Clungunford: 2002

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Clungunford is a small village, with a population of around 300, in Shropshire, on the River Clun.  It doesn’t have a shop or pub but does have a village hall and St Cuthbert’s Parish Church.  In 2002, it had an amazing tea room where I bought this tea towel.  I purposefully went to Clungunford because I had heard about the Bird on the Rocke tea room; I wanted to see for myself if a tea room could be as good as it was claimed.  I remember it being so.

Based in a 17th Century, former alehouse with uneven walls, wooden beams, low ceilings, thick walls and wonkey floors it was an ideal setting for a traditional tea room.  There were oak tables and chairs, Blue Italian Spode china, more than 50 loose leaf teas, Art Deco tea pots and the most amazing scones.  Bird on the Rocke was a tea room that knew what it was good at, did not try and be ‘all things to all people’ and concentrated on a simple, quality menu, taking it to perfection.  The apple and cinnamon, home-baked scones were fabulous; as were the ginger ones.  Bird on the Rocke tea room had developed it’s own blend of loose leaf tea – the Shropshire Blend; this was a clear, golden blend of tea with a distinct flavour.  I have to say I bought some to take home.

Doug and Annabelle Hawkes, who owned and ran Bird on the Rocke, had both worked in the film industry as film set dressers and had given up their jobs to set up this tea room. The tea room walls were covered in film memorabilia: pictures, props from quintessentially English productions like Jeeves and Wooster, Brideshead Revisited and Miss Marple.  The music that played in the tea room was 30’s and 40’s records.  Their attention to detail created a beautiful atmosphere, the sort of atmosphere where you wanted to sit and while away the time.

In 2004, Bird on the Rocke won the Les Routiers ‘Cafe of the Year’ award: “Mrs Beeton meets the 1930’s in the 21st Century”.  It was also the Tea Council’s Top Tea Place.  This is a prestigious award which they said was for “it’s consistently high level of tea quality” and for “helping the nation achieve tea perfection”.  I did go back after I knew they achieved these awards and the same high quality was still there and the apple and cinnamon scones were still perfection.

The tea towel is cute.  It has a basic map of the very small village centre and surrounding hamlets, with a few sketches of old buildings in the area: St Cuthbert’s Church, Abcott Manor which is a Grade II Listed building, the Old Schoolhouse amongst others.  I bought this tea towel to remind me of that first delightful afternoon because I didn’t know if I would return.  I am certainly glad I bought it for those memories although I did visit again.  Not long after, however, it changed hands, and name (to the Rocke Tea Room).  This is what a good tea towel does – recreate good memories to bring back that one moment in time.  (Many apologies for the pale green print which makes the image not easy to see; this is the original colour and not due to fading).

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Cheltenham: 2006

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Cheltenham is a large spa town in Gloucestershire, on the edge of the Cotswolds.  It is listed in the Domesday Book and has some amazing Regency architecture.  It is actually described as the most complete Regency town in Britain.  Cheltenham has a lot of potential but I think 2006 must have been a ‘bad’ year for me.  I didn’t like Cambridge very much and Cheltenham didn’t fare any better.  Again, it’s a shame because it has such potential but misses the ‘Wow’ factor.

I visited Cheltenham when I was on a short break in Gloucestershire.  We were looking for a nice tea room – you know, loose leaf tea, bone china and delightful cakes.  Cheltenham seemed like a dead   cert but actually it took ages to find Frere Jacques, a small French Patissiere.  It didn’t serve loose leaf tea but it was in bone china and the tiny macaroons were delightful.  However, for me, Cheltenham was rather souless, I couldn’t get enthused.

To make matters worse, the design of the Cheltenham tea towel was the same as that of Cambridge and Warwick; for somewhere with the potential of Cheltenham it should have been able to come up with an original design.  Moreover, when I sought out Frere Jacques two years later, it was closed.  You can’t like everywhere, and some places can just be disappointing.

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Appleby Horse Fair: 2013

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I have known about Appleby Horse Fair for most of my life; I have passed Appleby-in-Westmorland on A66 when the Fair is on but I have never actually attended the Appleby Horse Fair.  It is one of those events that I have always been intrigued by.  I can remember exactly where, when and why I bought this tea towel as if it were yesterday.

The Appleby Horse Fair, held annually in Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria, in early June, is an enigma.  It has been held since 1685 under what was thought to be a Royal Charter but apparently, recent research has shown that, although a Royal Charter was drawn up, it was never actually sealed so there is no actual legal entitlement for the meet; custom and practice prevail .  The Appleby Horse Fair is where up to 15,000 Gypsy  Travellers, from all over Great Britain, gather to buy and sell horses, meet up with friends and family and gather to celebrate the Gypsy Traveller culture.  Amazingly, there is no organised or scheduled programme of events; things just happen as they always have done.  Horse selling takes place, usually at Gallows Hill (named because it was the site of the local gallows) near the crossroads of the Roman Road and the Long Marton Road.  There is no organisation that is responsible for planning the Appleby Horse Fair.  The nearest thing to structural organisation is the appointment of a Shera Rom, the head Gypsy Traveller, who is responsible for liaising with the local authority about things like temporary toilets and road closures.  The most amazing sight is seeing hundreds of horses drinking at the River Eden, being washed down prior to be sold.

The Appleby Horse Fair attracts up to 25,000 non-Gypsy Travellers who want to take part in the atmosphere of this event.  There are additional camping and caravan parks to cater for the visitors.  As we know, there is always controversy surrounding the Gypsy Traveller population; as a result of this there has been a lot of evidential research about what happens at Appleby Horse Fair.  For example, people often talk about the rubbish that Gypsy Travellers leave behind at their sites.  Research has shown that the whole area of Appleby is cleaned up within two days of the end of the week-long Fair so you wouldn’t know that it had ever taken place, paid for by the Gypsy Travellers.  This is faster than at other events of this size.  The second myth is about the level of crime associated with Gypsy Travellers.  Police statistics show that crime levels are lower than for other similar events; most arrests are associated with drug offences, mainly committed by non-Gypsy Travellers and the third myth is about potential animal cruelty.  The Appleby Horse Fair has a high number of RSPCA Inspectors present who note very little poor treatment of animals and have reported high levels of animal welfare.

I bought this tea towel in the Tourist Informtion Centre in Appleby.  I loved the picture; it has such atmosphere, with the combination of traditional caravans and crowds of people.  While I was admiring the tea towel, pondering whether to buy it, I struck up conversation with one of the workers who was extremely knowledgeable about the Appleby Horse Fair and was passionately committed to the event.  She was very excited by this new tea towel, designed by a local person.  Perhaps more memorable, and nothing to do with the Horse Fair, was that this discussion took place five days after an accident I had had following a seizure.  I looked pretty horrendous with a swollen face, bruising, dried blood and bits of plaster.  In the past, my experience has been if you use a stick, for example, everyone thinks they have the right to ask you why and to interrogate you about your medical history.  Suddenly, with the damage to my face, no one mentioned it, just stared, almost like it was a taboo subject, that I was a victim of some kind of domestic violence.  I hated it.  I just wanted to tell people that this was about epilepsy, and that epilepsy isn’t a taboo subject.  Yet this woman asked me about it and showed some interest.  I was grateful that someone was open enough to ask and I had someone to tell the tale to.  Appleby is a place of potential myth about Gypsy Trvaellers and it seemed like a good place to dispel a personal myth and openly talk about epilepsy.

One word of warning, if you are in the area of Appleby around early June, avoid travelling on the A66 if you want to travel fast otherwise you will get caught behind a number of horses and traps; they are great to look at but not a help if you want to get somewhere quick. Appleby is a great place with lots of atmosphere and I just think that I would like to go to the actual Horse Fair.

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Grasmere Gingerbread Shop: 2001 and 2013

All the guidebooks of the Lake District will tell you to visit the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop because of it’s history and location and because everybody should try (and therefore buy) some gingerbread.  They are right, of course but my only warning is that if you see a tourist coach in Grasmere car park, wait before visiting the Gingerbread Shop because otherwise you might be part of a long queue.  I have queued for more than 20 minutes while a coach load of tourist all make their purchases.

Both my tea towels are pure publicity material for the Grasmere Gingerbread Shop.  I bought the first one in 2001; it is white with a royal blue sketch of Sarah Nelson and the Gingerbread Shop with a long description of the ‘history’.  The second I bought in 2013 which is a photographic, full colour image of the shop also with a description of the ‘history’, not exactly in the same detail.  The fact is that the history is all a bit vague.  Basically, Sarah Kemp was born in 1815 in Borrowdale; she came from a poor family and went into service at an early age.  In 1844, she married Wilfred Nelson and in 1850 they moved to Grasmere where she went into service again, working under a French chef who was impressed with her family gingerbread recipe and suggested she sell it.  A former schoolhouse, owned by the Church, and where Wordsworth and her sisters taught, became vacant and Sarah and Wilfred moved there and set up shop.  The gingerbread she made was wrapped in vegetable parchment marked ‘Sarah Nelson’s celebrated Grasmere Gingerbread’.  After both her children and her husband died, Sarah buried her grief in her work and continued working until her death at the age of 88.  On her death the business was taken over by her two great nieces who evetually sold the recipe (and therefore the business) to it’s current owners.  The actual recipe is a secret and is kept in a vault.

Grasmere Gingerbread is trademarked and sold either wrapped in greaseproof paper or in silver tins.  The gingerbread is delicious and very distinctive. I bought one packet in a tin in 2001; I have kept the tin as a storage place for the wooden ‘pegs’ that I pin up Christmas cards with.  It is still in perfect condition.  I have to say that I have bought many more packets of gingerbread in the greaseproof paper.

The shop itself has not changed since I first visited it; it is still cramped but delightful but the setting has changed.  It is built on the edge of St Oswald’s churchyard, where Wordsworth and his family are all buried. More recently the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden has been created, largely by volunteers, between the River Rothay and the churchyard.  The path is paved with engraved, memorial tablets of stone with names of  people from all over the world who have found peace in, and loved, the Lake District.  It is a beautiful garden in a contemplative setting with wooden seats under the trees; in springtime it is full of daffodils and encircled by fell views.  I am glad I bought the second tea towel, not just because the first one has a number of tea stains but because it reminds me of the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden and the fact that Grasmere Gingerbread really hasn’t changed and I like that – a combination of the old and the new.

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Quaintways Tea Rooms: 2002

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Quaintways Tearooms was a tea room in Penshurst, a small village in Kent which grew up around Penshurst Place, built in 1552 and home to the Sidney family.  With a population of less than 1500 people Penshurst was able to support two tea rooms in 2002.  I bought this tea towel when I visited Quaintways Tearooms as a result of reading about it in a tea room guide.  It is a classic piece of publicity material with a sketch of the tea room, another of Penshurst Place and a few details of the tea room including it’s opening hours – very unusual to commit such fine detail to a tea towel.

Quaintways Tearooms was a building converted from two 18th Century cottages and a bakery.  It retained the old oak beams and the bakery oven, creating a lovely atmosphere for a very traditional tea room – lace tablecloths and vintage china.  The cakes and scones were superb.  I loved this tea room and bought the tea towel to remind me of a lovely day out, which is a good thing because when I returned in 2012 I found that Quaintways Tearooms had closed the previous year.  That’s what makes a good memory tea towel, without the tea towel I might have forgotten all about this charming tea room.

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Stevenage: 1999

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This is a tea towel that was part of my leaving present when I left POhWER, an advocacy organisation I worked for.  However, it is one of those tea towels that makes links between various other parts of my life and therefore has some very special memories for me.  I can almost hear Steve and Liz, friends of mine who worked with me in Stevenage, cringe at that last sentence.

When I went to Swansea University, I did a degree in Geography and Sociology.  One of the modules that I did for two years was Urban Social Geography and a significant part of that was about the development of the New Towns during 1950’s and 1960’s, following the New Towns Act of 1946.  The government recognised that there was a huge need for new housing after the second world war: partly because of the bomb damage in places like London and Liverpool, partly because of the poor state of the housing stock and partly because of the increase in population.  There were 28 New Towns identified; these were not completely ‘new build’ but constituted the addition of small self-contained communities onto existing small towns and villages.  I chose to look at Stevenage and Cumbernauld (in Scotland) in more detail.  I have to say, for this piece of work, I received the highest mark of all my course work (and I had never visited either place until many, many years later). The Abercrombie Plan, which was the blueprint for the New Towns Act, called for a ring of New Towns, around London initially.  Stevenage was designated as the first New Town on 1 August 1946. The plan, as with all New Towns, was to have small additional communities, each with it’s own shopping centre, community hall and pub, within easy walking distance of parks and open woodland and a place of worship.  Each community would have it’s own primary school and several communities would share a secondary school.  Simple.  Sounds good. The proposal for Stevenage met with a huge amount of opposition.  There were protest marches, petitions and a referendum; all showed a significant opposition.  Residents called for meetings with Labour Government ministers.  But, of course, at this time, before it became a New Town, Stevenage was very small, so it had a very small voice, less than a population of 7000.  Lewis Silkin, a Labour Government minister came to meet a delegation (including a ‘sit-in’) at the Town Hall.  His words were “It’s no good your jeering, it’s going to be done”.  Consultation is so good!!  He did promise that the new communities would surround the Old Town, rather than demolish the Old Town.  So what happened? Six new communities were developed, as planned, over the following 20 or so years but the first building to be knocked down was the old Town Hall where the protesters met with Lewis Silkin, a promise not kept.

Things about Stevenage that you might not know: (a) The Pied Piper pub in Broadwater is the only pub in Britain to have been opened by the Queen (b) The pedestrianised town centre was the first purpose-built, traffic-free shopping zone in Britain (c) Lewis Hamilton, Jack Wilshere and Ian Poulter were born in Stevenage – obviously a good place for sports people (d) Stevenage has the tallest street lights in Britain (e) EM Forster lived there (f) The Woodland Trust rate Stevenage as the best town in Britain for access to woodland; 99.9% of the population are within two miles of woodland over 5 acres in size.  This is better than the New Forest. (g) Stevenage had the first segregated network of cycle tracks (h) Stevenage was in the Domesday Book; it’s Old English name meaning ‘a place at the strong oak’ and an oak tree is at the centre of it’s Coat of Arms (i) In 1281, Stevenage was granted a Royal Charter to hold a weekly market and an annual fair, which are still held in the High Street (j) In 1986, 2000 silver Roman coins were discovered when a housing estate was built at Chells Manor (k) The earliest signs of settlement in Stevenage are the Roman remains from the 1st Century AD and during the development of Stevenage as a New Town a lot of Roman remains were unearthed (l) Stevenage was a Stagecoach stop on the Roman road that follows the AI (m) Stevenage, as part of it’s development, was designed with as few traffic lights as possible, only to be replaced by a huge number of roundabouts (large, small, mini, double, multiple and treble) which are in fact a feature of the whole of Hertfordshire and many of the New Towns.

With all this history and social development you would think that Stevenage was the place for me; I love a bit of history. All the ‘hype’ about New Towns would suggest that Stevenage would be a fascinating place.  Charles Dickens wrote in 1861 “The village street was like most other village streets: wide for it’s height, silent for it’s size, and drowsy in the dullest degree”.  Personally, I can think of no other way of describing Stevenage than as souless, concrete, cold, full of the most annoying and badly designed roundabouts, totally without atmosphere.  The communities of shops, community centres and pubs were all identical.  You could drive around Stevenage and get lost very easily because everywhere looked the same.  Stevenage, in my opinion, was ugly.

So how did I get to know Stevenage?  That’s a long story.  Are you ready?  In 1996, I was working in an advocacy organisation in Leicester.  I’d been there 6 years, set it up from scratch and really enjoyed it. Then one day in November my husband, John, dropped dead, suddenly and unexpectedly.  Dead within 12 minutes of an ambulance being called.  It was a hugely difficult time and whatever anyone says, if you go through something like that you are never the same person again.  You can go through that dark tunnel, come out the other side, live a really fulfilling life, enjoy yourself once more but you are never the same.  Being bereaved, you become hyper-sensitive to what is happening around you.  People don’t know what to say to you but I was aware that people were waiting for me ‘to get over it’, to return to normal.  When you are the boss, that is a big pressure to bear because I knew it wasn’t going to happen.  My decision was, taken without consultation with anyone, that I had to change jobs, start afresh, preferably out of Leicester.  Anyone will tell you that if you are bereaved you should not make any big decisions!  Over the next few months I applied for a lot of jobs, filling in long application forms; jobs in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Bristol, Harrogate, London, Wakefield….I withdrew most of the applications before I knew if I had even been shortlisted.  Then I saw a job in Hertfordshire with POhWER, an advocacy organisation based in Stevenage.  It actually sounded like a great job, a job that I could do and I worked out that I could commute.  Commuting would take a bit of time but then I needed something to occupy my time and I probably wasn’t in the right frame of mind to move house.

On the way to the interview, I practiced my answer to the question “Why have you applied for the job?”.  I thought all that stuff about bereavement was a bit dramatic but in the end I told the truth – I needed to change my job, I needed to get out of Leicester  and I could take my time about whether or not to move house.  The interview was at the Novotel in Stevenage, everything happened in the Novotel.  As soon as I met the interview panel I knew I wanted the job and that is how I got to actually go to Stevenage and see the New Town policy in action.

I was based in Chells (one of those 6 communities) but my job involved managing projects across the whole of Hertfordshire – Ware, London Colney, Welwyn, Potters Bar and St Albans.  Stevenage, itself, might have been naff but the job was great – very challenging, lots of great people and two friends of mine from Leicester (Steve and Liz) later joined POhWER so were company on the long commute.  The best part of my memories of Stevenage was working with, and for, Dave Morris.  Dave was a disabled man who was the Chief Executive.  He changed my life; he changed my way of thinking; he was a role model.  He was an activist in the disability movement nationally; he was a great advocate of campaigning against assisted suicide and assisted dying; he had set up an organisation to enable disabled people to live independently with care designed around their needs; he was a campaigner for Direct Payments and the Independent Living Fund.  He was a man with the most outrageous T-shirts; he loved heavy metal music, art, film directing, travelling on narrowboats in France and beer, especially beer.  He was a fan of real ale.  He was passionate about access to education and always claimed that he wasn’t fortunate to get to university because he had no choice about his education; he went to Nottingham University because it was the only university that could cater for his needs.  He hated ‘specialist’ education of any sort.  He had a great sense of humour, didn’t suffer fools gladly, did not tolerate poor quality services.  He made POhWER a superb organisation at that time.  I had a two year contract and as the two years were coming to an end I was offered a permanent contract.  By that time I had had enough of commuting and started looking for other jobs but would only leave if I found the job of my dreams, which I did.  I was sad to leave POhWER and had a great leaving do with this tea towel at the centre.  I was sad to leave Dave but met up with him for many years after I left.  He became the Equality Advisor to the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone and was an advisor to the London Olympics.  He sadly died in 2010.  I miss him greatly.

This tea towel represents the old and the new of Stevenage: the Roman road, Stagecoaches, the charter for the market and the fair as well as the hideous clocktower of the New Town.  It is a very special tea towel with very special memories even though I think Stevenage is one of the least attractive places in Britain.

Update: 2 November 2015

One of the exciting ‘side effects’ of my Tea Towel Blog is that sometimes friends of mine contact me to add their memories to my thoughts.  In relation to Stevenage, Steve rang me.  For over 18 months Steve and I travelled daily from Leicester to Stevenage by car (my car, since Steve didn’t drive and I was still able to do so), starting at about 6.45 am and not getting home until about 7pm.  When he rang, we talked about how we actually managed to while away the time on those journeys.  Steve reminded me that I introduced him to Radio 4 (being much younger than me, he was usually a Radio I  listener although I understand that with the passing of time he has joined the Radio 4 brigade).  Steve would always try and ‘nod off’; if, on the other hand, you are a car driver there is nothing more annoying than your passengers falling asleep so I made great efforts to keep him awake.  In the evenings the journeys were more about ‘therapy’, off-loading the day so by the time you got home Stevenage was a distant memory.  Most of the conversations started with “You cannot tell anyone this….”: this was about secret weddings, new relationships, awful social workers, people we didn’t get on with, situations that we may not have handled in the best way and other things of little consequence to the overall scheme of things.  But conversation never dried up.  If the journey was a little longer than ususal I was able to introduce Steve to the Archers on Radio 4, something he was not familiar with and I would probably go as far as to say that he hated (and still does apparently).  I had forgotten that Steve’s love life was always of interest to me and he was skillfully able to avoid telling me anything – didn’t stop me asking!!

The 168 miles round trip, to and from Stevenage, could be done by three different routes: MI to Junction 10 and through Luton, A47 to Peterborough and south onto the AI or A6 to Market Harborough and then onto A14 and A1.  If we did the A6 route, we passed a Little Chef restaurant just outside Market Harborough.  There were never any cars parked outside of it; we could never understand how it managed to survive.  Steve, Liz (who later joined us) and I promised ourselves that we would have a Christmas celebration there to help them out; at least we knew we didn’t have to book! And at Christmas 1999 that is just what we did.  How sad is that?  There was also a fish and chip shop in Desborough which had our custom on a number of occasions, especially when the journey had taken longer than expected.  What memories!! Thanks for the phone call, Steve and thanks to the tea towel for reminding me.

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Theatre Royal, Nottingham: 2015 (retracing memories from 1978 onwards)

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The Theatre Royal, Nottingham celebrates it’s 150th birthday this year and among the merchandise for the celebrations is this classic tea towel with the strap line “Celebrating the past…Reflecting the present…Inspiring the future”.  It is a beautiful representation of the facade of the theatre with it’s Corinthian portico; the tea towel has some subtle colouring/shading in blues and browns which gives it a very artistic feel.

The Theatre Royal was opened in 1865; it’s first production was ‘School for Scandal’; to celebrate the 150th birthday, this year’s programme also had a production of ‘School for Scandal’.  The theatre is owned by Nottingham City Council who was responsible for it’s restoration and re-opening in 1978. More than £4million was spent on this process because the Theatre Royal hadn’t been able to attract the major touring companies; it had the reputation for the worst dressing rooms in the country.  The restoration has certainly changed that; now Nottingham Theatre Royal is highly thought of as a venue for touring productions.  The Theatre Royal is a very traditional Victorian theatre with four tiers of seating: stalls, dress circle, upper circle and balcony.  The internal decoration is regency green with gold embellishments.  To coincide with the 150th birthday, the Theatre Royal has done a lot of work around access including installing a lift to all floors.

In the early 1980’s, on the site of the old Empire Theatre, next door, the Royal Concert Hall was built.  It is regarded as being one of the best concert venue acoustics in Europe.  The Theatre Royal and the Royal Concert Hall are operated as one unit.  Both venues are on the ‘circuit’ for pre-West End shows, both musicals and plays, as well as opera and ballet seasons, single concerts.  In October 1952, the Mousetrap had it’s world premiere here on it’s pre-West End tour which, of course, now the longest running theatrical production in the world.  On it’s 60th anniversary, in 2012, the Mousetrap toured the ‘provinces’ and was here for one week.

I love going to the theatre, always have done; it is easy to become a theatre enthusiast if you have grown up in London and have the West End on your door step.  There is nothing quite like a live production – whether it is a Shakespeare play, comedy or tragedy, musical, opera, concert, amateur or professional.  It is the anticipation, the atmosphere, the sights and sounds, the interpretation, the mistakes……..Having lived in Long Eaton, Castle Donington, Leicester and Leicestershire since 1974, I have been going to the Theatre Royal since it was re-opened by Princess Anne in 1978.  I have seen some interesting performances: in 37 years I have only walked out of one production because I thought it was ‘rubbish’ and that was Quadrophenia about two years ago; I did miss ‘Singing in the Rain’ because they could not raise the safety curtain when it got stuck; I saw what can only be described as a ‘limited’ performance of a musical based on Tina Turner because the star and both understudies had a throat infection; I saw the Pirates of Penzance when part of the scenery fell down (but was soon remedied); I saw Only Men Aloud when they were an hour late because of an accident on the MI.

The first production I remember seeing at the Theatre Royal was the Pirates of Penzance with the D’Oyly Carte.  I had seen lots of amateur productions of Gilbert and Sullivan before, because I knew several people who were in amateur dramatic societies, but this was the first professional performance.  What I didn’t realise when I had booked was that I was going to be privileged to see John Reed as Major General Stanley; this will only make sense to any reader if you are a Gilbert and Sullivan fan.  John Reed was regarded, in his time, as “the best there has ever been in the baritone patter song roles”.  I had a lot of LP’s (back in the day) with John Reed on them and here I was watching him in real life.  I remember sitting in the front row of the dress circle, leaning on the balcony, mesmorised.  He was brilliant, very comical and made the role his own.  He only remained as a full time member of the D’Oyly Carte until 1979 but I saw him in HMS Pinafore and Iolanthe when they came to Nottingham.  After that John Reed made guest appearances at places like the Savoy Theatre in London; anytime he was on, I was there.  I will always be grateful that the Theatre Royal introduced me to John Reed live.

The first  manager of the restored Theatre Royal in 1978 was Barrie Stead; he was a friend of a friend of mine with whom I used to go to the theatre.  Barrie was a charismatic figure who staff were in awe of.  He was a man with ideas who was tasked with making the Theatre Royal viable.  He arranged for Barrie to give us a tour of the refurbished theatre; absolutely fascinating.

Since 1978, I must have been to the Theatre Royal/Royal Concert Hall at least once a month on average.  I have to admit that I have never been to a pantomime (and they always have a good cast) because I really don’t like pantomimes.  What is my favourite show?  Too many to mention.  Besides any Gilbert and Sullivan performance, I did love Cabaret (with Will Young) and On the Town (with Connie Fisher); but I’ve seen Ralph McTell and the Spinners in 1980’s (I was a great fan of the Spinners).  Joan Baez and Brian May were pretty fantastic.  Then there Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Blood Brothers, Kes, Starlight Express, Chess, All the Fun of the Fair with David Essex.  One of my all time favourites was Howard Keel who I adored, that voice.  But then I have seen things like Sleuth and Mathew Bourne’s Cindarella, something that I probably wouldn’t have chosen to see but was fantastic because it was a live performance.  What I like about the Theatre Royal and Royal Concert Hall is that it offers such a varied programme.  Great venue for male voice choirs like Only Men Aloud or a brass band like Brighouse and Rastrick.  I’ve seen Anton Du Beke, Vincent and Flavia and Brendon Cole from Strictly Come Dancing over the years.  What am I looking forward to? Definitely, the Proclaimers and Grimesthorpe Colliery Brass Band.  But actually anything will do.  I love it.

I think having a venue on your doorstep like this, where the seats are comfortable and the access is good, is something you shouldn’t overlook.  I have learnt what to avoid, what I don’t enjoy.  I only have to look at this tea towel and the memories of all the shows that I have seen come flooding back.  The Theatre Royal reawakened my interest in the theatre 37 years ago and it hasn’t stopped.  If I go on holiday I always try and see if there is a theatre nearby and if there is something on that I might be interested in.  Edinburgh, Manchester, Rhyl, Aberdeen, Cardiff, London on numerous occasions, Buxton, Harrogate, Sheffield, Scarborough, Cheltenham, Southampton………..  Can’t wait for the next performance (and occasionally there are tea towels associated with these performances!!!)

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum

https://virtualteatowelmuseum.com/2017/05/14/the-england-wales-and-northern-ireland-collection/