Mid Cheshire Guardians

Marco Pierre White - Terror of Hell’s Kitchen and his Good friend from Mid Cheshire.

Published in full in the Mid Cheshire Guardian series on the 26th Sept 2007

By Paul Hurley

On arrival at the new-look Cabbage Hall Restaurant, I find the car park and its overspill crammed with expensive cars and 4x4s. The wind howls menacingly on this the first storm of the year and I watch as, seemingly in slow motion, a slate leaves the roof and skims frighteningly close to a rather expensive Porsche! Escaping from the buffeting wind I enter the restaurant. The place is buzzing and Francis Carroll the owner is attempting to be in four places at once. As he leaves me he mumbles “today of all days” as the lights flicker and go out for a few seconds in a gale induced fault.
     In a side room the great man holds court. Marco Pierre White, NOW star of Hell’s Kitchen all 6ft 3inches of him towers above the mix of expensively shod ladies and gentlemen who vie for his attention. Francis hands me a Bellini cocktail, promises to introduce me as he leaves to supervise another part of the extremely busy dining area. 

There is no doubting the fact that he has brought the delights of London’s restaurant land to Mid Cheshire.
After a while I joined Marco and sat chatting with him as he signed his autobiography ‘White Slave.’ There was no simple ‘Best wishes Marco’ for him, each book would be signed with a unique message for the new owner, some funny and some inspiring. He was utterly charming and at ease as he filled the fly sheets with a barely decipherable flourish.
    This is a man who is regarded as one of the most creative and talented chefs of his generation. Known as much for his quick temper as for his exceptional skill as a chef he is variously described as the first true celebrity chef, the enfant terrible of the UK restaurant scene or the Godfather of modern cooking. He hung up his apron on the 23rd of December 1999 cooking his last meal as a chef. This was to concentrate on his ever-changing London portfolio of restaurants which currently comprises Belvedere, Criterion, Drones, L’Escargot, Luciano’s, Mirabelle, Quo Vadis and the rapidly expanding Frankies chain of Italian pizzerias in partnership with jockey Frankie Dettori.
 Marco is now to the forefront of celebrity chefs having taken over the mantle of the recent Hell’s Kitchen series from his former trainee Gordon Ramsey.
    He has also taken up the pen and become an author with books including 'White Heat' which has a photograph of Gordon Ramsay as a terrified young commis chef, 'Wild Food from Land and Sea' and now his autobiography White Slave.
     I found him completely down to earth and a pleasure to talk to. He explained that his busy schedule did not permit this sort of book signing expedition so far from London but his close friendship with Francis Carroll is such that he didn’t have to be asked twice to attend. It was his first visit, he explained, and he was more than impressed with the ambiance, food quality and its presentation.
 Marco and Francis have been good friends since their days at La Gavroche in London where they learned their culinary skills from the famous Roux brothers. Later Francis helped out at Marco’s first restaurant Harvey’s where he worked with the other chefs seen on Hells Kitchen Roger and Tim together with his trainee Gordon Ramsey and head chef Donovan Cooke who is now Australia’s top celebrity chef.
     Francis helped Marco with his restaurant The Box Tree that he opened for a while in Ilkely. But Francis was by then building his own reputation in the Manchester area with restaurants such as Brasserie St Pierre, Lounge Ten, Reform and Gilt House. He still meets Marco regularly and they chat weekly by phone.
“If you think that Marco is ruthless in Hells Kitchen,” he says smiling. “I can tell you that he has totally mellowed with age, his fame for making Gordon Ramsey cry is just one example. He has done far worse and thrown more celebrated customers from his restaurants over the years than he has in the programme. But as a friend he is second to none.”
     White Slave by Marco Pierre White is a rollercoaster ride of a book, taking him from his roots in Leeds, the kitchen of the Hotel St George at Harrogate and then to London as a penniless teenager. It is a compelling story of his fight to be recognized and to overcome all obstacles in the way. His wild days in London and his turbulent relationships with friends such as Michael Cain, Gordon Ramsey, the artist Damian Hirst, not to mention the man who gave him his first big break, Albert Roux.
 He was awarded 3 Michelin Stars, the youngest chef to receive such an accolade – and the only chef to return them!
    “I’m going to the US to meet the publisher for the books’ release there,” he said and then he winked conspiratorially before adding that the advance sales were better than Gordon Ramsey’s!
     A thoroughly nice chap and a book that cannot fail to give hours of pleasure as it documents with warts and all, his rise from virtual poverty to the Restaurateur par-excellence that Marco Pierre White has become. His attendance at the Cabbage Hall is an acknowledgement by him that the restaurant is first class and a credit to Francis and the staff.

White Slave is published by Orion Books.

Copyright Paul Hurley
Words 895

Published in the Winsford Guardian March 2008

A true hero, Driver Wallace A Oakes GC

By Paul Hurley

It was June the 5th 1965 when 33 years old engine driver Wallace Oakes left his home at

6 Sandy Lane, Wheelock Heath, Sandbach. He strolled through the pleasant early summer morning to Sandbach station where he boarded the train for work, just a normal day in the life of a young top link engine driver. Sitting as a passenger was a treat, ‘on the cushions’ railway footplate men called it, shortly he would be in the cab of a powerful steam engine.

After booking on and checking the duties list he joined his fireman Gwilym Roberts and they made their way across the works. Wallace was young for a top link driver; even in these the last few years of steam - the average age in days past was over 50! Stepping nimbly across the lines at Crewe railway sheds the two men made their way to the allotted engine. Around them steam and diesel engines awaited their next tour of duty, the diesels clicking and humming gently and the steam engines simmering with smoke drifting lazily from the chimneys. The two men were soon faced with the imposing side of the 94 ton Britannia Class engine number 70051 Firth of Forth. The engine was less than 11 years old and already had a fire glowing in the firebox courtesy of shed staff.

They checked and oiled the engine and then set of in it for platform 2 at Crewe station. Waiting for them was the 2.05pm express to Carlisle, it had been brought from London Euston by another engine, now in the works being serviced. The train consisted of ten coaches and was quite full, slowly Wallace backed his engine on to the front of the train and it was coupled up. With a powerful burst of exhaust from the chimney or blast pipe the big engine set off slowly out of the station, guided by the points it veered right on to the continuance of the West Coast main line. Wallace opened the regulator and the engine picked up speed. In the carriages people dined in the restaurant car, sat talking or reading at their seats whilst outside the flat countryside of Cheshire passed in a blur. The first station was Winsford but this was too small for such an important train to stop at, it too would be a blur as the train passed through.

Within the workings of the engine however all was not well, below the chimney inside was a petticoat that directed the exhaust out, with a blockage to the chimney the exhaust would have no way of escaping. As the train entered Winsford station and passed under the footbridge it was travelling at around 60 miles per hour. The firebox door was open and suddenly part of this petticoat gave way blocking the chimney completely.

This resulted without any warning in a massive backlash of flames from the fire box onto the footplate engulfing both driver and fireman in searing flames. Fortunately for the fireman he was leaning out of the offside cab window and with his legs very badly burned he was able to climb onto the outer steps. There he put out his burning clothes by rubbing them against the bodywork and then holding onto the outside of the tender doors. He realised that the brakes were being applied and remained there until the train came to a stop.

Wallace was badly burned as he stood in the midst of the flames that engulfed the footplate. He could perhaps have done something to escape the worst of the searing heat. But had he done this the train with its many passengers could have crashed or left the rails at the next bend. Instead he stayed at his post amidst the roaring flames; he partially closed the regulator, opened the boiler and pulled on the steam brake bringing the train to a halt. Only then, with his clothes almost totally burned off and with 80% burns to his body did he fall from the footplate. He had almost certainly prevented massive loss of life by preventing the destruction of the train. It was here on the embankment that the fireman found him; he could still speak but was obviously in excruciating pain. The fireman Gwilym Roberts was himself badly burned but was able to phone the signalman and raise the alarm. As a result the southbound Royal Scot was signalled to stop and take both men to hospital. Wallace Oakes was so badly burned that he had to be suspended from the hospital bed and a week later he died of his injuries.

For his bravery in remaining at his post he was posthumously awarded the George Cross for gallantry. Later in 1966 he was also awarded the Bronze Medal of the Carnegie Hero Trust. A more visual tribute to his heroism came on the 19thof February 1981 when at Euston Station, an electric locomotive no. 86260 was named "Driver Wallace Oakes GC," the name being unveiled by Ray Buckton, General Secretary of ASLEF.

The 4-6-2 Standard class steam engine Number 70051 Firth of Forth was the subject of a painting by artist Philip D Hawkins FGRA. The engine itself was built in 1954 and withdrawn in 1967.

Over the years several railwaymen have been awarded this, the most prestigious civilian award. But for true valour the actions of Driver Wallace A Oakes GC travelling through Winsford on that fateful day take some beating.

Copyright Paul Hurley

March 2008