Ashley Franklin visits Kegworth on the southern border of the county to discover whether the demands of 21st century travel have changed the fabric of village life
At the turn of the 1970s, anyone craving a central location with good access to both motorway and airport whilst still enjoying the charm of a village, would have seen Kegworth as the most perfect place in England.
Since then, the growth of the adjacent M1 and East Midlands Airport has been unprecedented. This stretch of the motorway, opened in 1968, was designed to cope with 13,000 vehicles per day. Today, up to 100,000 whisk close to the village as they traverse Junction 24, which also leads to the airport. This, too, opened in the mid-60s and its expansion has been similarly stratospheric: EMA now deals with 50,000 aircraft operations each year and carries around 5 million passengers.
Although one might think Kegworth is beleaguered with aircraft noise, a recent village survey found that only half of the respondents considered the noise levels to be unacceptable, with a similar percentage agreeing that the airport was a ‘good neighbour’. One might also have expected Kegworth’s expansion to be concomitant with this massive transport hub. Ironically, the air noise has officially helped to restrict Kegworth’s growth and so it’s remained a fairly archetypal village, with one exception: can any other UK village claim to house four hotels?
What is even more ironic is that Kegworth was a much more industrialised village before the coming of the airport and motorway. Many of the buildings in the village centre date from the 18th century when Kegworth was a coach and carriage stop along the main London to Manchester road. Kegworth grew to be quite affluent, with an 1851 census revealing 121 residents working as servants or housekeepers. Many villagers serviced the affluent in another way: Queen Victoria, King George V, the Kaiser, King of Spain and other royal personages were all customers of the stockingers of Kegworth. The hosiery factories continued right up to the last quarter of the 20th century.
One century-old local industry is still trading. Slack & Parr, acknowledged as a market leader in high precision engineering, began life as a motor cycle repair shop and owes its village situation to a quirk of fate. In 1910, Nottinghamian engineer Harry Slack had to stop in Kegworth to repair a puncture to his motorbike. Whilst doing so, he struck up a conversation with local resident and fellow biker Mr Hudson, leading Harry to make repeat visits to the village and eventually decide to set up shop there.
For the full history of this and other aspects of Kegworth, you should visit the village’s museum, a converted barn which stores a rich and impressive collection of memorabilia, artefacts and photographs. Three of its dedicated volunteers, Brenda Moore and Mike and Cynthia Ward, showed me permanent displays about the local school, Royal British Legion and the knitting industry. Along with a genuine stocking frame, the museum houses the entire contents of a local saddlery, and there is a fascinating Victorian Parlour created by Brenda Moore who was born and brought up in the village. There are also seasonal exhibitions, with the current display recounting Barton’s Buses which once had a depot in Kegworth.
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Brenda, Mike and Cynthia spoke of a village renowned for its warmth and friendship. ‘We have a strong community of core families and a steady influx of incomers, many of whom have been a shot in the arm,’ says Brenda, demonstrated by the village’s 50-plus leisure and activity groups. ‘Friends you make here you make for life,’ states Brenda. ‘Whenever I leave my house to get somewhere in the village, I have to go early because I get stopped by so many people eager for a chat. It’s like living in an extended family.’
You could certainly stay a while in Oakland & Son, the butchers and bakers now in its 20th year. Quite a queue can build up, not surprising for a shop that sells over 300 breakfasts and lunches every day, though few mind the wait as Oakland’s has become, according to owner Debbie Hobden, a ‘social hub’ of the village. ‘Our customers love the fact that everything is made on the premises,’ adds Debbie. ‘If we can’t make it, we don’t sell it.’
Opposite Oakland’s stands St Andrew’s Church which, with its tall tower and needle spire, is an imposing presence in the heart of Kegworth. According to Revd Gill Turner-Callis, St Andrew’s is a focal point both spiritually and architecturally and, furthermore, the church’s influence is widespread: ‘We have a great impact on the community because every member of our congregation is deeply involved in village life. Consequently, St Andrew’s – and Christianity as a whole – is represented and communicated at every level, from the school run to Council meetings.’ St Andrew’s also has an ‘excellent’ relationship with the Baptist and Methodist churches, sometimes holding big services like Good Friday and Remembrance together. Although a vast church, it is blessed with light from huge windows. ‘It’s very uncluttered inside, too,’ Gill points out, ‘and with very little impeding one’s view to the altar, you never feel lost or insignificant.’
The same goes for village life, says Gill. ‘Population-wise, Kegworth is more of a town but it is determinedly a village with a village feel, and has none of the fierce insider/outsider ethic which characterises other commuter towns and villages.’
One resident told me that ‘if you come to live in Kegworth, you never leave.’ It appears a few never leave even when they die: Kegworth houses an unusually high number of ghosts. A decade ago, a lorry driver swore he saw a headless figure cross the road in the Market Place. Over a period of 12 years, three owners of The Chestnuts saw the same old lady in a light-coloured shawl. In the handsome, late 17th century Great House, there appear to be several occupants from the spirit world: conversations are heard and cigarette smoke whiffed, and an elderly lady has chilled the air by lifting a door latch. At the Hermitage House in the 70s, a workman fled the cellar having encountered a lady in white, though the owner, Dr Bedford, assured him she was friendly, having lived with her for several years. At a former shop run by Mrs Ryder on 18 High Street, family relations who came to look after the shop while Mrs Ryder holidayed, forced the owner to return home early after being distressed by the vision of a boy lying ill in the ground floor bed.
The poet Thomas Moore lived briefly at The Cedars. A poem about his move to the village contained the lines: ‘If there is peace to be found in this world,/ A heart that was humble might hope for it here.’
Why, then, did he move away after less than a year? Might it be anything to do with the fact that in a letter prior to settling at The Cedars, he asked a friend to prepare the house for him and demanded that ‘THE GENTLEMAN UPSTAIRS must be ejected’? This ‘gentleman’ was apparently the ghost of a butler murdered at the house.
Red Lion, another worker refused to return to the building after an ‘old lady’ brushed against him.
Although The Cedars still stands and has a room known as Tom Moore’s Study, the squash courts where arguably Kegworth’s most famous inhabitant played are now hotel rooms. At the turn of the 80s, I recall visiting Kegworth Squash Club, run by the Marshalls at the time when their son Peter was promising to become the finest British player since Jonah Barrington. I was in awe of his talent. So was Barrington himself after seeing him as a brilliant eight-year-old. He wrote about him two decades later – in the foreword to Marshall’s autobiography Shattered.
Peter Marshall fulfilled his promise. In 1995, aged 23, he had progressed to World No 2. Then he was struck by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome which so weakened Peter he could barely walk across a room, let alone dash around a court. All is recounted in that book Shattered, including the time Peter was offered �250,000 compensation from his insurers on condition he did not raise a racket in earnest again. Admirably, he risked a comeback, and broke back into the World’s Top 10 in 1999. By this time, though, his parents had sold the squash club and, as a Kegworth resident confirmed, they left the village to fulfil their own dream – of sailing around the globe.
Once synonymous with squash, Kegworth has recently become a popular target for clay pigeon shooters. Strung out over 50 acres, Kegworth Shooting Ground is an attractive venue for several reasons, says owner John Wroughton: ‘Close proximity to the M1, our mix of open and wooded countryside – useful for judging the targets’ range and speed – friendly adult staff and quality and variation in targets and layout; we build a new course for every event.’
There are events for novices, top competition shooters and corporate clients and, according to John, the appeal of clay pigeon shooting is constant: ‘It’s a wonderful high adrenaline sport combining mental and physical challenges. For many, the satisfaction is akin to having a go on one of those "break-a-plate" stalls at the fair. You need instruction, but it’s very accessible – we have all walks of life here – reasonably priced, and very addictive.’
The Shooting Ground also stages charity events and has helped raise over �200,000 in the last eight years for Rainbows and the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust. For details visit www.kegworth.co.uk
No feature on Kegworth should ignore the air crash of 8th January 1989, when a Boeing smashed into the M1 embankment just short of the airport. 126 were on board; 47 died. Although the crash occurred well away from the village, it became referred to as the Kegworth Air Disaster. The village certainly played a crucial part in the immediate aftermath: dozens of residents rushed to the scene and, traumatic as the incident must have been, they helped rescue and comfort the injured passengers, some even accompanying them to hospital and staying with them until their relatives arrived.
‘Friendships were forged on that cold January night,’ recounts village clerk Lesley Pendleton, ‘and no-one in Kegworth will ever forget 8th January.’ The Parish Council erected a memorial in Kegworth Cemetery to ‘those who died, those who were injured and those who took part in the rescue operation,’ and also arranged for the soil base to be drawn from that very M1 embankment.