Friday, 15 March 2013

Taddington Travelogue


And so to Taddington, a Derbyshire village tucked away 1,100 feet above sea level, that could look charming if it made the effort. 

It grew around farming and quarrying for limestone and lead. From 1863 to 1967 the village was served by Millers Dale railway station, some two miles away, which was on the Midland Railway's extension of the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway.

Its main attractions are Five Wells, a chambered tomb topped by a cairn, and the 14th-century church, with the remains of a 7th-century Celtic cross in the churchyard. We didn’t bother.

Notable local buildings include Taddington Manor and Marlborough House. Fields around the settlement show evidence of both Celtic lynchett terraces and of Mediaeval strip farming. Kinky.

What first greeted the Wednesday Wanderers, however, was a pair of skinny, tights-wearing legs sticking out from the wall of the Queens Arms meeting point, like some undernourished burglar making his escape through a ventilation shaft.

I think the members of the Tidy Village committee should have a word.

 


We set off at 9.47am, turning right coming from the pub car park and walking up the main road.
After 120 yards we turned right onto a footpath across some fields, climbed a wall and turned right again.

This brought us to the A6 which we crossed and went straight on. At a crossroads of tracks we went straight on again, over a stile and down a steep embankment which Mr Davison described as a “dip” but which, if snowed over, would have tested Franz Klammer.

We went through a gate and onto a track where we turned left. After 50 yards we went right, climbed a wall and found ourselves facing an ice covered pond.

The opportunity to revisit Mr Davison’s Jesus impression was too good to miss.

It was a year or so back when the Wanderers’ answer to Evel Knievel tried to walk on ice on the canal near Marple golf club, Stockport and ended up soaked.

Although egged on, here, he was a bit more circumspect and after an ominous cracking noise retraced his steps immediately. What a wuss.

I think Dynamo can sleep easily.


Mr Davison walks on water…for a second or two.

We negotiated a wall and were afforded a wonderful view of a valley. Cressbrook Hall was away on our right.

We walked along a limestone wall which Mr Rooney described as “Chasing the Devil” because we were actually following a lead mine’s “vein”.

This was Millers Dale, a popular beauty spot in the Peak District of England, much of the area being preserved as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

 Millers Dale

Nearby is Ravenstor and Cheedale, both popular with rock-climbers. Just to the north of the Dale lies the village of Wormhill and the lesser known valleys of Peter Dale and Monk's Dale.

The local landmark is the viaduct, first built by the Midland Railway in 1866. Increasing traffic meant that a second viaduct parallel to the first was built in 1905, increasing the number of tracks to four.

The area is of great interest to geologists, particularly where the strata have been exposed by quarries and railway cuttings.

In Station Quarry, which is owned by the Naturalists Trust, two layers of limestone can be seen, separated by a bed of shale. At one point there is a dip in the lower layer, possibly from a watercourse, millions of years ago. This is filled with the shale and a large limestone boulder can be seen within it. Elsewhere in the area there are signs of lava flows from long-ago volcanic activity.

As we descended what looked like a harmless track Mr Rooney and Mr Davison were both fallers.
We went down some steps and turned right onto an old railway track.

This, indeed, was the former Buxton to Matlock line which later became the main rail route to London.

It is better known now, of course, as the Monsal Trail, about 8.5 miles (13.7 km) in length, starting at the Topley Pike junction (in Wye Dale, 3 miles (4.8 km) east of Buxton) and running  to Coombs viaduct, 1 mile (1.6 km) south-east of Bakewell.

It follows the valley of the River Wye and runs parallel to the A6. For many years the Trail could not trace the trackbed  as rail  tunnels had been closed for safety reasons, such as at Monsal Head and Cressbrook, meaning that the Trail was diverted.

The tunnels were walked by Julia Bradbury as part of BBC TV's Railway Walks: The Peak Express.
Many resulting access points and diversion paths were unsuitable for those using cycles or wheelchairs or with difficulty walking due to steep uneven stone steps or narrow paths.

Plans to make the tunnels safe and re-open them to the public were given the go-ahead at a cost of £3.78m and the tunnels were opened officially for use on 25 May 2011 at a ceremony at the Headstone Viaduct (they had actually been open 12 days earlier).

As a consequence, the Trail is now virtually level (though the former diversions are still usable, if desired).

Below, to the left, is the notorious Litton Mill, downstream from Millers Dale station, where orphans from major cities were abused by Ellis Needham, with the graves of many to be found in local churchyards.

Here the Wanderers split into three. The main body, led by Mr Davison, took a path on the right, over the first two tunnels. Mr Rooney took a path to the left. Your diarist and Mr Cunliffe decided to walk the tunnels and were afforded the sight of hundreds of ice stalactites.

 The splintered groups converged about 500 yards after the second tunnel and entered the third tunnel - Headstone - as one.

Train drivers back in the day used to say when they emerged from this tunnel  (coming the other way to our walk) that they thought they were “in the Alps”.

As this was long before Judith Chalmers was born, we must assume their knowledge of the Alps was limited to picture books. But the simile is fully justified.

A few hundred yards from the third tunnel we took a path to the left following a sign which said “Little Longstone”. We reached a road and turned left, passing an expensive barn conversion on our right, to arrive at the Pack Horse (which opened in 1787, incidentally) at 12.03pm.

There was an array of guest beers, including Kipling (ABV 5.2) at £3.35, Lord Maples and Wild Swan both at £3.10, Black Sheep at £3.05 and Jaipur at an eye-watering £3.55. We left the pub at 12.50pm, turning right and passing the rather pretty church.

At this point by a quirk of my iPhone's camera a dismembered hand seemed to appear in front of Mr Fairman recreating a scene from the 1966 classic horror series Dr Terror’s House of Horrors.


  Mr Fairman and the Hand



Film buffs may recall Tarot card reading oddball Peter Cushing - all scary eyebrows and German accent - foretelling the fates of five rail commuters in this trend-setting horror film. 

While the movie never quite tops its jaw-dropping earlier episode in which legendary BBC Radio DJ Alan Freeman wrestles with a deadly vine with plans for world-domination, it comes close with the episode “Disembodied Hand”.

Christopher Lee is perfectly cast as a pompous, pretentious art critic, particularly fond of lambasting the work of artist Michael Gough. Subsequently he’s hounded by Gough, even after he runs him over and causes the artist to lose a hand.

Was there a subtle nod to Van Gogh (who famously lost an ear) in choosing the fictional name Gough, I wonder?

We passed the Monsal Head Hotel on our left and went down some steps to our left.

We crossed a bridge and found ourselves in the Wye Valley.

Approaching the A6 again,we  crossed it and went straight over and up a hill following a sign saying “Taddington”.

This was a long and quite exhausting climb that took its toll on a few Wanderers.

We reached what appeared to be the top at 2.05pm only to find that a further climb was required and we swung right up a new incline to reach a road.

We walked on to a T-junction where we turned right and the outskirts of Taddington hove into view.

We reached the cars at 2.30pm, de-booted and entered the Queen’s Arms where Chatsworth Gold was £3.20 and Barnsley Bitter £3.

A sign by the fire said it all……


Join me soon for another wander.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Every Bosley Cloud has a Silver Lining


Fancy a wander?


Snowdrops

Rambling in North Staffordshire. No, it's not another NHS scandal.

Spring is here! The first snowdrops of the year to be seen by the Wednesday Wanderers were recorded on this enjoyable walk. From snow to snowdrops in just four weeks.

We came out of the car park behind the Knot Inn at Rushton Spencer and walked past a building carrying a plaque which said “Ruston Station 1844”.

The railway station was built for the Leek and Macclesfield Railway and was eventually taken over by the North Staffordshire Railway. It  is now a dwelling house, of course.

I’m sure the Wanderers, like me, admired the coursed and dressed sandstone; banded and shaped tile roof; verge parapets with finials on corbelled kneelers and the circular and diamond shafted corniced stone stacks.

The poor commuters of yesteryear never had the pleasure of a cheery wave from the wide-eyed Polish Big Issue seller and the aggressive  tramp with the Tam o’ Shanter and can of cheap cider.

 We took a path on the right and then went down some steps to the left. We crossed a stream, went over a stile, up some steps and through a wood.

A short climb was involved. This took us to Raven’s Clough.

At 10.07am we saw the snowdrops (above) and worrying also heard gunfire (just a clay pigeon shoot hopefully?).

We went over a stile on the left and Bosley Cloud hove into view.

                                                              Near the top of Bosley Cloud

Another climb was undertaken and this brought us onto a road where we turned left.
At 10.29am Mr Fairman stopped to remove a stone in his shoe, without the aid of a Swiss Army knife or anaesthetic.

We dog legged right and saw a sign which said “to Cloud Summit”.



                                                      View from near the top of Bosley Cloud



We duly ascended some steps and by 10.40am had reached the top of Bosley Cloud.

                                     The Chief Druids discuss how best to get a sacrificial virgin on such a small altar

At 343 metres (1,125 ft) in height,Bosley Cloud is one of the highest hills in the area. Its heather-covered summit plateau is crowned by a trig point from which extensive views over Congleton, Biddulph, Macclesfield, Holmes Chapel, and the Greater Manchester area can be enjoyed.

The Cloud sits at the northern apex of a triangle formed by the broken ridge which runs along the border between Cheshire and Staffordshire and the hills stretching south through Biddulph Moor into Staffordshire. To its north, the River Dane wraps around its lower slopes whilst the A523 road runs to its east through the village of Bosley in Southeast Cheshire.

The place is linked to a phenomenon known as the double sunset ,  an extraordinary astro-geographical phenomenon, which was traditionally seen against The Cloud from the churchyard of Saint Edward the Confessor in Leek, in Staffordshire, on the summer solstice.
In clear weather, the sun sets on the summit of the hill, partially reappears from The Cloud's steep northern slope and soon afterwards sets for a second and final time on the horizon.

The occurrence was first recorded in writing in 1686 by Dr Robert Plot in his book The Natural History Of Staffordshire, and may well have been observed for centuries before then.

The spectacle is no longer visible from its traditional observation point because of tree interference, but can still be witnessed on the summer solstice from Leek: from the road to Pickwood Hall, off Milltown Way, and less well from Lowe Hill on the outskirts of the town.

Better observation sites of the phenomenon are from the A523 above Rudyard Lake, and Woodhouse Green.  Both of these events and their locations are described in detail in Jeff Kent's book The Mysterious Double Sunset.

A double Sundowner would be more appropriate for the Wanderers.

After a brief stop to admire a metal map that amazingly had not been defaced (vandals clearly haven’t the puff to get up so high)  we took a path to the left and began our descent.

At 10.49am Pie Time was declared and Mr Cunliffe asked if he could “borrow” some loo paper.
None was available but certainly no Wanderer would want it to be returned.

Mr Cunliffe duly disappeared into the undergrowth, presumably armed with either  a handful of grass or that day’s Sun newspaper.

After a full 10 minutes of gourmandising we set off again down the hill.
We went down some steps (11.15am) and followed a sign saying “Gritstone Trail”.
We reached a road and turned left, then took a path on the right.

This brought us into “Timbersbrook Picnic Area”, essentially a large car park with a seated area just about big enough to accommodate a family of four.

Clearly picnics aren’t that fashionable in Staffs.


Back in the day there used to be a bleaching a dyeing works nearby.

Workers would hurry on their break or after work to seek sustenance at a café run by a woman called Old Fanny Moss, which sounds more like a gynaecological condition.

Sadly Google could shed no more light on Fanny, although the search engine did helpfully  throw up a few interesting sites that occupied your diarist for an hour or two.

The tall chimney of the Silver Springs Bleaching and Dyeing Works at Timbersbrook could be seen for miles around before it was demolished by Blaster Bates in 1966.

Water from Timbers Brook was once used to power the silk mill and the old Mill Pool is now a locally important breeding pond for toads. 

According to a council website,  “lucky” walkers might even see a Kingfisher or Heron silently waiting by the waters edge ready to pounce on any unsuspecting fish they spot. Sadly our luck was out.

Within a few hundred yards, however, we did spy a peacock, adorning a very sumptuous abode, as we turned right out of the car park.


                                                                            Peacock

What kind of person keeps a peacock on their front lawn (done in a Lloyd Grossman voice) ?
We went left onto the Gritstone Trail, through a kissing-gate and across a field.
This, at 11.55am, brought as to the “half way point” the Coach and Horses, not the Waggon and Horses as Mr Fairman had forecast. A moot point.
Unicorn and Dizzy Blonde, both £3, were on good form.
Mr Cunliffe tucked into his obligatory plate of chips.


                                                                         Tom’s lunch

We set off at 1.38pm, going out of the pub and straight over the road.
We turned left and then right into Cherry Lane.

Within a minute we were approaching Llamaland a large house and surrounding fields featuring dozens of inquisitive llamas and other creatures.

As every schoolboy knows, llamas are members of the South American camelid family and are mostly found in the high altiplano regions of the Andes in Peru, Bolivia and Chile.

They are the domesticated cousin of the wild guanaco and are extensively used by the Andean people and in the past by the Incas, as beasts of burden, for food, for fibre and their hides used as leather.

The British Llama Society has been set up to promote all aspects of llama and Guanaco ownership - good husbandry, breeding, trekking, driving, showing and much more. It publishes a quarterly magazine, Llama Llink, a magazine that surely has been featured on Have I Got News For You.

We then past Overton Hall. We joined a road that came in from the left and after a few hundred yards went left over a stile.

We went up a narrow path with prickly leaves to our left. At 1.03pm lunch was declared.
We set off again at 1.11pm carrying on a straight line past Flowery Fields Farm.
We reached a road and turned right. This was Pines Lane. At a T-junction we turned left. We passed Green Meadows Farm. We crossed a muddy field and onto a road where we turned right.
We passed Deepdale House and took a path on the right (1.50pm).
We crossed a field, reached a road and went straight on.
This brought us to St Lawrence Church, Rushton.

                                                              St Lawrence Church, Rushton


There is a whiff of Midsomer Murders here.
The grave of Thomas Meakin, who was buried in 1781, is the only one in the churchyard facing east.  Thomas, a groom, was in love with his master's (an apothecary) daughter.

The old man did not approve  and eyebrows were raised when  Thomas suddenly died and was hurriedly buried (in Stone, Staffs).

His favourite pony kept returning to his grave and pawing the ground. When his worried friends finally exhumed the body they found him lying face down.

Had he been poisoned and buried alive? The apothecary had the motive and the means. Sadly John Nettles was not around. 

After that, Thomas’s family brought his remains back to Rushton they were reburied at St Lawrence's.

We went over a railway bridge, dropped down a slope and turned right to go under the bridge we had just crossed. At 2.20pm we were back at the cars.

After de-booting we drove to the Old Kings Head at Gurnett, where Speckled Hen and Tim Taylor’s Landlord were both £3.20 and Banks’ was £3.

Join me again soon on another wander.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Doing it in Styal


A few months ago I joined a walking group called the Wednesday Wanderers. It's Last of the Summer Wine Meets the Krypton Factor.

May I share with you some of our adventures?

Our loins suitably girded, we set off from the Ship Inn at Styal  near Manchester Airport, at 9.34am, walking away from the pub and turning left towards Norcliffe Chapel.

This Chapel has existed since 1823, funded entirely by benefactor and local mill-owning  tycoon Samuel Greg and built for the princely sum of £307 18s.

Despite his welcome beneficence, the tightwad was too mean to put in any heating.

Greg founded Quarry Bank Mill, a cotton mill, in 1784. By 1832 it had become the largest spinning and weaving business in the UK, employing more than 300 people.

Quarry Bank Mill


His descendants would inter-marry with the most important merchants and manufacturers of the time, including the Lyles (of Tate & Lyle).

In such a rural location Belfast-born Greg felt obliged to provide housing for his (slaves) sorry, workers and as a result the village grew considerably. The next step was to establish institutions to meet their educational, social and religious needs.

On 22 August 1822 locals were invited to lay a brick for the foundation of the new Chapel, which officially opened the following year.

Samuel Greg (who was a Unitarian himself and later married a Unitarian by the way) built the Chapel for the Baptists, as there was a strong Baptist cause in the neighbourhood.

One notable feature remains from the Chapel's initial use by the Baptists of the village. Under the floor, almost underneath the pulpit, is a full size baptismal tank. John Hewitt of Styal recorded how his father would work with other village lads each Saturday night to carry buckets of water from the nearest pump at Oak Farm. It has not been used for nearly 180 years.

Amongst the scant records  there is an amusing account of the trials and tribulations of choosing the first minister. Samuel Greg's daughters favoured Reverend Halford Jones, a minister they had heard preach at Nuneaton.  He was good looking and had a way with the ladies, (The Leslie Phillips of his day, maybe) but their father thought this would distract the congregation from the sermon.

Instead, a boring, ugly old f*rt called Mr Metcalfe from Bolton was invited to preach, but as soon as he stepped into the pulpit, his nose began to bleed profusely. He was forced to leave without taking the service, and the handsome Reverend Halford Jones got the gig and became the first minister at Norcliffe. He was granted £80 a year and a house provided by Mr Greg.

I wonder how many other careers have turned on such a whim of bodily function?

Gradually, the Baptist movement  died out in Styal and the Methodists began to take their place.  However, Greg, as owner of the Chapel, did not want it to be used by the Methodists. In 1833, part of an old barn in the village was converted to a Methodist Chapel and it was declared that henceforth Norcliffe should be Unitarian, as it has remained to the present day.

Talking of serendipity, in 1832, Greg was attacked by a stag in the grounds of Quarry Bank Mill. The injury led to his retirement. Greg never recovered from the assault and died two years later.
Oh deer!

The Wanderers were soon entering Northern Woods and espied the River Bollin. We crossed a bridge and climbed some steps. Then immediately descended a further set of steps. The Bollin was on our right.
We passed Norcliffe Hall (see picture below)




                                                                   Norcliffe Hall

 Norcliffe Hall is a large house standing  to the west of the village and to the north of Styal Country Park.
It was built in 1831 for Robert Hyde Greg, the then owner of Quarry Bank Mill, and one of six sons born to the aforementioned Samuel.

It was designed by the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson and constructed in orange brick in Flemish bond brickwork with pink sandstone dressings.

It is roofed in Welsh slates, and has octagonal brick chimney stacks. The architectural style is Elizabethan. It has an irregular plan, and is in 2½ storeys with a south front of four bays. It was designated as a Grade II listed building on 6 March 1975.

During the 20th century the house was used as a care home for the elderly. As of 2007 it was being converted into residential apartments.

We went up some more steps and down some more steps. The Bollin was now on our left.

Our leader, Mr Lawrie Fairman, then posed a question that might have come from the lips of Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge.

“What,” he inquired “is the difference between a nymph and a naiad?”

As every schoolboy almost certainly does not know…in Greek mythology, the naiads were a type of nymph (female spirit) who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of freshwater.
They are distinct from river gods, who embodied rivers, and the very ancient spirits that inhabited the still waters of marshes, ponds and lagoon-lakes.

Naiads could be dangerous: Hylas of the Argo's crew was lost when he was taken by naiads fascinated by his beauty.

 The naiads were also known to exhibit jealous tendencies. Theocritus' story of naiad jealousy was that of a shepherd, Daphnis, who was the lover of Nomia or Echenais; Daphnis had on several occasions been unfaithful to Nomia and as revenge she permanently blinded him. Salmacis forced the youth Hermaphroditus into a carnal embrace and, when he sought to get away, fuse.

                                                            Are we near the airport?

However, none of this mythology boll*cks answers Mr Fairman’s poser because he was basically talking biology.

In biology, a nymph is the immature form of some invertebrates, particularly insects, which undergoes gradual metamorphosis (hemimetabolism) before reaching its adult stage.

Unlike a typical larva, a nymph's overall form already resembles that of the adult. In addition, while a nymph moults it never enters a pupal stage. Instead, the final moult results in an adult insect.Nymphs undergo multiple stages of development called instars.

Are you with me?

Nymphs of aquatic insects, as in the orders Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Ephemeroptera (mayflies), and Plecoptera (stoneflies) are also called naiads.

Now even I am totally confused and beginning to regret even starting this observation.

I’ll quit when I’m behind.

The only other thing I can recall is Mr Fairman’s pronouncement that “naiad” is a useful word if you are ever compiling a crossword….or, I suppose, playing Scrabble or appearing on Countdown.

Talking of Countdown it’s worth retelling presenter Jeff Stelling’s tale about the bloke in dictionary corner who said he “had a six”…the word was “minger” (ming-er).

When Stelling told him he couldn’t have that word he replied “ok, I’ve got a five”.

The Wanderers had by now reach a road which led to the Holiday Inn (once known as the Valley Lodge, a place where men had to have a hunchback and halitosis not to pull on a Friday or Saturday night.)

We walked past the hotel onto the main road which we crossed and walked up a slight incline before taking a path to the right.

We crossed a field and Mr Mickey Barrett pointed out the rather modest home of Manchester City legend Mike Summerbee in the distance.

We stopped  for a few moments  (at 10.28am) while Mr Fairman checked his map.

We were on the right track…crossing the field and exiting via a (one-at-a-time) swing gate in the far corner.
We took a short path with conifers to our left. We passed the front of the houses (including Summerbee’s) and on the corner of the main road took a path to the right, following a sign to “Castle Mill”.

We passed some farm buildings on our right, negotiated a stile and crossed a field.

We picked up a path on our left and followed a sign to “Bollin Valley Way”.

We went over a stile onto a road and turned left at Bollin House.
There were no obvious signs except one saying “private, no access” but we ventured forward anyway along the side of the prestige residence and soon saw the familiar yellow arrowhead.

This brought us to a road where we turned left and then right opposite a house with a huge Monkey Puzzle tree.

We came to a lake. But our progress appeared to be halted by a gate with more locks than a Houdini tribute act.

As your diarist had just finished climbing over the gate Mr Colin Davison helpfully impersonated the escapologist and picked the lock, swinging the gate open.

We past Sylvie Cottage on the left and turned right onto a “bridle path to Moor Lane”. At a Y-junction we took a track on the right.

This brought us into Wilmslow and at 12.15pm to the prescribed half way hostelry, the Farmer Arms. Alas, it was shut. (Shoot the organiser).

We walked on to the Carters up the road, where at 12.23pm, we were afforded a warm welcome. Boddington’s and John Smith’s were both £2.90.


 Get Carters


 We left the Carters at 1.11pm going to the end of the road and turning left.
At the end of that road we crossed Altrincham Road and went straight over into what looked like a cul-de-sac. However after 200 yards there was a footpath which we took.

We shouldn’t have…because the correct path was on the right so after a few strides we, too, retraced our steps and turned what was now left. This was Hawthorne Lane. We went straight on into a park where luncheon was declared at 1.35pm.

The one seat having been taken by Mr Davison and two others, Mr Malcolm Halley, our latest recruit, was forced to eat his snap sitting on the grass. He may have regretted this decision minutes later when he stood up to reveal a wet patch on his nether regions which might have been mistaken for a case of incontinence.

How we chuckled at the New Boy.

We left the lunch spot at 1.44pm, following the river and crossing a bridge to exit the park after passing some public toilets. We went over a bridge (above the River Dean) and went immediately left. We were back in the woods and soon crossed “Heron’s Pool Bridge”.

A few minutes further on we came across a film crew shooting for a new Channel 4 drama series called The Mill. Our advancement was temporarily halted by an assistant (could she have been a “Key Grip” or “Best Boy”?) who said we must wait a few moments.

Mr Fairman offered his services as an extra but she was not impressed. It is doubtful whether any Geordies were employed in the cotton mills of Cheshire and Lancashire.

The Mill, “a powerful new drama” ,  is being filmed by Darlow Smithson and is based on the real life story of Quarry Bank Mill and the machinations of the Greg family. So bizarrely, our walk had come full circle in geography AND history.

The TV show will tell how Quarry Bank recruited children as young as nine as unpaid apprentices from orphanages and workhouses and how migrants from as far afield as London, Ireland, Scotland and Norfolk flocked to Quarry Bank. So maybe there was room for a Geordie after all.

The hours were long and hard in dangerous and unhealthy conditions which would today be likened to a sweatshop, and for many of this emerging working class, this was a first experience of rules, regulation and employers to answer to.  Hard work was rewarded but dissent was punished ruthlessly: runaway girls would have their heads shaved. Kinky.

Rooted firmly in the real history of the Mill, the characters and storylines in the drama will be based on the extraordinary Quarry Bank archive which comprises over 20,000 letters, wage books, contracts, diaries, rent books and interview transcripts.

We passed a few people in period costume and stepped onto what appeared to be a street of cobbles….incredibly they were all RUBBER!


                                                                  A load of old cobble (r) s

By the way, Quarry Bank Mill is the only water powered Georgian cotton mill still operating in the UK today. It is home to the most powerful working water wheel in Europe and one of the earliest steam-powered beam engines.

We sallied on, came to a road and turned right to reach our cars at 2.20pm.

De-booted, we nipped in for a pint at the Ship, sitting in the warm sunshine outside.
Theakston’s was £2.65.

Perhaps you'll join me again on another wander.


“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.” 
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Apprentice's Sorcerer

Alan Sugar must be the celebrity version of Marmite. You either love him or hate him. Yes, he’s opinionated and yes, if you were his PR man you would probably be constantly walking on eggshells.

But the more I learn about the former Amstrad tycoon the more I empathise. I’m reading his autobiography What You See Is What You Get (at £10 for a 610 page hardback in Tesco, a bargain). It’s not especially well written and your maiden aunt might blanch at the liberal use of words like "w*nker and t*sspot" to describe some of the people who have crossed him over time, especially Daily Mail journalists.

But he tells a terrific tale of rising from poverty in London’s East End and it’s heartwarming how he is able to prick the pomposity of legions of alleged “professionals” who all thought they knew better at various stages of his life, even latterly when he dealt with top TV executives. Underneath that brash “You’re Fired” TV persona there seems to lurk a decent family man with values that, if everyone followed suit, would improve our society.

He grew up not far from me in Hackney (although he’s just a few years older)and in very similar conditions. He writes movingly of the shock of encountering racism (he’s Jewish, of course) for the first time at secondary school. But like me Lord Sugar has many fond memories of his childhood, despite practices that would probably nowadays warrant a visit from social services. I nearly lost the use of my right hand, for example, after falling on glass while "exploring" a bombed-out building.

My parents were Gentiles but my mother worked for a Jewish tailor whose clothes were sold in some of the West End’s top shops. Her claim to fame was that she made trousers for Frankie Vaughan, Morecambe and Wise and a trio of crooners called The King Brothers, the Take That of their day. I also had a Jewish friend Henry Zaltsman, with whom I played football. I recall we were going off to watch Spurs play one Saturday and my mother had made bacon sandwiches for us. Henry looked quizzically at the snack and asked whether he was allowed to eat bacon. My mother reassured him by saying: “I’m sure God won’t mind just one.” Good Cockney commonsense. Sugar himself says his parents broke most of the Jewish dietary rules.

I’m certain that for every Alan Sugar there are thousands of would-be entrepreneurs who never made it past the market stall. But what people should take from the book is not a formula by which to make a fortune but the realisation that trying to better yourself is far more rewarding in all kinds of ways than not bothering.

Like a lot of rich men Sugar (and he insists this is true) was never motivated by money. Even now he seems to take more pride in remembering how to assemble a bike from bits of old metal than how to build a corporation. He got a buzz out of setting himself a challenge and seeing how far he could go. That attribute should be on every young person’s CV.

Like Sugar, I was lucky, managing to get to Oxford University, where I told people my father was a man of letters. Well, he was a postman. By the way, I still have the immaculate black barathea dinner suit that my mother’s boss gave me (as a cast off) nearly 40 years ago. If only he was around to let the waist out a little.

Friday, 19 March 2010

David Vaughan RIP

If you remember the Sixties you weren't there. Or so the legend goes. Well David Vaughan certainly remembered those wild, wild days. And he WAS there, rubbing shoulders with Paul McCartney, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Armstrong-Jones, later Lord Snowdon (or "Lord Snow-bum" as David called him.)

He was the archetypal rebel. An art student who came down to the Slade School of Art in London from Manchester, via Bradford, and let rip. The son of an engineer dad and welder mum, he got into fights, he womanised, he got drunk but he also painted, sometimes brilliantly, often feverishly.

He was described then as "a modern Goya". He was an integral part of the Swinging Sixties scene. He painted McCartney's piano in psychedelic patterns. They met through a mutual friend the Guinness heir Tara Browne, whose death partly inspired the lyrics to the Beatles' song A Day In The Life. He produced huge canvasses and murals. But the lifestyle took its toll. He freely admits to getting heavily into drink and drugs and at the end of the Sixties spent time in a mental hospital.

His 15 minutes of fame might have ended there. But he had a daughter, Sadie Frost. And when she became a celebrity and certainly when she married Jude Law, fame came knocking again. I met him at one of his exhibitions in Manchester in 2003. I didn't know then that he had only 10 months to live and would not see his 60th birthday. We chatted for an hour in a gallery and then went to a bar in Canal Street where we chatted for another three.

David's conversation was funny and hugely engaging, littered with four-letter words but also with diamond anecdotes and pieces of historical and cultural erudition. The tale that amused me the most concerned the time he was acting as an unpaid events manager at The Roundhouse, an iconic former railway terminus turned theatre and arts venue. David claimed he once paid Jimi Hendrix £50 to play there and someone in the audience stole the great man's guitar.

But that's not the story that tickled me. David had helped to stage an exhibition of avant garde art at the venue and was clearing up the day after the event when a rather sniffy man in a pinstripe suit arrived.

The officious visitor turned out to have been sent by a collector who had loaned one of the highly valuable pieces for the exhibition and mistook the rather unkempt David for some kind of janitor. He barked at David that he needed to collect a certain numbered exhibit and generally treated him very rudely.

David, never one to respect officialdom, quickly realised that Mr Suit had no idea exactly what the artwork was that he had been sent to collect. David told me: "So I went out the back and saw a huge skip filled with all kinds of rubbish. On the side of the skip was a yellow light used to warn traffic it was there. I took it off, dropped in on the floor and jumped on it several times until it was virtually flat. Then I wrapped it in paper put it in a cardboard box and carried it very carefully back into the venue and handed it to the man. He turned on his heels and left."

I would love to have seen the collector's face when he was reunited with his "treasure". David's last days were spent living in a caravan. But the man retained his charisma and much of the passion of his youth. I recorded a lot of our conversation and to give you a flavour of David I made a You Tube video from the tapes which can be seen here. His obituary can be seen here.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Come to my room

In the days when newspapers actually put on circulation one often effective way of increasing readership was to launch a competition.

Derek Jameson’s introduction of bingo in the early 1980s saw the Daily Star’s sale increase from around 1.2m to almost 1.8m.

But alongside that big money promotion the Star embarked on a far humbler but rather more bizarre sales booster : a contest to find the man or woman in the UK who could do the strangest thing Standing On One Leg Only. To plug the idea of SOOLO (pronounced like the Star Trek character first portrayed by George Takei) reporters were required, whenever they went to interview anyone famous, to ask the celebrity (after the story in hand had been covered, of course) whether they wouldn’t mind posing for a photograph …yes, you’ve guessed, Standing On One Leg Only.

A week or so into the project I was assigned to attend a book launch by Joan Collins, unveiling her autobiography Past Imperfect. In a top Manchester hotel, the Hollywood star dealt effortlessly with an array of questions from the Fourth Estate and then the assembled guests were all invited to a finger buffet. Seizing the moment I glided alongside the actress who was then starring in Dynasty and trying to make my ridiculous request sound as if it was an offer to play a potentially Oscar winning role I put my question. Joan smiled, put down her plate, which contained barely enough food to keep a gerbil going and said: “We’ll go to my room!”

Sadly it was more than 20 years into the future that reporters were able (indeed required) to take photographs as well as write stories so we were soon joined in her boudoir by one of Fleet Street’s finest snappers.

Like the trouper she is Joan struck a series of cumly poses which duly graced the pages of Victor Matthews’ brainchild tabloid. The political correspondent sent to interview Mrs Thatcher was not so lucky.

I know what you're thinking: who won the contest? Do you know it was that momentous I can't recall.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Hyper Local...in 1986


I have had an epiphany. I've finally grasped how to make money from the internet as a journalist. And do you know what? It was a business model I tried...in 1986. It seems to be working here. And good luck to local newspaper editor David Jackman who started hyper-local site Everything Epping Forest after being made redundant. He has now launched a second in neighbouring Harlow - called Everything Harlow.

The big difference for me between David and many millions of bloggers, is that he seems to be a real journalist. Solid stories, well written with attention to punctuation, spelling and grammar. (Some clown will, I'm sure, now visit the site and find a typo but you know what I mean).

My own venture into one man band publishing came after I took redundancy from a national newspaper. Partly inspired, I suppose, by Eddie Shah I bought an Apple Mac and tried to understand the Pagemaker programme. But keen to get started I actually convinced a local printer pal to produce copies of my brainchild The Stockport Sport and Leisure Guide.

The initial 12 page A-5 issue, on high quality, glossy paper, carried a testimonial from the then Mayor of Stockport Councillor John Howe. Inside was a lengthy interview with Stockport County chairman Dragan Lukic, a piece about hiking in the Lakes, a quiz, a news in brief section, a sporting events diary and three pages listing as many sports and leisure groups in the borough as I could find.

We printed 10,000 copies and distributed them around the borough in suitable venues, sports halls, gyms and so on. It was paid for, of course, by advertising. No business was too small to approach. A roofing contractor, a B&B, an accountant, pubs, hairdressers, all represented. The reaction was excellent, except for the Stockport Express. Its management was far from happy.

Advertisers got feedback and won new customers, so re-invested. They liked the way the magazine hung around in GPs' surgeries and dentists' waiting rooms, giving them extended exposure. The Express, however, began to target my advertisers and tried to undercut my already carefully chosen but, by Express standards, very modest rates.

I ran the thing for 10 issues and was still breaking even financially when I received a call from a Sunday Mirror executive asking me to come and work for it full time. Playing safe in this Brave New World of entrepreneurship I chose the reliable option and was back in tabloid journalism. Little did I know what Robert Maxwell was soon to do to the Mirror Group and indeed to journalism in general. Three lads who left the Sheffield Morning Telegraph (wisely, as it folded later) set up a similar venture across the Pennines, based around food and lifestyle and it proved a great success. After a lot of hard work, mind.

So I see now how hyper-local might work. The issue for me, however, was quite simple. Having worked on a national paper, having interviewed Joan Collins, Take That, Oliver Reed and so on, having exposed corruption at the highest levels of society, did I really want to go around collecting advertising revenues from hairdressers? No offence to the crimpers. The lure of what was then still Fleet Street was too great. The buzz was there, not working largely alone, detailing the triumphs of Stockport harriers and golfers.

Who knows what might have happened had I got my head around that Pagemaker programme? Eddie Shah sold out for £22m didn't he? I would have settled for a small fraction of that.