Clitheroe doesn’t shout or seek attention. It’s an unremarkable, yet pleasant, bustling, Lancashire market town in the Ribble valley; worth spending time in. I like it very much. The population is around 15,000, it has an array of good independent shops, the usual chain stores - and the bits, common to every human habitation in the world, that somebody should either tidy up or hide from public view. To the north is the glowering mass of the Forest of Bowland; to the south, Pendle Hill, famed for its witches.
One of Clitheroe’s most prominent and enduring landmarks is its castle. Probably built in the 12th century, possibly on the site of an earlier fort, it sits open to the elements on an isolated limestone lump, dominating the town below. There’s not much left of it: a tiny keep – one of the smallest in England – and a portion of curtain wall. A museum is housed in the 18th century steward’s house, with an adjacent café serving good cakes and indifferent coffee. The castle was the seat of the ancient Lords of Bowland. During the Civil War it was garrisoned by Royalist troops and, in 1649, ‘slighted’ by Parliamentarians – which means they made a damn great hole in it so that it couldn’t easily be used again.
Clitheroe Castle is surrounded by 16 acres of public space, which includes a bandstand, skate park, gardens – and its war memorial. One of the legacies of the First World War is up to an estimated 100,000 war memorials all over Britain, ensuring that we never forget the men (mostly) from every farm, factory, village, town and shire who left their homes, and those who never came back. The people that went were forged by their neighbourhoods, shaped by a history shared with a thousand other communities. The construction of their memorials, mostly during the 1920s, was a unique occurrence. Every year, on or around the anniversary of the Armistice – the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns finally fell silent – services take place at these cenotaphs and wreaths of red poppies are laid.
Clitheroe’s memorial shows a soldier, head bowed and arms reversed, looking over his town below and to Pendle Hill beyond. It was unveiled in 1923 and the inscription reads: “Erected by the inhabitants of Clitheroe in grateful remembrance of their fellow townsmen who gave their lives in defence of their king and country in the Great War 1914 – 1918.” The good citizens of Clitheroe made the mistake of thinking it was ‘the war to end all wars’; the memorial commemorates 324 sons who died in the First World War and a further 72 from the Second.
The sculptor of Clitheroe’s memorial was Louis Frederick Roslyn, who produced monuments across the land from Basingstoke to Wetherby. He was born in Lambeth, London, and changed his name to Roslyn from Roselieb during the war. Roslyn’s father was a German – appropriately, in my view. I do not believe these memorials were erected in a spirit of narrow nationalism; far from it, they were set up out of love and respect, and so that generations would remember the terrible ease with which precious life can be carelessly erased - irrespective of its origins. So, whilst Clitheroe has its own particular character, in terms of its position in history, especially over the last century or so, it could represent us all. And, like most of us, Anytown is special; yet also unremarkable.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), Lancashire poet.