Grand Designs

Why do we fail to notice extraordinary things when they are right in front of us? Is it just human nature to take for granted that which we see every day? In the nineties I worked in Matlock for the best part of three years and each day I drove past a building that I knew by name and reputation without a turn of the head or a nudge of the brakes. I must have subsequently walked past countless times without pausing to investigate further. Today all of that changed.

The other famous building in Matlock Bath
The other famous building in Matlock Bath

Today I’m in Matlock Bath to take a look around an historic building that has assumed legendary status in these parts and beyond. No – not Sir Richard Arkwright’s Masson Mills, a key player in the industrial revolution. I’m at the Grand Pavilion, a leisure facility that owes its existence to the employment revolution that was spawned by the industrial revolution.

Matlock Bath Grand Pavilion
Matlock Bath Grand Pavilion

I know precious little about “The Pav” as it is commonly known, beyond its 90’s incarnation as a night club. Overheard Monday morning conversations at work were often sprinkled with non-too-pretty tales from the Pav. Notorious rather than legendary. The night club has closed and the Pav has been nursing a hangover as it prays for some fresh new start under more sympathetic custodianship. Those prayers have been answered…

The Grand Pavilion is open to visitors today with the Save The Pavilion Group sharing their plans for the building and laying on guided tours. There are perhaps 20 equally curious attendees to the initial presentation which presents a history of the building and the following information is largely brought to you courtesy of authoritative and engaging local historian Charles Beresford and augmented by a little of my own research…

A brief history of the Grand Pavilion

The warm spa waters of Matlock Bath had already been drawing in visitors for a long time when the railway arrived in 1849 creating a massive surge in tourism. Despite this popularity the council decided that the town needed to broaden its offer and provide more reasons for day trippers to visit and perhaps stay. They commissioned the building of the Grand Pavilion with the intention of hosting a diverse range of entertainment that would appeal to the masses.

Architect John Nuttall led the £11,000 construction of the Grand Pavilion in 1910 on the site of a former stables and blacksmiths yard next to the river Derwent.

Pavilion in context
Pavilion in the distance

Early events held at the Pavilion included theatre and (with surprising popularity) roller skating! The inaugral theatre production in 1911 was The Cingalee followed by Charlie’s Aunt. Later that year the Matlock and District Operatic Society performed The Belle Of Brittany and the group are still performing today under the name of Matlock Musical Theatre.

Other early entertainment included military bands, dances, silent films and community events. The ample ballroom with its polished dance floor, arched roof and gas lighting must have provided all the ingredients for a striking venue. The venue was certainly attracting many new visitors to the town with records showing a peak of 17 excursion trains arriving in one day from conurbations like Derby and Manchester. Matlock Bath still has one of the longest railway platforms in the Derbyshire Dales.

Tiger Tractor built by John Fowler and Co in 1917 during while soldiers were billetted here
Tiger Tractor built by John Fowler and Co in 1917 during while soldiers were billetted here

Within a few years of opening First World War soldiers were billeted on site. Canadian soldier Willian J Cowan spent time here recuperating from injury and he led a remarkable life. Military career aside (he was awarded the Military Cross and later left Russia after being sentenced to death for alleged spying) Cowan went on to forge a career in Hollywood as a writer and director, with credits including Oliver Twist. His wife made a fortune writing the caption cards used in silent movies and Spencer Tracey was a close friend.

Other early visitors of renown include Jesse Boot (he of Boots The Chemist) and scouting movement founder Lord Baden Powell who held the first ever scouting conference at the nearby Royal Hotel in 1917.

Baden Powell in 1935 (with thanks to Girl Guides of Canada)
Baden Powell in 1935 (with thanks to Girl Guides of Canada)

Another notable early performer at the Pavilion was Marie Hall, considered one of the finest violinists in the world at her time. She had been a pupil of Edward Elgar and fellow composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams dedicated his composition “The Lark Ascending” to her. Thirty years after her death her 1709 Stradivarius violin sold at auction for almost half a million pounds!

After the disruption of WWII the Grand Pavilion saw a variety of events including the Miss Derbyshire competition, boxing matches and darts tournaments. The building continued to host music performances and was a primary venue for the town’s popular music festivals that attracted up to 3000 performers and many more attendees.

Some of the more famous acts to perform at the Pavilion include Phil Cool, Ken Dodd, Warren Mitchell, Kenny Ball, John Tams, Mike Reid, Freddie And The Dreamers, The Searchers, Cream, Elvis Costello and Deep Purple, not to mention local lass Isy Suttie. Apparently Long John Baldry played here with his pianist Reg Dwight (now better known as Elton John).The venue struggled to get by in later years and while the insensitive refit of the ballroom into a night club kept it on life support the prognosis was terminal and closure was to follow, until…

Mike Reid next to his Runaround (with thanks to Julep67)
Mike Reid next to his Runaround (thanks Julep67)

The Present

…the Save The Pavilion Group was set up by local people towards the end of 2009 with the stated aim of safeguarding the future of the Grand Pavilion for the community and surrounding areas. Stemming from this group an organisation called The Grand Pavilion Ltd was formed to oversee renovations and run the building as a Charitable Trust.

the main hall with the original curved roof obscured by a suspended ceiling
the ballroom with the original curved roof obscured by a suspended ceiling

As Charles led us on a guided tour of the building it became clear that while plenty of work needed doing there didn’t seem to be any major structural issues. During the Pav Night Club era a number of charmless features had been added – balconies, a mixing desk and a bar.

The Pav has left its mark
The Pav has left its mark

Through hard work by the volunteers the balconies have now been removed although the bar still remains.

Last orders
Last orders

The thing that immediately strikes you about the hall is what a great space it is and how the large arched windows on each side accentuate the interior.

Windows to the world
Windows to the world

And what a view! To the south are the riverside gardens with the Derwent in heavy flow today following recent rainfall. To the north an elevated view of Matlock Bath reminds me why it earned the moniker of Little Switzerland. I can clearly see the cable cars at the Heights of Abraham.

Little Switzerland
Little Switzerland

The light streams through these large windows to reveal many old or original features in varying conditions, like the magnificent iron radiators.

Not just any old iron
Not just any old iron

There are plenty of rough edges. This scene concerned me but when I asked about the state of the roof Charles assured me that it was watertight.

Not as bad as it looks
Not as bad as it looks

Under the renovation plans the building would be restored to a very high level and I believe the ballroom especially has the potential once again provide a breathtaking venue.

Faded glory
Faded glory

Standing on the stage it’s not hard to mentally strip away the modern accoutrements and get a sense of the drama this place has experienced before and could experience again.

Build it and they will come
Build it and they will come

For now there are only echos but what echos they are. I wonder if Lord Baden Powell addressed an audience here. I wonder if Elton John tinkled these ivories…

Place of wonder
Place of wonder

We exit stage left and alight a stone staircase with ornate iron railings and a solid wooden banister. An oval window reveals another select view not normally seen by the public. I love the detailed design and quality workmanship that went into old buildings – even the areas largely unseen. Modern buildings are built down to an ever-diminishing price and the wealthly few for whom craftsmanship is an affordable luxury seem to have a nagging tendency to commission soulless concrete/glass/chrome warehouses instead. Rant over.

Were Deep Purple responsible for this?
Were Deep Purple responsible for this?

A series of rooms upstairs have been employed as dressing rooms and storage areas. They may be chaotic but I like the fact that they appear to have been left relatively untouched since their last employment.

That’s show business
That’s show business

The dressing rooms can hardly have been plush even at their best. Much of the remaining detritus appears to have been left over from the days of The Pav nightclub.

Hangover from The Pav
Hangover from The Pav

Looking around it would seem that I’m the only one transfixed by this odd car boot sale of a mess. A left turn and we are on the balcony at the opposite end of the hall to the stage. This place is a rabbit warren.

Under the spotlight
Under the spotlight

Just when we seem to have exhausted the rooms we are presented with the unmissable opportunity to climb up a wooden ladder into the cupola – the iconic dome atop the Grand Pavilion. Everyone wants to experience this and who can blame them.

Under the dome
Under the dome

The first thing that I notice is the intricate wooden design of the roof. It looks to be in superb condition. What a special place this is! I feel like I’m in a tree-house for grown-ups. A finial rests here and I presume it was originally fitted on top of the cupola. Again this looks to be in great condition.

I never thought I would get to use the words Cupola and Finial in a blog
I never thought I would get to use the words Cupola and Finial in a blog

Of more dubious provenance is the curiously enscribed WC that reads: Payment in loo: Bank of England – I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of 100 pounds. Payable at Nat West bank, Matlock Bath.

This is a party I wish I had been at
This is a party I wish I had been at

A rabbit warren of a building. Discarded drinks glasses everywhere. A wooden ladder leading up into a hidden room containing a WC. Those of a certain age and computer gaming disposition may understand while I feel like I’m inside a game of Jet Set Willy.

There’s a hobbit sized wooden door onto the roof. Well, you can’t come this far and not venture outside.

I want a cupola with roof terrace on my house!
I want a cupola with roof terrace on my house!

There’s a view in every direction. The river Derwent flows below, still adorned with the riverside illuminations – a previous blogging muse of mine.

The view south
The view south

Beyond the hall roof I can see the Heights Of Abraham.

The view north
The view north

There’s a heron’s view of The Fishpond pub in the street below – a popular pre/post performance watering hole with performers and audience alike.

Forget Everest, less people make it up here!
Forget Everest, less people make it up here!

If I’m making the most of my temporary elevation it’s because I know I’ll probably never be back here. Legally. They seriously need to install a 360 degree web cam up here.

The Future

So we have learned something of the past and witnessed the current state of play. What of the future? Since partially re-opening in 2012 a limited number of events have already been held here. The most successful of these was a wildly popular Half Man Half Biscuit gig which attracted hordes of loyal fans who proceeded to drink the bar dry forcing the staff to leg it over to Sainsburies for more stock. As a HMHB fan I was unaware of this gig and really wish I had attended.

Grand Pavilion Ltd bought the freehold for £1 from a relieved council and have submitted a bid for £3.2m of Heritage Lottery Funding which, if granted, could be topped up by conditional income from other sources. Proposed designs for a refurbishment are listed on the GPL website and there’s an animated YouTube fly-through to help with the visualisation. Somebody has had some fun with this!

Plans on display within the Grand Pavilion
Plans on display within the Grand Pavilion

A central feature planned for the ballroom is retractable seating that would enable seating for 250 people to be collapsed away when the entire floor space is needed. Needless to say there’s much work to be done before then, assuming that funding can be secured.

I’m hopeful that everything is in order to make this important project a success. There is a team of professionals and volunteers in place to drive things forward supported by joint patrons – acclaimed Derbyshire wildlife artist Pollyanna Pickering and former Blue Peter presenter Simon Groom. I would love to get involved myself in some way.

Once the work is completed the Grand Pavilion will boast the largest theatre space in the Derbyshire Dales but it isn’t destined to become some elitist arts venue. According to the mission statement the intention is to host a diverse range of activities that will appeal to a wide range of people and also extend the Matlock Bath tourist season. Which sounds to me like the original mission statement of the Pavilion in 1910, and we know how successful that was.


Picture This

Some years ago a brief flirtation with golf ended with the realisation that I simply didn’t have the time or motivation to become good enough at the game to make it anything other than a source of frustration. Putting that realisation aside along with my clubs it did plant a seed in my mind – that maybe once in a round of 18 holes I could hit a shot as perfectly as any professional, and I could do so on the same greens they play on using the same equipment if I so chose. In that way at least it has to be said that golf is a true meritocracy.

And so it is with photography. From its infancy photography progressed from science to profession and then with the advent of the box camera it gradually became accessible to hobbyists (or hobbits if you prefer my spell checker). Even so up until relatively recently you still needed to be reasonably well off to afford the kit that would enable you to compete technically with a professional photographer, but now all of that has changed.

Paparazzi stalking Queen Victoria circa 1870
Paparazzi stalking Queen Victoria circa 1870

The digital photography revolution has brought quality entry level equipment within reach of the masses while the increasingly media rich social and technical landscape we occupy has resulted in an exponential upsurge of people actively taking and sharing photos – many of whom would not necessarily think of themselves as photography enthusiasts. Which leads me back to the golf analogy – now anybody can pick up a camera, point it at something and (potentially) capture a picture of “professional” quality. Better still you can take photographs at almost any time or place and the results are almost instant so if you mess up the shot you just make adjustments and take it again. No penalty, no stigma and no need to dress like a clown.

Tees of a clown
Tees of a clown
(thanks to the highly enjoyable Disseminated Thought)

A number of my amateur photography friends regularly produce and share fantastic pictures composed and executed to a very high quality and I have certainly seen inferior work from people who sell their services as professionals. There are of course be a great many more people who like to take pictures but, regardless of kit, really aren’t very good at it. That includes me, and I really don’t like it.

A much-abused companion. I once dropped it off the OXO tower
A much-abused companion. I once dropped it off the OXO tower

In the pre-digital days of photography I would InterRail for a month with my modest Olympus OM10 35mm and a decidedly generous 3 pack of 36 shot colour films (yes – colour vs B&W was still a choice!). That meant I could about take 3 photos per day and it would be weeks before they came back from the developers and I knew how they would come out. Looking back now I realise that despite my general lack of skills and experience I did at least recognise the need to think carefully about when to take a precious photo and as such some rudimentary evaluation of picture composition was going on in my head. Now the temptation is to snap away like some gattling gun in the knowledge that I have no limit on image quantity, only to later discover that I have dozens of equally ill-thought out snaps.

Athens 1990 - Now you need instagram to get this faded effect
Athens 1990 – Now you need instagram to get this faded effect

For more embarrassment (and hair) I’ve scanned libraries of InterRail photos from 1990, 1991 and 1992 as a personal reminder of how photography used to be.

Fast forward 20 years and I’m swept up by the month-long Format 11 international photography festival here in my home town of Derby. It’s fun, friendly and helpfully accessible so I become a regular face at Derby’s Quad and other venues across the city. The underlying theme of the 2011 festival was Street Photography and under the tutelage of luminaries such as Bruce Gilden and Brian Griffin swathes of people prowled the streets on the lookout for people or situations worthy of capture. I gave it a go and – well, it was hard. Here’s the problem – if you hang around wielding a camera in Derby pedestrians politely stop and stay out of shot until you are done, ignorant of the fact that they were meant to be the subject.

Taking Street  Photography too literally
Taking Street Photography too literally

Since Format 11 I have only headed out with Street Photography in mind on a couple of occasions and found it hard work, until I became a regular visitor to Edinburgh which by comparison is like shooting fish in a barrel. The city has one of the most architecturally distinctive centres in Britain and attracts millions of tourists to any number of festivals across the year. In other words you have a target rich environment in which you can point a camera without arousing so much as the blink of an eye.

Auld reekie
Auld reekie

I don’t think I had realised quite how high profile this event was until I attended a Format 11 talk on Photography For The Internet and discovered myself in a room seemingly full of professional photographers with a variety of international accents. The presentation was engaging but as it went on the subject matter became more technical as was to be expected given the fact a room full of “serious” photographers had travelled from afar to be here. That’s one of the stand-out characteristics of Derby’s Format Festival – it caters for a wide spectrum of people; career photographers, amateurs, occasional snappers and people who just like to look at pictures. The event also reaches out to so many local people through the number of different venues used.

Format 13 kicks off this week with an opening ceremony and I’m looking forward to that and then the month of events that follow. With such a diverse range of activities I know there’s going to be inspiration and entertainment along the way. As ever there’s an overwhelming selection of exhibitions, talks and workshops. My pen is already circling the likes of Pictures From The Real World (David Moore), Notes Home & Blind Boys – based on the festival programme notes at least. Of course, a picture says a thousand words.

A picture of Derby?
A picture of Derby?

However, there’s one workshop I’m still waiting for, and maybe it’s something you just can’t be taught? I want a course that teaches “how to see a picture” prior to activating the shutter. I envy those with a natural ability to view a real life scene, confidently “see” the picture and then capture it, having retained and accentuated the characteristics that bring it to life. Format 15, are you listening?

What’s In A Word?

Thanks but you can keep it

The English language is a curious fellow. Its unique depth, diversity and colour can be attributed to the tumultuous history of the British Isles. Countless invasions, migrations and social trends have thrown together disparate languages and dialects culminating in something beautiful.Globalisation and the age of electronic communication have fuelled the relatively recent explosion in the adoption of English, even if it now comes in such a variety of flavours. It is a living entity with a capacity to continuously renew itself. Presently the OED lists 250,000 words. Scrabble has never been so contentious.

With such a volume of words to choose from you might think that there must be no need to invent new ones. This didn’t prevent Douglas Adams & John Lloyd making hay with The Meaning Of Liff. There is an unparalleled joy for many of us in making up new words to suit (or not) the occasion.

What does it all mean?
What does it all mean?

One such occasion inviting of this creativity is the usage of Twitter. For the uninitiated (oh DO get with it) this platform enables you to broadcast messages to sufficiently interested people anywhere on the sole condition that you don’t exceed 140 characters. Such a simple proposition but nicely challenging – how do you communicate effectively when you are tied down in this way? How do you construct a short but meaningful message that targets the intended audience yet leaves some wriggle room for expression?


Twitter provides us with the simple joys of the #hashtag whereby any word/phrase preceded by # can be used to frame a message or filter for a subject. This week I stumbled upon the custom dictionary within my mobile phone and learned two things:

  • When I type a hashtag in twitter it appears to get added to my custom dictionary
  • The hashtags you use present an intriguing summary of your personal interests and proclivities.

And so a whole new offshoot of language is spawned – one that is entirely reflective of the author. At times the hashtag captures a wider discussion trend and on other occasions it carries no apparent understandable meaning but sits in isolation – a curious memento of some forgotten conversation. Some hashtags take on a life of their own as people adopt them to form little communities. It just goes to prove that language isn’t a monolith but a democracy – if enough people like a word or phrase it will embed itself in the vernacular, irrespective of “Queen’s English”.

Not amused
Not amused

Here’s what I found in my custom dictionary. I doubt that the Queen would be amused…


Perhaps this appears to be some journey of self-indulgence. And maybe it is. But I know plenty of people take real enjoyment in stretching the boundaries of the English language. Besides, this is my blog so I get to have the last word.

Picture Imperfect

Holiday season approaches and due to the confusion that I call my life it has sneaked up on me this year. I booked a week off months ago and with a week to go I have booked precisely nothing. My plan is to go walking somewhere nice, take some interesting photos and Blog my journey from the comfort of some nice pubs. In order to do this I need a new camera and since I have a reasonable idea of what I want – compact digital with wide angle, image stabilisation, manual override and decent image quality – I foolishly thought I could find a few camera reviews and follow somebody elses advice on what’s hot & what’s not.

Apparently that just isn’t the way things work in camera land. For starters the range of units available is mind boggling. There are a dozen mainstream manufacturers (eg: Canon, Fuji, Sony, Pentax, Olympus, etc) and each manufacturer has a line-up of perhaps 5 to 10 different compact digitals alone at any given time. What’s more there doesn’t seem to be any clear way of differentiating between many of the models and you have to spend an age analysing each of them to work out what the differences in specification are. It is analagous to choosing a family car except that Ford do 5 flavours of Mondeo, etc. I have occupied a whole day just trawling through all the models counting some in and some out.

So why don’t I just follow the advice of some camera reviews? The problem is that they are written by and then discussed by photography nerds (suggestions for nerd terminology welcome) who go into so much detail that they always come to very mixed conclusions. You think they are being positive about a product and then they lay into the rate of frame capture or perceived noise levels at 800 ISO. There also seems to be an awful lot of brand and model sentimentality amongst this community. For instance somebody will criticise the reviewed model as not having as fast a lense as Camera X so I go and google Camera X and find out that it is a 5 year old 1kg digital SLR with a 4MB sensor. (Translation: They are saying that the Ferrari F40 is faster than the mondeo. Yes – but it’s 10 times the price and has no boot).

At one point I thought I had found it – a model that ticked all my boxes and was universally accepted by those better qualified than me to judge. It was only when I checked the dimensions that I realised it was 50% larger than I had in mind. It seems that “compact” can be a relative term. Portability is important to me because I will get an average picture from the average camera I take with me and no picture from the top of the range behemoth that I couldn’t be bothered to log around. Case in point, my old camera was a Pentax Optio S4 that pulled up no trees for performance and had a tiny LCD screen but was exquisitely small and portable so could be taken anywhere.

My next course of action was to ask for advice in a camera shop. First I tried Jessops who must surely know what they are talking about. My concerns about the 12 year old who came to my aid were confirmed when I explained what I was looking for and he showed me first an SLR and then a non-manual, neither of which I had asked to see. I made my excuses (why can’t we just be honest: “That’s not what I asked for. You don’t seem to know what you are doing. Goodbye”) and headed for Jacobs. This was an entirely different experience. The girl behind the counter was clearly a black belt in optics and in no time at all had conjured up an appealing looking Sony. It seemed to tick all the boxes. I made my excuses again (this time it should have been “Thanks for your help. I’m now going to check out your recommendation on google and if you are correct buy it online where it will be cheaper”) and went home to google the model to see whether it was fit for human consumption. Of course it wasn’t. There were aspects about its specification and performance that were deemed to be lacking when compared to the latest generation of models.


In the end I slept on it and when I awoke it occurred to me that whatever I chose would be light years ahead of my old Pentax. Maybe I didn’t actually need HD levels of video recording given that (a) I rarely use video and (b) I don’t have an HD TV. So the optics aren’t up to professional standards – I’m not a professional. As for ISO – all cameras suffer from noise the further up the scale you go – just choose your settings carefully and if in doubt duplicate photos using different settings. The most influential factor when it comes to getting great photos is after all what you point the camera at.

I have made my choice. A Fuji F200-EXR should be arriving in the next week ready for its maiden voyage. I just need to get it ordered. Plus a memory card. And a spare battery. Of course I also need to decide where I am going on holiday and actually get something booked. It’s going to be a busy week…