Now you know I wax lyrical about the beauty of Northamptonshires countryside, but unlike some lets say more official sites that cover the town I'm not going to just show the positives,
There are some lovely buildings in the town centre but it doesn't take long to see how the town has been spoilt and neglected over the years, in many cases the good has been torn down and replaced with the bad.
There is no one culprit to blame although I think most people could give you their views on that, and to be fair that's a whole new conversation.
There are exceptions to that though and they are the redeeming features of the towns architecture.
Lets start with the good, Northamptons Town Hall or The Guildhall is a magnificent building, when you step back and take the time to look at it properly, it's full of detail and a delight to look at.
The history of the building is interesting and I'll let you look further into that if you want to, if you get time or are in Northampton take a wander along and take a look inside.
The inside matches the exterior for beauty, stanied glass windows and other stuff well worth seeing, worth taking time out definitely.
Now Northampton has had a market for hundreds of years, over 800, obviously with such a long history many things have changed, including how it is used and who uses it,
Old Northamptonians like me will tell you it's lost much if its character, the fountain that used to grace the middle of the market was pulled down in the 1960's, the cobblestones were pulled up and replaced with block paving.
Certainly it's not used anywhere near as much as it was, and that obviously has an effect on the atmosphere of the place, but then this is largely true of the town centre itself.
Some pretty momentous events have taken place there, one being a riot involving 7,00o supporters of Charles Bradlaugh the famous Northampton Politician who I have mentioned in the radical Northampton section of this site.
Above the north end of the market in the 1950's, with the Emporium Arcade where Boots now stands.
Above the market as it appears today, in the background you can just make out the ugly monstosity of a 1970's multi storey car park.
The buildings surrounding the Market are a hotch potch of the old and newer, some visually appealing and some to be frank an eyesore.
The picture below illustrates my point, whatever were they thinking of when they built the square grey box below ? It's ugly, very ugly, reminiscent of eastern bloc architecture in the 1970's, contrast that to the building to the right.
Now I understand that places evolve over time but surely some thought should be put into how a new building will integrate with what's already there?. It can be done and it has been done very sucessfully elsewhere.
Below is Welsh House, the oldest building on the market square, it's had many uses over time but is a still fine looking building,
This heraldic sign on Welsh House which in Welsh reads "Without God, Without-everything, with God enough".
Welsh House was one the the few buildings to survive the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675,
Above is the north end of the market, the building surrounded by scaffolding has a long history, it was once the Corn Exchange, in more recent time it was Chicago's nightclub.
The sign attached to the scaffolding is for a roofing company and that got me to thinking that if they are refurbing the roof there must be something more going to happen.
I chatted to an old boy on the market and asked him if he knew anything about what was going on, he told me he'd heard it was going to be developed into retail units and flats, the interior of this builing is enormous.
I'd seen somewhere that Northampton Borough Council had a consulation document which lays out several idea's for improvements to the town centre which they have designated as comprising several specific area's.
The market square area is one such area and the proposals within the docment are -
"Upgrade market square public realm"
"New indoor food hall as a catalyst project"
"Rejuvenate active frontage around market square"
"Redefine existing pedestrian links"
"Improve Drapery environment and public realm".
OK, the first one "Upgrade market square public realm", what does that actually mean ?,
Firstly I seem to remember the new fountain which cost £50,000 to put in and has added nothing visually as it's rarely seen working, so a lot of thought has to be put into any upgrades proposed.
Hopefully the consulation which get a good response and and the council and others involved will take note of what people say, but it needs people to engage in the process, put scepticism aside and let the powers that be know what they want.
The new indoor food hall, this maybe a good idea, the market covers quite a large area and not all of it is utilised, why not have small units selling foods from all over the world as we are now a town with many different nationalities.
Rejuvenating the frontage, not really sure how that would work, but there must be some inventive types in the town that could input their idea's. Could be a project for students at Northampton UNI ?.
Redefine the existing pedestrain links, needs some thought, really dependent on if residential development happens, and if it does how will that exist alongside commercial activity.
The Drapery could be improved straight away by just removing the buses, which being diesel pump filth into the air shoppers have to breathe.
Personally I'm very aware now about dirty air and if the centre could be made cleaner that would definitely be a plus for me, I'm not sure if everybody feels the same but just as a point of public health it must be a priority.
There are proposals for many other parts of the town centre some of which sound positive and some which I'm not so sure about, lets hope I'm able to write about some improvements in the near future.
For me priorities would be making the place a pleasant and safe place to visit, with definite reasons to want to go there.
One thing I noticed when I went into town to take the pictures on here was idling taxis pumping out diesel fumes, I contacted the Council about that and will let you know their response.
Newer buidings can be added in sympathy with what is already in place as seen above when the Guildhall was extended.
St Giles Street is probably the best shopping street left in the town centre, it has some nice cafes, some decent shops, and was recently repaved, if the rest of the town could match this ?.
There's no doubt the town could be vastly improved in many ways, footfall has fallen and as a result businesses have suffered, and with Marks and Sparks closing there is yet another empty unit in the main shopping street.
A lot of the proposals in the consultation document are positive, introducing more housing within the centre would in my opinion be a step forward, as long as it is affordable and not just luxury flats.
A building like the old Corn Exchange should not be standing empty and hopefully this will be developed and add somwhere for people to live and some decent shops, it's important that the town is clean and attractive, at the moment that's not the case.
A decent transport strategy needs to be put into place, it's ironic that the town centre used to be served by a Tram system, replaced by buses, but we need to move away from polluting vehicles in town centres.
I'm not an evangelist on this subject as I own a diesel vehicle myself but I wouldn't drive it into town, it just seems to be common sense when so many vehicles are on our roads.
Northampton has many rivals for people to go shopping so something urgently needs to happen, I love this place and I would hate to see it turn into a ghost town.
A tent in All Saints church yard, surely in the our supposedly rich economy we shouldn't be seeing this ?. I know the causes are complicated and central government squeezing councils funding haven't helped but this has got to be wrong.
I know the church has asked others who were camped in the same place to move because they wouldn't interact with people trying to help them, so those that did move are now camped on the land in front of the Mayorhold car park.
The cost to society of homelessness is high but more important is the the cost to the homeless, we have already had people die on the streets, some quite young, this is not a third world country, There are people out there helping and I'll write about that in a future post.
There is much to think about and much to do but I'd like to think that in years to come hopefully sooner we won't be seeing this, people need to be put first.
If you have taken the time to read this thank you, if you have any thoughts feel free to comment.
Have a good Summer :)
After the deluge of rain in recent times, yesterday (Saturday) the sun made a timely and much appreciated appearance and shone all day long on the village fayre at Kislingbury.
As I have been housebound for a while I popped along to get some much needed serotonin and meet some friends who were running a food stall, the food and the afternoon were both great.
So here is a little taste of what I saw and did yesterday, with the usual disclaimer that the pictures are my own so the quality may not be brilliant :)
So to start although I wasn't hungry I had to go for the chicken tikka with rice, with some mega hot sauce, some of which I'm hoping is being put aside in a jar for me.
And of course samosas and pakoras, which were very nice, home made and freshly cooked,
When I arrived there were not that many people about but that soon changed as the afternoon wore on and families arrived to soak up the sun and listen to the band, they played a good mixture of music including some ska which the kids seemed to love.
I made a new friend, Larry.
Did I mention I discovered the beer tent ? I washed down the food with a pint of Phipps IPA, which was very pleasing on the palette.
Oh and I picked up some Peruvian mint, looks a bit like cannabis I think :)
The church nearby was open and was selling refreshments, funds from the fayre will go to to support St Lukes Church,
A while back I posted on the Grand Union Canal, and in that post put up some pictures of murals that have been designed by local schoolchildren and painted onto some of the underpasses that support roads over the canal.
I'm pleased to say I have an update which shows some of the latest work done by the children, some of which I believe will be finished today.
Hope you like the pictures kindly sent to me by one of the childrens Mums, thank you Claire.
Personally I think they are a great addition and will much appreciated by anybody walking along the canal side or boaters travelling on the canal.
A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of vsititing Boughton House, a magificent building set in huge grounds not far away from Geddington.
A beautifully preserved stately home, the house has been in the same family for nearly 500 years and it's history is as rich and varied as that of the county it's situated in,
The house as it is today is attributable to Ralph Montagu, later 1st Duke of Montagu, who had the good fortune to inherit a buiding whose origins were Tudor and of a much less grander scale sometime in 1683.
Walking aroung the house in the sunshine you get an idea of the scale of the place which is pretty impressive, but there is a lot more to see than just the house, inside there is a collection of work by Van Dyck, which includes pictures of Charles 1 and his children.
One of the paintings in particular has an interesting story behind it, the picture depicts the children of Charles 1 who was said to disliked the way one of his children had been portrayed and so aked Van Dyck to do the painting again.
As well as Van Dyck, there is work by Gainsborough and El Greco, and some rather grand tapestries although I have to admit at this point that's not my thing.
What is my thing though is a lovely garden, walking around beautifully laid out gardens with the scents you get as well as the visual stimulation has to be one of lifes great pleasures.
And yes Dad if you are watching that is your formerely long haired rebellious Son speaking.
the times they are a changing.!
Naughty girl that Debbie, shame on her.
Have you ever some across a really old photo, one you'd forgotten had even been taken and had to go back to keep looking at at ? like a moth to a flame you keep getting drawn back,
A mate of mine once gave me a photo of me with a young lady taken way back in the mists of time when we had gone on a trip to Amsterdam, I was fascinated to see us dressed in the height of fashion.
I spent ages looking at that picture trying to remember what we did, and who were the other people we travelled with, little did I know that over 45 years later I'd be writing about it on the then unheard of internet.
No Facebook, no Twitter, no digital influencers, no Instagram, no online bullying, no email, no email ? bloody hell you had to write a letter, with your address at the top, and a date, and then put a stamp on it, walk it to the post box, dodging the white dog poo which abounded on the pavements of the time.
The anticipation of waiting for the rely from Jimmy Saville was intense, but when it eventually plopped through the letter box, oh the joy.
Primitive times people, primitive times, you were even expected to talk to your peers, like face to face, about real things,
Enough of nostalgia, enough I say, so lets have a bit more nostalgia.
I came across something last week which held an equal measure of fascination, some footage from a really old report done by a chap called Ian Nairn, after his career as an RAF pilot flying Gloster Meteors he got into architecture in big way.
He is most well know for his Book Nairn's London in which he describes the often overlooked gems in terms of places and buildings in the city.
Sadly some of them no longer in existence, and some changed irrevocably.
He does this with an eloquence I don't posess and he does it with passion, and a degree of sadness, as he could see things changing even as he wrote.
Most reiews of his work will say "he taught us to look at the world" and how many of us rush around consumed with doing whatever we think is important at the time, and miss what is all around us.?
Watching this the first time made me feel both happy and sad, happy that someone had had the foresight to film this and was obviously passionate about what was possibly about to happen to this lovely old building;.
Sad because I remember my Mum taking me there on one of our trips into town, she died about 5 years after the arcade was demolished, ripped apart as my life was when she passed away.
What replaced the bulding was a poor subsitute, some things are irreplaceable.
If you listen to Ian's commentary he is saying essentially what a lot of the towns populace would have said at the time, a petition was raised to try to save the building which got around 10,000 signatures, it made no difference.
Planners, who would have thought of a nice dining experience where as you eat your poppudum the vista before you is a garage forecourt, ah the aromatic delight of 4 star.
This is not in Northampton BTW which supprises me as I'm sure the council would promote this as a good idea, probably hold lots of consulations, and then ignore the majority of the peoples wishes and go ahead anyway.
Looking back at the Emporium Arcade with it's many little units anyone with an ounce of imagination could see the opportunity it presented, a unique building full of character, so much potential.
Northampton's councillors in their infinite wisdom bought the site with the express intention of demolition, and as Ian Nairn rightly says "what an admission of failure".
They also said it had "no architectural value", you have to wonder at the mindset that comes up with that little gem of silliness, but there is worse to come m'duck.
Things don't seem to have improved with Northampton's councillors -
With all the talk of people being poisoned by diesel particulates our esteemed leaders have built the new bus station right in the town centre, guaranteed to make the air where most people will be walking around, dirty.
We can't afford electric buses, the coffers are bare, so let's stick to diesel, a few bits of soot deposit in the lungs won't kill you, all aboard, get your tickets ready for inspection.
And apparently they didn't consider the road layout as a factor at the time of design, you can only wonder how these muppets would manage in a real job, I would say if they had brains they'd be dangerous, but they are dangerous anyway, to our health.
At least the old bus station was pretty ;)
Shame the building was empty, I'm sure quite a few of our councillors could have been accomodated in there on the day.
The old bus station seen above being demolished caused a lot of controversary with its nickname "The Mouth of Hell", apparently being voted one of the ugliest buildings in the UK.
Pretty it wasn't but at least it kept any pollution away from the majority of shoppers, and it gave them a direct access to the shopping centre.
Now the building is long gone and what's left ? a hugh expanse of nothing, and I suspect that will be the case for a very long time, an improvement ? no not really.
Every time I turn on the telly it seems to be fanny time, every aspect of the dear old things is up for discussion, too dry, you must need some new fannytastic cream to combat the parched state of your vagina. Conversely do you need something to dry it up a bit ?, make it something like death valley for dryness, every scenario is catered for.
Just an observation on my part, nothing to get all worked up about. But maybe a bit of balance is required, so lets see more adverts for willys, todgers, trouser snakes, whatever you choose to call them, or rather products for the application of.
I had a nice walk this morning, a bit of a trip down memory lane.
The picture above shows Boughton Crossing as it was in 1959, to be specific June 1st 1959
the level crossing had just become the towns new boundary, why am I posting it up ?, because I spent many happy hours as a sprog playing in the fields, on the river, and even on what was then a working railway line, as I lived not far away from that signal box, it's now a walkway / cycleway for the public.
You can just about make out the signal box and level crossing gates, just in front of the lorry, the old fashioned sort of crossing gates that the crossing keeper had to come out to close, and that sealed the the road right off from the track.
There was no nipping round them in your little Honda Jizz, mainly because the gates would have prevented such irresponsible behaviour and also because little Honda Jizzes didn't exist at the time.
Me and some other kids once spent an afternoon waiting on the corner of Brampton Lane which is the other side of that signal box waiting for the Queen to pass by so we could wave at her.
The picture above is the same scene today, the signal box is long gone as are the level crossing gates, and the house has changed a bit, but then in 60 years you would expect a bit of change.
Talk about a trip down memory lane, I even saw this is a field, do you remember Homepride ? it's the flour your Mum used to make cakes mixes with, and you used to wait until the end of the process and full of expectancy you would say "Mum, can I lick the bowl, ?" and she would say "No, flush the chain like everybody else". halcyon days.
The wind in the wires
Not quite the Wichita Lineman, but an atmospheric sound on a cold bright morning.
Having taken my after photo I had a wander down The Brampton Valley Way, which is what was the railway line between Northampton and Market Harborough, the wind was whistling through these overhead cables, a nice sound I thought.
I had the River Nene (pronounced Nen) to my left, fields to my right, and the beginning of the track the rail enthusiasts have laid over the years to run restored engines along.
There was even a bit of blue sky.
The hours the volunteers spend doing up these old wagons is amazing, taking something which has lain unloved for possibly years and making it look if not exactly new then not far off.
On one of the the engines I manged to zoom in on the builders plate, these were still the days we used to make stuff.
Looking back I had the privilege of growing up on the edge of town, I had a large garden to play in, sometimes I'd help my Dad dig the soil over, although I was probably more of a hindrance as I seem to remember putting a fork through my wellies and piercing a toe.
My Dad even built me a sandpit, which I spent quite of lot of time in with my matchbox diggers and earth movers building whole road systems,
That garden was the scene of so many adventures, it hosted many big bonfires on November 5th, I sometimes used to set up my tent and camp on the back lawn with some mates, many an airfix model aeroplane was shot up whilst hanging from the washing line by a couple of lengths of cotton.
The other great thing about my garden was that we had an Anderson shelter next to the shed, that served as a nice place for me and my mates to plan what we were going to do for the day .
I once set the wooden fence alight which separated us from our neighbours, I loved playing with fire, still fascinated by fire to this day, sitting in front of one not setting alight o anything I should add.
I remember laying in my bed at night and the sound of the trains that ran along the line from Northampton to Market Harborough had a sort of soothing sound, as a kid I always thought the best place to be on one of those trains was in the guards van.
If you walk far enough along the BVW you'll come to Kelmarsh Tunnel.
In the early 1850s, the London & North Western Railway promoted a line linking Northampton with Market Harborough, the intention being to capitalise on the huge amounts of ironstone found in the area.
The route was engineered by George R Stephenson, nephew of his famous namesake, and George Parker Bidder. Work got underway in 1856, with Richard Dunkley of Blisworth awarded the contract to build it. 16th February 1859 brought its official opening.
The single line was forced to penetrate hills at Kelmarsh and Great Oxendon, the former being driven through strong blue clay. On Sunday 11th April 1858, Sergeant Rawson from the local constabulary attended Kelmarsh Tunnel and found Thomas Thompson busy assembling some timber centres, whilst four other labourers loaded bricks into a wagon.
All were charged with working on a Sunday, despite the engineer protesting that their exertions were necessary in order to correct a defect in the tunnel. Each was subsequently fined five shillings; the contractor paid costs totalling £2 7s 6d.
Ok, I'm taking a few liberties here, so indulge me, Frank Tyson was a Lancastrian, not a Northamptonian but he played for Northants CCC and was very loyal to them, so that's good enough for me,
Oh, and he played for England, very successfully it has to be said, his figures of 7 for 27 against Australia in the 1954/55 Test Series at the MCG confirmed him as a quality fast bowler, and a man who took his profession very seriously.
Of his time as a player for the county he once said, "Not one player has derived more enjoyment than me out of Northants cricket,"
Frank only ended up playing for the county team because of his late arrival at a second eleven game for Lancashire, so their loss was so to speak, our gain, Northants have never been blessed with a surfeit of talent. They have had some good and loyal players but have always been a bit of a cinderella team, in F.H Tyson they had a bit of a gem.
Why am I writing about the late Mr Tyson ?, partly because I'm a cricket nut, partly because England have just played a Test Match and been soundly thrashed, by it has to be said a West Indian side who outplayed them in every respect, and because he was one of Northants best ever players and deserves to be remembered.
The sight of a genuinely fast bowler is something you can only appreciate when seen live, on the television it still looks impressive, but live you get a sense of what it must be like waiting at the other end of the strip, wondering what the ball will do.
If protective kit is needed in any game cricket is surely it, I know some say "watching cricket is like watching paint dry" I would have said the same some years back, but the first time I saw a live game, funnily enough the West Indies touring side playing at Northants in the early 1980's, I was hooked.
What was special about Frank Tyson ?, well sheer pace, which batsmen generally don't like, and interestingly apart from that Frank was an educated man who liked to quote Shakespeare and Wordsworth to opposing batsmen.
Sledging or its more contemporary manifestation "mental disintegration", we should differentiate between the two, has been around in cricket for a very long time, some very funny exchanges have taken place over the years between some great players.
One of my favourite conversations took place between that attacking England player Ian (Beefy) Botham, a man not known to back down or shy away from confrontation, and Rod "Iron gloves" Marsh of Australia, another combative player.
Marsh to Botham, "So how's your wife and my kids?".
Botham to Marsh, " The wife is fine, but the kids are retarded".
Now you just don't get quality like that anymore,
There are loads of other great exchanges too numerous to mention, the players of today still like to try to distract their opponents with chatter but don't seem to have the sharp wit required,
Jimmy Anderson batting as a tail ender was once told by Michael Clarke "Get ready for a broken &@cking arm".
Which in my humble opinion doesn't really cut the mustard, there's no wit, humour, or anything that suggests any real thought, it's just a crude threat, not worthy of any cricketer, more so when they are the Captain of their team.
Michael Clarke did say this afterwards,
"I regret that language I used, and I regret the fact I said it over the stump mic – the last thing I want is boys and girls watching to be going and playing club cricket and saying things like that to opposition players," he said.
"I think that's unacceptable that the Australian cricket captain is setting that example."
So what he was actually saying was "I'm sorry I got caught out", which is a sorry excuse for an apology.
Some things in life are harder to do than others, one of the hardest must be to sandpaper a ball down with a broken arm, but then who would want to sandpaper a cricket ball ??.
Personally I love the game and never want to see or hear the players drop to the level of footballers where abuse of the opposition or the referee is seen as normal, to me that would be taking something great and diminishing it, don't get me wrong I know times change, but cricket should always be played in the true spirit of sport, rant over.
The bloke you can see below with the big bushy mustache is bid bad Merv Hughes who I once met at Northant's County Cricket Ground, he had a reputation for swilling large amounts of lager on aeroplanes apparently.
I like to think that if it had been suggested by an opposing batsman to FHT that he thought a lot of himself as a bowler he would have responded more eloquently, perhaps using this quote from Shakespeare,
"Self-Love, my liege, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting".
Quoting the Bard, not something done too much on the cricket pitches of today I suppose, but maybe something we should encourage, with microphones on the stumps these days cricket could become both an entertainment and an education in one.
I recently got hold of a copy of Franks book " A Typhoon called Tyson", the book was first published in 1961 so reading it's not only interesting to hear his own thoughts on cricket and life in general but it's a little bit of social history.
The book is full of facts about that time when the attitudes of the ordinary person and those at the top were so much different than what we consider the norm today, it was literally another world.
The story of how Lancashire lost the talents of the man is typical of the closed, inflexible thinking of the cricket hierarchy that existed at the time, probably prevalent generally. a sort of arrogance that says we know best. Wait a minute, surely we have moved on, or have we ?.
I watched the film about Eddie the Eagle a while back and seeing how Eddie had to struggle to convince the high ups to give him a chance apart from all the other obstacles he faced confirmed the idiocy of that sort of thought process.
During the introduction where Frank describes his own feelings about the art of fast bowling he says" I know there have been better bowlers, with better actions, more control and greater accuracy". Keats said in one of his letters "O for a life of sensation rather than thoughts". That would be a good comment on my bowling.
Lord Kitchener once wrote a song called "Tyson taught them a lesson that can't be forgotten", Like the lyrics, magnificent Tyson, had their batsmen beaten.
The bowling was so good it remind them of Larwood.
Oh how those Aussies must have loved Frank, the pommie annihilator.
Frank describes in the book how after the Sydney Test which England had won the team were still in the city on the following Sunday, and he and George Duckworth took a train to visit Harold Larwood who had been the destroyer of the Aussies in the notorious Body Line series.
Harold and his family had emigrated to Australia and although at the time of Body Line there had been a lot a anger generated by England's bowling tactics the Aussies had largely forgiven Harold Larwood..
In Australia the blame for these tactics was laid squarely at the feet of the then England Captain, Douglas Jardine, Franks thoughts were that Harold resented the fact that English official opinion placed the odium of an unpopular policy on the shoulders of the mere pawns in the game.
When Frank suggested to Larwood that he should come and meet the rest of the England team he turned the offer down, and apparently fours years later when Frank visited again and asked the same question the offer was turned down again, Harold it seemed wanted nothing to do with the MCC.
FH Tyson played only 17 Test matches for England, the enormous strains on the body which fast bowling inflicts took their toll and he inevitably suffered from injuries.
Every fast bowler has his own unique action, Tysons described as a mix of the rhythmic and the ungainly. A long run up culminating in a high arm action, his left shoulder facing the batsman, right arm cocked up. He did shorten his run up at some point but the strains on his leg and shoulder joints must have been huge.
This was followed by a ferocious heave of the shoulders. On delivery, his left leg kicked out and his arm was brought down with a slinging movement the entire weight landing on the right foot.
The Australian newspapers decribed him like this, "he looked more like a pre-occupied scientist. Without a cricket ball in his hand he wouldn’t cause a ripple in a bird bath.”
Looks however can be deceiving and Tyson bowled with tremendous pace. Making his first class debut against the touring Indians of 1952, the slips moved back an extra five yards after his first ball. He did not take long to get his first wicket, Pankaj Roy caught behind for a duck.
Pace bowling puts fear into even the best batsmen, and given that at the time Tyson was bowling the only protective equipment worn was a box, you can understand that fear, a cricket ball to the arm, hand, or leg at pace is immensely painful, to the head or neck it could prove fatal.
Tyson retired from First-Class cricket in 1960, at which time he emigrated to Australia and took up post as a School Master, he also coached cricket, nobody loving a sport so much could ever really give it up completely.
Given the outcome of the 2005 Ashes series Franks thoughts on how it would turn out is worth a read
He also commentated on cricket for no less than 36 years for Australian radio, a great man for Northants and for England, wherever you may be Frank, thank you.
Let's be honest modern life is full of noise, from traffic, mobile phones, aircraft, we are surrounded by it more or less twenty four hours a day, sometimes its nice to just get away from the hubbub if only for a short time to collect our thoughts, and stretch the legs.
Parks can be a great place to spend some time but even here noise can sometimes interrupt our reverie, where to go then to find some peace ?.
Walking along the side of a canal, or even travelling slowly and serenely on a narrowboat is a great wind to wind down, and travel through relatively unspoilt countryside.
Watching and listening to wildlife, and breathing in some fresh air, in any season our canal system is a fantastic resource, a legacy from a time when life was generally slower.
A product of some very clever engineers and the sweat and sheer hard graft of many thousands of men.
From a personal perspective I love being around or on water, to me its an experience a bit like sitting and watching an open fire in the Winter, there is something completely satisfying, uncomplicated, and relaxing about the experience.
The story of the Northamptonshire stretch of the Grand Union is one which typifies the men who saw a way to make something work and set about creating something that would endure, even when seemingly insurmountable obstacles came up they found very clever and inventive ways to overcome them.
Blisworth Tunnel was and is an engineering marvel, take a look in the Summer when you can drop in to one of the two pubs close by and have a quick pint, or glass of wine, just sit and watch the canal boats, very relaxing.
The entrance to the tunnel
Construction of the tunnel began in 1793 and would take many more years to reach completion, fourteen men died due to a collapse that took place when they hit quicksand and part of the roof came down. many more men would die before in opened in 1805, sadly a total of fifty fatalities in all.
These days fourteen men dying in a accident like that would be a national scandal, in those days men were seen as pretty much expendable, Those men worked long hard days with no safety equipment, the pay I should imagine wasn't much to write home about, and I would imagine they weren't well liked by the locals, something I would like to research.
Today I took a walk along another stretch of the canal on a dull January day and took a few pictures which I hope to contrast to others I will take in the Spring when things start to green up.
Canal side pictures
Obviously I'm not going to pretend you can't find ugliness even in the midst of natural beauty, and concrete with a dose of graffiti is probably one of the ugliest things about modern life.
However contrast the ugliness in the the picture above with some of the great artwork which has been painted onto some of the once dull concrete walls holding up bridges that pass over the canal, they depict Northampton's history, you can see some of them below.
I thought it looked great and its good to know that people want to improve our environment, and two local schools have been involved which is good for the children getting to know about the towns history and the world outside of a screen.
If you take a walk along the Northampton Arm you'll see the mosaic trail as well, again that involved children from local schools,
The other great thing about being by the canal is just chatting with the boaters, they will often tell you where they have come from and where they are going to, I sometimes assist other IWA (Inland Waterways Association) volunteers who clear litter along the canal and cut back vegetation,
Over the years many bags of litter have been collected and shopping trolleys pulled out of the water, a few bikes have come out from their watery grave as well. The boaters or walkers will often say they appreciate what's done which is nice to hear.
I think we would struggle to move this though. :)
Going back to Blisworth Tunnel, when large rebuilding works were carried out in the 1980's precast concrete rings were used on some sections, and apparently this was to test the materials ready for the Channel Tunnel,
The other thing I should mention is that around 1992 a couple travelling through the tunnel
had a spooky experience when they saw a fork in the tunnel and candlelight, there is no fork in the tunnel but it's said to be haunted by the men who were buried alive when the fatal collapse incident took place.
I think there used to be a boat trip into the tunnel telling you all about ghosts and scary stuff, not sure if it still runs but worth checking out.
Believe it or not at one stage steam tugs used to pass through the tunnel, imagine being stuck in it breathing in all that smoke and steam, must have been pretty horrendous, hence the ventilation shafts you can see above the tunnel.
Above, IWA volunteers clearing litter and paths.
I'm going off at a bit of a tangent here but while browsing the interweb I came across a newspaper article -
A walk with the FT: The Weedon Bec route near Northampton
It was the Weedon Bec bit that caught my eye, but then I read on and saw the name Patrick Leigh Fermor, have you ever seen a film called "Ill met by moonlight" about the capture of a German General on the island of Crete ?.
Being a fan of old black and white films, and having read the book I thought the article was very interesting.
He was a bit of an adventurer, one of those English eccentrics that have largely died out sadly, apparently he spent his early years in Weedon Bec, something I was completely unaware of.
If you have time have a read -
If you walk along the Northampton Arm you'll see the mosaic trail as well, again local children did the designs.
So if you are ever in Northampton take time to wander along the canal, if you are a dog walker its perfect, nice and flat, Spring is a great time when everything is turning green.
A plea if you do walk your dog along the canal, please don't do what some do, bag up your dogs poo and throw it in the bushes, it looks horrible.
January can be a miserable month, you are still getting over the Christmas holiday, you are skint, it's cold, and the Brexit turmoil grinds inexorably on, making the early 1970's seem like a walk in the park.
Yes, listening to the interminable chatter about backstops, no deals, Norway type deals, Jean Claude Juncker, votes of no confidence, imminent catastrophe, trade deals, borders, brexiteers, remainers, its all akin to being kicked in the head by a skinhead, just because you have long blonde hair.
The kicking however lasts only seconds.
This week I read about something called a Brexit Box, containing all the stuff you need to get you through a crisis, cost, a few hundred quid, probably worth about £100 tops, no doubt someone will make some money out of the those whose synapses are less well connected than even mine.
Putting all this aside there is still joy to be had, turn off the telly, put on a coat, and drive out into the heart of the countryside, and you may find some solace from the troubles of modern urban life.
Last Sunday I ended up in Geddington after failing to navigate to another destination, the combined efforts of a sat nav, and my Wife, and to be fair the effect of loads of road works, equalled failure to get to our original destination and as I was getting irritable I said "lets go to Geddington instead and take a look at the Eleanors Cross and pop into the pub"
First thing we see as we walked up towards the Cross, a lady on a handsome GG, GG even posed for a pic.
Queen Eleanors Cross
When Eleanor of Castile, the first wife of Edward I, died at Harby, near Lincoln, in 1290, the grief-stricken king was driven to create the most elaborate series of funerary monuments to any queen of England. He ordered the building of 12 elegant crosses to mark each of the resting places of his wife’s funeral procession as it travelled from Lincoln to her burial place at Westminster Abbey, London.
Imagine having something like that as a memorial to the fact that you have existed on this planet, personally I like my ashes to be be stored in the centre of a cricket ball,
When you pop into a country pub its great to sit by a fire, yep I know they have now been declared more toxic than a hundred VW diesels in your living room but the fascination of looking into a fire will never dim for me.
The church has some great history, so much so its hard to take it all in,
Sir Robert Dallington died in 1636 and left a sum of money for the benefit of 24 aged inhabitants of Geddington. Although considered to be Members of the “poor” it was, and still is, considered to be a symbol of respectability to number among the 24 that receive a loaf of bread each week.
The conditions for receiving the bread would be considered very harsh today’, the idea was to encourage respectability and more importantly for the peasants to obey the law, as at this time “enclosure” was causing trouble and there was always potential for things to flare up. Anything that could help to quell the bad feeling and general resentment was I suppose, thought to be a good idea.
So here the subject of enclosure rears its ugly head again, see (Radical Northamptonshire) and for added irony read below
So now we come to one Maurice Tresham, member of one of the largest land owning families who were responsible for land enclosure in the area, guess what, he was one of the original Overseers of the charity.
Sir Robert Dallington's Gift in Bread had a few conditions attached.
Reading through some of the conditions gives the impression that most of them, if not all, were all about control, for example -
"If any of these twenty four receive married folk into their houses, Strangers, or Children, without the consent of the OverSeers, they shall receive no bread while they are there".
The word Overseer is a bit sinister in itself.
How about this one -
"If any of these twenty four be not at devine service every Sunday they shall lose their bread that day unless they are hindered or some other lawful let".
And this one was obviously related to enclosure and preventing practical opposition to it -
"If any of these twenty four, or any of their families, do break or carry away any hedges, stiles, corn, or the like, they shall receive no bread the next four Sundays afterwards. Whoever is the discoverer thereof, shall have their bread to dispose of where they will".
A plea to grass on your neighbour and nothing less, and a warning that says, "if you do anything to hinder enclosure you are going hungry",
How strange to think how we can work collaboratively with our continental neighbours to produce beautiful works which will last hundreds of years and please the eyes of many, then in the blink of an eye be killing each other.
Nothing displays this stupidity more than seeing the windows I posted about in the oldest building in Northamptonshire that were produced by a German company who used English and German craftsmen , those Englishmen had to leave Germany at the onset of WW1 having worked alongside their German colleagues to produce such beautiful windows full of colour and intricate detail.
In my last post I included some pictures of some of the magnificent stained glass windows in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I mentioned that I was told by my guide on the day I visited the church that three of the windows were made in Germany.
This piqued my interest and I did some research on the web and found that the Jaffa Window had been produced by a German company called Franz Mayer based in Munich, so I searched for their contact details and having found them sent off a short email asking what they knew about the window and if they could provide me with any more information about its history.
To be honest I didn't expect a quick reply but I was pleased to receive a really detailed email back from a gentleman named Walter who not only provided lots of background info about the company but also kindly looked back at their records and came up with an interesting find.
This is an extract from his email -
"Unfortunately, most of our old files were destroyed in 1944 by bombs and fire. We could save only a few books with photos of our windows and lists showing the churches with our stained glass windows, which however are not complete, and a few "shipping books". In these books we have pictures of windows and designs-sketches but they are only signed with the order number and not place or name of the church. As almost all order files were destroyed, it's difficult to find the works.
Since some years we are relocating our worldwide works using some old shipping books and other information´s and we have compiled an List of Orders which is very detailed but still incomplete. In this List of Orders I found the following information:
Windows for Northampton UK:
Holy Sepulchre’s Church
3-light window, Justice, Faith, Fortitude
Jan. 28, 1899 Order no. 2353 Capt. Graham
2 windows, Madonna with Child, St. Joseph
Feb. 28, 1891 Order no. 1359
St. John Baptist R. C. Church
4 lights, Richard Lionheart in the battle at Jaffa A.D. 1192
Oct. 30, 1882 Order no. 444
The Jaffa Window is described in our list as a window for the St. John Baptist RC Church.
So this could be a mistake in their records or something more interesting may lie behind it, a great shame that the records were destroyed, but with the web maybe they can be reconstructed to a certain extent.
If you know of any windows in a church local to you which you believe to be made by Franz Mayer please let me know and I will pass that information onto the company.
This morning I received this from David Parish the guide that showed me round the church, in relation to the Jaffa Window seen above.
"The stained glass window in 4 parts containing a scene from the battle of Jaffa 1192 On the second panel from the left hand side the image of Richard Coeur de Lion, on the fourth panel the image of Saladin the Ottoman king surrounded by Crusader and Ottoman soldiers. Jaffa was a seaport on the coast of Palestine near to present day Haifa. The battle ended in stalemate both sides withdrawing to leave Jerusalem an open city. It was erected in 1885 by the officers, non commissioned officers and men of the 58th regiment in memory of their comrades who were killed or died in South Africa between 1879 and 1885 in the first Zulu war and the first Boor war most notable and Laing’s Nek 28th January 1881 and Majuba hill 27th February 1881. The 58th regiment became the 2nd battalion the Northamptonshire regiment in 1882."
And in elation to the Gallipoli Window -
"The window to the right hand side is a memorial window to the 4th Territorial battalion the Northamptonshire regiment which was part of the 54th division fought firstly in Gallipoli August to December 1915 then to Egypt in 1916 the battalion advanced into the Sinai peninsula on the 17th April 1917 at the second battle of Gaza the battalion incurred 386 casualties in December 1917 as part of General Allenby’s army who took Jerusalem from the Turkish ottoman forces."
Walter at the Franz Mayer Co also mentioned in his email to me the cooperation with English artists and artisans on the production of some of the works by Franz Mayer.
Franz B. Mayer liked the English transcendent style very much. Therefore, he had employed some English stained glass artists and painters. Partly he himself colored sketches.
The employed English stained glass artists have worked as designers of sketches and cartoons, or painters. These are some of the names of English artists:
Rice and Cope with their sons, Bartlett, Chapmann, Fisher, Schwager, Lessels, Belcher, Fricker, Shellard, Daniels, Bouchette, Berra, and the best of all, Francis William Dixon, a pupil of Burne-Jones. This cooperation continued for many decades. It ended in August 1914 when the last Englishmen with their families left Germany at the outbreak of World War I.
So having read this more digging on the web provided this about one of the artist mentioned -
Burne-Jones exhibited at the two International Exhibitions at the Museum of Decorative Art in Berlin in 1886 and 1893. This ensured his popularity in Germany as a painter and stained-glass designer and demonstrates the exceptionally strong influence that Burne-Jones made on the European Symbolist movement. The makers of the window, Mayer & Co of Munich (the Franz Mayer'schen Hofkunstanstalt) had a direct connection with the Pre-Raphaelites. They employed an English designer, William Francis Dixon (1848-1928), who had trained at Clayton & Bell, the English Stained-glass manufacturers. John Robert Clayton (1827-1913), a close friend of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Alfred Bell (1832-95), had founded their firm in London in 1855. Dixon’s designs were often heavily influenced by Burne-Jones. The Sixth Day of Creation window was commissioned in 1913 from the Franz Mayer'schen Hofkunstanstalt in Munich (Germany’s leading glass mosaic and stained glass window manufacturers) and painted by Adolf von der Heydt. It is unique in the fact that the image has been taken directly from Burne-Jones’s finished goache, whereas the windows in English churches were taken from the earlier designs Burne-Jones made for Morris & Co.
Some of Dixon's work can be seen here.
And now I digress to lighten the mood.
Last weekend I went for a much needed stroll, along the banks of the canal at Stoke Bruerne, it was a lovely sunny day, ideal for being by the water, and what do I see as I walk along ?,a beer boat, my plan to burn off calories was about to fail spectacularly.
The boat stocked some great beers including beers from a lot of Northamptonshire breweries, so I partook of a Nobby's Plum Porter, which I happen like a lot,
The beer boat moves location so look out for it if you are walking along the canal sides in Nothamptonshire and have a beer and a chat with Jon.
What better use of a boat can you think of ? answers on a postcard.
I took the picture below because I wanted to capture the boats reflection in the water and also because I love the canal system which I happen to think is a great asset which we should treasure and take care of, in terms of a great way to get exercise and getting away from the noise of the modern world it is unbeatable.