Chris Ellis, Past Lives Project musician and music researcher took a walk with Fred Webley , who grew up in Carr Vale and agreed to show us the landscape he remembers as a boy. Chris has recorded this walk which we are hoping to make available as an audio walk through Past Lives Project.
“Walking down from the top of Car Vale, we come to a broad swathe of grass that still cuts a clean line through the town. This is the path of the railway track built by William Arkwright for his Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway. The line never made it all the way to the coast but it came through here, disappearing into a tunnel a few hundred yards east up the slope that cut through the escarpment and emerged at Scarcliffe. The tunnelling disturbed so many natural springs that flooding was always a problem in the tunnel and a water works was built to cater for the outflow and supply the town…
We make our way up the line of the tracks in the warm sun, towards where until the ground falls away ahead into an overgrown thicket … this is the way to the all that remains of the tunnel entrance, now sealed with concrete.
On the way back down, we look again for remains of the water works but it has all been erased, though the brook still runs clear, right down past the ends of the lower streets of the town & into the valley, Fred remembers playing in the brook as a boy – damming up the water which, coming as it did from natural springs via a drinking water filtering system, was crystal clear.
The series was apparently shown only once, in 1981* – and copies are rare: no-one I have spoken to has seen it… it would be good to see those sequences of Carr Vale…maybe we will have a look for it.
We’re standing on the track bed of a branch of the Midland line that served the local collieries and the Byron Brickworks – where Fred got his first job at 17. He was in the brick pressing room two weeks later when the news came that the plant was to close.
The site and its rail sidings are covered in birch and sycamore trees now, but Fred can locate the surviving loading bays in the undergrowth where the coal for the kilns arrived; and further into the trees we find traces of the high quality bricks that were prized for their durability; they are noticeably dense & heavy to lift; Fred reckons these were mostly rejects by the look of them.
We’ve been walking south along the railway line from Carr Vale. Now we turn North and take a path that runs back up the valley alongside the River Doe Lea.
Ahead are some big ponds – now a wildlife reserve. I assume they are where the clay
for the bricks was originally dug, but Fred puts us right - this is the result of mining
subsidence: the coal seams under the river were dug out more cautiously than the area surrounding it, leaving more columns of coal & rock standing to support the ground. As a result, the land around the river sank unevenly and created these dips; later we see lines of fence posts disappearing into the water.
As we walk we talk of the experiences of a childhood in this valley: the favourite haunts and games, the long six weeks of freedom in the summer.
There were dangers to be sure – and Fred tells of boys who died in accidents while playing around the railway wagons or clambering into tunnels. But without taking these lightly, there was also a freedom to roam that it’s hard to imagine now.
As we come closer to Carr Vale again, we scramble up the embankment that once carried Arkwright’s railway east across a viaduct and through the town. This is the site of one of Fred’s childhood exploits: pushing empty wagons up the incline as a gang & then riding them back down to hit the buffers at the bottom.
From up here you can see the squares of new Bolsover – the model village built by the Bolsover Mining Company in a genuine attempt to create a better living environment for its workers. Carr Vale was built soon after as the mine expanded – though it was clearly designed on more utilitarian lines. A description from D.H. Lawrence about houses on a hillside runs vaguely through my mind as we stand there; later I look it up & it turns out to be from Sons and Lovers:
“To accommodate the regiments of miners, Carston, Waite and Co. built the Squares, great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillside of Bestwood, and then, in the brook valley, on the site of Hell Row, they erected the Bottoms”
We are about 15miles as the crow flies from Lawrence’s home territory in Eastwood… a good days walk.
We end up back down in the town, just over the dividing line between Carr Vale and New Bolsover, standing by a new sculpture to commemorate the finding in 1978 of a fossil ancestor of the dragonfly on the coal face at Bolsover colliery. It’s one of the best specimens ever found of its species and is now in the British Museum. They stopped the cutter at the coal face while the geologists had a look for more; Fred recalls the story that the foreman’s advice to any miner who noticed another fossil that might hold up production was sharp and to the point.”
*A footnote on Sons and Lovers:
A quick look around for information on the BBC series reveals that it was shot in 1980 and scripted by no less a writer than Trevor Griffiths – there is a mention of it on his site at:-
And to top it off, the music was by John Tams …