Almost every place in the country seems to have at least one claim to fame: the biggest, the smallest, the earliest, youngest, the oldest. In the case of Workington, the town was until recently home to Britain's oldest barmaid. Minnie Johnston, who sadly died last month aged 97, spent 80 years of her life pulling pints at the George IV pub where she lived. Ironically, she was a teetotaller; maybe it was all those years being exposed to beer fumes that did it. Minnie went out in style in a horse-drawn funeral carriage with hundreds of people attending the funeral. So let's raise a glass to Minnie, who I am sure is much missed.
Workington has a proud industrial past, but as is so often the case the present is somewhat different. Coal from the collieries that once surrounded the town used to be shipped from the harbour, but this has now ceased. The other major industry which has since gone is steel manufacture. One of the most successful exports arising from the latter was the steel rails which were made in the town and which were sent all over the world. Present-day economic activity includes chemicals, recycling computers and the continued use of the docks which were built during the steelmaking days. Workington stands at the mouth of the River Derwent, and although much of it is industrial in appearance Portland Square with its 18th-century houses surrounding a cobbled area with trees is one of the more picturesque spots. Surprisingly, for a town of its size, Workington has three theatres: the Carnegie Theatre, the Theatre Royal and the Workington Opera House. There is a campaign underway to save the Opera House, which is under threat of demolition.
On the outskirts of town is Curwen Park with the ruined Workington Hall. This was the last refuge of Mary Queen of Scots, who spent some time here during May 1568 after fleeing from Scotland, just before the imprisonment which led up to her execution. Opposite the Hall is a Georgian building housing the Helena Thompson Museum, which tells the story of Workington's past. Nature lovers should head a mile to the north, where the Siddick Pond Nature Reserve provides a wetland habitat for wildfowl and other species and a chance for twitchers to watch the wildlife from a lakeside hide. There is another nature reserve south of the town at Harrington, with woodland walks and rare meadows.
Map of the area.
|Photo by Pat Pierpoint, via Wikimedia Commons|