What the locals really think of Keswick

Keswick Museum is hosting an exhibition about Sir Chris Bonington

Keswick Museum is hosting an exhibition about Sir Chris Bonington - Credit: Archant

Keswick really is a gem of a town – just ask anyone from jeweller Brian Fulton to mountaineering legend Sir Chris Bonington

Brian at the bench in his workshop

Brian at the bench in his workshop - Credit: Archant

FOR many of the Lake District’s 19 million annual visitors Keswick is the jewel in the crown. Surrounded by mountains like Skiddaw and Blencathra and with access to lakes like Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite, this gem of a market town is blessed with natural wonders.

But as some of those visitors know to their cost, the weather can sometimes rain on Keswick’s parade. So not only do wet weather wear shops seem to outnumber the mere 5,000 residents, there are dozens of indoor attractions to keep the visitors amused.

One of the latest is Fultons Lakes Jewellery Works, with a cafe fronting the Bell’s Close car park. Born in Stretford, Brian Fulton has been designing, making and selling bespoke jewellery to both the trade and public for 35 years since his training began at Openshaw College in Manchester. His parents still live in Bolton.

In his first year at the college, Brian won the Pendlebury Award for the best first year jewellery student and his passion for the craft was ignited, gaining an advanced city and guilds qualification.

Brian Fulton with the mayoral chain he has made

Brian Fulton with the mayoral chain he has made - Credit: Archant

Today, Brian continues his lifelong passion for his craft with their latest venture located in the heart of Keswick. Using traditional skills allied to the latest technology, Brian and his team create items that cannot be found anywhere else in the county and give an insight into the jewellery manufacturing process.

He sold up his thriving jewellery business in Stockton Heath and moved to Keswick in 2004 so he, his wife Zoe and their four children could enjoy the outdoor life.

They set up a jewellery manufacturing unit at nearby Threlkeld but moved into Keswick last year, with the cafe enticing customers to see his team in the workshops.

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His work has been recognised by the Town Council who commissioned him to make a new Deputy Mayor’s chain of office, heavily influenced by the Keswick School of Industrial Art.

A fox displayed at the museum

A fox displayed at the museum - Credit: Archant

Also, this year Brian became a Freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company for his contribution to the goldsmith and jewellery trade.

Brian was elected by colleagues in the industry and was officially welcomed to the Company at a ceremony the Goldsmiths’ Hall in London.

He said: ‘I feel truly honoured to have been recognised by my peers in this way and it is a sincere privilege to become a Freeman of the Goldsmiths’ Company. This is not something that is simply given away and I feel extremely proud to be able to play an important part for caring for the future of a trade I have always felt so passionate about.’

He and his team design make patterns, caste, mount, polish, assemble and set all their own pieces, unlike at least 80 per cent of modern jewellery sold in the UK which have some, if not all, of the processes performed abroad.

Carol Rennie outside the historic The Alhambra Cinema

Carol Rennie outside the historic The Alhambra Cinema - Credit: Archant

Working with precious metals means all clothing and hands are washed in special sinks with sumps that catch particles for re-cycling. Likewise dust from machines and floors is sifted.

Visitors can see videos of the work in progress and he is getting increasing numbers of clients who have bespoke pieces made for events like weddings in the Lakes.

He also has a healthy on-line business where he is promoting jewellery for cycling and other sports. ‘I opened up with the aim of becoming a tourist attraction, so people can become involved in the process. It is not just a product, it is an experience,’ said Brian.

Rock stars

Keswick Museum, which has been open since 1898, is home to one of the most unusual exhibits. Among the collection of artefacts, from geology to social history, is the curious musical instrument known as the Musical Stones of Skiddaw.

It was made between 1827 and 1840 by local stonemason Joseph Richardson from a rare local stone known as hornfels. Richardson and his three sons were gifted musicians and toured Britain giving performances including one to Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.

The stones came back to Keswick Museum, by Fitz Park, in the 1920s. Any visitor can try to get a tune of the xylophone-type instrument.

Also at the museum is an exhibition celebrating the life and achievements of climbing legend Sir Chris Bonington. The Mountain Heritage Trust has brought together Man and Mountain: Chris Bonington, to tell the story of one of Britain’s most successful climbers.

The exhibition celebrates his life and mountaineering career, and also how the landscape and mountaineering community has changed and left a mark on him.

For the first time, personal items from his collection, which have never before been seen in public, form part of this tribute to a quite remarkable life.

‘The exhibition portrays the joy and the wonderful experience you can get from the mountains and that will encourage others, especially youngsters, to go out and find it for themselves.’ said Sir Chris

Throughout a career of triumph and tragedy on the world’s most inhospitable peaks, he has returned time and again to his home in the Lake District.

‘It doesn’t matter where I have been in the world and I have been to so many incredible, beautiful places, Nepal, down to Antarctica, the far south of South America and in the Alps themselves, but I don’t think there’s anywhere that is more beautiful than the English Lake District.’

Man and Mountain: Chris Bonington, will be on show until 4 January 2019.

Out of Africa

Keswick School is a coeducational 11–18 comprehensive with 1231 pupils on its roll. There are 286 students in the sixth form and 50 boarders, many of them sons and daughters of ex-pats who have made their lives in Africa.

Among them were Carol Rennie, her twin sister Sandra, and their younger brother Paul. When their parents, Tom and Sylvia Rennie returned to the UK in 1991, they settled in Keswick and Tom got a job managing the town’s Alhambra Cinema, in St John’s Street.

Now 104 years old, the cinema is one of the longest continuous operations in the country. It has had its rocky fortunes, and turned to bingo in the 1970s and shut for winter months in the 1980s, but otherwise it has ridden all the usual threats faced by small cinemas.

In 2012 Tom’s employers reluctantly terminated the lease, finding the Keswick Alhambra no longer viable. But having run the cinema for over 20 years, and with it being just two years short of its centenary, manager Tom couldn’t let the place close. He took on a five-year lease.

Towards the end of that lease, Carol, and her husband Alan, joined Tom and Sylvia in October 2016 as directors of a new family business: Keswick Alhambra Ltd. The company bought the building from Graves Cumberland in December 2016. It remains viable by being run on a shoestring. ‘Sometimes I take the money at the box office then run upstairs to change a reel,’ said Carol.

Technological innovations, primarily the switch to digital from 35mm reels, have been key to success for the 243-seat cinema. The Alhambra began streaming live satellite events in June 2013, with Helen Mirren starring in The Audience at the Gielgud Theatre, London. Special events from National Theatre Live, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Royal Opera House and other live venues have formed a regular part of the Alhambra’s repertoire ever since. The Keswick Alhambra is also home to the award-winning Keswick Film Club, which provides two seasons of curated programmes of world and British film on Sunday nights, and organises the annual Keswick Film Festival, which attracts significant figures from the film world to Keswick in February each year.

‘Neither Dad nor I had any experience of cinema – he was an agricultural contractor and I have a PhD in Chinese Literature – but the Alhambra just feels special,’ said Carol. ‘This is a tremendous community asset. It is a joy to run a truly local cinema.’

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