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Feather's Miscellany: The Keighworth Car-Park Attendant

...the open space was looked after by an unassuming, soft-spoken, little man wearing an official-looking peaked hat and carrying a large leather money bag on a shoulder strap. He was in attendance daily from about 7 am till 5 pm. for almost ten years, charging drivers a pound each and lorries and trucks five pounds for the day...

John Waddington-Feather tells a tale concerning a very canny businessman.

A modicum of education with a middling of low cunning can take you a long way in life. Take the business of the car-park attendant in Keighworth many years ago, before the council employed a private company to run the car-park near the market. They never did solve the mystery, never discovered who it was who took the town for thousands with an act of audacious cunning.

In the 1960s there was whole-scale demolition of old buildings in Britain, Keighworth included. where much of the Victorian centre of the town was pulled down, some of it very necessary; but as ever one or two fine buildings were taken out, including the old Hippodrome Theatre. It was a classic nineteenth century theatre with beautiful gold-gilded boxes and a magnificently painted ceiling comprising clouds and cherubs and heavenly creatures playing harps; a sort of Keighworth Cistine Chapel.


The theatre staged everything: straight plays, melodrama, circus acts and pantomime. Many great Music Hall artists of the past had played there: Charlie Chaplin, George Formby, Albert Modley and Keighworth’s own home-grown actress, Mollie Sugden. The escapologist Houdini also put in regular appearances, not only on stage but also at the actors’ drinking club across the road, the Cycling Club, which mercifully escaped the demolisher’s hammer.

Anyhow, when the centre was cleared and a brand new market built, there was an open space left next to it as a car-park for customers; and for some years before the car-park was managed by a car-park company, the open space was looked after by an unassuming, soft-spoken, little man wearing an official-looking peaked hat and carrying a large leather money bag on a shoulder strap. He was in attendance daily from about 7 am till 5 pm. for almost ten years, charging drivers a pound each and lorries and trucks five pounds for the day. As drivers came and went throughout the day, you can imagine he quickly totted up a sizeable daily sum of money. He never missed a day’s work whatever the weather and he’d a pleasant word with anyone who cared to speak with him – including the town councillors, who took it for granted he was employed by them; especially when he set up shop in a small mobile caravan.

He soon endeared himself to the townsfolk with his twinkling blue eyes, his ready smile and word and kindly face. Nothing was too much for him and he was a mine of information about shopping facilities in the new market and what to buy there. Though he passed the time of day on all manner of subjects, he never once spoke about himself. No one knew where he came from or who he was – until many years latter when Jack Pedwar stumbled across him, not in Keighworth but abroad, as you’re about to hear.

One day, after he’d been there about ten years, he didn’t show up and folk were at a loss. There was no one to collect their parking fees. Finally, one of the shop-keepers in the market ran the council offices to ask who was looking after the car-park as the attendant wasn’t there. There was a blank silence at the other end before the clerk said he’d find out and ring back. The clerk spent the whole morning going from department to department, to no avail. No one seemed in charge of the car-park or the attendant. He certainly wasn’t on the Council pay-roll.

At the next meeting two days later, the case was taken up by a very red-faced Council who found out they’d made an almighty gaff. By some oversight the management of the market car-park had been overlooked. Every department thought another department had it within their remit, and it quickly dawned on them that the mysterious self-appointed attendant had taken them for a ride and netted a fortune by simply showing up every day collecting parking fees.

The Roads and Highways Department was allocated responsibility of the car-park and immediately appointed a commercial company to run it. But they were completely at a loss what to do about the little attendant, who’d vanished into the blue. No name, no address, nothing. The police couldn’t trace him. He might never have existed.

Jack Pedwar, like many other users of the car-park, had got to know him well. Some years later he went on holiday to Spain and quite by chance recognised the elderly English gentleman who owned the hotel Jack was staying at – the same elderly gentleman who had had his own private suite of rooms there since the hotel was built some years before; about the time the Keighworth car-park attendant had disappeared. He was the car-park attendant all right He’d invested his ten-year takings in the hotel he’d built in Spain, where he’d settled after leaving Keighworth.

He spent his day chatting with the holiday makers staying at his hotel, utterly at peace with his fellow men and the world about him – and Jack Pedwar didn’t disturb it.

John Waddington-Feather ©


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