The riverside at Castlefields

The riverside at Castlefields

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Shrewsbury, Trumpton, Beauty and Elegance

Not all of Shrewsbury is beautiful. Not all of Shrewsbury is elegant and refined. How could it be?
The town may be famous for being historic and attractive, but it is also a thriving, living, working place that has developed across a thousand years, a town which (like so many others) saw rapid and significant growth in the post-war period, and which, today, is made up of every kind of architecture (and every kind of people), the good, the bad, and the ugly.
So of course, just like any town of any size, we have our industrial areas, our sprawling housing estates,  our 'problem' neighbourhoods, our retail parks and our factories and warehouses. And radiating outwards from our picture-postcard-lovely centre, there are plenty of examples of the bland and the non-descript, the plain and the dull, the grey and the forgettable.
And, let's be honest, no reasonable person could expect an entire town to be beautiful from tip to toe, north, south, east and west.

Then it really would be Trumpton (and not Shrewsbury) as several of my friends insist it is. I am also reminded of the old joke names of Standing Stillbury (Shrewsbury) and Concrete Hardening (Telford), but these of course are cartoon names. We know there is a lot more to Telford than concrete, and we also know that Shrewsbury does not stand still (a new cinema, new football stadium, new theatre – all within just a few years – and there are plenty of other exciting plans in the pipeline). 
But – whatever growth and progress brings our way – that beating heart of Shrewsbury (the part that the tourists come to enjoy) should be kept as pleasing to the eye as possible. A few simple measures can ensure this is done: keeping historic buildings in a good state of repair, keeping everything clean and tidy, making sure unsympathetic development is not allowed to encroach. That sort of thing.
And one more simple measure. Let's just keep a careful eye on garish signs and colours that shout out at you from a hundred yards and smash through the aesthetics of a place.
These seem completely unnecessary to my way of thinking and can do much to ruin the look of a street.
There is a phrase much-used by conservationists, civic society activists, designers and architects: 'the power of place'.
Well, the power of place can be greatly diminished by brightly coloured and inappropriate signage.
When I was up town the other day, a few such signs screamed out at me. Sample, if you, will, the Computerama sign above a now defunct shop at the very start of Castle Gates. Ouch! It's ghastly. It's the visual equivalent of an AC/DC powerchord in a place where Elgar's Enigma Variations should provide the soundtrack. And since the shop itself is no longer trading, why can it not be made to disappear? 
While on this subject, does anyone remember the hoo-ha that erupted a few years back about the frontage of dear old Woolworth's? The store on Castle Street had been there for decades and was as much a part of the fabric of Shrewsbury as Woolworth stores were in hundreds of towns across the country. But the council took exception to its bright red signage, saying it was wrong to have such dazzling colours in our historic town. Woolworth's conceded the point and replaced the frontage with a much more subtle design.
Now, I completely agreed with this. So how come other shops and businesses can now get away with it?
Oh yeah. And having brought up the subject of Woolworth's, some friends and I were talking the other day about the old Raven Hotel in Castle Street, the building which was replaced by Woolworth's in the early sixties. Now, I personally have no recollection of the Raven. I would have been but a toddler when it was dismantled. But pictures of the place are enough to convince me that Shrewsbury lost a real gem when it said goodbye to this amazing-looking hotel.
By all accounts, this had been one of Shrewsbury's principal inns for well over two centuries. And I was fascinated to learn that, during the 1950s, many showbiz stars appearing at the nearby Granada Theatre stayed there, including Lonnie Donegan, Frankie Vaughan, Norman Wisdom and even Laurel and Hardy. (Apparently, Oliver Hardy's wife had her jewellery stolen while staying at the hotel.)
Returning to my original point about garish shop signs, I grant you that, when it comes to the degradation of a town centre, inappropriately colourful signs are hardly comparable to the loss of a fine old building, but, in the end, it all comes down to the need to protect and cherish what we have.

Besford House: Is It Too Late?

THAT WRECKING BALL, I fear, is being prepared, and – if you listen very carefully – you might even hear the bulldozers revving up.
I have a horrible feeling that the Battle for Besford House is already lost.
And yet we are talking here about a handsome Victorian mansion which (wait for it) stands within a conservation area, for heaven’s sake! If a place like this cannot survive in a conservation area, where would it stand a chance?
We are also talking about a Shrewsbury building which, having been for decades an important children’s home, has much to say about the history of the area.
And almost 70 members of the public have objected to the plans which would see it swept away.
When I first wrote about Besford House some weeks ago, I had little idea that it meant so much to so many people, but the article generated considerable and heartfelt feedback from readers.
Within days I received letters and emails from people who really care about this gem which is tucked away in a quiet corner of Belle Vue.
It is currently under threat because developers wish to build new housing on the land and dear old Besford House does not figure in their plans.
Councillors were today due to be discussing and making a decision on this issue.
And the scheme, which would include demolition of Besford House, is recommended for approval.
In the comprehensive report before councillors, it says:
“It is clear from the historical assessment that has been done of Besford House that it does retain some character and features that are of some architectural and historical interest.
“Furthermore, it is acknowledged that even in its considerably altered form, or some modification of it, it would probably be preferable to retain the building as part of any redevelopment of the site.
“Notwithstanding this, located where it is on the site, it would be difficult to incorporate redevelopment of the house into an overall development scheme for the site.
“Furthermore the only real potential use for the building which might be economically viable would be conversion to flats which in itself in all likelihood would require significant alteration and sub-division, which would introduce a form of accommodation that is not currently present in the local area.
“On balance officers, including the Conservation Section, have concluded that the loss of Besford House can be justified for the greater beneficial use of the whole site provided this is in a form which is of good quality and which is acceptable in all other respects, including impact on the conservation area.”
Did you catch those two points early on in those paragraphs?
1. It does retain some character and features that are of some architectural and historical interest.
2. It is acknowledged that even in its considerably altered form, or some modification of it, it would probably be preferable to retain the building as part of any redevelopment of the site.
Now I know I’m a sentimental old thing and I happen to think old buildings should almost always be saved if at all possible (because, let’s face it, they are almost always more beautiful than modern buildings). But mine is not merely an argument over aesthetics. Mine is an argument about history and heritage and what is and isn’t appropriate in an area like Belle Vue.
There is an “old boy” of Besford House, 80-year-old Bill Preen of Monkmoor, who is currently researching and writing a book about the place; about it having been built in 1897, and then how, very soon afterwards, it became a children’s home in those dark days of crushing poverty and terrible workhouses for those whose options had run out.
Such ‘new’ and relatively enlightened children’s homes back then must have shone like a beacon in an era when the alternatives for youngsters without support were grim indeed.
This is history. This is part of the story of Belle Vue. This is important stuff.
Angeline Smith wrote to me to say: “My father and two brothers were put into the home in 1914 when their father died at the age of 35.”
Raymond Bullock wrote to me to say: For me Besford House was wonderful and the staff were outstanding.
“I was there during the 1950s after spending time at Pen-y-bont, Shrewsbury, The Hollies, and the Vineyard children’s homes in Wellington.”
Vivienne Rozario wrote to say: “I was so pleased when I read your article about Besford House. I too think this is a beautiful building and should be saved from demolition. There must be something we can do.”
And Michael Holliday wrote from Australia: “Besford House is very important to literally hundreds of Shrewsbury and Shropshire families. Between the wars it was home to large numbers of boys who were either orphans or from homes where a single parent could not cope.”
What an awful shame it would be if, by the time Bill Preen’s book is published, Besford House itself is gone.

Abbey Foregate Railway Station

Stick around long enough and little miracles happen – like new life slowly being breathed into the long-derelict Abbey Foregate railway station.
For decades, this was one of those “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” buildings, a structure so apparently insignificant that few local people even knew it was there.
I well remember meeting up with school pals in this neck of the woods – long before the regeneration that came with the new link road in the early 1980s, long before the new Greenhous Vauxhall showrooms, long before the Beaten Track pub and the Safeway supermarket which eventually became Asda, long before Cineworld.
When I was 11 or 12, I probably knew nothing of the history of this area. I certainly don’t recall being aware of the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway. All that would come much later.
No, we schoolboys would just congregate there sometimes – because it was a kind of cool and mysterious place.
There were broken down buildings just crying out to be explored. Now, this might well have involved trespassing, but there were no signs around to suggest this, and back then there was a sense in which the whole world was free and open.
We were never out to make mischief, never out to be a nuisance to anyone, and we most certainly did not go in for smashing old windows or any kind of vandalism. It was just fun to hang around with mates in this semi-wasteland full of ghosts.
Back then there were still railway lines in this area.
In amongst the ballast supporting the lines you would occasionally stumble upon an ancient cigarette packet covered in oil or a torn page from some old railway document – an artefact from another era.
Why were there still railway lines there in the 1970s when the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway had vanished many years before?
Well, because there was an oil depot there in Abbey Foregate and the sidings were still being used by British Railways for transporting oil tankers (and continued to be used right up until 1988, finally being taken up in 1990).
All this came back to me on Sunday when the old Abbey Foregate station (undergoing renovation) was opened to the public, and I popped along to see how things were developing. There is still a lot to be done here as the idea is that it should become a permanent little museum and visitor centre, but much has already been achieved – thanks to the Shrewsbury Railway Heritage Trust.
The trust was formed in 2003 with the intention of recording, documenting, preserving and telling the story of the railways in Shrewsbury and its region for the benefit of future generations.
A noble ambition indeed.
The trust is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee, managed by a board of eight directors. It has a membership of more than 100.
Its declared aim is to record the social and economic impact of the railways upon Shrewsbury and the wider region. Shrewsbury was of course one of the most important connectional hubs on the early UK rail network with its extensive marshalling yards in Coton Hill, Coleham and Abbey Foregate, the latter known locally as ‘the back of the sheds’.
As a boy I was always very aware of ‘the back of the sheds’ with my grand-dad having been a Great Western Railway man.
It was a fascinating area.
And the handful of streets which still bear the name – ‘the back of the sheds’ – remains a fascinating area.
On Sunday, there was not a tremendous amount to see at the old station – a few pictures of how things used to be, a couple of information displays, a book stall. But it was enough to give you a little taste of the place – and also a little insight into what it can become.
Stop-start, stop-start funding has meant that the project is behind schedule, but hopes are high that the place will be fully open to the public in the not-too-distant future.
For those unfamiliar with the history, the old station here was once part of the Potteries, Shrewsbury and North Wales Railway, known more commonly as “The Potts” – established by Richard Samuel France, a wealthy Shropshire entrepreneur. The 18-mile main line from Shrewsbury to Llanymynech opened on August 13, 1866 with a further extension serving the Nantmawr quarries. Owing to financial difficulties the company was wound up in 1881.
The Potts somehow carried on in a state of suspension until Colonel Holman Fred Stephens took charge in 1908 and renamed the enterprise the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway.
This ran from 1911 to 1933. In 1941 the War Department requisitioned the line, running trains to and from its ammunition storage depot at Nesscliffe.
Some modest service then ran after the war but the railway was handed over to BR in 1960 for dismantling.
For more information on the Shrewsbury Railway Heritage Trust contact Mansel Williams on 01743 235103 or Phil Hughes on 01743 359853.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Folk Music and Steam Engines

I want to talk about folk and I want to talk about steam.
The two things actually have quite a bit in common in that the folk music of these islands and those noisy, smelly, gorgeous steam engines both have much to say about our history and our heritage.
Both can be seen as being as interwoven into the fabric of our nation as afternoon tea and scones or church bells being heard across the village green.
And both, as it happens, are celebrated with tremendous aplomb in Shrewsbury on the very same weekend.
Let’s kick off with the folk music.
I was lucky enough this year to be able to go along to the Shrewsbury Folk Festival at the old West Mid Showground on Sunday. My wife and one of our sons came along too and we met up with other members of the family including Super-sister Jan and Splendid Nephew Tim. (These are not just silly nicknames, by the way, they were actually christened like that).
The uninitiated first happening upon the scene – giant flags flying as if this were some medieval encampment, and strange-looking Morris Men all over the place – might indeed have their worst fears about folk music confirmed within five minutes.
Because, let’s face it, however marvellous they are, Morris Men and giant flags are not everyone’s pint of real ale. But those virgin  visitors to this event did not have to worry for long. Because (just as there is more to the steam world than Victorian fairground organs) there’s an awful lot more to the 21st century folk scene than Morris Men.
Let’s cut to the chase. There’s that aforementioned real ale for a start (and real cider too). There are the arts and crafts stalls, and entertainment for the little ones. Food and drink of every description . . . and the music, oh, the music!
Talented musicians and singers across a whole spectrum of genres (with the very lose umbrella of folk bringing it all together) can be found around every corner.
We loved (among others too numerous to mention): the stunning Jon Boden and the Remnant Kings, the beautiful traditional sounds of Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party, and the utterly bonkers but somehow magnificent Frumptarn Guggen Band.
We also loved the legend that is Richard Thompson and the three lovely Swedish sisters who are called collectively Baskery (so great that we went and saw them a second time later in the day).
But of course the Shrewsbury Folk Festival was not the county town's only major event taking place over the bank holiday weekend.
If (like the girl wizard Hermione Granger in one particular episode of Harry Potter) I possessed the magical power to be in two places at once, I might well have popped along also to the Shrewsbury Steam Rally, founded in 1961, staged at Onslow Park on the outskirts of town and organised by the unfailingly enthusiastic ladies and gentlemen of the County of Salop Steam Engine Society.
But I am not like Hermione (neither in terms of time-travelling ability nor – come to that – in any other regard) and so a choice had to be made.
As you have heard, we opted for the Shrewsbury Folk Festival.
But, believe me, I am a fan of the steam rally as well.
And because I have a real soft spot for steam engines, vintage vehicles, classic motorcycles, vintage fashions, fairground organs, cider-making (all things you would find at this event), I found it hard to understand the sniggering cynicism of certain of my colleagues when talking about the rally.
Terms like 'trainspotters', 'railway enthusiasts' and 'vintage car aficionados' appear to spark derision among some people, and I find this a little sad.
Now, that is not to say I haven't come across the odd ‘anorak’ myself over the years: people who assume that you’re just as fascinated as they are by the wheel arrangement of an LMS Mixed Traffic Class 5S.
Certainly, years ago, I had a friend like this myself.
Instead of regaling us with tales of the sultry seductress at the supermarket checkout who would wink at you over the cucumbers, instead of telling us about the man down the street who liked to dress up as Napoleon and then throw soil over his uniform to replicate the dust of Waterloo, instead of telling us of the crazy woman who insisted she was the love child of Lonnie Donegan and Marilyn Monroe, he would bore us to tears with detailed information on pistons, the pros and cons of different gauges, and the exact horse-power of certain locomotives.
But you don’t have to know anything at all about pistons, gauges and horse-power in order to thoroughly enjoy the Shrewsbury Steam Rally, a quintessentially English event, packed full of lovely sights and sounds to thrill anyone with a respect for history and anyone with a little romance in their soul.
I love the fact this rally is staged every year, and to the splendid people who work so hard to make it happen, I say a sincere ‘Well done’.
I’ll catch you next time.

I'd Rather Have A Matchbox Car

Joyous expectation of a shiny new Matchbox car (”If you're good”) will fill a little boy's legs with super-human strength, allowing him to walk miles without complaint, without a moan, without a murmur. As every parent knows, a little bribery goes a long way.
I was four years old and walking hand-in-hand with my mum from our house in Springfield towards Meole Brace. We would have been heading along Oteley Road, the golf course on one side of us, open fields on the other. 
The Hazeldine Way link road from Meole to Rea Brook wouldn't have been even a twinkle in its daddy's eye at this point. Indeed, it's likely that its daddy (architect, road-builder, town planner) wasn't even born yet.
This was 1961, a time before 'link roads' and supermarkets and retail parks – and Shrewsbury looked very different to how it looks today. This was a time of thriving corner shops and even cute mobile shops which visited housing estates such as Springfield a couple of times each week. It was a time of the drama serial, Sir Francis Drake, on television, and Supercar, The Rag Trade, Danger Man, 77 Sunset Strip, and Bonanza.
Chubby Checker was doing The Twist while Helen Shapiro was Walking Back To Happiness.
But none of that mattered to me, of course. I was just looking forward to Mum buying me that Matchbox car. 
By the way, I swear I remember running my little four-year-old fingers across the coarse ferro-concrete wall of the 1933 bridge across the Rea Brook as we walked across it towards Hereford Road.
I'm fairly sure Mum and I must have been visiting relatives that day (probably Auntie Vi who lived on Hereford Road), but all I remember is my reward for being good - which turned out to be a little pale green Commer milk float – purchased from one of those nice little shops I was just talking about, a shop situated on the Hereford Road with houses either side. I think it's a laundrette now.
Yes, a great deal has changed since those days. For starters, we have the huge Meole Brace retail park with its Sainsbury's and Halfords and Pizza Hut and Toys R Us and . . . need I go on? And we also have (again where those open fields once were) the new Shrewsbury Town Football Club stadium.
But it's not going to end there, is it?
Not only are we to have a new Waitrose supermarket in Oteley Road (the go-ahead was given last month), but there's a good chance that yet another superstore is going to be squeezed in behind the BP garage at Meole Brace.
It surprised many of us that the Waitrose project got the green-light, considering the close proximity of the big Sainsbury's. But Waitrose is on its way in late 2014 as part of a £40 million scheme which will see Percy Thrower's Garden Centre relocated to new 60,000 sq ft purpose-built premises.
But now a report in support of the rival supermarket near the BP garage insists the viability of this Hereford Road store would not be affected by the Waitrose decision.
Now wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute.
Where has this report come from? Oh, it's come from Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners who were commissioned by the developers Morbaine who are the people wanting to build this new Hereford Road store.
I see. Oh, and the report adds helpfully that the town's other existing major supermarkets 'should be able to withstand' the arrival of the two new stores, given their current strong performance levels.
You know, I'm not sure I'm unduly worried about whether or not the other existing major supermarkets in Shrewsbury will be able to withstand the arrival of the two new stores. I imagine the mighty Sainsbury's, Tesco, Morrrisons and Asda are quite big enough to look after themselves.
It's the small and independent shops in our lovely town centre that I'm more concerned about.
I'm no expert on 'footfall' or 'passing trade' and I certainly don't profess to be an expert on economics or population levels.
But just how much more 'out-of-town' retail development can our town centre take?
Simon Airey, owner of Corner Exotics and a former president of Shrewsbury Business Chamber, has said each additional supermarket will 'increasingly damage' the town centre economy.
There is a ring of truth and a ring of common sense about that.
Don't talk to me about yet another supermarket.
Frankly, I would much rather have a pale green Matchbox milk float.
I was then, and am now, easily pleased.

A Day of Self-Indulgence

You know you must be getting on a bit when you daren't stop on a busy high street in case some do-gooder wants to help you across the road.
Okay, I know I'm not quite at that stage yet, but there are times when I realise I'm not as young as I used to be, and there are days when I want to shout out (to anyone who'll listen): "Stop the world. I wanna get off!"
It's at times such as these that there really isn't anything else for it but a day of therapeutic self-indulgence – and, for me at least, this almost always involves a large helping of Shrewsbury.
And so it came to pass that I treated myself to just such a day last week, a day packed full of the things I love.
Oh, before you ask, by the way, my wife and my mother-in-law (always listed among the things I love, needless to say) had taken themselves off to the Shrewsbury Flower Show for some quality mother-and-daughter time, and our sons were out and about doing other things. So, yeah, I had the whole day to myself.
The delicious ingredients of my special day were beginning to arrange themselves into an irresistible soufflé.
So let me see now. There was my aforementioned large helping of Shrewsbury, there was chocolate, The Beatles, beans on toast, the library, a long chat with a dear friend, sunshine, coffee, Castlefields, a riverside walk, and a Neil Gaiman novel.
It was a day that ticked a lot of boxes.
In brilliant sunshine I walked over the Castle Walk and the Castle Bridge (a stretch that, as a boy, I walked twice a day, first on my way to school, then on my way home). And then I was in Castlefields and the life-enhancing streets of my childhood, streets packed with history and happy memories. This always does my heart good.
Strolling along the riverside on such a beautiful day, my cares began evaporating. And then it was on to the splendid Shrewsbury Library for peace and contemplation within its elegant rooms. There can be few other libraries in this kingdom quite as lovely.
Upon my return home it was time for a revitalising spot of lunch: good old lovable beans on toast. And music – The Beatles debut album, Please Please Me. Now, contrary to popular belief, I do listen to groups other than The Beatles. Hundreds of bands and artists feature in my extensive collection, and I certainly do not confine myself to a particular era or genre, but we are talking here about a day of total self-indulgence, and although I 'like' plenty of other bands, I actually love The Beatles. On such a day, it had to be them.
A good cup of coffee and a chocolate bar and your humble columnist was now at the gates of Paradise.
Unexpectedly, there was a knock at the door. It was my dearest old friend (and, yes, I'm going to name him) – Steve Parry. (This will embarrass him, but what the heck!)
Steve and I go back a long way . . . to when we were about eleven, in fact. And it was great to see him on this day of reconnection and pampering of the soul.
He and I went to Belvidere School together, and we went to Tech together. We went to the same dreadful discos together in the seventies, and wore the same appalling fashions – rust-coloured eight-inch flares and shirts with rounded collars and stupid motifs (I remember especially a monocled gentleman in a bright green top hat repeated dozens of times, turning a humble shirt into a ridiculous work of art).
We've been great friends for 45 years and if I can't let him into my day of therapeutic self-indulgence, who can I let in? Anyway, a cup of tea and a long chat with him, and he was on his way.
Then, an hour or so of reading the Neil Gaiman novel I am so enjoying at the moment (Neverwhere), a book of pure escapism, a book that somehow draws upon Dr Who, Star Wars, Monty Python and traditional fairy tales, while maintaining grit, horror, and plenty of humour too, and it was time to go and pick up the girls from the Flower Show.
I've got to say. I feel a lot better now. (Thanks for asking).

The Albert in Smithfield Road

The young man on the door turned out to be the son of an old friend, and told us, in hushed tones and with a conspiratorial wink, that he would let us in free of charge.
The only snag was that we would have to walk straight through the ladies’ toilets, out the back door and then climb up the fire escape.
Fair enough, we thought, and followed his instructions.
At the top of the fire escape was another door. As we went through it we found ourselves on stage, standing alongside a punk band blasting out a 90-mile-an-hour Sex Pistols number.
It was Christmas Eve, and – as we clamboured down off the stage to join the audience – I remember thinking that this was not your normal Christmas concert.
The lead singer was naked apart from a Santa Claus hat upon his head and a festive sock upon his . . .
The band went on to thrash their way through the songs of The Clash and The Damned – not the most festive of repertoires.
But it was terrific fun.
Now, this was a few years ago now, but it was not a night to forget in a hurry.
Myself and my companions were in The Albert on Smithfield Road, one of Shrewsbury’s great old town centre pubs, and it was hosting punk rock on Christmas Eve. At 150 years of age, you’d have thought the old Albert would’ve known better.
I now read with interest that big plans are being drawn up for the future of The Albert.
In preparation for a whole new chapter in its history, the place is undergoing a £250,000 transformation into a new cocktail bar and restaurant. It will reopen in early autumn as The Albert Lounge Bar.
Now this might sound like terrible news to those who remember it as a good old-fashioned pub with a pool table and a darts board. But you know what they say – ‘use it or lose it’ – and I suppose it wasn’t doing so great as a traditional boozer and so the new owners felt a change was necessary.
James Hitchin, the 27-year-old new co-owner of the venue, says he expects the revamped site to employ up to 18 full-time staff, along with about six part-time employees. (And, as far as I know, he has no plans for punk rock on Christmas Eve). James is taking on the site with his brother John and sister Katie and said family ownership had been a key part of the building’s history.
“It was originally run by two brothers and it was always a family affair traditionally.”
“It is nice to have a family doing it again.”
The new bar will include a 60-seater restaurant with food served throughout the day, and there are plans (wait for it, wait for it) to include live music in the evenings.
Well, what do you know? Maybe – although perhaps I shouldn’t suggest it. It might upset the chilled-out cocktail bar clientelle.
It’s possibly not right to sing along to London’s Burning whilst sipping one’s mojito (and trying desperately not to poke yourself in the eye with that miniature umbrella). Goodness knows, I’ve tried, and it’s not easy.
James has worked in Shropshire and across Europe as a bar tender, recently returning to the county to take on The Albert after a spell of living in Cardiff.
He says the famly has a long association with the county’s pub trade, as their parents Peter and Beryl Hitchin were the former owners of the Plume of Feathers in Harley, near Much Wenlock.
James said he hoped the new-look Albert would benefit from the recent re-opening of The Buttermarket nightclub on Howard Street.
“We want to become the middle point from town to The Buttermarket,” he said.
Sounds like a plan, James.
And the very best of luck to you.

A postscript . . .
A week or so after our use of the fire escape at The Albert, I received this rather terse letter from the Trumpton Fire Brigade:
Dear Mr Gillam,
We feel we should point out that a fire escape is put in place for a very serious reason.
It is not there simply for people like you and your fellow revellers to access concerts staged by up-and-coming beat combos.
That said, if you do enjoy live music, perhaps we can recommend the Trumpton Fire Brigade Brass Band which plays every Sunday in the bandstand.
Yours sincerely,
Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grub.