Having a Nosy Look around Newark on Trent

Key Information –

Starting point: Belper Railway Station (BLP).

Journey to: Newark Castle Railway Station (NCT).

Travelled on: Friday 1 February 2019. Off-Peak Day Return cost £12.

Direct train taking 1 hour 17 minutes calling at: Duffield, Derby, Long Eaton, Attenborough, Beeston, Nottingham, Carlton, Lowdham and Fiskerton.

After a chaotic 2018,  I wanted to make more of the opportunity to explore and find activities that I could enjoy which would also, improve my mental health. So as a result of this from 2019 I aimed to begin and take up more independent hobbies again.

For instance one of these will be getting out on some of Britain’s railway lines and feeling inspired by Geoff and Vicki and their Kickstarter project ‘All the Stations‘.  The mission saw the couple take on the exploit and achieve visiting all 2563 railway stations in Great Britain in the summer of 2017.

My motivation was less ambitious, but I wanted to have a regular adventure to look forward. Therefore for the most part, I chose to be visiting places I felt were new or relatively unknown to me. Setting myself the aim of travelling at least once a week or whenever the opportunity arose.  On every visit I would take photographs and write a blog post about what I saw and my verdict of whether it was worth the trip.

To kick off this new determination I elected to go to the Nottinghamshire settlement of Newark on Trent.

I chose Newark as a terminus for my first adventure after careful research and due diligence. Seeing that the market town has a reasonable level of history attached to it. With an affordable regular train from my recently returned to home town of Belper it seemed a fitting way to take this chance of an enjoyable exploration. 

Now I am living back in Belper in the heart of Derbyshire; I am grateful to live close to a railway station which is upon the Derwent Valley line which connects Derby to the town of Matlock.

From Matlock, tourists can progress onto the Peak Rail heritage line which I last visited in 2017 (https://fjdg.me.uk/travels/day-trips/2017/04/a-pilgrimage-made-via-peak-rail) and take in the green landscapes of the Derbyshire Dales.

Despite the bitterly cold weather of the day and those preceding; I was not put off by spending time in a place I was a stranger to. Wrapped in multiple thick layers I got on the Midland Railway built station and purchased my ticket at the sheltered machine and waited patiently for the next stopping train. Non-stopping Cross Country and East Midlands trains bound for Plymouth and London’s St Pancras flashed past within eye blinks. As I gazed at the dot matrix display board informing customers of upcoming services, more passengers wandered down to join me on the platform.

Looking down at my briefly vibrated mobile phone, I saw news that the stand-up comedian Jeremy Hardy who had been a regular on two of my favourite BBC Radio 4 comedy programs ‘The News Quiz’ and ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ had lost his battle with cancer. With this information I informed my parents of this sad news but quickly returned my focus onto my promised plans.

Embarking on the 09:59 train I travelled through the metropolises of Derby and Nottingham before terminating at my destination Newark on Trent at 11:16. Commuters poured on and off at the different stations as the East Midlands Trains service glided through. However at no point was the train full. Thus I spent the journey largely undisturbed. So I was able listen to the music streaming platform Spotify and messaging friends using social media on my phone. Towards the end of the journey, I peered out of the window at the cold landscape.

I got off at the Grade II listed two platformed station of Newark Castle built in 1846 and gathered my inventory. I felt the breeze against my face whilst beside the train. Taking my time I surveyed the platform and proceeded to walk down towards the level crossing. Weighing up my surroundings I also took a handful of photographs.

Less than a five minute walk away from the station and across the busy Great North Road lies the ruins of Newark Castle and Gardens. The Bishop of Lincoln of 1135 had commissioned the castle. King John (who ruled England between 1199 and 1216) died here. John reached the castle a year after agreeing to the rights outlined in the Magna Carta. Since the mid-seventeenth century, the castle has been left derelict. As a result, Newark Castle has been since recognised as an internationally important structure and given a Grade I listing..

Spending time exploring the site which also houses Newark Registry Office. I took some more photographs of the slighted walls before walking through the gardens. Afterwards, I then diverted my attention to Newark Town Lock

Once there I took further snapshots at the water’s edge. and taking in some of the architecture. Afterwards I moved onto locating the Market Place which is a central part of the town. Visitors to the Market Place can attend a collectors/antiques market every Monday and Thursday. Or a general retail market on other days of the week.

Moseying around the different stalls and popped up gazebos decorated in red and white; my stomach started to rumble. After that I saw a sign advertising the “best” roast pork sandwiches available in Newark. So, I invested £4.50 for a foot long sub. The sandwich filled my stomach as I tried to stay warm whilst a slight flurry of snow fell.

Once finished I looked around the side streets. I found a friendly looking second-hand book shop which also had maps and sheet music for sale. Following my browsing of the shop. I returned into the cold exploring the exterior of the Saxon built Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene where a funeral took place.

Newark is a town of a population of 27,700 according to the 2011 Census. Despite this travellers using the East Coast Main Line will arrive and depart at the town’s other railway station. North Gate (NNG) is located about a mile outside the town centre. The station sits on the railway line connects London King’s Cross with Edinburgh. The line also serves the towns of Peterborough, Doncaster, Darlington and city of Newcastle.

Additionally, it is also important to know travel between the two Newark stations via train is not possible. Therefore, with this in mind I walked towards the three platformed interchange. This station saw 919,000 passengers in 2017-18 according to the latest figures published by the Office of Rail and Road.

Whilst at the station, a London North Eastern Railway (LNER) employee enquired about my visit allowing me to look around. After that I headed back towards the town centre albeit I took a different route. This walk offered a chance to glance at Newark’s Palace Theatre which was built during the 1920s. Nearby is the Civil War Museum which I did not visit on this trip.

Finally returning back to the Town Lock I searched for the offices of Trigger Publishing. The publishing house was set up by the Shaw Mind Foundation determined to open up conversations about Mental Health in 2016. Shortly after, I began to feel the cold more and I had visited all I wanted to see. So I returned to Newark Castle railway station. 

In summary, I felt my day in Newark was a positive start to these adventure seeking day trips. I look forward to getting out and about more in the near future.

Belper Railway Station

Newark Castle Railway Station

Laughing with The League of Gentlemen

WARNING: This is a local blog post for local people.

The League of Gentlemen is the stolen title of a comedy troupe who made their names in the latter part of the 1990s. Unlike the comedy stars of the decades before Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss met one another at Bretton Hall College near Wakefield in West Yorkshire rather than going through an Oxbridge education.

Along with Jeremy Dyson they started to collaborate in the mid-1990s and put on a Perrier award winning show at the 1997 Edinburgh Fringe Festival which gave them an opportunity to produce a six part radio show for BBC Radio 4 later that year which followed the adventure of outsider to their fictitious settlement then called Spent. Triumphing in the Sony Radio Academy Awards led to this black-comedy being converted to a television series where Pemberton, Shearsmith & Gatiss would perform their range of a bizarre characters on location.

All Northern England born, the ensemble hunted for the run-down High Street and surroundings that captured the mood of this downtrodden town eventually landing upon the North Derbyshire settlement of Hadfield which is situated near Glossop and the Western boundary of the Peak District. They also renamed their municipality to Royston Vasey (the birth name of blue comedian Roy Chubby Brown), other nearby locations also served as filming locations which made it a believable depraved home to an array of residents.

The first series was an amended version of their half dozen episodes of their audio program. The three performed the majority of roles regardless of gender with many female personalities displaying excessive makeup and with only the outsider figure of Benjamin Denton played by Shearsmith, the character not having stand out physical features.

These characters such as the incestuous proprietors of the Local Shop Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup and the condescending stationery loving restart officer Pauline Campbell-Jones who found kinship with well-meaning simpleton Mickey Michaels gained a cult following of fans. This helped gain enough viewership for the BBC to offer a second series and Christmas special in 2000. Between this series and the final main six episodes, they returned to the stage doing a show at London’s Drury Lane.

After three series, they brought the curtain down on the filming on location with the final series taking a different approach with each episode running at a simultaneous period of time and concluding with a scene where all six story lines wrapped up together.

Due to the success they had gained, Pemberton, Shearsmith and Gatiss all found themselves starting to spread their wings in acting both on and off screen before reuniting together for the 2005 movie adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as three of the Vogons keen to destroy the planet Earth for a Hyperspace bypass before also writing and starring in a big screen and extended narrative and live on stage productions based back in Royston Vasey.

In the late 2000s and 2010s, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith worked together, first on Psychoville and then Inside No. 9, away from Mark Gatiss who had started to pen alongside Stephen Moffat, the reboot of Doctor Who and the modernised Sherlock.

Psychoville ran for two series revolving around an unlikely mix of characters brought together due to previous events and being blackmailed as a result. Some of these characters are played by Pemberton, Shearsmith along with the likes Dawn French, Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton and Daisy Haggard and several other cast members.

Inside No. 9 which started to air in February 2014 is an anthology series where Pemberton and Shearsmith play various guises sharing screen time with other popular actors such as Timothy West, Anne Reid, Gemma Arterton, Helen McCroy & Felicity Kendal. This series is due to begin its fifth series with a Halloween special next month and then in early 2019.

Alongside this further roles and writing credits allowed the League to step aside from continuing to working together. Pemberton now equally recognised for his role as Mick Garvey in ITV’s Benidorm, Shearsmith stepped into the bio-drama of convicted sociopath Malcolm Webster opposite Sheridan Smith and Kate Fleetwood and Gatiss in BBC dramas such as Wolf Hall and Taboo as well as a four episode run in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

The BBC in 2016 and 2017 brought back many popular comedy programs for one off episodes as a way of grabbing back the audience share lost to other networks. Such revivals included Nicholas Lyndhurst reprising his Gary Sparrow character in Goodnight Sweetheart and Kerry Howard playing a young Hyacinth Bucket as well as Kevin Bishop taking on the mantle of Ronnie Barker Fletch’s grandson in a standalone Porridge special.

With the League hitting twenty years, the cult following was determined to see the grotesque world of Royston Vasey once again in a Brexit bound Britain. Gladly the troupe and the BBC felt it was also time to offer the fans a chance to return to the town they and Shearsmith’s character Benjamin found it so difficult to leave. Three episodes filmed back on location in Hadfield and shown in December 2017 and once again viewing figures were encouraging allowing the group to bring their local show to nationwide theatres and arenas.

Days prior to the twentieth year anniversary mini-series airing on BBC Two, the League confirmed that they would start their latest tour in Sunderland on 25 August 2018. After much mulling I decided to purchase myself a ticket for the evening of 2 September which would be performed at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena. This being my most local venue of choice.

Opened on April Fool’s Day in 2000 by Olympic Gold Medallist and locally born Jayne Torvill, the arena is a multi-use indoor amphitheatre with a capacity of 10,000 spectators where people have been able to see live concerts by Kylie Minogue, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga as well as other comedy performers such as Bill Bailey and Eddie Izzard have done shows of their tours on the stage in Nottingham’s Lace Market venue.

After travelling from my parents’ home to the city centre of Nottingham, I made my way to the auditorium and soaked up the atmosphere of the souvenir stalls contemplating what to buy as memorabilia from the event. In the end settling on a programme, a small enamel badge, a metallic Royston Vasey town sign and a pack of hand drawn character postcards before making my way to my seat for the evening. Thankfully I had booked a mid-tiered seat albeit in the far right from the stage which gave me a good vantage to see what was happening on stage and glance at the monitors for closer detail.

It can be said that sometimes when comedians transfer from stage to television or vice versa they do not perform the same. This may be because the performer is not comfortable with one medium or the other or they are allowed more licence to be heavier in their use of language or material. The League of Gentlemen has never been afraid of being controversial and being able to insinuate and perform risque depictions especially those of a sexual nature or use of bodily fluids, so for those who uncomfortable with that being exaggerated to a fairly gruesome level, this show certainly would not be for you.

The first half of the performance allowed the League to go through some their most recognisable sketches all while keeping props and costumes to a minimum. These including the impossible ruled card game “Go Johnny Go Go Go” to a dating agency assistant who looks down on her client then to Pam Doove’s awkward audition for an orange juice advert. Other skits included the tempestuous couple playing a game of Trivial Pursuit and the perverted father attempting his sleazy flirtations towards his son’s girlfriend with Steve Pemberton’s performance in this sketch causing Reece Shearsmith and Mark Gatiss to corpse and break the straightness they are performing this material with. The beginning and end of this hour of proceedings is sandwiched between the fictitious theatre company Legz Akimbo performing their routine on the danger of paedophiles and other important “issues”.

After the interval, the performance took a more extravagant up turn in costumes and using of the set. Starting almost at the end of the anniversary specials where Local Shopkeeper Edward Tattsyrup is looking for his wife/sister, Tubbs, who had vanished through a trap door of a fake photo booth into the travelling minstrel and collector of wives, Papa Larazou’s “Wife Mine”.

On different levels of the stage, Tubbs and Edward sing a duet on how they hope to be reunited to open up a more energetic second half of the show. As Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton go through their first costume change allowing Gatiss to perform a monologue Bingo calling character called Toddy sharing his tragic love story with a transgender individual from Thailand. The trio all return on stage together for the first time in costume performing a Best Man’s speech scene where the tactless Geoff Tipps (Shearsmith) is toasting his friend Mike (Pemberton) on the re-marriage to his wife Cheryl.

Other key scenes/sketches include Pemberton as the over the top homosexual German, Herr Lipp who has yet to fully grasp the English language therefore provides sexually explicit double entendres around other males, offering German lessons to an audience member with the phrases being heavily sexualised when audible to non-German but English speakers.

This is followed by Gatiss as the unfortunate veterinarian Mr Chinnery attempting to operate on a panda’s cataracts and also as the failed pop singer Les McQueen. Reece Sheersmith brings via video link and eventually on the platform, his performance as the atheist berating at her parishioners vicar turn Mayor of Royston Vasey, Bernice Woodall.

One of the main scenes features Steve Pemberton’s infamous Pauline Campbell-Jones dropping in on her own funeral before running away to France with the dimwitted Micky where outlandish flashback scenes both on stage and screen explain how despite being smothered accidentally by previously seen Geoff, to apparent death in the anniversary specials, it was all fraudulent. During the on stage flashback scenes Micky (Gatiss) breaks the fourth wall explaining some of the original script hasn’t dated well.

Another distorted scene is in the Dentons’ living room where a multitude of bodily fluids is sprayed over each member of the League in their guises in a similar fashion to David Walliams and Matt Lucas’ brainchild Little Britain used before the show climaxes with Tubbs being rescued by her husband/brother after a nightmare envisioning Edward going off with a Conservative election candidate.

The League of Gentlemen is most certainly a comedy which stretches the audience’s gross out factor by pushing limits further than most comedy programs ever would dare so therefore I would not recommend watching while eating or feeling sensitive. However, I have a warmth to this dry black-comedy and feel it has it’s place in the comedy folklore. Some scenes and characters are certainly cringe making, hard work and twisted however there is a charm and very human satire underlying the dark themes the comedy highlights.

Therefore I feel it was worth investing an evening to be entertained by Messrs Dyson, Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith.

The first three series of the League of Gentlemen can be found on Netflix UK & Ireland. However the anniversary mini-series has yet to be put on the streaming service. The complete series of Psychoville and series one and two of Inside No. 9 (with the third due to be released later in September and the fourth to be confirmed).

All series and the film can be bought on DVD from Amazon as can the recordings of the performance at Drury Lane and the 2006 pantomime filmed at the Hammersmith Apollo in London –