I do enjoy the scarecrow competitions around the local villages in the summer. This is ‘Sister Mary’ from Caythorpe Nottinghamshire who was abducted two years ago. Last seen with her feet ‘poking out the back of a grey car’. Sister Mary’s owner offered free cupcakes to anyone with information, which seemed quite appropriate…
It’s recorded that although the ‘nun-nappers’ had taken Mary away she still finished a creditable joint second in the competition alongside a ‘zombie scarecrow’. First place went to a witch stuck in a tree, accompanied by a sign saying ‘Don’t drink and fly’.
Bless you, Sister Mary.
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.
I recently came across an internet discussion headed ‘Why are bus drivers so bitter?’ The person asking the question had felt let down by a bus driver not allowing him onto his bus though standing at a bus stop. Without delving into that set of circumstances I think those of us who have cause to use bus services all have our frustrations to relate.
The area of Nottinghamshire where I live is served by Nottingham City Transport Buses and also a private East Midlands bus company called Trent Barton. Alighting a corporation bus, one is reasonably likely, though by no means always, liable to experience a poor, uncommunicative or sullen attitude from the drivers whereas the Trent Barton drivers are at the other end of the spectrum, invariably behaving in a friendly, personable and helpful manner.
I agreed with many of the assertions in the discussion revolving around the frustrations of the drivers and what a difficult and trying job it must be. I think this takes it toll – these men and women do a thankless job in many respects. An interesting observation for me locally is that the corporation drivers generally drive just a few miles on their routes through very frustrating city and suburban conditions – with the resultant effect on the drivers. Just imagine driving stop-start all shift long, the abuse from some members of the public and so on. The Trent Barton drivers tend to partly drive through the city too but their routes are often longer with stretches through open countryside. The bus I use between home and Nottingham city centre is a journey of but four miles but the bus then usually continues on to Chesterfield – a full thirty mile journey with only an intermittent stop in a built up area (Mansfield). I’m sure this helps the drivers and is a mood lifter.
Perhaps more importantly, I’m pretty sure the Trent Barton drivers are trained and educated in their attitudes towards customers. The company has a smaller ‘family feel’ to it and this culture really improves relations between staff and customers. They also make judicious use of social media to communicate with their customers. The Facebook and Twitter comments they provide through the day can be incredibly helpful regarding en-route problems, cheap fares and so on.
The result is a superior service. The respect is palpable between drivers and customers and the positivity and friendliness shown by the drivers mostly delivered right back at them from their passengers. The service, as far as travelling on buses goes, is a pleasant one to use. I have a choice in my suburb of using Trent Barton buses or Nottingham City Transport buses. Guess which one I don’t use from one year to the next?
Things are looking pretty bleak for the local football club, Arnold Town, after a proud and illustrious past, formerly as Arnold St. Mary’s (and Arnold Kingswell). They perform a good service to the community, running some thirty teams for players of all ages.
It was sad to see them leave the centre of the town a few years ago when they lost their home at the King George V playing field after many a year but hopes were high with an excellent facility built-in the nearby countryside for them to use.
I’ve a few happy memories of watching them as a youngster, in particular against professional opposition in the form of Bristol Rovers and Port Vale in the FA Cup amongst many other games, here in the town and I really hope they keep a long, local tradition alive.
Come on The Eagles.
The name of Mordecai Sherwin, a local and internationally-known sportsman of his era was known to me from doing a little research and reading on the golden age of cricket in the nineteenth century and the county of Nottinghamshire’s part in it. I recently came across his name once more as being a former mine host of The Grove Hotel at Daybrook, Nottingham, approximately a mile down the road from my own home just a few minutes north in Redhill. The Grove is sadly no longer. Never a public house that I visited and now earmarked for demolition, it did however have an interesting cave system underneath the bars and a significant slice of history surrounding it. On reading that Nottinghamshire-born Mordecai was at one time the landlord of The Grove, I decided to take a little look at his story.
The man himself not only played professional cricket for Nottinghamshire and England but also appeared in goal for Notts County Football Club before retiring to become a cricket umpire and publican. In the mid-1880s, Mordecai was in his pomp and feted as arguably the leading wicket-keeper in the land and more than useful batsman. This was all achieved despite possessing a less than sylph-like 17 stone frame coupled with a reasonably modest height of 5ft 9ins for his bulk!
In the age of distinction between professionals and gentlemen (amateurs generally from the upper classes) in cricket, with few working-class professionals being bestowed the honour of leading their county, Mordecai was apparently the very last professional captain until many years later in the mid-1930s.
The famous Nottinghamshire back-stop was also well-known as something of a joker on the pitch it is said. Wisden, in choosing it’s wicket keeper of the year for 1891 said of him thus:
‘Always in the best of spirits, and never discouraged, however much the game may be going against his side, Sherwin is one of the cheeriest and pluckiest of cricketers.’
The almanac also added:
‘In point of style behind the wicket he is more demonstrative than his Lancashire rival, but, though the applause and laughter of the spectators may occasionally cause him to go a little too far, he has certainly never done anything to really lay him open to censure.’
Mordecai is further described as being of ‘great bulk’ but nevertheless ‘wonderfully quick on his feet’ and capable of acts of extreme brilliance behind the stumps.
Giving further colour to Wisden’s review, Mordecai is also immortalised by E.V. Lucas, humourist, essayist, playwright, biographer and publisher in his ‘Cricket All His Life’ book, as follows:
‘Moredecai Sherwin, the famous wicket-keeper in the great period, and as leader of the side in 1887 and 1888 the last of Nottinghamshire’s professional captains, was a very notable man … When interviewed … by Captain Holden at Trent Bridge as a potential wicket-keeper, he had been asked if he was afraid. “Nowt fears me,” he replied. He followed by keeping wicket for Nottinghamshire for eighteen years with a remarkable record. Mordecai (and I think Sherwin must have been the only cricketer with that name) was a rotund man of mirthful character and a leading member of the Nottingham Glee Club, which used to meet at the Black Boy to sing and be hearty together.’
The theme of Mordecai as entertainer persists with tales of him offering renditions of Oh Dem Golden Slippers and performing various somersaults and jigs to the amusement of others at social events!
As has been stated, the Nottinghamshire man was also a hit between the posts with Notts County Football club in the late 1970s and early 1880s. From an age when it was customary to attempt to bundle the custodian into the net along with the ball, Wikipedia informs us of a memorable incident. Young and sturdily built Joseph Lofthouse (an apt name for this particular event) of Blackburn Rovers decided to have something of a run at Mordecai but unhappily for him rebounded harmlessly off the Notts goalie with Mordecai stating nonchalantly: ‘Young man, you’ll hurt yourself if you do that again’. Not to be deterred, Lofthouse attempted another physical charge on the last line of defence with Sherwin, belying his size, dancing deftly to one side and watching the young Blackburn forward crash painfully into the goalpost.
The Grove Hotel, (right) Daybrook, Nottinghamshire, C. 1900
Finally, an interesting link has also been suggested between Mordecai Sherwin and no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A strong theory exists that Sherwin, along with fellow Nottinghamshire team-mate Frank (T. E.) Shacklock was the inspiration behind the Edinburgh writer’s classic Sherlock Holmes character with the legend ‘caught Sherwin, bowled Shacklock’ appearing with monotonous regularity on Notts’ scorecards in the 1890s. The two surnames being amalgamated to form the name of super-sleuth, Sherlock.
Mordecai Sherwin was most definitely a sportsman characteristic of a different age. An unusual sporting hero by today’s standards and criteria but nonetheless a high achiever and a success in two professional disciplines in a great era of professional sports.
The town near where I live Arnold has one or two famous sons and daughters like most places of any size or history. Romantic landscape painter, Richard Parkes Bonington is just such a figure from Arnold in Nottinghamshire.
I’ve recently been witness to an informative talk also by a local Redhill resident which included a description of how he had been refurbishing a statue of the artist for the past twelve months which will go on public display. Richard Parkes Bonington is commonly described as coming from Arnold although I have heard a claim of late that this theory is somewhat spurious due to his time spent abroad. Having always been of the opinion that he was an Arnold man and in respect of the talk, I decided to do a little research about this assertion
The artist and his former Arnold home
Bonington was born in Arnold in 1802, his first home was at 79 High Street in Arnold. The fine old manor house has long been the premises for the Labour (Social) Club in Arnold. His mother opened a school in the town just after he was born whilst his father was the Governor of Nottingham Gaol. Bonington’s father nurtured his son’s talent whilst he was growing up in Arnold, resulting in his work being exhibited in the city of Liverpool at the tender age of just eleven years. After this time, his parents opened a lace factory but as a result of great industrial unrest of the time decided to emigrate to France in 1817 when the young artist was fourteen years old, firstly to Calais, before they moved to Paris the year after.
Venice Grand Canal, Sunset – Richard Parkes Bonington
The young Bonington spent parts of 1823 touring Belgium, much of 1824 in Dunkirk and several months of his short life in London in 1825. He further travelled extensively in Italy and made several extended stays to London before later returning to the Capital where he died and is interred.
To summarise, Bonington was born in Arnold of parents who lived in the town. His first home was in Arnold and he spent fourteen of the twenty-five years of his life being brought up in Arnold. He is also known to have been a skilled artist, with at least one exhibition, at a very young age (though not yet formally trained) whilst in Arnold. In addition to hailing from the town, he has not been in any other part of the world for nearly the length of time that he spent in the Nottinghamshire town.
I’d have to offer the humble opinion that it’s a perfectly reasonable claim that Arnold can call Richard Parkes Bonington one of its own. The artist is additionally, rightly celebrated with a local school and a theatre named after him.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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.
It’s seldom I take the short and direct fifteen-minute drive north of where I live to the Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield but today was to be an exception. I’d read recently in the local media about a free exhibition that was to be held at Mansfield Museum in the town’s Leeming Street, very close to The Palace Theatre where I experienced an extremely fun day in what seems almost like another life now.
Pop goes Mansfield! is an exhibition celebrating popular music over six decades with a particular interest in the way that the local area has made it’s own small yet distinctive stamp on the world of rock and roll It’s through one of Mansfield’s favourite sons, a man by the name of Bernard Jewry – better known to the public as Alvin Stardust and prior to that Shane Fenton, that the story is largely told. Alvin’s collection of memorabilia, from his jump suits right down to his improbably tall platform shoes, augments the large room which is crammed full with various interesting pop and rock artefacts.
An episode of the BBC’s Inside Out shows on a loop in the room, explaining Alvin’s story and upbringing in the North Nottinghamshire mining town. From his family home through the different phases of success that followed his career, he comes across as a sincere man with few airs and graces, one who has had a good and entertaining life and enjoyed every minute of the journey along the way.
Sometimes one just gets the bit between the teeth. Yesterday was just such a day. The day was not a particularly auspicious one as I toiled with the psychology report I am taxed to do. Administrative problems with the report were driving my blood pressure skyward and I really needed a complete change of pace and activity for the day. I had promised myself a longer run, all being well, for the day as it had been a few short months since I’d ran more than 11-12 miles in one session. This had nagged at me mentally and in truth was carving chasms in my confidence regarding running a marathon. At one time of day I was mentally strong and assured enough to contemplate any distance placed in front of me – not so these days. For the day I desired 13 miles as a maximum and would have been comparatively happy with that achievement.
So, head in something of a whirl with the frustrations of the day, I set off for my regular starting spot in nearby Woodborough and headed off down the lane pictured above at just after quarter past four. A pleasant afternoon was an encouragement as I hit the River, Trent side, at just after five miles and having passed through the pleasant villages of Lowdham and Caythorpe. Skipping through the cherry tree-lined path on the way to Gunthorpe I realised that I was doing pretty well today – feeling comfortable and about to settle into a long run. After six or seven miles I became fixated with the outlandish idea of running…yes, twenty miles.
Gunthorpe: running by the river
My footsteps were light and economical – always a good portent, and I flicked on through the unkempt riverside pastures of Hoveringham village, sunshine fortifying my way on to the powerful Hazelford Weir along the Trent. There was no going back from here.
The secluded, attractive and sleepy route of Gypsy Lane took me to my third water stop of the day at Bleasby village’s Wagon and Horses. Wandering in through through the pleasingly refurbished old county pub’s rear entrance I drank thankfully, thirstily and lengthily from the bathroom’s cold water tap. Now some twelve miles in to the run, Thurgarton village loomed as the next target, but yet some way off. Still a long way from home and a more familiar route. Mentally and physically I still felt strong for the challenge that I knew from experience was up ahead.
Tip-toeing over the quiet level crossings of the Nottingham to Newark-on-Trent railway line, Hoveringham and more water lay ahead. A peer at the GPS on my wrist confirmed the unfeasible length of time this run was beginning to take away from the ‘normal’. Hoveringham careered into my tired view and more welcome and highly necessary water in the shape of the beautiful Reindeer Inn within the village. Sated, I curiously paused a moment to look at the pictures on the quiet pub’s corridor walls of previous party times. So incongruous with the reason for my brief presence there today.
Re-emerging into now-greyed skies, I was now back on a more regular route and heartened and fortified by this. The country lane wound and wound as I kept a strict control on my head – rejecting any negative thoughts of tiring. The hamlet of Gonalston heralded a ‘final lap’ of around four or five miles. Passing the old blacksmith’s shop, past the diminutive cottages, even a mild incline registered on my legs and general posture. Straighten up. Straighten up. Gonalston has a long lane of the same name that leads to the next village of Epperstone. The historic rural area ahead often feels like a long drudge towards the end of a lengthy run but today – perspective of distances altered by a very long run – it felt good to be so near home.
Evening drinkers outside the Cross Keys eying the runner curiously I passed on, ever nearer my destination which I knew held two challenging hills at the end of the run. Why twenty-one miles? Well I arrived, bloody but unbowed, on Woodborough Main Street having registered 20.25 miles – to doodle around the village for a further .75 of a mile seemed to be the best, most perverse thing to do right now. I was extremely weary and slowing accordingly but I wanted to show that, yes, I can go that ‘extra mile’ – quite literally. Twenty-one miles. I was pleased to stop. I really was. Water, back at the car and an attempt to straighten my head.
Messages to my friends and a phone call home in which I realised that my voice had all but disappeared. A pint of water and a celebratory pint of beer in The Nag’s Head garden followed before a worsening chill saw me head back to the car and the short drive home. Sated, accomplished and triumphant. I had proved once again that I can do this thing. I will be taking part in The Nottingham Marathon in September.
Well here we are. In a much more traditional winter here in the UK, snow has finally hit Nottinghamshire which is something of a rarity in itself these days. More usually there is an annual smattering of the white stuff maybe one or two days a year and little more. Sometimes I imagine I must be dreaming of times from the past when we experienced ‘real’ snow here in the East Midlands city, so rare have those occasions been for so long now.
As I write, the UK appears to have hit a state of pandemonium regarding this sudden winter ‘event’ as the TV weather people like to term it these days. There is certainly much excitement!
It’s easy for me to say of course, Nottingham still experiences much less snow than many other parts of the UK for some reason. Televised scenes from around the country bear that out of today too but to my mind the reaction to the snow is nothing short of hysterical. This may be because I’ve experienced quite a few Canadian winters with their bitter temperatures, blizzards and huge snow banks that gather through the colder months, and the way that Canadians just deal with it. I don’t think so though. I see a big difference in our reaction to it here in the UK than times when I was younger. There is little comparison. I note from today’s news that whilst around ten Nottinghamshire schools are reportedly closed today there are around 250 closures in the Leicestershire region alone. You know in my school days I remember many days of deep snow but never do I remember my school being closed because of it, nor even sent home early.
During a live magazine programme on TV this morning one of the co-presenters actually couldn’t make it to the studio for broadcasting duties due to the weather. What followed was a live telephone call from him and his co-presenter proceeding to continue with the show whilst cupping a hot drink to her face like she’d just been to the Arctic Circle, not merely across London with a few inches of snow on the ground. Similarly, another live TV programme at lunchtime actually had the panel of ‘celebrities’ applauding the audience for making it to the studio! Just ludicrous!
Have we all gone so soft nowadays that we can’t put up with a little winter weather? Is it the Health and Safety laws? I’m sure both have some contribution to make. Meanwhile the local authorities appear to place their heads firmly in the sand (or should that be snow?) and hope that the problem just won’t happen. A general inadequacy in clearing the snow is often tabled at the local councils, probably because they gamble on it not happening and don’t budget enough for when it does. Another question, why are many bus services not running? I never recall this from years ago when we had much more serious falls of snow.
I actually accept the snow as part of what a winter is all about. I’m prepared to get on with things and unlikely to let it stop me doing anything much that I normally would. I don’t think that’s such an unusual stance. I actually like to see the stuff, it makes something of a change from the boring, drab grey winters we normally experience here in England! At least it offers a topic of conversation I suppose…
This is an image sent to me by a visitor to The Tears of a Clown in regard to this article about Bestwood Country Park and Colliery Village in Nottinghamshire in which she has an interest. The image is of the old boiler house which served The Bestwood Lodge, once a fine hunting lodge and now a popular hotel on the edge of the pretty woodlands of the country park. It’s kindly requested that if anyone recalls this building which was demolished around the turn of the 1980s’ and stood on the land where the Fire Station is now situated, would they mind sharing their memories or knowledge about it.
But that is not all.
The visitor who supplied the image for this article pointed out that there appears to be a little more to this fairly ordinary photograph than may at first meet the eye. I too immediately spotted it. For those that are partial to a good mystery, these premises were purported to be haunted. I’ll leave you to look at the image closely…
Hollinwell is an area in North Nottinghamshire in proximity to the ex-mining town Kirkby-in-Ashfield. Perhaps it’s main claim to fame is a fine golf club and course of some considerable repute – that and a famous mystery still unsolved to this day.
The ‘Hollinwell Incident’ as it became known happened in July 1980 and people have been trying to understand what happened ever since. It was a story that reached the national media and one still enshrouded in mystery.
The story concerns a Summer marching band competition at a showground in the area. During the gala day approximately 300 children suddenly collapsed during the festivities. Observers likened it to ‘a battlefield’ and spoke of children ‘going down like ninepins’. At first children began to collapse in ones and twos but this quickly soon accelerated into dozens. Aghast spectators were bewildered at the dramatic scene, not comprehending what was unfolding in front of them. Children were scattered about the grass unconscious or vomiting and with noses and eyes streaming in a horrific scene.
It’s the 40th anniversary today of a very special achievement in the world of sport by one of the greatest sportsmen the world has ever witnessed. Sir Garfield ‘Garry’ Sobers was the great West Indies cricketer who at the time, playing for Nottinghamshire, battered the perfect six sixes from a single six-ball over off an unfortunate Glamorgan side. The venue was at the St. Helens cricket ground in Swansea, the hitherto unthinkable feat creating a huge impact in the media of the day.
The recipient of Sobers’ peak performance that day was a hapless Malcolm Nash, a slow left-arm finger-spinner who developed into a fine seam bowler despite the confidence-draining scalping from the great all-rounder in full flight.
The remarkable Rebecca Adlington was celebrated as an Olympic hero in her home town of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, ten miles up the road from my home, this evening. Freestyle swimmer won Gold medalsat both 400M and 800M in Beijing to become the first swimmer in the games for around 100 years to perform such a feat.
The 19 year-old ‘girl next door’ from the North Nottinghamshire town witnessed 10,000 onlookers come out in the town to celebrate and commemorate her stunning success in China, lining the streets and filling the Market Place in a jubilee event. Rebecca arrived at the Civic Centre in a gold-coloured Rolls Royce to receive the pair of Jimmy Choo shoes which had been promised to her by the Mayor of Mansfield, Tony Eggington in the event of her striking gold in the games.
Enthusiastic crowds gathered with Union flags and banners plus huge gold medals in a time of celebration in the town to show their pleasure at the local girl’s medal haul and setting a new world record in the 800M event – a record that had stood since the year Rebecca was born back in 1989. Over 100 of Rebecca’s neighbours turned out in the street to laud her praises also.
Nestling quietly in the pretty North Nottinghamshire countryside, the attractively named Maplebeck is a community of approximately eighty people. It’s nearest conurbations are Southwell and it’s mighty Minster which is six miles to the south, and the historic market town of Newark-on-Trent to the east.
At first glance, Maplebeck, though undeniably pretty in it’s rural and unspoilt location, holds little of note more than many a similar village, that is apart from one building, the local pub known as The Beehive.
Some three decades or so back, The Beehive was extended marginally. Prior to that it had laid claim to being the smallest public house in England.
‘Twas a strange day right enough. My working day began at home with some difficult transcribing, but no bother really. 2.30pm heralded a trip to pretty Brackenhurst College for a 3pm start. I drove into the car park and left my car under an avenue of gorgeous Spring time apple blossom. It’s difficult to explain but at that moment I felt very blessed to come along to work in this place – after travelling through all the attractive villages I know so well.
The lecturer, a particularly sweet and cheery young woman, handed around chocolates to her students (and I). Come the end of the class she began to well up a little – it was time to say goodbye to her students of the past three years and it showed. Continue reading
It’s perhaps one of those things than many of us have promised to experience ‘some time’, rising early and venturing out to a suitable place in order to hear the early morning song of the birds in their own habitat. It’s a fact that many of us have also lay fitfully awake in the dawning hours, listening to the first tentative notes of birdsong that invade our homes, hoping not to hear them. The alarm clock beckoning before long and another trying day ahead.
I first wondered about those first few notes when I was a young boy. The ones that gradually gathered tuneful momentum and confidence through my bedroom window during the ‘wee sma’ hours’. I didn’t know the name of what I was listening to, all I knew was that it it heralded a new day very, very soon. I came to listen for it more and more. My fascination fr it continues to this day.
Perhaps this is an appropriate time of the day for you to read this, perhaps it is not, but would you like to join me for a few moments in lovely Sherwood Forest to listen to the sweet bird song of the dawn? Surely in these changing times we still have a few moments for such contemplation? Click on the Thrush
And now at last the sun
is going down behind the wood,
And I am very happy,
for I know that I’ve been good.
My bed is waiting cool and fresh,
with linen smooth and fair,
And I must off to sleep again,
and not forget my prayer.
I know that, till tomorrow
I shall see the sun arise,
No ugly dream shall fright my mind,
no ugly sight my eyes,
But slumber hold me tightly
till I waken in the dawn,
And hear the thrushes singing
in the lilacs round the lawn.
R. L. Stevenson
The year was 1966. Here I was, a young laddie dawdling down through the streets of Arnold in Nottinghamshire down towards the main shopping place. I had my new school uniform on for the first time, never having worn one before it was causing no little irritation. A black blazer, grey short trousers and a black cap with an embroidered badge on the front proudly proclaiming The British School in a white on black design. The cap was too big and was slipping down over my ashen face, the shorts were itchy and the jacket stiff unyielding and boxy. I really, really didn’t want to be here
Walking to junior school that first morning was a trial. Stomach churning and gurgling, I looked around for a familiar face only to see much bigger lads who looked like they could easily bully me, especially in the slightly sneering gangs they appeared to be formed in. Finally I spotted a friendly face. It was my friend Victor, also traipsing forlornly along in his brand new uniform. Although Vic was a big raw-boned lad, his own new school cap was pulled right the way over his face, the brim almost touching his chin. Vic liked to wear his cap that way. For some reason he thought it made him cut a dash. It’s not recorded what he said when he inevitably bumped into lampposts and other various inanimate objects.
Taking our hearts in our hands we walked over the zebra crossing and pausing for a last breath of freedom, entered into our new school together, looking around desperately for familiar faces but to no avail. Finding a quiet part of the youngsters playground we waited for the death knell of that first school bell at 9am. Exactly on time it rang out whilst our inner shudders echoed to it.
Have you ever watched sheep being herded into a pen? Well this is exactly how it was as the new flock of petrified boys in their identical blazers and caps were ushered abruptly inside the old building. Presently Mrs. Burgess arrived and she was terrifying. An older lady nearing retirement, her years of teaching had sadly left her hardened and without compassion for us young lads. She barked us into our new classroom and ordered us into seats. School life was about to change forever I thought.
The first thing I noticed was how different to my old school my new classroom was. It was decrepit, not that I knew what decrepit meant in 1966. What I did know was that the strange, scurrying noises up in the roof above the high ceiling sounded a lot like pigeons roosting. Surely not? The lines of ancient desks still had their ink wells for dip-in ink pens. The gloopy blue liquid being supplied in turn by a reticent ink-monitor. (I was holding out for one of the coveted milk-monitor positions.)
Mrs. Burgess was soon into her blunt, hard-nosed and shouty lessons. I hated them. On one memorable morning for all the wrong reasons she bade me out to the front of the class to complete a sum on the blackboard which nobody else had been able to thus far. I failed too, I didn’t have a clue. she made me stand there however and humiliated me until I fell into tears in front of the whole class. The classroom was otherwise hushed apart from her shrill haranguing and my quiet sobs. Thankfully the playtime bell came to my rescue when my new mates commiserated with me in the playground and said how much they hated ‘the old cow’.
There were some good memories from the school. A great source of interest to us lads were ‘Batman’ cards which we bought voraciously with packs of bubblegum which was chewed with equal enthusiasm. The newsagent and sweet shop on Front Street just up the road was the main source for our collections. Other favourite pocket-money purchases were Milk Chews costing a penny each, Sherbet Dabs with their stick of liquorice and tart reaction, also Blackjack and Fruit Salad chews at four for a penny, the Farthing coin being no longer with us.
The sporting front in Nottingham at that time showed the two city clubs, Forest at the top of the First Division and Notts County at opposite ends of the four divisions with around ninety places between them. Forest were battling manfully against the Manchester United of Best, Law and Charlton whilst the local Reds boasted scoring machine, Joe Baker plus Ian Storey-Moore and Terry Hennessey. We lads quickly got into collecting football stamp cards on glossy art paper. One George Best being worth a Roger Hunt, a Bobby Moore AND a Jimmy Greaves.
The school year remorselessly ground on. Cricket and our other games in the playground seemed the only relief from one mean-faced teacher after another. Games of marbles through the surrounding streets on the way home washed away our thoughts of the days. It was a year of Victorian-style education. I’d like to say the discipline was a good lesson for me but in my heart I can’t. There seemed no compassion towards us, no quarter given and little praise, just a grey time. Perhaps the only vivid memory of my time at ‘The British’ besides the episode with the tears was in Mrs Burgess instructing us that the year was 1966 and that it that such a date only happened ‘once every ten years’. Startling stuff. I think my true education from that time was more gleaned from the vast array of comics I would read.
The British School had originally been a boarding school and had a history going back to 1868. This was to be its last year in the sun as after one year, I and the rest of its pupils were dispersed to other schools in order for it to be demolished. Things moved back into the 20th century with a move to Church Drive Junior School for me which was an entirely happier experience I’m glad to say. Mrs Burgess retired when the school was emptied. Her time was at an end.
For people who know Arnold in Nottinghamshire The British School stood on the east side of Front Street exactly where the Arnold outdoor market is situated now. Where those stalls have sold their wares for the past thirty-odd years was our high walled playground. Memories yes but I lament it not.
On April 18, 2005 the Nature Reserve Centre at the Attenborough Nature Reserve was opened by the aptly-named Sir David Attenborough. Mr. Attenborough’s return after initially opening the reserve in 1966 was a final and significant triumph of the power of the public’s love of the preservation of nature over the incessant march of industry.
For many decades reaching as far back as 1929, the Attenborough site by the River Trent had been one of gravel extraction. The way in which nature can exist happily alongside industry is now fully manifested at Attenborough however. The large excavated areas have had soil re-introduced and now serve as a patchwork of islands and lakes which are hospitable to many forms of wildlife.
Recording of the area’s bird life began back in the 1940s’ and since that era over 250 bird species have been noted, from the ever-present waterfowl to rarer forms of birds such as the Bittern and the Kingfisher. Of course the environment houses other forms of wildlife too with many foxes, stoats, invertebrates and amphibians being evident.
It’s always the wheels that take us there. Wheels that seem incongruous with a stride through the countryside. When the wheels have stopped and our boots are on, the day takes on a different pace and atmosphere. A different meaning. Time slows and becomes somehow more livable, somehow more rational.We carefully cross the quiet winding lane at Lowdham Grange and feel the stones and mud under our boots. The welcome and watery winter sun is bright with little warmth, twinkling down through bows and branches through to the tree-lined lane and down to the old church. We are not alone. Ahead of us lies a large limousine with its young driver leaning against it, quietly, respectfully, passing the time, fingers clasped formally in front of him. His suit tells of a duty he is carrying out. It is a sad day for one family and group of friends as a small, muted service is conducted in the ancient faded yellow stone building.
Now it has to be said, I live in a quite respectable area. It’ s possibly one of the oldest areas of Nottinghamshire being situated adjacent what was once called ‘The Great North Road’ from many hundreds of years ago. Redhill is a neat and tidy and well-established suburb a few miles north of Nottingham and is close to open countryside and cheek by jowl with the larger suburb of Arnold with it’s shopping area, facilities, and a population of approximately 38,000 people.
I’ve lived here in Redhill a long, long time and I like it. It suits me.
Opening the curtains the other day though I noticed a sight that is becoming more common these days – that of a collection of used beer cans stood outside my neighbour’s garage. It’s a trivial thing, maybe just a couple of young guys having a drink on the way home from the pub or youngsters messing around. It’s not the dawning of Armageddon or the end of civilisation in Redhill as we know it. In fact in nearby Arnold there are reports that the huge proliferation of litter, and particularly beer cans, gathered up on the main shopping thoroughfare, Front Street, is now being used in some very ingenious ways. Hurrah for Arnold! Well done to the neighbouring conurbation. It’s very much a case of waste not, want not in Arnold these days. Read on to view some great examples:
Bestwood Colliery Village is a small community in Nottinghamshire that grew around a coal mine. The mine was first sunk in 1875 by the Lancaster family giving the mine its original name of the ‘Lancaster Drift’. To provide for the people coming to work in the mine, the Lancaster’s built sixty-four houses, an Institute, Offices, a school and an Ironworks. Before the colliery the Bestwood area was a peaceful place full of woodland only, with few people living there. There were two mills nearby on the River Lean that housed child workers but very few other people. Up to 2000 men came to work in the mine; many of them came from nearby areas like Arnold and Hucknall. The Colliers Pad, where miners walked to work from Redhill still exists. The winding house that used to lower the men down into the mine still stands. It has a large engine inside which would operate the ‘cage’ lowering miners down below ground. It would also bring the coal to the surface.
The original main street, now called Park Road, looks much the same with rows of miner’s cottages along the street. Small homes that stand back to back with each other. The miners would pay rent to the colliery owners to live in the houses. In the old days there were no buses out of Bestwood. To get to Nottingham a train had to be taken which would take an hour to travel the six miles. The ‘Institute’ is an interesting building. It is now called The Bestwood Hotel but was built as a reading room, a billiard room and a drinking place. Women were not allowed in! It was also used as a morgue following pit accidents.
The children of the village would play games in the surrounding woods. They would go to a favourite place called ‘The Sandholes’ and play ‘whip and top’, hide and seek and rounders. The children would go to Sunday school in the morning and afternoon. On Sunday evening they would go to church too. If they missed church The Reverend Hawthorne would call at their house the next day to find out why! The big treat every year for the children was the visit to Bestwood Lodge. Bestwood Lodge is a large hall which used to be the home of the Duke of St. Albans. Many famous people have visited the Lodge including King Edward VII. Moneyed visitors would come to hunt deer in the Bestwood Estate. Roundabouts and decorated haycarts and wagons would be at the special day. There would be a tea party and music provided by the Bulwell Salvation Army. The people who lived in Bestwood were quite poor and worked very hard. Most of them seemed to have liked living in the village though as there was regular work for the men and the village was surrounded by lovely countryside. Bestwood had most of the things there that people needed and people would not travel outside the village very often. Today parts of Bestwood look are unchanged from those days. There are though lots of new houses making the village much larger. The past is never very far away however in Bestwood Colliery village.
My Memories of Bestwood as a boy
I never lived in Bestwood but as a boy would play long days in the woods with my friends from Redhill and Arnold. We would take the walk up Colliers Pad and play all day in the woods making dens, climbing trees, and collecting chestnuts and conkers. The Game Keeper lived at Alexandra Lodges in the middle of the woods. Whenever he would see us boys he would shoo us off by pointing his shotgun at us! We would run away but always come back the next day!
I remember the first day my friends and I ‘discovered’ Bestwood Colliery Village. We had walked further than usual and saw the small cottages of the village in the distance. Going on to explore we passed the old pit gates, (the mine was still open). The first thing I noticed was a ‘pit pony’ tied up to one of the cottage’s front door knockers! The village looked so different to what we boys knew. We all lived with our families in comparatively new and smart semi-detached houses provided by the council but these little homes looked very odd. They were tiny and the bricks they were built from were blackened by years of standing near the mine.
I loved Bestwood as a boy and still do. It was a huge big playground for we boys and after playing there most of the day we would head home for Redhill in near darkness with the owls in the trees hooting. Once along Colliers Pad we would see the street lights of Redhill beckoning and warm homes and teas to come. Nowadays I still go there but I see very few people enjoying the woods. It’s very quiet. I often wish some of the kids nowadays would have the fun I did there as a youngster as it was a place where dreams were made and friendships bonded. It still looks very similar to when I was a boy and it will always have a special place in my heart.
What a ‘summer’ this has been. Incredibly the rain goes on and on, day after day and people continue to suffer. Many poor souls have had their homes flooded more than once with the filthy water infiltrating their home. Even worse, as one might surmise there have unfortunately been fatalities.
Evacuations continue as main streets are transformed into rivers of muddy water with people wading through chest-deep levels. Some rivers are said to be up to 26 feet above their regular height.
Main Street, Woodborough, Notts. July 2007
As usual someone is sought to blame – even for a natural disaster falling from the sky, there has to be a better way than this though. More knowledgeable people in the land buying profession tell me that short shrift is given to pre-empting what in fairness is an exceptional situation. The building of local ‘sump’ areas is said to be neglected in the search for extra profit. I have no notion whether this is true but wouldn’t find it difficult to believe.
Flooding appears as though it will be a more permanent fixture of life in the UK in the future and it’s apparent that measures will have to be considered to assist in what is nothing but a national calamity repeating itself. One can only feel sympathy for the poor people affected.