10 August 2013

Barnsley

Barnsley's imposing town hall
Barnsley is a town of some 75,000 souls situated twelve miles north east of Sheffield. It was once the capital of the Yorkshire coalfield - a hard-working town for which the saying "where there's muck there's brass" was probably created. 

I have rarely had  reason to visit Barnsley. Once, when I was little, Dad drove us through the town and I observed first hand the black "mountains" that appeared to surround it - giant slag heaps made up of spoil from the local coal mines. It was a very different landscape from my rural birthplace in East Yorkshire. There was something of the "dark satanic" about Barnsley whereas we looked out over green or golden arable fields that stretched across the Plain of Holderness all the way to the Yorkshire Wolds. I could hardly imagine what it might have been like to grow up in all that muck and industry as my mother's family had done.

I have been to Barnsley F.C.'s Oakwell football ground three or four times over the years to watch my beloved Hull City - or as the current Egyptian owners now insist - Hull City Tigers. And I have frequently walked within the boundaries of the Barnsley Metropolitan District - Hood Green, Worsborough, Penistone and Elsecar for example but it is a very long time since I've walked around the town itself. Until today.

Shirley was up early as is her wont and when I finally crawled out from under the duvet at nine o' clock she announced she'd like to visit Barnsley markets. So half an hour later - off we went.

Certain things struck me about the busy market area. Firstly, virtually all the visitors were white. This wasn't multi-cultural Britain. It was white working class Yorkshire. I was amongst people whose great grandparents were born, raised, worked and died in the area. It wasn't Islington in north London or Godalming in Surrey  - where national politicians and TV executives natter in gastro-pubs, this was downtown Barnsley where life is very different.
The quaint "Groggers' Rest" pub under an
ugly nineteen sixties office block
There were several unfortunate people gliding along in mobility scooters. We spotted some fine examples of obesity and of the dubious "art" of tattooing. Cheap clothing bought from the market. Pierced belly buttons. Old ladies with tartan shopping trollies. Clouds of acrid cigarette smoke hanging over shoppers resting on benches in Eldon Square. Charity shops and betting shops. Fish and chip shops and liquidation sales. An air of sadness hung about the place like morning mist. In Kay's Cafe inside the market halls we drank mugs of tea, waiting with the other all-white clientelle for Shirley's hot pork sandwich and my "All Day Breakfast". "Eighty five!" "Over here love!" Nobody was talking about wine merchants, horses, how their shares are doing or Mediterranean holidays. They were talking about family and friends, electricity bills, bargains and what they'd watched on the telly. Probably.

We went along to the town's architecturally eye-catching town hall - opened in 1933 and a lasting declaration of civic pride. It has recently been very tastefully refurbished but at great expense. There's a new museum section called "Experience Barnsley". It's really good and speaks proudly of the town's past, its achievements and the salt-of-the-earth people who have lived and worked there - famous or unknown. In the town hall's little art gallery we saw a wonderful exhibition of paintings stimulated by random "found" Victorian portrait photos. It was one of the best art exhibitions I have seen in a good long while.

So that was Barnsley. I like the place. I like the decency and the honesty of the people. No pretension, no frills Britain where you call a spade a spade and where urbane men like David Cameron, Nick Clegg, David Beckham and Prince William are as alien as Martians. And if I'm honest, I guess it's a place that makes you feel more grateful for what you have got and what you have done, for not being so down-at-heel, for having enough money in the bank to keep wolves from your door.
Bras for sale in Bra-nsley Market

17 comments:

  1. I really don't like Barnsley. It used to have top notch Black Pudding. Nice nurses but the white folk you talk about are all Polish. I even have trouble spelling it. It looks good in your photo but written down it looks a bit odd.

    Have you admitted to drinking in the Greystones....A fan of A4e, are you a closet Tory?

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  2. ADRIAN When I go to The Greystones (very occasionally)I choose Lord Marples as it is the closest Thornbridge beer I can find to my darling Tetley's. And NO I AM NOT A CLOSET TORY! (I wish I could enlarge that final statement so that it shouts out at you like a foghorn!)

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  3. The city sounds like the towns around here except ours a much smaller.

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  4. I reckon you fancy the pale green bra.

    For Shirley, of course.

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  5. Adrian, surely you know Mr YP is a closet UKIP supporter. And as for his day trip to Selby, well, the mind boggles.

    LLX

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  6. Yorky, here I am sharing my second food blog with you in as many days. Today it is Sunday lunch with, you guessed, your favorite and mine ~ Yorkshire Puddings. Enjoy the read dear Sir and bask in the glory of other people out there loving your neck of the woods as much as you :) http://www.loverofcreatingflavours.co.uk/2013/08/sunday-lunch-yorkshire-pudding/

    Cheers, Carol

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  7. DAVID OLIVER...But I thought that America was the new Canaan - a land of milk and honey.
    RHYMES WITH PLAGUE It is funny that you should say that as I bought that particular bra for her after taking the photo. It fits like a glove.
    lETTICE I am not sure why the mind would boggle about my day trip to Selby. Did you mean Barnsley? As for UKIP, I would gladly have Nigel Farage and Godfrey Bloom stoned to death at the next Hull City home match!
    CAROL Okay ma'am - coming over to your blog forthwith.

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  8. Sorry Yorky, nothing on my blog about Yorkshire Puds or Yorkshire Fettle ~ I left the link for you on this post and 2 days ago. Enjoy :)

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  9. Selby a one horse town, where in my day you had to pay 1p or 2p to cross the bridge in order to get the hell out of there.

    Did you go to Cawood castle on that particular trip?

    LLX

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  10. We do have milk...Got milk? Yes. And we do have honey so if that's all the requirements for New Canaan, then yes that's where I live.

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  11. LETTICE Not Cawood Castle...but have you ever visited Selby Abbey? It is a truly wondrous building. Also did you know that King Henry I was born in Selby?
    DAVID OLIVER Are you...are you an angel?

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  12. Barnsley, in August! You should have called me - just phone the town hall and ask for Mr Cutts .... if you went on the 9th or 10th August though, we wouldn't have met as we were then visiting another Yorkshire wonder, Staithes.
    So, back to Barnsley, as you may know I'm from there, well actually Hoyland, but obviously have spent many days in the places you mention. What was your impression of the market? It's not what it used to be, apparently. Your description of the town was spot-on, in my opinion - even the market cafe which is probably smoke-less nowadays. I like Barnsley, obviously, and Barnsley folk but ever since say, for example 1984, it's been a downhill slope - closing down sales every week and an ever worsening economic situation. Is Barnsley the only town in the world where the town-centre McDonald's closed down?
    Not to mention all the other typical chain stores and High Street names.
    The only thing that saddens me; as you say Barnsley folk are traditionally working class folk, but just how many of them/us have lost the typical working class values of actually wanting to work and wanting to pay your own way or live withing your means? When I say "lost", maybe it's been politically beaten out of them , but even though I don't agree with the right-wing sweeping accusations of everyone living "off the state", I have to admit that I know many people who are unwilling to make a go of it and much prefer to "play the system". How do we go back? How will their children grow up if the parents are currently just trying desperately to stay out of work (not that I'm saying there's much work to be found)?

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    1. Interesting response Brian. Thank you. You raise some pertinent questions - similar ones were recently addressed by Paul O'Grady as he investigated the condition of the working class for the BBC.

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    2. Yes, I managed to see the first episode of the Paul O'Grady programme, very good, but missed the second as I was flying back to working class Tortosa on that day. Did he have anything to say on whether the working spirit has definitely been lost or not? I suppose it's easy to say (as did Norman Tebbit and co.) that back in "the old days" even when out of work you wouldn't lose your dignity or eagerness to work; very easy to say when you've never been working class. But knowing some clear cases myself personally of people whose only ambition in life seems to be staying out of work, I do wonder what role models it holds up for the next generation ....

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  13. Hi again YP! Don't know if you get "warnings" people are commenting on old posts. If not, don't worry (as you won't because you won't be reading this), I'll ask the same favour on a new post:
    The favour; can I copy and paste this post onto my blog, with all due references and links back to the original author, please? Fell free to tell me where to go .... ;)
    In the near future I'd planned to write s/t on Barnsley, but I don't think I can beat your piece :)
    Thanks, whatever the answer may be!

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    1. Brian - Yes of course I grant this permission but any profit accrued from your intended post should be split 50/50 and the same applies to any book deals or film rights!

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    2. OK, thanks! Watch this (or that) space as they say - but remember, Rome wasn't built in a day :) I'll post it early next week if I can.

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.