top of page
  • Martin Castle

The Witch's Hat

It has been a strange week here. Two long trips by road – one to celebrate a significant family birthday (suitably distanced and outside - thank you sunshine) and a second for work to discuss projects and to deliver bricks! A relative has relocated for work from San Francisco to London and my old class are back in lessons. So normal activities but surrounding these events it seemed far from normal - change is everywhere. The roads over long distances remain empty (if you are off the motorways good luck with finding a toilet mid-journey); on arriving at the engineering works they are rearranging their layout as they finally have time since opening the works years ago; after an apprehensive flight from the US it‘s into 14 days of quarantine before we can even consider welcoming Shy to the UK; some of my last class are at school but it bears little relationship to what went before and my ex-colleagues (everywhere) are making the best of the muddle they were presented with by government.

Change is everywhere ... time will tell if some will remain and prove to be a benefit of the pandemic (virtual meetings must be better all round rather than a ten hour drive for a two hour meeting?). Others are inconsequential and yet others are a direct result of the impact in the way we live currently. Many spring to mind but two resonate loudly to me.

On a stopover to discuss machinery in Rushden, Northamptonshire, we passed the brown signs for Wicksteed Park. Katayoun had not heard of it but when I worked in Bedford it was a summer trip out for our youngest pupils - Wicksteed are manufacturers of playground equipment, founded over 100 years ago by Charles Wicksteed (1847-1931). 931)

One of twenty one children from a well to do family he set up Charles Wicksteed & Co. Ltd in 1876, based in Kettering, which produced items such as the first hydraulic hacksaw, the original automatic gearbox, sawing machinery, wooden toys and power drills. In 1913 he purchased a tract of nearby meadow-land with the intention of developing a model village. He wanted to create an open space and safe parkland for local families. To celebrate the end of the First World War, his factory purportedly removed a number of central heating pipes from its premises and used them to build swings for children, creating the first commercial playground.

"I came to the conclusion the great mistake so many private benefactors and public bodies make is this: they lay out a beautiful Park to sit in, and look at, but they do not realise that the people want more than this, they want something doing. And those who cannot play themselves, enjoy looking at those who can. The Play Ground should not be put in a corner behind railings, but in a conspicuous and beautiful part of a Park, free to all, where people can enjoy the play and charming scenery at the same time; where mothers can sit, while they are looking on and caring for their children.

My Play Ground is not confined to boys or girls, or old or young, it is open to all. I have seen a dozen women of forty years of age on the Plank Swing together, and enjoying it as much as the children. I have also seen old ladies of 80 go down the slides. It is a good thing to have plenty of variety and then no one tires.

I used to be told how boys abused everything and what a disgraceful thing it was for two men to swing together on the same swing. So I made up my mind it would be far easier for me, as an engineer, to make the Playthings so strong that they could not be broken, rather than try to reform the users. In this I have succeeded without disturbing the delicate balance, so that the youngest child alone can operate any of the playthings."

When I was little and Basildon, Essex, there was a play-park near our dentists and I remember that a trip to the 'chair' went hand-in-hand with the play-park - there was a rocking horse, swings, a roundabout and a huge metal slide with the word Wicksteed making up the treads of the steps to a slide (often waxed with an old candle by older boys) that dropped vertiginously onto a long run out with mum waiting to gather me in. Oddly a visit to the dentist has never held any fears for me but the Witch's Hat is another story!

Wicksteed Park's fame spread far and wide and special trains and charabancs brought visitors from an ever-widening area. Wicksteed was the second leisure park in the UK (after Blackgang Chine on the IoW) and has been copied many times since. Upon the death of Charles Wicksteed, the board of trustees was determined to continue his work and it was this trust that entered administration earlier this week, putting the future of the largest free facility of its kind in Europe in danger of disappearing for ever.

The other change was an inevitable one but none-the-less unwelcome. At the age of 103 Dame Vera Lynn has finally left the stage. Her impact on the psyche of the UK may be unlike any other musical act - Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Andrea Bocelli etc, etc, etc.Important to my grandparents and parents generation and part of my consciousness and certainly not a one-song-wonder. She will not have been to everyone's taste but the need to be entertained in difficult times has been brought into focus in the current situation so her contribution to the life of the nation in really dark times had immense power. another link across the generations is broken.


Our garden is full of fruit swelling in the sun and rain of the last week or so - strawberries, apples, pears, plums, blueberries and various currents. this year we are going to have a bumper crop of goosegogs - a favourite of mine. Here's a recipe (from Delia) that never fails to please.

Gooseberry Yoghurt Fool


900g/2 lb gooseberries, topped and tailed with scissors

275g/10 oz Greek yogurt

150g/5 oz golden caster sugar


1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C(160°C fan)/350°F/gasmark 4.

2. Place the goosegogs on a baking dish, sprinkle on the sugar and bake them on the centre shelf of the oven, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, or until tender when tested with a skewer.

3. Tip them into a sieve set over a bowl to drain off the excess juice into a jug. Now reserve about a quarter of the cooked gooseberries for later.

4. Place the rest in the bowl of a food processor, add 4 tablespoons of the reserved juice and whiz to a thick purée. Leave the purée to get quite cold.

5. Empty the yogurt into a bowl, give it a stir, then fold in half the purée.

6. Spoon the mixture into the serving glasses, spoon the rest of the purée on top and, finally, add the reserved gooseberries.

7. Cover the glasses with clingfilm and chill till you're ready to serve.

The word of the Day is ...

"Acnestis" - [ak-NESS-tis]

a noun: the point of the back that lies between the shoulders and the lower back, which cannot be reached to be scratched

ps: if the cooking instructions say cook for 24-26 minutes, does that mean 25 minutes? - Cooking instruction on Lidl fish-cakes (very nice by the way).


"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

110 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All



bottom of page