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


Dusty Boots Would Shame You Now : Lady Bay

Nottinghamshire 2nd XI v Leicestershire 2nd XI, Nottinghamshire Sports Ground, Lady Bay, 26th June 2013

It is always refreshing to venture beyond my usual haunts and discover a new ground and this year’s traditional mid-season T20 break once again provides the incentive.

Flicking through the fixture list, I’ve always liked the sound of Lady Bay, where Nottinghamshire play most of their 2nd XI matches.  It is not, as the name suggests, by the sea (though I did spot what might have been an immature herring gull in the outfield):

Lady Bay Seagull

The ground is part of a complex of sports pitches close by Trent Bridge and immediately behind Forest’s City Ground that used to be provided by the Boots Company for the use of their workers (in the days when capitalism was marginally more philanthropic).  Nottingham’s Rugby League side play there and the Rugby Union side uses it as a training ground (I believe they now play their first team fixtures at Notts County’s Meadow Lane).  The Boots football club, who used to play there, seem to have been evicted to make way for them.

Like many place names in this area of Nottingham (Meadow Lane, the Meadows Estate I walk through to get to Trent Bridge) it is not quite as bucolic as its name suggests (though it may once have been) but it is a pleasant enough ground.  The pavilion is a homely, club housey sort of affair (the interior is a little like a 1920s pub, decorated with rugby memorabilia and old Punch cartoons)

Lady Bay Pavilion

there is a distant view of hills from one side of the ground

Lady Bay

and the looming bulk of the Brian Clough stand from the other

Lady Bay

The fly in the ointment is that running alongside the ground is a busy and exceptionally noisy road, from which the speeding motorist may catch a brief glimpse of the cricket (although I don’t suppose many of them bother)

Lady Bay from the road

The real sadness about this is that this road leads to the Lady Bay Bridge, which until 1968 was a rail bridge carrying trains from Melton Mowbray into Nottingham, and the road was presumably a railway.  There are few things that enhance a cricket ground more than a railway alongside it, few that enhance a railway journey more than a glimpse of cricket and very few that enhance it less than a busy road.  I feel those old Boots employees must have seen the best days of Lady Bay.

The match itself was a pretty listless affair (these games seem to be used as an opportunity to have a look at prospective players as much as a competition in itself).  Leicestershire were captained by Ollie Freckingham, who, as an out and out strike bowler, seems not to be required in one day cricket, but he only bowled a few overs and spent a lot of time off the pitch (I didn’t get the impression he was too thrilled to be there at all).

In the morning of what was the second day of a three day match Leicestershire looked to be running through the Notts batting and a result might have been in prospect, but after lunch Brett Hutton (no relation, as far as I know, though he is Yorkshire-born) rather let the air out of the game with a frustrating century.  On the third day the match was drawn.

The triallist who caught the eye was Ben Raine, a burly fast-medium Mackem who’s been released by Durham.  He also bats a bit apparently, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of him (though we aren’t exactly short of that type of player).

These games are not, unfortunately, only an opportunity for the Leicestershire coaches to have a look at some of our younger players, they also allow the Nottinghamshire coaches to do a bit of window shopping.  At one point, one of them appeared to be ruffling Freckingham’s hair and winking at him.  I know these fiends will stop at nothing to lure our best players away, but I thought this was a bit low, even by their standards.

I think I may be back to Lady Bay, though I shall make sure to take some earplugs.

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?

Spotters Spotted

There were no trains today between Bedford and East Midlands Parkway, due to “essential engineering works”.  Instead there was a complex web of “replacement bus services”.  Arriving at Leicester Station, I spotted a man taking photographs of the replacement buses.  Waiting for the bus back to Harborough, I saw another man writing the registration numbers of the buses down in a little notebook.  He seemed to be having the time of his life, bantering excitedly with the station staff “That’s the second one to East Midlands Parkway in a row!”.  Back at Harborough – another man, another notebook.      

Perhaps this is what trainspotters do when there are no trains to spot?

Literally True : Turning in his Grave

Why this should be so I don’t know, but I do find that there is something strangely satisfying when something is both metaphorically and literally true.  The other day I was expressing my doubts about the proposed High Speed Rail Link between London and Birmingham.  In yesterday’s Standard I see that Lee Snashfold (spendid name!), director of the General Cemetary Company (who own Kensal Green Cemetary), has said that, if a tunnel for the rail link is built beneath the cemetary (where I.K. Brunel is buried), then –   

 ” Brunel would be turning in his grave.”

– and probably bouncing around like a Mexican jumping bean every time the 6.53 to Birmingham passes underneath him.

Go back to sleep, it's only a train!

The Victory Ball, by F.W. Skerrett : a Poem of Remembrance

My latest find at the Harborough Antiques Market, which seems to have the wonderful knack of providing me with things I didn’t know I needed, is this volume of verse – Rhymes of the Rail by F.W. Skerrett “The Locomotive Poet“, published in 1920 by Goodall and Suddick of Leeds.


I thought, from the cover, that it might be some collection of whimsical verse recalling the great days of steam – right up my street, or siding –  but, in fact, it is something quite different.  Skerrett, it appears, was a driver who operated out of Manchester, and was a keen Socialist and Union activist (with ASLE&F, the train drivers’ Union).

The verses, which are Kiplingesque in style (his epigraph is from Kipling, and he includes a pastiche of If  in praise of ASLE&F) are propagandist in intent, and were written to be to be recited.  In his foreword the Secretary of ASLE&F J. Bromley writes

“Those who attended our 1918 and 1919 Conferences, and heard some of Mr. Skerrett’s poems rendered at the concerts, knowing the beauty of them, will welcome this little book.” 

I’m not sure about beauty, exactly, but the poems certainly provide some interesting insights into the working life of the train driver, and the bitterness of the sentiments expressed lend them a good deal of power.

This particular poem, which I thought might be appropriate for Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, is an example of that.  I think it must have been occasioned by the Peace Day celebrations of 1919.  Although the Armistice was announced on 11th November 1918 the negotiations at Versailles did not conclude until the following June, and it was decided to celebrate the formal declaration of peace with a Peace Day on 19 July.  Lord Curzon (who was in charge) originally proposed a four-day celebration, but this was felt to be a little extravagant, and it was scaled down to a single day.

Even so, there was considerable feeling against the event.  A letter to the Manchester Evening News put the case –

I am sure the title Peace Day will send a cold shiver through the bodies of thousands of ‘demobbed’ men who are walking about the streets of Manchester looking for a job. Could a term be found that would be more ironical for such men. Perhaps, after the Manchester and Salford Corporations have celebrated this ‘Peace’ and incidentally will have wasted the thousands of pounds which it will cost, they will devote their spare time to alleviating the ‘bitterness’ and ‘misery’ which exist in the body and mind of the unemployed ex-soldier.
It is high time some very forcible and active measures were taken. Many Manchester businessmen refuse to employ the ex-soldier on the grounds that he has lost four years of experience in this line or that line of business through being in the army. What a splendid and patriotic retort to make to the men who were chiefly instrumental in saving their business from being in the possession of the Hun.Manchester Evening News July 10th 1919

Elsewhere, the Norfolk ex-Servicemen’s Association formally boycotted the event, and, most dramatically, in Luton, protests culminated in the burning down of the Town Hall (a story for another day).  

Skerrett puts the case against in verse (it might help to read it in the voice used by Stanley Holloway for Albert & the Lion).


The Victory Ball

The fighting was finished ,

And peace was declared;

The crowd idly gathered –

As crowds do – and stared

At a building illumined

With a great brilliant light

Whence the music proclaimed

Of a gay festive night.

By motor or carriage

The dancers arrive,

Their adornments denoting

E’en on war some will thrive.

The crowd stands amazed

At the sight of it all:

‘Midst their suffering and loss

‘Tis a Victory Ball.


A demobilised Tommy

Stood by in the crowd,

And when asked his opinion,

He spoke it out loud:

“Why, Guv’nor, this here’s

Just an insult and crime

‘Gainst the lads buried there

‘Midst the mud and the slime.

Work they refuse us,”

He bitterly said,

“Yet for them and their kind

We have fought, aye, and bled.

They may want us again –

Let them want, that is all –

To ‘ell with the lot

And their Victory Ball.”


To this sad-faced young widow,

With babe at her breast,

The scene must recall

Thoughts of him she loved best;

And his last parting words

Ring again in her ear:

“If I fall in the fray

They’ll be kind to you, dear.”

Thus their kindness is shewn

To that poor aching soul;

Their’s is riches to flaunt,

Her’s a pitiful dole;

They in jewels arrayed ,

She an old tattered shawl –

Christ have mercy on those

At that Victory Ball.  


(Thanks to this site for the letter to the M.E.N. – Aftermath).


I came across this  recently –

(prompted by Jonathan Calder\’s  recent mention of Mr. Culpeper in one of my favourite films – Powell &  Pressburger’s A Canterbury Tale).  It has been assembled by the artist Andrew Norris from three separate scenes in the film, and it made me think about this matter of slowness.

It has become almost a cliche in the world of video art (after Bill Viola), this habit of taking scenes from commercially released films, or films specially made for the purpose, and slowing them down, but it does so make you attend closely to scenes that would otherwise pass you by as part of the ever flowing stream that bears all its sons away.

Occasionally the train I take to work encounters a problem and has to move very, very slowly and suddenly all the things that usually pass by in a numbing blur become visible in detail – the endless embankments are teeming with life, the numberless fields have foxes and dog walkers in them, the golf courses have players missing vital putts, the back gardens are full of climbing frames, discarded toys and early morning smokers.  There’s been a lot of talk recently about high speed trains, but I think I’d pay good money to travel on a low speed train that would allow me to see properly what I’m passing through.

And I’m not sure that this isn’t one of the things I enjoy about county cricket – a legitimate reason to sit in the same place for seven hours and watch the movement of the clouds, the traffic up the Radcliffe Road, the steady ticking over of the scoreboard, the comings and goings of the birds.

Too green? John Betjeman at St Pancras

I would just like to announce that this blog has now entered a new era, and has taken a further step along the road to becoming a true Multi-Media Experience.  I have managed to acquire a digital camera (by inheritance from my daughter) so readers had better brace themselves for a brief, Toad-like outbust of enthusiasm for photography.  It’s the only thing, you know, and, of course, so much less effort than actually writing something.  At present, I am roughly to the world of photography what Cyril Smith is to the modelling of skinny jeans, but perhaps I shall improve with practice.

Anyway, here is my first photograph –

John Betjeman at St Pancras

 This, as you will observe, is the much-lauded statue of John Betjeman at St Pancras Station.  My normal route out of the station doesn’t take me past this, but occasionally – when the elevators are broken – it does and my point is that every time I pass him he seems to get greener and greener.  I’m sure he didn’t look quite like this when the statue was new.

I believe this is because the statue is made of bronze, which is largely made of copper, which – as we know from looking at lightning conductors on the spires of churches – turns green when it oxidises – but quite how green is he going to get?  He did write –

“Little, alas, to you I mean

For I am old and bald and green.”

But surely not this green?

(Incidentally, this will have to count as my contribution to the celebration of St Patrick’s Day).


Have they not heard of Dura-glit?

Poetry quiz

Just thought I’d totter from my (metaphorical) sickbed to pose the following question (probably a rhetorical one) – who is the author of the following poem?  The mystery bard was quite a well-known figure in his or her own day, and, although not best-known as a poet, it was a well-known fact that they wrote the stuff.  The highlight of their career as a poet was to have been having John Betjeman reading one of their poems aloud on the telly, but that was cancelled due to an act of disobedience.  It’s not apparent at first sight, but there is a connection with the previous two poems.  It appears to be about going to the seaside in Sussex, which might offer another clue. 

City Pilgrim

You rattle down the track


like a ship down the slipway

toward the Sound and waiting freedom

to be known

in its circle of the world:

then leaving train at cluttered station

like ship leaves cluttered land

you make a way to your destination

of that verging golden strand

to stand on the edge of freshness

by the curling rolling waves

with arms outstretched to feel the space

that a city pilgrim craves.

 (It shows how addle-pated I am at the moment that I was just about to tag this post with the name of the poet …)

LPs of the decade no. 4 : Funeral – Arcade Fire

A quill

And so the excitement mounts – or not – as the countdown continues.  More accordions on this one too. 

I suppose it says something about how I have gradually come adrift from the mainstream of British culture over the past decade that I think I’d struggle to think of more than about ten pop albums released in that period that I actually like more than a little, and even among those I find it hard to remember which year they were released in, or to connect them with anything other than themselves.  By contrast, I could probably identify the year, at least, of any chart single released in the ‘seventies and remember what I was doing at the time I first heard it.  Part of the problem may be that, since moving to Harborough (in 2002) I chiefly listen to music when I’M ON THE TRAIN !!!, so what these songs remind me of is generally, I fear, being … on a train.

This song, and video will, I’m afraid, have to remain self-explanatory, as I’m not sure that I have a reasonable explanation for either.  I  do remember, though, that I bought it – in an independent record shop (now presumably deceased) – on an exploratory day trip to Loughborough soon after it was released in 2005 (and, in fact, listened to it ON THE TRAIN!!! on the way home).

This song is called Laika.  The original Laika (literally Barker) was the unfortunate dog who was launched into space – never to return (as they well knew) – by the Soviets in 1959.  At least she made it onto a Romanian stamp –

Poor Laika on a stamp

And here’s the song –