Wicksteed Park Again : The Boating Lake In Winter

Let us continue this sentimental journey back to Wicksteed Park (Oh Goody! – The Readership), down past the station for the miniature railway to the boating lake.

The lake was created  by Charles Wicksteed rather high-handedly (by today’s standards) diverting the Ise Brook.  It is said that, when the lake was first opened to the public, Wicksteed walked across it, his hat left  bobbing in his wake (walking on the bed, not the surface, I should add).

It covers a vast expanse of 30 acres.  Proper rowing boats (as well as Flintoff-style pedaloes) are available for hire, and the best time to come is on a weekday in Summer (outside the school holidays), when it is possible to have the lake to yourself and do some proper rowing.  A full circuit of the lake – taken at a decent lick, and with a detour to investigate the mysterious island in the middle, with its nesting swans – takes about 45 minutes (the cost of the cheapest period of hire).

The second best time to go, though, is in the dead of Winter.  If you’re very lucky, the lake will be frozen, and you will be able to watch the swans and ducks skidding over its surface.  If you are very daring – and not afraid of sinking up to your nose in ice – you could try walking on it yourself.

If you are slightly less lucky, you will find that the lake is in the process of being drained – apparently so that it can be deepened to prevent the accumulation of weed that often clogs it – and that it is drizzling.  If so, however, you might be able to shelter from the rain in some carriages from the recently decommissioned miniature train Cheyenne that have – unaccountably – been left standing by the lakeside, while the willows weep around you.


What more could you ask for?

A Welcome to the Indian Tourists from Kettering in 1932

As the Indians arrive on our shores for their brief visit, let us glance back to 1932, when the first Indian side to play a Test Match in England (there had been an earlier tour in 1911) dropped in at Kettering to play Northamptonshire from the 4th to the 7th of what appears to have been a rather chilly June.

Among the crowd was my mother’s father (on the far right of the picture in the front row).  A very tall man (about 6’6″) with legs like a stork, he opened the bowling for Kettering in the ‘twenties and ‘thirties.  Here we see him resting his feet on the boundary fence, while grappling with the difficult task of smoking and applauding at the same time (in a posture I have often adopted myself).

I think I am correct in saying that the man in the turban in the back row is Capt. (later Major) Sardar Joginder Singh Baidwan.  He played in 8 of the 32 matches on the tour, and seems to have been a decent cricketer.  He was also the Commander of the Rajindra Lancers, and acted as ADC to the original captain of the tour, the Maharaja of Paliala.  When Paliala dropped out through illness, he may have played the same role to his (largely non-playing) replacement, the Maharajah of Porbander.

The photograph presumably shows the Northamptonshire openers coming out to bat on the first day of the match, in which case they are Fred Bakewell and John Timms. 

Bakewell was described by R.C. Robertson-Glasgow as –

“Nature without veneer ; he feared neither tradition nor bowlers, and he hated convention as a boy hates tight collars and polite talk … he remained the boy who just wouldn’t touch his cap to the important visitor.  The artistry was always there, waiting to be uncovered, but among the bright colours there lurked a dull thread of negligence, even apathy.  Neither his own temperament nor external comment could always make him care; but when his mind and fortunes were warm, he could have batted with Bradman on not uneven terms.”    

Bakewell played six times for England, but, as with Colin Milburn, whom he in many ways resembled, he should have played more often.

Northamptonshire’s other England player of this period was the Captain and Secretary Vallance Jupp (“Of a rough and pentrating humour … under the rock I have not found a kinder man” – R.C. R-G) who, in this match, was involved in a curious incident.  3 not out overnight after the second day, he failed to arrive at the ground on time in the third, and the umpire (Frank Chester) refused to allow him to resume his innings.  He appears on the scorecard as “Retired out”.  I can find no record of how he – or the crowd – reacted to this.

By unfortunate coincidence, I see that Joginder Singh died in a car crash in 1940, at the age of 42.  Bakewell’s career ended in August 1936 when he was being driven home from Chesterfield after scoring 241 in the last match of the season against that season’s Champions, Derbyshire.  The car, driven by his opening partner Reggie Northway, came off the A6 as it passed through Kibworth.  Northway was killed and Bakewell’s arm damaged so badly that he never played again.

Vallance Jupp was also involved in an unfortunate incident involving a motor car.  He missed the 1934 and 1935 seasons, having been sentenced to six months in prison for manslaughter, after he ran into a motorcyclist and killed the pillion passenger.  Apparently he’d been driving on the wrong side of the road.

Having their best players variously incapacitated, in prison or dead cannot have improved Northamptonshire’s performances during this period.  Between 1935 and 1939 they went 99 matches without a victory, and finished last every year between 1934 and 1938.

All of which confirms me in my view that motor cars are nasty, dangerous things and best avoided by all right-thinking folk.  My Grandfather, on the other hand, who had been an enthusiastic motorist since the 1920s, was still just about on the roads as late as the 1990s and must, I think, have been one of the last people to drive legitimately without having passed a driving test.  Perhaps concerned about the carnage involving Northants cricketers, the Authorities introduced a compulsory test for all new drivers in 1935.


Here’s one I made earlier (before I lost my camera).

Kettering now has a “Restaurant Quarter” (an ambition I quite admire).  What it doesn’t have, at the moment, are many restaurants (in fact the admirably ambitious –  if pricy – Piccadilly Classics (a cafe) has just closed down).  What is does have is a growing number of empty shops.  What to do?  Well, here’s one solution (in the window of an empty shop) –

A sort of artist’s impression of what the “Restaurant Quarter” will look like when the plan comes to fruition – here we see a couple of bright young things sharing the latest hot gossip over a tall, skinny Frappuccino, or something similar.

Perhaps the Borough Council should employ an artist specialising in trompe l’oeuil effects to create an illusion of what the Restaurant Quarter ought to look like in an ideal world?  I wonder whether Rex Whistler is still available?

The Many Faces of Kettering : Northampton House and Station Road in Transition


 The longer this blog goes on, the more chances it offers to revisit the recent past and observe the processes of change (and sometimes decay).  It was about a year ago that I began taking photographs, and I see that one of the first things I snapped were a pair of buildings at the end of Station Road, Kettering.  I must have passed these innumerable times now in the course of the last fifty years. 

One of these used to be the Kettering Centre for the Unemployed, and the other was most recently used by the body that conducts driving tests.  In 2006 it was announced that the buildings were to be redeveloped, and a “competition” was launched to find the best design (the brief is here – \”Design brief\”).

The winning design involved demolishing the existing buildings and erecting a grandiose-looking set of offices.  Amongst others, the Victorian Society objected to this proposal (Don\’t demolish Kettering\’s Edwardian heritage say Victorian Society) (oddly, the Society think the buildings were built in 1910, whereas the Council  think they are ca. 1873).

For a while there was a sort of artist’s impression of the new development at the end of the street – with much use of the word “Gateway” (and quite possibly Beacons and Flagships too – there was a lot of that around in those days).

By the time I photographed it first (I think it was April last year) that hoarding had come down and it looked like this –

and the entrance like this (the remains of the winning design hoarding are visible – note the word Gateway) –

 I think if I were directing a film in years to come and trying to establish that it was set somewhere in the second half of the first decade of this century I’d go for something like this – a facade of happy smiling multicultural children’s artwork (the Many Faces of Kettering)  obscuring the debris of a stalled regeneration project.  

And if I were trying to establish that we had moved into a new decade?  Well, again, I think this is perfect.

Steel shutters and the kind of political graffiti that I haven’t seen in many a long year – “People should not be afraid of their governments, governments should be afraid of their people” (good to see the comma in there, incidentally – obviously written by a student).

And here are some other views : 6, Station Road from the side (I’ve a suspicion that cloud that Tigger has his nose stuck in is an addition by a later artist) –

from the rear of Northampton House (that Social Security sign really must be ancient) –

an interior view of 6, Station Road-

and the interior of the entrance to Northampton House (curiously, as you can just about make out, they seem to have left behind a couple of rather attractive high-backed wooden chairs and a bookcase – possibly original Edwardian (or Victorian) features) –

(If you enjoyed looking at these photographs, incidentally, you might also enjoy Marchand and Meffre’s pictures of the Ruins of Detroit – something similar, but on a sublime scale …)

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!).

Three Canopied Niches : J.L. Carr and Kettering Parish Church

A few days ago (El Salvador, Nerja) we witnessed the despoliation of many Spanish churches during the period of the Civil War.  We have, of course, been through a similar process ourselves (albeit for different reasons), during the Reformation and then again during our own Civil War.

But here is evidence of a small attempt to restore what had been lost, in the Parish Church of  S. Peter and S. Paul, Kettering, made by my Father’s friend the novelist, teacher, cricketer and self-publisher J.L. Carr

The guide to the church describes them thus –

“Three canopied niches over the door contain modern statues of the Virgin and Child, St Peter and St Paul by the late J.L. Carr”

Byron Rogers, in his 2003 biography The Last Englishman : a life of J.L. Carr had this to say –

“Some at his [Carr’s] funeral service at Kettering parish church walked through the churchyard, remembering other churchyards through which an antiquarian had walked with them.  A few would have looked up and grinned at the weathered stone figures of St Peter and St Paul over the North door, knowing it was no anonymous stone mason of the Middle Ages but J.L. Carr who had carved them to replace the originals destroyed at the Reformation.  They would have known that their angularity had been forced upon him, the stone coming from window-sills and kerb stones demolished by the council, but a Mrs Pulley, who didn’t, wrote to complain about St Paul’s mouth, which, she said, portrayed a ‘miserable, sulky character’.  She appealed to him to straighten the mouth and to add colouring.”  

I’m afraid the sulkiness – or otherwise – of the mouth is not apparent in these photographs (Mrs Pulley must have had very good eyesight or a long ladder), but they might give you some idea of what they are like.  Well worth a detour, if you happen to be in the area.

The Virgin and Child –

St Peter

and St Paul

White Buildings … and the Sagrada Familia

Continuing with the theme of the violent destruction of public buildings, I happened – inspired by my visit to Spain – to be re-reading Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, at the same time as the Bishop of Rome was in Barcelona to consecrate the as yet unfinished church of the Sagrada Familia, originally designed by Antoni Gaudi.

Orwell, I discover, was not impressed (at this point he was hiding out from the Communist authorities following the supression of the P.O.U.M., and was sleeping rough) –

“That night McNair, Cottman and I slept in some long grass at the edge of a derelict building-lot.  It was a cold night for the time of year and no one slept much.  I remember the long dismal hours of loitering about before one could get a cup of coffee.  For the first time since I had been in Barcelona I went to have a look at the cathedral – a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world.  It has four crenellated spires exactly the shape of hock bottles.  Unlike most of the churches in Barcelona it was not damaged during the revolution – it was spared because of its ‘artistic value’, people said.  I think the Anarchists showed bad taste in not blowing it up when they had the chance, though they did hang a red and black banner between its spires.”

A couple of slight inaccuracies here.  Barcelona’s Cathedral is the older Cathedral of Santa Eulalia – the Sagrada Familia was a Church and is now a Basilica – and, although the Anarchists did not actually blow the place up, they did steal and destroy Gaudi’s plans for the Church, so that the progress made since the war has been based on guesswork.  This is what it looks like now –

Sagrada Familia

More than four “hock bottles”, now, as you will see.

Somewhere else, I’m afraid, where they seem to have had the Anarchists in is the white house in Rockingham Road, Kettering, that I was writing about the other week (see here).  I see they’ve taken the roof off and knocked out most  of the windows.

White Buildings That Have Seen Better Days : Rockingham Road, Kettering

The good Herr Doktor Pevsner gave fairly short shrift to Kettering –

There is remarkably little of architectural note at Kettering, and no perambulation can be made of it.” 

Quite how he knew there was little of architectural note if he couldn’t be bothered to walk round it I don’t know.  I doubt that he would have found this building notable even if he’d seen it but it’s always interested me. 

It is (or was) one of a number of what I take to be nineteenth century houses (villas?) in various styles that are spread out along the Rockingham Road.  I used to pass it on my way into town from my parents’  house, and now pass it on my way to the football.  It was brilliantly white, to my eye vaguely Italianate, set back further from the road than most of the other houses and was shielded by what must once have been a quite elaborate garden, largely of evergreens.  

As time went by the evergreens grew wilder and the house more obscured.  I suppose I picture some elderly lady – perhaps the daughter (grand-daughter?) of the original owners – becoming  immobile and reclusive.  Some time ago the windows were boarded up and the gate padlocked.  Little piles of white cider cans sprouted  in the garden, a rash of graffiti on the walls (one imagines local children daring each other to spend a night in the haunted house).

Now a sign has appeared ….

“Construction site” sounds euphemistic.  Demolition?  Renovation?  I shall keep an eye on its progress, if any, and report back.

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.