Sunday, 24 November 2013

Loughborough, Lichfield, Lincoln and more!

This week has been extremely exciting for me as I’ve been off gallivanting again!!

Thursday saw me in Lincoln, spending a leisurely day with the other half who’d taken a couple of days off work prior to starting a new job. We had a lovely inexpensive lunch at a great Italian restaurant and spent a happy few hours wandering around the town. We left Lincoln during the rush hour, but still managed to make it back to Loughborough in time for me to go to an event run by the Friends of Charnwood Museum in the evening.

Elgar and friend, courtesy of R&R Hill
The talk at the museum on Thursday evening, was about Elgar’s musical compositions during and after the First World War. It was delivered by Dr Steven Halls, the Chairman of the Elgar Society. You may have heard that in 1923, Edward Elgar wrote a specially commissioned piece of music to be played on the Carillon at its opening in July of that year. After the opening ceremony, for some reason or other, the manuscript disappeared, only to be found last year, 2012, in a cupboard in the Charnwood Borough Council offices.

Earlier this year, in July, the Elgar piece was played on the Loughborough carillon by the borough carilloneur, Caroline Sharpe, to celebrate 90 years since the opening of this stunning war memorial.

During the talk we were shown how Elgar had really reached the pinnacle of his career just prior to WW1, and that the works he created during WW1 were of a more patriotic and straightforward nature – simple, but pleasant tunes.

In 1914 he wrote a piece called Carillon, which was composed as a tribute to soldiers who had already lost their lives, and in celebration of Belgian carillons, many of which had been destroyed. You may already be aware that our own Carillon is modelled on those in Belgium, where there are many of them.

After the war, Elgar moved to the Sussex countryside and here he began composing more traditional works, like the string quartet and the cello concerto. He assigned opus numbers to the works he deemed important or that he thought had the potential to leave a lasting legacy. Interestingly, after these big works, his later output was mostly of smaller pieces, and this included our very own Memorial Chimes for a Carillon, otherwise known as the Loughborough Memorial Chimes, I mentioned earlier. Apparently, Elgar retained the rights to arrange this piece for other instruments, and as such it is more often heard as an organ piece, although I think most arrangements pre-date the finding of the original manuscript.
Elgar died in 1934, and although his popularity comes and goes, he left behind a body of work that is of sufficient quality to ensure that he remains one of Britain’s great, if not greatest, composer.

Jacqueline Du Pre, with Daniel Barenboim
After the talk, I spoke to the Chairman of the Society, enquiring why he preferred the Julian Lloyd Webber version of the cello concerto, to that of Jacqueline du Pre. His answer was simply to do with how the musical interpretation affected us all differently and we were each likely to have our own preferred performers, who spoke directly to us as listeners. 

Sample of Elgar music

As a result of listening to that talk and discussion I decided to join both the national and the East Midlands Elgar Societies. It was only when I got home that I realised that I had actually been to school with, and played in the same orchestra as Steven Halls, the Chairman of the Elgar Society!

The manuscript of Memorial Chimes for a Carillon, and some letters pertaining to its performance are currently on display in the Charnwood Museum: Do pop in and have a look the next time you are in town.

Festival of Britten at Lichfield Cathedral

Sticking with the musical theme - and a British musical theme to boot - Friday saw me watching a performance of Noye’s Fludde, by Benjamin Britten, in Lichfield Cathedral. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 100th anniversary since Britten’s birth and St Cecilia’s Day! I studied Noye’s Fludde for my music 'O' level, but hadn’t heard a live performance before. This was just under an hour of the wonderful, enthusiastic, energetic Cathy Lamb, joint Music Director of the cathedral, resplendent in a canary-yellow, made-for-the-occasion t-shirt! Fantastic, well-organised children from the three local church schools and some strong adult leads, all sang beautifully, telling the biblical story of Noah and his ark.

Advert for Taylor’s Bellfoundry

Before the performance began, I flipped through the programme, and imagine my surprise upon finding an advert for Taylor’s of Loughborough!! Thinking there must be some Taylor’s bells up there in the bell tower, I asked one of the lay chapters, Bryan Ramsell, about the bells: They had been re-cast in 1686 after being destroyed in the Civil War - a bit early for Taylor’s in Loughborough - but he introduced me to a gentleman in the orchestra who was able to tell me about the Taylor connection to Lichfield.

It was such a long time ago that I listened in earnest to Noye’s Fludde, that I had completely forgotten that some of the music was played on handbells! And this is what I discovered from talking to the gentleman handbell ringer! They had borrowed the handbells from Taylor’s for the event and were returning them on Wednesday! In fact, the gentleman told me that he enjoyed his trips to Loughborough, because, not only did he always visit the bellfoundry, but he also made regular visits to the Great Central Railway, and he often popped into the Carillon for an impromptu practice!!!

One disappointing piece of information, however, was his opinion that the Carillon was in dire need of some serious maintenance, before it becomes unplayable. His admiration for the tenacity of Caroline Sharpe was quite obvious, but he was clearly worried about the condition of the musical instrument in Queen’s Park. I do hope CBC read my blog!

So, one particular highlight of the musical event for me was being able to listen to the glorious sound of some Taylor’s handbells, expertly rung! Having returned home, I did a quick internet search, and discovered that the British Carillon Society has its headquarters in Lichfield!

So much excitement over the two days, but it wasn’t over yet!! Saturday morning I made my way to the Old John car park at Bradgate Park to take part in some fieldwalking for the Charnwood Roots project which I have mentioned to you before. With permission from the Bradgate Park Trust and the tenant farmers, we were allowed to walk one of the recently ploughed fields, looking for evidence of human habitation of the area. Each novice (that would be me, then) was paired up with a more experienced fieldwalker, and we spent three hours traversing the field, eyes down, scouring the field for exciting stones! As a novice, I don’t think I found anything interesting or helpful, but I was certainly pleased to find a complete horseshoe, a couple of bits of pottery, some large chunks of Victorian drains, and several bits of brick!!

Returning home a bit chilly and in need of some sleep, the afternoon passed really quickly, and Sunday morning saw me at Charnwood College for the Leicestershire Brass Band Association contest! Which actually is a bit of a fib, because as I write this, it’s still Saturday!! But I will be there tomorrow!

Hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s blogpost! See you next week!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Spotlight on: Loughborough Fair

Loughborough Fair
Jungle fun!


The problem with researching the history of your locality is where do you stop? It’s simply not possible to learn everything, so sometimes it’s great to get something specific to concentrate on! Prompted by another of those remarks on facebook, this time about the fair being hundreds of years old, I set off on a voyage of discovery …

Fairs have always been important to me, especially since I grew up in a village, where we lived on the side of the common [according to wikipedia, this is the last remaining of 9 commons, but according to it is the last of 7], and it was here every May-time that the travelling fair would set up for a week. To a young child the fair seemed huge, and had all the attractions you’d expect of a 1960s fair. We were lucky enough to have the dodgem rides right in front of our house – well, I though we were lucky, but my parents’ bedroom was at the front of the house, so I would imagine they would sometimes find the music and excited voices quite irritating at bedtime!

Sweet stall
Of course, now that I’m grown up, I’ve discovered that the common was only about 3/4s of an acre in size, so compared to the Loughborough fair, the May fair in Caerleon was tiny!! However, when I moved to Loughborough I found it quite exciting to discover that other towns had fairs, and was quite impressed with the size of it! When I first started going there were rides like swingboats, stalls of hook-a-duck and roll-a-penny, penny arcades and shooting galleries, as well as one or two big rides like waltzers and the ferris wheel, and of course, the ubiquitous dodgems and candy floss stalls.

Today, in the interests of research, I took myself off to see what this year’s fair had to offer. Well, none of your hook-a-ducks, or shooting galleries, and I didn’t see any hoop throwing stalls. I think there was only the one set of dodgems, but they were so different – new cars and a new stage, not surrounding by the usual little wooden fence!
I didn’t see any penny arcades either, but there were a few grabber machines, and several large tombola stalls, lots of people selling helium balloons and several stalls selling hats and ears.
The Princess tries to escape!

The pink waltzers!
The pink waltzers were most attractive, as were some of the other rides – jungle rides and ghost rides. A couple of attractions were very odd, especially the big pink pillows filled with people, floating on a pond outside the Echo offices!!
An arm-like thing!
There were a couple of tall arm-like things that threw people up in the air and then rushed them back down again, there were a couple of helter-skelters.
The big wheel
The big wheel from Queen's Park
And, of course, there was the big wheel, a posh-looking version in white with bright white lights and modern-looking pods – not like the old multi-coloured ones!

Some important dates in the history of Loughborough Fair

Of course, I’m so used to the fairgrounds of today, the noise, the music, the crush, the expense, that it’s hard for me to imagine what a fair may have been like all those years ago, when the fair was first granted its charter. But, the origin and history of fairs goes way back, and is considered by some to be associated with pagan customs, when people gathered seasonally, for festivals and fairs. Such fairs were also popular in Roman times, and later became part of the Christian festivals calendar; hence early Charters specify occasions in terms of Saints days, and there was a deal of confusion when the calendar we used changed from the Julian to the Gregorian in 1752.

There appear to be several specific important dates in the history of Loughborough fair, starting with the granting of the Charter in 1221, which was apparently granted by Henry III, whilst still a boy. This allowed for an annual event, held on 31st July and 1st August, which were the vigil and day of St Peter ad Vincula, but because Henry was a boy, the Charter was only temporary, so in 1227 he confirmed the Charter, granting an extra day, on the day following St Peter’s Day. The following year, 1228, another Charter was granted, based around All Souls Day – the day after All Saints’ Day – which falls on 2nd November. I believe there were about 5,000 other fairs that were granted Royal Charters around the same time as Loughborough was given theirs, and the granting of the Charter meant that the organisation and control of the fair stayed with the towns people (or their representatives).

As I mentioned above, changing from one calendar to another meant that about 11 days in the year were lost, so the November fair became 13th November. In 1881, local officials, possibly the Board of Health, obtained an order that stated that the opening day of the fair would always be the second Thursday in November, as it still is today. Also, sometime in the period 1221-1228 a Charter was granted for holding a weekly market.

What's it all about?

The original Medieval fair was quite closely associated with the town market, which had also been granted a Charter in 1221, and was held once a week on a Thursday. Over time, Loughborough developed as a market town, and by 14th century, was quite famous for trading in wool and cloth. By the late 1700s, there were about 5 markets/fairs in the town, one of which was the November 13th fair, which was associated with trading in cows, sheep and horses. This lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century, when cattle became the main focus of the first day of the November fair, and by the end of the century other markets included a retail market, a corn fair, a butter, egg and cheese fair a hiring, or statute fair and the funfair. With developments in engineering and mechanisation, the cattle market eventually moved to another location and amusements became the focus of the November fair.

The Carillon, surrounded
 In the twentieth century, there have been times when there has been no fair, for example, during the period of WW1. There was also a period when the voice of the dissenters was quite loud and there was a risk that the fair would be moved from the town streets. Luckily for us today, the powers that be agreed to keep the location, thus helping to preserve the sense of fun and excitement that accompanies a visit to the fair.

View from the back!
In the 1950s, according to a reporter for the “World’sFair”, the specialist newspaper for the Showmen’s Guild, suggested that for the duration of the fair, the town lost its dignified character and adopted a carnival-like atmosphere! In about 1955 the fair was described as being 5 fairs in various of the town’s streets, linked with entertainment booths, until in about 1965 when the whole of the Market Place was taken over by the fair. More recently, in 1996, fairground rides and attractions were placed on the main A6 trunk road, at its junction with Market Place, and continue to this day.
Pink pillows on the A6 trunk road!

The Loughborough fair is traditionally the last fair of the year and marks the end of the fairground season, although lately, some showmen now take their attractions to the various newly-established town fairs that have been created to boost trade, especially at Christmas-time.    

History of the rides and entertainment

Today, when we think of the fair, we think of fairground rides and entertainment stalls. The very early rides would have been made from wood, and would have been operated (presumably meaning pulled, pushed or turned!) by young boys. This all changed around 1860 following the invention of steam power, when a chap called Frederick Savage mounted a steam engine in the middle of the rides. This meant that rides could be bigger and more decorative, as they were no longer relying on the strength of boys.

It is interesting to note that the annual November fair was a place where the people of Loughborough could experience the latest in entertainment. For example, during the 1880s, the annual visits of Wall’s Phantoscope (one of the first film projection machines and was invented by Charles Francis Jenkins, around the same time as Edison’s kinetoscope, or vitascope, but operating in a slightly different way) were viewed with wonderment, and were followed by the introduction of the bioscope. These machines and techniques were indeed precursors to the more modern cinematography and to the cinema of today.

Grabbing a Minion!

Of course, today’s rides have benefited from advances in electrical engineering and hydraulics, and, no doubt, advances in programme logic controllers also have a part to play – in timings, control of synching music and safety.

All-in-all, a great time can be had at Loughborough fair! The noise, the crowds, the music, the excitement all make for the most wonderful experience - even if, like me, you never venture onto a ride!!

Roll on next year!

Green, George H. Loughborough markets and fairs through 7 1/2 centuries. Loughborough: George Green, 1964.
Anon. (2007) National fairground archive [WWW] The University of Sheffield. Available from: [Accessed 16 November 2013]

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Remembrance: A picture paints a thousand words

Remembrance 2013

Remembrance 2007

Remembrance 2005

Please also look at the Loughborough Roll of Honour webpage.


Sunday, 3 November 2013

Loughborough Culture Walk

Culture, what culture? 

If you were asked to join a Culture in Loughborough walk, you’d probably say “That’ll be a short walk then!”. So, I’m sure you’d be surprised to learn that 90 minutes to walk and talk about culture in Loughborough quite simply isn’t enough: In fact, there’s more than enough culture in Loughborough to fill at least two such walks! Had you come along to the recent culture walk, led by Ernie Miller, you’d have discovered that, actually, Loughborough had, and still has, it’s fair share of cultural activities!

So, for example, did you know that:

Loughborough has had four theatres, one of which is still standing – and that’s not including the Town Hall, nor any of the theatres on the university campus?

The Odeon as The Curzon in 2004

And, did you know that at one time Loughborough had three cinemas all operating at the same time?

And that the Odeon (formerly the Empire, The Essoldo, The New Empire, The Curzon, The Reel) which currently has six screens has applied for planning permission to add another four screens

A new cinema?

And that Cineworld has put in a planning application to build a cinema complex on the site of the old Baxtergate Hospital?

Charnwood Museum from Granby Street

And that there are currently four museums?
And, did you know that Loughborough’s modern coffee culture has been going on for years, partly encouraged by the Temperance Society who tried to persuade people not to drink alcohol, and who opened a coffee house on the corner of Devonshire Square and Granby Street, now a locally listed building?

The Organ Grinder, aka The Old Pack Horse

And talking of alcohol, pubs have been the meeting places of numerous groups and societies, and places of musical entertainment, for many years. The Three Nuns still has live bands playing, the Organ Grinder still has folk music evenings, and the Swan in the Rushes also has bands and performances by Mikron the canal theatre group.

Carnegie Library

A library is not only about education, it is also about culture. The first library in Loughborough was a subscription library on Baxtergate, available only to those who could afford to pay for the service, and the first free public library was on Greenclose Lane, more or less where Sainsbury is now.

Today’s library provides much more than books, as befits a 21st century service: DVDs are available for loan, computers are available to use, and the library is home to a variety of other activities, including being hosts to public health checks, writing and craft classes.

An example of a Ladybird book

And so to books! Loughborough, the home of Ladybird books! Originally based in Angel Yard, the publisher Wills, who produced trade and street directories, was joined, in 1915 by Mr Hepworth, and together they published the first Ladybird book. The rest, as they say, is history!


Signaller in the sunshine
Re-dedication of the Fearon Fountain Apr 2013

Loughborough is also rich in public sculpture, ranging from the Fearon Fountain in the Market Place, and elaborately carved reliefs on buildings in the town centre, to the Signaller in The Rushes.

St Paul bell casing in Queen’s Park

The latest collection of sculptures which were erected in Queen’s Park as part of the In Bloom entry are on a music-related theme and includes the bell casing used to cast the Great Paul bell in St Paul's Cathedral.


Over the years the town has also been home to various music shops: George Adcock’s on Baxtergate, George Hames on Baxtergate then Market Place, Paltridge’s on Churchgate, Groops on The Rushes, and Just Music on Leicester Road, to name but a few.
So, that’s the first culture walk done! Look out for the next one soon!!