Friday, 2 May 2014

When we could fly – a walk around Bilborough and Strelley with Chris Matthews and TravelRight

I am an experienced urban walker who has been publishing walks and leading them for a good few years. In three weeks I will lead my last ever Lenton history walk, for when we move my interests will be elsewhere. It may seem an odd thing for a person with a passion for local history to say, but I only look back so that I can see the future more clearly.

Chris Matthews's TravelRight history walk around parts of Bilborough and Strelley on 19 April was a perfect example of this. Once we could fly and we still can. We are peddled lies as truths, and far too many believe the bankers and politicians who try to deny us a future of our own making. More of this later. Now, let us begin...

1. Bilborough Library, off Bracebridge Drive by the shops is where we gathered for our walk.

How different to Aspley Library where we had started the previous week's walk.

Brutalist and ugly. A fortress in looks. but a palace to learning inside, even though the lobby was cold and stark. Bilborough deserves better.

The Walk Group gathers around the Library's mosaic. A lovely idea at the time, but now neglected and in need of repair.

As you can see, we were a motley bunch, affable and eager to be off.

 Chris Matthews, our Walk Leader, tries to show us the route. We look on and nod knowlingly. No one has the heart to tell Chris he is holding the map upside down. The important thing is that Chris knows where he's going. He told me later that he had rehearsed the walk the day before.

2. Darnhall Crescent, with Chris explaining the historic and social importance of the BISF houses across the road. They were prefabricated in old aircraft factories by the then British Iron & Steel Federation in the years after World War Two, when there was a desperate housing shortage.

The houses were erected very quickly sixty–seventy years ago and whilst many are now in a poor state of repair, others have been cared for and cherished.

The Tory policy of allowing council tenants to buy their homes (and not stopped by Labour once in power) was, for the most part, a bad thing, but looking at these houses, you can see that the policy probably saved these houses from demolition.

 3. Bracebridge Drive shops. The Bilborough Estate has an impressive shopping centre built in the early-post-war years. The then Nottingham Co-operative Society was central to so many of these schemes. The first floor windows are boarded up, but I suspect that once there were meeting rooms on the first floor, where different Co-op organisations met.

Below is an advert I found in a 1954 Nottingham street directory and map.

I have used this photograph before. The 35 bus stop at Bracebridge Drive shops looks across to the photograph above of the Co-op and, if you look straight out of an offside bus window, this is what you see — a view straight down Graylands Road towards Wollaton Hall.

I doubt if present-day Nottingham Planners would have the same eye for detail. They seem to know little of Nottingham beyond the City Centre.

It has been one of my favourite views since c1983 when the 35 bus started and I began using it to travel regularly between Lenton and Cinderhill (a story for another day).

4. St John's Church on Graylands Road, just down from the Bracebridge Drive shops.

A close-up of the church tower, with its fine mosaic mural. I wonder if the mosaic outside Bilborough Library is a reference to this one?

I like the simplicity of St John's Church and its interior. Restful, as all faith buildings should be.

St John's has scenes depicting the Stations of the Cross on dotted around the church. Until this visit, I had always thought there were twelve stations, but this is no.14.

I am not a religious person, but there have a pleasing appearance and texture.

Two of Bilborough's three Labour Party city councillors were with us for part of the walk. Wendy Smith and Marcia Watson. Their colleague Malcolm Wood was unable to make it. Malcolm is a little slower than he used to be and was the first Nottingham city councillor I ever met, back in the mid-seventies, when we were both very young Labour Party councillors. I was on Birmingham City Council and chaired the then Midlands Area Museums Service, which covered both the East and West Midlands.

The last couple of occasions Malcolm and I have had a chat has been on a 35 bus, so I hope he is going to make the History from a 35 Bus Day on 24 May, which I am leading for TravelRight.

I hope Wendy and Marcia will be there too.

5. Staverton Road offers this rather impressive side view of St John's. Notice the pale blue 'fins'. These can also be found on the Graylands Road elevation, which you can see in a previous photograph. They are said to represent aeroplane wings and you will see this architectural feature again before the walk is over.

The chapel extension to the left end was, for a while, used for church services.

After World War Two, large estates of single-storey 'prefabs' became commonplace and were highly sort after by would-be council tenants. As a child I had an aunt and uncle and cousins who lived in a prefab. It had a fridge, electric heating and all mod cons. They were demolished years ago, but Nottingham is one of the few place where prefabs never really disappeared and their footprint remains, albeit with a modern outer shell. In many places, like these off Staverton Road, they were reached by footpaths. Few folk had cars then.

This is the post-war prefab as I remember it. I took this photograph a couple of years ago at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, a place I know quite well for a number of reasons and have watched it grow ever larger as more and more historic buildings have found a new home at Avoncroft.

Still on Staverton Road, across from the previous photograph, is this terrace of council bungalows, more conventional in style and pleasing to the eye.

I suspect for many a prefab is the preferred choice, because they are detached.

6. Chetwin Road close by shows off another kind of mass produced post-war housing. This time made of concrete.

This photograph shows one in the process of being clad  to improve insulation and to extend its life for a good few years yet.

Chris Matthews's leaflet for TravelRight, a Walking & Cycling Guide (to) Beechdale, Bilborough & Strelley, has a section devoted to pre-fabrication. Well worth getting hold of a copy if you don't have one already.

7. Westwick Road's  access to Birchover Road Recreation Ground is good place to show a small architectural feature common to the entire estate. When the houses were built, two kinds of porch door canopies were used. Look closely at the photograph and you will see what I mean.

Which one do you prefer? The one on the left or the one on the right?

8. Birchover Community Centre on Birchover Road is another brutalist building. I have not been inside, so I will reserve judgement until I have.

I am in no doubt that the appearance of buildings in our townscape do impact on our social behaviour. Architects and planners rarely conduct their experiments in social engineering in middle-class suburbia or rural commuter land. I want to like it. Perhaps I will.
Opposite the Community Centre, the walking group passed by a 35 bus on Nottingham's unofficial 'heritage bus route'. My photograph gives the impression that there is a long queue for the 35 and I have already used the photograph elsewhere claiming as much.

Local history is really old news — hence my belief that you should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

Soon the 35 will have double-deckers again.

9. Portland School entrance off Cockington Road. Notice those aeroplane fins again, just like those on St John's Church.

A fine Council building from a time when we had the confidence and vision to fly. Nothing was too good for the working class under Labour from the 1930s–1960s, then the Party got cold feet and reformist leaders. Nottingham folk still believe we can fly. There is hope yet.

10. The beginning of Strelley Lane, off the west side of Bilborough Road, heading north towards Strelley Village, yards away from a 35 bus stop and countryside all around.

11. Strelley Lane becomes a bridle path, where this barred gate blocks off vehicle access.

Across to the west the view is open countryside.

To the east, a vista of Nottingham towards Lenton across open fields. The large white building to the left side of the photograph os the Players warehouse at the junction of Wollaton and Triumph roads.

Beyond, only three of Lenton's high-rise blocks of flats remain. Two have gone in the past year. All will be gone this time next year.

Beyond, hidden from view, is the Trent with a hint of the Vale of Belvoir beyond.

12. Strelley Lane bridle path at its junction with a footpath west towards Trowell Moor, where we are passed by two horse riders.

13. Looking south down Strelley Lane from Main Street, Strelley.

14. Strelley Hall, viewed from Strelley Lane at its junction with Main Street.

Having looked at the Hall, the walking group hot foot it towards Strelley Church. Legs are getting tired now and the walk is well past the time by which it should have finished, but we have someone waiting for us at the Church...

15. The gate to All Saints Church, Strelley, with the Hall just visible.

16. All Saints Church. Inside the Church Warden is on hand to talk to the Group about the Church and its history.

The Church Guide says it 'probably dates from the mid-12th century' and is not mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, which does have an entry for Strelley. The Saxons who lived here 'more likely worshipped outside at a stone cross, the base of which still stands in the garden of Fountains Cottage in the village'.

 On a Church wall there is a photographic display of what visitors should look for inside the Church.

The altar is very different to St John's in Bllborough, where we had been a couple of hours before. Churches like this are like roses to me. I am glad that they exist and that someone else looks after them and I happily donate when I visit, but I would not like to come here every Sunday.

All Saints Church has many fine features, but the star of the show must be the alabaster tomb of Sir Sampson and Elizabeth de Strelley dating from 1405–10.

Truly wonderful and notice they are holding hands. This alone makes All Saints Church a national treasure. A must visit church within a few minutes walk of a 35 bus stop.

Finally, a simple memorial plaque, much more to my taste, to Emily Edge. The following quote from Broxtowe Boy (pub. 2004) by Derrick Buttress I have used before, but it seems fitting to use it again:

Strelley Hall (is) a grey Georgian mansion guarded by high walls and locked gates. Inside lived Miss Edge, an elderly spinster with time on her hands and many acres of parkland to spend it in.

She once spoke to me and was kind, pleasant and straight out of Jane Austen. She asked me what I did for a living. When I told her I worked in a factory, she related that she, too, had visited a factory. Once’.

17. 'The Moat'. Long shown on maps as a 'moat', which many to take as meaning that the site was once protected, if not fortified. I have my doubts. It could be no more than the remains of an old quarry.

Perhaps some time in the future there will be an archaeological dig to find out just how old the site is.

18. Main Street, Strelley, has a number of cottages along its length, of which this is a typical example.

19. Remains of an industrial landscape. Walking through Strelley in 2014, it is hard to imagine it as it once was, five to six hundred years ago, a landscape dotted with bell pits and at one end of the world's first recorded railway, constructed in 1604–05 between Strelley and Wollaton to carry coal.

In the middle of the photograph, just in front of a lone, dark foliaged, tree is a depression. It is the remains of a bell bid, from which coal was taken until it was no longer safe to do so, then another pit would be dug.

20. Broad Oak Pub, Main Street, Strelley, where the walk came to an end. Originally Chris intended to take us into old Bilborough Village and then back to Bilborough Library.

The walk had been lively and full of chatter — always the sign of a good walk — but legs were tired and folk were feeling hungry and, as I well know, the Broad Oak does great fish and chips. Need I say more.

Well done Chris, another great walk and thanks to TravelRight for their support and encouragement.

I then walked along Main Street towards…

21. …Strelley Recreation Ground, which, like the Strelley 'Estate', is in the City of Nottingham, whilst All Saints Church and the Hall are in Broxtowe Borough Council's area. In this part of the world, place names and locations are jumbled. One and apart — which is why I am a long time advocate of a Greater Nottingham City Council embracing the surrounding boroughs as well as the city.

This is one of my favourite little parks and I love its copse. How I wish there was one in Lenton Recreation Ground.

22. The day ended as it had begun — on a 35 bus. This time going home. I really hope that after the 'History From a 35 Bus' event being organised by TravelRight on 24 May 2104, Nottingham City Transport and the City Council will seriously consider my long argued proposal that they make the 35 the City's first 'Heritage Bus Route'.

Perhaps I should offer myself as a personal 35 history guide to tourists visiting Nottingham. Now, there's a thought…

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Poster buses, with a nod to Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews has designed this great poster to advertise TravelRight's History By 35 Bus event on 24 May 2014. Beneath is a nod by me using a now vintage bus instead to be my bookends.

How do you to build a tram system single-handed?

I took this photograph on Tuesday 29 April at about 1pm walking into Beeston after a visit I organised for Nottinghamshire Local History Association to Hurt's knitwear factory near the Barton Gallery and opposite what is now the Beeston Annexe of Nottingham Central College.

I have long been of the view that those working on constructing the tram line are like Starlings. They seem to flock and swarm about in patterns as they hurry about doing what seems like nothing in particular. They must be doing something, because the landscape changes and the fact that tram track is slowly, but surely, being laid is evidence of the fact.

If I had had the time, I could have taken a series of photographs to prove my claim, but I just had time for one — eighteen men milling around one short section of would-be tram track. Perhaps it was a training session of some kind, but what struck me most was how many of The Tram workman I saw on Tuesday were clutching mobile phones,

I am a regular visitor to Beeston and the Beeston end of Chilwell High Road. At least once a week, often twice. Since 1996 my wife and I have been visiting Caritas, opposite the police station, and shopping at the Local Not Global Deli regularly, as well as occasional visits to other shops along this section of the new tram line to Toton, which has been under construction for a very long time.

At the end of the day I believe The Tram to be a good thing, although I am sceptical as to what benefits it brings to the communities in Nottingham it passes through. Bulwell and Hyson Green bear witness to the fact neither shopping area appears to have benefited one iota ten years after the first tram carrying passengers trundled by. I have a nasty feeling it will be the same for Beeston. I sincerely hope that I am wrong about this. We shall see at some point in the future.

A little further on, I saw a Tram worker down a deep hole close to Imperial Road. Only his head was above the hole and he was shouting profanities at three men, all in yellow coats, all holding mobiles, staring down at him. What I caught went something like this: 'I'm the one in this f**king hole, so why don't you let me get on with my f***king job, instead of coming here ever f**king minute to check up on me'.

If you read this post and see the Nottingham tram extensions under construction, check how many workers are holding mobile phones. The work does seem to be a good way behind schedule and I will be full of admiration for all involved if the whole system is up and running for the oft-repeated starting date of 14 December 2014.

Given how long it has taken them between Middle Street and Holly Lane so far, it will be next year sometime. Maybe the delay is being caused by managers behaving like children, forever checking up on how construction is progressing — a bit like children on a journey forever asking 'Are we there yet?'

Commonsense says if you want to build a tram line fast, then let the workers use both hands.