northernvicarwalks December 2020

The November lockdown made zero difference as so many things remained opened, government is incompetent, test and trace is a complete failure, and the virus has become more efficient. The death toll is horrendous, yet crowds still gather outside hospitals refusing to believe we have a problem and refusing to wear their masks. We ended December in “Tier Four Stay at Home”, so we’ll see if that makes any difference.

In some ways it was quite nice not to be so busy in December, but I missed the music, the crowds and the celebrations. We produced a Zoom service every Sunday and on Christmas Day, did a Christmas video – – and had small services every Sunday. I made lots of phone calls, sent Christmas cards, and Rambled on Facebook every day.

At the end of November I had walked 476 miles, and I managed 40 this month. Much of it was round Kedleston. We were doing the whole of the Long Walk which is about three miles round in a circle. However as the weather has got damper Morgan the powerchair struggles with the meadows in front of the house. So now we walk up and round the back of the house, down to the Splash Pool, then turn round and go back, so that’s five miles in all.

We also managed some walks around Allestree, delivering Christmas cards and admiring the Nativity Scene outside Broadway Baptist Church. So I end the year at 516 miles – I am a Proclaimer, but not much more.

Posted in 1,000 mile walking, Derbyshire, National Trust | Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s Henry IV part II

New Year’s Eve, so let’s lie on the sofa and go back to 1403, after the Battle of Shrewsbury. In this play we have the death of Henry IV, which didn’t actually happen until 1413, but who cares if we condense a decade into one play. Or perhaps I am just going back to when the play was written, probably sometime between 1596 and 1599. Even if we just go back to 2012 when “Hollow Crown” was produced as part of the BBC’s Olympic celebrations, I can’t help thinking that the world was a happier place eight years ago – even this miserable, non-sporty human being was caught up in the excitement of welcoming the world to London 2012.

I said I had done Henry IV part II for A level, but I can’t say I remembered it. We move from the fleshpots of Eastcheap to the Court (which, the extras tell me, was filmed in St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. We haven’t been there for 20 years or so, so it’s another place to visit in 2021). We also march through the wintry countryside (why is it always winter for Richard Eyre the director?) – it amazes me that a bunch of soldiers going down a narrow bridleway through the forest suddenly meet another bunch of soldiers going in the other direction because the narrow bridleway is obviously the A1. I’m sure medieval roads were better than that.

Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet returned, played by Julie Walters and Maxine Peake – there is a touching scene between Doll and Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale). When he rolls off muttering “too old”, you feel for him. Indeed by the end of the play I felt very sad for him – “I know thee not, old man” is a very public rejection. Yet you also see him lying and cheating, and taking the life savings from Justice Shallow – he is not a nice man.

Henry (Jeremy Irons) is obviously a very ill man. He is a king who is still not at ease with his crown and the way he gained it. Prince Hal (Tom Hiddlestone) is fast becoming king – too fast at one point – and there is fascinating interplay between them.

The roles of the courtiers are not particularly large, though Geoffrey Palmer is an excellent Lord Chief Justice (we met him once at the Helmsdale Museum in northern Scotland – on another wonderful holiday).

The rebels have better parts – the Archbishop of York is one of those arrested (he is played by Nicholas Jones, one of those actors you recognise from lots of things).

Northumberland makes a brief appearance before he escapes to Scotland. His wife is played by Niamh Cusack, and Michelle Dockery makes a brief appearance (far too brief) again as the widowed daughter-in-law.

The writer of the Nottingham blog – – says this is a dull production. He says it lacks humour, and he could well be right. Even the scene when Shallow and Falstaff are recruiting soldiers has few laughs – despite their names and physical characteristics. Nor is there any humour when Hal and Poins spy on Falstaff and Doll.

The film is beautifully filmed, beautifully acted, and it will be fascinating to watch it on stage at some point. We’ve never seen it on stage, but have different versions on DVD. We’ll see how long lockdown goes on for.

Posted in Shakespeare | Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s Henry IV part I

If memory serves, I did Henry IV part I for O level and part II for A level, but that was many years ago. Despite the passage of time I can still remember Miss Williamson and Mr Roberts, two of my English teachers. I think it was her first job out of College, while he had been teaching for many years. I remember writing essays on “Honour”, “Hal’s relationship with Falstaff”, and various other topics – indeed I was pleasantly surprised how much of the play I remembered. Julie doesn’t think we’ve ever seen it on stage.

Henry IV had deposed Richard II in 1399 – then Richard died in Pontefract the following year. Richard was only 33 – the same age as Henry. This play covers less than a year – it starts with Hotspur’s battle at Homildon in Northumberland against Douglas late in 1402 and ends with the defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury in the middle of 1403. Despite living in Northumberland for seven years, I had to look Homildon up – it is just north of Wooler on the A697, so I have driven past it. I have also driven past the site of the Battle of Shrewsbury on several occasions – but have never stopped and visited the Battlefield Church (Churches Conservation Trust). The battle took place in June, but this version of the play set it in the depths of winter – all snow and mud, very atmospheric, beautifully filmed, and a reminder (if one were needed) that medieval warfare was extremely brutal.

We watched the BBC “Hollow Crown” 2012 version again, with Jeremy Irons playing Henry. In 2012 he was 20 years old than the real Henry, and comes across as the old king with a rebellious youth as a son. Prince Hal is played by Tom Hiddlestone, and he is as confident in the taverns and bawdy houses as he is in the court itself.

Mistress Quickly (Julie Walters, l.), Doll Tearsheet (Maxine Peake)

He shares one life with Sir John Falstaff (played superbly by Simon Russell Beale), with Maxine Peake as Doll Tearsheet and Julie Walters as Mistress Quickly. The “I know you all” soliloquy is spoken in voiceover as he walks through the tavern away from Falstaff, nodding and smiling at the patrons and people in the street while the sadness in his eyes reflect his thoughts (I’m sure I had to write an essay on that).

Life in court is more formal. There is an excellent blog on the play at, and I rather hope that would tell me where it was filmed. Henry tears a strip off his son at the beginning, and the two have a fascinating relationship. Henry Percy, Hotspur, is played by Joe Armstrong – I had to look him up, and then realised how much he’s been in. His father Northumberland is played by Alun Armstrong (“Prime Suspect”). A bit more research needs doing on these various Dukes of Northumberland and their castles – I have never visited Alnwick and it is many years since I’ve been to Wirksworth.

Hotspur’s wife, Kate Percy, is played by Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary of Downton Abbey). The Nottingham blog writer is disturbed by the power-play and violence in their relationship – my only comment is that if I were sharing my bed with Lady Kate, I would not be in a hurry to leave it and go to war. Alex Clatworthy plays Lady Mortimer (I can’t find a photo of her in this production) and sings quite beautifully in Welsh – she is a native of Llandaff, studied in Cambridge and then at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Doing a bit of research I find that Catrin, Lady Mortimer, was one of the children of Owain Glyndŵr. In November 1402 she married Edmund Mortimer. He died in the siege of Harlech Castle in 1409 and his wife and daughters were taken to the Tower of London. After her death shortly afterwards she was buried at St Swithin’s church which stood on the north side of Cannon Street, and there is a memorial to her there. Going back to Lady Kate Percy, she was also called Elizabeth Mortimer. Hotspur was her first husband. After his death in battle she had to cope with being the wife of a rebel – later she married Thomas de Camoys, 1st Baron Camoys, and had ten years with him. He commanded one of the wings of the English army at Agincourt (but we’ve got Henry IV part II to get through before we get to Henry V). I am going to suggest someone could write a mini-series called “Wives of the Hollow Crown” – I’d watch it (especially if Michelle Dockery and Alex Clatworthy were in it).

These lives are fascinating, and Shakespeare weaves them all together. Part II is still to come!

Posted in Shakespeare | Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s Richard II

We have several versions of “Richard II”, so we decided to watch the BBC Hollow Crown version of 2012, directed by Rupert Goold. I recognised St David’s Cathedral (where we had a lovely holiday when the kids were small), checked and found it was Pembroke Castle (last visited when I was a lad), and knew I’d seen the amazing topiary somewhere (Packwood House, visited last year). We are a long way from the stage of the Globe.

Apparently the earliest recorded performance of Richard II was a private one, in Canon Row, the house of Edward Hoby, on 9 December 1595. The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 29 August 1597 by the bookseller Andrew Wise. One day I will read more about Shakespeare’s life and how these plays came to be produced and printed. Richard II was king 1377-1399, and this play covers the last couple of years of his reign, and his deposition. Again, I need to re-read the history – I know the Peasants’ Revolt is 1381, but I would have struggled to name the King.

I have recently done a course on the history of Art from The National Gallery, and one of the items we looked at was The Wilton Diptych, where Richard is depicted kneeling in worship before the Virgin and Child, with St Edmund, Edward the Confessor and John the Baptist behind him. There is also this portrait of him at Westminster Abbey, which was one of the influences on the look of this production.

Ben Wishaw plays Richard. Tim Dowling, in the Guardian’s review, describes his performance as ”  camp, flutey and painfully self-conscious” – I’m not sure if he means that in a negative sense. It is certainly a fascinating picture of a king who has a Messianic complex – he comes in on a donkey at one point, and Wishaw even looks like Jesus. I found the scene where Richard is killed by arrows very Edmund-like, but I don’t suppose viewers who weren’t from Bury St Edmunds would make that link. There is also one point where he stands with two angelic figures – now I know where we got the idea for our broomstick nativity figures from.

Rory Kinnear plays Henry Bolingbroke. He has done a huge amount of Shakespeare – indeed, all the cast have good Shakespearean pedigree. He came over as a seasoned warrior and a more believable King than Richard.

Patrick Stewart is a marvellous John of Gaunt – and the “Sceptred Isle” speech is marvellous. I am very angry and depressed about the country in which I live, a country where Unicef is helping to feed children and one of the Cabinet describes it as a “political stunt” – this speech makes me feel better about the beautiful country in which I live, and giving me the strength to pray for it.

David Suchet plays Edmund of Langley, Duke of York – again, I need to work out the history.

There are only three female parts. Clemence Poesy is Richard’s Queen, Isabella Laughland is her lady, and Lindsay Duncan (above) is the Duchess of York. I know why he didn’t write for women, but it does feel there is something missing. It will be interesting to see if other productions make more of them.

Posted in Shakespeare | Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Since we are going to have a Christmas by ourselves, we are going to use the time to watch some of our large collection of Shakespeare DVDs. We have seen quite a lot of his plays since we first went to see “Macbeth” together forty years ago – and we had both seen a few before then. This might be the opportunity to watch the rest of them.

We settled down on the afternoon of 16 December 2020. Today would have been Gareth’s 31st birthday, and he loved his Shakespeare.

Our version of “Twelfth Night” was recorded for the BBC between 16-21 May 1979, and first transmitted on 6 January 1980. The Amazon review of it says “In 1978, the BBC set itself the task of filming all of William Shakespeare’s plays for television. The resulting productions, renowned for their loyalty to the text, utilised the best theatrical and television directors and brought highly praised performances from leading contemporary actors – Twelfth Night [1980] Viola and Sebastian are identical twins, separated by a shipwreck. Landing in Illyria, Viola disguises herself as her brother and goes in to the service of Duke Orsino. When the Duke sends her to help him woo the Lady Olivia, the obstacles of unrequited love, self-deceit and mistaken identity soon lead an assortment of lovers on a merry dance. Perhaps the most popular of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night considers the nature of love, true love, self-love and friendship. This star-filled production won great acclaim for its energy and for its inclusion of the play’s often overlooked darker elements.”

The BBC Television Shakespeare was created by Cedric Messina. Born in South Africa, he moved to Britain after the War, and joined the BBC. Transmitted in the UK from 3 December 1978 to 27 April 1985, the series spanned seven seasons and thirty-seven episodes. Wikipedia tells me that the series got mixed reviews, and several of them were quick to blame Messina for a series they thought was rather uninspired. I remember watching several of the earlier ones when they were first broadcast – I was doing my A levels at the time – but would have been at University for many of them. It seems a little silly that none of these BBC productions are available on the BBC website, nor is there any of information about the production. You can find a complete cast listing at A chap called Alistair Nunn has blogged about all the BBC productions, and you can read his review at

The play was directed by John Gorrie. I had not heard of him – apparently he started his career as an actor, then joined the BBC in the 1960s. He even directed a series of “Doctor Who”. He directed this BBC “Twelfth Night” and the video (it was video in those days) of “The Tempest”. He has set the play in the Seventeenth Century. It’s nearly all filmed around one house, which is actually a TV set, and is a very logical set. Everything flows beautifully. He uses Civil War characters, a conflict between festivity and Puritanism.

Being a man of a certain age, I have to say that the highlight was Felicity Kendal as Viola. She was in her early 30s when she filmed this. She had just finished being Barbara Good in “The Good Life” – another part of my formative years, produced between 1975 and 1978. How anyone can think she is a man, I cannot imagine.

Sinead Cusack played a lovely Olivia. I remember her name, but I can’t say I can place her in any other productions or programmes which I’ve seen. Clive Arrindell is Orsino, again not an actor I recall.

Trevor Peacock was Veste. He sings very well, but you can’t help seeing him as Jim Trott from “Vicar of Dibley” – “no, no, no, no, yes”. If you search youtube, you can watch many different versions of the songs.

Robert Hardy (Siegfried Farnon) was Sir Toby Belch, not the sort of part you expect him to play. Ronnie Stevens was Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and Robert Lindsay Fabian. I remember Robert Lindsay as Citizen Smith. My dad nicknamed Harry “Trotsky” and purchased him a red tie – “power to the people”.

Alec McCowen played Malviolio. The yellow stockings and cross garters is often played for laughs, this is a darker production. I remember seeing him recite Mark’s Gospel at the Art’s Theatre in Cambridge while we were at University, and I had his reading on cassette for many years.

Julie says we have seen several productions of it, but can’t remember which ones. I have kept a diary since the early 1970s, but I have never indexed it. Perhaps now would be the time to do it – or can I find a research assistant? Surely someone will give me a grant to index a fascinating archive?

I have the programme for the RSC production directed by Gregory Doran in 2009, but I don’t remember seeing it. The Oxfam shop in Stratford always has a box of programmes for sale, and I suspect it came from there. Apparently the first production was at Candlemas 1602, but it wasn’t published until 1623. Gregory Doran writes that at Candlemas 17 years earlier, on 2 February 1585, the twins Judith and Hamnet Shakespeare were presented for baptism at Holy Trinity church in Stratford. Hamnet died eleven years later, so I wonder what William was thinking as he watched his play, with its twins Viola and Sebastian separated by a storm, then reunited.

Posted in Shakespeare | Leave a comment

northernvicarwalks November 2020

We were running a safe service in each church every Sunday, but were told on the evening of Saturday 31 October that Sunday 1 November would be the last service for several weeks. Apparently the announcement came as a surprise to the Archbishops as well. Good to know that State still talks to Church. Remembrance Sunday was difficult – clear instructions from the City and the Director of Public Health that we must not meet at War Memorials. The Government gave one message about standing on our doorsteps, but also issued instructions that small groups could meet together and even sing (which has been banned since March). So I ended up caught in the middle.

A Hall user in Darley Abbey caught this stunning view of St Matthew’s. On Wednesday 11 November I married Matt and Nicole – it had to be moved forward as Lockdown stops weddings from Thursday and they were due to marry on Saturday. They both work in schools, so I married them at 4.30, and they were back at work the following day.

We managed regular walks – including a lovely one down the old Great Northern line from Breadsall. Julie wanted her own logo.

Tuesday 17 November was the 40th anniversary of our first (almost-) date. I tried to organise an outing to see “Macbeth” at the Arts Theatre in Cambridge. My diary says “only Julie Brown came.” As I fell in love with a Coventry girl, we marked the 80th anniversary of the bombing of the City with a History Festival of our own – it’s amazing what you can watch on youtube. Pathe film of the consecration of the Cathedral included the wonderful line for the Bishop of Coventry “The everlasting plenitude of thy sanctifying power”. In 1962 Church told the State how to behave.

2020 is the 1,000 anniversary of the founding of the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds, and on Saturday 28 November Dr Richard Hoggett gave a lecture on “The Abbey, the Antiquaries and the Archaeology”. We enjoyed watching it, but there are times it would be nice to be back. A lovely Edmund rose – roses still flowering in November.

Advent Sunday on Zoom is not the same as in reality – but 60 people joined us for the service from my study. The following day, the final day of the month, I ended a ten week course on “The Reformation in Ten Books”. University of York Continuing Learning, taught (superbly) by Francesca Cioni. It is one of the things that has kept me sane this term. I walked 40 miles this month, so it’s 476 at the end of November. I continued to do a Facebook Ramble every day.

Posted in 1,000 mile walking, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Personal | Leave a comment

northernvicarwalks October 2020

Harvest Festival without “We plough”, weddings with 15 people, baptisms with 6, and more time at home. i was a speaker on WW1 Great Eastern Women at a Zoom conference on “Women in Transport” that should have been at Swindon. (I was looking forward to a day in Swindon). Someone else spoke on “Gender in Intercity advertising”, remembering the days of Monica.

A day at Crich to show Julie my “Mail by Tram” exhibition before it closed.

We had to cope with a fire at St Matthew’s – the funniest thing was when I ended up on the roof with the Fire Investigator and Police Photographer, and the access window shut behind us. Fortunately we were able to open it – as one of them said, if we have to call the Fire Brigade we’ll never hear the last of it.

We had a day at Baddesley Clinton, though the bookshop was closed, discovered Shipley Country Park, and found new memorials at the National Memorial Arboretum. An art course from the National Gallery, and a University of York course on “The Reformation in Ten books”, taught by Dr Francesca Cioni – excellent.

We ended the month with a week in a small cottage on Hadrian’s Wall, by Twice Brewed. We couldn’t meet Harry and Sarah indoors, but we had some lovely walks with them. We visited no bookshops or churches, but we had a gorgeous day at Vindolanda, another at Beamish, and stopped in Ponteland to photo the new road sign on the new estate built over the old Police HQ.

I walked 36 miles, none of it along the Wall (hangs head in shame), so have now done 436 this year. I also continued my Facebook rambles.

The fools in charge decided to bring in a Covid tier system. Various people had better ideas.

Posted in 1,000 mile walking, Derbyshire, Northumberland | Leave a comment

northernvicarwalks September 2020

You know it is going to be a bad month when, on 1 September, you go for a 5 mile walk which has as one of its goals, posting a small parcel at the Post Office. Hannah had prepared it, and asked you to post it to a friend of hers’. You stand outside in the queue for 20 minutes, sweltering under your face mask, and text her to ask what the parcel contains. “Face masks”.

4 miles walked the next day at Kedleston, then 4 on my Derwent Valley Walk. We had Scarecrows in Allestree on Saturday, and Julie and I walked 5 miles to see a lot of them.

On Sunday 6th I went off to the Great Central Railway. They have bridge work on the main line, so were running the Mountsorrel branchline (new track for me). I parked at Rothley and had a circular walk of 3 miles. Road to Rothley Temple (now in the Hotel) – actually a Preceptory run by the Knights Templar (founded 1231, dissolved 1540) – across Town Green (nice timber-framed cottage), and the golf course. It feels like an ancient bridleway. I crossed the railway, then back along the boundary of Thurcaston and to the station. They were running a diesel shuttle. I sat at the end in First – bringing back memories of my childhood. We then went north and came alongside Swithland Sidings. Points were scotched and we reversed onto the Up line – men with bolts and flags, old BR at its best. Down the branchline to Nunckley Hill, where there is a fascinating little heritage centre. An excellent afternoon.

3 miles round Darley Park on Monday 7, and 3 miles along the Cromford Canal on Wednesday 9. Then I did 4 miles to Duffield on Thursday, and 2 at Darley Abbey on Saturday. Morgan likes the new multi-user path, and can’t read simple signs.

A week’s holiday at home started on Monday 21 September we had a lovely trip to Southwell. We walked along the old railway and through the Minster grounds, but failed to get into the Minster itself (we spent too long with Helen in the pub). I’ve already blogged our visits to Tideswell and Castleton. Then on Wednesday we went to Shipley Country Park for the first time – it’s only 20 minutes drive, but has miles of walks and a decent cafe.

On Thursday 24 we drove north Harlow Carr gardens, and met Hannah. 6 miles walked, red mushrooms found, and tea at Betty’s. I’ve already blogged our trip to the Black Country Museum the following day.

3 miles at Melbourne Hall on 26 September, and 4 miles round the beautiful English Heritage gardens at Brodsworth on 27th.

Back to work on Monday with a 2 mile walk to St Matthew’s and round, a 4 mile walk round Shipley Country Park on Tuesday. That meant I had walked 78 miles in September, so my total is up to 400.

I wrote a facebook Rambling every day. Here they are:

We’re supposed to be in a rule of six, but no one seems sure how we interpret that and there are lots of exceptions. Apparently it is illegal for 7 children to feed ducks, but it is legal for 30 adults to shoot them.

Posted in 1,000 mile walking, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Railway interest, Yorkshire | Leave a comment

Derwent Valley Heritage Way 9 – Belper to Milford

Walk 8 was on 2 September 2019, walk 9 on 4 September 2020 – and that was only by accident. I started in the Oxfam Bookshop – a superb Oxfam Bookshop, but buying two heavy books at the start of the walk was just stupid.

I went through the Memorial Gardens and admired the flowers. The sculpture is of Jim Green, who died on the Somme – http://

Then I decided I would follow the Derwent Valley Heritage Way towards Milford. It was a lovely walk. I went through Belper Parks, then the edge of the town, and along past Rowlandhill Farm – some lovely views down into the Valley. Along to Shaw Lane and down into Milford. It looks to be a fascinating village with cottages that must date back to its Mill past. There are some little footpaths that will be worth following. The Primitive Methodist Chapel is now a house, and I chatted to the lady who says it is a lovely holiday cottage but rather echoey (when her children are chasing round at 7 am).

I walked back to Belper along the A6, nice view over the railway to the River – I found this photo of the Goods’ Shed in the 1960s, all rather derelict now.

I walked past Park Foundry, which was formed in 1850. It used to make solid fuel stoves, but seems to have been closed for a good few years now. There is a footpath north of the railway from the A6 to Gibfield Lane. This leads to The Avenue, which does not have any exit at the far end. I walked back, rather annoyed at the extra walking, and found a Midland Railway Boundary Post which I had missed. Rather chuffed by that discovery! Back through to the Station via the Coop – such excitement. I had walked 4 miles, and had enjoyed it

Posted in 1,000 mile walking, Derbyshire, Derwent Walk, Railway interest | Leave a comment

Black Country Living Museum, Dudley – Gospel Car 11, Ebenezer, and Providence Chapel

Black Country Museum on Friday 25 September. Last time we went I remember Gareth being taken for a walk on the cakewalk at the fairground – sadly the fairground has gone at the moment – but the rest was wonderful. They have a superb guidebook too, which means I need to spend another day reading that. They give a simple map which shows the accessible routes, so we had a good explore.

We started with the Newcomen Engine, this is a replica but the original was only about a mile away. It’s dated to about 1712, and is currently waiting for a refurb.

Then past the garage and bus depot – on the way back we had a good chat with the bus driver, he was fascinated by Morgan’s wheels.

We had a lesson at St James’ School, then decided we wanted lunch. It was a bit early in the day, but there was no queue, so we shared a portion of fish and chips. Then we explored the row of shops. Hobbs’ fish and chip shop from Hall Street, Dudley, dates to 1916, but the building is older.

The canal arm and basin date to 1839. I had a chat with the lady on the canal boat – she said that even with the small living area she would rather have been a boater, than have worked in the factories. The staff and volunteers were lovely.

There was a lady beside the Methodist caravan, and we had a good chat to her. It is a replica of Gospel Car 11, Ebenezer, and there is information about it at This is a website well worth exploring – I realise that northernvicar is rather Anglican, and I have not been good at exploring Non-conformist heritage.

According to the website “The Wesleyan and Primitive Methodists and Church Army all used ‘Gospel cars’ in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Within Methodism, horsedrawn wagons were partly replaced by hand-pushed ‘trek carts’ in the inter-war years, and finally by deaconess’ caravans in the 1950s. Gospel Cars were used for ministry in markets, fairgrounds, at overnight moorings for barge and boat people, and to traveller camps, and to reach rural locations.”

This reproduction was built in 2011 and it is rather good that it is displayed here. Boat and barge people were one of the historically marginalized groups to whom the Gospel Car missioners were reaching out. “It was a little home on wheels – what are seats during the day were beds at night. It was a little church on wheels – the bigger audience would be addressed from the platform while the smaller audience would be invited inside.” They had pictures, an organ, a gramophone, percussion band instruments and a magic lantern. I am old enough to remember film evenings in our little chapel – Fact and faith films. One of them had the line “I’m going to fill my lungs with helium gas”, and I remember my dad disgracing himself as he got a fit of the giggles. We were supposed to take these things seriously!

My new friend was playing us tunes on her “Atlas organette”, apparently it is a reed instrument, air pressure produced as she turned the handle. As we talked, and I confessed I was a Vicar, we got chatting about our churches. She said something like “I’m not allowed to proselytise while I’m here, and I wouldn’t dream of doing so, but I had a chap earlier telling me the church was useless these days. I gently told him about the amount of food bank collections my church has been going over the last few months.” This caravan was no doubt used for evangelism, social care, and basic education for children in the hour or two they spent here while the boat was being loaded.

The website comments that life with the caravan “sounds wonderful, but with walls of just a single plank thick it would certainly be very, very cold on many a winter night.”

We then walked across the canal to the HQ of the Dudley Canal Trust. I wanted a ride into the canals and J was going to read a book. “We have a boat we can get you on” they said, and indeed they had. They had done some work with plastic screens, so we were all socially distanced and it felt safe. It was a great tour – I remembered quite a lot of it, but they certainly have an amazing set of tunnels. The chap on the boat giving the commentary had a good line in patter, the AV was well worth watching, and we can go again anytime in the next year. They also do longer tours exploring further afield. The lives of the workers, those who did the mining and those working the boats must have been pretty dreadful.

We went back into the main part of the museum, and I visited the chapel. Providence Chapel is the Darby Hand New Connexion Methodist Chapel which originally opened on 29 January 1837. Methodism, and other non conformist groups, were flourishing by the late 1700s. They were more radical than the Church of England, more evangelical, had a greater social conscience, and were not bound by the parish structure.

Darby End grew up in the late C18 as a coal-mining community alongside the Dudley Canal. It was named after a family who arrived in the C16 to run a mill on the Mousesweet Brook (they must have made that name up!). I think the policeman, who was our guide, said that the Methodists were nail-makers who had come to the village from Belper. They were members of the New Connexion, who had split from the Wesleyans in 1797. They worshipped in a house for several decades, until they could afford to build this chapel. A simple brick chapel, galleries added later, with high pulpit and text. It takes me back to my youth, worship in the small Baptist Chapel in Barton, preaching in so many chapels like this across the Cambridgeshire Fens. I remember one church meeting when there was a discussion about what we should put behind the pulpit – we’d recently repainted the interior of the chapel. My dad wanted a simple wooden cross, Sid wanted a text. Sid also worshipped at Zion Baptist chapel, and was a man with strong views. My dad was also a man with strong views. At one point in the discussion, dad suggested Isaiah 40.9 “Get thee to Zion”.

We were reminded by our guide that this chapel was not just a place of worship. It was a place of education, of community, of social care, of political life. It closed in 1974, and the pews were offered to the Museum. They visited, and asked if they could have the whole church. It is good to see it here, but difficult not to wish it was still a centre for its community. I know the world has changed, but when all the chapels and most of the churches are closed, we might realise what we’ve lost. Zoom won’t replace it.

Finally we enjoyed the last row of shops, and talked to the lady on the left, who was out on strike. Sheila Chamberlain-Hyett tweets as @Sheila_Fairy talked to us about the Women Chainmakers’ Strike of 1912 and Mary Macarthur – and I purchased the book. They have an annual festival in Chadley Heath, so it would be good to go next year. There’s also a facebook page Friendsofthewomenchairmakers.

We had had a very good explore, and were almost the last people to leave the museum. Slow on the M6 again, but we made it home. Now all we need to do is go back!

Posted in West Midlands | Leave a comment