Friday, May 18, 2007

What counts as mediaeval in Poulton?

The good folk at the Wyre Toruist Board are going to fall out with us big time by the end of this article, we can tell, but, regardless of what the brochures say, Poulton’s mediaeval market furnishings aren’t the most complete set in Britain at all. (We know, we’re supposed to be defending our local heritage, but we also reckon that the truth’s important no matter how bitter a pill it might be to swallow.)

Let’s start with the stocks, those stalwart bastions of all that’s antiquated in the town. Take a good look at the photograph below, showing the stocks as they appeared in Edwardian times.

Now take a comparative look at the stocks as they appear today.

Notice anything different? Well you should do, because not only was the wooden section, as recorded by John Porter in his ‘History of the Fylde’, replaced during the Victorian period, but in the 1970s the stone posts were hit and fractured so many times by vehicles clipping the corner that they too needed to be removed. The current models are a couple of old gateposts, apparently rescued from a nearby field.

So much for the mediaeval stocks then. (We said that the Wyre Tourist Board was going to fall out with us big time over this. Well, you know where the comments box is.)

Then there’s the market cross, again replaced in Victorian times. Nobody seems to know what happened to the original, but the current obelisk could hardly be considered as mediaeval. (The steps, on the other hand, might be, but again, that hardly constitutes a ‘complete set’.)

And, of course, there are the fish slabs, those mediaeval throwbacks that have been polished by damp fish and visitors' bottoms alike for centuries past. “Surely not?” we hear you cry. “They have to be mediaeval!” Well, we’re not entirely certain about them ourselves. Some Edwardian photographs clearly show the fish slabs as being only half the length that they are today, and with considerably less-weather beaten tops. We’re aware that the Fylde Coast weather has a tendency to gnarl, erode and browbeat outdoors furniture, but why weren’t the slabs affected by climactic conditions during previous centuries?

And then there’s this photograph, showing the horse market being held at Poulton in 1903. The space normally occupied by the fish slabs seems to be taken up by horses. It might just be an optical illusion, of course, but does this indicate that, at the time of the horse fair at any rate, the fish slabs weren’t even there?

All of which brings us to the whipping post shown in the photograph below, the scourge of mediaeval prostitutes and adulteresses.

As far as we can tell, this might be the only genuine mediaeval relic in Poulton market square. Or, to put it another way, we haven’t managed to find any evidence that it isn’t yet. Of course, that might alter given time.

So, all in all, Poulton’s mediaeval legacy isn’t quite so magnificent as it claims. (Even the Thatched House was pulled down and rebuilt, and as for the ducking stool, the brook in which our local scalds were dipped at the bottom of the Breck was bricked over many years ago.) It’s an unpleasant truth, perhaps, but Poulton’s market is about as mediaeval as Disneyland, only slightly less colourful and a damned site more attractive. And on that bum note it might be best if we went and researched something more positive for next week’s article instead.


John said...

In all fairness to Poulton, I believe that you are leaving out the most important medieval artifact, which is the market itself. Perhaps the individual items have been replaced, modified, or upgraded over the years, but they still represent items that did exist in medieval times, and apparently occupy the same space as their counterparts.

Considering how things 'can' change over the centuries, perhaps this is as close as we can expect in seeing an actual medieval marketplace?

This isn't to dismiss your arguments completely. I am not familiar with Poulton's claims, so do not know what you are refering to in this article. Your points are valid, and nicely backed up, though.

And if false claims are being made as to the items you discuss, then in the name of truth, some addendums do need to be made. As I discussed with you in the past, some of us do travel to places to learn. If we are misguided in any way, then those 'untruths' will spread, until history becomes muddled.

I do not appreciate when tour guides treat tourists as idiots, and feed them silly stories, or outright lies. I also do not appreciate mis-representation. For me, I enjoy learning, and sharing what I learn, so I do appreciate my history being accurate.

Thanks for a thought-provoking blog. JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

Interestingly, John, proof of Poulton's mediaeval market is lacking in its own right as Poulton never bothered investing in a market charter.

Like you I'd rather see history warts and all and, rest assured, if we ever set up our own 'Fylde & Wyre Tour Guides' (now there's a thought) we'll do our best to be as accurate and warty as possible.