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The Friday Five 24.02.23

Published on: 24 Feb 2023

It's the Friday Five, our weekly round-up of top town planning jobs and place-based facts. This week, jobs in Warwick, Maidstone, Exeter, King's Lynn and Harrow; and a brief history of gin, (not) the narrowest street in the world and (not) Britain's first fatal car accident. Read on, friends.


Location: Warwick, Warwickshire

The job: “Warwickshire County Council is looking for an experienced senior planning officer to play a key role in the preparation, development and monitoring of the Minerals and Waste Local Plan Documents and provide strategic policy for special planning.

“Working as part of a small Planning Policy and Infrastructure Team you will be given a varied caseload and experience linked to all aspects of planning policy and delivery.

“Responsibilities will include taking a leading role in the preparation of minerals and waste local plan documents, facilitating county council responses on planning consultations and providing strategic guidance to colleagues and partners.”

Trebuchet [square]Fun fact: Psst! Wanna buy a trebuchet? Yours for a bargain £100,000. It’s not working at the moment, but y’know. 

No, really, Warwick Castle – allegedly – put its huge replica trebuchet up for sale last autumn. A trebuchet, for those who don't know, was a medieval siege weapon, a giant catapult designed to fling horrid things at the enemy over castle walls – stuff like rocks, burning barrels of oil or dead rotting animals that could spread disease, that kind of thing.

Anyway, the one at Warwick Castle, built, in 2005, is apparently the largest and most powerful in the world. It’s 18 metres high, weighs 22 tonnes and can apparently fling stuff a distance of 250 metres or so. It’s nicknamed ‘Ursa’ after the caste’s emblem, a bear. 

According to a story in the Leicester Mercury, Ursa has seen better days. Castle ‘character’ Guy de Beauchamp, the 10th Earl of Warwick (he actually lived around the turn of the 14th century) is even quoted, saying that it would suit a “lesser nobleman” who wants an impressive-looking machine on his front lawn.

A good deal of this story may be made up. However, there actually is a trebuchet, it actually is being replaced and it actually was put up for sale on Facebook, though as a publicity stunt. A new trebuchet is currently under construction, using parts of the old, in readiness for the spring season of re-enactments at the castle where its prowess will be demonstrated. It’ll be a remarkable thing, based on actual 13th and 14th-century designs, made of more than 300 pieces of specially sourced oak and with an arm made from ash. 

Find out more and apply


Location: Maidstone, Kent

The job: “This is a key role within the development management team. The team is a very busy one with consistently one of the highest housing delivery rates in Kent and an ambitious programme for the delivery of 1,000 affordable homes and two strategic ‘garden settlements’. The major projects team, in which you’d be working, is at the forefront of shaping these planned changes.

“This is an exciting and challenging role which will appeal to planners with excellent communication, presentation and negotiation skills with the ability to provide justifiable and timely advice early on in the process. This is a great opportunity for an ambitious planner that wishes to accelerate their career in a busy and rewarding environment.”

Gin and tonic [square]Fun fact: Maidstone was at one time very famous for its gin and by the early 19th century the Maidstone Distillery was producing some 5,000 gallons of the spirit a week. Maidstone Gin – or Maidstone Geneva (we’ll come to that) was 47.5% abv proof, sold all over Britain and was considered by those in the know to be one of the finest gins in Europe.

Although we think of gin as an English drink, it’s actually Dutch and was originally called genever (hence ‘Maidstone Geneva’). Its popularity soared in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which saw the Dutch Protestant King William of Orange take the English throne from the Catholic King James. Drinking gin became seen as a celebration of Protestant dominance. Plus, taxes on ‘Catholic’ French brandy went right up while taxes on ‘Protestant’ Dutch gin were abolished, as were most licensing restrictions. 

Nothing like making booze cheap to boost its popularity. This wasn’t without its problems, however. Alcohol consumption increased massively, with attendant social problems. The government attempted to regulate the trade with the Gin Act of 1751, which basically restricted the production and sale of gin to large licensed distillers and retailers.

Enter Maidstone distiller George Bishop. He travelled to Holland to learn to produce the highest-quality gin and set up the Maidstone Distillery in the 1770s. By lobbying government (plus ça change), he gained exemption from certain duties and with this advantage and aggressive distribution and marketing he came to pretty much monopolise the trade in England. Bishop died in 1793, his relatives mishandled his business and the distillery closed in 1818. Nevertheless, as late as the 1850s, many pub still had the words MAIDSTONE GIN above their entrance.

A second Maidstone distillery operated from the 1850s to the 1980s. A new one has recently opened, specialising in Maidstone Gin once again.

Find out more and apply


Location: Exeter, Devon

The job: “We are an ambitious authority and are looking for an enthusiastic and passionate senior planning officer that shares that vision and wants to make a difference for everyone within Devon. 

“We have a strong, experienced, and supportive planning team at Devon County Council, which you will immediately feel part of. Having a ‘one planning team’ approach we work flexibly across different areas of planning including development management, planning policy and infrastructure delivery projects. 

“This brings a large variety of work, and you might be working on major planning applications for minerals or waste sites, writing evidence documents to support the mineral and waste plan, or representing the county council’s infrastructure needs in response to a district council’s local plan or major planning application.

“As an experienced planner with a can-do attitude, you will embrace the varied projects you will be responsible for from day one and take an active role in supporting and developing junior staff. In turn, we will support you through your ongoing learning and development to increase your skills and experience.”

Parliament Street [square]Fun fact: Residents of Exeter may well tell you that Parliament Street, which links the High street to Waterbeer Street, is the narrowest street in the world. The 14th-century street is 50 metres long and measures just 64 centimentres at its narrowest point, 1.22 metres at its widest.

It’s actually an alleyway rather than a street and was originally called Small Lane. However, after Parliament passed the locally unpopular Reform Act in 1832, it was derisively renamed Parliament Alley. ‘Alley’ was, however, considered ‘common’ and the passage was given its current name in 1850. 

As for being the narrowest street in the world, unfortunately there are at least two that beat it: L’Androuno in Gassin, France, is just 29cm at its narrowest point, although it’s not recognised as the narrowest street by Guinness World Records; that accolade belongs to Spreuerhofstraße in Reutlingen, Germany, at a slightly wider 31cm. Spreuerhofstraße is officially registered as Street Number 77 in the city’s land registry.

Find out more and apply


Location: King’s Lynn, Norfolk

The job: “We have a great opportunity for you to join our planning control team, as one of two principal planners in the section. You will lead one of two teams covering the historic and growing market towns of King’s Lynn, Downham Market and Hunstanton, the Norfolk Coast (including the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), the Fens and areas bordering the Brecks. 

“This is a unique opportunity to work in a beautiful part of the country. If you are looking for your next career move and a fresh challenge West Norfolk has more to offer than you may at first think.

“Management experience is essential as we need you to lead and develop a team of hard-working planners of various levels of experience. Alongside this you will also have your own small caseload of complex planning applications and associated appeals and have the ability to provide sound advice and judgements for a range of audiences, including your team, councillors, developers and members of the public. This is a high-profile role where your experience will not only be valued but will also make a real difference in helping us achieve our goals as well as your own.”

King's Lynn [square]Fun fact: Hanse House in King’s Lynn is the last remaining Hanseatic Warehouse in Britain. The last what-now?

A brief history lesson: between the 13th and 15th centuries, around 200 settlements across seven countries in northern and central Europe were part of the Hanseatic League. This was a defensive federation of merchant guilds and market towns that worked together to protect their mutual commercial interests; initially a defence against robbers, it evolved over time into a trading body that afforded protection and toll and diplomatic privileges, along with common trading rules and a degree of political integration. OK, it was an early EU.

Anyway, King’s Lynn itself wasn’t formally part of the Hanseatic League. But by the late 1400s, some 40 German merchants were based in the city, where they stored goods from the Baltic for sale in Britain or transport to other European markets. Hanse House was built somewhere around 1480. There would have been a number of such warehouses in port towns in Britain, particularly along the east coast facing northern Europe.

It still exists today and although the Hanseatic League is long gone, it’s served a number of purposes over the years and has gone through numerous remodellings. At various times it’s been a granary or a maltings, a school, a residence for Victorian gentlemen, and offices for Norfolk County Council. Nowadays, it has a mixture of uses: offices and residences, conference space and even an indoor market. 

Meanwhile, King’s Lynn celebrates its historic Hanseatic League connection and its membership of a new Hanseatic League (!) with an annual Hanse Festival, this year in May.

Find out more and apply


Location: Harrow, London

The job: “Harrow represents all that is good about outer London life – but it could be even better. We are committed to real change, putting residents first and creating a thriving, modern, proud, and vibrant borough that residents can be proud of. Our ambitious plans have put affordable, high-quality homes; jobs and investment; and cleaner, greener Neighbourhoods at the top of the agenda. Now, we need an inspirational regeneration leader to help Harrow reach our goals.

“As our director, you will help us achieve our regeneration goals. It means setting strategic direction and providing the vision to guide our plans. Our £multi-million programme covers everything from new schools and homes to new employment spaces – and requires expert co-ordination. You’ll lead and marshal the public sector, private sector, and community, and oversee progress through the Harrow Strategic Development Partnership (HSDP).

“To ensure our teams are delivering at their best, you’ll champion service transformation, steer change programmes, and drive exciting improvements. Through exemplary leadership, you’ll inspire some 120 people to excel across a host of key services, from development and statutory and spatial planning, to building control, planning enforcement and commercial property.

“At this level, you’ll be responsible for managing finances, honing performance, and developing services via commercial thinking. Strong strategic partnerships will play a big part and you’ll foster collaboration. It all adds up to a vital role at the heart of our new place directorate management team. And for this kind of challenge, we need a very special leader.

Harrow-on-the-Hill [square]Fun fact: Take a walk though Harrow-on-the-Hill and there’s a decent chance you’ll come across the plaque commemorating Britain’s first car accident involving the death of the driver, which occurred on Grove Hill on 25 February 1899. The local press reported that “While the car was going down Grove Hill at a high speed the front wheel collapsed, and the occupants were violently thrown out.”

The vehicle’s driver, 31-year-old Edwin Root Sewell (31), died instantly. A passenger died later of a skull fracture sustained in the accident; four others received minor injuries.

Sadly – or not– the plaque is only partially correct. A year earlier, in Purley near Croydon, a Mr Henry Lindfield of Brighton lost control of his “electrical carriage”, which overturned and injured him so severely that he died of shock the next day following the amputation of one of his legs. Apparently, the 19 February 1898 issue of Autocar magazine blamed the accident on Lindfield’s high speed of 16 or 17 miles per hour. It was more likely the fact that he was a novice driver.

The first pedestrian death caused by a car took place in 1896, when Mrs Bridget Driscoll – of Croydon, coincidentally – was hit by a Roger Benz car travelling at a stately 4mph. She died of a skull fracture.
Find out more and apply

Image credits | Trabantos, Shutterstock; iStock; Jamie Wills, Shutterstock; iStock; Matthew Lam, Shutterstock