The day a Rugbeian found a giant snake curled up in their home - and how it relates to our railways today
How would you fancy encountering a giant snake curled up in your living room? Former Advertiser reporter John Phillpott recalls one such case...
Ever since leaving for pastures new many years ago, I have tried to keep up with events in my home town, mainly via this newspaper.
Well, I would, wouldn’t I? After all, it was in Albert Street that I started work as a trainee reporter. And besides, I’m proud to be a Rugbeian, despite living in exile in Worcester, more than 50 miles distant.
Anyway, a few years ago, Wendy Busfield of Churchover – widow of well-respected Rugby teacher Hywel Busfield – sent me a cutting from the Advertiser which made my eyes stand out on stalks.
This featured a report and photograph showing a village neighbour, who I can just about recall from childhood, holding up a large dead snake on the
end of a stick.
It was an adder, and had apparently crawled into his house from a nearby paddock which, as it happened, was at the back of my former home.
Once he’d recovered from the shock of finding the creature on the mat in his lounge, he had picked up a poker and killed it.
But what I found truly amazing was the size of the reptile, by my reckoning nearly three feet in length.
Now, I’ve seen plenty of grass snakes of this size, and bigger, but adders don’t usually grow much bigger than 18 inches to, say, a maximum of two feet long.
But this was an absolute monster. And I must admit that I felt rather sorry that he’d killed it, for it was such a magnificent creature.
Adders are becoming increasingly rare in Britain and, although they are this country’s only venomous snake, nevertheless present no real danger to humans as long as they are left alone.
But how, you may well ask, could he have dealt with it humanely? Well, if it had been me, I would have opened the back door and tried to shepherd it out, or thrown something over it, and then called the RSPCA.
But he’d killed it. And so that was that…
The man lived with a woman whose surname was Lee. They had a son called Roger, a very talented chap who went on to become a successful newspaper photographer, and someone I regularly used to encounter when working on assignments for the Rugby Advertiser.
Just recently, I’ve been thinking about the number of snakes I used to encounter around the Churchover area during my boyhood. We had
harmless grass snakes in the garden at Woodbine Cottage, and occasionally, you’d see an adder slithering out of sight in the adjoining Fisher’s Paddock.
But the best place to observe snakes was the nearby Great Central railway line which was closed in the Beeching cuts of the early 1960s. No doubt they were making a good living, thanks to the abundance of small mammals, frogs and invertebrates.
And this poses a question. Bearing in mind that there’s this plan to reopen the Rugby to Lutterworth branch of this line, will this be done in an environmentally friendly way?
The plans have been backed by local campaigners and the MPs who represent the two towns. Sustainable Transport Northamptonshire has put forward a proposal that would also include two new passenger stations at Lutterworth and Cosby, a link to the Magna Park logistics hub near Lutterworth, and services between Northampton and Nottingham.
The project would see the railway line following its original position on the Great Central railway next to the M1, before linking up with the Birmingham to Leicester line near the existing Narborough station.
The restored line would also integrate both Rugby Station and the proposed new parkway station at Houlton.
The plans do not involve the section of the old railway line which runs through Rugby from Newton to Onley Lane, which would remain as the Great Central Walk nature reserve.
The scheme has been put forward to the first stage of the Government’s Restore Your Railway Fund, which seeks to restore lost rail connections.
All right. I understand the arguments, and a large part of me welcomes any initiative that takes traffic off the roads. But there is no doubt that the creation of a new railway line will not only
have environmental implications, but also affect, to a greater or lesser extent, the nearby village of Churchover.
The present-day village is much changed since the days of my childhood in the 1950s. Down the years there has been a truly depressing loss of biodiversity.
This process arguably started in the early 60s with widespread hedgerow removal and also the dredging of the feeder channel to the Old Arm, which in turn links up to the Oxford Canal at Brownsover.
However, things move on, and I guess nothing stays the same. But how I wish I’d seen that long-dead giant adder in the flesh, as it were.
For its very existence provided proof that there was a time when the countryside around Rugby was populated with all sorts of wild creatures, both great and small.
John Phillpott writes about his 1950s Churchover childhood in Beef Cubes and Burdock, published by Austin Macauley, and available online or from bookshops.