diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 13, 2011

Day Out: Northampton
It's one of the largest towns in Britain that isn't a city. Its a county town on the edge of the East Midlands. It made its fortune from the shoe industry. It boasted one of the country's most important castles (now buried beneath the railway station). It's only an hour from London by train. And it's absolutely not somewhere you might think to go for a February day out. So I did.

Visiting... Northampton Museum and Art Gallery
Some county town museums are a bit pants. This one's mostly shoes, and all the better for it. The entire downstairs is given over to displays of footwear, and also to the art of cobbling for which the town is duly famous. Somebody's been very very busy collecting shoes of all shapes and types, from medieval leather wraps to 1970s disco wedges. Some are small and dainty, others large and clompy (there's even a massive pair of Doc Martens as originally worn by Elton John, circa Pinball Wizard). There are more ladies' than men's, just as the shoe rack might be in your house, but also a special red-lined cupboard of fetish boots for the gentleman who can't quite make up his mind. A gallery at the back reminds visitors that shoemaking required considerable human skill across a wide range of hard-to-mechanise processes. Much of the labour intensive work has long since drifted abroad, but Church's still handmake Oxfords and brogues in their factory up St James Road. For those with more contemporary tastes, the museum's currently hosting a special exhibition devoted to the history of training shoes. The story kicks off with green Dunlops and those black plimsolls we all wore in 70s gym lessons, but focuses mainly on the top international manufacturers and their rubber-soled creations. Sneaker obsessives will have read all the facts before, but will no doubt lust after all the retro trainers boxed up from the first time around. Adidas Superstars, Air Jordans, New Balance 600-and-somethings... your Heritage Lottery money helped to assemble this lot, and it's attracting a younger audience than normal. Upstairs, yes, a history of Northampton and a lot of old porcelain. But it's the shoes you'll remember.
(Sport to Street - 15 January to 3 July 2011, admission free)

Visiting... Greyfriars Bus Station
Whoever designed this cavernous 1970s bus station must have hated Northampton. It regularly tops lists of the most hated buildings in Britain, and it's very easy to see why. A Brutalist hybrid of bus station, office block and carpark, it sits astride the ringroad like two conjoined aircraft hangars [photo]. The waiting area's sandwiched between two very long undercover bus lanes, so to get inside you'll have to enter from underneath along a dystopian subway [photo]. Long, off-white and featureless, you can imagine it might have featured in A Clockwork Orange if only the film hadn't been shot quite so early. Once in the heart of the beast you first enter a concrete vault of dismal proportions, where there's one of the least enticing cafeterias you'll ever set eyes upon. A few small tables spaced out beneath striplights, a red-tiled kitchen area which'll do you a £3 breakfast until 1pm, and a ragbag of customers who look ready to give up on life. Head up the escalators into the bus station proper and things don't really improve. The building's so long that no daylight seeps inside, just the occasional bus headlamp flashing past. Rows of wooden benches stretch off into the far distance, where a population of lost souls sits and waits until their chosen service comes to spirit them away. If the economy improves, there are plans to demolish the whole of Greyfriars bus station and build a shopping mall in its place. Normally I'd baulk at the idea but here, sorry Northampton, bring it on.

Visiting... The National Lift Tower
Well, you've got to test a lift somewhere, haven't you? And they used to be tested here, in this 127m-high tower on a Northampton trading estate [photo] [photo]. To give you some idea of scale, that's about five metres taller than the spire of Salisbury Cathedral, which is what's made the tower a true landmark for many miles around. It belonged to the Express Lift Company, who knocked it up over a few weeks in the summer of 1980 and then brought the Queen round to open it. There are six shafts inside, none of them from the very top to the very bottom, but enabling a wide range of elevator mechanisms to be duly assessed. All went well until the company was taken over by Otis Elevators, who swiftly closed down all operations in 1997. A hasty Grade-II listing prevented the tower from being demolished, and the surrounding land's since been redeveloped as a fairly ordinary housing estate [photo]. That's good if you want to get up close because there's now public access to the base, or at least to the modern roundabout surrounding it [photo]. It must be odd living in the shadow of such a tall and slender tower, but the folk I saw out mending their cars and lugging the shopping home seemed barely to notice it. Good news - the building's operational again. It's been snapped up by a private company who now operate it as a research, development and lift testing facility. If all goes to plan they'd also like to install a scenic elevator on the outside of the tower and turn it into a tourist attraction, although I'd say the business case for that sounds somewhat shaky. In the meantime there's an abseil planned for the May bank holiday weekend, should you have an impeccable head for heights and a desire to see all of Northampton laid out beneath you.

And also...
Northampton Guildhall - an ostentatious Gothic pile built on the site of the old Town Hall [photo]
Market Square - a historic shopping area that's not as fine and dandy as it once was
Carlsberg Brewery - a photogenic (but smelly) collection of pipes and silos on the banks of the Nene [photo]
That other place you absolutely have to visit in Northampton (of which more tomorrow)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream