From the North Mail 23rd October 1936
“On their arrival at Leicester some 14/15 miles further south of Loughborough, Councillor Riley announced that public donations had been that substantial that the men could be fitted out with new clothes. Sidney Sterek one reporter who walked side by side with the marchers reported “If the wives and families of the Jarrow pilgrims to London could have seen their men folk last night, they might have mistaken our sturdy and well nourished army for a huge theatrical male chorus. The crusaders have been rigged out in new flannel trousers, new boots and new underwear.” The old boots were repaired for the cost of the leather and the local cobblers gave their services free. Later a lovely meal was provided and overnight sleeping would be at the Institute. Of this Sidney Sterck reported “If Leicester had done no more than this for the marchers, it would have been said… that it just about topped the list of the most hospitable cities, towns and villages through which we have so far marched.” But Leicester did more. It fell around our necks and hailed us as friends in dire need of assistance”
They got a very different welcome in Market Harborough. But we’ll come to that.
Up the London road, past the Lansdowne pub, past all the old townhouse which are now finance brokers and nurseries. All the nurseries have cute names like Little Acorns and Snuggles which only strengthens my resolve that should I ever open one it will be called Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Nursery
The shadows are lengthening at the end of a Sunda of B&Q-ing, maybe BBQ-in, Leicester Tigers watching, car washing and hedge trimming. I go through the big suburb of Oadby and beyond to Great Glen. It sounds like Scotland, and after the urban sprawl of Leicester it is a decent open tract of country where you can fill your lungs a little though you will be disappointed if you came expecting peaks and escarpments. Still, here Leicestershire becomes rather nice and my route takes me through a string of villages like the one my hat Mark of yesterday lives in. He told me that these are very desirable places to live and property prices have soared now that you can get from Market Harborough to St Pancras in fifty minutes. Serge from Kasabian lives hereabouts but I don’t know him well enough to drop in. He is a lovely man though; I chatted to him just before he took the stage to headline Glastonbury, a point at which he could well have ben tense and pre-occupied and he was gracious, thoughtful and charming. Cynics will say that this is not what you expect from a member of Kasabian who are often wrongly dismissed I think as replica top lad rock. There’s more to them than that. And this is just a great record, even if the video is bit baffling; Sharpe meets the Milk Marketing Board
Kibworth Beauchamp is another addition to our ‘villages that sound like 50s British character actors’ list.( “..and at 2.30 on Channel 4, that classic melodrama, Once More, My Lovely with Anna Neagle and Kibworth Beauchamp..’). Lovely, ivy clad cottages, a bridge over a sleepy river, a nice looking pub The Railway, and old church. 1n 1936, it might have been much the same. In 1646 it would have been very different.
For a few days one line from Paul Simon’s Graceland has been buzzing around my head “..following the highway though the cradle of the Civil War”. This is is exactly what I’ve been doing, our Civil War, a dark and convulsive period in our history when ‘the world turned upside down’. Here was the murky, bloody heart of it; the heart of England. These flat fields and serene villages were once the crucible of mayhem. Space precludes me going into this here but I will in the book. I’m a little obsessed with it
The Marchers got a pretty cool welcome here, the worst of the whole journey they said. No-one came to meet them – which I suppose is their prerogative – and they were made to sleep on the stone floor of a partly built workhouse institution where the men complained of being cold and damp. The local press denied this but it seems to be a matter of record that they were regarded with suspicion. No-one’s really sure why; it simply seems that this was another England from the industrial north, the England of ‘parson and squire’ as Matt Perry puts it, hierarchical, agricultural, conservative.
I wouldn’t say the (name of pub withheld) was quite The Slaughtered Lamb of American Werewolf In London fame but I got the feeling that I was very much surplus to requirements in the tap room. Men used bracingly demotic language, much of it directed at the telly where Man Utd played Chelsea and a half demolished cheese and some crackers sat on a table being picked at medieval feast style. I provocatively grabbed a handful and went to sit in the back parlour to watch the football with a man silently drinking wine and four students (‘Have you ever been to Newcastle? Me, no. I think I’d get a nosebleed..”)
Down by the thin sluggish river, two old guys are drinking from litre bottles of cheap bitter and a couple of kids are kicking bottles around; the drab underbelly of these British Market towns. That said though, just as the markers of high civilisation in, say, renaissance Florence might have been an bookbinders, an apothecaries and a vintners, so middle England has Waterstones, Pizza Express and Waitrose. The sun sets on this very English scene and a very English soundtrack, the tintinnabulation of bells and the muted throb of a mobility scooter