Friday, 21 February 2014

A Bulwell visit

On Wednesday, I went to Bulwell, on the north-west side of Nottingham. It was my first visit in eighteen months and I took my camera with me. My visit was prompted by a meeting with the person organising the history bus outing I mentioned in a previous blog on 1 February 2014.

I now have a time and a date — 11am for Saturday 24 May 2014, when I will lead a history bus tour on the 35 bus scheduled to leave Bulwell Bus Station at 11.27am. The trip will end at Nottingham Central Library on Angel Row in Nottingham City Centre. There will be spin-offs: a leaflet, walks, a 'reminscence map' inspired by a Manhatten 'mapping' website and, possibly, a display of sorts.

I am hoping we will have two folk with us throughout the journey talking in old English, speaking place names as they may have been spoken in 1086, at about the time William the Conquerer's Domesday Book was being compiled (other titles have included 'The Great Survey' and 'The Great Description of England' to name just two, but the title we know it best by is Domesday Book). The 35 passes through a string of pre-Conquest communities, some recorded for the first time in 1086 (there may be earlier references to these places yet to be unearthed by some diligent researcher in the bowels of an archive somewhere).

To hear these place names in Old English is to hear our forebears speak: Bul(e)uuelle; Hamessal; Straelie/Straleia; Bileburch/burg; Waletone/Ol(l)avestone; Lentone/tune and Snoting(e)ham/quin.

In addition, there are two 'lost' Lenton 'pre-Conquest' communities: Mortune and Sudtune/tone (now remembered as Sutton Passeys, the name having been revived in the 20th century). Nine of Nottingham's fifteen pre-Conquest communities are on the 35 route. No other Nottingham bus route comes close to claiming the title 'Heritage Bus Route'.

My visit to Bulwell was made (of course) on a 35 bus, which stops a hundred yards or so away from where I live in Lenton. It really is a journey of contrasts and, as urban bus routes go, epic — nearly an hour in length, with a few hundred yards of countryside and little glimpses of Nottingham's rich heritage here and there, providing you know what you are looking for. Over the coming weeks I will be exploring the route more closely than I have ever done before, For my meeting on Wednesday, I hastily created a blog page charting the route of the 35. Before long the page be no more, subsumed I hope into a new website which Susan is registering for me. So, to have a peek, click here. Some permissions have yet to be obtained, but given it's all for free, there should not be any problems.

On Wednesday I arrived early and for twenty-five minutes wandered up and down Main Street. Here is a selection;

Out of Bulwell Bus Station (which I did not photograph, but I will next time) and straight into Bulwell Market Place. Not the busiest of markets, but still going. Turning to the right...

...beyond the burger van, I took this photograph of Main Street.

At the other end of Main Street is the Mount Zion 7th Day Church of God. The sign also describes it as 'Bulwell Community Church'. I assume that the building was once home to another faith group. Tucked away to the left of the church is a modern building bearing the name 'Tesco Extra' — a temple to corporate capitalism in all its glory.

 Turning back, this was the view of Main Street towards Market Place and on the left is the Wetherspoon's William Peveril public house. This end of Main Street has empty shops and charity shops. One day I will find the time to do a blog about charity shops and how corporate charities are little different to their capitalist counterparts.

Outside the William Peveril pub is this sign. Whilst I was looking at it, a customer having a cigarette came over and said 'They've done a good job have Wetherspoons. They let me in and they won't allow any nonsense. They're good like that'.  He was the kind of man many would avoid, but had I had time I would have enjoyed a longer chat and bought him a pint.

Inside the William Peveril is this statue showing King Harold getting an arrow in his eye at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The English lost and William from Normandy became the new King of England — the last time we were conquered, but we had the last laugh insomuch as will still speak English and after nearly a thousand years we still take sides and it is never with the Normans!

Just off Market Place is this grim looking alley. It is probably the most unwelcoming entrance to a 'shopping experience' I have ever seen. Sorry Bulwell!  I know you have little control over your own destiny and where what little money there is gets spent, but it would cost nothing for someone to take the wheelie bin in.

And this is what is at the bottom of the alley, two 'Tudor courts' like this. Run down and tired looking despite the fact that they appear to have been built quite recently. In a better off location these retail units would be full of boutiques and 'kupcake' shops.

Outside the other end of 'Tudor Court' there is this clock tower. If I tell you that I took this photograph at 10.50am, then you will realise the clock does not tell the right time. Why did they bother? Money is spent trying to improve the area and great play is made of how great the development is going to be, then once it is open, next to no money is spent on maintenance and the rents set so high that no one can afford to open shops, or if they do, they soon close. Turn 180° and look down a pedestrian underpass under Bulwell High Road and you get a glimpse of this...

...Strelley House, which dates from 1667 and was once a charity school. Behind it somewhere is a dovecote. This is hidden history of the kind the 35 bus history day is all about.

Turning back, I headed into the Market Place again and took this photograph of Bulwell's parish church in the distance, with a side view of  Bulwell Town Hall to the right. Both built on high ground to avoid flooding.

'Flooding?' you ask. Yes, from the River Leen (the same river which flows through Lenton and gives it its name). This view looking north is where it is the Leen disappears for a while, behind shops and under car parks.

Turn 180° and you have a view of the Bulwell Bogs. With a name like that you can imagine the rest for yourself. I have seen this part of the Leen when the water is so high that the water level has nearly reached the road. Admittedly, that was over thirty years ago and flood alleviation work have been carried out since then, but when full to the brim and flowing fast, it is still quite a sight.

By coincidence, all this talk of water brings me to my penultimate photograph, for inside this shop is the well which some say gives Bulwell its name*. It's a lovely story, so well told to me by the shop's owner, Robert Reader, that he has agreed to talk to those coming on the 35 bus ride on 24 May — hence the 11am start, so that those who come along can visit this wonderful cornucopia of household wares and hear something of the well and the shop's long history from Robert. Meeting him and then spending time with Juliet from Bulwell's TravelRight Project made my day.

Bulwell, for all you see, is home to a community not easily cowed. Bulwell has the distinction of electing John Peck, England's last Communist councillor and I was there, on the night, to see it happen and, like a good few other Labour Party members present, I cheered. When the Communist Party fell apart after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he joined the Green Party. John died in 2004, but is not forgotten.

You cannot be a socialist and not have a soft spot for Bulwell.

I left the same way I came. By bus. This time on a 68, which runs a more direct route to Nottingham City Centre than the 35. It was waiting for me outside Bulwell Market Place, just a few yards from the bus station. The name of this bus stop is 'Bulwell Market' — back in 1960 it as also the name of the railway station (and present-day tram stop) we no know as 'Bulwell'.

NOTE: * Local historian Geoffrey Oldfield in his wonderful book, The Illustrated History of Nottingham's Suburbs, begins his entry for Bulwell by saying 'The derivation of the name (Bulwell), according to local legend, is that it was a spring or well, which was started by a bull whose horn struck a large rock from which water flowed. The more prosaic explantion by place name experts is that the first part is an Anglo-Saxon personal name'.

Put this with Robert Reader's tale and then use a visit to his little hardware shop  to kick off our journey into history on a 35 suggests we have the makings of a great day if the rest can be as good! 


Andy Platt said...

If you know where to look Bulwell does have some interesting sights, the jewel of which really is Strelley House in my opinion.

There is money being raised with a view to moving the Dovecote to the Bogs, brick by brick. Whether it'll happen...

Btw, the place to see the Dovecote is from the road going over the underpass. Cross over and walk to the left end of the raised section, it nestles among some modern factory buildings.

Here's my set of pics of the Bulwell area

Robert said...


Many thanks. Great photos. I hope you can join us on the 35 history bus on 24 May. The day is still in the early stages of planning, so watch out for details.