Sunday, April 30, 2017

Big Bill Broonzy: Trouble In Mind



Big Bill Broonzy played extensively in Europe in the 1950s and was an important influence on the 1960s generation of British musicians, both as a guitarist and a singer.

Martin Chilton tells the story of his early life:
Broonzy was born Lee Conley Bradley in Arkansas sometime around the end of the 19th century (his actual birth date is disputed), one of 17 children of sharecroppers. His musical career started by playing at local dances, using a fiddle made out of cigar boxes, but things were interrupted when he was drafted into the army and went off to fight in the First World War. He was sent to Brest in France and later recalled: “I didn’t know where I was going any more than a goat.” 
Broonzy’s experiences changed him and when he returned to America, he was unwilling to accept a life of rural drudgery and racial subservience. He was humiliated when an employer told him to take off his army clothes and put on overalls because the man didn’t want to see “a n----r wearing Uncle Sam’s uniform”. This incident was the spark that made him turn his anger into harder-edged music, and he wrote When Will I Get to Be Called a Man? 
Broonzy lived through terrible times, when black men were tarred, feathered and set alight. Grim observations from Broonzy’s diary (narrated by actor and musician Clarke Peters) are highlighted in the documentary: “You could kill a Negro and it meant no more to a white man than a mule.” 
He decided that life would be better in Chicago, where he worked in a foundry by day and sang at house parties by night. He recorded hundreds of blues songs but gradually realised that his chances of well-paid work lay in entertaining white audiences who wanted so-called “authentic” folk songs. A triumphant concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1938 was an important moment when Broonzy reached a wide, mainstream audience.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Hawkhurst Branch in 1958



Built on the cheap and opened as late as 1892, the Hawkhurst Branch ran through the orchard and hop country of Kent.

Plans for extensions to Tenterden, Appledore or Dungeness came to nothing and the line was thoroughly uneconomic when it closed in 1961.

Wikipedia records the intriguing detail that:
Elisabeth Beresford, who was subsequently well known as the creator of The Wombles, wrote a children's book Danger on the "Old Pull 'n Push" based on the Hawkhurst branch. 
Subsequently this was televised by Rediffusion for ITV in two six-part series The Old Pull 'n Push and Return of the old Pull 'n Push, shown in 1960-61. These were filmed on the Hawkhurst Line shortly before it closed.

John Rentoul joins Tessa Munt on the doorstep



John Rentoul has been down to Wells to meet Tessa Munt as she campaigns to win back the seat she lost two years ago:
She won the seat in the first place by a remarkable voter-contact effort. With a clicker counter in her pocket, she says she spoke to 49,500 voters in the five years before the 2010 election. 
The day after she lost the seat in 2015, she was back out on the doorstep, talking to people and trying to win it back. She has been working for two years for an election in 2020: the Prime Minister has just brought the target date forward. 
I followed her around for a morning’s canvassing and, even allowing for her choosing favourable territory for the benefit of a journalist, the results seemed promising for her. 
The church-going woman, who was worried that Farron might be homophobic, was reassured by Munt’s liberalism, and possibly by her exclaiming, “Such a good church!” (I checked in the pub whether Munt thought gay sex was a sin – “I’m afraid I don’t, no; it’s been going on for ever, hasn’t it?”) 
We came across several people who had voted Conservative in the past but who said they would now vote Lib Dem. All this was recorded on Munt’s iPad, a technology upgrade from her clicker.
The figures, including the current opinion polls, make this a steep hill to climb, but as Rentoul says:
If anyone can make a spectacular Lib Dem comeback, I suspect Tessa Munt can.

Charlie Cooke and Peter Osgood 47 years ago today



On 29 April 1970 Chelsea won the FA Cup for the first time in their history by beating Leeds 2-1 in a replay at Old Trafford.

This was the goal that brought the scores level and took the game into extra time. A sublime chip from Charlie Cooke and a diving header from Peter Osgood.

Cooke was my hero. In that age before replica kits, all it took was for your Mum to sew a number 7 on the back of a blue shirt and you were him,

Friday, April 28, 2017

Loughborough Derby Road and the power of hats


How many railway stations did Loughborough have?

There is the one on the Midland main line and the one on the now preserved Great Central, of course, but there used to be a third one, Loughborough Derby Road.

This was the terminus of the Charnwood Forest Railway, which ran as far as Coalville to tap the Leicestershire coalfield.

After an attempt to draw trippers to its forest locations, it closed to passengers on 13 April 1931 and to goods services on 12 December 1963.

Railway Maniac has a good page on its Loughborough terminus.

I was in the town last Saturday, but I was afraid I had left things too late. Back in December 2015 the Loughborough Echo reported that the last vestige of the station, its goods shed, faced demolition.

Having taking my time getting there, I was afraid I would be too late. But I was not. It was still there.

The photographs here show the goods shed, as well as the old station hotel. This, rather alarmingly, combines a funeral director’s premises with flats.

But I would not have been surprised if I had remembered that the Leicester Mercury once won my Headline of the Day Award with its ‘Plans to turn former Loughborough pub into mortuary with flats above’.

The site of the station itself must be occupied by a now disused filling station.

Finally, a note on the power of hats.

When I was in Finedon some years ago I was taken as a historian because of my flat cap.

At Loughborough two small boys approached me, called me "sir" and asked if I was an explorer. I think it was my straw hat.

They told me that homeless people were living in another disused industrial building on the site and showed me a hole in the fence. But I decided to leave any further exploring to them,

When I told this story at work someone, surprised by the "sir", suggested the boys had been ghosts. But I am almost certain he is wrong.





Two Conservative MPs forced to stand down



I have blogged several times about David Mackintosh the embattled Conservative MP for Northampton South.

The reasons his position has been under threat are given in this post, though I should emphasise that Mr Mackintosh has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

And recently his constituency party has turned against him.

Last night came the news that Mackintosh has decided to stand down and so will not be fighting the seat on 8 June.

So well done to Northampton South Conservatives for forcing his hand.

Then today we heard that Andrew Turner, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, will not be standing then either.

As the Isle of Wight County Press tells it:
Andrew Turner has stepped down as Isle of Wight MP after an outcry over alleged comments about the LGBTQ community to a group of Christ the King College students earlier today (Friday). 
Mr Turner had been due to be re-selected this afternoon until a decision by the Tories to delay the process to avoid confusion with next week's local elections. 
But he faced mounting pressure to go, after students spoke out about alleged comments made by Mr Turner during an A Level politics class, in which they said he called homosexuality 'dangerous to society' and 'wrong.'
So it looks as though the hounding of Tim Farron over his views on the sinfulness of being gay and of gay sex has netted a victim in the shape of a Tory MP.

I hope the backwoods Tory councillor from round here who took to Twitter to display a hitherto unsuspected interest in the subject of gay sex is happy with this outcome.

Six of the Best 687

Nick Tyrone argues that the reappearance of Zac Goldsmith will make it easier for the Liberal Democrats to hold Richmond.

"English thinkers and statesmen turned their backs on the task of elaborating and constructing a viable and vibrant national identity. For if the right people do not do it, the wrong ones will.  They seem, in fact, to be very much at it now." Krishan Kumar examines English identity through English literature.

Maya Kosoff on a plan to turn Twitter into a user-owned cooperative.

"What do Catholic school girls and Joseph Stalin have in common? They've worn a uniform to conserve their mental energy for a higher purpose than just fashion." Rebecca Huval debates the cultural significance of all dressing alike.

"The New Statesman recently interviewed Ray Davies, who’s still an iconoclast: 'I think of the Sixties as black and white but the Fifties as colour,' he said." Alex Abramovich discusses decades and their colours.

In a podcast, John Savage talks about some films shot around Ladbroke Grove. They include The Blue Lamp, Sapphire and Seven Days to Noon.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sir Edward Garnier is to stand down as MP in Harborough

Dan Martin, the Leicester Mercury's political correspondent, has just tweeted this:
Why he linked to a tweet about Ainsley Harriott I do not know (unless it is a hint about the identity of the likely successor as Tory candidate).

I blogged about today's speculation over Sir Edward's future earlier.

Many Conservatives with less talent had longer front-bench careers, but perhaps he was limited by being interested only in the government law offices. It would have been hard to imagine Sir Edward as minister for fish.

His majority at the last election was a massive 19,632, which will attract every pushy young Tory in the country.

But we Lib Dems remember that in 2005 it was only 3892.

Street Name of the Week comes from Loughborough


Speeds Pingle? Me neither.

Talking of street names, "jitty" is a good Leicestershire word meaning ally but you don't often see it on signs.

I came across two examples in Loughborough.


Rachel Johnson: Some groundless speculation



Rachel Johnson, the journalist and sister of the government ministers Boris the Mugwump and Jo, has joined the Liberal Democrats in protest against Tory support for Brexit.

The Guardian says she has "toyed with the idea of running as a Lib Dem candidate for a West Country seat".

As the paper goes on to note, two prime Liberal Democrat targets - Yeovil and Bath (on whose politics I am an acknowledged expert) - have lost their candidates in recent days.

This may be putting two and two together and making five, and I am sure there are any number of good local councillors eyeing those seats.

But if we are to unite the Remain vote and turn it into a force in Westminster elections, we are going to have to win over a lot of moderate Conservatives.

It makes you think.

Is Edward Garnier about to stand down as MP for Harborough?

Later: Yes.

There has been speculation today about the future of Sir Edward Garnier, the Conservative MP for Harborough.

It seems to have originated  from this tweet by the chief political correspondent of Sky News:
The local press picked up the story, with the Leicester Mercury adding:
Local sources ... have suggested the veteran Conservative and former solicitor general will not seek re-election. 
The Mercury contacted Sir Edward to ask him if it was correct that he intended not to stand again. 
The MP, who backed the UK's continuing membership of the EU, declined to comment.
But are we getting excited over nothing? A BBC political reporter has tweeted:
While we wait for his decision, here are Sir Edward's views on Europe.

Lembit Opik to become a dad at 52 despite fears serious impaling accident had left ex-MP sterile

The Daily Mirror wins our Headline of the Day Award with this heart-warming tale.

I hear that the judges also liked the detail that Lembit and Sabina Vankova "met in July 2015, at a party to celebrate Tim Farron’s election as Lib Dem leader".

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lib Dems choose candidate to follow John Pugh in Southport



Sue McGuire, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on Sefton Council, has been selected by the party to fight for Southport, reports the Southport Visiter.

The seat is currently held for the Lib Dems by John Pugh.

While we wonder why the paper has that odd name, let's enjoy this old railway poster.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Liberal Democrats eye Lewes and Eastbourne



An article for the Independent by Ben Westwood is bullish about the Lib Dems' prospects of regaining Lewes and Eastbourne.

He talks about the local issues beyond Brexit:
Health and social care, the number one issue in a BBC poll at the last election, is top of the list. The Government’s decision to move maternity services from Eastbourne to Hastings was deeply unpopular, while Lewes suffers from having no hospital – patients have to travel miles to Brighton, Haywards Heath or Eastbourne. Adult social care is also under immense pressure from a Conservative-led East Sussex County Council that aims to save £56 million over the next three years. 
Transport has become a pressing issue in both constituencies recently with Southern Fail consistently failing to deliver anything approaching an adequate train service in the face of strikes. It has reached crisis point in the past year and there is huge anger from thousands of commuters at a Government that steadfastly and inexplicably supports the rail operator, paying ticket refunds out of taxpayers’ money. 
On all these issues incumbent Conservative MPs Caroline Ansell and Maria Caulfield are vulnerable. They claim to understand people’s concerns but cannot escape the fact that their party is pushing through cuts to everything from disability payments to widow’s benefits, and from schools to hospitals, while supporting big business over local people when voting for fracking on our Downs.
All politics is local, as Tip O'Neill once said.

The mystery of the disappearing Tory leader


Last week, as the local elections approached, a mystery gripped Leicestershire.

Where was Nick Rushton, leader of county's ruling Conservative group?

Some said he was in Norfolk. Others said he was in California.

He certainly didn't seem to be in Leicestershire.

As the the Leicester Mercury told it:
Coun Rushton's absence was noted when deputy council leader Byron Rhodes attended a BBC Radio Leicester discussion to which all the council's political party leaders were invited. Coun Rhodes told the Mercury: 
"He's having an Easter break. What's wrong with that? 
"I'm looking after things here. He's still in contact. "They (the Lib Dems) are being outrageous. Nick is getting the job done." 
The Mercury has made a number of calls to speak directly to Coun Rushton but has only received a text message in response.

Richard Jefferies Society and White Horse Bookshop Literary Prize


Each year the Richard Jefferies Society and the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough award a prize to the author of the publication considered by their judging panel to be the most outstanding nature writing published that year.

The winning work, say the rules for the prize, will reflect the heritage and spirit of Jefferies’ countryside books.

The Richard Jefferies Society website has the shortlist for this year's prize:

  • The Nature of Autumn, by Jim Crumley, published by Saraband.
  • The Running Hare, by John Lewis-Stempel, published by Doubleday.
  • Six Facets of Light, by Ann  Wroe, published by Jonathan Cape.
  • Walking Through Spring, by Graham Hoyland, published by William Collins.
  • The Wood for the Trees, by Richard Fortey, published by William Collins.

The winner will be decided at the Richard Jefferies Society's executive council meeting on 13 May.

What a cheek! Harborough Conservatives use an image from this blog in an election leaflet

Take a look at the image above.

It is part of a leaflet that the Conservatives are currently delivering in one of the Market Harborough wards as part of their campaign for next month's Leicestershire County Council elections.

A sharp-eyed reader has pointed out to me that the photograph of the 'Welcome to Market Harborough' sign has been lifted from this blog.

You can find in my post The Great Market Harborough Gas Leak of 2016 on 13 May 2016.

Here it is again:

And if you are wondering where I got it from, it was cropped out of a slightly larger photo I took on 9 July 2011:


If any Conservative activists are reading this, please ask my permission before you use my photographs.

If it is for an election leaflet I will say no, but if it for some other purpose that will benefit the community then I am open to the idea.

And ask someone to brief you on the basics of copyright law before you run into someone who is less forgiving than I am.

Later. I have received a gracious, though private, apology from the candidate. I am still waiting for an explanation of how the photograph came to be used.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Herbert Morris buildings, Empress Road, Loughborough


I love this range of old industrial buildings and the way the curve of them closes off the view along Empress Road.

But they won't be there much longer. The Loughborough Echo reported last September that the authority has given permission for them to be demolished for new housing.

So they survived a Zeppelin raid but not Charnwood Borough Council.

At least the cross in the road that marks the raid is still there. And I was pleased to find an Edward VII pillar box that must have witnessed it.



Meeting to decide David Mackintosh's future will take place at... Sixfields Stadium



We knew that, in his effort to be reselected as the Conservative candidate for Northampton South. David Mackintosh MP faced a meeting on 2 May.

There will be a vote on him by his constituency executive that day and, if he loses it, one by the whole membership too.

What we didn't know was the venue of the meeting.

Thanks to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo we now know it will be at the Sixfields Stadium - the home of the town's football club.

Given that it is the controversy over a loan made by the council, while Mackintosh was its leader, to Northampton Town for improvements to the stadium that has led to his difficulties with his own party, there is a pleasing irony in this.

Meanwhile, ITV News quotes a police statement:
A dedicated team of full-time investigators, accountants and analysts‎ continue to independently assess the grant, use and the loss of millions of pounds of public money. 
We are committed to thoroughly and objectively investigating this matter, which includes evaluating and investigating every allegation which may have a bearing on events. 
This is a complex investigation involving multiple allegations and counter allegations and it is important to remember that neither criminal nor financial liability will diminish with time.
It also quotes Mr Mackintosh saying he welcomes the investigation and has done nothing wrong.

Lord Bonkers and the Ukip gorilla lady

A Ukip candidate in Glasgow says she is sexually attracted to gorillas.

I don't know how this will go down with the voters, but I am reminded of a post on this blog by Lord Bonkers.

Explaing a viral video of a gorilla at Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire apparently dancing, he wrote:
There is nothing the older residents of the Bonkers Estate enjoy more than the tea dances I host at the village hall. 
However, we have a problem. The toll taken by the local industries of Stilton mining and pork pie production mean that many more ladies than gentlemen survive to enjoy an active retirement. 
A couple of years ago the ladies prevailed upon me to provide them with more dancing partners. After no little thought, the solution sprang upon me: train the gorillas at Twycross Zoo. 
This initiative has proved a great success. When I proposed it some warned me of the danger of ravishment, but I am happy to report that to date no gorilla has complained of molestation.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

North Woolwich to Palace Gates


Some wonderful footage of East London and its railways in 1960.

Leicester Tories to target Liz Kendall (with swords and sandals)


The Leicester Mercury tells us that the Conservatives have yet to select their candidates for the three city constituencies:
However the Mercury understands a number of Tory hopefuls would like a crack at Leicester West where Labour's Liz Kendall will defend a 7,000 majority. 
Leicester branch chairman Jack Hickey, who has said he will not seek to become a candidate himself, said: "West is the target. It's where we think we can do well. 
"We are huge underdogs. We are outnumbered, we are outmatched but we are like the 300 Spartans. 
"We are fewer but we are better."
All rather fanciful, particularly as West was the one Leicester seat the Tories failed to win in 1983.

But it does give me an excuse to use this photograph of a Loughborough chip shop I took yesterday.

Former transport minister Norman Baker has his own bus company

Many former Liberal Democrat MPs are working hard to win their seats back on 8 June.
.
But, reports Mark Leftly in the Guardian, Norman Baker has other plans:
Rather than knocking on doors, Baker will be taking delivery of Britain’s first electric-powered bus on Monday. Last month, he became managing director at the Big Lemon, a 10-year-old, eco-friendly bus operator in Brighton, where its single-deckers run on cooking oil – 112 tonnes of fat was used to fuel 16 buses and coaches for nearly 220,000 miles last year. 
Partly through crowdfunding and two-year bonds of £100 each to the local community, the Big Lemon last year raised £250,000 to convert two 25-seater buses to run on electricity deriving from solar power. More than 120 panels have been installed on the depot in Brighton, where the buses will be charged at night.
Nor is Norman neglecting his music career:
As well as promoting his buses, Baker hosts local radio shows on Sundays and Mondays that play music from the past 100 years and obscure B-sides from the 1960s. Music rather than politics is Baker’s first love. 
He was once a regional director for Our Price and has been lead singer “on and off” of the Reform Club for 23 years. Indeed, when Cable and Davey are hitting the doorsteps on Saturday, Baker will be singing outside the Pump House pub near Brighton pier.
You can hear the Reform Club elsewhere on this blog.

Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart: Up Above My Head



The rot set in with Sailing in 1975, but before that the Faces were a great band and in the Sixties Rod the Mod was something of a counter culture figure.

This was his first record, made in 1964. If he was meant to be backing Long John Baldry, it turned into more of a duet.

There's more Long John Baldry on this blog, as well as a glimpse of Rod Stewart in 1965 and a nice anecdote about his In a Broken Dream.

Taylor's Bell Foundry, Loughborough


There has, rightly, been a lot of attention paid to the campaign to save the Whitechapel Bell Foundry,

But there is another working bell foundry in England and it is here in Leicestershire. Wikipedia tells its story:
John Taylor & Co, commonly known as Taylor's Bell Foundry, Taylor's of Loughborough, or simply Taylor's, is the world's largest working bell foundry. It is in Loughborough, in the Charnwood borough of Leicestershire, England. The business originated in the 14th century and became Taylor's after the Taylor family took over in 1784. 
In 2009 Taylors went bankrupt but was bought out of administration by a consortium called UK Bellfoundries Ltd which successfully re-financed and re-established the business. Since then the company has re-established its presence both in the UK and in the North American Carillon and other export markets. 
The company manufactures bells for use in clock towers, rings of bells for change ringing, chimes, and carillons ...
The Foundry has a museum of bells and bellfounding which is the only one of its kind in the UK. The restoration of the foundry buildings began with the re-opening in 2012 of the foundry's own Campanile which contains the most-pealed bells in the World. It is one of the few Victorian purpose-built manufacturing sites still being used for its original purpose and therefore of considerable heritage merit.
I went to Loughborough today to photograph the site. The museum is currently closed, but the company website says that tours can still be arranged.

And the council flats that surround it can hear the quarters being chimed.







Saturday, April 22, 2017

In which I become an expert on politics in Bath



General Election 2017: Bath is one of the best chances of success for a Lib Dem MP

says the headline on a Bath Chronicle story.

And who's this quoted below it?
The small swing puts Bath at number 12 on Election Polling's list of top target seats for the Lib Dems. 
But Lib Dem blogger Jonathan Calder thinks Bath should be higher on the list. 
"I'd say with Bath's history it's probably better than number 12," said Mr Calder, who is behind the Liberal England blog. 
"I think Bath is in the top 10 and, with its history, that's quite achievable, but I'm a Lib Dem so I'm biased."
The Chronicle journalist had seen my post on the top 20 Lib Dem targets on 8 June and got in touch.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hallaton Bottle Kicking 2017


A slideshow of this ancient Leicestershire custom courtesy of Getty Images.

Sir Edward Garnier makes the case against leaving the EU


Sir Edward Garnier has confirmed that he will be seeking re-election in Harborough on 8 June.

Which makes it worth revisiting a post on his website in which he made the case for remaining in the European Union.

Speaking the day before the referendum, Sir Edward said:
The Conservative Party has built its reputation on economic stability that will be the foundation of our ability to govern successfully over the next four years. We cannot afford to put the British people's hard-won economic security at risk by leaving the EU. A vote to Remain is about safeguarding jobs and our nation's prosperity. 
'The bosses of more than half of Britain’s largest companies have urged voters to back Remain - 1,285 business leaders who together employ 1.75 million people – including more than 9000 small and medium-sized firms and over half of the FTSE 100 – have written to the Times as follows: 
"Britain leaving the EU would mean uncertainty for our firms, less trade with Europe and fewer jobs. Even those that want Britain to leave say that, in the short term, Brexit would lead to economic uncertainty and would put jobs at risk. Smaller businesses and the people they employ are particularly vulnerable to any economic shock that could follow a vote to leave."(Times, 22 June 2016, link). 
Edward Garnier comments: 
'This is a major intervention which confirms that the overwhelming majority of British Business – large and small – back remaining in the European Union. The Leave campaign cannot name any economic experts that support their vision for quitting the world’s largest single market which would damage our economy, lead to job losses and higher prices. 
I urge the people of the East Midlands, Leicestershire and the Harborough constituency to Vote Remain for more jobs, lower prices, stronger public services and a decent, tolerant United Kingdom. If we vote to leave, there is no going back. Don't risk it.’ 
Apologies for quoting at such length, but I agree with Sir Edward.

Now Theresa May has called an election in which she will make precisely the opposite case.

Sir Edward has the seniority and the courage to say what he really believes, just as Kenneth Clarke will. I hope Sir Edward will too.

David Mackintosh under more pressure in Northampton South

The Northampton Chronicle has the latest on this saga:
A senior Conservative has confirmed she would not support David Mackintosh's bid to run again in June's General Election due to his handling of the Sixfields saga. 
Former Northampton Borough Council leader, Councillor Mary Markham, also confirmed Mr Mackintosh has been summoned to address the Northampton South Conservative Association early next month.  
At that meeting, which will take place on 2 May, Mackintosh could face two votes, If he failed to win the approval of the constituency party's executive committee the question would go to a secret ballot of its members,

The report goes on to give Mary Markham's reasons for not supporting Mackintosh:
Councillor Markham said she would not be supporting him due to the way she says he handled criticism of his involvement in the failed Sixfields loan saga. 
She said: "I urged David Mackintosh publicly some months ago to be more accountable, not just to the association management committee, but to his electorate too. 
"I asked him to answer their questions and be more representative. 
"I haven't seen any evidence of that since," she said.
Elsewhere, Guido Fawkes says two other Conservative MPs may struggle to be reselected: Alan Haselhurst in Saffron Walden and Jack Lopresti in Filton and Bradley Stoke.