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Town in Nottinghamshire, England


"She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies"

          Lord Byron


Well, maybe Hucknall does not boast cloudless climes, but it does have a few things about which it can rightfully crow. Seven miles north of Nottingham, it was once a market town dating back to before the Domesday Book (which refers to it as "Hochenale"). Its full name for centuries was Hucknall Torkard (Torcard being the name of a large landowning family), but in 1915 it was shortened to the modern use, though many old building still bear the older name. With a population of some 29,000, it's not a huge town, but big enough to boast all the amenities of modern living, namely acinema, massive out-of-town shopping centre and hrair estate agents and banks.

The town grew slowly, and became a centre for two local industries - coal mining and the textile trade. Coal was being mined in the area in medieval times, but it was in the mid-1800s that big mines were sunk. This meant a new rush of building for the colliers,and much of the housing in the central part of the town was designed and built for their needs. The textile trade began as a cottage industry, but the advent of machine lace and knitting led to growth there too. Both declined in the late 19th century, beginning with textile manufacturing, which moved to the more central Nottingham, and the decline of the coal industry led to the closure of the pits by the beginning of the 2000s.

Hucknall also has an airfield, formerly RAF Hucknall, and later the site of a Rolls-Royce testing facility. It was here that the experimental VTOL "Flying Bedstead" was tested and flown,and there's a pub (not a great pub, mind you) down the road named for this piece of flying history. There's still some engineering development carried out in the area, but not on such a grand scale, and not by Rolls,who moved their testing elsewhere a few years back.

So What Is There To See?

Well, for one thing, there's a church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. As you might expect, this is old. Parts of the foundations date back to 8th-century Saxon times, with later additions by the bloody Normans in the 11th, and the church being pretty much as we see it today by the 18th century. Of course, the Victorians had a hand in it too, restoring and extending the structure. It's pretty, in its own way, and like so many English churches, the more one pokes about, the more one finds. The porch is the oldest structure standing, dating back to about 1320, and the tower is of similar age. If you like old stones though, and are in the area, Saint Leodegarius church in Basford has earlier and more. The windows are classic late 19th century, and good examples of the craft of one Charles Kempe.

Poke around the graveyard and you'll find the usual local suspects, but you won't find Hucknall's most famous local. Lord Byron is buried in the family vault beneath the church's chancel, as is his daughter, Ada Lovelace. This is possibly Hucknall's greatest claim to fame these days, and there does appear to be a steady trickle of tourists generated.

It's a shame there's not more for them to see. There's a plethora of pubs, many in buildings dating back quite a few years. The oldest is probably The Red Lion, which was certainly being run as a pub in the 1700s, and was certainly a haunt of Byron himself. I imagine him riding like buggery from his home in Newstead Abbey and downing a few pints before being bad, mad and dangerous to know with the bar wench, pausing only long enough to defenestrate some poor sod who got in his way. The Yew Tree is reputed to be haunted, and there is a plaque saying as much. It used to be spooky before they modernised it, but it lacks even that, now. As to the ghost, I could not say.

And Finally...

There are a few local worthies other than Byron and Lovelace, but the only one you're likely to have heard of is Eric Coates, composer of the theme from The Dambusters film and Desert Island Discs. There were a few footballers born here, but the other name is one you all know,but don't. Okay, you know Big Ben? Well, Big Ben (the bell, that is) is named for Ben Caunt, a bare-kuckle boxer in the 19th century, who was renowned as "The Torkard Giant". Oh, and the chap who invented football shin pads? Sam Widdowson. And finally, the architect Thomas Howitt was born here.

So, in conclusion, should you visit Hucknall? Well, if you want to stand in Saint Mary's chancel above Lord Byron, yes. If you are going for nightlife, no. The pubs, I am informed, have declined into dens of telly and gassy beer and there's little left of the real history of Hucknall other than Byron's grave and a few old buildings.




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