Last weekend saw our first trip after the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It feels ages since we were on the road! (Well, it has been about 6 weeks.) We drove down the A1 on Thursday, staying overnight in Ely, Cambridgeshire.
Ely is a beautiful city. With its cathedral and the River Great Ouse running through it with many narrow boats and motor boats there.
We went to Ely Cathedral to see the entry there in the Cambridgeshire Regimental Book, of Dom’s great uncle, James “Hamish” Bremner, who was born in Wick, Scotland in 1913. He joined the Cambridgeshire Army Regiment in the Second World War. After Pearl Harbour, troops were diverted to the Far East. Hamish arrived in Singapore in January 1942, and after a month of fighting, was taken prisoner by the Japanese. He was taken to Thailand where he became one of the 60,000 men forced to build the infamous “Death Railway”, including the Bridge over the River Kwai. It was brutal. Hamish died at Nong Pladuk, just 29 years old, on 22nd January 1943. He is buried in Chungkai War Cemetery in Kanchanaburi in Thailand. Here’s the entry in Ely Cathedral.
Dom & I had compiled a family history of Dom’s grandfather (from Wick) for his mother’s 80th birthday, and discovered all sorts of amazing things, including Hamish’s story. We even found the Japanese POW index cards stating his details. The final PDF we made was over 35 pages long.
Our gig that evening was just outside Ely in Isleham (pronounced eyes-lamb) at a very nice hall called “The Beeches” with excellent acoustics. A large building with football pitches all around. The audience asked us questions about our music at the end – its the first time we’ve had to engage in a “Q&A” session from the stage! Very friendly bunch!
On Saturday, we headed to our next gig just north west of Bedford, in Harrold. Harrold is a beautiful village. In the 19th & early 20th centuries, it used to be the centre for leather making in Europe, providing leather for the Northampton shoe industry. It also exported leather and became internationally famous for its quality. There used to be numerous leatherworking factory buildings there, but they are now all gone. It has been a settlement since the Old Stone Age, and axe heads and burial mounds have been found from the New Stone Age, as well as Bronze Age burial sites. In the Doomsday Book of 1086, Harrold Manor existed and a mill was in use.
Our gig was in the Connolly Hall in the Harrold Centre. A beautiful (and recently beautifully refurbished and expanded) red brick building in the centre of the High Street. Local tannery owner and wealthy Victorian philanthropist, Charles Pettit, financed its construction in 1901. It was then known as the Harrold Institute and provided a place of recreation and learning, including a coffee tavern and a reading room. He later added the hall for weddings, dances and theatrical productions, and later a bowling green and tennis courts to the rear.
It is beautiful inside too, with good acoustics. A very, very, very warm, friendly and enthusiastic audience came to see us perform. A real joy for us (as was the food, wine and banter afterwards!)
In 1968, stopping off during a trip from Yorkshire, Paul McCartney gave the first ever public performance of “Hey Jude” at the piano in the Oakley Arms!
Words and photos by Ian Millar © 2018