Hart of the Matter
After the horrendous experiences of the residents of Workington and Cockermouth last week, it is not surprising if people are beginning to get a bit twitchy about global warming.
Floods of this size are very rare in this country, thankfully, although older residents of Haverhill will remember some dramatic ones.
Some university expert was wheeled in at the height of the Cumbria crisis to explain that floods tend to come in waves, if you’ll forgive the pun, so that we get a lot in one decade and then nothing much for maybe half a century, plenty long enough for us to forget.
Thus the 1880s were bad, as were the 1950s, and, it seems, the ‘Noughties’, as this decade is incongruously termed by supposedly clever people who appear to know nothing about really naughty decades like the 1920s.
In Haverhill we now sit quite secure in the knowledge we shall not have another flood since the Flood Park was built. After water had swirled through town centre properties in 1948, 1958 and 1968, the authorities finally decided to act.
The result was a very pleasant lake with islands, wildfowl and fish a-plenty for the anglers and dog-walkers, and a particularly ugly concrete trench for the town centre.
It didn’t matter much back then because the centre of the town was still very definitely the High Street/Queen Street axis, and The Pightle was a little back road and, even after the Relief Road (now Ehringshausen Way) was built it was for traffic, not pedestrians, and you couldn’t see much from a car.
Things have changed now. What used to be the backs of properties and a bit of unsightly civil engineering, is rapidly becoming the focal spot of the town, whether it be the brick and concrete walls beside The Pightle, or the overgrown grass banks by the bus station.
There is no doubt that a river is a central feature in a town, and those towns that have one have a distinct advantage over those which do not – a bit like railways.
It turns out Haverhill is not quite, in strict statistical terms, the largest town in England without a railway, but I bet it is the largest without either a railway or a river (Corby has pretty much reached the River Welland).
There is a popular misconception that the trickle of water which now flows alongside The Pightle is the River Stour. Sadly, the baby River Stour flows through Kedington, and all we have is a minor tributary called the Stour Brook.
Brook is not a bad description in some ways, because it conjures up something very small indeed, especially in flat areas like East Anglia – little more than a ditch.
In other ways it is misleading because, although, like Tennyson’s famous Brook, it may ‘come from haunts of coot and herne’ (I think there are coots and herons up at the Flood Park), rather than making ‘a sudden sally’ it generally struggles to achieve a lazy dribble.
Recently I have heard people suggest that it should be opened up again and allowed to flow properly, with the sluice gates just saved for when there has been a lot of rain to prevent any disasters.
There was even a proposal in the town centre master plan, now conveniently forgotten, that it should be broadened into a shallow lake or water feature where the bus station now stands. I guess most people would agree those tin shelters would be more use half submerged and made into decorative islands than impeding the access of people onto buses.
However, pleasant though it might be to have a quantity of water flowing regularly through the town, that cat won’t jump because the anglers would be up in arms at any plan which might result in a serious lowering of the lake level at the Flood Park.
So perhaps we should look seriously at the concrete eyesore along The Pightle and Lordscroft Lane at least, to see if that could be made more appealing to the casual visitor.
Just smartening up the rails would be something, but it really needs to go further than that, because why would anyone want to stand there and look at the rubbish which has gathered in the bottom of this giant piece of ducting?
There is something about the gentle flow of water which lends tranquillity to one’s surroundings, so perhaps that is what we should be looking to replicate.
Public art is not universally popular. It adds to the shopping experience, we are told, so it will be an important addition to Queen Street, when it arrives. But, from a non-commercial point of view, it can also profitably be used to transform ugly areas.