A “deep seated, long established, irrepressible love” of Lancaster inspired an author to write a gothic novella about the city’s “darker realities”.
The Silent Tomb of Mr Castletown (An Education For Miss Verity Goodsense) by “Anne Nomminus”, looks at the effect that the university has had on Lancaster over the last 50 years, using fictional characters and a satirical tone.
It also explores the city’s late night economy through the eyes of prospective student Verity Goodsense and her parents, looking particularly at alcohol fuelled behaviour and the late night drinking culture.
Other characters in the book, including Mr Castletown, who represents the city, and Dr Betterment, who is Lancaster University, exemplify the author’s take on Lancaster and the view that it has “never reached its full potential”.
Although the book doesn’t specifically mention Lancaster, many of its landmarks, including the university and the Moor Hospital, as well as references to the city’s history, are there.
In the book, St George’s Quay is “a silted up quayside with no boats and a river we can’t use”. Mr Castletown’s plan is to create a road bridge over the river downstream from the quay, with sluices and a weir, to regulate the water and create a full river which could be used for sailing, canoeing, regattas and other watersports.
He says in the book: “The quayside would be alive again for the first time in 100 years and restaurants, cafes and businesses would be born and thrive.” But he goes on to say: “These are just dreams Verity. No one, now, will push these through”.
The author has chosen not to be identified, but agreed to answer questions posed by the Lancaster Guardian. The writer said: “I wanted to explore some of the darker realities of the city in an imaginative way that stimulates the reader into asking questions and that encourages wider debate – something of a balance to the chocolate box version of Lancaster we often see depicted in contemporary prints and post cards.
“That childish, poster colour version that we all know doesn’t exist.”
The author said they had watched and experienced Lancaster for many years, spending some time living in the city centre, and part of the problem was a “lack of energy and dynamism in Lancaster Town Hall”.
But much of the book focusses on anti-social and drunken behaviour in the city centre after dark - conjuring up images of urine soaked alleyways, broken pavements and glass, foul language and young people sick from alcohol.
“The book is fictional, it concerns itself with one particular aspect of the city’s culture but anyone who lives or works in the city centre at night – the police, restaurants, bars, taxi drivers, A&E will know that none of the events in the book are exaggerated.”
The author says that the book is not “anti-youth” or “anti-student”, but argues that the city centre should not just be a late night playground for students and locals. The writer points out that with the explosion of student accommodation taking over former pubs, offices and shops in the city centre, the problem is only going to get worse. “I think it should also be a place where non-students, families even, can live, work and enjoy themselves. “Where people of all ages can walk around comfortably in their own city after dark. It’s been a few years since the licensing laws were changed to allow 24 hour drinking. You have to ask yourself, has it created the ‘continental cafe society’ that we were promised. Go into town at 2am or 3am on certain nights and see for yourself.”
It’s a view shared by Dave Forshaw, Lancaster Police’s licensing officer, who disagrees with anything that encourages excessive drinking. “With regards to the idea of a continental cafe society, I don’t think the changes have had a positive effect. One of the problems is drinks promotions. It’s not expressly forbidden for licensed premises to use drinks promotions, and the other side of it is that it’s a way of bringing business through the door. But we can’t regulate pricing.
“I would need to link the promotion with the consequences, for example criminal behaviour, as a direct result, but that is very difficult.We don’t condone excessive drinking. It’s bad from a health point of view, and it makes people very vulnerable.”
Tim Tomlinson, chair of Lancaster Pub Watch, said that compared to other towns and cities, Lancaster was “quiet and well managed”.
“The bigger issue is the ‘front loading’, where people buy cheaper drinks from a supermarket and then come out later, already drunk. But, in general, Lancaster has got a strong network and good door staff. Things tend to be nipped in the bud very quickly. Many of the incidents we do get though are those that happen late at night, at 2am or 3am, but generally, there are only a handful.
“The people that are out at that time are out for that type of environment.
“If you’re out earlier in the evening, you’ll find a much different atmosphere.”
The author acknowledges the benefits that ‘Dr Betterment’ has brought but questions whether the city has become complacent as a result.
“Successive councils have known that even if they sit back and do absolutely nothing, the town will never actually die a death while the university is here.”
It’s not all doom and gloom however.
The author says what Lancaster lacks is civic pride, by which they mean “we need to see some things happening that we can be proud of.”
“Lancaster has an amazing opportunity to develop over the next ten years. The new canal corridor plans balanced by the opening of the Castle at the other side of town and a Business Improvement District in between presents massive potential. Will it make us Bath, York or Harrogate? “I hope not, I want us to be Lancaster in all our glory. But, I suppose the book asks, can you superimpose any of those places on top of Dodge City?”
Coun Ron Sands, cabinet member with responsibility for leisure and culture, prefers to take a more positive look at the current state of Lancaster. He said: “Only six months ago Lancaster was rated eighth in a list of England’s most vibrant urban areas and much of this vibrancy comes from our two universities.
“The diverse mix of students from different backgrounds and cultures gives the city a unique cosmopolitan atmosphere, creating and maintaining jobs while providing leisure and cultural opportunities.
“Live music in the city’s traditional pubs, theatre and film at the Dukes, Nuffield, Grand Theatre and the Vue cinema, along with our many fine restaurants, make Lancaster a cultural hot spot.Lancaster has great untapped potential and the next few years look set to be very exciting as we unlock the economic opportunities provided by investment at Lancaster Castle and British Land’s development of the Canal Corridor north site.”
The book was published on Amazon.