A return visit to a pub I know well , Bells of Peover, but how its gardens have been transformed. They are absolutely beautiful. The church is rather good too in Lower Peover’s tranquil setting…and we loved the alert owl outside the local Primary School. As a matter of fact we saw many wooden owls during our week – must be someone who likes to carve them!Next to Knutsford. This restaurant in the old town hall looked good.But we ate elsewhere….seemingly dozens of choices of eating places.Knutsford was bustling, but it is the sort of place where peace and quiet is just round the corner….and there are some lovely buildings…Tatton Mere stretches from the town all the way up to the eighteenth century mansion Tatton Park a beautiful long walk…Apart from the traffic, which however no doubt helps all the shops, a super play to live. Probably outside our price range unfortunately.From there via super slick Wilmslow (champagne capital of Britain) to the magnificent viewpoint (and shopping centre) of Alderley Edge. Manchester is on the horizon.Onwards then to Marton a small hamlet with a Black and White church St James and St Paul…It was brilliant to see the survival of medieval wall paintings…..We then chanced upon the picture-perfect little village of Astbury ………Unfortunately the church was locked but it was enormous, a sight to behold in such a small place. I learned afterwards that its nave is forty feet wide, wider even than Chester Cathedral.
Looking to the future, we decided to go house hunting in Cheshire. I would like to be within striking distance of Manchester where I come from, with its magnificent facilities, and Cheshire adjoins it and is the epitome of rural England. I have looked at thousands of houses on-line and know we can find one somewhere in Cheshire which will allow us to free up a bit of capital and give us a bit of leeway in our plans (mainly travel and going out – theatres, concerts etc). We weren’t scouting particular houses but looking broadly across the whole county to assess where we would like to live. I booked a converted barn for a week which looked great in Sawdays which is usually very reliable, and so it proved. We were greeted by Martin, who farms the land, and one of his lovely dogs Beth. Martin was a great host for the whole week and gave us lots of good tips on where to go.We settled in very quickly and were soon enjoying the March sunshine….and on our first evening we drove to the local pub…the Swettenham Arms…just what the doctor ordered – a nice gastropub with good ales.Outside, across the car park, was the church of St Peter’s which is very unusual and interesting with its stone build, but with a brick tower….unfortunately we never got around to visiting it. Another time.On our first full day we set out from our cottage in the grounds of Kermincham Hall past the pond and down its long drive which gave us a feeling of grandeur every time we used it, and…..first of all explored Middlewich a historic town with its name suggesting a salt town and being the middle salt town in fact between Northwich and Nantwich. The Romans first mined salt here, and it was mined and processed til fairly recently. In reality the town itself apart from an attractive area by one of the three canals….and by the green surrounding the church…was a bit of a dump – very poor High Street with downmarket shops and giving a depressing, run down feeling. Reminiscent in fact of many towns today.Our mood lightened considerably however when we went next to Sandbach, a peach of a town. The first great thing about it was free parking. To the two of us who have run shops in several places it is a no-brainer. But councils everywhere seek to bleed town centres dry with heavy rates and support for out-of-town developments and the results are as obvious as they were in Middlewich. We hit upon a lovely hotel for lunch – a gastropub and boutique establishment, The Wheatsheaf. We ordered something light and settled down to read our newspaper and do the crossword between us. Forty minutes later, having completed the crossword but without food, I caught the eye of a member of staff and explained we were waiting. She could not have been more apologetic and efficient. Our open sandwiches and thrice-cooked chips appeared in no time. She explained that our order had been lost in a staff handover. Inexcusable of course, but I was gobsmacked when she again apologised and said we would not have to pay anything. Now that is, in the end, good customer service par excellenceSatisfied and satiated, we strolled through town and discovered it was market day with lots of good food stalls….but we were more taken with the buildings….. many of which were traditional Cheshire Black and White…The church and its grounds were exceptionally lovely…surrounded by Black and White houses on all sides…and the pub opposite the church Old Hall where we called in for a quick half was amazing, believed to date from 1656 and once the residence of the Lords of the Manor of Sandbach. It is absolutely magnificent.The centre of the town is picturesque with its cobbles, more Black and White houses, good pubs on all sides (!)…..and a lovely Deli (amongst many other fantastic Independent shops in town)…..and there were two impressive and massive Saxon stone crosses dominating the square. They are elaborately carved with animals and Biblical scenes including the Nativity of Christ and the Crucifixion, and probably date from the 9th century. They were originally painted as well as carved, and they are among the finest surviving examples of Anglo-Saxon high crosses. Later we found several towns and villages that we liked very much, but none of them matched Sandbach, our likely destination? Anyhow, next stop was Nantwich. We had been before to have a chat to the local bookshop owner. It was as pleasant as we remembered. Again a great church and a pretty close surrounding it….The streets were full of atmosphere and with a wonderful range of Independent shops again…and everywhere seemingly unspoilt and well cared for…. Even the multiples were well hidden.And the range and quality of the buildings and streetscape was exceptional …One thing that wowed us was this boulder. The inscription reads that it was found during the building of the by-pass, is 400 million years old, and is probably from of all places Dumfries in Scotland, having been carried here by glacial action. Incredible. Having decided to look at a range of new houses here, we had a delightful walk along the river….It was a long walk so we were glad of a suitable place of refreshment back in town..A terrific medium-sized town but not quite as lovable as Sandbach was our conclusion.That evening we walked to the Swettenham Arms across three fields, by the nascent River Dane, sliding across the occasional fence to avoid the mud, and getting back just before sunset….
This book has been at the back of my mind for some reason, so I dug it out for a re-read after, what, 40 years or more. It is one of George Orwell’s most powerful and best novels. Let’s get it clear, I am one of those currently politically-incorrect people who believe the British Empire did far more good in the world than critics (who tend to concentrate on single events or themes) would have you believe. And in any case, as a historian, I would argue that it is absolutely impossible to set huge infrastructure improvements, educational and civilising influences, the keeping of the peace world-wide for long periods, etc etc against slavery in the early stages of the Empire, and various unjustifiable (in today’s terms) massacres and ill-treatment of subject nations. The Empire was of its time. It was what it was. However this novel by Orwell is a very, very powerful rebuke to people like me and an antidote to any positive reading of the ‘benefits’ of Empire. I was surprised to find out that this was Orwell’s first novel. It certainly doesn’t read like a first. Basically it tells the tale of a minor English player in Burma in the waning days of the Empire, how he lives and loves, how he reacts unsuccessfully to the embittered views of other members of the Club in the little town in Burma where the story is set. The story doesn’t have a happy ending, and the protagonist’s life and death are perhaps a metaphor for Empire itself. It is based actually on Orwell’s own experiences, he spent five years from 1922 to 1927 as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma. In a letter from 1946, Orwell said “I dare say it’s unfair in some ways and inaccurate in some details, but much of it is simply reporting what I have seen”. It was dynamite in its day and only published in the States at first, and it’s not hard to see why. In my opinion a great read.
We recently found a WHSmith’s remainder outlet in Plymouth. I have never seen one before. Anyhow it inevitably led to the buying of some books. We got a Peter James signed hardback ‘Dead Man’s Time’ for £6, not bad. It has been my bedtime reading. As always Peter has interesting characters including his protagonist DS Grace. But all the major and minor actors are well-drawn. And as always there is a slightly unusual story line. In this case a 95 year old wanting revenge for something that happened in his childhood, and revenge for the recent torture and murder of his elder sister. The plot is interesting and takes lots of turns. Brighton doesn’t feature quite as much as in some of his novels…a shame as I like a strong ‘Place’ element. But with the plot capturing you and lots of small chapters (ideal for bedtime reading) what’s not to like. Procedure, one assumes, is exemplary as Peter has intimate access to lots and lots of Police folk in Brighton and he makes full use of his detailed knowledge of how the Police work. All in all another thoroughly enjoyable novel by one of the creme de la creme in Crime writers.
We saw recently the Mike Leigh film ‘Peterloo’. Maxine Peak, one of my favourite actresses, is one of the main characters. A review I had read in The Times had slated it, mainly it seems on the grounds that there was too much dialogue in meetings etc and not enough action. How feeble critics are. What a world we live in where there has to be movement and action all the time! It was quite long at two and a half hours but I didn’t notice this ……unlike The Times critic I was absorbed. What it is about is the background to, and the events of, the Peterloo ‘massacre’ in 1819. The Guardian precises it nicely…’ On 16 August 1819, at what we would now call a pro-democracy demonstration in St Peter’s Field, Manchester, an excitable band of cavalry and yeomanry – whose commander had airily absented himself for a day at the races – charged with sabres drawn into a crowd of 60,000 unarmed people, many of whom were unable to escape the enclosed space. The troops killed 18 and injured hundreds more……It was Britain’s 19th-century mix of Sharpeville and Hillsborough. The government was entirely delighted with the result, and not displeased with the nickname “Peterloo”, as it felt like a rerun of its victory over Napoleon, the creature of something it continued to fear intensely: the French Revolution.’ But the thing is, it was in many ways a victory for democracy – for never again would any Government allow such dramatic military actions to be taken against people expressing their free will in a public meeting. And eventually the Great Reform Act and Anti-Corn Laws legislation would be passed. It also led The Times to take up, to some degree, the whole issue of Reform, and almost directly led to the founding of The Manchester Guardian ( a great newspaper, sadly since its move to London a shadow of its former self). So a film on very important issues with some relevance to today and a topic ‘Peterloo’ which is hardly on the syllabus in schools. Mike Leigh himself has said children should be taught about Peterloo. “They will know about 1066 and Magna Carta and Henry VIII and his six wives and they may be told about the French revolution and the battle of Waterloo … [The massacre] was a major, major event which resonated down the 19th century into the 20th century in the context of democracy and suffrage.” Manchester Histories, a charity, is leading the campaign for Peterloo to be taught in all schools. What I didn’t like about the film (this and many others!) was how unrealistic the settings and stages were. It’s all very well finding a great location but covering the streets with sand of all things in order to hide yellow parking lines just doesn’t cut the mustard. The same with the characters. The poor of Manchester were atrociously dirty and smelly. It’s no use just dressing them up in costumes Hollywood-style. And everywhere was so clean. In reality you couldn’t see a hand in front of you because of the smoke and the smog. All wrong, wrong wrong……..