Kirkgate Quarter Chronicle : February 2023

Welcome to longer days, early spring flowers and all the latest news at #Kirkgate!

Work is gathering pace for our first ever Book Festival on March 25 at the Kirkgate Centre. With the annual Words by the Water celebration of books and authors in Keswick now no more, we decided to give it a go in Cockermouth. So, for one day only, you can get the book buzz with us and our partners the New Bookshop of Main Street who’ll be on hand to sell all the titles.

The authors are all either based in Cumbria or have written about Cumbria so there’s a strong local vibe. From broadcaster Fiona Armstrong with the inside track on the Lakeland Book of the Year Awards to Cumbrian crime queen Ruth Sutton and her fictional detective Sam Tognarelli, there’ll be a sharp focus on the attractions of Cumbria for writing in all genres, from history to fantasy, and memoir to the natural world.

Our former chair of trustees, Marion Bowman, will be MC and interviewer and will ensure ample time for you to put your questions to all the speakers. The authors will be signing copies of their books after each session. The day starts at 10.30 am and finishes with a special evening event featuring BBC News correspondent Jonathan Blake.

Find out more and get your tickets for Historical and Local RootsYoung People and the Lakeland Book AwardCrime and Detective, and the Evening Special events.

click here for all our events


For the school half term we have a week of daytime and evening screenings of the wonderful film adaptation of the musical Matilda (17-24 February). There’s a screening time to suit everyone. Based on the much loved book by Roald Dahl, this story of an extraordinary young girl inspired the West End show that’s been running for over a decade.

Other not-to-be-missed shows in February/March at Kirkgate include top Scottish folk band Fara (**STOP PRESS** tickets now sold out for this gig!), the hit film The Banshees of Inisherin which pairs the brilliant Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, Shakespeare’s Othello from National Theatre Live, and in our monthly Jazz@Kirkgate slot we have Jamil Sheriff’s 5 Gold Rings.

On the Arts Out West circuit, there are some fabulous shows coming this month to the Settlement at Maryport, Muncaster Parish Hall at Ravenglass, and Gleaston Village Hall. In March, the bright lights come to Ewanrigg Community Centre (Maryport), Santon Bridge Village Hall and The Gather (Ennerdale).

Bassenthwaite-based Ragged Edge theatre company take their fabulous ‘Mystery of the Blue Moon Saloon’ all the way to ….Bassenthwaite Parish Room! ‘My partner and I voted “Blue Moon Saloon” our best cultural experience of 2022 in our New Year’s Day review of last year. We had such a good night,’ said one audience member who saw the show last autumn at Threlkeld Village Hall.

Tickets and details of all Arts Out West events are here, simply use the Arts Out West option in the search box.

What’s on your doorstep

Search our website by category or date to find what tickles your fancy…
Browse all our events on our ticket booking website… 
Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram @Kirkgate.
Get a printed list of all the events coming up every month at the Kirkgate Centre – available at the Box Office, open Mondays and Fridays 10am – 1pm.


With our monthly local heritage talks back for the 2023 run and consistently selling out, Gloria Edwards introduces the latest topic – the history of local railways:

The railway came to Cockermouth in the 19th century, a major development, contributing greatly to the town’s prosperity.

Initially, a line opened for freight in 1847 on the Low Road site to the west of the town (close to the current Lakes homecentre), linking Cockermouth and Workington. There was also a tramway link with the Brigham limestone quarries. Passenger services only started in 1865 on the site between Harris Park and Lidl that now houses the Mountain Rescue and Fire Service HQs. Station Street and Station Road did not exist until then, and they were created by demolishing some buildings on Main Street and putting a new road through to serve Cockermouth Station.

The Station Road site, as well as offering regular passenger services, was important for the transport of livestock, bringing Irish cattle from Silloth by train to Cockermouth. Cattle pens at the Station, and also on the Fair Field, were used to hold livestock prior to auction at the nearby Mitchell’s Auction Mart (now the site of Sainsbury’s).

As a passenger it was possible to catch the ‘Lakes Express’ from Cockermouth Station and go directly to Euston in London with no changes – those were the days! There is an account of a 1914 day trip (which took 24 hours) down to London, and the itinerary suggests that much of the time was spent eating! Meals were served on the train, with breakfast served on the return journey just before passengers arrived back in Cockermouth around 7.30 a.m. next morning. In London there seems to have been only limited time for sight-seeing, with afternoon tea at a Lyons Corner House included.

Station looking down from Harris Park
Station, handing over tablet (chimney of Tweed Mill in background)
Approach to station with drinking fountain on left
 A very sad-looking station building a few years after closure
Henry Mayhew (author of ‘London Labour and the London Poor’, 1851) also found time that year to write an account of ‘The Adventures of Mr and Mrs Sandboys’ – a Buttermere couple who travelled to London for The Great Exhibition. They set off from Cockermouth (presumably, there must have been a special excursion using the Low Road site at that time for this major national event). The following tongue-in-cheek extract, describes their experience at Cockermouth Station:

The men engaged upon it have been cut down to boys; so that the establishment has very much the look of a kind of railway academy, where the porters on the platform are ever playing at marbles or leapfrog, where the policemen all wear pinafores, and where the clerks are taken to the station in the morning, and ‘fetched’ in the evening by the maids of their anxious parents … Not a razor is used by the whole establishment; and the staff – we have it on the best authority – are allowed to give over work an hour earlier every Saturday evening, in consideration of its being ‘tub-night’. 

(extract from ‘Regional Railway History’, Vol 14,1990)

Sadly, like many other places throughout the country, we lost our railway in 1966 due to Dr Beeching’s cuts. Considering that the local road network did not see major improvements until 1976, the impact locally must have been considerable.

The popular song duo of Flanders and Swann recorded Slow Train, a poignant elegy to the disappearance of so many much loved railways lines and stations under Beeching’s axe, name checking ‘Cockermouth for Buttermere’ (as our station was known for a while). You can hear it below.

The next illustrated talk is on Tuesday, March 2 at 2pm and is Part One of the history of the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith Railway. Tickets regularly sell out so get yours today here.

Become a heritage volunteer

If you would like to get involved in Kirkgate’s heritage work and join the volunteer group that meets regularly to look after the collection, deal with inquiries, conduct research, prepare publications and plan public events such as exhibitions, workshops and talks, please email:


Every month we feature someone who hires the Kirkgate to put on their own activities. These can be anything from a local business wanting a meeting space, to a club that holds a weekly session in our community hall, to a couple booking us for their wedding reception, to an arts project for which the organisers need our fully equipped stage and auditorium.

We particularly like it when our local talent takes over our theatre, especially young people. So give a big hand to young director Kay Jarvis who tells us all about her show – curtain up on 11 March!

‘I am directing a play called “Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche” on 11 March at the Kirkgate. It is a comedic play, which explores femininity and coming to terms with oneself. It expresses the friendship and bond between five women. It’s 1956 and the Susan B. Anthony Society for the Sisters of Gertrude Stein are having their annual quiche breakfast. Will they be able to keep their cool when Communists threaten their idyllic town?

It is such an amazing production, with a terrific cast. All proceeds from the production will go to the World Challenge Madagascar Fundraiser. This is an organisation which provides aid to less-fortunate areas, by helping out in the community. This particular branch will be helping replant mangroves in Madagascar, as they have been largely destroyed.

I have been involved with the Kirkgate for a while, having done my work experience there. I am so thankful to be directing this play at this fantastic venue.’

Interested in hiring the Kirkgate?

Please get in touch with our Operations Manager Katie Gentry on or phone 01900 829966. You’re welcome to come and see all our facilities and extensive technical equipment in the Egremont Room and in the theatre upstairs before making a booking. There’s free wifi and we’re right next to a car park with 3 hours free parking. More details here.


Volunteers play a huge part in keeping the Kirkgate in good shape – before Covid we calculated that the 100 people who were volunteering at that time gave nearly 8,000 hours a year of their time to provide Cockermouth with arts, community and heritage experiences. It’s quite impressive when you add it all up.

At the moment, there are around 80 volunteers and we feature one of them each month in the KQC. For February, we asked Ray Milner to tell us what brings him here.

‘These days, I’m most often seen on front of house duty for the Wednesday afternoon film showing. I enjoy having a regular slot – meeting our regulars (even if I cannot always remember your names – I do recognise you!). I get to work with Chloe, Kirkgate’s Community Projects Officer, who usually is doing ticket sales and the bar.

I started about 10 years ago with envelope stuffing for mail outs. That was a big, enjoyable, sociable job as up to about 20 of us sat at tables, putting the brochure we used to have into several hundred envelopes whilst being nicely supplied with coffee and biscuits by Emma.

Since then I have done other front of house shifts, plus bar work, delivering leaflets round town and being on the film selection group.

Born in Derby, I came to this area in the late ‘70s to work for the Youth Hostels, taking charge of the hostel in Cockermouth in 2001. When it closed in 2016 redundancy gave me time to do more not only for the Kirkgate, but for the local food bank and the U3A.

I’m a great film buff, so I like the varied selection we offer.

Back in 2008, The Guardian published a list of 1,000 films they reckoned any self-respecting film buff should have seen. It took me 12 years to get through it, something they did a small article on, and BBC Radio Cumbria had me on the radio too – giving me a chance to plug the Kirkgate.

My taste in films is wide, and I decline to ever come up with an answer to “what is your favourite film?” It will vary according to mood, but if pushed, I really like old black and white films, mostly Film Noir, and foreign language (I have a particular liking for Iranian films).’

Become a volunteer

If you would like to know more about volunteering, please get in touch via We’ll be happy to give you an idea of all the different roles, the time commitment, and how it all works, and if you decide to join the team, you’ll be warmly welcomed, well supported and thoroughly trained. The team work ethic is strong with us! Volunteers get free membership of our Friends organisation with all the benefits that involves. We have an annual social for all the volunteers too, so there’s always the likelihood you’ll make new friends.

Here’s a short video about volunteering with us.


Kirkgate Arts and Heritage is both a registered charity and a limited company. With grants and donations, ticket sales, bar income, hire fees and more, we can have a turnover of around £250,000 on a good year, so it’s important we have the right legal status and being a company as well as a charity gives us that.

The upshot is that as a ‘SME’ in the lingo (a small or medium-sized enterprise), we share a lot of the same concerns as all the other small businesses in the area (utility costs being a big issue at the moment!). So Cockermouth and District Chamber of Trade is a natural home for us, and as a member we support everything the Chamber does to raise the profile of the town and keep our businesses thriving. This mutual support is one of the real features of the community in Cockermouth, whatever is going on here.

This month, for the local business slot in the KQC, Suzanne Elsworth, the Chamber’s copywriter and communications consultant, gives us the inside info on their work:

‘The Chamber’s aim is to showcase Cockermouth to locals and visitors, support businesses, work with the local authorities and increase footfall through events and other initiatives.

It built and hosts – the website that’s the shop window for the town. The site has more than 7,000 visitors a month and features news and profiles of member businesses. The Chamber has also created promotional films that have attracted more than 250,000 views, which you can see here. There is also a monthly e-newsletter which has more than 5,000 subscribers. The Chamber has organised Facebook competitions on the Cockermouth Town FB page, with thousands of entrants, and advertised the town in the likes of Cumbria Life magazine.

The Chamber also supports and participates in festivals such as Taste Cumbria, and sets up new events. The hugely successful Charities Weekend last year raised more than £10,000 for 70 charities. The team has also facilitated media appearances on BBC and ITV Border news for many of the town’s businesses.

Everyone is welcome at our AGM which will be held on Tuesday 28 February at 6pm, at The Vicky shared workspace in High Sand Lane, Cockermouth.

This is the meeting where anyone can put themselves forward to get involved in the Chamber, and where the formal officers’ positions are elected. Andrew Marshall of the Strolling4Shoes shop on the corner of Main Street and Station Street is stepping down after several years as chair. Appropriately, there are some big shoes to fill!

Any interested business owners are more than welcome to come along, whether they are sole traders or employ teams of staff, from every type of business. Retail, hospitality, tradespeople and professional services are all represented.

Membership of the Chamber costs just £30 or £50 per year, depending on the size of business. All members feature on the Cockermouth Online website, and are invited to get involved in Chamber events, publicity, and activities as much or as little as they like. For more information, click here.’


Kirkgate is dedicated to providing creative, cultural and heritage experiences with and within the communities in West Cumbria. You can support our mission by becoming a Friend. From £30 a year you will enjoy various benefits including:

•    Ticket exchange
•    Priority or exclusive invitations to special events such as the Cockfrock preview
•    Occasional newsletters updating you on future plans and new developments at Kirkgate Arts and Heritage

All volunteers automatically receive free membership of the Friends organisation.

click here to become a friend of Kirkgate Arts & Heritage


With tickets already on sale for many of our 2023 evening shows and daytime activities (check what’s on when at, the team at #Kirkgate is busy devising some new participation projects, putting in grant applications, and sorting out more of the repairs and improvements to the Centre that are in the pipeline.Top of the list are more new windows – this time for the first floor – and refurbishment of the all-important fire escape from the auditorium. We have regular fire alarm tests and all of the staff and volunteer duty managers (such as Ray who is featured in this month’s KQC) are trained in the evacuation of the building should there ever be the need. Every now and then, we surprise everyone on the premises with a practice evacuation. Fortunately we have never had to do it for real in our 28 year history – long may that continue!

On the topic of our 28 year history – we will also this year be expanding our website to start telling the story of how we came into existence in 1995, and what has happened since. We aim to produce a short film in time for our 30th anniversary in two years’ time. If you have any memories, documents, photographs or objects that could contribute to ensuring a good record is kept of the story of Kirkgate, please do get in touch.

Emma Heys