Monday, 11 June 2012

A step back in time

Woodhall Spa is a little curiosity shop of a town, a place unlikely to hold much interest for anyone under sixty but full of fascination for those of us clutching our bus passes.
It sprang into life as one of those Victorian spa towns when a local land owner looking for coal found instead a stream of iodine and saline rich water. Drinking the waters was a favourite cure-all in an age when much of medicine was still little more than black magic and soon evolved into a whole range of treatments that – to judge by the photos of patients locked into water cabinets and then blitzed with electric shocks – you'd guess would be more hideous torture treatments than cures for rheumatism and gout!
But a railway (long gone) brought victims in by the score to brave the treatments, stay in the fashionable hotels and eat in the tea rooms that sprang up to turn Woodhall into quite the model of an elegant little turn of the 20th century township. Now edged around withe the inevitable bungalows, the centre still has a largely unspoilt period appeal with hotels, roomy houses and a small parade of shops under glass and iron canopies even though the Spa Baths torture chambers have closed their doors.
With WW2 came Woodhall Spa's next brush with history. Fen-flat and on England's east coast Lincolnshire became the centre for wartime bomber bases and none was more famous than 617 Squadron - 'The Dambusters'. The squadron spent most of the war based at Woodhall Spa airfield (though the dam busting raid was out of another field) and a large memorial to the men of the squadron who died is in the centre of the town.
Lesser known until you visit the fascinating little cottage museum in its corrugated tin bungalow home is the fact that many of the troops in the massive and unsuccessful Arnhem raid were also based in the area. The troops from here that were flown in by a fleet of gliders losing nearly two thirds of their 2000 men during the battle.
It's all drifting into ancient history now, though those of us brought up on a diet of 1950s and '60s movies and war stories can still be brought up short by the reality of it all.
On a lighter note, Woodhall Spa is also famous for its 'Kinema In The Woods', a quaint old building with cinematic art deco touches that looks like it should be in some backwoods town in Canada. Originally a cricket pavilion (!) it's been running as a cinema since 1922, boasts a theatre organ that rises up out of the floor. (Yes, once every cinema had one of these) and a unique back-projection system. But it still shows the latest movies: Men in Black Three and Ridley Scott's Prometheus are on this week.
This period piece of a town seems to have more than its fair share of visitors to judge by the preponderance of tea rooms and restaurants along the main street but not too many come by boat.
The Woodhall Spa museum
A very Woodhall Spa sort of cake!
This stretch of river is remarkably empty. A narrowboater we passed yesteryday called out "you're the first boat I've seen in hours." Today the boat that shared our lengthy jetty has gone and we're alone here. One boat has gone past and all has been quiet for hours. Ah, the excitement of the Fens!


Nancy and Max said...

I just googled 'Kinema in the woods" what a quirky sounding cinema, so i hope you are off to see the Ridley Scott film tonight, especially if they have a rheumatism free organist to play along and add some extra drama!

Anonymous said... you would probably enjoyed taking Starwoman on 'a date' there than on the boat watching England. (A draw and everyone thinks its fantastic!)

Starman said...

I don't think ma would have fancied Prometheus! Maybe on the way back they'll have a 'U' we can watch!!