Halifax

Halifax, Piece Market

When Latin was taught in schools, back in the Dark Ages, every schoolchild knew that Rome was founded by refugees from Troy. According to a vaguely related legend, one Brutus, great-grandson of the Trojan hero Aeneas, subsequently wandered into the North Atlantic and became the first king of Britain.

The legend is colourful nonsense. But there are still parts of this country where the sense of strangeness (from the French ‘étrange’, meaning ‘foreign’) is so strong and inexplicable that legend retains some appeal.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that Halifax is an unexpectedly exotic and cosmopolitan town.

On a sunny afternoon you could easily imagine its Piece Hall in the Mediterranean or in some Roman province. It’s a large quadrangle bounded by two- and three-storey colonnades, backed by arched rooms in which worsted and woollen goods were traded. It opened in 1779 and was beautifully restored in 2017. Today it houses specialist shops, some historic displays, the information centre and places to eat and drink.

Halifax, Halifax Town Hall
‘After dark, parts of Halifax town centre – around the Town Hall (above) and the Borough Market especially – feel improbably French’
After dark, parts of Halifax town centre – around the Town Hall and the Borough Market especially – feel improbably French; it may be the lighting and lamp standards, the sandstone and style, the mansard roofs and turrets, an occasional tall, slim gable end, diners glimpsed through an aqueous window or the tolling of the hour on the Town Hall clock. Around the town the lights on the hillsides are a profoundly nostalgic sight.

Halifax, Dean Clough, viaducts, bridges
‘In other respects Halifax is thoroughly Yorkshire’
In other respects Halifax is thoroughly Yorkshire: a dark, culverted river; dramatic public buildings; old mills converted to contemporary purposes; a fine local industrial museum measuring the breadth of Halifax’s contribution to the Industrial Revolution; a lovely Minster with a feeling of great age, unusual even for a church; and Eureka!, the National Children’s Museum to which you aren’t admitted if you don’t have a child in tow.

The people were lovely too, by and large, though not in all cases with an unusual feeling of great age. It was a strange atmosphere: just two days later the Government tightened its advice on the coronavirus. Meanwhile people strolled around the Piece Hall, they went to pubs and restaurants and at 5.20pm they attended what would be the last professional football match for some time. The National League fixture at the Shay, between Halifax Town and Ebbsfleet United, kicked off at 5.20pm for the cameras. On public transport, in the street, indoors or at the Shay they gave each other space but were friendly and helpful.

Calderdale Industrial Museum, Halifax, museums, industrial history, Industrial Revolution, knitting machine
Calderdale Industrial Museum: still making Halifax great
At the Calderdale Industrial Museum, some of the volunteers must have been in the ‘vulnerable’ category but that wasn’t going to discourage them. Stationed around exhibits in the four-floor building, each was a mine of information (especially the gentleman in the mining section). Much of the equipment on display, though static, is impressive enough; but many machines still work and are eagerly demonstrated. At the automated sweet-wrapping device you’ll even be offered a sample of the product.

The museum celebrates the industrial history of the town in all its diversity: pottery, mining, engineering, machine tools, textiles, carpets, confectionery. It also records the contribution of individuals and, when I was there, specifically Laurie Annie Willson MBE. A suffragette, she was instrumental in getting women into the WWI war effort, pioneered works canteens and, after setting up her own electrical engineering company, she built quality homes for working people. Four of her estates are still part of Halifax’s housing stock.

Halifax, Halifax Minster, Gentleman Jack, BBC, Suranne Jones, Shibden Hall
‘A lovely Minster with a feeling of great age, unusual even for a church’
Another notable Halifax woman is remembered at the Minster. Anne Lister was the Gentleman Jack of the recent BBC series. She owned Shibden Hall, just outside Halifax, was an active local parishioner and her tombstone is in the Minster.

Dean Clough sounds like a junior offshoot of a footballing dynasty, until you consider the northern geographical meaning of ‘clough’ – a valley or ravine. Here, a collection of 19th century buildings and mills has been converted into offices, a shopping village, galleries and leisure spaces.

The galleries are a rabbit warren but the printed guide helps and it’s worth persevering. In a random corridor you’ll find a Hockney; above a staircase, Tom Wood’s portrait of the Prince of Wales; and in a room to itself, a sensational Lego model of the complex.

Halifax Town, Ebbsfleet United, Shay, Halifax, National League, lockdown
As close as Halifax came to an equaliser
I was in Halifax on a Saturday. By the following Tuesday a number of the places I visited were closed – the Industrial Museum, the Minster, the Shay – until further notice. This was football tourism to the finest of tolerances. On the day football closed down in England, then, 52 Ebbsfleet supporters made their way to Halifax and were rewarded with an away win. Some of the Halifax team played as if they were feeling under the weather.

FC Halifax Town 0 Ebbsfleet United 1
The Shay Stadium, 14 Mar 2020

Dover

‘Dover Western Docks was once one of the most romantic destinations on Britain’s railway network – your eventual destination was probably Paris’

Dover Western Docks was once one of the most romantic destinations on Britain’s railway network. To have a ticket to Dover Western Docks meant you were traveling on the boat-train; your eventual destination was probably Paris. If, like me, you were thrifty, you were probably traveling at dead of night into the bargain, which added to the romance. Theoretically, at least.

Before ever I made the trip I thought the boat-train somehow trundled from the pier right into the bowels of the cross-Channel ferry. It was a disappointment, then, to have to disembark at a cold, dark, anonymous railway terminal and walk the last couple of hundred yards. Any remaining shreds of romance were irrevocably whisked away on to the chill night breeze by the state of the vessel at dead of night. Squalor is the word that comes to mind. And yet when I think of that first trip the chief memory is of Ilse and the sense of romance returns refulgently.

Dover Priory railway station, trains, public transport, renovation
‘It was hard to be sure whether they were knocking down Dover Priory station or renovating it’

The last train arrived at Dover Western Docks in 1994. The listed station building remains on Admiralty Pier but the lines are long gone. Trains to Dover now deliver you to Dover Priory station, which sounds an acceptably historic alternative. Don’t get your hopes up.

In March 2020 it was hard to be sure whether they were knocking down Dover Priory station or renovating it. Perhaps they plan a future diametrically opposed to the fate of Western Docks – the rails will stay but the station will disappear. Either way, any romance or sense of history attached to this element of your visit will depend entirely on how you feel about your companion.

One final announcement from Platform 1. In March 2020 the UK, as elsewhere, was trying to keep Covid-19, the coronavirus, under control. The official advice was for us to wash our hands, long and often, with soap and hot water. The Gents at Dover Priory had neither soap nor hot water. This comment is not aimed at the station management; I mention it to illustrate a common British inability to match ideals with the daily reality experienced by most of the citizenry.

Dover Castle, Castle Street, Dover, lamp-post, flower basket, brooding, hill
‘If Dover were a golf course, you’d splash out on a buggy. Castle Street, encouragingly flat for the first hundred yards or so, soon takes a turn for the worse’

If Dover were a golf course, you’d splash out on a buggy. The flatlands of the town centre don’t require it, and here you will save further money by finding the Transport Museum and the Roman Painted House closed through the winter and Dover Museum is free. But up the hill to the west are the Western Heights and associated redoubts, plus the Templar Church. Up another hill to the east is Dover Castle. Even the football ground, at Crabble, is up a slope that would be regarded in most towns as challenging.

Dover, Dover Castle, hillside, fortifications
‘Experienced travelers will think nostalgically of European cities like Ljubljana and Salzburg, where castles are served by funiculars’

From the railway station, the hill closest takes you up to the Western Heights. The fortifications here are from the Napoleonic Wars originally. “The exterior and moat can be viewed daily during any reasonable daylight hours,” says English Heritage. As for the rest, then, you’d have to be lucky about the date of your visit.

Dover, Western Heights, Napoleonic Wars, English Heritage
Western Heights: ‘The fortifications here are from the Napoleonic Wars originally. “The exterior and moat can be viewed daily during any reasonable daylight hours,” says English Heritage’

It may nonetheless be worth trekking up there. For one thing, it will warm you up for the walk to the castle later. For another, it gives you fine views across the town, harbour and, indeed, the English Channel. Dover Castle is at a similar altitude on the other side of the town but unfortunately the photo opportunity is compromised from some angles by a pair of masts rising out of the landscape beyond.

Alternatively, if you turn left out of the station you’re into the town centre very quickly. Here you will find Dover Museum.

Bronze Age, ancient boat, oldest seagoing boat known, 3,500yrs, Dover, Dover Museum
‘The “oldest sea-going vessel known” may be 3,500yrs-old. It was apparently built of hollowed-out trunks strapped together. At intervals along the length of the base are what look strangely like the wheel-arches of a small car’

The Dover Museum has galleries on three storeys, one of which was closed when I was there, for an exhibition to be set up. No matter; the remainder was excellent. They soften you up with attractive displays of Dover through the ages, including an especially effective room devoted to the town’s military history. This included a sequence of seven or eight chronological models and, suspended from the ceiling, a V1 flying bomb. Not as obvious but worth equal attention is a portrait of Elizabeth I painted in about 1598 and displayed in Dover Town Hall during her reign.

And then we come to the pièce de résistance, the Bronze Age boat which merits its own gallery. This is fairly dark. If you have reactolite spectacles you may need to give them a few minutes to calm down.

The boat is apparently the “oldest sea-going vessel known”. It may be 3,500yrs-old. Laid out behind perspex in the middle of the room, it was apparently built of hollowed-out trunks strapped together. At intervals along the length of the base are what look strangely like the wheel-arches of a small car. At either end there are obviously bits missing, but most of it is astonishingly complete. Around the sides of the gallery, related exhibits and explanations complement the vessel perfectly.

From there, it is no great distance to Dover Castle. But Castle Street, encouragingly flat for the first hundred yards or so, soon takes a turn for the worse. Experienced travellers will think nostalgically of European cities like Ljubljana and Salzburg, where castles are served by funiculars. Press on. It’s worth it, even at £20.90 a pop.

Dover, Dover Castle, spiral staircase, stonework, fortifications, keep
‘You could probably spend most of a day at Dover Castle. It covers an enormous area and has several set-piece attractions from various eras’

You could probably spend most of a day at Dover Castle. It covers an enormous area and has several set-piece attractions from various eras. The castle itself includes a keep with rooms presented as period halls, kitchens, bedrooms and so forth, and with access to the roof with wonderful views. Around the keep’s courtyard is a museum devoted to the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment and The Queen’s Regiment and these help to maintain a sense of chronology. And that’s not easy, partly because the eras rub shoulders with each other on a large scale – a Roman lighthouse alongside a Saxon church – and in the general feel of the place, with WW2 artillery pieces in one direction, a trebuchet and cannon in another. Some of the more prosaic buildings are equally intriguing, from barracks to holiday accommodation.

The Naafi Restaurant attached to the castle was closed for refurbishment. English Heritage broke that lamentable news in a peculiarly jolly-hockeysticks fashion. “We’re excited to announce that major work has begun to improve our catering facilities.” So I looked for lunch down the hill and wandered at random into the White Horse on St James St. It was an inspired choice.

When a pub is busy and you have a deadline – 3pm in my case – it helps for the staff to warn you that you might wait 40mins for food. But when they realised I was a party of one (no-one Ilse on this visit) they accommodated me and fed me promptly and well.

White Horse, St James Street, Dover, Channel swimmers, mementoes
‘The White Horse on St James St: an inspired choice. All over the walls, ceiling and doors are notes left as in a Visitor’s Book but in this case by Channel swimmers’

The pub itself is extraordinary. All over the walls, ceiling and doors are notes left as in a Visitor’s Book but in this case by Channel swimmers. A typically matter-of-fact entry, on the back of the main door, reads: “Cedric Bird, Jersey, E-F 13/9/08 11hrs 46mins For Charlie & Hannah”. Some include an inspirational message: “Life dream is now a reality. Chase your dream!” Many immortalise the support crew. One or two are illustrated, especially with flags. And there is humour: “For Lil and George, It Was Only One Length! Rebecca Simmons, First Guern! 19-9-09 11-4.3”

London Road is down-at-heel, enlivened by some notable architecture. The shabbiness increases with distance from the centre. Or, to be more generous, the grandeur fades. The Royal Victoria Hospital and its annex are still pretty grand. But Kings Hall, described by the estate agent trying hard to drum up interest as “an impressive and attractive theatre hall”, is startling. Certainly, very few English towns are too grand for a bit of Romanesque frontage and a pair of Doric columns, but painted yellow, white and sage green? A little further along is Jasper House, built I believe in 1954 as a Working Men’s Club. Is this very late Art Deco or early retro?

I realised too late that I had been walking parallel to the River Dour, and that it might have been possible to walk alongside it rather than beside a busy road. On the other hand its name doesn’t inspire visions of sylvan tranquillity. In the long run, it supplies the adjective that my memory will attach to the fixture at Crabble that afternoon.

Dover, Dover Athletic, Crabble, Yeovil Town
‘Even the football ground, at Crabble, is up a slope that would be regarded in most towns as challenging’

‘Confident’ is the word for a football club that prints the its name in type no bigger than 8½pt on the front of its match-day programme, relying instead on the initials COYW as a masthead. Come on you whites… and with cliffs that colour, what else would Dover Athletic play in?

Dover Athletic 0 Yeovil Town 1
Crabble Stadium, 7 March 2020

Barrow

Barrow, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, windfarm, wind turbine, sunset, BarrowAFC, Bromley
“Along Central Drive, the Irish Sea soon fills the skyline. The horizon looks as if it is ring-fenced by turbines”

Barrow people must be heartily sick of seeing their town stereotyped. A couple of days before my visit Barrow happened to appear on the ITV News. The reporter was flogging a ‘Death of the High Street’ horse. Boarded-up premises and proprietors with stiff upper lips were prominent. If ITV found anything attractive to point their cameras at, the editors chose not to show it.

Barrow, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Lake District, sea
“On the natural skyline, brooding promontories slope down to the sea”
Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Barrow Town Hall, sunrise
Barrow Town Hall: “Above the town’s streets, dramatic Victorian towers and spires soar”

Where might they have looked? The snowy uplands of the Lake District, perhaps. Or the Walney Island seashore, barely 20mins walk from the town centre. To get there you’d pass the Dock Museum and cross a bridge with views Constable might have painted, in either direction. On the natural skyline, brooding promontories slope down to the sea; above the town’s streets, dramatic Victorian towers and spires soar.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Devonshire Dock Hall, Abbey Road, boulevard, Baron Haussmann
“A number of the thoroughfares are so wide you’d wonder whether Baron Haussmann did some moonlighting here.” In the background, Devonshire Dock Hall: “the six-pack on steroids that butts into the town’s southern horizon like a theatre flat”

Barrow is a town of sweeping vistas and unexpected panoramas. In part this is a result of Victorian town-planning. The town centre’s grid system carries the eye down otherwise ordinary streets to horizons improbable distances away. A number of the principle thoroughfares are so wide you’d wonder whether Baron Haussmann did some moonlighting here. They tend to flow into each other at elaborately decorative roundabouts.

One such boulevard is Holker Street, which older readers will recognise as identifying Barrow AFC’s ground in days of yore. Holker Street runs from the railway station to the Progression Solicitors Stadium and has pavements that must be 10 or 12ft wide. If these are not the widest pavements expediting the movement of large numbers of people to or from an English football ground, I’d be very surprised. (As if to compensate, the Wilkie Road pavement running along the north side of the ground is so narrow you’re more or less obliged to jaywalk.)

Barrow is also a town of unexpected squares, many of them given over to car-parks. During the last war the German bomb-aimers were notoriously inaccurate, hitting the town as often as the docks; if these squares are the result at least some good came of it. Even where there are cars there are generally also encircling trees. In the absence of cars, you’ll find grass and an occasional memorial, often complemented by statuary, plaques or other features. Barrow is a town of oddly shaped benches: some commemorative, some sponsored, some just expressive of a bench-maker’s joie de vivre.

The statues also vary. In the middle of roundabouts and outside the magnificent town hall there are conventional frock-coated Victorians. Elsewhere monuments of different characters recall Barrow’s industrial, nautical and sporting past. Emlyn Hughes is one of the first you’ll encounter if you arrive by train.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Spirit of Barrow, public art, sculpture
The Spirit of Barrow: “From some angles the four shipyard workers have a Soviet-era look…”

In the centre of the shopping district a bronze grouping called The Spirit of Barrow is particularly wonderful. From some angles the four large shipyard workers have a Soviet-era look, and the words ‘Courage’, ‘Labour, ‘Skill’ and ‘Progress’ around the base reinforce that. But the quartet suggests Pride in and Affection for the town and it lifts the spirits.

There’s more Barrovian baroque at the Dock Museum. This occupies an old dry dock close to the Walney Island bridge. On the day I visited, the Significant Form exhibition of the South Lakes Art Collective opened in the atmospheric space at the lower level of the dock. Above, there are displays celebrating Barrow’s history – natural and industrial. Not surprisingly, the models of vessels built in Barrow are sensational (and in the case of one submarine in particular, quite chilling). Equally sensational and not at all chilling was the flapjack in the museum café.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Sir James Ramsden, facial hair, mutton-chops, benefactor
Sir James Ramsden: credited with bringing industry and prosperity to Barrow. “He also brought the most remarkable pair of mutton-chops.”

Notable buildings (aside from the Town Hall) include the one now occupied by the Citizens Advice Bureau. This was formerly the bath-house presented to the town in 1872 by Sir James Ramsden, the town’s first mayor and the man most regularly credited with bringing industry and prosperity to it. He also brought the most remarkable pair of mutton-chops.

Next door on Abbey Road is the Nan Tait Centre, now an arts centre but originally in 1900 Barrow’s Technical School. Redbrick, terracotta and vast panels representing Ars Longa Vita Brevis and Labor Omnia Vincit – what more could you want?

Devonshire Dock Hall sounds as if it could be another Victorian palais, perhaps where Music Hall breathed its last in 1914. It is, certainly, one of the most prominent buildings in the town: it’s the six-pack on steroids that butts into the town’s southern horizon like a theatre flat. Occupied by BAE Systems, it is an indoor shipbuilding complex.

The sea-front is well worth a detour. Apart from anything else it’s a pleasant walk (or a short bus ride). It takes you through Vickerstown, a UK example of a phenomenon more common – and notorious – in the USA: the company town. The provision of housing for employees sounds enlightened but it could equally represent self-interest as companies sought to discourage unionisation, offset wage rises by rent increases etc.

Along Central Drive, the Irish Sea soon fills the skyline. The horizon looks as if it is ring-fenced by turbines: what you’re looking at is the Walney Wind Farm, the largest offshore wind farm in the world according to the BBC. Opinion will vary about whether it’s unsightly: I’d say No, and I’d offer in support the decision of ITV not to show it. The turbines are far enough away to be matchstick figures on the horizon and you could make a case for them providing points of interest in the view.

Barrow, Barrow-in-Furness, BarrowAFC, Bromley, Morecambe Bay, Lake District, Furness Line, railway
To the east is Morecambe Bay: go by train along the scenic Furness Line

The beach here is of pebbles. I’m told you’ll find sand further along the front in both directions; behind Walney there are mud-flats and to the east is Morecambe Bay. In other words, the variety of marine environments is wide. And in the background is the Lake District. It’s quite a place.

* While I was taking a photograph of The Spirit of Barrow, a couple of buskers offered a spirited version of Wish You Were Here. They were worth a contribution but I was less sure about the sentiment. Did I wish You were here? If I’d invited You to Barrow, in January, You might think the magic had gone. But I was guilty of the stereotyping decried at the top of this piece. I withdraw the remark and apologise. Don’t let anything discourage you from going to see Barrow, at any time of year – and go by train.

Barrow 2 Bromley 0
Progression Solicitors Stadium, 18 January 2020

Woking

Woking Lightbox sculpture Kitty Canal Cruises art Basingstoke Canal
Lightbox moment: a weathered bull watches the canal cruise boat preparing to disembark

Visiting supporters who approach Woking from the M25 are directed by road signs towards the carpark at Heathside. Why? Who knows. Heathside is not close to the ground. Nor is it particularly convenient for the town centre. Perhaps for these reasons (and if my experience of Heathside on a matchday Saturday is anything to go by) you’ll have a wide choice of parking bays.

Price may be another factor that puts parkers off Heathside. If you arrive early enough for a cursory tour of Woking before the game, you may be in the carpark six or seven hours. That would be £10. And the Pay & Display machines don’t take cards or notes. Another dubious point in Heathside’s favour, then – if you arrive with pockets full of cash you’ll leave a great deal lighter.

I hedged my bets with £4.20 for up to three hours. False economy, I know, but that left options open: at around 2.15pm I could top-up and walk to the ground, or I could take the car and look for somewhere closer to Kingfield Stadium, home of the Cards (short for Cardinals).

Basingstoke Canal, River Wey Navigation, Kitty Canal Cruises
The Basingstoke Canal: reopened in 1991 after a 25-year restoration project

Woking was being rebuilt that day. The many cranes stood idle, peering into the town like paralysed insects. Hoardings lined walkways, and low-level plastic barriers helped pedestrians to avoid blundering into roadworks. If, discouraged and disorientated, you headed north reckoning to find the Basingstoke Canal crossing your path, you wouldn’t go far wrong.

It’s a green and shady corridor and it will lead you to Woking’s better side. The canal was formally reopened in 1991 after a 25-year restoration project. For a restful 1¼hrs, a cruise from the town wharf is an attractive prospect.

Sir Alec Bedser, Woking, Bedser Bridge, Basingstoke Canal
Sir Alec Bedser: opening the bowling from the Town End

The canal is crossed at the wharf by a footbridge dedicated to the legendary Bedser twins. They grew up in Woking and their statues stand at either end of the bridge: Alec bowling, at the Town End, and Eric batting a little over 22yds away. The borough council offices are fielding at long-on and halfway up the wall is a sculpted cricket ball, as though hit for six.

Eric Bedser, Woking, Bedser Bridge, Basingstoke Canal
Eric Bedser: looks to me as if he’s clipped it over midwicket…

Statuary and street art is a Woking speciality. The town’s association with HG Wells provides several instances. Wells lived here while he was producing The War of the Worlds. A dramatic Martian tripod dominates a small crossroads that glories in the name Crown Square, and nearby a space-travelling cylinder is embedded in the pavement. The canal cruises go past Horsell Common, featured in the book as the site of the first Martian landing. A statue of Wells himself, holding (and surrounded by) references to his work though not notably melancholic, sits outside the town’s Victoria Gate, on the Woking Heritage Trail.

Woking Borough Council, Woking, Bedser Bridge
… but the ball is picked up over long-on by the Woking Borough Council offices

Not all the town’s public art is as straightforward. ‘The Space Between’, celebrating The Jam, is mystifyingly modern – three tall chunks of timber. In the Wolsey Place shopping mall three willow-bound cyclists ride across metal waves that may represent hills or the roof of the Sydney Opera House. Painted bronze statues by Sean Henry, born in Woking, lurk around the town standing, seated and reclining.

Formal art provision is in a building called the Lightbox, close to Bedser Bridge. The architects, Marks Barfield, were also responsible for Brighton’s i360 tower – well, we all have our off days. The Lightbox grants free entry to a museum called ‘Woking’s Story’, to a gallery named for the Art Fund Prize, sculpture, second-hand books, a good shop and a very good café. Upstairs, galleries and special exhibitions cost £7.50. The main attraction on my visit was ‘Burning Bright: the Scottish Colourists’. If £7.50 sounds steep for a provincial art gallery, consider: a few hours in a carpark, or the opportunity to spend as long as you like in front of JD Fergusson’s Villa Gotte Garden?

War of the Worlds, HG Wells, Martian, Woking, Ebbsfleet United
‘A dramatic Martian tripod dominates a small crossroads’

Woking’s Story, it transpires, involves a surprising amount of spirituality. The town has the 1889 Shah Jehan Mosque, the first mosque to be built in northern Europe.

To the west of Woking is Brookwood Cemetery, the largest cemetery in western Europe and, indeed, in the world when it opened in 1854. Until 1941 it was served by a rail service known as the Coffin Express, running on the Necropolis Line from Waterloo. According to one story, golfers used the service to get to Brookwood Golf Club but had to wear mourning; since golfers are notorious for their lack of fashion sense, that can only have been an improvement. The 220 hectares are used by Woking people as an extended and presumably rather poignant park on their doorstep. Brookwood Military Cemetery, the last resting place of Commonwealth and allied victims of two world wars, lies adjacent.

A little way east of town, on the other side of the M25, is Brooklands Museum. If you were to take this in as well you might need to set aside a weekend. Motorsport, aviation and latterly Concorde are all associated with Brooklands. In 2018 it was one of the five nominees for Art Fund Museum of the Year, beaten eventually by Tate St Ives.

Woking 2 Ebbsfleet United 2
Kingfield Stadium, 14 Sep 2019

Harrogate Town

Harrogate in Bloom, Montpellier Quarter, Gateshead
“Harrogate’s beds, borders and hanging baskets have been winning awards for more than 40 years”

A 2018 ranking of Yorkshire’s towns and cities put Harrogate in 12th place. “Same as Ripon [14th], but with worse tea-shops,” said CityMetric with questionable logic. It’s an ungenerous verdict in any case, and careless of Harrogate’s best-known attractions. Those are summarised in the title and location of Harrogate: Britain’s Floral Resort, a book on display in Harrogate’s Royal Pump Room Museum. This sets the tone for a visit.

Harrogate’s beds, borders and hanging baskets have been winning awards regional, national and European for more than 40 years.

As Harrogate in Bloom makes clear, it’s a community effort. Schools and homeowners, pubs and hotels, even solicitors get involved in beautifying Harrogate by competing for local awards. Events like the Harrogate Spring Flower Show in late April remove any lingering doubts over the town’s credentials: if you like flowers, this is the place to come.

Harrogate residential
“Trees and shrubs played supporting roles…”

I had booked us into a hotel overlooking the green space, the Stray, that surrounds central Harrogate like a gargantuan 1970s collar. The Stray, perversely, is an expanse of grass unbroken by so much as a daffodil bulb. As J (veteran of Portsmouth and Southend United) and I walked towards the centre through the Queens Parade/North Park Road area, our first impression of the town was of how attractive its built environment was; trees and shrubs played supporting roles.

Harrogate Queen Victoria
“Victoria under an elaborate canopy”

In the vicinity of the railway station it’s the Jubilee Memorial (Victoria under an elaborate canopy) that will catch your eye, and the arch over Station Road, and the statues lounging in front of the inverted ship’s hull roof of the Victoria Shopping Centre. That building, by the way, is not yet 30 years old, but the inspiration is Palladio’s Basilica at Vicenza, from 1617.

Ronald Searle Molesworth Pythagoras
‘Lazy parallelograms basking on Mount Olympus; Pythagoras stalking them’ (Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle)

Then you’re into the Montpellier Quarter and Harrogate languorously unfurls its petals. In a sequence of public squares, parks and gardens, amid elegant buildings from Regency to Edwardian, the Bath of the North becomes the Wisley of the North. The ‘squares’ are all kinds of shapes; from above they look like a geometrician’s sampler. Ronald Searle’s wonderful illustrations for the Molesworth books come irresistibly to mind.

Valley Gardens blends floral and sulphuric Harrogate. Beautifully laid-out and maintained, the park claims 36 springs of which “no two are exactly alike in chemical composition”. More active visitors will find a paddling pool, skate park, tennis, crazy golf and pitch-and-putt. For walkers, there’s a route through Pinewoods to RHS Harlow Carr – it takes about an hour.

Back at the town end, in what was known as Low Harrogate, the Royal Pump Room Museum stands at the entrance to Valley Gardens. As a museum it’s modest but very distinctive; not many museums announce themselves first to your nose. The Pump Room is built around the Old Sulphur Well, otherwise known as the Stinking Spaw.

This being Yorkshire, the museum naturally has an Egyptian section. Two local ‘collectors’ had associations with Flinders Petrie and Howard Carter. Most of the exhibits are small and charming, but a 3,000yr-old painted wooden coffin of a priest of Amun broods over the displays like a cigar-store Indian.

Other themes included shopping, the railway, treatments and, in the Pump Room, an exhibition of wedding dresses. The exhibits ran from 1870 to the present and there were many highlights. The 2008 Bra-ra dress, constructed by Julia Triston from 59 faded white and grey bras, was magnificent.

Along Swan Road from the museum is the Old Swan Hotel, where Agatha Christie turned up after going missing for 11 days in 1926. The Swan was known then as the Swan Hydropathic Hotel, and the writer chose to be known as Mrs Teresa Neele. It was an odd alias behind which to hide from those searching for her – Neele was the surname of the woman for whom Archie Christie left his wife, precipitating her furtive flight to Yorkshire. A nervous breakdown was suspected; two doctors diagnosed amnesia; and some thought it a publicity stunt or perhaps a classic red herring.

Harrogate Serena Partridge silk embroidery
Detail from Serena Partridge’s silk gloves, embroidered with Harrogate landmarks

Also on Swan Road is the Mercer Art Gallery. At Easter 2019 the two exhibitions were Linescapes, by digital artist Ian Mitchell, and Views of Harrogate from various sources. The Views were much the more interesting and included material the Royal Pump Room would no doubt have been pleased to display, if it had the space. Two embroidered silk gloves by Serena Partridge were particularly impressive and surprising, as was the note explaining the inspiration for them – from Dickens, no less, who wrote: “Harrogate is the strangest place with the queerest people in it, leading the oddest lives of dancing, newspaper reading and dining.”

Other images on view were similarly unconventional: Matthew Ellwood, portrayor of places as towers, has Harrogate and Knaresborough among his subjects. Musical associations were represented by displays relating to Harrogate’s hosting of the Eurovision Song Contest in the days (1982) when Britain performed respectably; and in even earlier times – 8 March 1963, to be precise – the Town Hall hosted “The Sensational Beatles (‘Recording stars of Please Please Me’)”.

Harrogate Montpellier Quarter Bettys Tea Room
“Then you’re into the Montpellier Quarter and Harrogate languorously unfurls its petals”

Sumptuous posters from the Golden Age of rail travel made Linescapes, the products of more recent times, difficult to like. Both exhibitions will have been rotated by the now; there will be something else on the walls. Perhaps drawing and colouring-in (as long as nothing complicated like shading is required) will be among the tasks taken over by robots, leaving us free to explore our creativity in other ever-diminishing areas.

Harrogate’s contemporary spa, the Turkish Baths, must remain unexplored. The proprietors recommend you allow 1½ to 2hrs, and we were running short of time. Instead, we visited Hales Bar, which claims to be Harrogate’s oldest pub. It certainly had some of Harrogate’s oldest drinkers but was welcoming, atmospheric and full of character.

The football match confirmed Harrogate Town’s place in the National League play-offs at the end of their first season at this level. High stakes and bright sunshine prompted a large turn-out; it apparently took the catering manager by surprise, and we counted ourselves lucky to be able to sustain ourselves at half-time with the most unpleasant cheese pasty in the history of the world.

Harrogate Town 2 Gateshead 0
CNG Stadium, 22 April 2019

Carlisle News & Star

This is the text of a feature written by Roger Lytollis for the Carlisle News & Star. Thank you, Roger…

By the time you read this, it’s likely that the hundreds of Carlisle United fans travelling to their team’s first match of the season will have arrived in Devon.

For most of them the trek to Exeter – a 693-mile round trip from Carlisle – will have ended in late morning or early afternoon.

The traditional away match experience involves finding a pub for a meal and a drink then walking to the ground.

Watch the game, return to the car or train, and go home.

Carlisle’s season ends at Yeovil next May. Before then there will be many more hours on motorways and trains for 90 minutes of football which may not always seem worth the effort.

David Guest believes there is another way. His new book, Towns of Two Halves, urges football fans to make more of their away days.

Arrive earlier. Leave later. Consider making a weekend of it by visiting local attractions.

“Accidental tourism,” David calls it.

“The idea of the book is quite recent – the last couple of years,” he says. “The idea of treating away days as a tourist goes back to the early years of this century. It began to bother me that I was wasting a lot of my life watching Oldham Athletic in far-flung places.”

A similar concern may possibly have crossed the minds of Carlisle supporters.

David, a journalist for more than 35 years, has visited all 92 clubs in the Football League and Premier League. Most of his visits are recent enough to provide a useful guide to these towns for football fans.

A few are as far back as the 1960s. These chapters are more of a memoir, with up-to-date information about the towns’ attractions available on his book’s website.

David moved from Oldham when he was a child and now lives in Hertfordshire. He came to Carlisle in April 2014 to see Oldham take on United, and was pleasantly surprised by the Border City.

In fact he says Carlisle – along with Exeter – is the place he enjoyed most. He is particularly enthusiastic about Tullie House, the cathedral and Rickerby Park.

“I’d like to blow Carlisle’s trumpet a bit more,” he says. “The variety on offer. The historic buildings. The green spaces. I like places where there’s always something happening. I remember walking back down to the railway station on Sunday morning and seeing people abseiling off the Civic Centre.”

Other largely unsung places which David liked include Burton, Hull, Newport and Grimsby. The latter pair are in League Two along with Carlisle.

“Grimsby surprised me. It was more interesting than I had expected. The same with Newport. I visited some Roman remains there in case there was nothing else to write about. But in the end it was a long chapter.”

Morecambe is among the other towns in Carlisle’s division which David enjoyed. This season United play there on New Year’s Day: perhaps not the best time to stroll along its seafront.

David acknowledges that any away-match tourist’s schedule is likely to be dictated by the time of year the fixture is played.

“A lot of the book might come across as a bit highbrow with visits to museums etc. But it’s a largely winter-based season. You’re going to want to be indoors more often than not. I hope there’s enough variety.

“One of the points I’m trying to make in the book is that anywhere can be a tourist destination. That said, I suppose I’d have to admit that Exeter has a bit more to offer than, say, Nailsworth [home of Forest Green Rovers] or Oldham.

“To spend a full weekend in Oldham you’d be struggling. There are country parks, a good museum at Saddleworth. And Manchester’s on your doorstep.”

David advises anyone attending a match at Milton Keynes Dons to visit nearby Bletchley Park: once the home of World War Two code-breakers.

Some away days include experiences which cannot be planned. A trip to Ipswich in 1991 comes to David’s mind.

He visited the town with his now ex-wife under the guise of a walking holiday. Oh, and Oldham just happened to be playing there. They watched the match and, next day, did the walking part of their weekend. This took them into a field where their path was blocked by a drainage ditch which ‘looked jumpable’.

David writes: ‘I went first and cleared the hazard with feet to spare. L followed; but her approach lacked confidence. Her jump was more vertical than horizontal and she came down in middle of the ditch. I hauled her out to the accompaniment of some plain language. Her feet were soaked, as were her shorts to mid-thigh level, and frantic splashing left its mark elsewhere.’

Perhaps there are football fans whose tribal mentality means they see the homes of all opposing teams as the enemy: merely places for smash and grab raids with three points the booty.

For the sake of his book, and supporters’ wellbeing, David hopes they will set aside rivalries long enough to appreciate more than a pub and a football ground.

“Give yourself an extra few hours,” he says.

It may be harder for Carlisle fans to do this, considering how much time they already invest in following their team to distant towns.

Then again, maybe that means they should try to squeeze more than the match from those epic journeys.

David has been asked if there’s a market for a book treating football fans as tourists. He says: “There’s a trend in football towards gentrification which means the game is making itself more welcoming to families. Families need more to do than go to the pub. I’m hoping the book might be riding the beginning of a small wave.”

Then there’s the consolation, if your team loses, of having enjoyed a different kind of cultural experience.

Has football ever been the worst part of David’s away days?

“I still come away from a place feeling good if they’ve won,” he says. “And depressed if they’ve not.”

*Some of David Guest’s thoughts about Carlisle:

‘Carlisle shares its charms with you hesitantly, like a winsome spinster unsure of the effect she’s having. Perhaps the novelty of trying to attract visitors is too recent; Carlisle will have spent most of its history trying to fend them off.’

‘On the other side of the bridge that carries the A7 to Scotland there are more green spaces at Carlisle Cricket Club. A game was in progress and I stopped to have a drink and to enjoy the overlap in the seasons. On a warm, sunny evening, after the last football match of a successful campaign – relegation narrowly avoided once again – it was another fine advertisement for Carlisle.’

 

Carlisle United lost 3-1 at Exeter.

Wrexham

The Arc, a fine piece of public art by David Annand in bronze and stainless steel. The two figures are a miner and a steelworker and the Arc represents the Wrexham area’s industrial heritage.

Towards the end of the 2017/18 season, I planned to have Towns of Two Halves ready for the start of the following season. That timetable presented one significant difficulty: the precise composition of League 2. Although Macclesfield Town looked a good bet to be promoted as champions from the National League, any one of half a dozen other clubs might emerge from the play-offs to join them in League 2. By the time the identity of that successful club was known, the season would be over and there would be no home game for me to attend.

I looked at the National League table and considered journeys to Sutton, Aldershot, Dover and several others. It began to look like a lot of trouble just to preserve the integrity of the project. On the other hand, integrity is not a negligible quality. I made a start. Macclesfield had a home game against Barrow, and on the following day Wrexham played at home to Chester.

In the event luck was with me. Macclesfield duly won the league and Tranmere Rovers drew the winning ticket in the awful post-season lottery – Tranmere was the only ground I’d been to of the six teams involved in the play-offs. The book was duly printed with 92 authentic entries.

“I’d overlooked the possibility that the Wrexham v Chester local derby might require special security measures, among them a ban on ticket sales on the day’

Where Wrexham was concerned my luck was out – as was theirs. Wrexham didn’t even reach the play-offs. I’d also overlooked the possibility that the Wrexham v Chester local derby might require special security measures, among them a ban on ticket sales on the day. At other grounds I’d found ways round that sort of obstacle. For Wrexham against Chester I couldn’t be bothered. I had a look round the town and then went to pay a surprise second visit to the old friend whose hospitality I had enjoyed the previous night.

 

It being Sunday, Wrexham south of the railway station was fairly quiet (north of the station a steady stream headed for the football ground, closely watched by the constabulary). The Wrexham County Borough Museum was closed. If recent testimonials on TripAdvisor are any guide, that was a pity: it seems the museum is small but nicely-formed, and with very acceptable catering. Its collections centre has recently added Welsh football to its specialities.

It being Sunday, St Giles Church was very much open and welcoming. A service was finishing as I arrived and the congregation gathered for coffee and chat at the back of the church. I was mistaken for a parishioner. I was aware from another age that “the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous”, but the congregation was too generous and warm-hearted to let that stand in their way and I was shown round a church of which everyone was clearly proud.

St Giles dominates the landscape and is the largest medieval parish church in Wales. Size tends to draw the eye upward, and the angels in the roof of the nave may be the first remarkable feature you’ll notice. There are 16 of them, deployed like a mobile or some sort of dream-catcher, playing instruments or, so it is said, singing.

Above the chancel arch at the eastern end of the nave is another St Giles Special – an early 16th century wall-painting of the Day of Judgement, with souls rising from their coffins to present themselves to Christ, attended by the Virgin Mary and St John. This is called the Doom Painting.

Its position makes it difficult to see clearly. Closer to ground level, its subject is reproduced in another startling piece of art – the Myddleton Memorial, by Louis-François Roubiliac. Roubiliac worked in England and is variously known as a late Baroque or rococo sculptor. His memorial to Mary Myddleton, daughter of the lord of Chirk Castle, dates from the 18th century – Mary died in 1742. Elements of the piece are strictly classical: Mary, struggling to free herself from a shroud, is summoned from her coffin by a cherub with a trumpet. But the coffin is austerely geometric – it looks like a black skip. The device to the right might be an explosion of flames or a member of the lily family; similarly, the angelic brass-player may rest on clouds or smoke. Behind, fractured masonry resolves itself into a squat form of obelisk, providing an unsettling backdrop. You would have to imagine that the grieving father thought it was wonderful; it is, after all, still there.

St Giles has many other points of distinction: stained glass, a pre-Reformation lectern, a chapel for the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It is acknowledged to be among Wales’ finest where ecclesiastical architecture is concerned.

And it sounds one more unexpected historical echo. Outside the church, below the tower, is the grave of Elihu Yale. This Yale, though born in Boston in the North American colonies in 1649, was brought up in London and made his fortune (apparently through profiteering) with the East India Company. He returned to Britain in 1699 and retired to a mansion near Wrexham, in the land of his maternal forebears.

One of the things he spent his money on was a college in Connecticut, where money was needed for a new building. The building – and, later, the whole college – became known as Yale.

The verse Elihu Yale prepared for his memorial in Wrexham refers to “much good, some ill, he did”. The “ill” probably refers to an eastern branch of the slave trade in which, according to Wikipedia, Yale was active; then there was his association with Cotton Mather, bane of ‘witches’ in Salem but also a fundraiser for the aforementioned college. The verse goes on to hope that “all’s even, and that his soul thro’ mercy’s gone to Heaven”. Indeed.

In the church you’ll find a Wrexham Town Heritage Trail, which gives a brief history of the town and takes you around its points of interest. It is particularly well done, drawing attention to architectural and historical features. The Wynnstay Arms Hotel, for example, was by turns the home of a Jacobite secret society, a venue for bear-baiting and the birthplace of the Football Association of Wales.

The Heritage Trail includes the outlying Acton Park, former home of the infamous Judge Jeffreys and now a public park with a modern stone circle.

A minute’s walk from the south-western margin of the Heritage Trail’s map is Bellevue Park. This Edwardian park, refurbished for the millennium, is also well worth a look. The statue of Queen Victoria replaced an earlier memorial – a WWI tank – that was sold for scrap.

I did watch one sporting event while I was in Wrexham. The Wrexham Running Festival took place that day, and Martin Green won the marathon in just under 2hrs 39mins. The first woman home was Lindy-Lee Folscher in 3hrs 12mins.

Wrexham 2 Chester 0
Racecourse Ground, 11 March 2018

Chesterfield

‘Someone in a distant marketing department thought Chesterfield was the epitome of glamour’

‘Its careful drawing of riverside minarets and domes suggested yashmaks, houris and the dripping head of John the Baptist. It stopped just short of camels’

Chesterfield museum and art gallery www.chesterfield.gov.uk/museum

Chesterfield Parish Church crookedspire.org

Holmbrooke Valley Park www.holmebrookvalleypark.org.uk

Queens Park www.chesterfield.gov.uk

Sutton Scarsdale Hall www.english-heritage.org.uk

I have a soft spot for Chesterfield. During my many years as a smoker Chesterfield was my cancer-stick of choice.
It may have been the endorsements by Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Mays, Bob Hope, Tyrone Power, Ronald Reagan, Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and many more. It may have been the enticing promises of ‘No unpleasant after-taste’, ‘Cooler smoking’, ‘Man-size satisfaction’ and the astonishing assurance from the American medical fraternity – or, at least, that section of it represented by someone looking discouragingly like cub reporter Jimmy Olsen – that ‘Chesterfield is best for you’.
Or it may simply have been delight at the idea that someone in a distant marketing department thought Chesterfield was the epitome of glamour. Of all the brands competing for my addict’s mite, from the glittering yet cheap Embassy Gold to the vaguely patriotic Winston, this was the name that caught my eye and held my loyalty.
I don’t know whether Liggett & Myers still produce Chesterfields in packs of 20 (or, as I discovered in Australia, 30, where my daily consumption, attuned to a pack a day, effortlessly adjusted itself to a 50% increase in supply). If they do, the glamour of the modest Derbyshire town’s name will be offset today by a blank package embellished only by menacing warnings and pictures either of diseased body parts or a psychologically broken man trying to come to terms with erectile dysfunction. These anti-marketing devices would probably have increased my consumption as well. Anxiety is a powerful trigger where the committed smoker is concerned.
Besides, the packaging of the Chesterfields I smoked was risible. Its careful drawing of riverside minarets and domes suggested yashmaks, houris and the dripping head of John the Baptist. It stopped just short of camels. The general explanation for the name of the brand is that it has nothing to do with Derbyshire but derives from Chesterfield County, Virginia. Chesterfield County must have taken its name from somewhere not a million miles from the A61. It may have arrived in Virginia via an English milord (Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield actually), but he would have traced the title back to Derbyshire.
When I couldn’t find Chesterfields – as happened occasionally, since Chesterfields were a lower-league, minority-interest cigarette – I fell back on Winstons, but only Camels in an emergency. In a Sheffield newsagent’s once I drew blanks with both Chesterfield and Winston and, with a sigh, asked for a box of matches and a copy of the Guardian. “Aye,” said the shopkeeper, “tha’ll get a good smoke off that.”
The other reason for Chesterfield’s continuing appeal to my sense of nostalgia is that the Recreation Ground, Chesterfield, was where I became an Oldham Athletic supporter. This was the form teenage rebellion took in me with the 60s still a recent memory. Having supported my dad’s club, West Bromwich Albion, I decided it was time I found one of my own.
A home-town club was a slightly complicated option: I was born in the north Manchester mill town of Middleton, close to Oldham but not far from Rochdale or Bury either, and one branch of the family came from the Bolton area. A couple of weeks short of my 20th birthday and after a process akin to holding auditions, I made the short journey from Sheffield to Chesterfield and watched a rather dreary 1-0 win for the home side.
It was the worst football match I had watched in some time and the Oldham team looked inept. But the crowd was great fun and the famously dry northern sense of humour was in evidence. Most important, perhaps, that Oldham team contained one or two obvious and authentic characters, especially a tricky winger called Alan Groves.
Groves was the kind of player who was never content merely to beat a full-back if he could humiliate him as well. Passing to the full-back and then taking the ball off him, stopping as if to tie his bootlaces, explaining to the crowd what he was about to do, all these were part of Groves’ stock in trade.
Around Oldham he apparently became a familiar sight in a flashy car, sporting an afro and working his way through 80 cigarettes a day. Beyond football, he had the distinction – rare in any footballer, much less a Third Division one – of having featured in the Observer’s Quotes of the Week. Groves had married a 16-year-old girl who promptly left school to become his homemaker. The local education authority insisted she should still have been at school. Groves apparently replied to the effect that he didn’t care if she knew the date of the Battle of Hastings as long as she had his dinner on the table when he got home. Her father (her father! It was another era, just 45 years ago) was eventually fined £5.
Groves’ own story ended sadly: a very fit player, he died of heart failure at the age of 29.
What to do in Chesterfield, then? Gawp at the crooked spire, of course, and look round the museum and gallery. There are lovely parks and, in Sutton Scarsdale Hall, a fine old country seat to admire. But beware: a visit to Chesterfield might change your life.

Chesterfield 1 Oldham Athletic 0
Recreation Ground, 16 March 1974

Barnet

‘A recreation, with life-size bronze figures bending over charts, of the process by which movements of German aircraft were plotted’

Bentley Priory Museum bentleypriorymuseum.org.uk

Canons Park www.canonsparkfriends.org

RAF Museum Hendon www.rafmuseum.org.uk

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture moda.mdx.ac.uk

 

The Spitfire in front of Bentley Priory Museum was flown by Squadron Leader Cyril ‘Bam’ Bamberger, according to the sign.
“If you were called Cyril,” I said, “I suppose you’d probably welcome some sort of nickname.’
“Bam isn’t very creative, though, is it?” Keith said.
“Cheese,” I suggested.
“Double.”
“Ham.”
By now we were close to giddy, and the Hunnish seam of Cyril’s surname remained unmined. We were certainly in no state to enter a building within which people had done so much to preserve our freedoms, among them the freedom of men old enough to know better than to scoff.
The location of the museum was partly to blame. Its position inside a gated community had elevated our hackles, as sensitive to signs of privilege as buzzards to a thermal. A notice at the entrance had invited us to stop and call at security. That might cut some ice in Idle Valley when Philip Marlowe calls on the Wades, in The Long Goodbye, but we were having none of it in Stanmore in 2018. As we drove slowly up the drive, glancing around in case of pursuit by armed guards, we noticed that the large houses on the estate had their own gates. Doubly protected from the outside world the inhabitants might be imagined regaining their homes after a day at the coal face near Canary Wharf and heaving a sigh of relief at having survived another day in the dystopian present. I doubt the Harvester round the corner saw much of their business.
By the time we had parked and were approaching the neo-classical splendour of the Priory, inverted snobbery had us in its grip. Having made fun not, I hope, of Cyril but of the RAF’s affection for nicknames, we stopped to take some photographs and compose ourselves. When we presented ourselves at the ticket office we were being our age again and gained a senior’s discount as a result.
Bentley Priory was the headquarters of Fighter Command and the museum concentrates on the Battle of Britain. It evokes the period carefully. Labels are typewritten in scripts that use a capital I as a 1, and combine lower case ‘f’s in ligatures with ‘i’ and ‘l’. The tittle in the ‘i’, which is to say the dot, blends into the hood of the ‘f’, the overhanging part, and a single ‘glyph’ or character is formed. German, by coincidence, is full of such things.
Some of the rooms are more successful than others. You’re encouraged to start in the Abercorn Room, in which the history of the RAF at Bentley Priory is recorded. The view from the windows is outstanding. The Adelaide Room is enlivened by unexpected bas-reliefs in the moulding, in which infants misbehave in precocious ways. In one, a child clad in a sack points a rifle at a duck’s head at point-blank range; in another, a naked child swigs from a bottle or flask while his pudgy chum rolls out a barrel. According to the guide book the ceiling is “believed not to be the work of Sir John Soane” but may have been created to give the widow of William IV something to look at while she was laid up with dropsy.

‘The Spitfire in front of Bentley Priory Museum was flown by Squadron Leader Cyril ‘Bam’ Bamberger’

From the Rotunda things begin to pick up. Architecturally, the glass-domed ceiling on a circular room is a gem. As a display space it starts to bring home the extent of the RAF’s achievement in 1940. Its walls present images and memorabilia of The Few – pictures, artefacts (a four miles to an inch OS map, for example, of the type they were sent aloft with to find their way about). It is an excellent preparation for the more dramatic displays in Sir Hugh Dowding’s office and the Filter Room. This latter includes a recreation, with life-size bronze figures bending over charts, of the process by which movements of German aircraft were plotted and analysed and the results sent to fighter squadrons. “It looked like chaos, but it worked,” one veteran of the Filter Room recalled.
A couple of weeks before our visit, the newspapers had reported criticisms made by the German ambassador to the effect that the pro-Brexit movement (and by implication most of the UK) was still obsessed with WW2. To which, after a visit to Bentley Priory, you might take Basil Fawlty’s line: “You started it.”

Barnet’s ground is on the other side of Stanmore from the museum. We parked at Canons Park tube station and walked through Prince Edward playing fields to the Hive. We were spectators number 1,500 and 1,501.
As we were queuing at the ticket office a steward walked along the line asking if any of us would prefer the visiting supporters’ end. “The queue’s shorter there,” he explained. The informality of the suggestion appealed to us, and we posed as Accrington Stanley fans for the rest of the afternoon. Keith even got a chant of “Come on, Stanley” going at one uneventful point.
A Spurs fan, he took an indulgent view of the game. Still, he was impressed by the Gents and the absence of flat caps and he remarked on the number of attractive young couples. To that extent, Barnet is a sign of football to come.
Barnet’s modernity even extended to a form of context-sensitive advertising. When the physio sprinted on to attend to an injured player, a notice for Toshiba Medical (‘Official Medical Partner of Barnet FC’) flashed up on the big screen; when it looked as though the wet sponge would not do the job and the stretcher might be needed, the more dramatic BMI Hendon Hospital ad appeared.

The last time I was in this area, I was not very much younger than some of the men celebrated at Bentley Priory.
Towards the end of September 1972, the new school year began for my girlfriend at the establishment at the top of Canons Park. That was a week before I needed to go north for the start of my first university term. On two days that week I rode to Stanmore on my Triumph to collect her at the school gate.
The motorbike had a single arm kickstand so that, at rest, it leaned at a jaunty angle. I slouched against it with my legs at an opposing angle, crossed at the ankle, in a pose I imagined as pleasingly symmetrical with a hint of gravity defied.
I used a bottle of Coke – opened with very great care – as a prop to give me something to be doing with my hands. My hair, another potential problem, was shoulder-length and ill-kempt. A crash helmet was not yet a legal requirement but I needed one to be able to offer it to G. Wearing the helmet (purple sprinkled with silver stars) was the easiest way to transport it, but that flattened my hair into the semblance of a swimming cap. Strapping the helmet to the rack left my hair at the whim of the wind and resulted in rats’ tails. National Health Bakelite spectacles also let me down, I sensed. So much of the agony of first love is about appearances. I hoped that the girls streaming away from North London Collegiate would look at me and think of Peter Fonda. OMG, as they would no doubt say now.
When we rode off, then, we did so in second gear. This heightened the risk of stalling but it made the bike sound awesome. The Tigercub had a 200cc four-stroke engine; with two aboard, moving off in second gear, it sounded as though someone were hitting a galvanised metal wheelbarrow with a spade, rhythmically.
Was any of that what the Few fought for? What would Bam have made of it? Not much, I suspect. But would he have behaved similarly, given the chance?

Barnet 1 Accrington Stanley 1
The Hive, 17 February 2018