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 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?”.



Cautionary tales for middle-aged men

Three things not to do over a bank holiday weekend –

Don’t – however keen you are to watch as much cricket as possible before the season expires – watch village second XI cricket in the pouring rain (see below), otherwise you might end up like some character in a Victorian novel who catches a chill in chapter two and dies suddenly and offstage in chapter three.

Don’t – if your mother lives in a village two or three miles from where you live – decide that the best way to visit her for lunch is to walk there and back along a dusty bridleway, imagining that you’re W.H. Davies, picking Autumnal berries from the hedgerow as you go.  Not if the sunlight is fierce, and you’ve forgotten to wear a hat.  Otherwise you’ll give yourself sunstroke.

Don’t – if you have been making various amusing remarks about the diminutive stature of promising Leicestershire batsmen, and you yourself are six feet tall – go for a drink or two in your charming local pub, with its thatched roof, its exposed beams and its low ceilings.  Otherwise if – as usual – you aren’t looking where you’re going, you might bang your head on one of the low, exposed beams that you so much admire and half-concuss yourself.

If you do, however, do all of these things, you will spend your first day back at work having lost your voice, and with a splitting headache.

Woe, woe and thrice woe!

Dogs no longer playing poker in the Bell

Winding back a little, while I was waiting for the bus (the X7) to go to Northampton the other day, I sheltered from the rain in the entrance to a nearby pub (The Bell, for local readers), which has recently been refurbished after a change of management.

Whenever I’ve passed this pub (rather shamefully I’ve never been inside it) I’ve glanced through the window and noticed what might have been this –


or possibly this –


Now – whatever it was – it’s gone, along with all the other bric-a-brac (brasses, old adverts, amusing signs) and been replaced by bare brick walls and a blown-up photograph of what looks like a wine cellar (I’m guessing it’s Italian).  They’ve also put some decking out the back, so that you can sit and observe the nocturnal goings on on the Recreation Ground while necking your jam jar of Pinot Grigio.  

These posters (prints?) used to be a common feature of pubs and indicated, I suppose, that they were aiming a little lower than the type that had nineteenth-century style prints of foxes in hunting pinks having a few drinks with a couple of hounds.  I don’t think I realised that they were actually painted by an artist (or artists, in fact), but a little research reveals that the dogs playing poker are the work of Cassius Marcellus Coolidge (his high-minded name the result of Quaker abolitionist parentage) and their pool-playing brethrenthat of an imitator, Arthur Sarnoff.  They have websites devoted to them, Wikipedia entries – the lot.  Originals sell for huge sums.

I can’t pretend that I actually like these things – in fact I think they’re pretty horrible – but I can’t help wondering what the regulars  make of this sudden purging of their familiar furniture, the backdrop -no doubt – to many an evening of revelry?  And is the ersatz Mediterranean look really – in context – an improvement?

Oscar Wilde and the back of a fag packet

My latest pack of cigarette papers offers me – appropriately enough – a quote from Oscar Wilde – “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go”.  I had no idea this was one of Wilde’s – the last time I saw it – in slightly different form – was over the bar in a pub in Kettering on one of those little signs you can buy as a souvenir at the seaside that usually say “Please don’t ask for credit as a punch in the mouth often offends”.*  Not ascribed, I think, to Wilde on the pub sign, but “An old Irish saying” – though my memory about the detail of this is a little foggy.

Tried googling the quote to verify its authorship by typing in “some cause happiness wherever they go Wilde” and it asked me whether I really meant “some cause happiness whenever they go wild”.  Restrained myself from saying yes, though it might have brought up some interesting results.

* Not one of Wilde’s either, I think.