Caught by the River

River Witham: Scenes from the Waterside

Neil Sentance | 4th July 2011

illustration by Jonathan Gibbs

by Neil Sentance.

1975: Swallows Mill

The river ran into Swallows Mill, just over the road from Dad’s old house. In the fifties, there were lock gates here controlling the flow of water. It was the job of the lockkeeper to maintain an even flow and not let the river flood the bankside houses, as had happened years before. With fine nominative determinism the lockkeeper was a Mr Brooks, ‘Brookie’ to the kids of the river, whom he’d help fish for tiddlers under the bridge, putting them in jam jars and then back in the water at the day’s end. But by the seventies the mill had been converted into a nightclub, entered by the gates just past the Tractor Company. The mill wheel was made a feature, visible behind a glass front from the dance floor, and still turning at something less than vinyl speed. I remember sitting at the top of the stairs at home on a Saturday night as Dad, impish in his wide-lapelled brown leather jacket, got ready to take Mum there, she beautiful in home-tailored costumes made from material from the Saturday market. Other revellers would row in small boats down from the Saltersford Bridge on Somerby Hill and row back again, sculling upstream, after a night of partying in their polyester finery. Sometimes there would be a turn from a long-faded star, Trini Lopez once, Dad said, backed by the clinking cadences of the river below. Or maybe strutting local lads like Vince Eager, from the Larry Parnes stable of early British rockers, still dreaming of the 2 I’s Coffee Bar, and Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, onetime bassist with The Shadows, back in town now the summer holiday of the sixties had ended.

Click here to read previous Scenes from the Waterside
The author and the editors would like to thank Simon Lewin at St Judes gallery for his help in finding the correct artist to illustrate this column. Thank you Simon and thank you Jonathan for your fine work.