Lancashire nostalgia in 1997: Virgin territory, Ripper riddle and PNE weddings

Here's a look at some of the stories that were making the headlines back in 1997:
Richard Branson's Virgin Rail Group has won the bid for the West Coast rail lineRichard Branson's Virgin Rail Group has won the bid for the West Coast rail line
Richard Branson's Virgin Rail Group has won the bid for the West Coast rail line

Branson on right track for North West Virgin territory

Virgin tycoon Richard Branson has expanded his business after winning the bid for the InterCity West Coast rail line.

Branson’s Virgin Rail Group was named as the preferred bidder by the Office of Passenger Rail Franchising.

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The national bus company Stagecoach and freight and leasing company Sea Containers also bid for the line - the last of the major rail routes being sold off.

The privatisation is seen as crucial to the economy of the North West as it is the vital rail lifeline to the south and to Europe. But it is also in need of major investment to bring it up to date.

InterCity West Coast operates passenger rail services between London Euston and the West Midlands, North Wales and the North West of England, including Preston, and Scotland. It links London with some of the country’s biggest cities, including Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow.

Final offers were received on January 30.

The deal makes Branson’s Virgin empire one of the biggest players in the rail service industry, the privatisation of which began 12 months ago.

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In January Virgin Rail took over the Cross-Country franchise running services from Glasgow to Bournemouth and from Brighton to Edinburgh. Branson also unveiled the new bright red colours of Cross-Country train.

Plea to solve Jack the Ripper riddle

A writer is appealing to people in Lancaster to help her trace the history of a watch which could identify infamous killer Jack the Ripper.

The watch was given to a Mrs Suzanne Murphy by her father Henry, who ran Firth Antiques in Lancaster.

A close examination of the timepiece revealed the eerie words: “J.Maybrick. I am Jack” and initials which match five of the Victorian killer’s Whitechapel victims.

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Writer Shirley Harrison is keen to dig deeper into the history of the watch which was sold to Firth Antiques about 15 years ago.

James Maybrick was a cotton merchant who died in 1889. He was believed by some academics to be the Ripper.

The killer was never caught and his identity remains a mystery that has captured the imagination of writers and crime buffs.

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Look back at a selection of pictures from 1997 here

Goal for PNE fans wanting to wed

Soccer fans who want to tie the knot at Preston North End’s Deepdale ground have finally got a winning result.

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North End has been granted a licence by town registrars to host marriage ceremonies in the Great Room and West Room in the newly-built Tom Finny Stand.

Newlyweds will also be able to kick off their celebrations with a tour of the club which could include meeting the players and a stroll on the pitch.

The club has been inundated with calls from engaged fans whose dream wedding would be on home ground at the famous Deepdale ground.

Now the deal has been signed and sealed following an inspection during which the ground passed Lancashire council and fire regulations with flying colours.