Waves Fold Behind Villages : A Brief Glimpse of Newstead

A fleeting visit to Newstead in Nottinghamshire, a former mining village whose colliery closed in 1987.

Newstead Colliery

To the superficial eye it ticks the boxes for the identikit “former mining village”.  The rows of terraces are present and correct (though most look reasonably spruce). There is a vandalised phone-box (someone had ingeniously managed to weld a melted cigarette lighter into the coin slot).   Two hooded youths (straight from central casting) loitered outside the closed-down fish and chip shop and were asked by a passing old man in a flat cap “What’s the matter, lads, nothing to do?”.  So far, so predictable.

It is true that there doesn’t seem to be a great deal to do there.  It has a small Post Office and convenience store, a Primary School, a Community Centre (with a cafe, although that seems to shut at 2.00 pm), a Sure Start and a skatepark.  It also has its own railway station (which many villages would die for, or without) and a reasonably frequent bus service.  A little sleuthing shows that the village attracted some serious attempts in regeneration towards the end of the last decade, including the lottery-funded Village SOS project, which involved turning the site of the former colliery into a Country Park.  Ominously, there seems to be little trace of regenerative activity since about 2011.

Above all what it has going for it is its natural beauty, which would particularly appeal to lovers of deciduous forests in Autumn.  One contributor to the regeneration project described what they were trying to do as “healing the scars” inflicted upon the landscape by the industrial revolution (presumably an allusion to local boy D.H. Lawrence).  It seemed to me at least as much like the sands of the desert steadily removing all trace of human habitation, but no doubt that it is merely a matter of temperament.

Inevitably, as a barely regenerate Man of Sensibility, what moved me most were the ruins rather than the signs of renewal.  Close by the railway station is this –

Newstead Cricket Pavilion

What appears to be a functioning football pitch, overlooked by a cricket pavilion and ringed with benches, suggesting that cricket has been played here in the not too distant past.  The story appears to be that Newstead Colliery, a strong side in its heyday who produced several County cricketers (this is Larwood country), merged with nearby Newstead Abbey in 1987 when the Colliery closed and their former ground was purloined for a housing development (though much of that is still scrubland).  The merged club continued until earlier this year, when it disbanded through a lack of players.  The hands on the pavilion clock have been broken off, but they seem to be stuck permanently at about 12.20 (so it’s unlikely that there will be honey, or anything else, for tea).

On the other side of the station is this – the Station Hotel (the rail history of Newstead is complicated: in its heyday the village had two stations, both shut by the 1960s.  Almost miraculously, the Robin Hood line was reopened in 1993 thanks, initially, to support from the local Council) –

Newstead Station Hotel

a rather lovely building to my eye, and the only pub in the village, but no longer open for business, a small notice in the window plaintively advertising “Public House for sale“.

The delicate lettering on the frontage records the date 1911, although a local source indicates that it opened in 1881.   As recently as 2008 the hotel was receiving plaudits for its choice of real ales and beer garden, it seems to have hosted musical evenings, but, like the Cricket Club, it met its end earlier this year.  If I had the money, I’d be tempted to buy it myself.  Part of its appeal is simply that it is a railway hotel, a fossil from the days when it was assumed that it should be possible to step off a train and find a bed for the night, a decent supper and a nightcap in a companionable snug.

But, inevitably, there is a melancholy tinge to these pleasant imaginings : the conclusion of Larkin’s “Friday night in the Royal Station Hotel”:

In shoeless corridors, the lights burn.  How

Isolated, like a fort, it is –

The headed paper, made for writing home

(If home existed) letters of exile.  Now

Night comes on.  Waves fold behind villages.

Newstead Station Hotel 2


White Buildings Revisited … Rockingham Road, Kettering

Back to Kettering at the weekend for the first time since October, and I’m sorry to report that the saga of the original White Building That Has Seen Better Days  has reached its – I suppose inevitable – denouement.

Before “construction work”

95, Rockingham Road (before)

and after …

95, Rockingham Road (after)


On a happier note, I was pleased to see that another threatened White Building (the Cherry Tree) has reopened (and as a pub!).

Closing Time at the Cherry Tree, Kettering

Looking back at some of the photographs I’ve taken over the Summer, I’m thinking of initiating another of my blatantly populist, ratings-grabbing miniseries (in the great tradition of Stump Watch, Old Rossallians on YouTube etc.), to be entitled White Buildings That Have Seen Better Days.  Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.

This building doesn’t quite qualify, being black and white, but I thought I’d just note the demise of the Cherry Tree in Kettering, which has featured in a few entries previously in this blog.  Since the Kettering to Harborough trains were halved in number, I’ve often had an hour to pass in the vicinity of the station, and have taken to having a quick pint in the Cherry Tree.  Advertised as Kettering’s smallest and oldest pub (dating  from at most 1629) , it offered a novel mix of real ale, rugby union (a Leicester Tigers flag behind the bar) and (after nine) live Heavy Metal bands in a space not much larger than a spacious living room.  Quite loud, I imagine.

It is situated opposite what used to be the market square and is now intended to be the centre of Kettering’s “Heritage Quarter”.  This includes the Parish Church, the Library, Museum and Art Gallery and the old Corn Exchange.  In 1938 (1961 actually – ed.) Pevsner (o.g.) rather sniffily commented that these buildings “form the beginning of an effort towards a Civic Centre“.   The effort continues, I suppose, and I might one day find the energy to comment on this process in more detail..

But, in the meantime, if you fancy putting in a bid at the auction, this is what you’ll be getting.

Cherry Tree

complete with a rather attractive Victorian lamp (originally gas? electric? I don’t know) –

Victorian street lamp

No actual cherry tree, as far as I know.

The Evening Telegraph reported the matter like so.  Note the touching belief that our elected representatives have any influence in these matters, and the hints (in the comments) of a possible codger v metalhead split in the clintele.

A Pitch with no Square? : Grindleford

A day trip to Grindleford in Derbyshire on Saturday. 

It has a railway station (a stop on the pretty Hope Valley Line that runs from Sheffield to Manchester, it emerges suddenly after the lengthy Totley Tunnel), a couple of pubs and a church that was celebrating its hundredth birthday (so only twice as old as your correspondent).  It also has an – apparently still functioning – model laundry –


It is close to Eyam, the village that public-spiritedly chose to isolate itself during a visitation of Plague, resulting in the deaths of a considerable proportion of its inhabitants.

I did wonder if something similar might have been going on in Grindleford.  Hardly a living soul was to be seen on the streets.  The Post Office had shut down, I’d say in the last month or so (a handwritten sign of apology attached to the door) :

–  the same with the village shop.  Another shop (I can’t remember what it sold) showed few signs of life, and nor did the Vet’s, though there was a small “art gallery” selling decorative paintings.  All par for the course, I suppose, in these straitened times.     

It does have a cricket pitch, with excellent views of the Derbyshire Dales and an impressive pavilion, built in keeping with its surroundings (and – I’m guessing – a beneficiary of lottery money) –

 The outfield was lush ; they have a shed for their equipment and a roller –


but the curious thing was that there didn’t seem to be a square.  Perhaps, in Derbyshire – with their fine tradition of seam bowling – they like to leave a fair amount of grass on the wicket, but surely not so much that the square is indistinguishable from the rest of the pitch? 

All very rum – though perhaps this sign attached to the front of the pavilion might have something to do with it.

A thought from Charles Haddon Spurgeon and some excesses at the Oval

Surrey v Leicestershire, The Oval, County Championship, Friday 4th June  

Not, perhaps, a full report, but a few vignettes.

The Oval tube station has a very pleasing aspect – art deco uplighters on the escalator, “classical” music played in the entrance hall (presumably to soothe the savage breasts that might otherwise congregate there and Behave Antisocially) and these murals –


 – the figure on the left is Alan Knott, I think (or possibly Jack Russell) –  the other two I can’t place.  The thought for the day – written out neatly on the whiteboard – is from Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist minister whose Metropolitan Tabernacle was situated not too far away ( I have a cousin who studied for the Ministry at the college named after him, also quite nearby) –

Interesting to see that his influence still persists near his old stamping (or preaching) ground – the quote-merchant at the entrance to the Hammersmith & City Line at King’s Cross prefers Bertrand Russell.

The last time I visited the Oval was for the equivalent fixture last year see here and I see then that Matt Boyce had already been dismissed by the time I arrived.  This was also the case on Friday, and seemed a good omen for my hoped-for repetition of last year’s performance from Leicestershire – a double century from Taylor and a hundred from Dut Toit.  I got something similar, though the runs were differently distributed – a big hundred from Jefferson, 61 from Taylor and decent knocks by Nixon and Du Toit.  

A wag behind me wondered whether the partnership between Nixon and Jefferson was the biggest at the Oval between two American presidents, which it might have been until Taylor (Zachary Taylor) came in.  An amusement for a long winter’s night – devise a Presidents’ XI.

I bear Surrey no ill-will, but I derive some satisfaction from seeing the richest county (we’re told) at the bottom of the Championship – at least money can’t yet “buy success” in this form of the game.  But then, wandering round the Oval, it’s clear that (unlike Grace Road or Wantage Road) this is not a stadium (ground is too small a word for it) that is made with the County Championship in mind, and that success there is not what they’re hoping to buy.  The towering Babylonian stands, the high rise pavilion, the endless bars and countless lavatories, the sumptuous (I’m sure) hospitality suites, the other nameless constructions and  – soon to come – the hotel need Test Matches and star-spangled 20/20 games, and no doubt they will get them, though I’m not sure even that will be enough to satisfy this mini-megacity’s ravenous appetite for cash.  There is an air of hubris about this place, though I fear the coming nemesis is more likely to be visited upon poor old Leicestershire, Northants and Derby than Surrey.

Mind you, a fair proportion of the money for the hotel must have been generated by the group whose photo I presented in my last past – not in fact the Surrey team (you guessed?) – but a stag do (I imagine) who seemed to be supporting Leicestershire, at least until the point (about 2.30 in the afternoon) when they must have been too ratarsed to have much idea where they were, let alone which team they were supporting.  At £3.70 a a pint (London prices!) they must have made a considerable contribution.  And no doubt, when the hotel is built, they could have been carried back to their rooms in wheelbarrows by the stewards.  I think I may have seen a glimpse of  the future here.

What would Spurgeon have thought of all this?  Not a lot, obviously, though I can’t deny that Little Bo Peep, Baloo the Bear and, no doubt Surrey themselves did seem to be enjoying their excesses.

“It is not how much we have but how much we enjoy that makes happiness“.  I shall think of that through the coming months, as I sit under my tree at Fairfield Road with a bottle of pop. 

A Saturday medley

Looking back – how soon nostalgia creeps in! – I see that the first thing that I wrote on this blog was a simple description of what I had been doing on the Saturday I set it up.  At the beginning, before I got into my stride, I seem quite often to have produced something along these lines.  I don’t think anything I’ve done today merits a post of its own, so I thought I’d revert for a moment to that earlier style.  (The context here is that I’m going to Kettering to watch the football).

On my way from Kettering station to the town centre in the morning pass what used to be a rather elegant three-storey house but must, I think, have recently been home to a firm of solicitors or estate agents.  It is now up for rent.  In the front garden, as it were, huge piles of box files neatly labelled with the names of cases or clients.  Looks rather like an art installation of some sort.  Have a peek in one to see if there’s anything in it, but it’s empty.  In the evening, on my way back to the station, they’ve all vanished. Scavengers?

Grazing in the charity shops of Kettering I find a section in one of them labelled “Fancy dress”.  This contains all the clothes in the shop that I’d consider buying, in particular a rather nice half-belted Norfolk jacket in hairy tweed.  Do I always look as though I’m on my way to a fancy dress party?  (Note to self – return to this topic at a later date).

At the football, notice that only one half of the couple who normally sit next to me are there. Ask the female half  “Are you here on your own today?”.  Answer – “Yes, he’s in Australia”.  Don’t pursue this.

Poppies lose 1-0 to York.  Game enlivened by a 21 man scrap in the centre circle (the York keeper decided not to get involved).

Discover that Helena Bonham-Carter has a tortoise called Shelley.  She wasn’t actually at Poppies (though I hope – Heaven Forfend – she isn’t a Diamonds fan either) – I read this in the Guardian.

Drank in two pubs called The Cherry Tree in two different towns in the space of half an hour.  Couldn’t quite catch the 5.27 from Kettering to Harborough so waited in the CT in Kettering and watched some of the England v Wales rugby match on the TV.  Small group of rugby fans – one with a genuine cauliflower ear – watching the match.  Three other small groups discussing ailments – “It isn’t indigestion, it’s a build-up of acid in the stomach – I can feel it bubbling around at the back of my throat and I have to spit it out.”  CT in Little Bowden full of jubilant rugby fans.  Think of proposal for TV series, in which I  try to drink in every pub in the British Isles called the Cherry Tree in the space of a week, using only public transport.  I’d have a whale of a time doing this, but I’m not sure the viewing public would feel the same way, so not sure it has legs.

And what does all this add up to?  Well, nothing really, but  “Where can we live but days?”.



Burns night : such a parcel of rogues in a nation

One of the problems with this time of year (the period between Christmas and Easter) is the lack of festivals, high days and holy days to celebrate.  There is Candlemass, which is no longer widely celebrated and, a little later, I suppose,  Ash Wednesday which has its own austere beauty but does not lend itself well to theme nights in the local pub (though I’d be interested to see someone try).

The commercial world does its best.  According to Cadbury’s (R.I.P.) the creme egg season starts on January 1st and continues until Easter.  Valentine’s day is made much of and Shrove Tuesday is a boon to the supermarkets.

One possible opportunity for revelry, though, is Burns night (which is tonight) and I have noticed that – rather in the way that we English have latched on to St Patrick’s day – various pubs and restaurants have started to offer Burns night events which can’t really be aimed primarily at those of Scottish extraction.  One of my local pubs, for instance, is offering a Burns night menu at £25.00 for 5 courses.  I personally have about enough Scots blood to fill my left calf, but have never really felt entitled to break out the tatties and the neeps and get slaughtered on whisky.  But any excuse will do, I suppose, in these dark days.

Burns is a poet I always like when I read him, but I’ve never really got round to reading him properly.  I thought I’d offer this, though, in commemoration – it’s a song of  his – Such a parcel of rogues in a Nation, sung  by the electric folkies Steeleye Span.

The object of Burns’s wrath was the 1707 Treaty of Union (though he wrote it in 1791).  It’s hard not to think of P.G. Wodehouse’s observation that “it is never hard to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine”.  It could, too, be seen as an early manifestation of that perennial Scots football-related complaint “We wuz robbed”.  As a sustained expression of contempt (something the Scots seem particularly good at), though, it’s exemplary and I can feel my left foot tapping resentfully as I listen to it.  I also find the phrase “Such a parcel of rogues in a nation” comes to mind quite frequently these days – particularly when watching the news.

Some authorities ( basically me), believe that Parcel of Rogues is a play on words relating to the popular eighteenth century collective noun Parcel of Hogs.  Another expression that could come in handy.

This can also stand as a tribute to Tim Hart – a multi-instrumentalist founder of Steeleye Span (and another son of the vicarage)  – who died recently.  The Spanners (as I’m sure no-one at all called them) could sometimes be twee, clodhopping or gimmicky, but they did also make some truly wonderful recordings of traditional music (usually when the instrumentation was reined in a bit) and I was interested to see the Fleet Foxes citing them as a primary influence, even though, as their singer says “British people think this band is dorky”.  Well, I don’t.


Sally Bercow : My Booze Hell!

A curious article  in this evening’s Standard, concerning the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow.  The full piece is here – but the headline is “Sally Bercow: ‘Two bottles a day, one-night stands, my life was out of control'”.   This apparently merits an appearance on the front page and a two page interview, in spite of the fact that, as the interviewer admits in the first sentence –

“Sally Bercow is a household name whom no one knows much about …”

The revelations seem to consist of  the fact that, as a younger woman, working in advertising, she used to drink “wine at lunchtime” and sometimes “a bottle in the evening”.  Pressed by the interviewer she admits (or claims) that this might sometimes have been two bottles.  This apparently led to her sometimes having “one-night stands” and falling asleep on the Tube, so that she woke up in Epping.  I’m sure we’ve all been there (falling asleep on the Tube, I mean, rather than Epping – though the Forest is rather lovely if you catch it at the right time of year).  So what is the point of these revelations?

She says herself that –

“”I want to run for Parliament as a Labour candidate so this has all got to come out and I’d rather tell it myself.”

I really don’t see why any of it (such as it is) has to come out, and, even if it did, I can’t imagine that many- if any – of the electorate would (if you’ll pardon the language) give two fucks one way or the other.  So my initial feeling is that this is an interesting example of a politician (or would-be politician) using the common-or-garden celebrity’s trick of the addiction-related confessional interview as a means of boosting her profile (my booze hell!)

The one who really comes out of this badly, I feel is John Bercow.   Mrs. B. says of him –

” They stayed friends, even in her wild years. “He’d have a single pint and I’d guzzle wine but he was so fixated on politics, I don’t think he noticed.””

Drinking to excess is one thing, but becoming addicted to politics at such an early age is a far more worrying sign.  No doubt many of us had a normal student experience with politics.  We may, for instance, have found ourselves at a party – slightly tipsy – and been tempted to enter into an argument about withdrawal from the European Economic Union.  We may have been approached by a dubious-looking character in a sidestreet wanting to ask us about our voting intentions and we may have given way to the temptation to engage them in conversation.  There is no shame attached to any of this, but to carry this fixation on well into later life – as Bercow has apparently done – is, in my view, to invite serious questions about his character.

A study in contrasts

The Uses of Literacy-ah

A rewarding piece, I thought, in today’s Guardian, by Lynsey Hanley, about the decline of Working Mens’ Clubs, and the style of amateur singer to whom they used to provide a home (it’s here – Tonight\’s special turn ).

In it, she quotes from Richard Hoggart’s  The Uses of Literacy :

“Hoggart termed it the ‘big dipper’ style of singing, or ‘the verbal equivalent of rock-making, where the sweet and sticky mass is pulled to surprising lengths and pounded; there is a pause in which each emotional phrase is completed, before the great rise to the next and over the top.

The result is something like this: You are-er the only one-er for me-er/ No one else-er can share a dream-er with me-er/ Some folks-er may say-er …'”

I have often wondered what it was that prompted  Mark E. Smith of the Fall to develop his distinctive style of vocal delivery, which involved appending an -er, or possibly an -ah to the end of every other word, but I think this suggests one explanation.  Whether he was inspired directly by Hoggart’s book, or had just spent a great deal of time in Working Mens’ Clubs as  a child, I cannot say.  Both are equally possible.

An illustration of the Mark E. Smith club style here – Totally Wired – for those who might not have previously been aware of it.