Friday 7 September 2018

PONTEFRACT to visit Alan and Cath Mace.

Arriving from the Northern Line at Kings Cross with St Pancras in the background.
On Saturday 1st September at 9.30am, I emerged from the Northern Line  into the concourse between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations. The sun was shining and it was warm. I had the tickets for Alan Parry and myself to Wakefield Kirkgate printed off from my laptop, in my pocket.Alan was coming up from Byfleet and should arrive at Kings Cross just after 10am. We were travelling to Pontefract to stay with Alan and Cath Mace for the night. Alan had invited us up to give us a guided tour of Pontefract and visit some of its pubs.

Half of a supermarket trolley sticking out of a brick wall?????

 I had a wander around Kings Cross Station concourse looking for a coffee shop. Next to platform 9  is the Harry Potter supermarket trolley, suitcases and bird cage, apparently disappearing into a brick wall onto ,"Platform 9 and three quarters," from where the, Hogwarts Express, in the novels, travelled north. There was a crowd of Harry Potter enthusiasts gathering near this spot. Many were dressed as characters from the stories.  There were film cameras and photographers hanging around. Some of the fans dressed as Potter characters were being interviewed.  There were a number of security guards. I asked one what was going on. September 1st is the day the pupils of Hogwarts returned to school in 
 Rowling's novels. The fans were celebrating the event. 

Potter fans gathering at Kings Cross.

 Alan arrived and we both stood in the crowd who were obviously waiting for something to happen. Alan asked another security guard about the event. He told us that some of the stars from the latest Potter film, The Crimes of Grindwald, were going to make an appearance. Jude Law and Eddie Redmain appeared at the entrance of the Harry Potter shop. They posed with the trolley and had pictures taken with some of the fans and smiled for the cameras. 

Fans filming Eddie Redmain and Jude Law at ,"platform 9 and three quarters."

Witnessing an event like that makes you wonder how people get so involved and become so passionate about a fantasy like Harry Potter.  Some people need that sort of thing to get through life I suppose. 

It was time for Alan and myself to board our train north from platform 5 going to Doncaster and Wakefield.We boarded the,” Shakespeare Express."

Alan getting ready to board The Shakespeare Express.

We pulled out of Kings Cross and began our journey north. We passed the The Emirates stadium  on our right. The train sped along smoothly at 125 miles per hour.It felt like gliding over a sheet of ice. The sun shone. The buffet carriage was next to our carriage so we got coffee and tea during the journey. Two ladies sitting opposite us offered us biscuits. We arrived in Wakefield Kirkgate at 1.38pm. Nobody was about. Wakefield seemed empty.

Wakefield Kirkgate.

 We asked a man sweeping the platform when the train from Wakefield to Pontefract was expected. He thought the train to ,”Ponty,” might be cancelled because of the unofficial strikes that were going on.   We decided to get a taxi to Alan Maces house. It was a journey of about eight miles. The taxi driver was a sociable sort, "F," ing and ,"blinding," amiably as he drove us along telling us about his great invention for keeping the sun off his SATNAV screen. It appeared to be a piece of card cut out of a Wheetabix box, but it obviously worked for him. 

Alan and Cath's house in Pontefract.

Alan and Cath live in a detached house on a new estate on the edge of Pontefract, in Cavendish Avenue. Very ,”Surrey.”  Alan, after showing us our rooms, placed a bottle of Black Sheep Ale  on his coffee table, in front of us, to get  the afternoon off to a liquid start.

From Alan's house we walked into Pontefract centre. Along the way we passed through an area of cultural diversity. We walked past Tokies pizza restaurant and the Pearl Dragon Chinese takeaway.

 A large open piece of land that was covered in grass had all sorts of ridges and rectangular raised bits pushing up from underneath the surface. 

The site of St Johns Priory, Pontefract.

An information board explained how this was the site of an old priory dating from between 1090 and 1536. It had been called St Johns.

 Looking out over the countryside later from Pontefract Castle, which is on a hill, we saw in the distance the  water towers of the old coal fired power station at Ferrybridge. Near it and much smaller, glinted the shining steel chimneys of the new Ferrybridge Renewable Energy, Multi Fuel power station.  Those in authority, are thinking of demolishing the old cooling towers. The towers are part of the scenery and have been part of the lives of people in Wakefield and Pontefract for generations. What can be done with disused cooling towers? They look like works of art.

Ferrybridge Power Station in the distance.

As we walked along we came across Alan’s favourite shop, "A.B. J. Wood." They are a DIY and hardware emporium.  There were pieces of architectural salvage at the back of the premises, a red telephone box, railings, fencing,stone cherubs and old rusty railings. A large  polythene bag full of soil pipe parts dangled over the front entrance. Alan reckoned Mr Wood sold everything. I like shops like that. 

A.B.J. WOOD hardware shop, Pontefract.

A Shell garage across the road had a line of cars at each pump perfectly in line, like the starting grid of a formula 1 race.

Ready for the chequered flag.

Pontefract is old and we came across examples of its ancient past at every turn. Set in amongst a grove of lofty beech and horse chestnuts stood the ruins of All Saints church. It dates from the 14th century but it was destroyed and left a ruin during the siege of the castle further up the hill during the English Civil War. In 1837 a new church was built inside the ruins of the old church. It looks strange, a church  within an old ruin. 

All Saints Church, Pontefract.

On a street corner with Victorian terraced houses and a few ramshackle shops surrounding it is a worn grassy area with a rectangle of stones, no more than ten feet wide and fifteen feet in length . This was the stone foundations of Kirkebi Anglo Saxon Church built in about 700AD and mentioned in the Domesday Book. Here  King Eadred accepted the allegiance of the Northumbrians and Archbishop Wolfston of York. The church was no larger than a cupboard. They were either very small people or they got very friendly in there.

Kirkebi Anglo Saxon Church.

Further up the hill is Pontefract Castle. It has a dark history. It was one of the great northern castles and it was thought whoever controlled the castle controlled the north. It became a magnet for trouble. Built in 1070 by Ilbert de Lacy it was described in the Domesday Book of 1086. Henry 1st confiscated it from John de Lacy because he failed to support the King. Roger, John’s son and heir, later paid Richard 1st 3000 marks for it back but the King still kept the castle.  Later King John, returned the castle to the de Lacys and they lived there until the early 14th century.In 1311 it was taken over by the House of Lancaster. The Earl of Lancaster was beheaded there because of treason and became a local martyr  and revered by the population. John of Gaunt took it over but he was banished by Richard II. Henry Bolingbroke, John of Gaunts son, who had been banished with his father from the country returned when Richard was away, probably waging some war or other, took back his estates and became Henry IV. In 1536 Thomas Darcy gave it over to the Pilgrimage of Grace, a northern Catholic uprising against Henry VIII. He was beheaded for his troubles. In 1541 Catherine Howard, Henrys fifth wife, was accused of adultery with Thomas Culpeper. The act of adultery taking place in the castle. She was beheaded. Mary Queen of Scots stayed there. It became a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War and was besieged three times. At the end of the Civil War the castle was demolished. The local population was thankful. They were fed up with all the trouble the castle had brought them. 

Some of the ruins of Pontefract Castle.

"Ponty," is a picturesque town with Georgian, Tudor and Medieval buildings. It has blue plaques everywhere. One plaque remembers Peter and Fred Asquith who founded ASDA supermarkets.It is also home to the Tangerine Confectionary Company. They make Sherbet Fountains, Black Jacks, Fruit Salad, Liquorice All Sorts and Refreshers. The ancient, "Buttercross," is a  Medieval Market. 

The Buttercross.

Pontefract has a covered market off the High Street. It was being closed up for the night when we got there but we were able to have a  walk around it. The first shop we came across in the market sold Yorkshire cheeses. Liquorice Cheese, sounded good.

Pontefract indoor market.

On the other side of town is ,Haribos, who make Pontefract Cakes. Alan and Cath placed three bags of Pontefract Cakes on our respective beds, as welcoming gifts. 

HARIBOs where they make and sell Pontefract Cakes.

The three of us spent the evening touring the pubs in Pontefract. For a small country town it has a lot of pubs and we went into a few of them. We started in the The Broken Bridge which is the local Wetherspoons. We ate there. I had a good steak and chips.A few of the other pubs included, Horse Vaults, The Malt Shovel, The Ponty Tavern, The Red Lion, Liquorice Bush, and the Golden Ball.

We had a drink in here.

 In one pub I asked the barman about slag heaps. When I first travelled north , in the 1960s, when I was 13 years old, I remember seeing slag heaps everywhere. I have travelled north often over the years and slag heaps seem to have disappeared. The barman told me to look out of the back of the pub and pointed out a low hill that appeared to fit into the landscape. He told that was a slag heap. Its top had been removed and it was grassed over. 

The remains of a slag heap.
On the Sunday, the day Alan and I were to return to London, Alan made us breakfast of baked beans, mushrooms, eggs, sausages and bacon. He did an amazing job. Alan and Cath’s two dogs, Monty and Rory, two  black Labradors,  sat patiently and slavered at the sight of the food. Cath suggested, that as we had time before our 12.50 train from Wakefield to Kings Cross,we might visit the National Trust Park at Nostell Priory, an 18th century country mansion built in 1733 for the Winn family. 

Nostell Priory.

The house designed by James Paine with a wing and stables designed by John Adam is set within 3000 acres of beautiful parkland. The Winn family financed all this, first through the textile industry, then coal mining and also mining iron ore for the Industrial Revolution An extensive lake surrounded by trees and paths has large patches of lily  pads  and at this time of year is blooming with yellow flowers. The sun shining on the lake amid the shadows cast by the trees presented a lovely sight.

A walk in the park with Monty and Rory.

We walked around the estate while Monty and Rory ran for their yellow ball. We all got lots of throwing practice. We arrived at the impressive obelisk lodge gate at the far extremity of the estate. A herd of heifers gathered at the gates to the lodge house. The expansive grass areas all around were splattered with thousands of ,”cow pats.” Some of those ,”cow pats,” were big, very big. The heifers are well fed.

The Obelisk Lodge.
You have got to admire the Winn family who owned the estate. They were nothing if not persistent. One generation ran out of money in building the house. The next generation took on the project. Expenses had to be cut. Eventually they achieved what the family had set out to do at the park. 

Us three and the dogs.
There was no time before our train to see inside the house. It has collections of Chippendale furniture, and  Brueghel and Hogarth paintings We had a cup of coffee in the stable block and then it was time to drive to Wakefield Kirkgate Station. Alan and I said our goodbyes and thanked Alan and Cath for a fantastic time and then the two of us were off back to London.