On Seeing The First Cricket Of Spring

To Rothwell again yesterday to watch Rothwell Corinthians win a hard-fought tussle against Burton Park Wanderers.  The Corinthians’ ground (Sergeant’s Field) shares a boundary with the ground of Rothwell C.C., and all afternoon I was distracted and bewitched by the sound of a motor mower mowing the outfield and the scent of new-mown grass. 

“Come you back, you Leicestershire member” – it seemed to be saying – “come you back to Grace Road!”

On leaving the ground, I spotted the first game of impromptu cricket I’ve seen this year (fathers and sons, presumably).

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh … 

“Declining Standards Of Literacy” In 1835

A notice preserved in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Rothwell. 


Accompanying it is a contemporary  letter, addressed to the Editor of the Rothwell Chronicle.


Pleas’d as I was to observe the notice in our Parish Church soliciting funds towards the restoration of our Church, I feel compell’d to write to exprefs my extreme vexation at seeing that most confounded of insects, the Apostrofly (!!!) making an unwanted appearance. 

“IT’S original state” indeed!  What do they teach them in our dame schools these days?!  Is it for that this we pay our tithes?!!

I must regretfully sign myself, Sir

Your most obedient servant

Disgusted of Rothwell

Actually, no.  As the OED explains –


Etymology:  Formed in end of 16th cent. < it pron. + ‘s of the possessive or genitive case, and at first commonly written it’s , a spelling retained by some to the beginning of the 19th cent.

The word made its (or it’s) appearance  too late to be thought suitable for the KJV or Shakespeare’s First Folio, but in time for the First Quarto and – until the beginning of the nineteenth century – was quite happy to be spelled with an apostrophe.  The apostrophe’s disappearance may have been linked to a – surely spurious – analogy to words such as his, hers and yours, or may simply have been a matter of  fashion.

Perhaps this metropolitan vogue was still to make its way to Rothwell by 1835.  Or, perhaps, the author might have been old enough to remember when “it’s” was regarded as the correct usage (the late use of the cursive s suggests as much), and was deliberately adopting what he thought to be an appropriately formal style of writing, indifferent to the vagaries of fashion.

Bernadette! : A Lourdes Grotto In Rothwell

I was in Rothwell yesterday, to watch the Bones getting beaten 6-3 by Potton United (they now have two points and a goal difference of minus 48).

One thing I like about Rothwell is the feeling that, at some point (perhaps the ‘sixties), it has somehow become cut off from the rest of the world – a feeling accentuated by the fact that everywhere I went yesterday they were playing ‘sixties hits – Sugar Sugar, Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes, Band of Gold.  Perhaps the ironstone buildings and the dozy, fuggy atmosphere  remind me of staying with my grandparents in Kettering during the Summer holidays.

It does, of course, also have remnants of earlier and stranger selves much older than that.  I have written before about the Jesus Hospital.  The Parish Church has its bone crypt, or ossuary, and then there is the Market Hall.  Like the nearby Triangular Lodge, this was built by Thomas ‘the Builder’ Tresham, father of the Gunpowder Plot conspirator, and was intended to embody his recusant Roman Catholic beliefs in a way that is so cryptic that it verges on the Kabbalistic.  There is a building called the Nunnery, which is believed to be connected with a Priory shut down at the Reformation.

And then there is this, which for some reason, I’d never come across before.  It is a Lourdes Grotto, outside St Bernadette’s Roman Catholic Church.

It is meant to be a replica of the grotto where the Virgin Mary (this figure)

appeared in a vision to Bernadette of Lourdes (the smaller kneeling figure)

Like most post-Counter Reformation Catholic iconography, it exhibits – if not quite a defiant ugliness – then a deliberate indifference to secular standards of aesthetics.  It is intended to exemplify a doctrine, and all else would be a distraction.

Coming across it unexpectedly, it also seemed almost shocking in its wilful un-Englishness (not to mention – to Protestant eyes – more than vaguely pagan).  It doesn’t seem to belong here at all, but in Italy, or Ireland, or France. Or perhaps the shock is in the realisation that there is nothing un-English about it.  If the ghost of Thomas Tresham, or a revenant Nun or some of the older bones in the Ossuary were to chance across it one moonlit night, it would surely make them feel more, not less, at home.

To Live Contented, Private and Refign’d : the Jesus Hospital in Rothwell

Watching football is not – fortunately – all about the game itself.  As the match doesn’t last very long, an afternoon at the football does allow the time to ft in some lunch and a spot of sight-seeing.  Rothwell has many sights to see (yes, really – it does) and one of the pleasantest is the Jesus Hospital (or Jefus Hofpitall, as it announces itself) –

Jefus Hofpitall

This Elizabethan almshouse was originally built in 1586, by local schoolmaster Owen Ragsdale.  Childless himself, he decided that he wanted to make the poor of the parish “his sons and heirs” and allowed 25 old men to live in the almshouse free of rent “for ever”.  Nowadays it is used as sheltered housing.  Although they no longer live rent free, I did glimpse one or two of the residents, and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that they had been living there since 1586, as, indeed, who wouldn’t want to?

The Hofpitall has what appeared to be its own vegetable garden –

Vegetable garden

and resident staff who, when I visited, seemed to be working in the garden and – how rare this is these days! – happy in their work.

I was particularly struck by this plaque –

 In case you can’t make it out, it reads –

CHRIST Blefs our Governors prolong their Days,

Who plac’d us here to render heav’n our praife

To live contented, private and refign’d,

Free from life’s toils, and humours of mankind

Pleaf’d with wife AGURS Mediocrity,

Too low for Envy for contempt too high,

What we now have we thankfully poffefs,

Till we exchange for greater happinefs.

(Henry Dorner Principal 1721) 

I confefs myfelf greatly imprefs’d by the fentiments exprefs’d herein, tho’ vex’d to difcover that the meaning of  “Pleaf’d with wife AGURS Mediocrity” efcapes me quite.  Plufs, of courfe, the ufe of Capitalization and italics – I think I shall adopt this ftyle forthwith.



Can These Dry Bones Live? (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

From one of the world’s great sporting arenas  to another.  Today found me at Cecil Street, the home of Rothwell Town F.C., on the first day of what is, of course, one of the most significant days in the sporting calendar – the Extra Preliminary Round of the F.A. Cup.  The luck of the draw meant that the Bones (so called after the ossuary in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Trinity) took on their near neighbours Desborough.

Both these clubs have experienced difficult times recently.  Rothwell almost went out of business earlier in the year, and now find themselves wholly amateur and in the same division as Harborough Town.  Desborough’s club house was burned down a couple of years ago, and they have just had the copper cabling in their floodlights stolen.

Cecil Street does suffer slightly in comparsion with Lord’s.  The state of the lavatories –


would have been the cause of raised eyebrows in a field latrine at the Battle of the Somme.  One of the turnstiles –

is abandoned and overgrown with weeds. 

But only a churl could complain, for the price of admission – £4.50 – about a lack of incident.  We saw a virtuoso display of handshaking

two sendings off, followed, in the first case, by a fracas

a tumultuous thunderstorm

a last minute penalty, tipped over the bar by the ‘keeper

and eight goals in all – the final score 5-3 to Desborough.

What more could you want?  And congratulations to Blackpool, who were, I believe, briefly top of the league in some other competition today.

Hard-working gypsies put lazy commuter to shame

(No – not a recent headline from the Daily Express).

Buy my copy of the Big Issue this morning from the young girl who’s been selling it outside Sainsbury’s for – I think – a couple of years now.  She is – I’ve always assumed – a Roma gypsy (originally from Romania, I believe).  I’ve occasionally run into her- laden with a backpack of Issues – in the evening when detraining (dread phrase!) on the northbound platform at Harborough Station. 

I’d always assumed that she must live in Leicester until a letter to the Harborough Mail from a lady associated with the one of the churches pointed out that she actually lived in Birmingham, was – I think – 15, and was looking after her younger sisters.

Now I sometimes feel  that my daily commute to London is a bit of a slog, but I have to say that there is no power on earth that would compel me to commute to Birmingham on a daily basis.  Although – as the crow flies – it’s no great distance, by train it actually takes longer than it does to London: it’s quite likely – in my experience – that you’ll have to stand, the seats are damned uncomfortable and then there are all the horrors of New Street to contend with.  So hats off to her, I say.

Can’t help wondering how she can afford it, apart from anything else.  The Daily Express view would be that she must be bilking her fare, but – frankly – it would be a great deal easier to make one’s way on forged papers through occupied Europe from Colditz to a friendly port than to travel from Harborough to Birmingham without attracting the attentions of the much-feared Revenue Protection Team.  Unlikely to be true either that – on arrival in the country – Romanian gypsies are issed with free rail passes, in addition to their luxury apartments, free spectacles, lifetime subscriptions to Country Life and whatever else the Mail/Express axis alleges they are entitled to*.  So unless she’s a shape-shifter of some sort and can transform herself  into a pushchair or bicycle, she must spend most of her earnings on the rail fare.

Before this particular girl took over a slightly older Roma woman used to sell it from the same pitch.  Didn’t see her again until I went to Oakham for the – now sadly discontinued – Oakham cricket festival (or match, at any rate) and heard the familiar cry “Yoohoo Big Issue” – and there she was.  I think she’s the cousin (or possibly aunt) of our current vendor and presumably commutes in from Birmingham too – a more scenic journey, but lengthy too.

I do feel that this part of the world wouldn’t be the same without divers Egyptians at the fringes of its towns, whatever  their cavalier approach to planning permission.   John Clare, of course wrote about them “Tis thus they live–a picture to the place, A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race”  (for instance) ;  my Grandfather used to claim that he could remember gypsies living in Gipsy Lane in Kettering (now a fairly affluent area);  Rothwell too, I think, has its Gipsy Lane.




*If true then, obviously, IT’S POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD!!!