When I wrote Prefab Days, little did I suspect how much interest it would stir up, notably among former residents of the Pilgrims Way estate in Kingsbury NW9. The original post was written for a museum housed in a prefabricated building, and I had to work to a word limit. One of the memories which I chose to leave out of the article concerned a cast-iron object in the street, just outside our back garden, known locally as “The Green Thing”.
Perhaps a subconscious motive for leaving the green thing out of my story was that, as I recall, my sister and I were forbidden to go anywhere near it, even though it held a magnetic attraction for other kids as the place to hang out. I am pretty sure this ban was just one outcome of our Dad’s horror of playing in the street. However I may have defied the edict on at least one occasion because I remember an event which took place right next to the green thing, which I mentioned in “Prefab Days”:
“When we moved in, work on the infrastructure was still going on, mainly finishing the roadway and footpaths. The labour force was a couple of German prisoners of war, supposedly supervised by British soldiers. We kids were strictly instructed not to fraternise with them, but of course we did, as the squaddies seemed to be notable by their absence. One of the POWs smuggled toys to us somehow, and I remember with affection the tiny metal tractor that came my way.” I am sure this happened next to the green thing, where there was a pile of sand, presumably used officially for laying paving slabs and unofficially as a sandpit for local kids less constrained than us. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, out of the blue the phone rang to tell us that our old, and much-loved next-door neighbour Tony Bray had died. This sad news, followed by his memorable and moving burial at sea near Gosport a few days later, reminded me just what a formative period this was for us all.
Looking back, Tony, his wife Adrienne and their two sons remain right up there in the top ten greatest strokes of luck we ever had. There’s only so much research you can do when looking for a new home – estate agent blurbs, surveys, casing the joint, it’s always hit-and-miss, and one of the most important factors, your new neighbours, is the hardest factor to find out about. In this case we had won the lottery, but we didn’t know it straight away.
I recently came across a fascinating blog post by Dr. Caitlin Green, featuring a collection of early maps of Lincolnshire. Caitlin describes herself as a historian and writer whose professional interests lie in the history, archaeology, place-names and literature of late Roman and early medieval Britain.
She explains: “This post is primarily intended to share images of some of the interesting early maps of Lincolnshire that still exist, dating from the medieval era through until the early seventeenth century. Details of each map and a brief discussion of the principal points of interest—including the curious region-name ‘Ageland’ that appears in eastern Lincolnshire on many of them—are provided in the captions to the following image gallery, which I aim to add to over time.”
Not long after we moved into Kirkby on Bain in 2001, somebody said to me something along the lines of “Of course you must know about our famous murderer, Ethel Major”. Of course I had never heard of her, so I did some very superficial research and found that this Kirkby on Bain lady was convicted of killing her husband (a nasty piece of work, allegedly,) in 1934 and hanged in Hull gaol.
A little later Betty Dixon, who was born that year and until recently was one of Kirkby’s oldest residents, kindly lent me a bundle of newspaper cuttings and a book about this case. Like a lot of accounts of past murders, quite a bit of this material was written in sensationalist styles, with little by way of references or source attributions. I also noticed that some accounts were word-for-word copies, apparently lifted from one original newspaper write-up.
During subsequent searches, I stumbled across a real surprise – macabre testimony to the everlasting obsession with murder, a knitted representation of Ethel’s house, made by Jean Arkell, originally installed at the Minories Art Gallery, Colchester. Believe it or not there really is a website featuring knitted representations of houses lived in by female murderers. Midsomer Murders scriptwriters, please take note. Continue reading →
Almost two years ago I told the story of my connection to father and son engineering ancestors John and Sir John Dewrance, as I understood it at the time, including references to John Dewrance having built George Stephenson’s Rocket. Quite recently I have been assured by a learned reader that this was unlikely and that the Rocket was built by Robert Stephenson. Since my original post was primarily about the family connection, only mentioning the Rocket in passing, and in the interests of accuracy, I have updated it accordingly. I do hope this meets the concerns of anyone more interested in railway historical minutiae than in a family yarn, of interest to anyone sharing the family name.
Last Friday I took another trip out to Gibraltar Point, conscious that the building of the new visitor centre must now be well advanced. I was not wrong. The weather was unseasonably fine and sunny all the way there but, as is often the case, the point was shrouded in sea mist when I arrived.
Undaunted I took some shots of the visitor centre development from the car park on my much-derided and battered Nokia mobile, then dropped in to the temporary shop and café. I was working on the theory that the mist would clear as there was an offshore wind blowing. It seemed a fair gamble, having driven all the way there.
I would like to believe a yarn heard about Gibraltar Point, a windswept nature reserve on the Lincolnshire coast, near Skegness. The story goes that one day the driver of a huge articulated truck from somewhere in eastern Europe pulled into the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Car park there and seemed surprised that there was no sign of a car ferry to Morocco.
Seems he was using a satnav. Not as surprised perhaps as the wildlife trust ranger.
Hard to believe, but true or not, I am reminded of the story every time we go to this wonderful miniature wilderness, all the more fascinating for the extreme contrast with one of England’s iconic seaside towns, only two miles away. Continue reading →