Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Dogs in hats

I am not a dog man, but I get on with them well  enough and enjoy their company from time to time. I took this photo last Friday (20 June) at Rufford Abbey in mid-Nottinghamshire. A public 'country' park with a ruined house, part of which has been a very popular arts and crafts centre with a shop and café since the 1980s. I can fairly claim to have been actively involved in its creation.

I took this photo with the camera on my new smartphone and what I wanted to capture was the lady taking photographs of the dogs, but I was too late. The scene made me think of a good friend who is getting into photographing working dogs. I have sent her the photo already.

Having written about cats in my last blog post a week ago, I thought I would take this chance to redress the balance.

The day was hot and having lost a cat to heatstroke back in the 1980s, I know how the thinnest of head coverings can make all the difference, so I applaud their keeper for giving them little hats to wear.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Look at what I have found...

Going through a tray of papers in our office, I found this long forgotten photograph.

Seeing this will, I hope, bring a smile to your face. It's from the late-80s / early-90s. It is me having an afternoon nap and by the time Susan found me I had been joined by Coco (just above me) and Jenny, on the radiator shelf. These were perches they only used when the radiator was on.

Coco died in 1995 and Jenny in 2001.

In those days we were still publishing Local History Magazine and Susan had a page on our website dedicated to 'Local History Cats'. It was the most popular page on the website. Earlier this year when Susan was moving the Nottinghamshire Local History Association website across to Wordpress, she created a trial page under her domain name. Click on the following link:  http://susangriffiths.me.uk/wordpress/local-history-cats/

They were great companions and not a day passes without I think of them in some way. All our cats brush up against me occasionally or I catch them disappearing through a door. I hope they come with us when we move. Jenny and Markiza, our last cat who died last year will insomuch as we have their ashes in small boxes. The graves of other cats in our small back garden are being marked with plaques in the hope they can rest in peace for a good while yet.

I do not believe in ghosts, but I believe the past can linger on in as yet unexplained ways, as if buildings, walls and stones can capture and hold onto moments.

The sofa went to the Crocus Café in Lenton years ago and goodness knows how many people have sat on it since. The secret of its longevity is in the fact that it has a metal divan bedframe inside, giving it a firm seat. Now I like more afternoon naps and use a secondhand sofa we bought back in 2006 and, when we move, we hope to have a living room large enough to take two.

Sad to say, we will nap alone. Our days of living with cats ended with the passing of Markiza.

The good news is that the photograph will not be lost again and I will look at it on my pinboard, and smile every time I do.


Sunday, 15 June 2014

A chance mid-May day out

On 14 May Susan and I found ourselves with a spare day, We had found a house the day before and had our offer accepted, so we cancelled what other house viewings we had and decided to relax for the first time in months by having a day out. We also had a hire car for the week. In the end we got up too late to drive to Skeggie (Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast), so decided to visit the National Memorial Aboretum at Alrewas, near Lichfield, instead.

It was Susan's first visit, but I went in 2010 with Lenton Local History Society and posted a blog about my visit. Click here to visit blog entry dated 1 October 2010. Again, once you got away from the Visitor Centre and main monument, you were very much on your own. I hope you enjoy the pictures I have posted below. I never finished posting captions to the 2010 blog and only make a couple of comments at the end of this post.

I am sure that 'Moore B' in the penultimate photograph above is Bobby Moore, someone I knew from my schooldays and teens, who was killed in South Yeman in 1963. We used to have a drink and a chat every time he came home on leave. We made an unlikely pair. Him in the Army and me, an active Young Socialist, a Unilateralist (still am) and supporter of national liberation movements.

The last photograph is proof that those in power and their supporters have no intention of accepting the futility of war. I believe war is only justified in legitimate self-defence. There are whole areas of the main monument like this — blank — just waiting for future names to be added.

Altogether, a peaceful and reflective place to visit. We do need armed forces and they should be recognised for what they do, whether or not we agree with what they are doing at the time.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

A very public hidden Nottingham tunnel

This is an account of a relatively short Nottingham City Centre walk, which we began in the Warsaw Diner on Derby Road, close to Canning Circus, with a leisurely 'breakfast' lunch, in the company of Nottingham-born pensioner friends who had never walked through the Park Tunnel between Derby Road and The Park Estate, nor did they know how to find it — hence our walk, which came out the 'History from a 35 Bus' event on 24 May.

The map below shows our walk, which has the great advantage of being downhill all the way. It took us about ninety minutes, but you could do in thirty minutes quite easily.

A Sunday photograph of the Warsaw Diner. When we arrived at noon there were two other tables occupied with just six diners. We took the total to ten. Later on, at one point, folk were queuing for tables. Most of the diners were young and it is easy to see why it is so popular. The food is simple, but good, as is the service. There is a conviviality and ambiance born of ten thousand countless other conversations which linger in the Diner. It only open 9am–2pm during the day.

Many folk do not know where the Park Tunnel entrance is, so look at these pictures carefully. We are standing outside the entrance, just up from the bus stop used by buses going out of town along the Derby Road. I have also added a more detailed map to help you.

This is the entrance you will see. A anonymous looking footpath beside a car park gate.

Look down the footpath from the Derby Road and this what you see. Seemingly nothing, but don't lose your nerve. Walk down towards the black hole in the distance...

…which leads to a ramp into an underground car park…

… and continue walking, past the parked cars (just one on this occasion) and at the end you will come to some steps…

… at the top of which the Park Tunnel comes into view. There are plenty of websites offering a variety of histories of how the Tunnel came into existence. Here are links to two: Notts History and Notts University entry. Essentially, it was opened in 1855 and was originally intended as a link between Nottingham town and The Park Estate, but other, easier, entrances were created, so the tunnel became what it is today — a glorified footpath (the route is not suitable for wheelchair users).

A view of the west side of the Tunnel wall, where it is open to the elements, and the side reenforced with countless blocks of what looks like Bulwell Stone.

The east side is even more impressive, with steps leading up to College Street. For many years the stairs were closed. Now, it is the gate at the top which is not always open.

Look up at the point where the tunnel is exposed and see the house perched on the top of the sandstone cliff.

Technically, the exit into The Park Estate is where Tunnel Road begins.

Look back after you leave the Tunnel to get this fine view.

To reach this point you will walk along Tunnel Road between The Park Estate tennis courts and bowling greens. The road you are turning left onto, and heading south-east alon (with Nottingham Castle just visible above the trees) is Tattershall Drive

You are heading towards Castle Boulevard. The housing is this picture is typical of the kind of up-market conversions which have taken place in The Park. Many of the large houses have long been divided in (expensive) apartments.

The Park Estate is very jealous of its privacy and exclusiveness and goes to great lengths to protect itself, as the ordinary folk of Lenton well know. Last year (2013) saw the culmination of a fourteen year fight by a vocal group of Park residents to have the ancient footpath between Lenton and the Castle made part of the Estate. The good news is that they lost and I am proud to say I was part of the fight from the very first day The Park Estate declared their intention. Previous blog posts have covered the story, so I will say no more (I will just gloat as I type).

On this short walk you see plenty of Nottingham Castle, but never close enough to go in. This view shows the rebuilt wall, which a good few years ago collapsed. This resulted in the Castle's viewing terrace being closed off for another few years until a engineering solution was found.

Once on Castle Boulevard, a few steps along and you will see what all the locals call the Brewhouse Yard Museum, now closed most days as part of cost-cutting by Nottingham City Council. So, if you want to visit, check on the web first.

Another view of Brewhouse Yard. Just to the right, out of view, is the famous Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub, which has caves you can visit.

On the south side of Castle Boulevard, opposite Brewhouse Yard, is this fine concrete office building known as New Castle House, dating from the early-1930s. I have always like it. Some years ago (The Pevsner Architectural Guide for Nottingham says 1987–91, but it does not seem that long ago) it was refurbished and new windows with tinted glass fitted.

I have always found this sign a little confusing. It is the official name for the Brewhouse Yard Museum, but this building has never been part of the Museum open to the public. It is actually a museum store and working area.

Right into Wilford Street and you are within yards of Nottingham Canal.

On the towpath we were stopped by these two young folk soliciting for passers-by to join the recently formed Canal & River Trust, the charitable body set up to replace the state-owned British Waterways. We don't do anything 'cold call', but I have since signed Susan and me up as 'Friends' of the Trust. I never asked their names, so if they see this, just let me say you were great ambassadors for the Canal & River Trust.

On the south side of the towpath is the city's magistrates' court, housed in this modern building, which dates from the 1990s (Pevsner describes the facade as 'dreary').

The third aim of the walk (after eating at the Warsaw Diner and walking through The Park Tunnel) was to visit the recently re-opened Nottingham Railway Station. The blurb describes the refurbished station as 'a world-class interchange'. Sad to say it is no such thing. It does not come remotely close to being a transport interchange worth the name. I set out all my arguments in a column in the Nottingham Post last November. Click here to see the column online. However, what you now see is a great improvement on the old station.

The old station forecourt, where once taxis picked up fares and cars parked, has now been pedestrianised. A number of retail units have been incorporated into the space and have yet to be occupied.

The booking hall is now on the south side of the station concourse and there are a lot more self-service ticket machines — which explain all the portable barriers. Their presence is necessary if would-be passengers are to have any chance of buying a train ticket in an orderly manner. Since there appear to be fewer staff and windows in the new booking hall, you will have to queue to collect tickets bought online or on the day.

Unfortunately, the concourse, minus its café and because of the restrictions on movement, is less interesting than it was. For £80million I expected a lot better than this!

Outside on Station Street, which runs along the north side of the Station, is this wonderful banner. The 'rebels' are, left to right, Lord Byron, D H Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe.

A news item in the Nottingham Post dated 12 June 2014 says 'Nottingham's great literary heritage is to be celebrated with a new trail through the city centre. Visitors to the city will be able to take in some of the places which were popular with writers such as Lord Byron, DH Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe. The first part of the ‘Our Rebel Writers’ trail – a banner in Station Street – has already gone up. It is to be followed by up to a dozen plaques on paving stones and various locations'. 

I understand the Trail will take the form of a mobile phone app. As of yet, no more information appears to be available.

This was the fourth and final destination of the walk, where I had already decided we were going to have tea and cake. The old Hopkinson building, once an ironmonger and builders' merchant, brought back into use, first as a art-space and more recently as a bric-a-brac emporium. The one thing it has always had is a decent little teashop.

The ground floor of the Henderson building emporium.

This young lady caught my eye. The display around her says it all…

… as does my friend Ray wearing the kind of hat every Englishman should wear when walking in the hot summer sun.

Gloria took a shine to the giraffe at the entrance to the building and says she intends to paint it at her art class. I have sent her a copy of the pic and look forward to seeing what she makes of the very unusal giraffe.

As you can see in this view of Station Street towards Carrington Street, work on Nottingham Station is not yet complete (turn around and there is also ongoing Tram work as well). In my Nottingham Post column I argued that an atrium should be built over Station Street so it could become a new Nottingham Bus Station, right beside the railway station. The blurb about the station mentions The Tram, taxis and car, but not buses. I rest my case as to why the grandiose claims made for the station are not justified.

Finally, a note about the Pevsner Architectural Guide for Nottingham. This is an invaluable book when walking around Nottingham. It also contains 12 walks, some good, others less so, but a good starting point for anyone wanting to know Nottingham a little better. The next blog but one (next week sometime) will be about a newly published book about some English towns and cities, which includes Nottingham.

Well that's it. Hope you've enjoyed it.

FOOTNOTE: These are the first pictures I have taken with a 5mb fixed lens camera on a 'moto e' smart phone Susan bought me as a birthday present. Given that I am a happy snapper at the best of times, I am quite impressed with the quality of the images, some of which I have cropped.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Bobbers Mill TravelRight Walk

A very late post recalling a great TravelRight walk on Saturday 3 May 2014. As the pictures show, it was a lovely day. Another walk which took a lot longer than intended, but even when walking across derelict land, there were things which caught the attention.

Our walk leader Chris Weir was a Principal Archivist inNottinghamshire County Council Archives until he recently retired. He is also Vice-Chair of Nottinghamshire Local History Association. Chris is a popular walk leader and has a galaxy of asides which he can drop into any talk or conversation about local history in Nottingham.

The walk started from St Stephen with St Paul's Church. Chris said the first church on this site in the 1880s was named St Luke's Mission Church, then it became St Simon's before becoming St Stephen, with St Paul's added when a nearby church of that name closed.

The following extract from the Southwell & Nottingham Church History Project provides more information:

St Stephen’s, on Bobbers Mill Road in Hyson Green, Nottingham, was the successor church to St Stephen’s, Bunkers Hill. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Southwell on Ascension Day 1898. The church was built to serve a working class community which grew up in northern Hyson Green during the 1880s and 1890s, while St Paul’s, Hyson Green served the southern part of the area. Hyson Green was extensively redeveloped in the 1970s and 1980s. and with the development of low density housing, the two parishes declined in numbers. In 1987 they were amalgamated as the joint parish of Hyson Green St Paul’s and St Stephen’s, Nottingham. St Paul’s closed in 1994, when the two congregations joined forces. St Stephen’s has not been greatly altered either inside or out since it was built to designs by WD Caröe. However, the surrounding site has been altered out of all recognition. The parish room, which stood for nearly one hundred years, the vicarage (more than sixty years), and garden allotments, were replaced in the 1980s and 1990s by a community building, The Vine, and a housing scheme.

This The Vine Community Building, located behind the church.

The text on the foundation stone by the main entrance.

As I was taking this photograph, other walkers were still arriving. As you can see, it was a good turnout.

Our walk leader raises his arm as he talks about the St Stephen's and its history. There will be other raised arms before I have finished. Do not be alarmed! I put down the waving of arms on this walk to enthusiasm.

The Old General Pub at the junction of Bobbers Mill and Radford roads has been boarded up for a good few years now. The man you can see is Benjamin Mayo, a Nottingham eccentric who lived c1779–1843. The Picture the Past website has images and text about Mayo.

The River Leen deserves better than this. Given its historic importance to Nottingham and the Domesday communities it helped sustain for hundreds of years, the Leen deserves to re-born. Over the years there have been a number of proposals, none of which have come to anything much. Local historian Chris Matthews, well known to many in the city and among TravelRight regulars, has a done a lot in recent years to promote the Leen between Old Basford and Bulwell, including the production of a Leenside walk and leaflet for TravelRight.

After crossing the Leen the walk continues across derelict land. In the jargon, a 'brownfield site' — which explains why it has stood empty for so many years. Developers are waiting for Nottingham City Council or some other public body to pay for the land to be cleaned up. Such is the nature of 'welfare capitalism': privateers, big business and the banks take the profits, then leave the taxpayer to pay for cleaning the land up. I cannot understand why voters go on electing politicians who allow business to get away with such things.

In the midst of all this stands one lone chimney and just to the right, in the distance, peeping over the tops of some trees, is the old Shipstone Brewery Building, which you will see again, more than once, before this walk is over.

Then the only real obstacle on the walk. having to cross a footbridge over the Robin Hood Railway Line, which runs between Nottingham and Worksop via Bulwell, Hucknall and Mansfield…

… then right on cue, as I reached the other side of the footbridge, came a train heading for Nottingham.

After a short walk through a modern housing development we came to Wilkinson Street and on the other side was the entrance to the Whitemoor Allotments. Holding the gate open is Phil, one of the walking group and Chair of the Whitemoor Allotment Association.

There are strict rules allotments holders have to follow, not least keeping their plots cultivated and tidy in the sense that if you have any mess, it has to be organised.

This time it's Chairman Phil's turn to raise his arm, as he gives the group a short talk about the Whitemoor Allotments. They have an excellent website. To visit, just click this link.

Local poet and writer Dave Wood, also on the walk, took the opportunity to read a poem he had specially composed for the occasion:

the leen breathes in

and half a mo’ – and so the moment’s on
we seek the valley where the leen breathes in
we’re meeting in the present – hoping for the sun
what history calls us to - we follow – deep or thin
we seek the valley where the leen breathes in
stories smith’d from language close behind
we shake our senses hard and shift our pins
we’re forward in our hearts and in our stride
we’re meeting in the present – hoping for the sun
what spaces host our hearts seep from the past
we allot our footsteps deep where furrows run
we breathe the soul of soil and pavement’s blast
what history calls us to we follow – thick or thin
we seek the valley where the leen breathes in

All the allotments at Whitemoors are very individualistic, as are the plot holders, if those we met are anything to go by.

Vic here makes the point for me. Here he is relaxing in his home-from-home of a shed. He has been on the same plot for fifty-three years and first went with his father. I could have stayed all day talking with Vic.

All the allotments are separated by avenues of green hedges, which helps make each plot both private and secluded.

Leading the way, out of view, is Phil, taking us on a tour of his allotment…

… with fruit trees in blossom…

… and his own home-from-home. Here, as in Vic's, everything has been recycled.

As we made our way out the allotments, the old Shipstone Brewery building came into view again.

By now, it was c2.30pm and we had to get across the Ring Road. It was amazingly quiet for a Saturday afternoon. Not a car in sight or a sound to be heard apart from birds singing and walkers talking. 

This was our next port-of-call. St Leodegarius Church in Old Basford, now close to the Ring Road and railway. Another church you can find information about at the Southwell & Nottingham Church History Project.

The Project's Introduction to St Leodegarius reads as follows:

There was a priest at Basford in 1086 so possibly a church, too. Robert de Basford or de Ashby (Northants) founded a Cistercian priory at Catesby in c1175 and endowed it partly with income from Basford church. It was one of only four in England dedicated to St Leodegarius.
There are Saxon stones hidden in the chancel, and there was a Norman arch between nave and a Norman tower. The church was rebuilt in c1200 with nave arcades, north and south aisles and lancet windows. About 1250 the present clustered columns of the nave arcades were inserted, probably the church’s best feature. A Lady Chapel was introduced in c1340, and later that century the nave walls were raised and a clerestory added. An unusual feature, the Pax or kissing stone, now fixed in the south doorway, was in use from c1250.
Major repairs and alterations have been necessary on many occasions in the last 300 years, sometimes exacerbated by accidents or vandalism. The worst disaster was in 1859 when the tower collapsed just before the church was due to re-open after repairs. The new tower then erected is the dominant feature today, in Early English style, topped off with eight tall pinnacles. Other alterations in 1859-60 led to a sharply pitched roof, a new north aisle, north porch and clerestory. In 1900 the roofs had almost been renewed when a fire ruined the chancel and it had to be repaired. A vestry was added, incorporating the priest’s doorway. In 1974 a vandal set fire to the organ and organ screen. Although there have been many alterations the basic style is still Early English.

The churchyard is very tidy and laid out like a garden. There is a coffee morning every Saturday at 10am and, once settled, Susan and I will be going along. From the description above (by Nottingham local historian Terry Fry), it is clearly a church well worth visiting.

Another view of the lovely church garden, In the backgound is a fence hiding a footpath and the Robin Hood Railway and Tram lines and, if you look carefully, you can just make out the bridge carrying the Ring Road over the railway and tram.

From here it was walk down a noisy Radford Road after crossing the Ring Road, with Chris pointing out the significance of street names as we went, but for some on the walk, it was all worth while because this where Chris brought the walk to an end. The Horse & Groom pub, a free house building a reputation for itself as a pub you go to for some of the best beers and ales in Nottingham.  I rather like the artwork below from the Horse & Groom homepage on their website:

You may have noticed that Chris's arm was again aloft in the photograph of him outside the Horse & Groom. This is what he was pointing at: the old Shipstone Brewery building, which is has re-opened as Shipstone's Brewery, after having been sold in 1978 and and closed in 1990. By 2007, the Shipstone's brand name was owned by Heineken, who agreed to sell it to Richard Neale in 2013, with Shipstone's reappearing as a local beer a few months ago.
For more follow this link to a BBC report about Shipstone's.

This building is opposite Shipstone's Brewery building and I rather like its proportions. It has been the home of Cottage Joinery for a good few years and back in 1996 they made some bespoke office furniture for Susan and me, most of which will be left behind when we move for the new owners to enjoy, but they made us a bookcase on wheels which we will be taking with us. For me, a fitting place to end this walk, especially since as I took the picture a little Nottingham City Transport L13 pulled up beside me and opened its door. I had not realised it, but I was standing, quite by chance, at a bus stop when I took this picture. It whisked me to the Victoria Centre in minutes.

All in all, a lovely walk in good company and with Chris Weir leading us, it was perfect in every respect. Thank you to Chris and Phil, the Chairman of Whitemoor Allotments, for letting us into the wonderful other world of Whitemoor Allotments and thanks to TravelRight for organising it.