'The same faces, and then the same scandals
Confront me inside the talking shop which I
Frequent for my own good....'
From 'Wind in the Street' by Thom Gunn (1929-2004)
Well - from the sublime to the ridiculous. I’ve never been much of a Corrie fan (I keep my soap preferences very close to my chest) but l couldn't miss a chance to have a feast to mark the fiftieth birthday of the world’s longest running serialised drama - soap opera to you and me, first broadcast on December 9th 1960 by the Manchester based Granada Television.
The world in 1960 was a very different place. A lot of the map was still British Empire pink, but Harold Macmillan the Prime Minister, had made his famous ‘Winds of Change’ speech that February. The swinging sixties were still several years off – the period of astonishing social change we think of as ‘The Sixties’ was really the decade from 1963 to 1973. 1960 was the year The Beatles formed, and the year Keith Richards and Mick Jagger bumped into each other on Dartford Railway station, having not met since they had been friends at primary school.
However the old world was passing away - Sylvia Pankhurst and Boris Pasternak both died, and the farthing ceased to be legal tender.
All things northern were very much in vogue; particularly in music, film and new writing. A young Albert Finney made the film ‘Saturday Night and Sunday Morning’. Peter Sellers had been in ‘All Right Jack’ the previous year, when ‘Room At the Top’ had also been a big hit, and a film of Alan Sillitoe’s book ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ was in production.
By 1960 the Cotton industry which had flourished in the north west of England for a hundred and fifty years was in terminal decline. The Cotton Industry Act of 1959 was intended to modernise the Lancashire industry by helping to compensate cotton companies for disposing of outdated machinery, but the practical effect was to scrap countless mills across Lancashire and other cotton districts. During the 1960s and 70s, mills were closed across Lancashire at a rate of almost one a week.
Terraced houses such as those we see in ‘Coronation Street’ and in L. S. Lowry's painting 'Street Scene' above, were being torn down and replaced by brutalist modern concrete tower blocks and in the process long-established communities were literally being torn up by the roots. This process, which I saw myself a decade later amongst the fishing community in Hull, had tragic consequences for social cohesion. So the new soap opera appealed on a number of fronts; it harked back to a friendlier time when everyone knew their neighbours and also to the newly discovered 'northern cool'.
The Lancashire hot pot as made by Betty Turpin in the back kitchen of the Rover’s Return is a dish that has its origins in the need to have a hot meal ready at the end of a long working day at the cotton mill.
You prepared the hotpot (usually with mutton) first thing in the morning then put it in the oven of your damped down range to cook slowly all day. When you got home you poked and replenished the fire to get more heat and took the top off the hotpot dish to brown the potato topping – within half an hour you had a tasty cheap and hot dish – how brilliant is that? Alternatively, depending on your job, the hotpot was cooked in individual pots overnight and taken it to the mill to eat it at ‘dinner time’ – which is of course midday in the north. Years of southern living have cured me of referring to lunch time as this, but not of my northern habit of calling my evening meal ‘tea’. It’s only when I go out - or people come here, that I have ‘dinner’. Supper is of course the cheese, cream crackers and cocoa you have before you go to bed.
Anyway I digress.
Lancashire Hot Pot
I made this with stewing lamb, you can use chops or a mixture of meat and lambs's kidney. Try and resist the temptation to add herbs, spices, worcester sauce - anything to 'twist' or improve it. It's soothing comfort food - don't mess it about (although I might allow a bay leaf...)
2lb stewing lamb - cubed
2 onions - sliced
2 large potatoes - sliced
Stock, salt and pepper.
A little oil or dripping.
A good pot with a tight lid.
Fry the cubes of meat in a little oil until the fat runs and they brown. Set aside, fry the sliced onions in the same pan until brown. Peel and slice the potatoes. Deglaze the pan with a bit of the stock.
Put the meat, onions and potatoes into your pot in layers, finishing with a layer of potatoes, season well as you go along. Cover with hot stock until it comes to just under the top layer of potatoes and put the lid on. Cook for four hours (or more). Remove the lid and turn up the oven to brown your top layer of spuds. Eat with bread and butter and traditionally with pickled red cabbage.
'I' th' daytime factory chimblies belch
Their smook i' mony a street,
There's drunken fooak an' railway trains
As rowl abeawt o neet.
There's childer thin, that's never seen
The bonny birds an' trees;
Their faces look so white for want
O' th' healthy country breeze.'
From ‘A Country Life for Me’ by George Hull (born Blackburn 1863 died 1933)