Discovering Southwell with Albus

"Everywhere is somewhere to someone - the land, embossed by story on history on natural history, carries meaning." Sue Clifford, 2010, Founding Member of Common Ground

From the Gates of Poverty to Heaven's Door 

So, with a remit to take in nearly 2000 years of human settlement within an area less than one kilometre square, Albus, myself and my two YA daughters who volunteered to come along, set off for our first walk determined by the special places people had shared with us.

With blue sky, sunshine and a gentle breeze the weather seemed in stark contrast to our starting point. We began at the gates Southwell's Workhouse, now run by the National Trust, built in 1824 under the direction of Southwell resident and social reformer the Rev. John T. Becher. On a beautiful summers morning before opening hours it was tranquil and looked quite beautiful outside with its classical symmetry and extensive vegetable gardens. However, conditions were deliberately harsh and segregated when it was a functioning workhouse, in order to deter the ‘idle poor’. Entering these gates would have been a last resort for the desperate poor of the 19th century. D 1 & 2 both remembered previous visits inside learning of the desperately sad stories of inmates, particularly the children separated from their parents. With a shiver, we left it’s shadow and turned towards the town centre.

Following the signs to the Minster we followed the footpath from Newark Road that runs along-side the Potwell Dyke. Wildflowers line its banks and the clear sparkling waters and shaded footbridges, perfect for Pooh Sticks, belie its mercurial nature which sees it surge and overflow to bring havoc to homeowners along its banks.

Climbing up the stone steps from Shady lane we emerged into Froggat’s Field, much beloved and espoused by the dog owners of Southwell. The Minster’s towers can be seen peeping over the tall grasses. Hoverflies, bees and Meadow Brown butterflies clearly benefiting as much as the town’s human and canine population from this urban wild area.

After a good sniff around the meadow (Albus not me) we crossed Becher’s Walk (named after the Rev. whose house over looks the Field) and headed into the town centre past the grand old Prebendal Houses.

The former Georigan theatre

Mmmm, is that for me?

Former jettied timber building

By an ancient timber-framed house we enjoyed the bustle of Southwell centre as we sampled the delights of the Old Theatre Deli café (formerly a Georgian theatre). Well to be fair, Albus had water and a dog chew but he seemed happy. His waggy tail and bright green Discovering Southwell vest garnered smiles and curious looks.

Walking back past the 14th Century Saracen’s Head inn where Charles I spent his last hours of freedom in 1647, we crossed to the Minster.

For me Southwell Minster is a direct link back to my roots as I was born a few miles from Beverly Minster and near to York under whose Diocese both churches came. You can’t be but moved by this building at nearly 900 years old built on foundations reaching back to the 7th Century. That this building is special and iconic to Southwell seems obvious but so many people have shared their own personal connections to it with us, from their first church parades with cubs, singing in it as visiting choirs from outlying villages to their weddings. It captures the heart in a way all of its own.

Warmly welcoming all visitors, even those with four legs and wet noses, the Minster was filled with noise and life as visitors and school children discovered for themselves Pevsner’s ‘inexhaustible delights’.

Slight concern, and amusement, that Albus is being mistaken for an assistance dog in his DS vest by the school children at least 😊! Not sure what sort of real assistance this small scruffy and very daft lurcher pup could be, but he will happily lick anyone in need and he makes me smile. Plus, he and his canine brothers and sisters, help us connect with each other and spark conversations (one of the reasons he’s coming along on these walks) so I guess maybe he is an assistance dog in an unofficial sort of way after all.

We wandered the minsters cool interior then out into the warmth of the beautiful education garden next to the remains of the Bishop’s Palace.

Beyond, in what was once the old deer park belonging to the palace, is Higgon’s Mead a greenspace saved from development by community action and desire to preserve the Roman Villa that lies beneath. An extensive Anglo-Saxon cemetery also lies partly under this site.

A quick detour up to No. 75 Church Street to see the outside of the Bramley Apple house, where Mary Ann Brailsford planted the pip that launched ten thousand apple pies. Famous world-wide and with deep connections to the local community today the Bramley is a one of Southwell’s primary cultural touchstones. D’s 1, 2 and I lament how the apple is named after the house’s later male occupant, (sigh, another example of patriarchal privileging). The 200-year-old tree still stands in the garden and will hopefully soon be accessible to the public.

Treback Memorial Hall Garden

We were advised to view the garden by Trebeck Memorial Hall, lovingly tended by volunteers, and though small it is perfectly formed. I could see how it would be “lovely watching it through the seasons” as my informant enjoys.

We ended our walk for today at the large area of open spaces including the Memorial Gardens, Bowling Club, Scouts pavilions and children’s play area. Life, in all forms, buzzed around us and we could see and feel how well loved and used these green spaces are that many people had claimed as their special place.

So, there you have it 2000 years of history, local community and wildlife with some yummy cake to boot, within a short walk and there are still so many other parts of Southwell to explore too!


The Memorial Gardens