EXCURSIONS / Trail and error: Boarded-up churches, nite clubs and OAP homes. Phil Harriss blazes the Scunthorpe Heritage Trail

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The Independent Culture
The publication of the Scunthorpe Heritage Trail leaflet marks an important point in British history - the final frontier has fallen and the entire country will soon become a place of Heritage, prone to camcorders, cream teas and codswallop. But there's some way to go.

A look of incredulity appeared on the Scunthorpe librarians' faces when they were asked for a leaflet. 'We must get some more of these,' said one, handing over their last (their only?) copy.

'The town of Scunthorpe is often held to be architecturally bland and uninteresting . . . ' the leaflet begins, every inch the holiday brochure. The trail starts near the town's exemplary museum, the prize exhibit of which is the Appleby Long Boat, a Bronze Age construction that was dredged out of a local river in the 1940s.

St Lawrence's Church is the first edifice on the trail. Although of medieval ancestry, it was largely rebuilt in the 19th century and subsequent 'improvements' have left it a squat, lowly building. As it is kept locked, the glories within remain hidden.

The leaflet provides a drawing of the next attraction; 6 Doncaster Road occupies that part of town where juggernauts are impatiently revved before hitting the open road. Though to the untrained eye it may seem a nondescript Victorian dwelling, it was built as a farmhouse from local ironstone. Livestock has now given way to a car sales room and a nite (sic) club that features a huge effigy of an African explorer stuck to its facade.

The Crosby Hotel (No 3 on the trail) occupies almost identical surroundings to the previous tourist trap. This time the nite club is called JJ's and the car sales room has a car-wash. Inside, a couple of locals grumble into their bitter about the mixed fortunes of Scunthorpe Town FC. They seem unaware of their august surroundings.

Without the leaflet, drab might seem the only word to describe the trail's fourth stop: 34 High Street was built as a bank in 1890 and appears a model of dull propriety. Yet its grey-stained frontage perfectly reflects the building's unremarkable history: bank, then municipal offices, now teachers' centre.

The most noteworthy building in Scunthorpe's town centre is its Anglican church, an incongruity amid the stark 1960s environs. A recent attempt to harmonise the structure with its surroundings involved the porch being filled with concrete, thus preventing squatters, vandals, worshippers or Heritage-Trail enthusiasts gaining entry. An unknown artist with a limited knowledge of ecclesiology has inscribed the exterior with anti-Catholic graffiti. A mongrel dog has added its pennyworth. According to the leaflet, the church retains the feel of a high-quality Victorian Gothic Revival building. The gargoyles are pleasingly revolting, and, miraculously, the clock still works.

Numbers 9 to 12 on the trail are sited in New Frodingham, a model village constructed in the 1870s for labourers at Scunthorpe's ironworks. The terraced housing (No 9) could be described as quaint, though unfortunately half the dwellings are boarded up and look ripe for demolition. There is more life at the Coronation Hall (No 10), which has seen service as library, hospital and public meeting place. Recently, it provided a much-needed venue for Dee Levene 'vocal showgirl act'.

The final sight to which Scunthorpe's holidaymakers are directed is Brumby Hall, the oldest domestic building in town. Its south porch bears the date 1637, but inside most early features have been removed. The hall is now used as a nursing home and the elderly residents seem to regard approaching sightseers with some distress.

So will Scunthorpe be a success as a tourist destination? The town's motto, 'The heavens reflect our labours', perhaps holds the answer. If the Celestial City does indeed mirror Scunthorpe, this Humberside settlement is set to become a place of pilgrimage for millions interested in the afterlife. And thanks to the Heritage Trail, their road will be paved with good intentions.

Heritage Trail leaflets from the Museum, Oswald Rd, Scunthorpe (0724 843533)

(Photograph omitted)