Lancashire, Where Women Die of Love, by Charles Nevin

A whimsical tour of the red rose county
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The Independent Culture

I must declare two interests. Charles Nevin was a Daily Telegraph colleague from the days of sensible editors and honest proprietors, and one of the nicest people in old Fleet Street. We are both Lancastrians, though he lives in Somerset and I, sotto voce, in Yorkshire.

I must declare two interests. Charles Nevin was a Daily Telegraph colleague from the days of sensible editors and honest proprietors, and one of the nicest people in old Fleet Street. We are both Lancastrians, though he lives in Somerset and I, sotto voce, in Yorkshire.

He has written a delectable book about the county, telling us that pole-vaulting was invented in Ulveston while "the Fisherman's Friend formula of liquorice, capsicum, eucalyptus and menthol" was first mixed by James Lofthouse in his Fleetwood chemist's in 1865. His subtitle is a quotation from Balzac. Napoleon III may have got the idea for the Grands Boulevards in Paris from Lord Street, Southport. Of course!

This is a great sweep of gently megalomaniac nationalism for a county chopped fine, with bits given to something called "Cumbria" by politicians with a tin ear for history. Nevin is for the old county entire, with its soft/ shrewd personality, a red rose rampant defying set-mouthed Yorkshire and the transplanted Surrey of Cheshire.

Wonderfully, he defines outer Blackpool: "The Illuminations stopped at Bispham which gives the places beyond it a certain Christ-stopped-at-Eboli look." Deeply loyal, he attempts a case for Liverpool, conceding all the reasons for prejudice against Remittance City: entrepot for the slave trade, home to Cilla Black, the gravediggers' strike, Derek Hatton and sullen resentment. This full-time professional victim, he says coolly, expects billions when it becomes European City of Culture.

Bases are touched, and hugged, the Rugby League ("when Tom Van Vollenhoven was on the wing for St Helen's...") being strictly for consenting adults. There's Coronation Street, where he was once a call boy around the set and can tell us that snobbish Annie Walker (Doris Speed) was as nice as old ladies come off-screen, while sweet Minnie Caldwell (Margot Bryant) was "horrible, a foul-mouthed old cantanker".

Despite larkishness, affection and anecdotalism, there is no escaping the pain - otherwise cotton. Without that plant, wrote a Bury mill manager, "the great masses of men which stretch like a living zone through our central districts would have had no existence." Another cotton man, travelling in Asia, finds someone "clothed in garments with which our industrious countrymen have dressed him".

The great masses have shrunk, with many Asians caught up in the shrinking. Glodwick, the part of Oldham where the Wesleyan Pearces lived before they escaped to Chadderton, is now chiefly Muslim. Classic heavy industry requires competitive labour; Asian workers come, work hard, are resented, but get by. Classic heavy industry implodes; whites and Asians share the same non-inheritance of empty factories and steep streets, and turn intermittently upon each other. And, as Nevin says, "Chadderton was a bit depressing too."

The reviewer's book 'Reform!' is published by Pimlico

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