshire welcome.
People are very friendly. Weve had new people come into the town, theyve all remarked what a friendly place it is and how nice it is to come and work here, says the Mayor of Northallerton, John Coulson.The town has managed to hang on to most of its built history.
The Joe Cornish Gallery moved into a building on Zetland Street which, when it opened in 1782, was one of only four register offices in the country.The town hall itself is quite an historic building, says John. Bettys is in an old building which was the Midland Bank house a lovely place when you look at it and go inside.
Northallerton has kept its character because it has been able to keep a lot of its earlier buildings and adapt them to the modern age.Close to the town hall is The Fleece, said to be the oldest house in the town. An old friary was here before, and some of its stonework may have been incorporated in The Fleeces walls.
Charles Dickens was an admirer he stayed here in the mid-1800s.Unusually Northallertons a town still thriving on local entrepreneurship. Hotels and restaurants like The Golden Lion, The Tickle Toby and The Pepper Mill are run by local families.
Many of our stores are still family owned. When you come into our High Street you will see names of families that have been with us for a long time and given excellent service over the years, he said.
It does make a difference. I get out and about and go to other towns quite a lot and I dont see the family firms like I see in Northallerton.The directors of department store Barkers have given a lot back to the town, says John. And without Lewis & Cooper, described recently by The Times as the Harrods of the North, Christmas just wouldnt be the same.
The stores plum puddings are sold at Selfridges, Fenwicks, The National Trust and other outlets around the country. Lewis & Coopers eight kitchen staff work all year round to hand-make the puddings; last year they produced 46,000, all to a 100-year-old recipe.This year the puddings were awarded a three-star Gold Taste Award from the Guild of Fine Food.
And the store was also awarded two stars for its fruit cakes.Once the shops have closed and night falls, Northallertons lively arts scene comes to life.
The Northallerton Musical Theatre Company stages two productions each year, a songs-from-the-shows compilation in April and a full-scale musical in October.This year it was The Wizard of Oz. No cheap and cheerful amateur production this; it cost 26,000 to stage, with a proper orchestra and a committed cast.
The town responded with near full houses every night.The Allerton Players put on straight plays and now the Northallerton Amateur Variety Company is gearing up for its annual pantomime which this year is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.We auditioned local children to be the dwarves, says Maureen Willoughby, who is secretary to both the musical theatre and variety companies.
We had tears from the ones who were disappointed but weve got some incredibly talented children in Northallerton with lovely singing voices. Thats a pat on the back to the schools which encourage singing and drama.Maureen has lived in Northallerton all her life. Ive been involved in the musical theatre company and the variety company for about 35 years. Weve done an awful lot of shows in that time, she said. The town and the area round about support us really well.
Were grateful for that.All these shows are performed at the Hambleton Forum on Bullamoor Road. The council now wants to relinquish running this popular leisure centre, host to sports groups, a cinema club, concerts and much else, to save money. It is hoping volunteers from the town will take over the forum.
The Hambleton Forum is a wonderful venue. It seats about 400 people. Its not used just by us; its used during the day by U3A, boxing, badminton. But its under threat because of government cutbacks, said Maureen.At the moment theres a lot of work going on trying to get it to be a community-led venture manned by volunteers.
That hasnt come to anything yet. Were just praying were not going to lose the venue because if we do Northallerton will lose the heart of its performing arts.In the meantime Northallerton is gearing up for Christmas.
We have our Christmas light up as usual, provided by the town council, said Mr Coulson. We have an excellent tree provided to us by RAF Leeming. Its a festive town and we look forward to people coming to it.
Getting there: Northallerton can be reached by car from the A1 to the west or the A19 to the east. It takes up to 30 minutes by train from York
Where to park: Parking is available along the High Street and at Applegarth and East Road car parks
What to do: Visit the bustling market, every Wednesday and Saturday. Follow the Northallerton Town Trail, a guide to the most historic buildings: download from visit-northallerton.com