Thomas Cook – It’s why I’m a Nottinghamshire ‘exile’ living on Merseyside

The fact that I live on Merseyside is down to Thomas Cook. I’m a Nottinghamshire born lad but left my Notts mining community of Kirkby-in-Ashfield at the age of 6 and headed for Rochdale. Then at the age of 10 I left the home of the Rochdale Pioneers and wandered due west to Maghull on the outskirts of Liverpool. These moves were in effect organised by Thomas Cook, not as holiday trips of course but as a consequence of my Dad working for this famous travel agency.

This is dad (George William Robertson) back in 1957 at work in Thomas Cook Nottingham

Dad first worked for them at their shop in Nottingham, which if memory serves was originally a Dean & Dawson, and our family move to Rochdale followed him getting his first shop to manage in the Town’s Drake Street. We stayed in Rochdale for 4 years until he gained a bigger shop to manage in Liverpool’s Lord Street. That move brought us to live in Maghull where both Mum and Dad died in retirement in 2008 & 2009 respectively.

The last shop Dad managed was in Lord Street Southport so no further move of house was required and he retired from that Southport shop around 1991 if memory serves.

Watching Thomas Cook go under in the past few days I have wondered what Dad would have thought? Thinking back to the odd thing that he said about the company I seem to recall that he felt the company lost its way when it was sold to HSBC many years ago.

My cricketing heroes – Derek Randall, Richard Hadlee, Garfield Sobers & Harold Larwood

Coming from the Nottinghamshire coalfield and from the very same district (Kirkby-In-Ashfield) as Harold Larwood (who was born in nearby Nuncargate in 1904) it’s probably no surprise that my sporting heroes are all cricketers; Notts cricketers unsurprisingly.

Statue of Harold Larwood in my (and his) own home town of Kirkby-In-Ashfield. Before it was moved for redevelopment.

Harold Larwood

Derek Randall

Richard Hadlee

Garfield Sobers

As a young man in the 1970’s I was often found listening to Test Match Special on the radio in the middle of the night and of course back then cricket was on the regular TV, no pay to view exclusivity. The John Player Sunday League was a delight on BBC2 which my old Dad and I would regularly watch. I would add that I think cricket has been done a great disservice by becoming significantly inaccessible on free to view TV, a penny that I think has finally dropped with the cricketing powers that be.

Randall, nick names Rags and Arkle, is my number one sporting hero; this eccentric fidgeting batsman could, on his day, take on any bowling and his fielding was probably the best the world has ever seen or ever will see.

The old saying was that when a fast bowler was required all you had to do was to call down a Nottinghamshire coal pit and one would emerge – Harold Larwood was one such miner called from the pit to break Australian hearts. What a bowler – speed and accuracy. That he was blamed for the Bodyline series down under was an utter disgrace as he was doing what his captain asked him to do. However when the sh1t hit the fan the poor working class bowler carried the can and the upper class captain all but got away with it.

It was fitting that a statue of Larwood was erected in my old home town (it’s pictured above) and whilst I have not seen it since it was moved as part of a town centre redevelopment I’m sure this old Kirkby lad will have a tear in his eye next time he sees it.

Richard Hadlee was a very accurate pace bowler and the fact that pitches at Trent Bridge were made for him is testament to his recognisable ability. A Kiwi who like all my cricketing heroes played Test Cricket, in his case for New Zealand, he was a delight to watch and batsmen hated facing him.

And then there’s the quite wonderful all round cricketer Garfield Sobers, that giant of West Indies cricket who could turn his arm over as either a medium fast or spin bowler. He was also pretty good with the bat too as this video clip from the BBC proves:-

And I say all this whilst Nottinghamshire have just completed a very poor 2018 season indeed, surviving in the County Championship Division 1 by virtue of winning just one more match than Lancashire with whom they ended up on the same number of points. If Lancs had scored just a few more runs in their last but one innings Notts would have been relegated instead of them. Oh how we need some heroes now as the present team could easily get Notts relegated to the 2nd Division again next year, indeed many Notts supporters will sadly be almost expecting that slide in the 2019 season unless some big changes are made at Trent Bridge.

Deep coal mining has come to an end in the UK – Should we miss it?

Watching the recent TV programme about the closure of Kellingley Colliery (the UK’s last deep mine) which ceased cutting coal in December 2015 was a odd moment for me as I come from a coal mining family.

Bentinck Colliery - Photographer unknown

Bentinck Colliery – Photographer unknown

Two of my uncles were miners; one long dead (Henry Wright was a winding man at Bentinck Colliery in Kirkby In Ashfield) but the other only passed on in the last couple of weeks. That was my Uncle Doug Depledge* who was a Banksman at Sherwood Colliery in Mansfield until he took what was in effect early retirement as the pits were being run down in the 1980’s.

Sherwood Colliery - Photographer unknown

Sherwood Colliery – Photographer unknown

To see the miners facing the closure of their colliery on TV was sobering. They were losing what generations living in their community had worked for and indeed why their community existed. Of course this closure process has gone on in mining communities across the UK’s coalfields for 30+ years now and as a consequence those communities have had to try to reinvent themselves. It is probably fair to say that few if any of the former mining communities have really prospered since their pits were closed, indeed many have clearly struggled greatly.

UK coal production was effectively ended/replaced by the importation of cheap foreign coal but of course we also now know that burning fossil fuels like coal is very bad for our environment and a contributor to global warming problems.

I moved away from the Nottinghamshire coalfield when I was 6 in the mid 1960’s but recall only too well how the demise of the industry was discussed when we went back home to visit family.

As a trade unionist I remember only too well the miners strike and the hugely divisive political differences between the NUM and UDM which was particularly the case in Nottinghamshire. I honestly don’t know whether my uncles were NUM or UDM, I never asked.

But the other aspect of the closure of the pits that struck me from watching the programme about the closure of Kellingley was what a hugely challenging job it must have been to have spent your working life 800 feet underground. I know I would not want to do it and I suspect that goes for many people these days. But when it’s pretty much all you know about working it must be gut wrenching to loose what is clearly a most dangerous of employments.

* It was Doug’s funeral I failed to get to last Thursday because of a huge traffic jam on the M6

Kirkby-In-Ashfield – Where I caught the train bug

Kirkby In Ashfield East Station

This is Kirkby in Ashfield East Station. It was a couple of hundred yards from my Grandad’s Urban Road terraced house in the Nottinghamshire (former) mining town where I was born and lived until the age of 6.

He took me to watch the trains at this very spot in the early 1960’s. Sadly there is no longer a railway or station here but just along the road, probably less than half a mile away, Kirkby has a new station (see photo below) on the Robin Hood Line.

IMG_2575 r

Click on the photos to enlarge them

The photos are amongst my flickr shots at:-

The place where it all started – Kirkby In Ashfield Station

Visitors to this site will realise that I have a great love for trains and I was delighted to purchase an old photo of a place where my Grandad Walter used to take me as a toddler to the watch trains go by.

41940 Kirkby in Ashfield Station 1951 P

This is the very spot in Kirkby In Ashfield as Walter Calladine lived only yards away down Urban Road. I would think my visits to this now long gone station and level crossing started when I was around 2 in 1960. This shot was actually taken in 1951 some 9 years earlier but I bet the scene remained pretty much the same.

Credit for the photo goes to Frank Ashley, a local Kirkby historian, who is sadly no longer with us I understand.

The photo is amongst my Flickr shots at:-

Kirkby in Ashfield Central Station


My love of railways probably stems as much from this station as anything else which was yards away from where I was born in 14 Orchard Road, Kirkby in 1958.

This photo, which I was delighted to purchase recently, was taken in 1959 and according to the book – Railways Remembered by Martin Weiss published in 2010 by AD Newspapers Ltd – it was a rarely photographed station. Sadly the line is gone and covered in industrial units.

I was told by my parents that I once ran away from home at about 4 years old and after a search was found on the footbridge overlooking this station (that footbridge would have been behind the photographer) awaiting the fish train heading towards Nottingham that came rattling through the station at speed each day. I assume the train came from Grimsby? I was often taken to watch it run through Kirkby by my family.