Friday, 25 February 2011


Dr Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain.
He stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle
And never went there again.

I went to Gloucester the other day. It's a pleasant enough city, on the right day, though by the look of the high street the recession has hit fairly hard. I've been to Gloucester a few times before, and it strikes me as one of those small to medium sized cities that doesn't quite know what to do with itself; a glorious but mothballed industrial and maritime past, no creative industry to speak of, a bit-part player in the financial services sector, a semi-successful rugby union team. Some academics have their doubts about the future viability of large cities like Liverpool, Sunderland and Newcastle, the industrial Northern powerhouses of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Even without such strong local identities in those places though, I'd argue that their sheer numbers of people give them a good chance of sustaining and developing in the coming decades. Smaller cities like Gloucester, on the other hand, always feel a little stagnant to me.

Another indicator of a place where people have too much time on their hands and not enough money is Gloucester's crime rate - significantly above the national average pretty much across the board, and particularly when it comes to violent crime. Which brings me nicely to my subject.

This most recent visit was to see a friend, who moved to Gloucester a few months ago, and who now happens to live in a rather infamous street. A street which nowadays lacks a house where Number 25 used to be. I hadn't put off my visit for that reason alone (I'm just a bad friend), but I do admit that as I headed up the M5 that evening, my happiness at seeing my friend was more than a little clouded by the knowledge of where I was going.

Cromwell Street (for those who haven't worked it out), really does have an eerie presence. I believe the local council removed the street sign from the more commonly accessed end some years ago, in an attempt to deter those with a morbid fascination from paying a visit. The house itself was demolished, and replaced with a landscaped walkway to an adjoining road. I parked my car about ten yards away from this ex-house / walkway, a featureless, silent yet screamingly obvious memorial to horrors that are now more than thirty years old. What struck me most on stepping out of the car was the lack of street lighting. The street consists of several terraces, rounds a corner, and has odd and even numbers on opposite sides of the road, so I imagine it's difficult to get your bearings even in daylight, but I found myself walking up a number of garden paths because it was so dark I couldn't see the house numbers from the street. This undoubtedly made me look suspicious, and whilst there weren't many other people around, I started to feel quite uneasy, and increasingly anxious to get in off the street. The brief eye contact I shared with a couple of other passers-by was unmistakably tinged with nervousness, hostility and even a trace of panic.

After a couple of zig-zags up and down the road, I found the right house, and spent a pleasant couple of hours with my friend. Fred and Rose didn't come up in our conversation, funnily enough.


FreeFox said...

Yeh, I was fascinated by that place. That summer, when I was 12, and I stayed at my aunt's, we went shopping in Gloucester once, and my oldest cousin took me and her two sisters to Cromwell Street and showed us that walkway and told us, like, campfire stories of hw the couple had tortured their kids in the cellar, and murdered kids and buried them in the ground. Of course she tried to tell us they were still there under the blacktop. I think I didn't quite believe her that last detail even then, but it made me all tingly. I also thought that strange, little, modern church next door was rather spooky. I mean, 'Nette had just died, and there whereabouts of dead children's souls was rather string on my mind, esp. if maybe they hadn't quite qualified for heaven. I know the vicar had told us that God loves everybody, but the state of the world exposed that as an obvious lie, and since we were told that good deeds brought us to heaven, well, logic dictated that you might not go there. So I imagined that church as, like, a shelter for the ghosts of the murdered children, waiting for something... some form of grace, I suppose...
The other question that always occupied me, on a very intimate level, concerning serial killers what that of the first step. If they were at all aware of that decision to step away from humanity, and if so, how it had felt for them.

Ben said...

Fred West killed someone accidentally too - he ran over a young boy when he was an ice cream van man in Scotland. Apparently that episode affected him quite badly, although other reports suggest that the early family lives of both Fred and Rose had a significant desensitising affect on them towards violence, sexual and otherwise.

I generally come down on the 'mad not bad' side of the argument where serial killers are concerned, but there are some exceptions.