Book review: Lancaster History Tour by Jon Sparks

Since the Romans built a fort in the area in about 80AD, Lancaster has grown from a small town supplying goods to its invaders into a bustling city packed with history and well-known landmarks.
Lancaster History Tour by Jon SparksLancaster History Tour by Jon Sparks
Lancaster History Tour by Jon Sparks

Photographer and writer Jon Sparks lived in Lancaster for over 30 years and knows almost every nook and cranny of this fascinating city, so who better to take us on a nostalgic photographic tour through its characterful streets and magnificent array of buildings?

From the famous castle, which dates back to the 12th century, to the meandering St George’s Quay, built in 1750 during Lancaster’s Golden Age as a port, Sparks reveals the history behind familiar landmarks.

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Like many towns and cities, Lancaster has lost a few treasures over the centuries since its foundations as a Roman settlement but it has managed to retain much of its cultural charm with some sympathetic restoration and and new architectural projects.

Sparks, who has travelled the world as a photographer, reckons the city is eminently photogenic with its two hills and river curves creating a rare variety of vistas.

He bemoans the glaring gaps left in Lancaster by the decision not to rebuild the old Market Hall destroyed in a fire in 1984 and the wholesale destruction of acres of housing and employment in the 1960s and 70s which left the ‘eastern corridor’ little better than a series of ‘windswept and puddle-strewn car parks.’

But there is also much to celebrate, like the sympathetic blending of old and new achieved at the White Cross Mills site, the redevelopment of the quay and the closure of the prison at Lancaster Castle allowing the public the thrill of walking through the famous John O’Gaunt Gate for the first time.

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Lancaster History Tour has a wealth of impressive images and memories… visit the old Golden Lion pub where, it is claimed, the Pendle Witches were allowed a last drink on their final journey and enjoy picturesque Williamson Park, created from a cluster of disused quarries around 1879-81.

Take a look at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary shortly after it first opened its doors in 1896, see King George V waving to the crowds from a horse-drawn carriage in Dalton Square when he visited the city in 1912 and enjoy old photos of the King’s Arms Hotel, founded in 1625 and noted for its inclusion in Charles Dickens’s story The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices.

There is so much to enjoy here for Lancastrians young and old as we travel back through time to see the city and its history brought to life by a fascinating fusion of words and pictures.

(Amberley Publishing, paperback, £6.99)

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