Some days have been longer than others on my re-creation of the Jarrow March, and sometimes I’ve let a little public transport ease my burden and blisters. Wakefield to Barnsley didn’t look too bad but scanning GoogleMaps hoping to find the exact spot where the Marchers had stayed in Wakefield eighty years ago, I was pretty daunted by the prospect of getting to it and then Barnsley in the same day. Apparently I had somewhere in the region of two and a half thousand miles to walk, much of it across water.
The Marchers spent their night in Wakefield in a disused chapel on Salem St adjoining an old cemetery, a city mini-break with budget accommodation that even Lennie Henry would find hard to sell convincingly. Unsurprisingly then, it was one of the more cheerless nights the Marchers spent on the whole epic trek. But eighty years on, I could find no trace of the street, the church or the graveyard, and this despite the best efforts of some fine folk on Twitter like Kevin, Christine Wood, Richard Earnshaw, Chris Treece, Stuart Watson and especially Stephen Garside who sent pictures of what we think is the now disused site with both chapel and graveyard gone. Many of you pointed out that there is a Salem Street in Wakefield, Massachusetts which is obviously where GoogleMaps was trying to point me to as stated above; right to the heart of Arthur Miller’s Crucible country. Perhaps you found this out in Witch magazine! (ha ha that is a good one molesworth)
Tomorrow I was bound for a different kind of Crucible country; Sheffield, but today it was an uneventful footslog alongside the A61 again to Barnsley. Berneslai gets its first official mention in the Domesday book, the Saxons having a foothold here much before. but a much more important date occurs in 1249 when the town opens its first market. Nearly a thousand years of street marketing have not even begun to lessen the local’s enthusiasm for the notion. Now the wares may be a discount Iron Man Duvet or a bumper economy vial-rack of Black Cherry E Cig Vape Juice, but come on a Saturday and Barnsley is a a gigantic unfussy uber-market with a town clinging on to the edges for dear life.
In the covered market, you can buy handmade Loake loafers for a couple of hundred quid, a gallon of hair conditioner for almost infinitesimally less plus flavours of Polish crisps that even Polish people think ‘niche’. On a vinyl records stall, I find a couple of seventies albums by John Miles.The sweet coincidence here is that his granddad was the cook on the Jarrow March.
Here though is the one you never hear…
Now then. BBC Four should totally commission me to do a series on the great town halls of Britain. Perhaps, as potential writer/presenter, I’m biased, but surely it would be every bit as interesting as Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys if perhaps not Penelope Keith’s Hidden Villages, the secret weapon of the ITV4 schedules. I’ve never been a Tory MP but I’m happy to buy a range of tax deductible lemon, cerise and topaz linen sports jackest for the job, although this could get me some curious looks in certain pubs in ‘Tarn’, which is what folks hereabouts call Barnsley. And this surely is where the series should start….
Barnsley Town Hall was built at what was then enormous expense in 1933, three years before the Jarrow Marchers passed by. Orwell came here that year too when researching Road To Wigan Pier and was highly critical, feeling the money could have been spent on improving the lot of the local miners and their families that he lodged with. He may have had a point, but on a bright autumn afternoon, it is quite a sight with its white Portland stone and imperious design byArnold Thornley, also architect of Stormont, the Northern Ireland Parliament of which the echoes are strong.
Most of the actual admin stuff has been farmed out around the town now, and a sizeable chunk of the grand building now houses a terrific lively exhibition/museum space called Experience Barnsley. Outside a poster proclaims it “a proud Yorkshire story told by the people of Barnsley”. I’m pulled up short by this of course; Yorkshire people rarely speak of ‘pride’, they being a notoriously almost pathologically quiet and self-effacing people .
‘Tarn’ are at home so the Old No 7, a cracking boozer I once spent far too much time in after a gig in Barnsley, is full as are all adjoining pubs. I slipped up here; I need to take in a football game and thus compare sport and the nation today with the days when the Marchers’ (presumably Toon fans) were on the road. I have my eye on Leicester – Crystal Palace next Saturday. Any tips on and from the King Power Stadium gratefully received
Hmm. 1912, eh? Wigan Athletic have won the FA Cup far more recently than this, I should point out. 2013 to be exact. I was in the Royal Box. I should also point out that Wigan Athletic, Barnsely and newcastle United – Latics, Toon and Tarn – are currently all residing in the Championship, football’s second tier. But, as the Fall once sang, the North Will Rise Again.
Possibly. On goal difference.