Hidden Gem: Eastwood, Lawrence, and ‘The Country of My Heart’.
Travel north from Nottingham and you soon reach the parts of the shire that allowed the city to thrive: coal country, once a sprawl of headstocks and slagheaps; now a soft sporadically wooded countryside where only the strange shaped hills and evocative street names give lie to the black-dusted past. Here, you will find Eastwood. And here, in this former colliery town, you will find the latest addition to Visit England’s ‘Hidden Gems’ roster.
For a ‘Hidden Gem’, The Lawrence Birthplace Museum is quite easy to locate, just off the high street on a hilly cobbled side road. Inside, a glimpse into late Victorian life opens up to the visitor, a small yet handsomely set out residence where Lawrence spent several years of his early life.
The guides are informative, amusing and passionately knowledgeable about Lawrence’s life and works. It is impossible to get a good understanding of Lawrence without viewing his work in the context of his life, so this is invaluable. How did a miner’s son, from a town far from the salons and publishers of London come to be the defining voice of English modernism? Just as the surrounding countryside makes it easy to see what inspired Lawrence’s love of nature- ‘the country of my heart’ – the guides ensure that Lawrence’s upbringing is explained in the context of his work. Whatever your knowledge or appreciation of Lawrence, this is a wonderful way to gain better understanding of a deeply complex artist.
The town is worth a stroll round: follow the ‘Blue Line’ (literally that: a blue line painted onto the pavement) as it wends through the town, guiding you to plaques marking key buildings in Lawrence’s upbringing; and to the sweeping views of the wild countryside. If visiting by car, a short trip over to Brinsley Headstocks is a must. The once dominant mine-works are silent, the black gold that built the town left to once again sleep, eternally underground. Yet as the pits shrank back, new blooms appeared: a fine park, nature reserve and café now bring in people, those choosing to walk atop the subterranean dark tunnels men once hacked at, to bring warmth and light to the world.
Heritage is vital to Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, but only when it is vital, when it shows an ineffable connection to the present. When walking in Lawrence’s footsteps, it is impossible not to feel that channel back in time. Lawrence’s legacy is not just a canon of books and poems; it is that distinctly Nottinghamshire voice that still rings out from the cobbles of Eastwood, from the slabs of the Market Square, and on around the world.