|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|