When F1 Came to Town

The Horizon factory in May 2016
The Horizon factory in May 2016

The Player’s Horizon factory on Lenton Industrial Estate had its official opening on 1 November 1972, accompanied by much fanfare, including the performance of a specially-commissioned orchestral piece called Horizon Overture by Joseph Horovitz and the unveiling of a sculpture designed by Ernst Eisenmayer. Both Horovitz and Eisenmayer were Austrian-born Jews who escaped the clutches of the Nazis shortly before the outbreak of World War II by moving to England. Eisenmayer died in March 2018, his Horizon sculpture having disappointingly been sold on behalf of Imperial Tobacco at public auction earlier this month (fetching £571) rather than being donated to a local museum or gallery.

At the time of the official opening, over 1,100 people worked at Horizon, with a projection that over 2,000 would be employed there a year later.

The Horizon factory won awards for its architecture (one set of judges noting that it made a ‘noble addition to the industrial area of Nottingham’), but listed status has proved to be elusive. The building seems to have as many enemies as friends, the managing director of property agent Innes England having referred to it as ‘probably the ugliest building in Nottingham’. For my part, I think it’s a hugely impressive and – certainly from the point of view of Nottingham’s industrial and social history – important building. Unfortunately, hard-nosed commercial considerations seem to have won the day

Whatever your point of view, the site was decommissioned earlier this year, following the cessation of cigarette production in 2016, and faces an uncertain future which currently looks likely to end in demolition. All of which seems remarkable given that when, in 2012, the Nottingham Post produced a special edition of its Bygones publication to mark Horizon’s 40th anniversary, it noted therein that the factory produced ‘around 50 per cent of the UK market and 120 million cigarettes a day, generating billions in tax revenue for the Exchequer’ (along with, presumably, a not-insubstantial contribution to the woes of the NHS).

But let’s rewind to that less strait-laced era of the early 1970s.

Player’s, as part of the Imperial Tobacco Group, sponsored all manner of sporting and cultural events at this time, but the real big-hitter was that epitome of glamour and excitement, Formula One.

Having originally become involved with motor racing in the late 1960s, Player’s most successful promotional vehicles (excuse the pun) were the iconic John Player Special (or JPS)-liveried cars that plied their trade around the grand prix circuits of the world in the 1970s and 1980s, in the hands of such renowned drivers as Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti, Nigel Mansell and Ayrton Senna.

When the Horizon factory was officially opened in November 1972, mutton-chopped Fittipaldi, from Brazil, was the reigning F1 world champion (the youngest to have achieved the distinction at that time), having beaten Jackie Stewart into second place over the course of 12 races between 23 January and 8 October. Fittipaldi had made his F1 debut in 1970 and was to win the title once more, with McLaren in 1974, before finally hanging up his F1 boots in 1980 to go racing in America.

On 18 and 19 December 1972, Fittipaldi – presumably still basking in the glory of his championship victory, whilst also having one eye on the upcoming 1973 season (due to start on 28 January) – paid a visit to Nottingham as a guest of Player’s, along with his wife, Maria Helena, and the Team Lotus F1 Competitions Manager, Peter Warr (later to become Lotus team manager following the death of Colin Chapman).

An itinerary was prepared, including tours of the Player’s factories, and the Guardian Journal reported in an article in its 18 December edition that, ‘A specially cleared running track round the factory will be laid out for the young Brazilian to show off to employees the car which helped to make him the youngest ever world champion.’ The article further noted that, ‘…it is hoped that 26-year-old Fittipaldi will top 100 m.p.h. for the benefit of the watching employees.’

Although the demonstration drive did take place (as reported by the newspaper in a further article the next day, which revealed that Fittipaldi and his wife spent the night ‘at the home of assistant managing director, Mr Geoffrey Kent, at Gonalston’), a combination of foggy weather and an uneven surface seems to have hampered it somewhat. However, even taking that into account (along with the second article’s report that the demonstration took place in the factory car park), it must have been a thrilling sight for those lucky enough to have been in attendance.

Fittipaldi’s thoughts of the occasion, and of Nottingham generally, appear, regrettably, to have gone unrecorded.

 

Footnote: Issue no. 101 (10 January, 1972) of the Player’s in-house newspaper, Player’s Post, features, according to the previous issue, ‘full photographic coverage’ of Fittipaldi’s visit to ‘the John Player Nottingham complex.’ I have, however, been unable to track down a copy of this issue. If you have one, or know where I can find one, please get in touch via this blog’s contact page!

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The Price of Progress

Nuthall Temple, East Front; image courtesy of Nottinghamshire History (http://www.nottshistory.org.uk)
Nuthall Temple, East Front; image courtesy of Nottinghamshire History (http://www.nottshistory.org.uk)

For anyone who lives in Nottingham, the M1 tends to loom large in the consciousness – often due to traffic delays, but mainly because it’s one of our primary connections to the rest of the country and beyond.

The M1 actually only makes a very tiny incursion into the City of Nottingham itself, just to the southwest of Junction 26, where the city boundary crosses the motorway for the first and only time to embrace a small area of farmland.

Zooming outwards, the motorway is also something of a stranger to much of Nottinghamshire. It enters the county near to Stapleford and Trowell, moving slightly to the east as it passes to the west of the City of Nottingham before returning to its previous north-south alignment upon moving into Derbyshire at Pinxton. This part aside, the M1 between Leicester and Doncaster could almost be renamed the Nottinghamshire Bypass.

The Nottinghamshire stretch of the M1 includes two junctions (26 and 27) and one set of services (Trowell, opened in 1967), and came into being as part of a series of northward extensions to the M1 that were carried out between 1963 and 1968 (the original section, between Watford and Rugby, having been opened in 1959).

As we move ever closer towards the construction of the HS2 railway line (which, in its current form, will track the M1 through Nottinghamshire reasonably closely), it is interesting, particularly in light of the current protests over HS2, to reflect upon the impact that the impending arrival of the M1 must have had.

In his book On Roads, Joe Moran highlights a protest by residents of one of our East Midlands neighbours:

In 1958, when it emerged that the second section of the M1 planned to cut through Charnwood Forest near Leicester, 32,000 people signed a petition against the destruction of the city’s green lung.

Admirers of the idyllic area to the east and north-east of Moorgreen Reservoir that the M1 was eventually to cut a swathe through (an area with strong D H Lawrence associations) perhaps had similar thoughts.

Another loss for Nottinghamshire when the M1 came to town (or, rather, county) was the remains of Nuthall Temple, a splendid country house built between 1754 and 1757 in the Palladian style, which, were it still in existence today, would undoubtedly make a fine visitor attraction.

Unfortunately, after the last owner died in 1926, a buyer could not be found, and large parts of the building were dismantled and demolished, the resulting ruins being left in situ until 1966, when the M1 finished the job off.

Use of the National Library of Scotland’s Side by Side map viewer to compare historic Ordnance Survey maps with contemporary satellite imagery shows that the former site of Nuthall Temple lies beneath the section of north and southbound carriageway to the north of the Junction 26 roundabout, a short distance (looking north) in front of the overhead gantry between the north and southbound slip roads.

Remnants of the estate survive to this day, including the lake and an entrance gate pillar, the latter of which can be seen next to the eastern entrance to the Three Ponds pub car park, off Kimberley Road.

Henry Thorold, writing in the Shell Guide to Nottinghamshire, referred to the destruction of Nuthall Temple as ‘barbarism’, while Nikolaus Pevsner was similarly unimpressed, calling it a ‘disgrace’. It remains a matter of regret that nothing was done to save this wonderful building, or even its ruins.

The M1 no doubt hides many other secrets beneath its surface.

The Lenton Railway Triangle

Warning – post may contain irresponsible behaviour

1899 Ordnance Survey map extract
1899 Ordnance Survey map extract

I’ve been fascinated for many years by the area of land enclosed by a triangle of railway tracks to the south of Castle Marina in Lenton. The formal designations of the junctions at the three points of the railway  triangle are Lenton North Junction, Lenton South Junction and, at the eastern point, Mansfield Junction.

I’d begun to call this area of land the Lenton Triangle, but soon realised that, these days, the expression is more commonly taken to mean the area of Lenton bounded by Faraday Road, Ilkeston Road and Derby Road. However, there’s no escaping the triangular nature of the site – its prime defining feature, in fact – so I propose that it should be referred to as the Lenton Railway Triangle.

A fascinating 1987 article in the Lenton Listener reveals that, at that time, as part of the Castle Marina development, there was a proposal to build houses on the eastern portion of the triangle (having first removed the railway track between Lenton North Junction and Mansfield Junction), and to construct a lake, open area and tennis courts in its western portion, with a small conservation area remaining to the southwest.

The section of line between Mansfield Junction and Lenton South Junction first came into being as part of the Derby to Nottingham railway, opened in 1839 by the Midland Counties Railway, while the section between Mansfield Junction and Lenton North Junction was originally laid as part of the Nottingham to Kirkby-in-Ashfield line opened by the Midland Railway in 1848. The curve connecting Lenton North Junction with Lenton South Junction (Lenton South Curve) was presumably added not long after that, thus completing the triangle and largely isolating the land in-between the tracks (a hand-drawn map in the 1969 publication entitled The Railways of Nottingham (which accompanied an exhibition of the same name at Wollaton Hall) indicates that Lenton South Curve was added sometime between 1850 and 1879, which would mean that the full triangle of tracks has been in place for between 139 and 168 years as of 2018).

I’d assumed at first that the isolation of the land in-between the tracks would have been complete. However, study of historical maps of the area shows that a footpath, linking what is now Lenton Lane with the area to the east of what is now Meadows Way, ran through the southwest corner of the site until sometime during the first half of the twentieth century, access to and from the land inside the triangle apparently being maintained via foot tunnels underneath the Lenton South Curve and the Nottingham to Derby line (though the existence of a tunnel under the former is more clearly indicated on the 1899 OS map than its presumed companion under the latter).

On its route through this part of the site, the footpath crossed a stream/drainage channel (which is still there today and runs roughly south-southeast from a point near Lenton North Junction) by way of a footbridge that is no longer marked on modern maps.

These features alone seemed to merit some sort of exploration, so, on an unseasonably hot April evening, a friend and I set out to see what we could find.

Other than donning a pair of walking boots, neither I nor my companion had given much thought to the practicalities of the expedition. Diving into the part of the site nearest to Mansfield Junction, with a plan to reach the watercourse and to see if there were any remains of the footpath, footbridge or tunnel(s), while doing our level best to avoid detection by passing train drivers, we soon found that the task of reaching the other end of the triangle was going to be somewhat more arduous than we had anticipated, the terrain being, at this point in time, markedly different to the accessible-looking surrounds portrayed by the satellite imagery that I had consulted beforehand.

Dense swathes of tall, brittle, bamboo-like Japanese knotweed canes impeded our progress, aided and abetted by bramble and raspberry stems and rosebay willowherb, the only real relief coming with the assistance of an occasional tree.

Slowly but surely, sweating profusely, thorn-induced damage to skin and clothing accumulating with each metre gained, we closed in on our target, unaware that the noise generated by our activities had been heard by another friend who, knowing that we’d planned to explore the site this evening, had poked his head over a nearby fence on the other side of the tracks to have a look at this hidden Shangri-La that I’d been banging on about for so long.

I’d hoped that we might have time to seek out some interesting artefacts from the time before the railway arrived (I remembered seeing an incongruously-sited gate once, while travelling past on a train) – or even something of a more recent vintage – but our physical discomfort, the gradually fading light and the ever-present need to stay out of sight of the passing trains caused us to press on before, finally, we caught a glimpse of flowing water.

As we emerged out onto the top of the bank that sloped down towards the stream, the arcadian scene before us seemed quite improbable given the nature of the triangle’s surroundings. We watched as the water in the channel down below moved serenely towards its final destination, wherever that might be, before starting to make our way towards the historical location of the footbridge.

As our progress was slowed once again by the surrounding vegetation, we noticed that the light had now diminished to the point where, even if we weren’t exactly in any danger of being trapped here overnight, if we delayed our return journey, it was likely to take us far longer to navigate our way back out.

With some reluctance, we made the decision to turn back. The discovery or otherwise of any remains of the footpath and its associated structures would have to wait for another day.

Reader, we made it home safely. Lewis and Clark we are not, but in this day and age, when so many activities have ended up as diluted, anodyne exercises in officially-sanctioned, health and safety-conscious banality, our little adventure had made us feel truly alive, if only for a short time.

The Lenton Railway Triangle had started to give up its secrets.

DSCF5445b_edited

A Voyage of Discovery

Henry Kirke White; image courtesy of Picture the Past; https://picturethepast.org.uk/
Henry Kirke White; image courtesy of Picture the Past; https://picturethepast.org.uk/

What names would you come up with if you were asked to make a list of writers associated with the county of Nottinghamshire?

Many (if not most) people would, I imagine, start with the Big Three – Lord Byron, D H Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe. Quite possibly in that order, too.

Anything beyond that would depend largely upon personal interests and circumstances.

My list, until recently, would have looked something like this:

  • Lord Byron (I’ve read several of the seemingly endless number of biographies, a few of his letters and a shamefully small amount of his poetry)
  • D H Lawrence (as with Byron, I’m probably more interested in the man himself as opposed to his work. Of the latter, perhaps unusually (and somewhat perversely, in light of my Byron admission), I’ve been drawn more towards the poetry)
  • Alan Sillitoe (probably my favourite Nottingham writer and the one who I identify most closely with. I can’t remember whether I encountered the novel or the film of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning first, but I love them both. I’ve also read The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and The Ragman’s Daughter, but am painfully aware that I’ve barely scratched the surface as far as Sillitoe’s writing is concerned)
  • Stanley Middleton (if the ‘Big Three’ ever expanded to become a ‘Big Four’, Middleton would surely be a prime contender for the fourth spot. Producing 40-odd novels, including one that shared the Booker Prize in 1974, our Stanley turned down an OBE and, other than going away for a period of national service, seems never to have absconded from Nottingham, which is more than we can say for those other three boggers)
  • Ray Gosling (Ray was a giant – a massively underrated, in some ways tragic, figure. In 2013, I attended an event at the Lakeside Arts Centre, where Ray had been scheduled to introduce his 1963 film Two Town Mad, a fond look at the Nottingham and Leicester of the early 1960s. Not without his problems in recent years, Ray had ambled into the auditorium, somewhat the worse for wear, several minutes after the organisers had announced that he wouldn’t be able to make it, and proceeded to deliver an utterly compelling introduction to the film, together with an equally absorbing (and even more inebriated) question and answer session afterwards. I wish I had been able to meet him before his death later that year)
  • Philip James Bailey and Henry Kirke White (two poets who I encountered through my interest in local history. Bailey is most famous for his lengthy (lengthy being perhaps something of an understatement) and, to the modern eye, fairly impenetrable poem, Festus, while Kirke White never had the chance to fulfil his early promise, dying at the age of 21. In English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, Byron opined, ‘Unhappy White! while life was in its spring, and thy young muse just waved her joyous wing, The spoiler swept that soaring lyre away, which else had sounded an immortal lay.’
  • J M Barrie and Graham Greene (both lived in Nottingham for a short period of time while working at the Nottingham Journal in the early stages of their careers (though the Journal had moved offices by the time Greene came along). Perhaps one day we will forgive Greene for such comments as ‘an educated person in Nottingham is as precious & rare a find as jam in a wartime doughnut!’)
  • Arthur Mee (born in Stapleford, Mee was famous for publications such as The Children’s Encyclopedia and the King’s England series)
  • Matthew Henry Barker (Barker spent some years as editor of the Nottingham Mercury (later the Nottingham and Newark Mercury) and wrote a book called Walks Round Nottingham, although he was better known nationally for his nautical stories, which were published predominantly under the pen name of The Old Sailor. I found out about him almost by accident while researching old non-fiction books written about Nottingham and its surrounds. His own story is as interesting in some respects as the fiction he wrote)

There were other names that I was aware of, both past and present – Geoffrey Trease (by virtue of a plaque on Castle Gate), David Belbin, Helen Cresswell, Philip Callow, Abigail Gawthern, John Harvey, Jon McGregor, the Howitts, Nicola Monaghan and Robert Millhouse to name a few – but of these individuals and their work I knew very little.

Praise be, then, for a magnificent tome by Rowena Edlin-White called Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers, which was published by Five Leaves in 2017.

Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers is a guide to some 126 writers with Nottinghamshire connections. It also includes a selection of essays entitled The Sherwood Forest Group, Old Nottinghamshire Libraries, Charles Dickens in Nottingham, Graham Greene in Nottingham, Comic Creators of Nottingham, Arise! and A Working-Class Hero is Something to Be. A preface, introduction and publisher’s note help to place everything in context.

The focus is primarily on the past and it’s an egalitarian affair, with two pages dedicated to each individual, regardless of stature. Writers who are no longer with us are each introduced by way of a well-researched mini-biography, with mention made of notable works and one or more associated places to visit, while those still knocking around are, with one exception, allowed to express themselves in their own words.

The book is well-illustrated and the essays at the end are as fascinating as the entries that precede them. As a whole, Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers is essential reading for anyone interested in the subject.

The pleasure in reading work by the writers explored in this book for anyone like me who has lived most, if not all of their life in Nottingham and/or Nottinghamshire is obvious: a sense of connection, a heightened ability to relate to the material in question – particularly if it references local places – and a sense of pride in our communal heritage.

Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers has enabled me to discover more about the writers that I’d already heard of and to encounter many others for the first time.

Pat McGrath’s book The Green Leaves of Nottingham, set in and around Radford, written when he was 14 and published in 1970 with an introduction by Alan Sillitoe, has gone straight on to my ‘To Read’ list, as have works by the likes of Dorothy Whipple (whose books include They Knew Mr Knight, which was also turned into a film) and Cecil Roberts (finally I know why there is a place in Nottingham’s Central Library called the Cecil Roberts Room).

I’ve learnt that the Rev. Dr Ebenezer Cobham Brewer, an edition of whose famous book, Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, has been resting on my shelves for years, lived in Edwinstowe towards the end of his life and is buried there, and I’ve discovered more about J R R Tolkien’s connection with Gedling.

If the mood takes me, thanks to information contained in the book, I can have a wander over to, for example, Nottingham’s General Cemetery and visit the last resting places of the likes of Ruth Bryan, Ann Gilbert, Anne Gilbert, Josiah Gilbert, Anthony Hervey, Henry Hogg, Annie Matheson, Robert Millhouse, Charles Bell Taylor and Sarah Agnes Turk.

Exploring Nottinghamshire Writers has opened my eyes to the extent of the literary tradition that we have in this unfairly overlooked county of ours.

in the Nottinghamshire volume of his Buildings of England series, Nikolaus Pevsner wrote, ‘As far as natural attractions go, there is indeed Sherwood Forest, but otherwise the countryside has little of outstanding beauty… In its history also Nottinghamshire is not marked by many events of prime national importance’, while Jeremy Clarkson apparently once referred to Nottinghamshire as ‘a non-county, like Staffordshire – just there to fill the gaps.’

By introducing us to such a wide range of authors who celebrate all things Notts (well, mostly – you’re not off the hook just yet, Greene), Rowena Edlin-White has made a huge contribution towards helping Nottinghamshire to assume its rightful place at the table, and I highly recommend that you seek her book out.

Museums of Nottingham

Interior of the Museum of Costume and Textiles, Nottingham, circa 1983; image courtesy of Picture the Past - https://picturethepast.org.uk/
Interior of the Museum of Costume and Textiles, Nottingham, circa 1983; image courtesy of Picture the Past – https://picturethepast.org.uk/

I’ve just finished reading the novel The Museum of Innocence, by Turkish writer and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk. The book is the story of Kemal, a member of one of Istanbul’s wealthiest families, who, while he is engaged to be married, meets, falls in love, and becomes completely obsessed with, Füsun, a beatiful young shop assistant who is also a distant relative.

It’s an enchanting read, and to say any more would be to spoil the plot for anyone who might want to read it.

Its relevance to this post is that, as a result of the events that unfold in the book, Kemal establishes a museum. This museum represents, amongst other things (and to quote from the dustcover of the hardback edition of the book), ‘a map of society’s rituals and mores’.

A museum of the same name, set up by the author, actually exists in Istanbul. Pamuk dreamt up the idea of the novel and the museum at the same time and says that the museum, which opened in 2012, cost him approximately $1.5 million to create.

Istanbul has fascinated me for a long time and the process of reading the book and learning about the museum, as well as enjoying the terrific ‘cinematic extension’ of the novel called Innocence of Memories, directed by Grant Gee, has made me even more determined to visit it as soon as practicalities allow.

For some reason, I probably visit museums in my home town less frequently than those in other areas that I travel to on a reasonably regular basis. To paraphrase a well-known expression, these museums have become part of the Nottingham wallpaper for me. In fact, there are several that I haven’t visited at all.

Perhaps I should remedy this. But I do struggle with the whole museum experience sometimes. I find it difficult to focus on reading text on information boards while other people are milling around me. I dislike audio tours. Staff (including guards) can sometimes be off-putting or over-attentive. ‘Museum fatigue’ inevitably sets in after a while, no matter how fascinating the artefacts.

Here’s a list that I have compiled of museums in the City of Nottingham that I’m aware of:

  • The Natural History Museum (an old favourite – are the ants still there, I wonder?)
  • Nottingham Industrial Museum (the days when they run the steam engines are terrific. I’m fascinated by Nottingham’s industrial heritage and the place is on my doorstep, so why haven’t I visited in an age?)
  • Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery (due to be closed for redevelopment sometime this year and somewhere I’ve visited on a number of occasions)
  • The Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard (somewhere I should have visited more often, but it’s currently closed – other than to ‘pre-booked parties of 10 or more’ – due to the impending Castle redevelopment)
  • The National Justice Museum (formerly The Galleries of Justice – I haven’t visited since the change of name)
  • Green’s Windmill and Science Centre (another old favourite, but best with kid(s) in tow)
  • The William Booth Birthplace Museum (open by appointment only and comes under the category of ‘I definitely should have visited this one by now’)
  • The Museum of Archaeology, aka The University of Nottingham Museum (not really my cup of tea, but well set out and curated)
  • The National Videogame Arcade (I haven’t been yet, and I’m not even sure if it counts as a museum, but its website mentions that it includes ‘classic arcade cabinets’, which is why I’m including it here)
  • Wollaton Village Dovecote Museum (the only museum in the list that I hadn’t heard of prior to compiling it. I have made a mental note to visit it in due course)

There may be others that I have missed.

All-in-all, it’s a not-unimpressive selection. There’s something there for most people, I’d say.

But what of the museums that haven’t survived to tell their tales?

There are three that immediately spring to mind (arguably four if we include The Tales of Robin Hood), none of which I can remember having visited – the Canal Museum, the Museum of Costume and Textiles and The Lace Centre. They closed, as far as I can tell, in 1998, 2003 and 2009 respectively.

Of the three (we will sidestep the ‘sights, sounds and smells’ of the Tales of Robin Hood), the one that I most wish was still open is the Canal Museum. Perhaps my interest in canals wasn’t as well developed back in those heady days of the 90s.

The other two I can happily live without, although, were they still in existence, I dare say there’s a good chance that I would pop in out of curiosity – as much to see inside the buildings as anything else.

Presumably there have been other Nottingham museums over the years that didn’t make it to the present day, and perhaps the Nottinghamians of the past overlooked them or took them for granted in the same way that I so often seem to have done as far as our current establishments are concerned.

Meandering

Starting out at the eminently civilised time of 10.30am for a day’s walk, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume that, arriving home nine and a half hours later at 8pm, one might expect to have covered a fair old distance.

Of course, there are a number of factors to take into account – terrain, refreshment breaks and – the one that invariably trips me up – distractions along the way.

On Wednesday, for the purposes of a project, I set out to walk from Trent Bridge to Ruddington. Living roughly three miles to the west of Nottingham city centre as I do, and penurious as I am, there was also the small matter of walking the outward stretch to Trent Bridge and the homeward leg from Ruddington.

A rough approximation of the whole route on Google Maps indicates a total distance of just under seventeen miles and a walking time of just over five and a half hours, which leaves around four hours for breaks, detours, dilly-dallying and general faffing around (the latter two of which, as any walking companion of mine will testify, I tend to do rather a lot of).

I find it virtually impossible to walk for any distance without stopping here, there and pretty much everywhere to appreciate the interesting details of the world around me. What makes it even more difficult to refrain from doing this is the fact that so many of my walks take place in urban areas. It’s only when moving through a more-or-less featureless natural landcape that I can get up anything remotely approaching a head of steam.

A classic example of this difficulty came on the final leg of Wednesday’s walk, from Ruddington to Beeston.

Referring to my map, and pausing only briefly to think about how useful some sort of ferry across the Trent in the vicinity of Beeston Weir would be (said idea having previously been added to my list of ‘Commercial projects to embark upon when I am rich’), I had planned to reach Clifton Bridge predominantly by way of the Clifton and Silverdale estates.

That plan began to unravel just before Clifton, when I encountered the Fairham Bridge, beneath which flows the Fairham Brook.

With the knowledge that the Fairham Brook’s confluence with the Trent was somewhere near Clifton Bridge, I needed no further encouragement than the public footpath sign that pointed along the riverbank in the direction that I needed to go.

While following the course of a river, the wanderer is quickly reminded that rivers tend to meander somewhat. Add to this my mildly obsessive-compulsive tendencies – which meant in this instance that, when the Fairham Brook passed to one side of a playing field, I still felt it necessary to follow its every curve rather than  walking straight ahead to rejoin it at the opposite end of the field – and it doesn’t take long to realise why I don’t like to give myself a specific time limit in which to complete a walk.

This has inevitably led to some fairly hair-raising experiences after the light has faded at the end of the day, but no matter.

A walk should have room to breathe.

Sidetracks

For anyone whose interests range far and wide, life can be simultaneously rewarding and frustrating. Rewarding because there’s a constant supply of things to be, well, interested in. Frustrating because the constant sidetracking means that it can be quite difficult to focus on anything long enough to appreciate it in any great depth. The last few days have provided a perfect example of how I’m affected by this blessing/affliction.

My NG and Beyond Twitter account has resulted in interactions with some wonderful folk who, like me, are interested in Nottingham, past and present. One recent exchange concerned a photo that I’d posted of a feature of a building in Basford that used to be a cinema. One of my followers (an unfortunately hubristic term, I always think) shared a reminiscence that prompted me to mention a memory from my time working at a cinema in the city centre. This, by turns (you probably had to be there), led to another couple of Twitter acquaintances offering information – including a map and a link to a web page – about an old graveyard, the Mount Street Burial Ground.

Just as I’m a sucker for old cinemas, I also find old graveyards fascinating. This particular one, used by Baptists, seems to have been established in the early eighteenth century and disappeared sometime during the twentieth. It was situated between Mount Street and Park Row, roughly where the northwest corner of the NCP Mount Street multistorey car park is now.

Reading the web page, I was particularly drawn to the story of someone called George Vason (born 1772, died 1838), who had been buried there.

In 1796, Vason went out as a missionary to the Friendly Islands (modern-day Tonga) and appears to have ‘gone native’ for several years before his situation became perilous and he was forced to escape, finally returning to Nottingham in 1802. Cue much online distraction and a visit to the Local Studies Library in Nottingham, where I borrowed the surprisingly diverting History of Friar Lane Baptist Church, Nottingham, as well as several books entirely unrelated to Vason.

All of which has entirely (though pleasurably) distracted me from other pursuits.

Vason wrote about his experiences in his book, An Authentic Narrative of Four Years’ Residence at Tongataboo: One of the Friendly Islands, in the South-Sea, published in 1810, and there are no doubt many more interesting facts to be discovered about his life.

An article in a 1938 edition of a publication called The Baptist Quarterly states of the Mount Street Burial Ground, ‘The disused burial ground itself is now to disappear, as the new street from Park Row to Friar Lane will pass over its site. The remains contained in the graves are to be removed by the Nottingham Corporation to the Nottingham General Cemetery.’

I’ve already been moved to make enquiries about the location of Vason’s grave, if it still exists.

It’s always gratifying and exciting to discover that, in this age of vacuous celebrity and 15 minutes of fame, there are so many interesting individuals from the past whose stories are patiently awaiting rediscovery.

Now, where was I?

 

PS: The title of this piece references the biographer Richard Holmes, who wrote a terrific book called Sidetracks, which contains portraits of various individuals whose lives he has been drawn towards over the years, sometimes while ‘pursuing’ an entirely different person. In the introduction to the book, he writes about discovering ‘the peculiar magic of historical research’ and experiencing ‘that sense of imaginative displacement which intoxicates all writers.’

With thanks to @bumperboo1234, @LeeElkWright and @Nottinghasm for the inspiration for this post!

Continental Style

I was recently pleased to be able to purchase  an old Nottingham cinema programme from December 1956. The cinema’s name at the time was the New Victoria. It appears to have been known as the Victoria Electric Picture Palace prior to that (it was Nottingham’s first purpose-built cinema when it opened in 1910) and the Moulin Rouge when it closed in 1970. Improbably, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor made an appearance there in 1968 to promote a film.

The cinema’s entrance was on Milton Street, near to the junction with Shakespeare Street and opposite Victoria railway station. The building was later demolished, and in 1996 a plaque was erected to mark the site. Unfortunately, the plaque itself has now vanished, following further redevelopment in recent years. It was one of four allocated to Nottingham by the British Film Institute to celebrate the ‘Centenary of Cinema’, the other three commemorating the Grand Theatre in Hyson Green (‘Site of Nottingham’s first public screening of films’), Graham Greene (who worked for a Nottingham newspaper for a short time) and Alma Lucy Reville (screenwriter and editor, wife of Alfred Hitchcock and born in Nottingham).

It’s great to be able to hold in my hands tangible evidence of one of the many cinemas that existed in Nottingham at the time that the programme was issued, of which the Savoy in Lenton is now the only one still in operation. I wonder who the original owner of the programme was.

The New Victoria seems to have been one of Nottingham’s more upmarket cinemas, and the front cover of the programme that I have features an image highlighting its ‘Continental Premieres’ – the phrase being used in the ‘foreign films’ sense, rather than as a reference to the adult movies that were later to become a feature of many cinemas during their ‘last legs’ phase.

Inside, we are informed that the New Victoria offers ‘CinemaScope as it should be with Four Track Magnetic Stereophonic Sound – Still the Only System of its kind in Nottingham.’ Equally impressively (to my mind, anyway), the programme states that ‘Suggestions which will improve the standard of your comfort or entertainment will be welcomed by the Manager, or direct to the Managing Director, A. R. Wood, Burton Leonard, Nr. Harrogate’. There are certainly a few suggestions that I could make to the modern multiplex chains in this regard.

Another wonderful feature (for the modern day reader, at least) is the local advertising that the programme contains. ‘Male Wardrobe’ is offered by Michael Laurence (‘Your American Fashion Centre’) of 9-13 Goosegate – occupied these days by Ice Nine – and the advert features a photo of the storefront. Much-loved Nottingham institution (sadly no longer with us) Sisson & Parker of Wheeler Gate, resists hyperbole and is content to describe its store simply as ‘large and really well-stocked’. Briddocks (‘The City’s Newspaper Shop’) is another store that is greatly missed by many Nottinghamians, while the mention of Drury Hill in one advert will be guaranteed to raise a reaction from anyone who cares about Nottingham’s history.

How strange to think that items such as this programme, that were so innocuous and disposable at the time, hold such fascination all these years later – as may their contemporary equivalents to future generations.

I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for other similar mementoes.

Postcode Palaver

Coming up with a name for this blog (and its companion Twitter page) wasn’t easy. I knew what I wanted the focus of the blog to be, but I didn’t its remit to be too narrow. Nor, on the other hand, did I want it to be too diffuse.

Jettisoned more-or-less immediately was the idea of giving precedence to names that would assist with search engine rankings (Search Engine Optimization, to those in the know). This concept seemed to me to to be something of a sellout and a case of the tail wagging the dog. In any case, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the thought of the blog being a slow-burner. I liked the idea of it growing organically, rather than as a result of pandering to an algorithm.

I also wanted to avoid anything that had already been used elsewhere or that felt too plagiaristic, which, in conjunction with the other criteria, narrowed my options quite considerably.

When the name NG and Beyond finally surfaced from the old grey matter, it wasn’t exactly a eureka moment, but it felt like the right fit. The Nottingham (and Nottinghamshire) connection was there, it seemed original, it wasn’t too obvious or bland and it afforded some leeway for the dipping of toes into non-Notts matters.

One doubt surfaced, though. In my mind, I’d automatically connected the NG postcode area with the county of Nottinghamshire, but I had a nagging awareness that things weren’t actually quite that simple.

Even a cursory look at the NG postcode map confirms that the boundary of the NG postcode area differs quite substantially in some respects from that of the county of Nottinghamshire – in particular a huge bulge eastwards into south-west Lincolnshire.

As well as Lincolnshire, the NG postcode area also extends into parts of Derbyshire and Leicestershire, while Nottinghamshire itself has to put up with cheeky incursions not only from Derby (DE) and Leicester (LE), but also from Doncaster (DN) and Sheffield (S).

Not a perfect moniker, then, but one that ticks most of the boxes. I think it’s fair to say that most people would generally identify the NG postcode with the county of Nottinghamshire and, in any case, some of the landscape features that I’m interested in – railways, rivers and canals, for example – often aren’t any great respectors of boundaries either.

Karlsruhe and Beyond

Earlier this week, courtesy of a Salvation Army charity shop, I picked up (and, indeed, purchased) a book about one of Nottingham’s twin cities, Karlsuhe, which is in south-west Germany.

The book – Karlsruhe: Zwischen Schwarzwald und Rhein (Karlsruhe: Between the Black Forest and the Rhine) – was published in 1984 and is one of those handsome, yet often rather cheesy photobooks that endeavour to present a city in its best light, while sweeping most of its less desirable elements under the carpet.

Full marks, then, to the publisher, for including several shots of the local oil refinery. It’s highly unlikely that an equivalent Nottingham volume would have featured its diminutive Nottingham ‘twin’.

The text in the book is in three languages, including an endearingly bonkers English translation, of which the following extract is just one example:

The joy of living, with which the founder of the city, Karl Wilhelm, a baroque vigorous man, went arm in arm, stood at Karlsruhe’s cradle like a good fairy, with a feeling of affection disposed towards the new community.

Karlsruhe was twinned with Nottingham in 1969, yet before purchasing the book, then having a browse on the internet for the purposes of this post, my knowledge of the place would have fitted on the back of a postage stamp, with a postage stamp-sized space to spare. Other than the awareness that there is an interesting building on Queens Bridge Road called Karlsruhe House and that we have a tram bridge called The Karlsruhe Friendship Bridge, my brain seems to have been largely untroubled by any Karlsruhe-related thoughts over the course of my lifetime.

It would be interesting to visit Karlsruhe and to compare and contrast the two cities and their topographies, infrastructures, histories and significant individuals: the Rhine vs the Trent; Karlsruhe Palace vs Nottingham Castle; The ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art vs Nottingham Contemporary; Friedrich Weinbrenner vs T C Howitt; Karl Freiherr von Drais vs Richard Morris Woodhead; Karlsruher SC vs Nottingham Forest; the respective marketplaces, trams, natural history museums and universities.

Or, what the heck – perhaps even a Grand Tour of all of Nottingham’s twin cities.