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


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 …)

Twa Corbies

(I began writing this last Sunday, before the judgement about compensation for those affected by waste from the British Steel plant was announced.  It might now be less necessary to explain where and what Corby is. I haven’t altered what I wrote). 

At a loose end this afternoon, I decide to visit Corby.

For those who don’t know, Corby used to be a small village in Northamptonshire, until – in the thirties – a large steelworks was established there and there followed an influx of – mainly Scottish – workers that transformed it into a fairly substantial industrial town. In the fifties it became a New Town and there was more immigration, again mainly from Scotland. 

In the late seventies/early eighties the steelworks shut down and the town almost went down with it.  Recently it’s been subject to sustained attempts at regeneration : adverts on the tube in London encourage people to move there – as (apparently) does Stephen Fry, in some capacity.

I’ve never been there.  My Kettering-based family have generally portrayed it to me as a kind of Wild West boomtown, where you’d expect to walk down the High Street on a Friday night and see drunks being flung out through the swing doors.  An uncle who drove a bus on the Kettering to Corby route has an anecdote where he parks his bus for a tea break and finds, when he returns, that the wheels have been stolen.

I’m curious to go there because they’ve recently reopened the disused train line from Kettering to Corby.  This is obviously a good thing, and I’m curious to see where the journey takes me.  I think I’m expecting to be moving through open countryside, attractive vistas and villages visible along the route.  This merely demonstrates the sentimental dreamworld I inhabit.

The journey takes nine minutes. It takes us two or three minutes to get out of the new augmented Kettering (past the horrors of the Prologis Business Park).  The next two or three we’re in what seems to be a deep cutting with high  trees at the either side.  Emerging I spot some houses to the left of us – perhaps a village? – but no, we’re already in Corby.  I think there are only three of us on the train, by the way.

Emerging from the station (functional) a signpost points to the Old Village Shopping District (or something like that) to the right, the Town Centre to the left.  I head to the right. 

You can make out what’s left of the old village – a thatched cottage, some older houses, the church.  There are shops, including a Polski smakand a place selling fo0d supplements – mainly, I think, creatine – the concentrated protein that makes you puff up look like a bullfrog if you eat enough of it.  A distinguished looking old house – probably the old rectory – is boarded up, labelled as a “construction site”, though what’s being constructed isn’t clear.  A small war memorial, with almost as many dead in the second as the first war. 

One gravestone in the little churchyard catches my eye –

In memory of John Eno

who died August 17 1861

aged 26 years

I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me

Interesting because of the name (which I’ve rarely come across except in relation to Brian of the same name – believe it’s of Huguenot origin) and the rather elegant and enigmatic epitaph, which I – sentimentally – imagine to have been written by his young widow.

Then head back to the Town Centre. On the way I  pass a couple of stereotypes – a young man impressing his girlfriend by turning a can of Lynx deoderant into a flamethrower by lighting the spray with a cigarette lighter, and a youth in a Rangers shirt slaloming his way out of a dodgy-looking pub.

I know nowhere looks its best on a rainy Sunday afternoon, but the town centre (effectively the shopping centre) is pretty raw.  Picture  the average “clone town” high street, remove anything built before the sixties and the more “aspirational” chains and you’re there. Can’t see a bookshop, record shop, not even a W.H. Smiths.  Even the Corby Cafe – voted 3rd best cafe in Britain in 2006 by the Daily Mirror – is shut. I eat lunch in McDonalds.  There is a taxi rank outside, doing excellent business, and two teenage girls talk about getting a taxi home.

There is more to the town than this, though.  A monument to Workers killed at work, erected by the GMB, where you might expect a war memorial.  The Willows Arts Centre is closing down (to be replaced somewhere else) and rehearsals are going on in the foyer for some kind of farewell performance.  It’s packed. A new swimming pool has just opened (rather absurdly branded as East Midlands International Pool – are they expecting people to fly in to use it?) – and the queue is out the door and down the street.  Go past the pool and (for about 5 minutes) you’re in a thick dark section of the old Rockingham Forest.  Come out of that into a park with a boating lake – rough hewn, and I see no boats – but maybe pretty when the sun shines.  The whole place has a kind of Soviet frontier-town ambience about it, but – and I could be imagining this – also some sense of a rather old-fashioned kind of  solidarity and a hankering after community.

All of this I think I could cope with, but what makes me realise that I wouldn’t last five minutes here is what I see when I decide to take the bus back to Kettering.  Mile after mile of newbuilt housing estates.  Some offices – accountants and so on – but not a shop to be seen.  I now realise why the taxis were doing such good business.  A non-driver like myself couldn’t survive here – I’d starve to death.  Wikipedia says that Corby has “a car-friendly layout with many areas of open space and woodland“, and now I see what they mean.    

And on the on the housing goes.  It seems to reach almost as far as my poor old ancestral hunting ground of Geddington and there is only the briefest flash of open country before we’re back at the wretched ProLogis Business Park.

Eventually, I suppose the two will meet up, and Geddington will go the same way as Corby Old Village. 

If you’re thinking of moving there, incidentally, don’t let me put you off.  Just make sure you know how to drive.