Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Of oatcakes and catacombs


Derby is an interesting mix of the old and the new. Like most English cities, it has its share of planners 'mistakes', but it also has a fair selection of smart, modern architecture with clean lines and walls of windows; interspersed with character filled historic buildings.

This is Derby Guildhall. More accurately, this is the present incarnation of Derby Guildhall. There have been three previous Guildhalls on or near this location at the edge of the market place, the earliest on record being between 1530 and 1730. This one was designed by Mathew Habershon in 1828, but in 1840 was seriously damaged by fire. It was during the rebuilding that the 103 foot high clock tower was added.

Access at the front of the building is through a pillared corridor, with doors to the side leading into a small theatre, and an open courtyard at the end through which you must walk to reach the indoor market hall. The photograph below is taken from the courtyard, looking back out to the front of the building.


                             

As a child, I remember the courtyard and the sides of this corridor being filled with stalls, one of which is where we used to buy our Derbyshire oatcakes - but only during the winter months, as they were considered seasonal. We would eat them fried, probably with bacon and egg. In these generally more health concious days, I have them grilled or nuked

Incidentally, if you are imagining little round biscuity things, think again! Derbyshire oatcakes are more like oaty pancakes and almost as versatile.

What I didn't realise as a child, was that under our feet was a series of tunnels. In Victorian times, these catacombs were used to ferry prisoners from the Police Station in Lock-up Yard to the Court of Assizes in the Guildhall. Where there are tunnels and prisoners, there are inevitably ghost stories and Derby sells itself as one of the most haunted cities in the country, with regular ghost walks around the historic lanes and ginnels to whet the appetites of the curious. Personally, I can't say that I've ever bumped into a ghost during my amblings round the city centre, nor do I expect to, but I wouldn't mind a nosy in those tunnels, just to see what it's like down there!

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