Is That Concrete All Around Or Is It In My Head?

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August 3rd 2016
Published: August 3rd 2016
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What better place to be on Yorkshire Day than Yorkshire?

I find myself heading north to south on the M1 and turned off into Barnsley. I think I have been to Barnsley 3 or 4 times in my life before – always for football - but never really looked round the town centre. I think my last visit was possibly in 1989 - a 4 – 0 defeat in the FA Cup. Cup Fever was cancelled for another year. It was Freddy Freestone’s swansong in a Chelsea shirt, albeit he took a few months to make his way home to Swansea. I can distinctly remember a cold, cold Friday night in the early 1980s too. In those days, town centres on away days were a dangerous place and the usual sightseeing was determined by exactly where the police escort from the train station allowed you to walk. I successfully managed to miss the 6 – 0 victory when the Tykes made it all the way to the Premier League in 2000 and sat through a tepid 0 – 0 draw at RWD Molenbeek on Belgium instead. The unpredictability of football.

I parked the car up on a leafy street north of the town centre. The houses were substantial stone villas, presumably where those who profited from Barnsley’s industrial wealth chose to reside in late Victorian times. It was a 10 minute stroll straight down the Huddersfield Road towards the town centre. I like places where you can park for free within reasonable distance of the actual destination. It encourages you to visit. The streets could have been lined with resident parking restrictions – as they were a bit closer in – but realistically that is just going to persuade you to visit Meadowhall and push a town centre further into decline, Full marks to Barnsley Council. I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, but the early paces were encouraging.

The first point of interest was the headquarters of the NUM (South Yorkshire). Barnsley has a long tradition of glass-making, but is mostly famous for the coal mines. This was Arthur Scargill’s heartland and presumably this building was the nerve centre of the strike in 1984 / 1985. It was late afternoon, but there was no sign of life. The side entrance was fairly insignificant, so much so that I didn’t even notice it - It was only when I noticed the statue outside that pays tribute to those who suffered as a result of industrial disputes that I turned round. I supposed somewhere in my sub-conscious, I thought that the NUM along with the British coal industry had almost ceased to exist. In reality, a trade union with a 170,000 members at the time of the strike is now reduced to a mere 100 active today – all in the space of 30 years. I looked at the NUM website out of interest and it isn’t really any consolation to those who no longer work in the industry that most of their predictions were pretty much spot on. Goldthorpe was the last local colliery to close in 1994. The Grocer’s Daughter was successful in her mission and we are now almost totally at the mercies of the market for imported coal. I have mining in the family, albeit ironstone. Coal mining and ironstone mining were totally different animals. Higher seams and no gas in an ironstone pit. I went down the former Caphouse Colliery pit shaft near Wakefield a couple of years ago. The roof had been cut higher for visitors, but it was still difficult to move around.

As I said earlier, glass was the other big industry in Barnsley. It has faired slightly better than coal – relatively speaking. Rexam Glass sold their business to Ardagh Glass, who I think still manufactures in the town. The first glass recycling bottle bank opened in Barnsley in 1977, so something we now think of as commonplace originated here. I noted the town emblem is a coal miner and a glass blower either side of a crest. It must be particularly irritating for the NUM. The photograph used on this blog was taken just a few blocks from the NUM headquarters building. I crossed the road, drawn by the red building that is Barnsley College. It reminded me of the Mailbox shopping centre in Birmingham. I would later note that this building dominates the skyline, even from the other side of the town centre. I read with interest that “half of the “Sheffield” band, the Arctic Monkeys, studied music here. A name derived from that away terrace of the early 80s at Oakwell, if ever there was one! The red of the College building was offset by the colourful bed of flowers opposite. A couple of old restored coal wagons were the centrepiece. On the far side of flower bed and St Mary’s Church was a statue to Dickie Bird, the famous cricket umpire, sticking his finger in the air as he faces the outbound traffic. Dickie is possibly Barnsley’s most famous son. I last saw him wandering round Trent Bridge a couple of years back. The adjacent St Marys Church adjacent was underwhelming and surrounded by large trees. The Barnsley Campus of the University of Huddersfield was next door. The Cooper Gallery, containing a local philanthropist’s collection of art, was opposite. I did consider popping in, but it was all set to close.

I wandered towards the impressive looking Town Hall building. The foundation stone of Barnsley Town Hall was laid on 21 April 1932 and it was opened by His Royal Highness Edward, Prince of Wales in December 1933. The cost of construction of the town hall came in at £188,000. A tidy sum. The building was the subject of criticism from George Orwell in his book "The Road to Wigan Pier". The author had a spell living in the town and thought the money should have been spent on improving the living conditions of local miners. Whatever the rights and wrongs, the Portland stone has stood the test of time. In bright sunshine, it would have been an impressive backdrop to the Centenary Square. The forecourt area of the Town Hall is dominated by the War Memorial. An interesting memorial to the fallen of World War 1 lined the borders of the flower beds. Today part of the building houses not Council workers, but the "Barnsley Experience". Free entry. I headed for the door, only to learn that as with the Cooper Gallery it was preparing to close. Alas, my opportunity to learn more of the history of the town was evaporating. It seems 1600 hours is the witching hour for all things cultural in Barnsley. Shame, really. The Heritage Lottery money only stretches so far. A fountain danced across the forecourt to the side of the Town Hall. A large rusted steel sculpture was below the fountains. Crossing: Vertical 2006 by Nigel Hall. the piece is on loan from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is just on the other side of the M1 motorway above the town. The dull light didn't help the colours on the statue. The area was largely deserted part from myself and a few youths chasing these Pokemon Go characters, who must have been in my midst. The square is lined with the drinking dens, all of which were sparsely occupied. A couple sat outside Walkabout – “20%!o(MISSING)ff food and drink for Barnsley season ticket holders on matchdays” - looking in vain for the sun in the afternoon gloom. I continued my own walkabout and chanced into the Victorian Arcade. The Arcades is Leeds have transformed themselves back into the fashionable part of retail with the arrival of Harvey Nics and other major players into that area of town. In a similar vain, the occupants of this arcade were at the forefront of Barnsley retail. The purveyors of Armani , Stone Island et al had taken up residence. It reminded me of the Boro, where the survival and prosperity of such as Pysche and Triads selling top retail brands goes on. Barnsley might have lost coal, but the youth are still keen to spend their cash on looking the part. However I was disappointed to note that the vinyl revival in town had not been sufficient to support Dude Records, which had closed down.

The town of side I had seen so far had been quite appealing. A mix of the old and new with a bit of culture thrown in. I moved on to concrete jungle. It seemed that the same town planners who had been at work in nearby Sheffield had left their mark. The main retail area was trapped in functional concrete blocks. The Alhambra Shopping Centre had clearly suffered with the success of Meadowhall. I walked into the main Boots branch in pursuit of a free gift that the Other Half had noted and cut a coupon out her mum’s newspaper. I perused the shelves to no avail and enquired of an assistant. “Sorry, we don’t stock that brand anymore. The nearest would be Meadowhall” was the friendly response, delivered in a matter of fact, no nonsense accent. I retraced my steps to find that the Barnsley Markets was under partially under reconstruction. “Towards a Better Barnsley” was the slogan and the phases were laid out for all to follow on billboards surrounding the site. One helpfully advised that there is still a tripe stall on the market. The plan appeared to be eradicate that 1960s feeling. I hope it works.

The smell of fish and chips wafted over me. I hadn’t really paid that much attention up to this point, but there seemed a disproportionately high number of fish and chip shops in the town centre. The cappuccino revolution that has completely swamped other town and city centres doesn’t seem to have caught on here. The Barnsley folk must prefer a cup of tea and a nice piece of haddock……. and there is “nowt” wrong with that. The Parkway Cinema was having a happy Monday. All tickets were a fiver. There weren’t many takers or perhaps it was in between shows. The £5 in your pocket goes a long way. In the not so Victorian arcade across the street, a haircut was a mere £4.99. A ladies trim was £5.99. A lady was in the chair taking up the offer. I walked down to the Barnsley Interchange – a modern transport hub. South Yorkshire always did public transport well, although at a price these days. The bargain fares of the 80s are long gone. I had been here before on football missions, as described earlier in the blog. It had no resemblance to yesteryear though, when it was affectively Barnsley Railway Station. I moved in the direction of Oakwell, home of Barnsley Football Club. I was so engrossed in looking back at the vista of the town centre, that I missed a turn and walked out of my way. Where are those Police escorts when you need them? I eventually got back on track by the sports complex that is the Barnsley Metrodome. It all looked familiar again, as this was the way direct to the “away” end. A large “Welcome to Barnsley” mural was painted on the wall behind me to add some colour to the occasion. Oakwell has been completely redeveloped since I was last here and only the Main Stand remains a relic from the past. The bright red walls are neatly topped with broken glass to discourage unauthorised entry. The large “away” terrace behind the east goal has been replaced by a modern covered stand. The opposite end is also a large modern stand with the club offices. The staff were just leaving for the evening, as I walked across the car park. The rest of town were busy making their way home by now too. Although the traffic seemed quite light in contrast to most towns. It was the second week of the kid’s summer holidays, so many parents would be on holiday. The level crossing by the Interchange inconveniently went down, as I approached the town centre. It did however give me an opportunity to note the banners on the lamp columns, highlighting Barnsley folk of significance. The one adjacent to the Barnsley Markets sign was Joseph Bramah – hydraulic engineer. Joseph really cracked it with getting the Wethespoons round the corner named after him. I looked in vain for a Dickie Bird or a Michael Parkinson or an Ian McMillan “the Bard of Barnsley”, who does some amusing paper reviews on BBC Breakfast. I hope they were there somewhere. The pubs near the Town Hall were still quiet, as I made my way back past the Barnsley Chronicle “Established 1858” and Barnsley College to the car. A group of boisterous girls were heading into town. The pubs I had just passed could very well have livened up shortly after.

I sat in the car and worked out my next move. Athersley North was my destination. I was looking for Athersley Recreation Football Club of the Toolstation Northern Counties League East. Sheerien Park was hosting a pre-season friendly with Evostick North team, Ossett Albion, being the visitors. It wasn’t particularly out of my way, so I thought why not? It was about 3 miles from where I was parked. I made a mental note of a couple of landmarks and set off. The pubs in town might have been quiet, but the New Lodge MW looked fairly lively even at 6.30 pm. I turned into the Athersley North estate and located the car park of the football club between a gap in the houses. I parked up as directed by the 2 stewards on duty and dined on the sandwiches I had brought. There was a £3 admission charge at the single turnstile, but you could see where they were spending it. The ground was immaculate. The car park side featured a small club shop, a club office, snack bar and the Rec Inn (serving alcohol). A group sat in the outdoor enclosed seating area -“no alcohol beyond this point”- enjoying a beverage. The toilets featured baby changing facilities in the Gents, so the club were clearly thinking families in their bid to attract extra support.

I walked the perimeter of the pitch. There were 2 training pitches either side of the main area and the words “Welcome to Sheerin Park” emblazoned on the northern fence. The Ossett team – “the Unicorns” - were warming up in their training tops, which confused me slightly. A marquee was set up in the far corner. A PA system boomed music out from the announcer’s hut on the half way line. A covered raised terrace and the small Rec Inn Crew stand with a few seats occupied the area back to the club office in the corner behind the goal. The central section of the seated covered stand behind the southern goal was designated for Home and Visiting Directors. These seats remained empty, so the black and white colour contrast remained visible. The game itself was a bit of a miss match. Ossett dispensed with their training kit and took to the field in gold shirts. Athersley – “the Penguins” – sported a black and white kit which resembled Newcastle with a few missing stripes on the shirt. After taking 10 minutes to get to grips with the lesser opposition, Ossett dominated and raced into a 3 – 0 lead within half an hour. Whilst probably being competitive in the North East Counties League, Athersley perhaps need to invest further in the team to progress through the pyramid to a level that matches their ground. The dull, overcast day finally gave way to a light rain. I was thankful for the bonus of the covered stands. There was an Athersley fightback in the 2nd half as Ossett eased off, but by the time of the consolation goal I was southbound on the M1 through the pouring rain. As with my afternoon in Barnsley, I was generally content with my trip to Athersley Recreation. A good, community football club with some nice facilities. I wish them well.

Appendix 1

Pre-Season Friendly

Date: Monday 1st August 2016 @ 1930 Hours

Venue: Sheerien Park, Athersley North, Barnsley, South Yorkshire

Attendance: Est 85

Athersley Recreation FC 1 - 3 Ossett Albion FC

Additional photos below
Photos: 58, Displayed: 33


Barnsley Town HallBarnsley Town Hall
Barnsley Town Hall

Crossing: Vertical Sculpture in the foreground

3rd August 2016

Love the old architecture!

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