One bleak Sunday morning in November 1964 Grandad and I went for our usual weekend walk.
“Why are we going up the town on a Sunday, Grandad?” I asked.
(In those days it was unheard of for the town centre shops to open on a Sunday.)
“Because we are going to watch an old building being demolished,” he replied.
That morning Grandad and I stood with a crowd of locals, tutting and puffing and shaking their heads in disbelief, as we watched the sombre, but proud, Old Grammar School on Bakehouse Hill being reduced to a pile of Victorian rubble as it made way for what is now called ‘Newlands Phase One’.
Being a Kettering gal, born and bred, as I was growing up I can remember the redevelopment and modernisation of the town centre that took place in the 60’s and 70’s, and which began on that chilly November morning. I can clearly recall, as a teenager, the fight to save the Queen Anne Beech House from the clutches of the gurus who worshipped at the altars of pre-stressed concrete and pre-fabricated steel sections and presumed they knew best when it came to the buzzwords – ‘Central Area Redevelopment’.
In the early 1970s a local hack called Tony Ireson fought like a Trojan to save our heritage. He had the full backing of townsfolk as he embarked on his crusade to save Beech House. Well-known and not-so-well-known residents of the town alike made their views known in the local newspaper and the Civic Society eventually took off its velvet gloves and replaced them with iron fists in the quest to save the unique and majestic buildings at the heart of this busy market town – all to no avail.
No-one was listening, and if they were, they had their hands over their ears and their eyes tightly shut as Kettering’s residents tried in vain to make themselves heard outside the closed doors of the Council Chamber.
Beech House was demolished and all that remained of this grand old mansion was the blue front door, fixed defiantly to the wall just inside the Tanner’s Lane entrance to the Newlands Centre (then called the Newborough Centre).
‘Ketrin’ ent never gunna be the same agen,’ people said, with a morose shaking of heads. There was a general feeling that Kettering had irrevocably lost its unique sparkle when the Gold Street shop frontages and the Dickensian cobbles of Richards Leys had also been sacrificed in the name of modernisation.
Tony then embarked on the fight of his life to save his quaint and quirky home, Beech Cottage, from the concrete-worshipping timelords who hid behind their gigantic mechanical monsters. This time he was successful, but sadly sacrificed his lovely garden, which was replaced by a road running right outside his front window.
My home town is now facing another comprehensive town centre redevelopment, but this time, I think, the decision-makers are listening. Mindful of the mistakes of the past, residents are being given the opportunity to let the decision-makers know how they feel, and what they think. The Council has rented out a vacant shop in the town centre to stage displays and answer questions about the new-look multi-million pound town centre. Its a far cry from the whisperings in smoke-filled chambers of the sixties and seventies when people were ignored.
Don’t you think, though, there’s a touch of serendipity here? The town centre shop, where people can go and have their say, is on the site of the first building demolished all those years ago -The Old Grammar School.