Home Coming: Glossop
An intimate tour of one writer's home town, one 'League of Gentleman' reference at a time.
"This is a local shop, for local people; there's nothing for you here," is one of the most loved catchphrases from The League of Gentlemen , a British comedy series focusing on an incestuous motley crew of rotten-toothed characters living in the fictional town of Royston Vasey. Channelling the grimmest backwaters of the north of England, The League of Gentlemen premiered in 1999 and was filmed in and around the Derbyshire market town of Glossop, where I spent my formative years.
Back then, no one was to know that particular League of Gentlemen line would become a sort of premonition; every single council area in Derbyshire voted to leave the EU. When I moved there, locals weren't quite as eagle-eyed as they are now – a recent newspaper report details how "Police and immigration control officers swooped on a Glossop car wash" after someone falsely claimed it was being run by illegal Romanian immigrants – but there were a few signs.
Much like in The League of Gentlemen, foreigners were viewed with a degree of suspicion, which probably accounted for the town’s entirely white population and why I quickly got to work concealing the fact I wasn't "local" myself, having recently moved over from Poland.
There were other correlations between the television programme and real life in Glossop. The League Of Gentlemen’s first series focused on the construction of a New Road, threatening to link the "You'll never leave!" signposted Royston Vasey with the outside world. Similarly, Manchester – the closest city to Glossop, a mere 15 miles away and faster to reach than the average Londoner's daily commute – was to most inhabitants an exotic land only visited for the purposes of the annual Christmas shop.
It must be noted that The League of Gentlemen isn't Glossop's only claim to fame; the town became the unlikely site of the Acid House era's twilight years: both Shaun Ryder and Bez of the Happy Mondays set up home there. It's also the birthplace of two Dames, author Hilary Mantel and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. The latter confirmed the "local" character of her hometown in a 1999 interview, saying, "I lived in a part of the country that had grown up in the Industrial Revolution. I didn't know about art galleries until I was 17. I'd never seen an art book, never been to the theatre."
In a way, you can’t blame the locals for wanting to stay local. While the actual town is populated by imposing spectres of its cotton mill past, Glossop is surrounded by exquisite natural beauty, thanks to being skirted by three sides of the Peak District National Park, earning it the nickname "Gateway to the Peak". Being a stone’s throw away from spectacularly picturesque reservoirs isn’t Glossop’s only advantage, either. Manor Park and Howard Park give the surrounding countryside a run for their money, with woodland, a lake and even a miniature railway.
When my family moved to Glossop after a year in nearby Stalybridge, it did feel like a step up in many ways. My stepdad had settled on a new direction in his career and my mum had finished her PhD and got a job. We were also moving out of a Brookside -style estate – where we rented a bungalow that seemed to be constructed entirely of MDF – into a smart sandstone terraced house, whose thickness of brick signalled permanence, and a house I could finally call a home.
Simultaneously, our move to Glossop felt diminishing. In Poland, we lived in the capital, Warsaw, where every night of the week my mum would take me to a different after-school activity, from ice-skating to horse-riding, English lessons, dancing and swimming. We, as most families in the city did, lived in a tower block, and there was no culture of hanging around street corners. So in Glossop, I suddenly felt frustrated when that’s all there was to do. Even though I took up piano and saxophone lessons, my new life felt like it was lacking something. To fill my additional spare time I began to devour the books in the school library and peruse the CD aisles at Woolworths. Then, when my stepdad installed the internet, my life changed forever.
In those days, the internet was dial-up, so the bills quickly started to exceed my parents' monthly mortgage repayments. They gave me two options: cut down my usage, or find a way to pay for it. I chose the latter, getting a morning paper-round, cleaning the house and ironing my parents' clothes for money. To my form tutor's dismay I started to arrive at school late most mornings because the paper-round left me with little time for my daily blow-dry and repeat applications of spot-inflaming Collection 2000 full coverage foundation.
When my friends unanimously ditched me for stealing a friend's boyfriend in Year 9, I began looking with ever-more fervour for like-minded outcasts online. To fund my spiralling internet addiction I realised I needed even more additional income, resulting in me getting caught shoplifting things I thought I could sell. Suffice to say I was grounded for months and found myself the subject of endless chides from my much better-behaved schoolmates, who couldn’t get their head around someone so studious moonlighting as a common criminal.
Although there were "naughty" kids in my school – those who smoked and bunked off, fought in the playground and drank White Lightning in the park – no one ever properly fucked up. There were no knives or drug dealing. Instead, there were pranks. Even when the teachers kept a close eye on us, someone would always end up in the water on our annual sponsored walk around the reservoirs, and getting egged was a rite of passage. The disruptive behaviour that did manifest was seldom consistent. The difference between right and wrong was so ingrained in us, to question the validity of such a framework would have been absurd. And so, the period I discovered stealing and unavailable boys marked a turning point. From then on, I knew I’d eventually leave.
At a glance, Glossop hasn't changed that much when I sheepishly return with photographer Chris on a Monday in early June. The Norfolk Arms is still excellent value for money, with a pint coming in at half the price you'd pay in Manchester, but the shopfronts suggest something of a socio-economic revolution has taken place.
Walking down Glossop High Street and seeing places like the upmarket deli Praze, it's evident that Will Self was right when he said food "has become the defining attribute of both class and culture in 21st century Britain". My beloved bookshop, where I’d order Elizabeth Wurtzel’s provocatively covered tomes, or the paperbacks that promised to explain the suspicious circumstances of Kurt Cobain's death, is sadly gone, with a scented candle shop now in its place.
According to a 2014 Guardian article, it all started in 2011, when Glossop’s economy was significantly boosted by an influx of Londoners relocating there following the BBC’s move to Salford's Media City. Seemingly aspiring to be "the Didsbury of Derbyshire", Glossop has followed in the footsteps of Manchester’s wankiest borough to also become a craft ale-glugging, artisanal cheese-scoffing commuter's paradise.
However, as one of my childhood friends – who decided to stay in Glossop – recently said, "Scratch beneath the surface and it’s still the same old town."
For a good indication of what Glossop used to be like, look no further than The Globe. While the pub serves suspiciously Peckham-friendly local ales, its vegan food is geared toward cash-strapped normal people, rather than Instagram's clean-eating evangelists.
Alongside The Moon & Sixpence, The Globe is where I'd go with my new mates from Glossopdale School, where – perhaps thanks to a lack of religious affiliation – being a Marilyn Manson fan didn’t carry as much stigma as at my former place of education, St Philip Howard Catholic school. Because I see absolutely no alternative-looking teenagers throughout my visit, I assume things haven’t changed that much – that they’re still the minority, or otherwise hanging around Manchester’s Afflecks Palace, as I started to do once my parents finally lifted my shoplifting-related curfew.
Because there were no rock clubs in Glossop, for a late night out on the town I had to make do with one of the three local nightclubs, with my preferred being the closest to my house, C2s, now sadly a smart-looking chartered accountant's called Lomas. Distinguishing itself from the more centrally located perv-magnets, The Blues Club (currently an employment training centre) and Harleys (still going strong under the moniker HQ), C2s was rife with underage drinkers and had a reputation for fighting.
It's here that I had my first pint of the local poison, John Smith's, and my first proper snog, with a "townie" called Ashley, who chose to remove the denture which stood in for his two front teeth for a more "authentic" second kiss.
My Catholic education, which began at the hands of my extremely pious paternal grandmother back in Poland, and continued at my secondary school, was something I was adamant to undo completely by Year 10. While my friends were satisfied with Friday night sleepovers casting spells inspired by The Craft, I had to go one better, becoming one of the most frequent visitors of Hadfield’s Spiritualist Church.
Meeting at 7.30PM every Wednesday, the venue was almost always packed, with a changing rotation of clairvoyants delivering messages from beyond the grave.
Still situated in a modestly sized 130-year-old building just off Hadfield’s eerily deserted Station Road, the church is open when I peep my head in. Despite the vivid pink and red colour scheme, inside it's calm. Congregation leader Dot, 71, invites me to the back room for a quick chat. It quickly becomes apparent the church isn’t the community hub I remember.
"We've been through some bad times," she says. "About four years ago we thought the church was going to close altogether because people weren't coming. See how it works is, they’ll come when they’ve lost somebody to spirit, and then when they’ve got their answers they’ll stop."
As I get ready to leave, Dot says I should come back for a meeting, reminding me they still take place at 7.30PM on Wednesdays, and still cost only £3 on the door. I politely promise to do so, while having no intention of following through. Perhaps testament to her supernatural talents, in the following days Dot's words keep haunting me. I begin to feel guilty, not just for saying I’d come when I didn’t mean it, but also for never really giving my adopted hometown a proper chance.
Looking back, I realise too that I have a lot to thank Glossop for. Despite a few minor misdemeanours, I never got into any real trouble, chiefly because there wasn’t opportunity to do so. There might have been if my friends had been more like the people I met later while attending Manchester’s Rock World and The Ritz. In Derbyshire, I had enjoyed a certain innocence, even if it felt like the five years I was there were spent desperately trying to grow up and get out.
They say history repeats itself. True to that sentiment, my parents left Glossop only to move to Lancashire’s Adlington – the actual town on which The League of Gentlemen writer Steve Pemberton based Royston Vasey.
Although I’d already moved to Manchester by this point, my little brother was born a couple of years later, and now it’s his turn at being a teenager in Britain's most "local" town. Thankfully, the internet isn’t as costly as when I was growing up, and so for him there’s no need to shoplift to be able to meet new friends, find new music or, as I would be doing if I was a teenager now, watching YouTubers take the piss out of children having rap battles in Blackpool.