Wednesday, July 09, 2008

(You're) Welcome to Welshpool

It's an invitation that's hard to refuse for a nosey parker such as myself - 'Be a tourist in your own town'.

The usual suspects, Museum, Town Hall and Library et al have mounted themed exhibitions. Churches have flung wide their doors. The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway entices with a walk along the line (and for the weary a welcome train ride home). The town's 'sink' estate, into which significant civic funds are no doubt funneled, mounts its own upbeat retrospective display: 'Oldfield Past and Present'. Sadly I missed the FĂȘte at the Vicarage. We are offered quizzes, historical talks and historical walks. I am impressed. What a terrific initiative. A small nagging voice within says 'How unlike Welshpool'.

But onwards and upwards. I'll go and check out The Cockpit today. It is as the name suggests a - err - Cockpit, a place where cocks fought. It is hard today to imagine a more despicable activity but 300 years ago this was the sport de nos jours. It is apparently the only such building in its original position in Wales - which these days is adjacent to the NatWest car park but originally stood to the rear of a pub, the Castle Inn, previously on that site.

The building is handsome enough; a hexagonal structure of red brick under a slate roof. Indoors the walls are rounded and the floor is roughly cobbled. This cobbled floor would originally have seated a low and circular central pen, strewn with sawdust, into which birds would be released to spar. Tiered benches would have risen steeply around this 'pit' - those at ground level reserved for the punters with money to place on a likely bird, while those without would ascend to the seats at the top of the house. A little imagination can fill this place with the roar of 150 voices urging on a bloody fight........

At some time in the building's history, presumably after 1849 when cockfighting was prohibited by Act of Parliament, the tiers and 'pit' were removed and an upper storey was added. I guess it made sense to make use of the building and here was valuable storage space. Its last known use was as the garage for the town's Post Office van and when restoration took place in the mid 1970s it was restored to the condition it was found in then, leaving its distasteful but undeniable history inaccurately and inadequately displayed. A bit of a Welshpool situation here I think. Nearly. But not quite nearly enough.

Montgomeryshire Women's Institute plan to use it as offices in the near future. The incongruity of all that leaves me at a loss for words.

Later, however, up the road came an unexpected gem amongst the civic certainties - a private house, opened and proudly displayed by its generous owners. Tiny, timber-framed - wattle and daub and wood paneling lovingly restored and burnished, bursting with antiques. These kind and trusting people allowed visitors to explore their house - formerly the home and workshop of the town's cooper - and their delightful garden. (This tiny space had mystery, wit, surprise and beautiful planting, and although little bigger than the average sitting room encouraged the visitor to go and explore. Perfect.) Sorry, no photos of either - I felt these were both private spaces.

Tomorrow I think there is just time to fit in a 'Guided Tour of the Town Hall', (apparently there are cells in the basement) and the 'Archaeological Guided Walk of the Town' in the evening is tempting too. Back to normal in Welshpool next week no doubt.


Rachel said...

What an interesting post! But sadly, cockfighting still goes on (very big business in the Dominican Republic, apparently) and the Bristol Evening Post reported only last May that the RSPCA were bringing such a case to court. The law might change, but it would seem that human beings don't, much.... Cherish those chooks of yours!

Anil P said...

Cockfighting is to be found in India as well. Though outlawed it takes place away from the media glare.

It's a shame how it was left to the birds to "entertain" losers.

Nikki-ann said...

I've never spent much time in Welshpool, but now I work there I guess I should have a proper look around especially as some of my ancestors lived there!

snailbeachshepherdess said...

wasn't there cock fighting in Marton as well? seem to remember the old miners congreating over there for that very sport.

elizabethm said...

What a great post! cockfighting? I don't know how to respond but the buildings make my heart sing.