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Paul Wright, 2020
Wicksteed Park

Alton towers, Thorpe park, Lego land and Blackpool pleasure beach maybe the big boys in the UK for spending your money at. But lets not forget good old “Wickies”. 

Wicksteed Park has been on our doorstep for the best part of one hundred years, but in the summer of 2020 we were told that all might be changing at the side of the old A6 at Kettering!

There cannot be many local folk that have not visited on a nice sunny day, parked the car down by the railway track and watched the kids with their other family members just enjoying taking a trip on the narrow gauge train around this one hundred fifty acre corner of Northamptonshire. Or sitting with a car rug to have a “picnic”.

Believe it, or not over 15 million people have climbed aboard since the early 1930‘s. Imagine how many rings on the bell that has generated on the engine.

So much money has been raised by the “Crazy Hats” campaigners as they made their way in Wickies (mostly decked out in pink) raising money, for the much needed funds for breast cancer research.

”Crazy Hats” was ‘born’ back in 2001 when its founder, Glennis Hooper, then aged 46 and Head teacher at a primary school in Kettering, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Many thousands of pounds have been raised over this twenty year period, and it now totals a staggering total of £3 million. (brilliant work)

The foggy and damp nights of November hosted many a massive firework display in town. The firework display had promised to be another magical night of whizz, pop and bang!

In 2019 they put on an amazing Laser show. That was the 18th annual event. What will happen from 2020 onwards, what with the park going into administration, and Covid-19 still affecting our health?

Let’s hope that it will still go ahead, and many more will continue to enjoy the autumn nights sky being lit up, for a fiver on the gate entrance price, it’s good value.

When we had loads of firms still manufacturing in the area, and Rushden and Higham had the luxury of over forty shoe related firms keeping our pay packets topped up every Friday.

And of course you could spend some of that cash at the annual firms “dinner and dance,” which for the larger firms was sometimes held at the Wicksteed Park Pavillion.

Some smaller firms shared the floor space with other companies. If you did not want to risk “drink driving,” perhaps you were ready to jump aboard of one Johnson’s Motors coaches, that used to be based up Washbrook Road in Rushden, and did many an outing.

I recall going to one held over there by “Arthur Sanders” the former builders in Rushden, when one or two of the workers drank too much beer and got a bit lively!

Not all the shoe firms had their Christmas “knees-up” over at “Wickies”. Lots went and celebrated at the good old Windmill club in Rushden. (the ‘Mill had one of the best dance floors in the midlands).

Dancers could show of their moves with great music provided by “Vic Riches, Gordon Meadow’s, Allan Bathurst's dance band. Or some “pop” from “Barry Noble and the Sapphires”, with top drummer “Bruce Smith” driving things along. Bruce went on to back 60‘s singer “Jimmy Justice” in the mid 1960’s.

Bruce had followed in the footsteps of his dad, “Ted,” who was in the “Ralph Tomkins” band on the drums.

I can just see the happy workers tucking in to a hearty meal served by maybe Rollie Cox and his team from the Central Cafe in Rushden High Street. They would be rushing about to serve the food while still hot. Not so good if you were sat on the end of the table.

Now the former dance floor at the Windmill Hall is a snooker club which has 14 full size snooker tables and 2 full size pool tables. Currently in 2020 the function room at the Windmill can be hired for a range of services from children parties to wedding receptions, meetings to Christenings. The room is currently being offered to members free of charge, and are offering their buffet menu at fair prices.

A lot changed back in the 1980s, and many companies had folded, leaving unemployment high. The next 20 years saw a dramatic change in the town's industrial trades. Building trade was good for a time, until the recession when prices rose rapidly, causing negative equity for many.

Some moved away to seek work elsewhere, some began new trades as self-employed, and some failed to find work at all, mostly the older workers. There was an air of depression amongst the population for quite a few years.

In the 21st century there is little shoe trade left, with cheap imports coming in from abroad affecting the demand for many of the local skills.

Against the odds, some factories survived the depression of the late 20th century: Sanders and Sanders still along Spencer Road, Alfred Sargent's up Portland Road, and Grenson at their new factory on Crown Way. Some trade still exists at Denbros in Irchester Road, but a lot of their trade is now retail orientated.

At “Wickies” on a sweltering hot day what could be better than having an ice cream being served from the “stop me and buy one” bike.

And then take a wander down to the bottom corner of the park to the lake, for a refreshing ride on the “water chute”. No matter how loud people screamed, they would still love to get soaked!

And just like our parks in Rushden, they had their own man to be aware of if you were messing about; he was one of the security staff called “Tony” and he would give chase if the cherubs were pushing their luck.

Getting back to Rushden, we had “Old Tom” as we called him. Hall Park was ruled with a strict but fair policing by Mr Thomas Roberts, to give him his formal title.

The gatekeeper’s cottage that Tom lived in was situated next to Rushden Hall Park gates that faced the A6 road. This was next door to the fashion shop called “Florence Simpson’s,” and the “Wagon and Horses” pub.

That building was used as the “Teza Indian” restaurant up to the spring of 2020, but is now awaiting to re-open the doors as a Turkish restaurant called the “Rokka”.

It was confirmed on the afternoon of Tuesday 23rd June, 2020, during the Covid 19 Epidemic, that pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers can open from 4th July in England, when social distancing rules will be eased. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people should remain 2m apart where possible but a "one metre plus" rule will be introduced.

Going back to the beginning of the park, it was established in 1921 by “Charles Wicksteed”. He wanted to create an enjoyable and safe place for us locals to enjoy for many years to come.

In this modern era the likes of “Lego world and Thorpe Park may have scarier rides, but Wicksteed Park” is on our doorstep, and it need not cost you a fortune to go in to have some fun in the sun.

To put it into context, it can cost you £10 to park your car at Thorpe Park, plus admission of over £50. Go over to Kettering and shell out £6 to park the car all day, and as little as £1.25 for a single ride, and as many as 20 rides for £22. If you are dropping people off, you get a 20 minutes grace period to leave the park without a charge.

Sadly over at “Wickies”, as along with lots of the UK, Coronavirus took it’s toll, with nearly a hundred and twenty full and part timers losing their job. They were sadly running out of funding, and losses were nudging past the £820,000 mark.

June 2020 - There is a just giving page to help the cash to come in, it is:-

Fingers crossed it will be entertaining us for another century or more?

Long live “Wickies”: we all have a happy memory of our visits?

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