Queen’s Chambers, Old Market Square. One of my favourite local buildings and one that I always think of as quintessentially Nottingham when away from here. Many a time caught a bus home to the suburbs from the shadow of this showy and stately building, in the days when buses and other vehicles were actually allowed to use the city’s roads extensively.
Queen’s Chambers, Nottingham
Designed by Watson Fothergill, (1841-1926), a feted local architect with a penchant for turrets, towers, tall chimneys and wall decorations of horizontal blue-black bricks.
Fothergill, who designed some 100 buildings in Nottingham and the East Midlands also enjoyed a little Gothic imagery through the addition of gargoyles, animals, plant life and heavy dark wood beams in his unique designs.
His striking buildings remain testament to his imagination, dotted around the Lace City still to this day.
THE PICTURESQUE MARKET TOWN of Southwell in Nottinghamshire is a place that I’ve felt drawn to talk about on several occasions on this site in the past. Often those times reflect pleasant days of clement weather in the warmer months with time spent outside strolling, perusing it’s elegant and historic buildings and it’s architectural jewel in the crown, the magnificent Minster.
The town lies on the gently rolling River Greet which provides a relaxing walk through the scenic surrounding countryside whilst the centre of the conurbation owns several sites of significant historical interest such as the National Trust owned Workhouse, built in 1824 and the Saracen’s Head hotel, dating back to 1463 and the scene of King Charles I’s capture by Scottish troops in 1647 when it was known as The King’s Head.
The Saracen’s Head
Southwell is also notable as owning one of the former homes of romantic poet, Lord Byron in it’s pretty spot on the Burgage and being the site of the original Bramley apple seedling which spawned what many to believe to be the finest of all cooking apples. It is a small town which punches very much above its weight in terms of significance and interest.
Something I like to do each year though is take the short drive to Southwell during December as Christmas approaches. The atmosphere and classic aspect of the town somehow lends itself to a Christmas-like feeling. This is not least due to the local custom of Christmas trees attached to the buildings on King Street and leaning out into the street at an attractive angle.
On this visit, the town was bathed in gorgeous Winter sunshine with skies reminiscent of the high days of Summer. A healthy smattering of shoppers and visitors were going about their business through Southwell’s narrow street and alleys in it’s small, independent shops and outdoor market. I ambled, bought a little food, took tea and spent some moment at the Minster. After so many years of visiting, going back to school days, taking walks with friends, drinks in its attractive pubs and relaxed and pleasant lunches, not least many a historic sojourn and even working in a university building nearby, Southwell is the Nottinghamshire town I would surely miss the most.
One of the most attractive places in Nottingham’s city centre in my estimation, the Exchange Arcade in the Council House in Old Market Square. Despite its situation at the very core of the city, the arcade often appears a little deserted as thousands of Nottinghamians hurry-scurry through the thronging streets outside.
Opened in 1929, the Council House succeeded the Exchange building which housed the city’s own ‘shambles’ – an area where the butchers of the town and country would show their meat for sale. The word shambles was derived from the invading Normans who used it as a term for those tradesmen, ‘flesh hewers’ as the Saxons had called them, and indicates how long that trade was carried out on this site in the city.
In more modern history, the arcade housed a fabulous and much-loved food store, Burtons, which local people still talk of in fond terms. If I close my eyes in today’s arcade I can still easily imagine the wonderful aromas from the store and picture the pre-Christmas visits there as a child with my mum, Grace, to buy those special items for the festive fayre in our family home.
‘Market Square, Nottingham’ by Arthur Spencer, 1950.
I really like this fine, atmospheric painting which, as the winter draws inexorably closer, reminds of colder, less hospitable days. The Council House and it’s huge dome containing Little John”s quarter-hourly chimes, standing sentinel over the city landscape as Nottingham’s citizens brave the snow and ice, huddled against the cold in their winter clothing.
A magical image that evokes a wintry Nottingham of a different era.
Southwell is my favourite town in the county of Nottinghamshire by some distance. It has many places of interest and charm in its beautiful aspect and storied and historic environs.
The Minster dwarfs the centre and is barely commensurate with the reasonably modest acreage of Southwell. It is impressive, notable and loved.
The first time I recall visiting this impressive structure was as a child in school when it was a firm favourite for school educational visits. I recall being instructed to take brass rubbings and playing the game of trying to find where all the ‘church mice were. The interior has a number of ‘mice’ carved into and secreted about the building. In those days the West entrance shown to the left of the image above was most often used and is, as I understand, the oldest part of a building which was constructed in stages as so many older churches were.
Another story I find interesting regarding Southwell Minster is of its ‘Eagle Lectern’ which apparently at the time of Cromwellian distaste for Catholic tradition and imagery was disposed of unceremoniously. It was later discovered in a lake at Newstead Abbey, romantic poet Lord Byron’s stately home situated some miles away. The lectern was lovingly restored and stands proudly in the Minster.
I have visited numerous times over the years and grand though the building might be there is always a friendly and helpful welcome. There is no admission pay but you are kindly asked to make a small contribution.
I have today been asked by a new friend to consider three things that I like about Nottingham. I took about twenty seconds thinking about this one and came up with the following:
For the first, I am tempted to say ‘the view of Princes Street in Edinburgh’. It’s 275 miles away precisely and I think you can see where my real love lies as a qualifier…
1. I like the way that it is very easy to access the countryside – even from the very centre of the city. Nottingham, though one of the relatively larger UK cities, has a smallish, concise city centre that is easily navigable on foot. Genuine country villages lie perhaps only 15-20 minutes away. Like this one:
2. Underground stuff. Back in history, Nottingham was known as ‘Land of Cavey Dwellers’. There are literally hundreds of man-made, hand-carved caves burrowed out underground the cities buildings by local people. They have been used for all manner of things such as tanneries, gambling dens, food and beer stores. living accommodation and air raid shelters in World War 2.
3. The rebellious nature of the locals is something I tend to admire. The world’s first Socialist, Robin Hood, if you choose to believe the ancient ballads, resided here and it was notable as the home of Ned Ludd the legend from whom the word ‘Luddite’ was derived. The Luddites were a decent bunch of lad who smashed factory textile machines to keep the poverty stricken in work. People over the ages have rioted about practically everything in Nottingham. including the price of cheese. They even burnt Nottingham Castle down because they didn’t like the Duke much. Bravo!
There may be three negatives to come…
THOSE WHO KNOW ME will understand that I have a special affinity with some of the pretty villages local to me. This relationship has been formed over many years of running, walking, cycling, eating a drinking around those villages which I have a I have come to think of as my ‘playground’ since being a youngster.
Early days in and around Lambley village meant a cycle with schooldays pals to the Lambley Dumbles. A dumble is a local word for a steep-sided stream. We would play in the dumbles – and my favourite, the ‘Little Dumbles’, making dams, rafts, climbing the overhanging trees, wading, fishing and generally getting lost in those hazy 1960s endless summer days as they seemed to me. The limited sustenance taken on these all-day country safaris tended to be a jam sandwich and some fizzy water. Our bikes consisting of all shapes and sizes – mine had just the one pedal – were the only things we needed to transport us to this heavenly weekend delight. We usually arrived home at dusk, exhausted and hungry. Muddied, sometimes bloodied, unbowed.
This very afternoon I took myself in my car down to lovely Lambley, beginning at a favourite tea-stop, Floralands garden centre, ‘Wickes’ as we used to know it. These days, as is the way of garden centres generally, there is modern decking to sit outside and take tea and a bite to eat. What remains the same though are those beautiful emerald green rolling hills of my youth to look out to.
Today there is a petting zoo for the children and not-so-young children right here! Goats, ducks, chickens, lamas. A peacock is screeching insistently in the distance.
Descending the intriguingly named Catfoot Lane, I entered the pretty and ancient village of Lambley, ‘Leah of the lambs’ by origin and named in the Domesday Book. Nestled in its cosy valley are a church built around the 13th century and the Woodlark and Robin Hood inns. I pass by the footpath to the Lambley Dumbles, perhaps less known to the cars that cruise steadily past in 2016.
Further on in years, I used to walk these hills as a young teenager, with my favoured notebook and pencil, to settle in one of the many sweet-scented grassy meadows in the sunshine and write my early young poetry. I yearned to be a Byronic figure, writing romantic poetry as Lord Byron had done a century before, leaving his indelible mark on the Nottinghamshire landscape and around the world.
IT WAS BACK to the Vale of Belvoir, the Beautiful View’ to run on the towpath of the Grantham Canal this Saturday, for the first time in a few years actually and I had forgotten just how striking it is in that scenic area that sits astride the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire.
My leisurely mid-morning drive took me over the River Trent via stately Gunthorpe Bridge, passing through the attractive market town of Bingham and on to pretty Redmile. Soon, the impressive sight of Belvoir Castle came into view standing over a hazy hinterland, gently bathed in hazy early September sunshine.
From Harlaxton Drift Bridge, the Grantham Canal
The Vale of Belvoir has always been a popular choice for a some out-of-town relaxation for me, being only a modest forty-five minute drive from my Nottinghamshire home. I love it because it is under-populated by visitors and all the more peaceful for it. I have to say some do not know what they are missing as it is an impressive slice of countryside, all the better for having the atmospheric Grantham Canal running through it, a thirty-three mile ribbon beginning in Nottingham and ending in the Lincolnshire town it was named after.
Meeting my friend outside the Rutland Arms, better known as ‘The Dirty Duck’, near Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir. I parked up canal side and noted how much the reeds had colonised the water since I had last visited. There were few people around at the adjacent camp site providing a peaceful and serene scene.
The Rutland Arms on the Grantham Canal
A seven-mile run took us alongside the old waterway, punctuated only by the odd walker, cyclist or angler on it’s quiet banks. The run took us down to Harlaxton Drift Bridge and a return to The Rutland Arms passing locks and ancient turning circles for the canal barges.
Afterwards, it was time for lunch and with the Rutland Arms’ doors firmly closed it was a mile drive down the quiet road to the village and the welcome of the superb Chequers Inn at Woolsthorpe. It’s hard to imagine a much more impressive pub-restaurant environment than this beautiful and historic 17th-century inn with it’s stone fireplaces, bar and rabbit warren of attractive and well-appointed rooms. A restaurant/banqueting suite had evidently been extended on to the old building earlier this year adjacent to the attractive garden where we had our lunch in the sunshine, accompanied by the pub’s friendly resident rooster which patrolled the garden.
The Chequers Inn, Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir, Lincolnshire
All good things come to an end so they say and my regular Saturday runs at Woodborough in Nottinghamshire are no longer, at least for now. After a moderate and pleasant drive through the neighbouring counties though, back to The Vale of Belvoir offers an outstanding replacement.
And I find myself in the ‘wrong’ place at the top of the year. In truth, I wrestled with the idea of going home to Edinburgh for the celebrations but didn’t feel quite up to things emotionally after a difficult time this year and so chose a quiet, sometimes solitary time in Nottingham. I knew I’d have some regrets about this but didn’t know what else to do really. I hope for better times, times when I can truly enjoy myself with my many faithful pals in Edinburgh, in better condition to give a bit back to the people in particular who I’ve become very close to over the years.
I’ll miss my buddy and his partner’s house, the chat, the banter and laughs, I’ll very much miss my ‘little sis’, the People’s Republic of Leith, roaming down the shore. I can only think about past times at Easter Road for the moment and my dear home place of Musselburgh. Portobello’s esplanade and a run into the sea breeze along there lies in my imagination at the moment. A brisk stroll down Princes Street and a meander up the old town will have to wait.
There’s an Edinburgh derby game going on with my beloved Hibs taking on ‘them’ from across the city. Friends will be there and win, lose or draw it will all result in a blurry, long post-match amongst a gang of old mates and new. We are all one.
Not for me this year the Edinburgh Street Party celebrations nor a stool at the bar of the beautiful Cafe Royal or negotiating the revolving doors of the Guildford Arms and warm welcome of many other hostelries I’ve inhabited for so many years. There will be no house parties. It’s what I appeared to choose. All I could do.
People are not here now, things have changed and in their place just memories remain.
There’s no sorrow though in knowing that I will be back, hopefully in better fettle, not feeling weighed down by a ton of emotion laced with grief. Ready to move forwards again. I know those friends and that beautiful city will still be there.
As I write it’s too early for New Year’s wishes but my thoughts are with you all.
Here’s to a better 2015 and a hope that surviving will turn into flourishing and steady growth.
The recent cold snap providing Boxing Day’s significant snowfall an enduring life over the past few days reminds me of many winter snow days in Canada. Indeed, I think back wistfully to those times. That is in spite of the intensely cold temperatures one often has to cope with in that beautiful country.
During my many visits I had the good fortune to ski, both downhill and cross-country, ice skate and snowshoe through incredible and out-of-this-world landscapes. I went on snowmobile trips, engaged with wildlife and generally lived the life. Hugely influential on me were trips to stay in a genuine 1930s Canadian log cabin by Wabamun Lake in Alberta. The cabin was an experience like no other as it had little in the way of home comforts or even basic utilities. Water was gained by walking on to the frozen lake and using an auger before dropping a bucket down into the icy water. There was wood to be chopped, fires to be maintained, coffee to hand-grind and so on. It felt grounding to be released from modern technology and to get back to life’s most basic things.
There is nothing quite like ice skating – and even better, playing hockey – outdoors. It is an absolutely exhilarating experience. I remember one Canadian saying to me that skating was ‘the nearest thing to flying’. I particularly knew what he meant the first time I managed to achieve my own ambition of playing for fun outdoors on Wabamun Lake, thirty miles from Edmonton, Alberta.. What a memorable day that was. A small party of us set out, wrapped up well, carrying sticks and pucks. Being born in the UK I’d been used to scrambling and scrabbling across the odd frozen pond as a kid – with some trepidation as the surface heaved, threatened and cracked. All such historic fears and reservations of collapsing ice were allayed however when a large truck drove past us on the ice! We cleared snow from the ice to form our rink with the obviously quickly-frozen ice as smooth and clear as glass. Even the fish underneath the ice could be seen swimming around, what a beautiful experience!
I still remember well the ringing click-clack sound of sticks on puck and skating into the frigid air, the freshness – that feeling of just being alive.
I was since fortunate enough to mess around with a stick and puck and skate on quite a few ponds and lakes in Canada, also in such hitherto unlikely areas as school playgrounds with the snow piled up in surrounding banks to make a rink. There really is no feeling like it. How I miss it.
‘Keep your stick on the ice’ eh.
In loving memory of Margaret Weaver and to all my friends and family in Canada.
I’ve always been happy and comfortable with the working class roots of both sides of my family from Scotland and England respectively. Not at all in a show of inverted snobbery but a genuine affection for the types of hard and honest communities my mother and father rose from either side of the border. Both came from families of ten children, there are so many aunts, uncles and cousins that I have to admit there are some I’ve never yet met.
Hucknall’s iconic statue commemorating the mining industry
I saw a nice story today on BBC East Midlands TV news and it reminded me of that family feeling, a feeling of my roots.
The story below is a report on the commemoration of 150 brave miners who lost their lives in the three pits of my mammy’s home, Hucknall Torkard and Linby village in Nottinghamshire. Good and honest working class communities were built around this industry and the hard, resilient men who travelled down underground to put food in the mouths of their families. My own father, a miner at one time, himself survived a serious fall underground having his ear viciously ripped off and needing it sewn back on again. Some were less fortunate.
I have nothing but deep respect for the men who did and still do this job.
We will remember them.
It’s ‘Flaming June’ 2014 version and my local running spot at nearby Bestwood comes into its own on these beautiful, sunny and relaxed evenings. Nominated as a country park a good few years ago, it will always be plain old ‘Bestwood’ to me. A stretch of the old Sherwood Forest which lies but a few minutes from where I live, that is satisfyingly accessible.
In truth, I love the place at all times of year. The former royal hunting estate and retreat of many a notable over hundreds of years of history looks gorgeous when coated in a thick layer of snow for instance. Spring has its own translucent green freshness whilst some might say Autumn is the richest time of all with its crispy, golden leaves and paths laden with chestnuts. It’s the dog days of summer that most appeal to me though as I trot along the dry, dusty paths bordered by lush green fields and thick forestry of Oaks, Chestnuts and Birch to name but a few of the ancient trees. I’ve been coming here a long time and I still love it. It is the green lung of the residential suburb where I live.
Within a few moments in this place, I forget the hardships of the day and wind down with copious amounts of invigorating fresh air, the sound of skylarks and lapwings and the sight of an isolated walker or horse rider. The air at this time of year smells sweet and highly scented with the delicate fragrances of the old hedgerows. It is the perfect tonic and antidote to the stresses of the day.
The sun finally sets over Bestwood, it is time to return home.
FRIDAY THE NINTH OF MAY, 2014 rolls inexorably closer and it’s almost at long last time to go back to Edinburgh. It is always time to go back to Edinburgh but this occasion feels especially significant.
The past few weeks since the calamitous and tragic loss of my dear partner, Sue have at times been shocking, harrowing, lonely and at times isolating. There have been ‘good’ things of course and at the forefront of that is the support I have received from my family and true friends, almost universally. I have learned much about myself, about life and about people. I take these lessons forwards as I plan a rebuild of my life alone. It is a rehabilitation process and not at times without it’s difficulties. I keep trying, I Persevere and (unbelievably to me at one point) I am still standing
Those early dark days of February saw a call to that dear group of volunteers, The Samaritans, when at first it all felt just a little too much and I didn’t wish to go on. There was another long talk with a suicide bereavement counsellor who spoke to me in a straight and forthright manner. How could I ever live the rest of my life after this horrendous experience? What meaning did it have? Survival mode kicked into place and I decided to play this game of life with a straight bat, without the ‘assistance’ of medication or by misusing alcohol.
I also knew instinctively that my friends could help too, by talking, by me asking for and accepting their support. None more so than a close friend here in Nottingham, my dear friends in Edinburgh of so many years and by a new friend from that city brought to me like an angel. I won’t embarrass those people but if you’re reading, you know who you are. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me.
So on to tomorrow. I catch that familiar train and will walk upon Edinburgh ground by lunchtime tomorrow. I have awaited this time and upon feeling ‘up to’ doing it. Being in and around Edinburgh, with all it’s memories can have a powerfully emotional feeling for me and I needed to be ready to use that constructively. I’m now ready and it’s part of the pathway ‘back’ for me.
I have a Hibs-related surprise awaiting me tomorrow! A sweet gesture by my aforementioned new friend which I in turns feel intrigued and happy about. The fates have conspired to offer up a hugely important game for my beloved Hibs at Easter Road on Saturday which I will attend. Excellent sense of theatre lads but I nevertheless wish you had sorted out the relegation worries ahead of my visit to Leith! God bless the Hibs.
Anyway, I’ll try to fight the impulse to get down on the floor and kiss good old Edinburgh ground when I alight at Waverley tomorrow. After all, I’ve things to do and good people to meet. The very best. Wha’s like you?
I came across a reference to the old Children’s Hospital at Forest House recently and it brought quite a few childhood memories rushing back. I managed somehow to get myself knocked down (well up in the air actually) by a beefy Ford Consul when I was a kid and ended up a guest in said institution. When I eventually landed it was with two broken legs, one in three places, and concussion plus a few sundry cuts and bruises for good measure. I recall being upside down in the air and seeing my shoe flying up the street. I also remember then doggedly trying to drag myself to my feet using a bus stop to hold on to and looking down to see my leg bend in the wrong place. They carted me off to ‘The Children’s’ in an ambulance where I remained for a week. With physiotherapy (learning to walk again basically) my young association with that hospital lasted a year though.
I was terrified of the place but they looked after me very well (I’ve gone on to run a few marathons as an adult so they did very well indeed I guess!) but I was scared stiff of the building and the unknown in there as I thought they were going to take my legs away for good. I remember the above so well, being taken for physiotherapy there by my mum so many times.
The kindest, kindest man, a jolly West Indian doctor, looked after me and made me smile – even though he was tasked with re-breaking my legs twice in operations as they had knitted crookedly. On another failed occasion they sawed the long plaster casts half through at the shins and banged wooden pegs in the gaps to straighten my legs. Looking back it was like something out of a Hammer horror movie. I wish I could thank that kindly doctor today though.
I’ve written previously about the numerous networks of caves that run under the city of Nottingham and some of it’s outlying suburbs such as the one I live in. They are many in number, not generally connected to other systems across the area and generally speaking, hand-hewn from the soft sandstone that the city lies on, for all sorts of reasons.
Some time ago, I came across an interesting academic article regarding the disused sand mines that line the main arterial Mansfield Road which leads directly out of the north side of Nottingham. Interesting to me, partly due to the fact that it’s a part of the city I use frequently, in particular for visits to The Lincolnshire Poacher pub just a few minutes walk up the same road heading towards to the old Rock Cemetery and Forest recreation ground, home of the annual Goose Fair.
I’d long been told that underneath The Lincolnshire Poacher and it’s neighbouring businesses there are deep caves which I assumed were the result of the sand mines originally in-situ. Notable in this is The Golden Fleece, another Mansfield Road hostelry close by which in the past has held charity abseiling events down it’s two-storey caves below the public house.
Last night I had the opportunity to visit The Poacher’s cellars briefly. Again, they are two-storied with the first level being traditional brick by construction. Interesting enough in their own right but it is when descending a further narrow staircase through the rock down to a second lower storey where things become quite remarkable and thought-provoking.
As can be seen in the above images, this part of the cellars is a hand-made cave, whether this is the result of former sand mining or excavated especially for this former dwelling house is not clear to me. Quite clearly, the indentations of tools used to scrape away the soft rock are apparent, forming a uniformly shaped ‘room’ complete with a ‘drop’ for beer barrels, at the end, leading down from the pub back yard.
The cellars are of course a busy working environment under the former Old Grey Nag’s Head, the pub’s previous incarnation and so are laden and scattered with beer barrels, bottled beers and the various paraphernalia required to serve the pub’s many satisfied and loyal customers. The atmosphere, as one might expect, is damp and temperate, the floor sticky and with a general feel of the labour required in keeping a busy city-centre pub replenished. Even in 2013 though there remains a little evocative history and a few questions outstanding deep under The Lincolnshire Poacher and the businesses and homes nearby.
I read today that the Nottinghamshire market town of Bingham has been selected as one of the top ten places to live in the Midlands by The Sunday Times:
There appear to be a few discrepancies in the Nottingham Post article (surprise, surprise!). For instance it talks about a ‘top ten’ then goes on to name thirteen places. It also states the list was ‘published on March 17’ which unless we are talking about a previous year has not yet happened at the time of writing. Additionally, it cites Oxford as one of the most desirable places then goes on to ignore it in the list. Anyway, this is besides my point.
Bingham, for me, represents a town I pass through on the way to the Vale of Belvoir where I go for walks occasionally. I’ve stopped off in the town the odd time and it seems a pleasant place with adequate amenities and good transport links. It has the beautiful vale on its doorstep too so I can see the appeal. It undoubtedly seems to be a nice town so no particular beef from me.
Why in the top ten though? It’s being compared here with the likes of Oxford and Buxton which I can see have great appeal to many as evidenced by the many tourists that head for those destinations. It’s very subjective and who knows the criteria being used but wouldn’t Southwell, amongst one of two other Nottinghamshire locations, for instance have greater credentials?
It’s a town I’ve never known very well and would like to know more about. I’d be genuinely interested in the thoughts of others who are more familiar with the East Nottinghamshire town than myself.
A pleasant and peaceful Christmas takes me back to thoughts of a year ago, as these times often do. Life was a little different a year ago as I approached the making of plans for the festive period. Christmas Eve, a beautiful (and exciting for some) evening has changed it’s character somewhat in these days of difficulties of getting home from festive occasions due to lack of public transport and expense and this was a consideration in my plans.
A year ago on Christmas Eve I visited a favourite pub of mine in the city of Nottingham, deciding that I would probably walk the four miles home to put the key in the front door lock a little after midnight. A few days prior to the big night I arranged with a chap who would regularly visit the same ‘local’ as me, sharing a friendly chat over a pint or two on many an evening, in the city to walk most of the way home together for company, him living in a neighbouring suburb. We took our long stroll home on a cold winter’s night on the 24th of December last year and bade each other a cheery good night and all the very best for Christmas.
I saw him regularly through the winter still until the Spring months were upon us, before his sudden disappearance in April. The friendly face and character was missed by more than me as people debated where he now was. Over a period of time, I began to hear of sightings of him in the city’s streets and public houses and transport that left me with uncomfortable feelings. Before this I had bumped into him in harmless circumstances twice, once at a bus station waiting for a bus and again in a cosy city centre pub where he appeared fine and professed the same story.
In early December, an acquaintance informed me that the friend had been turfed out of a local shopping mall during the middle of the night after being discovered sleeping in the shopping centre’s lavatories. A few days before I caught word that he was padding around the city’s street all through the night and into early morning.
Of course I am extremely worried for his welfare. Very cold winter weather has recently subsided to miserable wet days and nights and I hate to imagine how it must feel surviving on the streets in such conditions. Indeed those colder nights are potential killers, let’s not make any bones about that. I have taken steps with an appropriate organisation who help the homeless to do what little I can – passing information on about him which was well received and which I was informed was very useful. I am not optimistic about my friend’s circumstances but trying to have faith that something can be done to help him. This all serves to remind me how fragile our lives are.
As this Christmas passes and the New Year approaches, spare a thought for people like my friend. I know you will. May I ask you a favour, if there’s something you can do for someone similar, please do it soon.
IN THESE AUSTERE TIMES it’s sometimes worth looking backwards to some of the grimmer images from the past and making a comparison of people’s lot from previous eras. In the year of 1824 Reverend J. T. Becher, a local magistrate, designed the revolutionary Southwell Workhouse with an aim to provide an economic model to assist the poor while at the same time reducing the burden on tax payers in the locality. Based on a concept of indoor relief for the poor, the institution was created to be as ‘repulsive’ as possible to paupers. It’s success saw it copied in many other parishes all over the country with it’s main principles of design and operation becoming a template for other similar institutions.
Perhaps many people’s image of a workhouse comes from the bleak impression offered in Dickens’ Oliver Twist with it’s stark images of gruel on the table and a deprived Twist pleading for ‘more’. The fact remains though that workhouse walls were not built to an insurmountable level, these were not prisons or houses of correction but rather places which the poor volunteered themselves to. Considering how grim life may have potentially been beyond those walls, conditions inside may certainly have been the lesser of two hard options. At least there was food, however basic for needs and shelter.
Segregated bathing facilities and laundry
Upon entering Southwell Workhouse, entrant’s clothes were taken from them and a rough uniform issued. Men and women were strictly segregated into different areas of the building, never seeing each other, whilst children were separated from their parents. The latter whilst seeming extremely cruel was reasoned to be good for the children as their parents had not been a good influence on them, it was explained to me by a friendly and knowledgeable guide. In a sense, though harsh, the workhouse could offer relatively greater benefits to children as they received an education – something which would have been unlikely on the outside.
Adult men and women were put to work, often very menial, in and around the house. Favoured employment tasks given to the ‘idle and profligate’ were the unpicking of rope which was very hard on the hands and breaking up stones for the making of roads. Other jobs included cleaning, laundering, preparing food and tending vegetable and fruit crops and a cow house. It was a regimented day, restricted to few rooms and an exercise yard. Food was basic, boiled meat being a staple. Dark and damp cellars were utilised for food preparation.
Cellars and a window to the world
Staffing levels were very low compared to the inmates who could number over 150. This consisted of a Master and Matron, teachers and a clerk who worked part-time. Master and Matron were a married couple and lived in very comfortable accommodation within the building.
Perhaps some of the more intriguing moments of a visit to Southwell Workhouse surround the male and female exercise yards. These were designed to be overlooked from the Master’s residence windows. Only a small pocket exists where the inmates could be out of sight and here are forms of old games scratched into the red brick walls of the workhouse and still viewable.
Master and Matron’s residence overlooking the exercise yards
My favourite part of the visit however, was a room depicting more modern times. In the 1960/70s rooms were used for the likes of young single mothers without a home. To enter the workhouse as accommodation helped them to rise up the council house waiting list it was explained to me. Artefacts of that area are on display in a dormitory room where such mothers lived and brought up youngsters, until moving on.
Southwell Workhouse it seemed to me was basically a functional concept which achieved what it set out to do, though in a sometimes unnecessarily harsh and cruel way at times, as maybe befitted the area in which it was created. It is also an interesting contrast to the beautiful, historic and feature full Nottinghamshire town it lies on the edge of. During my visits I have never accompanied a visitor who was not thoroughly impressed and intrigued by the old establishment. I would urge you to take a look for yourself.
More information here
Driving into Edinburgh, the long road behind me.
The Forth sparkles to my right, the signs up ahead say,
Bill comes on the radio – seems kind of fitting.
Welcome back, Stu
It’s summer time and thoughts, somewhat forlornly of late due to the inclement weather, go to past times driving to the beach. In my case that’s a two-hour and eighty-mile drive to the nearest coastline in Lincolnshire. I came across a discussion recently about Mablethorpe, an older resort which is around twenty miles north up the coast from better-known Skegness. It brought back a few memories and also a few thoughts.
I always quite like the idea of Mablethorpe and nearly always when I visit the Lincolnshire coast for the day go to nearby Sutton on Sea just a couple of miles down the coast.
Perhaps during the day, especially if the weather is disinclined towards sitting on the beach, I’ll walk up to ‘Mabo’, either via the prom or on the sand, and have a look around.
I always kind of want to remember it as it was when I was a kid first encountering it – or even a teenager – but apart from myself as the observer, obviously changing and getting older, it invariably disappoints me. This is not so much a criticism of Mablethorpe as I have a lot of fondness for it, but I always imagine how it could be with its natural assets – its potential. What I appear to see though are endless tat shops et al.
One thing we can’t change is the UK weather and of course that has become a huge factor for the likes of such home-based resorts but nothing ever really changes or gets updated, with a few exceptions, in the likes of Mablethorpe. Of course, part of its ‘charm’ are the traditional donkey rides, amusement arcades, fish and chips etc but if you’re not interested in that side of things you begin to struggle a little. You can get a very decent plate of fish and chips in the area but how many places serve up a decent dinner otherwise for example? I’m sure there are a few places if you know where to go but as an occasional and formerly regular visitor I wouldn’t know where to find that.
I’d always applaud any attempts to fire a bit of life into the old resorts because I find it very sad to compare them with how they used to be in the cases of smaller towns like Mablethorpe. I see though, little change from what they were offering to people when I was a kid. New initiatives such as facilities and businesses tend to be a bit lowbrow and of poor quality – stuff that wouldn’t appeal to you that much back in Nottingham in my case, or wherever you live.
It’s probably largely an investment issue but I’d welcome a little bit more up to date and imaginative thinking in these old places. I think they could do a lot more.
As I say, it’s definitely not a knock on Mablethorpe and the like, I truly have quite a bit of affection for these places, but I’d like to see them offer a bit more in 2012 and onwards as I’d very much like them to prosper as best as possible.
In the meantime, my occasional East Coast jaunts will remain at quieter Sutton (outwith visits to the Yorkshire coast). It remain an unassuming little place that’s decent, civilised and reasonably unspoilt, and like Mablethorpe, boasts a magnificent beach.
JUNE BRINGS the annual book festival at nearby Lowdham village, a few miles away. I’ve written variously on the subject of the many talks I’ve been to at Lowdham over the past few years and it’s a time of year that I really look forward to. On the festival’s informative website this year, it was mentioned that there would be a change of appearance and format for 2012, and so it proved.
I woke early on the morning of the final festival Saturday on 30th June with a hope and a plan to walk the eight miles to Lowdham. I’d a notion to retrace one or two of the local footpaths I’ve not walked in a few years and arrange for a lift home after the day came to an end. I have some ‘previous’ for this approach, not on foot but having cycled there and back with a friend on occasion. Unfortunately the sight from the bedroom window was not an encouraging one to wake up to, being one of heavy rain.
I decided to drive, not wishing to sit through up to four talks in wringing wet clothes.
Arriving in the village a little after ten in the morning, it was a different scene to the usual annual bustle on ‘final Saturday’. Main Street in Lowdham was very quiet with nary a pedestrian to be seen and tell-tale plentiful curbside parking available. I parked up and made my way to the first of a quartet of talks to be held in the small Methodist Chapel, just down from the village hall.
‘Tourist Trails In and Around Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire with Stephen Thirkill’ was the title of the initial session and the sparse gathering I walked into quickly expanded to respectable numbers. Stephen, a reporter from The Chad newspaper in Mansfield, explained with enthusiasm that this was his first attempt at book writing and despite an evident amount of hard work and hours spent, his sense of accomplishment was palpable. It was interesting to hear of the author’s problems and challenges in producing the book. I would have liked a little more systematic description of the great tourist attractions featured in the book.
After a short break and a drink, I returned for the second talk in the chapel ‘The Robin Hood Way’. This was a friendly and again enthusiastic talk by a member of the Robin Hood Way Association, the Robin Hood Way being a long distance (105 mile) walk that wends its way through Nottinghamshire as the title suggests. Being a walker myself, I’ve always been intrigued by the route, it passing through Bestwood country Park which is close to where I live. The walk begins at Nottingham Castle’s gatehouse and ends somewhat appropriately at St. Mary’s Church in Edwinstowe where Robin Hood and Maid Marian were said to have married, this being just a healthy arrow’s travel from a longbow to Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak. The talk focused on the society to some extent and although there was some instruction and comment on some of the intriguing places the Robin Hood Way travels through, again, I’d have enjoyed hearing more about the likes of Fountain Dale, King John’s Palace and Robin Hood’s Cave et al. The talk really came to life when the friendly speaker moved into the realm of these areas.
Lunchtime approached and in the pleasant sunshine I picked up a sandwich at the village Co-op and went to explore what was happening at the village hall – usually the epicentre of events on the final festival Saturday. What greeted me saddened me in some ways. In previous years the hall housed a book fair and cafe with the lawns to the rear of the building being a real treat being set out with marquees which hold book talks and a sizeable second-hand book fair. Stalls selling plants and other items usually dot the grassy area additionally. Alas, as pre-warned via the book festival website, none of these made an appearance this year and what was left was a rather barren-looking compound shuttered tightly. Inside the hall and available for twenty pounds was the no-doubt excellent main event featuring admirable local authors Jon McGregor and John Harvey, with a lunch provided.
Pondering my lot, I tripped over the road the Old Ship for a welcome pint outside on the patio. Commenting on the low-key nature of the final Saturday this year, I was informed that the Lowdham event had lost its funding and was now being forced to make the changes described above – at least for 2012. I’d like to state that whilst disappointed at what I encountered, the team that painstakingly plan the festival and contribute a lot of hard work should be commended in producing what is still an event to be proud of. I do hope however that things can somehow return to normal next year as the old format was sadly missed by me at least.
A report from the final afternoon at the festival can be accessed below
The good news…and the bad news. A few months ago in the depths of winter I had my bike stolen. It was a nice bike, 27-speed Japanese gearing and all that, probably well over-qualified for my generally undemanding recreational needs of tootling round the local village lanes in the dog days of summer. Fortunately, I have been recompensed by the insurers and replaced my wheels with a bike that’s slightly superior.
I have a few routes near home but I really like this one. It’s around 21 miles duration and takes in no less than six villages and passes a whopping ten pubs along its winding way. I seldom, if ever, prop my bike outside any of these pubs, apart from on the way back at the Nag’s Head but I have often done a mental pub-crawl in my head! Just recently I’ve taken to cycling from my home the extra 5-6 mile each way to Woodborough and back up and down a couple of monster hills to complete this distance. At least the view is pretty whizzing down the steep slopes of Bank Hill – even on a hazily sunny day.
A right turn at the junction on the Dover Beck-lined Woodborough Main Street takes us presently past the Four Bells public house, so called after the number of bells in St Swithun’s church which stand diagonally opposite on Main Street.
The Four Bells, Woodborough
The wheels keep rolling through the village and past the afore-mentioned Nag’s Head in the pretty and historic village of Woodborough, Notts. I’ve written about my liking for this place before so I’ll leave it there as I work through the gears down Lowdham Lane and off around the pretty Trent villages.
The Nag’s Head, Woodborough
There are few images of the Springfield Inn at Lowdham to commend it which is a shame. Here’s one I took anyway. This place is a bit of a curiosity I always feel in that, for me, it’s nearer Woodborough and certainly not within either that village or it’s address of Lowdham, rather sitting quietly off the old Epperstone Road. It’s a popular chain-run place these days though not unpleasant for all that. I remember as a teenager though when it was but a fraction of the size and a beautiful cosy pub before anyone had coined the phrase ‘chain eating place’.
The Springfield Inn, Lowdham
In practice, my little bike ride runs past the fourth pub on its journey in the World’s End at Lowdham Grange. Such a lovely rural hostelry with it’s still-remaining open fireplace a welcoming spot in the local countryside after a winter’s day walking. I really can’t comment the World’s End highly enough.
The World’s End, Lowdham
We move on however and it’s down the interesting main street in Lowdham village. The Ship Inn is an old-fashioned country pub in the centre of a popular village, traditional and welcoming, it feels like a home from home. When summer comes it’s possible to tether your bike outside and enjoy the quiet life that is Lowdham Main Street in the afternoon sun. Who wouldn’t want to? The annual Lowdham Book Festival is based opposite during every June. A marvellous and well-respected event for such a relatively small community
The Ship Inn, Lowdham Continue reading
IN REDHILL, NOTTINGHAM where I live, it’s an easy straightforward drive of barely fifteen minutes up the A60 to the north Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield. At a bit of a loose end at the end of a Bank Holiday, and with no real plans, we drove up to the town centre there and went to visit the food festival in the market square which had been advertised.
Now, I have to admit to a little strictly light-hearted mickey taking of Mansfield from time to time:
I’ve also elsewhere blogged variously about the locality:
but on a more serious note I have a bit of time for former honest coal mining communities such as the typified by Mansfield, and that’s by no means intended as patronising – more due to my late father being a pit man himself for some years after leaving the Merchant Navy. There’s a kind of basic down-to-earth honesty that is not lost on me.
Parking up in the town and walking down Leeming Street to the square, it was evident that the food festival was pretty low-key and a bit thin on the ground. Dodging three young men riding mopeds on the pavement and passing some of the hard-bitten businesses we went to explore.
There were also some vestiges of what passes for Mansfield market these days with but a few stalls open. It felt kind of sad to see people making an effort in their local community but struggling along to provide a small event. Whilst always understanding that this kind of deterioration is happening in many high streets and town centres up and down the country it’s all the same sad, to witness it up in local Mansfield.
Like many similar places, the town centre businesses appear to be thinning down and growing less in quality. Not that I’ve anything particularly against the JD Wetherspoon chain at all but there are maybe three outlets in quite close proximity, perhaps a sign of the times as to what can survive in decent old working class communities these days along with Greggs the bakers and a variety of pound shops and charity stores.
I’m not sure exactly what I want to say about Mansfield but I just wanted to register the thought that I truly hope that things can pick up and regenerate up there one of these days (and in many similar communities). I think Mansfield and it’s people deserve much better.
It’s a pretty sad thing to witness. I really don’t know the answer and fear there isn’t one. I placed a 3-hour parking ticket in my windscreen there yesterday and after an hour, was itching to get out of the place. I want to stress that’s definitely not meant as a hatchet job on Mansfield, there are some pleasant places there, and it’s partly due to the fact I prefer to be in the countryside in my spare time.
In spite of that I could see little to hang on there for. In the past I’ve enjoyed visits to variously the Palace Theatre, the Odeon, the market and the odd pint or a football match. Driving away this time I didn’t feel like ever going back and for some reason I didn’t enjoy that feeling.
We cut our losses, jumped in the car and headed off for a very pleasant drive through Farnsfield and Edingly to Southwell.
YESTERDAY, MAY 6TH saw the annual Cowslip Sunday celebrations in the pretty local village of Lambley. Hoping for a break in the dreadful Spring weather that has seen us soggy for what seems like a month now, I set off with a friend for a pleasant cycle ride of a few miles along the country lanes to the festivities.
Cowslip Sunday is a centuries-old celebration, traditionally held on the first Sunday in May each year. For many years it had appeared only in very muted style with the ancient tradition only being resurrected fully in 2010 and each subsequent year.
From the mid-19th century, villagers, typically stocking frame workers in the little cottages, would send their children out to collect cowslips which grew in profusion around Lambley. The pretty yellow flowers were sold in posies on the day to the many in-comers to the village, often largely from Nottingham six miles away, and also used to make a strong wine. ‘Cowslip balls’ were also made by the village’s children – small balls of dried grass which were decorated with cowslips and sold to the visitors. It was all a pleasant diversion for the stocking frame workers and their eked-out existence of hard work and low pay. On the big day, a procession of the congregation from the local church would occur where the rector would bless the local Dumble, this being a locally-used word for a wood lined stream, usually sitting in a small, steep sided valley
Sleepy little Lambley, a village named in the Domesday Book meaning ‘Lea of the lambs’ – a clearing where lambs are kept, must have changed its complexion greatly for this annual celebration of Spring arriving in older times. It is reported that in the Victorian era the police would often have to control the rowdy celebrations. Quoted from a local newspaper from 1866 on the Lambley Arts Festival website:
‘…visitors on Sunday were quite in equal numbers to former years, though, if we must judge from the manners and customs of a great part of them, and their acts and language, we should conclude that the class has not improved since their last annual visit’
Thankfully the modern-day celebration give no cause to draw out the local constabulary as they once did in those joyous, hedonistic days on the strong and sweet-tasting cowslip wine. Arriving at lunchtime we visited the village hall for a fortifying mug of hot tea and a slab of excellent home-made cake baked by the ladies of the local WI. Craft stalls were set out along with a Punch and Judy stand in the next-door Primary School’s playground. Further beyond in Farmer Dickie’s field lay the stage surrounded by hay bales in readiness for the local production ‘Lambley Jack and the Golden Stockings’, billed as a ‘panto for Springtime’.
I really can’t tell you how much fun this was! ‘Lambley Jack’ according to legend was a local ‘footpad’ – basically a cross between a highwayman and mugger – all probably supplemented by a little poaching and other nefarious deeds to keep the wolf from the door. You could probably describe him as Lambley’s own Robin Hood figure who spawned the local phrase ‘he’s got the cheek of Lambley Jack!’ Here though we see Jack as a young man with his family headed by his mother ‘Lambley Lil’ played in hilarious panto dame fashion. A gent by the name of Roger was yanked out of the crowd by amorous Lil:
‘Where are you from Roger?’
‘Hucknall’ (an industrial town a few miles away)
‘I heard what you said the first time, I’m just sorry!’
Each of the cast played an excellent part in a production that was great fun. A special word for the youngsters who shone and pleased the healthy-sized and enthusiastic outdoor audience.
‘Lambley Jack and the Golden Stockings’
A walk afterwards across the fields and down the pretty Lower Dumble with it’s rookeries and little stream was punctuated with a drink in my favourite watering hole, The Woodlark, which I keep meaning to write about one of these days. Later afternoon approached and it was time to saddle up and cycle along Spring Lane away from the village for the day.
Let me recommend Cowslip Sunday at Lambley to you. Beware however, once in the confines of this attractive and quaint Nottinghamshire village in it’s little valley, you may never want to leave.
Sadly, the full celebration of Lambley’s Cowslip Sunday will not be repeated this year in 2013. However, there are plans to resurrect it in 2014 and there remain plans for some commemoration of the day this year, as below:
Extract from Lambley Parish News April 2013
AT THE TOP OF THE YEAR it was reported that the Waverley Steps in Edinburgh had undergone a transformation with a new covered walkway and escalator. The 145 year-old thoroughfare’s new look is said to have cost a cool £7m.
My own first thoughts on seeing newly released images of it were that the construction looks quite incongruous with the surrounding architecture of the adjacent classic Balmoral Hotel, particularly in the way the roof is situated half way down the hotel’s windows. I really can’t see what else the designers could have done too differently though, apart from shelve the project completely. I’m satisfied that they’ve probably done all they reasonably could with the new structure.
The new Waverley Steps construction
As it was – a formidable sight for the weary traveller
Although the design perhaps seems a little ‘chancy’ when considering the historic environment, there are some good points regarding this improvement of the old access to Princes Street. It always seemed to be blowing a huge gale down those steps and it could be a slightly inhospitable first experience of Edinburgh to the visitor. The fact that disabled access to Waverley Station is improved is also a very welcome addition.
Blowing a gale!
I guess I was just interested in this story as that familiar trudge up the steps was always a bit symbolic to me. I never minded it because I knew I was visiting back home again and I was always anxious and pleased to see the old place again sometimes after a long wait and that few expectant hours on the train. Edinburgh really does show it’s best face to the visitor almost immediately after alighting the old stairway – much more than most cities where the railway stations are often situated in less attractive areas. I tend to drive to Edinburgh these days but the thought of a quick pint or two, with my travel bag chucked in the corner of the Guildford Arms or Cafe Royal after climbing those steps would always set me up for a nice stay. That familiar brewing smell in the Edinburgh air, the old sights followed by a pint in one of my favourite pubs always felt good and welcoming. ‘The holidays starts here’.
It’s heartening to read that most people appear to be pleased with the the Edinburgh institution’s new incarnation.
I think we’re all a little guilty of this – passing by things and places in our everyday lives without really looking at them. Maybe it’s the time expansion of modern life I’m not sure but I really do try to exercise a little mindfulness and understand and comprehend the things that surround me.
Speaking to an acquaintance recently, I came to hear about a little place of historic interest right in the city centre of Nottingham, one I had passed by hundreds if not thousands of times without paying any heed to. It’s a burial-place, a tiny, now disused cemetery for those of the Jewish faith. All I could ever profess to previously noticing was a tall sandstone wall with what looked like a patch of unremarkable wasteland behind it.
The original Jewish Cemetery, North Sherwood Street, Nottingham
A little rudimentary research tells me that Jewish people resided in Nottingham near the old castle around the time of the Norman conquest until the year of 1290 at the time they were expelled from the country by King Edward I. Apparently, they were acceded entry to the country again by Oliver Cromwell in 1657 with some settling in Nottingham for a century or so afterwards. Never a particularly prosperous community originally, it began to increase into the nineteenth century with the first synagogue in 1815 and merchants and businessmen from Germany arriving to stay, midway through that century.
Tablet above the door.
By the year of 1822 the town council agreed to lease the small area of just 144 yards to the Jewish community for use as a burial ground on North Sherwood Street, not far from the old town centre. The small plot was used until the 1860s when a larger area was required. My understanding is that a new cemetery was used after this time at Southey Street a few minutes walk away. Since then, a section of the large general cemetery at Wilford Hill to the south of the city has been used from around the middle of the twentieth century. The gate at North Sherwood Street’s little cemetery now remains locked, hiding it’s story.
Wherever we walk, history walks with us.
I know the answer (but wouldn’t have until fairly recently.)
I was a with a friend on a favourite local walk and we took a slight detour off the beaten path to surprisingly come across this monument. I reckon at least one reader of this site will be able to place it. Good luck!
CHRISTMAS COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR and so do the attendant Christmas Markets dotted around the UK in, its larger cities in particular. Here in Nottingham until a year ago, we had a German Market placed in and around the large Old Market Square in the centre of the city. This was replaced last year when, in the dying days of November, a much-vaunted ‘Victorian Fair’ came to take its place.
I’ll not try to claim any of these events as being terribly authentic in any way. The goods tend to be expensive too, but at least they provide a little mid-winter atmosphere around the city centre which could look a little barren and grey in the faltering light and damp pavements at the end of the year.
In previous years I particularly enjoyed seeing the busy outdoor skating rink laid out as a centre piece in the Square. Although of course artificial, it exuded a pleasing Winter ambience and truth be told, people appeared to like it as it always seemed well-used when I was passing there, which was often. Conveniently close by was a simple beer stand where one could wash down a delicious Bratwurst with a pint or two of excellent German Paulaner out in God’s good fresh air.
Last year things changed with a larger licensed bar in the form of a Canadian-style hunting lodge. The concept was pretty hokey, what with its pair of old white figure skates hanging on the wall (in a hunting lodge!) a scattering of furniture and a fur rug or two. It was however warmish in there which was a bonus, even if the drinks had been largely demoted to bog-standard beers sold in any old pub.
This year I popped into the Square on the evening of the 23rd November for the annual Christmas tree lights switch on and was quite disappointed in what I saw. Centre stage in place of the skating rink was a huge fairground ride which I believe is called the ‘North Star’. The Council’s blurb describe it as sixty metres high and it is totally out of keeping with a Christmas Market. It actually looks quite ridiculous. Wandering around I also noticed a fairground merry-go-round, which for the life of me I can’t link to Christmas and other smaller rides which I’ve subsequently seen deserted and only manned by bored-looking operators.
There’s a large bar which is excitedly billed by the council as a ‘Narnia’ experience. It’s basically a large open-ended shed that sells beer with a smaller room through a ‘wardrobe’ door. There’s mulled wine and Staropramen amongst other things on offer. I did enjoy an excellent pint of Briska Swedish perry which was very refreshing. I won’t be taking too many of those though at £3.80 a pint.
Small stalls snake along Long Row and Wheeler gate in what is a larger event for 2011. Many of the businesses however are generic, anytime anywhere affairs which have little to do with the festivities at this time of year.
So, on balance, I’m pretty disappointed. I’ve enjoyed socialising with friends on the Christmas Market in Nottingham many times but can’t see that happening so much this year. The Nottingham City Council seem to have capitulated to a lack of cash but more obviously a lack of imagination. The same fairground operators once again dominate the Square as per usual, yes we’ve noticed and you’re not fooling us Nottingham City Council, making it more like Goose Fair with artificial snow. It’s all a bit cheap looking.
Verdict: could do better – much better. I’ll be looking for the spirit of Christmas elsewhere this year.
I first wrote about the pretty Beehive Inn at Maplebeck in Nottinghamshire back in May of 2008. It’s taken me a little while to return but return I did last weekend after a visit to one of my favourite places in Nottinghamshire, near Southwell. The cruise down the attractive rural lanes of Hockerton and Winkburn on a sunny Saturday afternoon with the roof down on the car was just the stuff that memorable Summer days are made of. Finally arriving at the little hamlet with its village green to the right and the familiar old sight of the Beehive to the left I left the car in the tucked away car park with what looked curiously like a partly constructed tepee in the adjoining field.
Arriving at the Beehive you just have to stand back and admire it. On my all too rare visits it appears to me as a Brigadoon-like place that might just only be emerging out of the mists once every few years. It has never looked remotely any different since the first day I visited it perhaps approaching twenty years ago, nor would I ever wish it to. It’s position at the foot of a silent lane hooped in trees is an enviable one too. Whoever decided that this would be a great place for an inn I’m not sure why but it most certainly is. The exterior looks worn and greying-white, its appearance is like an oversized version of one of those quaint olde-worlde ornaments that depict somehow significant buildings and adorn certain mantelpieces. It looks crooked from all aspects and slightly defies gravity in doing so.
The latch was lifted on the farmhouse-like door by a friendly server and were in a completely empty Beehive, hushed and soundless apart from our very welcome drinks being poured. We sat alone while others enjoyed themselves in the sunny front garden which lies between the pub and its attendant outbuildings, the original outside lavatories. Unlike most licensed premises in 2011 there were but few beer pumps on the little bar. This also feels kind of ‘right’ to me. It reminds me of my local Waggon and Horses at Redhill where I first used to drink when old enough. There were few different beers then – not even so much as a pint of draft lager to be had. Out of the scant choice I took a pint of excellent Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB) by Oakham Ales in Leicestershire, a nice pale-coloured and slightly citrusy brew which went down pretty well.
The interior looks a little tired but hey who cares. A place like this was meant to look tired. It’s old enough to be out on its own and has seen and heard much over the decades and within its cramped walls. The fixtures and fittings are aged and outdated, it’s curtains would be considered ‘chintzy’ in a lesser building but here it all comes together and works perfectly somehow. If you fancy an afternoon or an evening in the past, come here and blow the history book wide open whilst you can, for one day these experiences will be no more. Even better, go there on a Winter’s evening and feel truly cossetted in the warmth and snugness of this welcoming and very special place. I promise you, tearing yourself away may be problematic though.
Thankfully on this occasion, unlike previously, I was armed with the means of taking a few pictures to illustrate what I’m talking about. I hope you enjoy them just as much as you will if you ever take that meandering drive, or maybe cycle ride, to Maplebeck.
The area of Nottinghamshire in which I live, Redhill, has seen quite a few changes over the years. Like many other places it has lost a few small businesses along the way, including a grocery store, a newsagent, the original post office and an excellent fish and chip shop. Two constants over the years though have been it’s two very old and neighbouring pubs, The Ram Inn and The Wagon and Horses which both stand prominently on the main Mansfield Road .
Just recently I have noticed that ‘The Ram’ has been closed up tight, boarded off and with workers cabins in the car park. It’s not clear whether this was to be a much-needed refurbishment as I’ve been assured the old public house has closed it’s doors for good and that it’s future is apparently as an eighty-bedroom residential care home. Contradicting this there are signs outside which indicate that is to reopen as part of a chain of pub restaurants. Who knows the truth but it raises the thorny situation of the future of so many British pubs.
Both of Redhill’s pubs are of a considerable vintage. The Wagon and Horses was reputedly built in 1827 as a coach house for the main arterial road north it stands upon while the The Ram is a few years it’s senior being built in 1789. I am informed that both pubs these days have a shared owner who has decided to close one of them. I dare hazard a guess that The Wagon has been kept because of it’s historic coaching inn past but that’s just conjecture on my part.
Over the years I had been a customer of both pubs. Before their lamented disappearance, the two main local breweries had been represented in the two pubs, The Wagon carrying Home Ales beer from it’s Daybrook premises just a mile down the road whilst The Ram sold the less popular Shipstones ales made at The Star Brewery at Basford perhaps just three miles away. Customers tended to go the pub whose beer they preferred. Well into the 1970s, The Wagon still retained its stables that had been originally used to replenish stage coaches with new horses in order to climb up the ‘interminable rise of Redhill’ northwards. Latterly the stables housed the pub’s toilets and in another area had swings for children as I recall.
Local landmarks: The Wagon and Horses and The Ram Inn
Latterly, The Ram had slipped so far backwards it was difficult to know what could be done to improve the place. It was a very good example of the typical ruination of a decent pub after the separate bars were gutted to make one large area. Together with a considerable extension to the rear, largely to woo potential diners, the atmosphere was barn-like and it also looked worn, tired and dated with it eighties-style former renovation.
Although only minutes walk from my home I have rarely used either pub in many years so I can understand how it has been difficult to retain the profitability of both establishments. I would have loved to support my local community’s public houses if either had been more to my taste. Typically, about once a year I’ll take an annual strollup the road to see if anything has changed. With both pubs being in such close proximity it was always easy to pop round next door if one was a little quiet. My usual experience has been to enter The Ram through it’s side door, find it almost completely deserted and walk straight out of the front door and on to The Wagon. In truth though, neither pub seem like the nice old local pubs that I used to visit years ago. Times have changed and I’d sooner go the trouble and expense of taking a return bus ride into the city where I can have a quiet drink in somewhere with a little ‘life’ in it and enjoy a good range of more interesting drinks such as some of the continental lagers and quality ciders. I don’t feel particularly pleased to say that and I’d love to have seen the old Redhill pubs back in their former guise and enjoy a walk up the road to enjoy a drink with a neighbour or two in a proper ‘local’ pub. It’s all a bit of shame.
The news about The Ram Inn is hardly isolated. So many of our old pubs are disappearing forever and things will never be the same again. Another local pub, The White Hart which was an incredibly popular and busy pub years ago, now lies forlorn and graffiti-laden, doubtless awaiting demolishment and redevelopment for retail purposes. It’s last apparition as part of a mediocre restaurant chain now a predictable memory. I never would have in the past foreseen the day when the likes of that place was no longer.
The Ram Inn at the moment lies in sullen darkness after over two-hundred years of quenching locals’ and passing travellers’ thirsts. I hope it’s not all over for this well-known local landmark. What a dire state of affairs our local community pubs find themselves in in 2010. The biggest shame is that should the likes of The Ram Inn close down it would do so largely unloved and unlamented. It was not always thus.
A fine day was forecast, a heady for August 23c and sunny outlook. I awoke to an ash grey sky however and so the day would remain. The bikes had already been stowed in the back of the car ready and waiting for the day’s challenge, that of cycling from the centre of Nottingham to Newark-on-Trent adhering to the River Trent.
My friend and I set off steadily through the late Saturday morning shoppers on Milton Street and the Clumber Street precinct and bore left to the quieter Lace Market district before reaching the landmark of Meadow Lane Football Stadium and its adjacent cattle market. Turning right over Lady Bay Bridge we were soon enthusiastically wheeling our cycles down the steps to our first view of the River Trent, under the nearby shadow of Nottingham Forest’s City Ground Stadium.
What immediately confronted us was what appeared to be a foot race along the Trent towpath of a long thin stream of mud-splattered individuals. Indeed, one or two looked as if they had been driven over by a tractor or perhaps spent the night residing in a potato patch. A good solid British fun morning out in the fresh air.
Very quickly the pleasant path took us brushing into the Holme Pierrepont Water Sports Centre with a brief sight of the cold, grey sporting waters before cutting over a rugby pitch and heading down the slightly eerily quiet Adbolton Lane towards Radcliffe-on-Trent. Curiosity and time on our hands soon saw us taking a short detour to have a peek at Blotts Country Club before we proceeded cheerily down the narrow lane towards The Green and onto Radcliffe’s busy main street.
A check of the map and a peruse of an estate agent’s illustrated front windows and we were passing Radcliffe railway station and facing our first and only hill of the whole journey. Energy levels were high as we steadily tacked up the hill to be faced with extensive views over the surrounding countryside. Very soon the prettily situated Shelford village came into view. In the foreground busy Autumn ploughing of the fields was in full flow with rapt and rabid attention from a flock of shrieking gulls. A long, steep descent and a speedometer reading of all of thirty miles per hour took us whizzing into the quiet little village with barely a soul to be seen on Saturday lunchtime.
An aim of our journey was to hug the river as consistently as possible and before long we were passing over the River Trent’s only crossing between Nottingham and Newark, the dependable looking Gunthorpe Bridge. The bridge, along with the upstream Gunthorpe Lock was opened in the 1930s being a project to create work for local people in what was a time of austerity. Prior to this time the main traffic ran directly through the little village of Gunthorpe towards an original bridge with its toll house standing sentinel next to it. The toll house still remains in the guise of a restaurant and upon close inspection both ends of the long-removed bridge can still be observed in the undergrowth.
Gunthorpe Bridges, old and new
It was high time for our first refreshment of the day as we steadily picked out way towards the patio of what was formerly a fairly basic tearoom at Gunthorpe Lock and is now a pleasant bistro named Biondi. Whenever I see this nice facility it reminds me of the days a few years ago when there nothing here apart from a car park for visitors. One winter’s day, cooling down after a long run along the Trent towpath a researcher, clipboard in hand approached me and asked what type of facilities might be provided in the area? ‘Somewhere to get a cup of tea’ was the first response I blurted out that day and it’s gratifying to see that this and much beyond has come to pass. Continue reading
A pictorial tourist trail*
The following is not intended as a thorough chronicling of this part of Newark civil engineering history but rather as an account by an interested visitor of carrying out the tourist trail outlined by Mr. John Gardner in his leaflet ‘The Bridges of Newark – A Tourist Trail’. The leaflet was formerly distributed by the Newark Tourism department (now out of print since 2004), I’d like to acknowledge the writings of Mr. Gardner and (Mrs. Mary Gardiner’s line drawings) and for the kind assistance of the good folk at the Newark Tourism department in obtaining the walk leaflet for me.
Just recently I visited the Nottinghamshire market town of Newark to take in the annual Newark Beer Festival which was taking part on the Riverside Park under the considerable shadow of the town’s ‘Guardian of the Trent’ the ruined castle. Knowing that the afternoon prior to the evening’s festivities would be free, I contacted the Newark Tourism people and they kindly forwarded details of a short walk I’d remembered from a few years ago which takes in the many bridges along the River Trent which runs to the west of the town.
From Nottingham Midland to Newark Castle Station is a pleasant journey indeed at a touch over half an hour. Alighting mid afternoon on a Friday, my friends and I were soon heading past Burton Joyce in the vicinity of some of the county’s most attractive villages in Hoveringham, Thurgarton and Fiskerton. The familiar small station hailed us off the train in bright sunshine and a offered a warm beginning to the weekend.
The walk begins on a high point with the beautiful old towpath bridge, Longstone Bridge around 300 yards south of the Town Lock. Here the majority of the flow of the river is redirected under the bridge and over a weir, avoiding the lock. Longstone Bridge’s construction is dated at 1819 (or 1827), depending on which report you believe. The present bridge replaced an original timber built bridge and is now quite rightly a Grade 11 listed structure.
(1) Longstone Bridge and Weir
Turning back towards the Town Lock, the second bridge is immediately in view. Mill Bridge is a no-frills concrete construction dating back to the 1960s’ and provides access to The British Waterways workshops in place of the original brick bridge. After this point we pass a rare inland dry dock, used for the repairing of river craft and head towards the lock. Continue reading
According to the report below, the city council are considering abolishing the German Market this year stating the possibility that it may become ‘boring’. Possible other options to replace it according to the same report are more fairground rides (what a surprise that one is, I wonder who will be providing those?) a craft market and the English cafe market to return.
Now maybe I’m alone on this but I think this is a great shame. I’ve come to enjoy my annual visits to the Old Market square for the ‘switch-on’ night and the atmosphere generally when dropping off there for a tasty Bratwurst and a German beer or two, or a Glühwein. Like any such event there are improvements that could be made and perhaps nobody is trying to state it’s the genuine article in terms of it being ‘authentic’ but it is fun, friendly and relatively safe as far as having a drink in the city centre is concerned.
I’m not an overly political person these days but I sometimes think the city council seem quite unattuned to what the people of Nottingham would like to see happen in the city, certainly in this case. I often wonder how many years the ‘Wheel of Nottingham’ will be planned to return for example. One never really knows for sure but on the evidence of my own frequent passages through the square I rarely see anybody actually on it. I took a ride for a fiver on it’s first appearance and it was okay but it could be said that ‘once is enough’ for such an attraction.
Sometimes they get it right. The City Pulse is a good example of that. In the case of the German Market I think they are kicking to the kerb prematurely a nice little new tradition in the city needlessly. Time will tell. I know for the suggested options so far they won’t be seeing my cash in the proximity of the council house during the coming winter.
A second visit on March 2010’s ‘Nottingham Big Day Out’ after a fascinating trip to Dukes wood oilfields was to the nearby village of Calverton and it’s tiny, quaint Folk Museum on the Main Street near the shopping precinct. The museum had been elusive to me in the past and I learned that it only opens on one Sunday every month. It’s well worth seeking out though.
The museum sits next to the Baptist Church and it’s tiny interior is crammed with interesting Victoriana. It’s a typical example of an old stocking worker’s cottage – from the home-based workers that spawned the phrase ‘cottage industry’. It has two rooms up and two down. It was explained to visitors that a doctor from the nearby village of Epperstone used one of the lower rooms as his surgery. This room now houses a nice example of a frame worker’s knitting machine. Calverton is of course the home of one William Lee in the 16th Century. Lee invented the knitting machine it is said due to a woman he was courting at the time being more interested in knitting than in him! Travelling further in the early 1800s’ a violent reaction occurred against the stocking frame machines when Ned Ludd of (some say) Leicestershire was said to have sabotaged two of the machines as a protest against the loss of labour caused by William Lee’s invention. ‘The Luddites’ and their movement wrought bloody riot and disarray around the villages of Nottinghamshire and further beyond into Yorkshire, Lancashire and further. Still to this day we talk of a ‘Luddite’ as one who shuns or ignores technological advances.
It was explained by the friendly guide how difficult life would have been in the days of stocking frame workers. The children of the house would begin work at just nine years of age and every member of the family would do their share. It was a hard life, living in tiny, cramped and overcrowded conditions. Bare brick floors to walk upon and damp walls were normal. At this cottage the water had been drawn typically from a well in the back garden. Illumination of the home was a curious affair. The light was provided in the form of a paraffin lamp or even just a candle, placed behind a globe made of glass filled with spring water and Aqua Fortis for magnification. An example of this sits in a lower window.
The museum is a nice resource for Calverton people as it has information about many of the local families. There’s something for everyone though and I particularly enjoyed leafing through some very random old scrap books upstairs that had been donated. Sepia images of a smiling thirties Don Bradman leapt out of the delicate pages. Scattered around were many artefacts and perhaps some of the most interesting to me were those that had survived from Victorian times into the 1960s’ of my childhood such as ‘whips and tops’ and the old strap-on roller skates.
It was an extremely warm welcome we received at the Calverton Folk Museum. One of the guides and two other visitors I discovered had all attended Redhill School a few summers ago and we had a nice chat talking about old times and some of those teachers at the suburban school. It’s not easy to catch this slice of local history with it’s doors open but I’d urge anyone with an interest to spend an hour or two there on one of the Sundays each month that it opens. It’s a lovely visit.
Just recently was the ‘Nottingham Big Day Out’. Similar to the ‘Nottingham Big Night Out’ where many restaurants and other businesses offer cheap for free deals, the former has an open day policy to many of the county’s attractions, such as it’s museums. I can recommend availing yourself of this day. I and my partner decided on taking a trip up to Dukes Wood near Eakring and later to Calverton Folk Museum on the free Sunday and both were fascinating visits.
Dukes Wood, for the uninitiated is a woodland near Eakring in north Nottinghamshire where oil was struck in Nottinghamshire just as WWII was breaking out in 1939. It remained top secret and contributed 2,000,000 barrels of oil towards the war effort. A team of oil men were imported from Oklahoma, US, to work on the field where around two hundred places of extraction grew with the woods. The American roughnecks were billeted in Kelham Hall at Newark and their story was told in a stage production which was shown in Mansfield a few years ago.
Nowadays Dukes Wood remains as a pleasant nature trail with the unusual addition of several ‘nodding donkeys’ which extracted the oil, scattered around the pretty pathways. There is also a small information centre which houses memorabilia about those times past. A small air raid shelter still stand near the centre. During our visit we had the great pleasure of talking to a gentleman who was actually part of the oil industry at Eakring and he was extremely informative. Leafing through the many old black and white photographs he mentioned ‘Frank’ who he was working with at the time. This turned out to be no less than Sir Frank Whittle who worked at Eakring for 18 months back in those days.
We were told that oil extraction only ended in 1999 and that oil was being again brought out at nearby Kirklington. Searching for oil also endures in Sherwood Forest apparently.
it always appears to me that this is one of the lesser-known and more fascinating stories about Nottinghamshire. For those not aware of it, it’s a pleasant afternoon stroll in a beautiful area straight back into modern-day history and only a relatively short drive north of the city.
LIKE EVERYWHERE ELSE, Nottinghamshire has had it’s share of snow so far this Winter though as is usual, generally less than most. I find the snow freshens the landscapes and really enjoy the rarer opportunities these days to get out and enjoy a bracing walk with a little crisp snow underneath my boots.
The pictures here were taken on just such a pleasant Sunday morning walk just before Christmas. My friends and I parked up at nearby Papplewick village and headed along the bridleway into Newstead Abbey where we took morning coffee before retracing our path back to the pretty village.
I always find the site of Newstead Abbey a somewhat inspiring one at any time. I’ve written here before of my great affection for it, which travels back several decades, for the this historic place. This day was an opportunity to see it’s grandeur draped in a fresh coating of thin white snow. The Romantic poet, Lord Byron’s ancestral pile in its Winter clothing.
The courtyard and its cafe is always of appeal but particularly so on a cold wintry morning where a mug of steaming hot coffee could be viewed as one of life’s great, yet simple pleasures.
Looking over towards the lake, the early signs of it freezing over were visible. A light drifting of snow had skimmed and settled across it’s thin crusty surface.
Watery sun shone down on us on the eve of the shortest day of the year, glinting off the grassy meadows outside the Abbey. There were few there to enjoy the sights and sounds of Newstead Abbey in this cold December Sunday morning.
It was a time of year when many things need to be done, the important late Christmas shopping to be concluded and food and drink to be brought into the home in preparance for the soon-to-be festivities. For all that, I’m happy that I found the time to visit one of my favourite places in it’s different guise. The coffee was good too.
It’s a Sunday, it’s a bright, sunny and unseasonably pleasant day at the back end of the year (one of many this Autumn in Nottinghamshire). Seems like the ideal opportunity to pull the roof down on the car and take off for a bracing drive up the road for a little walk around lovely Rufford Park and Abbey.
The nice weather certainly brought lot’s of people out of their homes to make the most of an atmospheric Autumn afternoon in November. Children played happily, mums and dads enjoyed their warming hot chocolates outside the cafes. All was well.
Here’s a a cute little fellow that my friend Chris and I happened across on one of our country walks in Nottinghamshire just recently. As you can see, this youngster has designs on speed and is just about to cross the central white line of Gonalston Lane between Hoveringham and Gonalston.
Just recently whilst sweeping leaves out of the garage, I unfortunately came across a deceased hedgehog which was sad to see. I can report however that our friend here’s immediate plight was a happy and safe one as Chris placed him into a ploughed field next to the road. Let’s hope he doesn’t attempt that particular crossing too often.
Staying in Southport on Merseyside recently, I made the effort to pop down the coast to Crosby just to the north of Liverpool and visit the superb piece of work Another Place by Angel of The North sculptor, Antony Gormley. I could never make my mind up about The Angel of The North loved as it is by many as symbolic of the North-east of England.
When I first set eyes on it on one of my sojourns up the A1 to Edinburgh I felt it faintly ludicrous, rusting as it appeared to be. I’ve changed my view on that nowadays. It’s fair to say that is an eye-catching and auspicious sight – especially when viewed heading northwards.
Sometimes we’ve all been guilty of ignoring a little gem from right under our noses and this was the case with me and The Malt Cross in Nottingham until the past year or two. I always knew of it’s existence just off the Old market Square in the city centre on the pedestrianised St. James Street, adjacent The Bell Inn, but never visited. I wasted some time because the converted music hall dating back to 1877 is a beautiful and interesting place to find oneself for a quiet pint and tasty snack early evening after work or to listen to the good quality live music that the venue sports.
Built on two floors, the upper area is an oval balcony that looks down on the throng below and also the small stage which is curiously situated at a height between the two floors at one end of the building. Presumably this would have been where the original music hall acts of the Victorian era would perform and heavily harks back to that age.
As well as an impressive and historic structure, The Old Malt Cross has pleasant, friendly and efficient staff which means those dreary and frustrating queues for drinks or usually absent, even at the peak of a busy Friday night in Nottingham’s city centre.