Thursday, July 10, 2008

Day 2 of The Great Tour of Welshpool

The best thing about being a tourist in your home town (apart from satisfying super-natural curiosity) is that there is no major investment involved getting there and no subsequent regret when it all turns out to be a bit of a damp squib and thus a waste of precious time and money.

Welshpool's Town Hall - the venue for today's guided tour - is a case in point. On a scale which runs from 'VERY' to 'dull' today's visit would rank as 'quite interesting - maybe'. Marks were gained early on by the promise of an hour under cover - on an extremely rainy day that was quite an enticement. Our guide, a Councilor was enthusiastic too - so points gained there.

I do hope the building's dilapidated state was due to ongoing refurbishments - a lift is being installed to take an increasingly vociferous and entitled populace from ground to first floor - to use the new lavatories which await installation or (perhaps less urgently) to visit the Council Chamber. Until then we must walk up the 30 steps which take us from the utilitarian market halls below to the faded grandeur above. A dusty function room - crying out for the swish of crinoline and the Council Chamber, refurbished as recently as 1938, were reasonably interesting. But then across the corridor came quite a surprise. The ghost of Justice past: a capacious Court Room.

This room - used until very recently - is a complicated amalgam of pitch-pine benches, desks and seats. (I notice that someone has thoughtfully covered over the desks' inkwells with a square of hardboard - a recognition that the dip-pen is no longer used, even in these parts.) Decorative ironwork fences the dock which caged the accused and their escorting officers. Up front sat the 'beak'. To his right the jury. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution took places in front of the dock as did clerks and ushers. The public gallery is to the left of my picture.












Stand in the dock for a while - imagine yourself up on a charge of sheep-stealing: you and the Judge are eye to eye, your defense is shaky. He has a comfy chair to sit on. You have but a broad rail on which to lean and to grasp when things get tough. (Remember you could be hanged for such an offense and Welshpool had its own 'Gallows Lane'.) You are railed in and are the focal point of the Court. It is an imposing place. In past times no doubt because of its grandeur and today because, well, places just aren't like this anymore.

Loose your grip from that sturdy bar in the dock - it's to the front rhs of the picture - and go down to the cells. (Sent down...) The stairs are fairly steep - so mind your head. That 'elf and safety' message is spelt out now and there is padding in place so the unwary don't knock themselves out. The cells too are presumably a shadow of their former selves - prisoners now have 'right's' and comfort is one of them. The cells are now used as storerooms - it looks like a ream of paper in 2008 has a more comfortable life than a c19th felon. I think we were all looking forward to seeing chains, shackles and the rack.....

Why is it I ask myself that this stuff is so fascinating and we want it extant - to be - even though it patently is no longer fit for purpose? (Indeed Welshpool's court has moved to more suitable premises in the town and there is talk of something regional and purpose-built in the pipe-line.) It's a bit like the churches which enhance our landscape and offer lovely venues for weddings - we want them there but, by and large, don't want to think about the cost of a new roof.

I'm glad this place is here - although I suspect its future will see it rearranged and walls and ceilings inserted where walls and ceilings didn't ought to be. But, hey! this is Welshpool.

Finally some of the Hatchments from around the room:

14 comments:

Cowgirl said...

Well, good for you for flying the flag. I learnt something new re; the origins of being "sent down"!

On your previous post: I have to say the building (if not it's purpose - yuk!) was very appealing - would make a lovely addition to our B&B accommodations if you'd like to ship it my way! Come stay at the Cock Pit!

Crystal Jigsaw said...

An amazing room, one which I doubt many of us would want to go into on charges! I expect sitting in blue chair alone would make on look incredibly important.

CJ xx

Elizabethd said...

The hatchments caught my eye, I'd love to study them in more detail. Fascinating tour, thank you.

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

I love all the woodwork. Find the idea of standing in a court terrifying. Went to Edinburgh dungeons . . . where as a tourist I stood trial - I misbehaved so much - I got 'sent down' . . . but in reality I thought how frightening to be really standing there - then went to the dungeons and torture chambers and felt quite sick seeing the equipment that man used to torture his fellow man, or woman.

Like your blog alert - where did you get that from. Very clever.

ChrisH said...

What a novel idea and very interesting... is that your finger waiting to be sent down?

Nikki-ann said...

I don't think I've ever been upstairs at Welshpool's Town Hall... Actually, I only went around the market there for the first time a few weeks ago!

Cait O'Connor said...

Very grand building, have you been to the Judge's bBuilding in Presteigne?

snailbeachshepherdess said...

WOW! had never seen these even though had sent staff to work there on a number of occasions. Echoing Cait ...have you seen Judges Lodgings in Presteigne?
Just where are you off to next I wonder?

elizabethm said...

Wow. We let these places slide away into decline and tawdry faded embarrassment. Then they mean nothing to us. Probably the only thing that starts them into life again is a BBC programme about finding one's roots.

Ragged Roses said...

I found this so interesting, thank you. I like being a tourist in my town too, you discover things you have taken for granted for too long. Shame about the weather conditions though
Kimx

Milkmaid said...

Very interesting, we are having an over night in Shrewsbury in August, would be nice to stay a little longer in the area and explore too

Faith said...

Sent a shiver down my spine, not sure why really!

Blossomcottage said...

You post made me think how many of these buildings over the past 50 years have been pulled down and replaced by a souless modern building, all that beautiful woodwork and workmanship lost forever, thank you for the trip I love the history of this amazing place we live in and I am so glad that people are making more effort to keep our heritage intact.
Blossom

Pipany said...

I love the idea of touristing (?) in your own town Mountaineer - I might do this sometime with the kids to get a fresh take on the place. More please! xx