Updated: Jun 24
Back in the early 1990s, every Monday evening, strange sounds could be heard emanating from a garage in Midway. Grinding, sawing, grunting, swearing. The car was being attended to.
It'd become a regular fixture in the weekly calendar. My mate would come round at about 6pm on a Monday evening and after a mug of coffee we'd head into the garage for a couple of hours or so of hammering, drilling, nipple greasing and nut tightening on the long-term project. By about eight-thirty it was time to remove the overalls, clean ourselves up a bit and head for a pint, accompanied by the manly fragrance of the engineer's cologne of choice, Swarfega.
The Horse & Jockey Inn had been in existence from at least 1831 when Pigot's Directory records Elias Brealey as the innkeeper. Depending upon which record one wishes to believe, it stood on Meadow Lane, Church Lane or even the Market Place in Newhall near Swadlincote, Derbyshire.
Into the entrance, turn right and push open the half-glazed door to the Public Bar.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.— Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
OK, it wasn't quite as bad as Wilfred Owen's description of the trenches but a thick grey fog fell from the space vacated by the door. Exhaust from Marlboro, Woodbine and Castella stung the eyes. The landlady would appear, wraithlike, through the haze from the residential area, manoeuvering her wheelchair with much-practised aplomb within the tight confines of the area behind the bar.
"Two pints of Pedigree, please." We'd take them, always star-bright in their straight glasses, along with a couple of packets of peanuts, dry roasted for me and salted for Brian and, if we were lucky, sit ourselves down under the picture of a Lancaster. Either that or beneath one of the other Rolls Royce Merlin-engined planes that adorned the walls. Very often it was standing room only. A typical neighbourhood local, filled with a mix of, err, locals. And not so locals.
On one occasion I recall noticing a pair of young ladies. One in particular caught my attention.
"Where are you from?"
"No. Where are you from originally?"
"New Cumnock. In Ayrshire"
"It's years since I was in the Bridgend Inn"
"You know New Cumnock?"
Cadley Hill Colliery near Swadlincote closed in 1988, the last of the South Derbyshire mines to do so. Throughout the previous couple of decades a number of mineworkers moved south with their families from the declining Ayrshire pits to work in Derbyshire. Her father had been one of these. As the conversation progressed I discovered that she remembered Andy, my surrogate grandfather. (My mum's dad had died when she was just nine and her mother remarried.) Back in Ayrshire Andy had worked at the local pit and was also a kirk elder in New Cumnock. It was from this role with the church that she knew him. It's a small world.
In 1972 the Horse and Jockey, along with a number of other local hostelries, featured in a report about a world record attempt, the recording of which is kept by the British Film Institute and is viewable here. Alas, the Horse & Jockey is no more. Neither are the Spread Eagle, the Swan, the Market Inn...
I moved away from the area in 1995 and by 2000 the Horse & Jockey had closed. I hadn't realised that my financial input had been so vital to its survival. Sadly, I recall it featuring in the news at the end of that year when a sixteen-year old left her new-born in the derelict building. Since then it has been demolished and a block of flats has been built on the site.
Innumerable pints of Pedigree. Innumerable packets of passively-smoked Woodbines. Innumerable hours in the garage. Were all those pre-Horse & Jockey efforts labouring with welders, spanners and screwdrivers worth it? Well, I'll let you be the judge of that. And yes, the neighbour did eventually remove his old bath and rebuild the wall.
Thanks to Ian Siddalls for the use of his photographs of the Horse and Jockey.
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