Category Archives: Cycling Around Britain

The Forth Bridge

Following my last post on Edinburgh and as a final before heading back to London, a quick visit to the Forth Bridge. As with Edinburgh, the black and white photos are from 1953, the colour photos are from a rather grey and overcast morning in July 2016.

The Firth of Forth cuts inland north of Edinburgh separating the transport links through the city from the north of Scotland. A detour inland was required, or the use of one of the ferries that operated across the Forth.

A number of proposals had been put forward for providing a direct link across the Forth during the early part of the 19th century, including tunnels and various designs for bridges, however after the tragedy at the Tay Bridge which collapsed in December 1879, a design proposed by the designer of the Tay Bridge was ruled out and an alternative design for a cantilevered bridge by Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker was selected to cross the Forth between South and North Queensferry.

Construction of the Forth Bridge commenced in 1882 and it was opened in March 1890. A remarkably short time for such a construction.

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The bridge provided a direct link across the Forth for rail traffic, and in 1953 when my father took these photos there was still no road bridge so a ferry was in operation to provide a route for road traffic and foot passengers. In the photo below, two of the ferries can be seen looking tiny against the bridge.

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The Forth Bridge today on a rather dull and overcast morning.

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The scale of the Forth Bridge is impressive:

  • the overall length of the bridge is 8,095 feet
  • the height of the bridge is 361 feet above the high water level
  • under the central box girder sections there is a clearance of 150 feet above the high water level
  • 53,000 tonnes of steel were used to construct the bridge (a new material at the time for bridge construction)

Even the approach viaducts are major works of construction as shown in the photo below. The box girder section on top of the brick towers is an average of 130 feet above the high water level.

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The bridge is painted in “Forth Bridge Red” and was last completely repainted during a major restoration of the bridge between 2002 and 2012 when 240,000 litres of paint were used. with a new formula that should allow the topcoat of the paint to last for 20 years.

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In 1953 my father took the ferry across:

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But, and this is a mystery, also appears to have walked the bridge, or at least across the approach viaducts on either side. As far as I know, the bridge has never provided a walkway for the general user to walk across. The ferry provided the method for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Firth of Forth, however when scanning this series of negatives I came across the following photos. The first is taken from the foot-way that appears to run along the bridge. I suspect it was taken from the North Queensferry side of the bridge.

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This photo was definitely taken from the approach viaduct at North Queensferry. It shows the St. James Chapel Cemetery in North Queensferry which is still there.

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The following photo taken from the bridge shows one of the ferries that provided a means for vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists to cross the Firth of Forth.

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And this photo adds to the mystery as it was taken from the bridge at the opposite end at South Queensferry.

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There are no other photos from within the bridge so I do not know if he walked across the bridge (and there may have been no photos of this as in these days of digital photography it is easy to forget how frugal you had to be when there were only 36 exposure rolls of film and the costs of film, developing and printing had to be considered), or whether he just walked along the approach viaducts at either side of the bridge.

Also, whether there was access across the bridge at this time, or whether he just “found” the walkway open.

The following photo from 2016 is looking up at the approach viaduct from where the photo above was taken which would have been to the left of the train. This area looks to be much as it was in 1953, a parking area for people wanting to view the bridge.

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Also on the South Queensferry side of the bridge is a memorial erected in 2012 to those who died in the construction of the bridge. This lists 73 names along with their job such as rivet catcher, rigger and engineer’s labourer. It was a highly dangerous job given the late 19th century approach to working conditions, lack of safety equipment, height of the bridge and the materials involved.

There were rowing boats in the water underneath the main work areas to try and help those who fell from the bridge, these boats saved 8 men from drowning.

The two sides of the memorial.

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In 1953, the Firth of Forth was only crossed by the rail bridge and as shown in some of the photos above, vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists would take the ferry as the most direct route between north and south Queensferry and the land beyond.

In 1964 a road bridge was opened which led to the closure of the car ferry. Traffic volumes across the road bridge now routinely exceed by a considerable amount the original design volumes and in the first decade of this century a range of corrosion problems and loss of structural strength was found across the bridge. This led to a number of temporary closures, repairs, monitoring and restrictions in heavy goods vehicles.

Due to these problems, and due to the increasing volume of traffic crossing the Firth of Forth, a second road bridge is currently under construction adjacent to the original road bridge. These are both a short distance from the rail bridge and can be seen in the following photo.

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The Forth Bridge is a very impressive example of engineering and construction, even more so considering that the first road bridge constructed some 70 years later has a range of structural problems.

I just wish the weather was not so grey and overcast during my visit and I would also love to know whether my father did walk across all or part of the Forth Bridge.

Now back to London.

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Edinburgh – 1953 and 2016

I had intended to be away from London just for the month of August, however I had the opportunity for a trip to Edinburgh so I hope you do not mind if I cover one more location before returning to London for next week’s post. This will be in two posts, today covering the City of Edinburgh and mid-week a post on the Forth Bridge.

Edinburgh is a wonderful city. Although geographically and from a population perspective Edinburgh is much smaller than London, they share a number of features. A long and fascinating history, a capital city, a seat of government and today a major tourist location.

Edinburgh was also the home to many of the people who helped to shape the modern world during the 18th century including the philosopher and historian David Hume. Adam Smith, the author of the Wealth of Nations, the first modern book on economics.

James Boswell who was born in Edinburgh and went to the universities in Edinburgh and Glasgow before his move to London. James Hutton the Geologist who recognised that the Earth was continually developing and forming and that erosion and sedimentation can help to understand how these continuous processes have worked over geologic time (which is not surprising given the amount of geology surrounding Edinburgh, all the inspiration needed to get out and explore).

Henry Home, Lord Kames, a Scottish Advocate who developed theories on how human societies developed and how the need for laws developed alongside society, for example that at the highest stage of development, law was required for the protection of property.

Edinburgh’s role in the Scottish Enlightenment is a fascinating subject.

Back to the main subject of today’s post, my father photographed Edinburgh in 1953, so here is a sample of these photos along with my photos taken 63 years later.

Firstly, a visit to Edinburgh Castle, on the top of Castle Rock, the remains of the volcanic activity across this part Scotland around 350 million years ago.

The earliest part of the castle, St. Margaret’s Chapel, dates from around 1130 when it was built by the Scottish King David I and dedicated to his mother Queen Margaret who as a member of the Anglo-Saxon royal families, fled to Scotland soon after the Norman invasion where she married Malcolm III of Scotland thereby becoming a Scottish Queen.

In the centuries since, Edinburgh Castle has been fought over by the Scots and the English, taken by Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War attacked during the Jacobite rebellions and used as a prison during the Napoleonic wars.

Today, Edinburgh Castle is home to the Scottish Crown Jewels, the Stone of Destiny (which was in Westminster Abbey after being taken from Scotland in 1296 by Edward 1, but returned to Scotland in 1996 and will now only be returned to London for coronations), the Royal Palace, the Scottish National War Memorial and a number of Regimental Museums.

Edinburgh Castle also provides some superb views across Edinburgh to the Firth of Forth and it is here that I start with the following photos. I could not get to the exact location where my father had taken these photos in 1953. I could see the location, a small walkway around the top of one of the rooms adjacent to the Lang Stairs, but it is now closed off. Frustrating but understandable given the number of visitors to the castle today,

I will work my way from the view to the north-west, moving gradually over to the east.

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To the left of the above photo is the Solders Dog Cemetery where the pets of solders and regimental mascots are buried. In my photo below the outer wall can just be seen to the left of the photo.

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The castle is, as you would expect, much the same as 63 years ago with only minor changes. The main difference is the number of visitors to the castle with 1.568 million visitors in 2015 (to put this into perspective, in London St. Paul’s Cathedral had 1.609 and Westminster Abbey with 1.664 million visitors so Edinburgh Castle is almost as busy as these two main London hubs for visitors).

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Starting to move to the east and the “New Town” of Edinburgh is starting to come into view with the Firth of Forth in the distance. The New Town was built between the mid 18th and 19th centuries as a result of the growing population of the city and the lack of space in the original Old Town. Princes Street is the wide street running left to right.

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Standing along the edge of the castle and looking out across the city, it is remarkable how the views are much the same. Parkland separates Castle Rock from the rest of the city, Princes Street still provides a wide roadway, the New Town and the later suburbs of Edinburgh stretch away towards Muirhouse, Trinity, Newhaven and Leith.

The height of the buildings have not really changed and unlike London there are no glass and steel towers.

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Edinburgh 11a

Still moving east and the road running north from Princes Street is Frederick Street.

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The 1828 tower of the church of St. Stephen’s Stockbridge can be seen in the centre left of the above photo and more towards the upper left in my photo below.

The church is built from Craigleith stone. Craigleith was a quarry a couple of miles outside of Edinburgh that produced high quality stone. A connection with London is that although Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square is of granite, the statue of Nelson on the top is carved from three blocks of Craigleith sandstone.

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Edinburgh 1

Further to the east. In the photos above and below the Melville Monument in St. Andrew’s Square can be seen at the right of both photos.  The 1st Viscount Melville, or Henry Dundas was a Scottish Advocate (lawyer / solicitor) who dominated Scottish politics in the later years of the 18th century and first decade of the 19th century.

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Moving further towards the east, the entrance tunnels to Edinburgh Waverley Station can be seen with the station on the right. The Scottish National Gallery is above the tunnels with the Scott Monument behind the Gallery.

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Edinburgh Waverley Station is in the centre of the above and below photos with Calton Hill in the background with the tower of the Nelson Monument and the columns of the Scottish National Monument just behind. Waverley Station was built in the natural valley between the old and new towns. Originally opened in 1846 and rebuilt between 1892 and 1902 when the station became substantially the station we see today.

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As we continue looking further east, the original old town of Edinburgh comes into view with the tall tower of the original Victoria Hall, built to house the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland between 1842 and 1845. The building was never consecrated as a church. It is now a centre for the Edinburgh International Festival as well as providing space to hire throughout the year – a strange history for a building that appears on the skyline to be the central church for the city. The main church for the old town of Edinburgh are the towers further back with first the tower of St. Giles Cathedral. The tower behind this is the Tron Kirk. Although no longer a functioning church (mainly now market and retail space), the Tron Kirk has a long history with the original foundations being laid in the 1640s.

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As the photos above and below have been moving to the east, the entrance to the castle has come into view and in both the 1953 and 2016 photos the seating and preparations for the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo can be seen.

The first tattoo was in 1950, so just a few years before my father took the above photos. Although the basic concept is the same, the Tattoo is now a much more sophisticated presentation and the seating is also on a much more grander scale, able to seat an annual audience of 220,000 for three weeks in August. The Tattoo is consistently sold out and apparently in the history of the Tattoo not a single show has been cancelled which is quite an achievement given Scottish weather and the high, exposed position of the Tattoo.

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In the above photo, the queue to buy tickets for the castle is in the lower centre – the castle is a highly successful attraction for the City of Edinburgh.

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Edinburgh 6a

The next stop is the Scott Monument on Princes Street.

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Sir Walter Scott was a highly successful Edinburgh based novelist. His books included Rob Roy and Ivanhoe and his series of “Waverley” novels gave him considerable fame. He also discovered the Scottish Crown Jewels after they had been lost in Edinburgh Castle where they had been stored away in a box which had been unopened for many years.

The Scott Monument has a series of viewing galleries and provides superb views of the castle, Princes Street and Waverley Station.  A few facts about the monument:

  • the foundation stone was laid in 1840
  • the monument was completed 4 years later in the Autumn of 1844
  • the total cost of the monument was £16,154, 7s, 11d
  • the height to the very top of the monument is 200 feet, 6 inches (or 61.1m)

A competition was held for the design of the monument and George Meikle Kemp, a carpenter and draughtsman won the competition with his Gothic style for the monument, beating several leading architects. Kemp supervised much of the building of the monument, but drowned in March 1844, shortly before completion and it fell to his brother-in-law Thomas Bonnar to complete the Scott Monument.

Climbing the monument provides some superb views.

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The Scottish National Gallery to the lower left with Edinburgh Castle behind.

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I was pleased with this pair of photos as I was able to get the view almost exactly aligned with the photo my father took in 1953. Note in the 2016 photo below that railings have been installed on top of the wall that surrounds the walkway around the monument. The wall is not that high so the railings provide an additional sense of security as you walk around the monument.

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Above and below photos of Waverley Station with the North Bridge in the background that links the Old Town with Princes Street and the New Town.

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View looking down the length of Princes Street.

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And another pair of views along Princes Street.

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Leaving the Scott Monument, and in the following two photos is Canongate Kirk. The Kirk is on the Royal Mile, however the following two photos were taken from Regent Road, which runs around the edge of Calton Hill. The photos show the rear of the Kirk and the Kirkyard. The original building was completed in 1690, however the interior has been through many subsequent changes, including the refurbishment needed after a major fire in 1863.

The Kirkyard is the final resting place to many Scots from the 18th and 19th centuries including the Political Economist Adam Smith, the author of the Wealth of Nations.

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The same view today. Whilst the buildings around the Kirk have changed, the Kirk and Kirkyard have hardly changed in the 63 years between the two photos.

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I cannot place the location of the following photo, however on the strip of negatives it is adjacent to the photos of the Canongate Kirk and is also looking down onto a cluster of buildings, so I suspect it was also taken from Regent Road and must be to either the left or right of the Canongate Kirk, looking down to typical Edinburgh Old Town housing.

As mentioned earlier in this post, the New Town was constructed due to the rising population and the lack of space in the Old Town. In trying to accommodate a growing population, 18th century buildings had risen to seven or eight storeys, some of the earliest “high rise” buildings in Europe. These are the buildings in the background of the photo below. This is the rear of these buildings with the front facing onto the Royal Mile.

The 1953 photo also demonstrates the origin of one of the nicknames for Edinburgh – “Auld Reekie” – meaning Old Smokie as the numerous coal fires of a dense population would send lots of smoke into the air and obscuring the view of parts of the city from a distance.

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Also from the same road is the following photo showing the opposite site of Waverley Station with the North Bridge in the background.

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No steam trains on these lines now!

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Returning to the Canongate Kirk, the following photo is from within the Kirkyard looking up towards the circular Dugald Stewart building on Calton Hill.

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I should do more research before visiting as we passed the Canongate Kirk and walked further down the Royal Mile to the large graveyard between Calton Road and Regent Road, thinking this could be where the above photo was taken from – I was wrong, although this graveyard provided a fascinating glimpse of Scottish graveyards.

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The majority of graves seem to be from the early to late 19th century. The tower at top right was occupied when the graveyard was in use. A plaque on the side of the tower reads:

“In Loving memory Of John McDonald. Born at this Watch Tower 1.12.1912 died Australia 26.1.1995”

What a place to have been born.

The grave of Andrew Skene. The inscription reads “Misfortune soothed by Wisdom” and records that Andrew Skene was born on the 26th February 1785 and died on the 2nd April 1835. He was an Advocate and Solicitor General for Scotland..

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Edinburgh is a fascinating city to walk. It is not just the obvious high spots such as the castle, Scott Monument and Calton Hill, but the streets and alleys where the history of the city is to be found at almost every turn. Old signs still record previous businesses that operated along the side streets.

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And the names and faded signs record the importance of the role of Advocate or Solicitor in the development of Scotland as a country which, although part of the United Kingdom, retains a different legal system.

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Edinburgh is a fascinating city, wonderful to explore on foot and with a long and complex history. From an architectural perspective, Edinburgh has developed in a different way from London over the last six decades. The skyline is much the same and the city appears to have avoided the high-rise glass and steel developments that are taking over much of London allowing the city to retain a very distinctive feel.

One final post in the next couple of days will look at the Forth Bridge, then back to London for a trip to Wapping High Street.

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Winchester and Stonehenge

For this week’s post in my August journey around the country, I am visiting two historic locations that are day trips to the west of London, Winchester and Stonehenge. Winchester on the side of the M3 heading down towards Southampton and Stonehenge on the road to the west country, the A303.

My first stop is at Stonehenge. The following photos were taken by my father in 1949. Whilst the stones are the same today, the environment is very different. When these photos were taken, visitor numbers were very low and the visitor had free access to walk among the stones. The two roads that ran either side of Stonehenge were quiet without the long queues of traffic that are a feature of most summer weekends.

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I must admit I did not revisit Stonehenge for this post, having last been there a number of years ago. Today, it is only possible to walk among the stones during specific events and for the general visitor the view is limited to a path that runs a short distance around the stones.

Stonehenge is always busy with coaches of visitors providing a continuous stream of people to walk around the circle. Whilst fully understandable that the protection of the stones required their separation from those who have come to visit, it must have been much more of an experience being able to walk among and admire the size and positioning of these stones, without crowds and without the thunder of traffic on the adjacent road.

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Stonehenge has seen recent improvements. One of the roads that passed either side of the stones, the A344, has been closed and is returning to grassland. The visitor centre has been relocated some distance away, thereby helping provide the stones with some of the original sense of how they stood in their landscape. This still leaves the heavy traffic on the A303. Tunnels and alternative routes for removing the A303 from the landscape have been proposed and discussed for years, but nothing ever seems to get to the point of general agreement as to the best route, financed and into construction. If the Government wanted to get on with some infrastructure investment then a long tunnel to take the A303 away from the Stonehenge landscape must be a good option.

I have been trying to work out who the two people in the following photo could be. The man on the right could be a chauffeur judging by his clothing, the man on the left looks to be wearing a long coat and some form of leather hat.

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The following photo from Britain from Above taken in 1946 provides a view of a quieter Stonehenge than today, however a solitary coach on the now closed A344 provides an indication of what is to come.

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There are numerous theories as to the original purpose of Stonehenge – astronomical calendar, religious or ceremonial site however I suspect we will never know for sure.

The history of the next place is relatively recent when compared with the age of Stonehenge. It is though well documented. This is Winchester, reached from London via Waterloo if travelling by train, or the M3 by car.

Winchester has a long history. A Roman town, Venta Belgarum, occupied an earlier settlement. An Anglo-Saxon Minster was built on part of the area now occupied by the Cathedral from the 7th to the 11th century with a new cathedral being built in the 11th century, the Cathedral that with subsequent rebuilding and alterations forms the current Winchester Cathedral.

For my brief tour of Winchester, I will start at the far western end of the High Street at the West Gate – my father’s original photo:

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The West Gate today. Originally, all traffic would pass through the West Gate and whilst this worked when there was little traffic of limited width, it would not be a suitable route into the centre of Winchester for today’s traffic. The buildings to the left of the gate were demolished and the road now bypasses the gate leaving it as the pedestrian route into the centre of the city.

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Passing through the West Gate and we can look down Winchester High Street. The landscape descends down to the River Itchen that flows through the city at the far end of the High Street.

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And it is the River Itchen that we meet now, passing underneath the Winchester City Mill. A mill was recorded on the site in Saxon times and it appears that a mill has operated on the site for the majority of the years since. The present building was constructed in 1743.

The Mill became the first Youth Hostel of the London region of the Youth Hostel Association in 1931, continuing as a hostel till 2005 when the mill was restored to working order and is now run by the National Trust.

My father and his friends used Youth Hostels as they cycled around the country, so I am almost certain that he stayed here on his journey through Winchester. The National Trust web page for the mill has some accounts from people who stayed at the youth hostel during the 1940s – the link to the page is here.

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The same view today – not much has changed.

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In the following photo, the bridge is from where the above photos were taken. The mill is the building behind the bridge so this is a short distance further along the River Itchen looking back at the mill.

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The same view today.

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A short distance from the mill is the Old Chesil Rectory. Originally built by a wealthy Winchester merchant, the building was constructed between 1425 and 1450 and in 1949 was a restaurant serving lunch and tea.

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The building is still a restaurant, but has dropped the “old”  and is now simply The Chesil Rectory and appears to be very popular as we tried to get a table on Saturday lunchtime but they were fully booked for the whole weekend.

The front of the building looks much the same, however in 1949 the side of the building running to the right appears to have been all brick, presumably covering the original wall that has now been exposed.

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As with much of Winchester outside of the pedestrianised High Street there is considerable traffic and I had to wait several minutes to get a clear shot of the front of the Chesil Rectory. It must have been a much more enjoyable experience to explore towns and cities without the high levels of traffic that we have today.

The next stop is back up the High Street where we can turn off one of a number of side streets to reach the Cathedral. This was the view looking down towards the main entrance with the war memorial in the foreground in 1949.

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The same view today – the trees on either side have grown considerably in the 67 years between the two photos.

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Walking down towards the war memorial I moved from under the trees to get this view of the Cathedral. The large west window was destroyed by Parliamentary soldiers in the Civil War, but later rebuilt using the shattered glass collected from around the Cathedral.

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The church in Winchester has a long history. the first church (the Old Minster) was built by King Cenwalh in 648 with building of the Norman Cathedral that forms the core of the current building starting in 1079 with the Old Minster being demolished in 1093 when the new cathedral was consecrated. The Cathedral has been through a number of changes, additional development, damage during both the dissolution and the Civil War and major work on the foundations to prevent serious damage to the fabric of the building in the early 20th century.

On entering the cathedral today, the first view is of the nave:

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To the left of the nave is the grave of Jane Austen who died in Winchester in 1817. The gravestone makes no mention of her achievements as an author apart from the reference to “the extraordinary achievements of her mind”.

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Perhaps to rectify this omission, a memorial was erected in 1900 and paid for by public subscription – the text starts with “known to many by her writings”.

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Walking round Winchester Cathedral, there are so many survivals from the Cathedral’s long history. Here, the mid 12th century font made from black Tournai marble:

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The crypt of the Cathedral has an Anthony Gormley sculpture of a life-size figure of a man contemplating water held in his cupped hands. The crypt is from the earliest phase of the Cathedral having been built in the 11th century. The crypt also suffers from the geological conditions of the ground in the centre of Winchester as during periods of heavy rain the crypt will flood, often up to the knees of the statue. The ground water under and around the Cathedral caused considerable problems during the early part of the 20th century.

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It is possible to see the colour with which churches were decorated prior to the dissolution during Henry VIII’s reign. Some of the original 12th century wall paintings and 13th century painting on the ceiling remains:

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The Great Screen built between 1470 and 1476. The statues across the screen are late 19th century replacements as the originals were destroyed in 1538 during the dissolution.

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As with so many public buildings of this age, many of the monuments, walls and pillars are covered in early graffiti. I wonder who MC was and what he was doing in the Cathedral in 1624?

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Winchester Cathedral also has the largest and oldest area of floor tiling to survive in England, mainly from the 13th century. Walk on these and think about who could have walked the same way in the previous 800 years.

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There is a most unusual monument in the Cathedral, perhaps the last place you would expect to find a diving helmet. This is the memorial to the diver William Walker who is honoured for saving the Cathedral at the start of the 20th century when It was found that the wooden foundations of the Cathedral were rotting and the building was starting to subside.

The centre of Winchester, including the Cathedral is within the valley of the River Itchen as we saw earlier in this post. The Cathedral is built on a peaty soil and there is a very high water table (as mentioned earlier which also causes the crypt to flood).

The plan to stop the subsidence was to dig down and fill trenches under the walls with concrete, however due to the high level of ground water, as the workmen dug down, the trenches filled with water. The only way to attempt the work was to call in a deep-sea diver who could excavate the trenches and fill with concrete. This is where William Walker, an experienced deep-sea diver from Portsmouth Dockyard was called in.

Walker worked for 5 years in very difficult conditions, often at depths of up to 20ft and with limited visibility due to the mix of water and peat. When all the trenches had been excavated and filled with concrete, the water could be pumped out and the rest of the workmen could fill with concrete bags, concrete blocks and bricks.

The work was completed in 1911 and the Cathedral was saved, mainly due to the efforts of William Walker. He would die in 1918 due to the flu epidemic that spread through the country, however he is remembered by this very fitting memorial in the Cathedral that he played such a crucial role in protecting.

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There are so many graves and tombs across the Cathedral of significant age. This one from the 12th century which may contain the remains of Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester from 1129 to 1171. The use of “may” in the information panel is an indication of the problem of really knowing the history of so many tombs in a building of this age and history.

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Leaving the Cathedral, I found the following whilst walking past the Guildhall. I have not seen such instruments and inscriptions before mounted in such a position. The latitude and longitude are given and below the window with the barograph the inscription reads that in Winchester real noon is 5 minutes and 16 seconds later than at Greenwich – an indication that as you move further west from the Greenwich Meridian, the sun is directly over head later as you travel further west. Below the reference to real noon is information that the compass points slightly west of north and at the top along the greenish coloured stone is the height above sea level.

Instruments in the windows provide the temperature, wind speed and direction and the barograph records the pressure. The reference to the compass points and the magnetic deviation states this was in 1954 so this installation may well date from then. No idea why it is here, but I really like this.

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That is the end of my brief visit to Winchester and Stonehenge in 1949 and 2016 – as usual I left Winchester with the feeling that I had only just started to understand the city and its history. Winchester is back on the list for a future visit.

To end the post, here are two photos that are on the same strip of negatives as some of the Winchester photos and which I have been unable to locate. I am really grateful to Nick who identified the unknown location at the end of last week’s post as the Almonry Museum at Evesham, Worcestershire.

The first photo appears to be the entrance to a town / village church. The building on the left appears to be a Tea Rooms judging by the signs. The sign in the shop window on the right is advertising a Cricket Match and Grand Dance, but the rest of the text in not readable.

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I am really not sure what this building is, but the tall chimney like structure is very distinctive.

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Any help with identifying the above would be really appreciated.

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On The Road To Stratford-Upon-Avon

Having left South Wales for last week’s post, this week I am back in England and on the road to Stratford-upon-Avon. Not using the M40 which was many years in the future when my father took these photos, rather following the lanes that threaded through Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.

I can track the route he took as I have many of the Ordnance Survey maps that he used and marked with the routes taken, although there is one map missing for this journey.

Cycling out from London, along the A4 through Slough and Maidenhead, then taking the lanes to Henley-on-Thames and through Watlington to reach the first photo of a monument at Chalgrove in Oxfordshire.

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This is the monument to John Hampden, probably born in London in 1595, he became one of the Parliamentarians who resisted Charles I’s demands for payment of the Ship Money Tax in 1635 and later demanded that the King handover control of the Tower of London to Parliament. He fought on the side of Parliament during the English Civil War having raised a regiment from his tenants in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

In June 1643, the Royalist and Parliamentary forces faced each other across the Oxfordshire countryside with the Royalists based in Oxford and the headquarters of the Parliamentarians in Thame.

Prince Rupert, the nephew of Charles I, had word that a pay wagon was travelling to Thame and saw an opportunity to inflict damage on the Parliamentary forces. He left Oxford on the 17th June 1643 with a force of 2,000.

Skirmishes with small Parliamentarian outposts at Tetsworth and Postcombe were followed by a victory at Chinnor where 50 Parliamentarian soldiers were killed and 120 captured. The rumored pay wagon had heard the fighting and headed away from the town.

The Parliamentary army was gathering to the south and met the Royalist forces at Chalgrove in the fields surrounding the monument. John Hampden was shot and seriously wounded not far from where the monument now stands and was taken back to Thame where he died of his wounds on the 24th June. The Royalists achieved a significant victory at Chalgrove and Prince Rupert returned to Oxford.

The monument was unveiled on the 18th June 1843, two hundred years after the battle. Paid for by subscription, the names of the subscribers are recorded on the monument along with an effigy of John Hampden and his coat of arms.

I found the monument late one evening when it was getting dark. There is some light industry in the area now, however at this time in the evening it was quiet, and looking over the fields on a summer’s evening it is hard to imagine the fighting that took place here on a summer’s day in 1643.

The monument is well-preserved in the centre of a road junction and is surrounded by iron railings and a large ditch.

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Leaving Chalgrove, the route then disappears onto Ordnance Survey map 158 which I do not have, before returning onto map 145 covering the area around Banbury, where we leave Banbury on the A422 to head to Stratford-upon-Avon. Passing through the village of Wroxton, we find the Wroxton Guide Post at the side of the road.

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The Guide Post dates from 1686 and is a marker on one of the routes from Wales and the west to London. Allegedly used by salt merchants, the route follows the A422 down to Wroxton where is breaks from the road and heads to the south of Banbury. The 1946 edition of the Ordnance Survey one inch map for the area shows the Salt Way marked.

The top of the guide post was originally a sundial and around the middle of the post are carved hands pointing to the towns along the adjacent roads. If you look at my father’s photo you can see that the guide post was in need of some repair with initials being carved on the stone as well as general deterioration.

The guide post was restored in 1974 and still looks in good condition with the directions and carved hands clearly visible.

The Wroxton Guide Post today:

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Directions are given on three sides of the post. I do like the two hands pointing to London and Stratford-upon-Avon (thereby just maintaining a tenuous connection with London for this week’s post). The fourth side records the name of Mr Francis White who, although very little is known about him, was responsible in some way for the funding or provision of the guide post.

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Photo of part of the 1946 edition of the Ordnance Survey one-inch map, the Banbury edition, number 145. Banbury is the edge of the town seen in the lower right edge with Wroxton just to the left on the A422. The Salt Way is as the very bottom right corner, my father drew two red circles around this and there is a note of XP in purple ink pointing to the Guide Post just to the left of Wroxton. There are also purple arrows showing the route he and his friends cycled on the way to Stratford-upon-Avon.

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The A422 is the road that runs from Banbury at lower right up towards the left. If you follow the A422 away from Wroxton, there is a sharp turn to the left, followed by a sharp turn to the right then passing a place called Sun Rising. This is Edge Hill where the height drops dramatically, I can imagine the name is due to the view of the light across the land as the sun rises as the view from here is impressive.

My father took the following photo from the point at the top of the hill where the road is just about to turn to the right and the view is of flat land stretching away towards the north-west and towards Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Although the road today follows exactly the same route, I did not stop to take a comparison photo. There are no paths or walkways along the edge of the road which is up against the walls on either side. The road is also very busy and standing on the road at a bend was not the wisest thing to do. Also, trees have now grown which sadly completely obscures the view.

Another view from the top of Edge Hill on a summers day in 1949.

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Edge Hill has also given its name to another battle from the Civil War. This was the first skirmish between the Royalist and Parliamentarian forces and took place on the 23rd October 1642. The Royalist forces was based at Edge Hill with the Parliamentarian forces on the plain below. The Royalists attacked from Edge Hill and the battle took place across the land in the above photo.

If you look back at the extract from the Ordnance Survey map, the marker for the battle on the map is ringed in blue and red circles. Much of the land where the battle took place is today owned by the Ministry of Defence and so is not easy to visit.

Leaving Edge Hill, the A422 runs directly to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Known around the world as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon is now a major tourist destination with 4.9 million visitors each year and generating £28 million for the local economy each month, and being in Stratford-upon-Avon on a summer’s weekend it is easy to see how.

Stratford-upon-Avon is also the home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre being a major landmark alongside the River Avon. Two of my father’s photos showing the theatre with a couple of small boats passing on the Avon.

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The view from roughly the same position today. The theatre went through a major rebuild between 2007 and 2010 which accounts for the changes to the theatre. The boats on the Avon are also a little different.

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If you are a tourist in Stratford-upon-Avon you head to the birthplace of William Shakespeare.

John Shakespeare was a glover, but also traded in wool and corn. He bought the main part of the house which is now the birthplace in 1556. John was married to Mary Arden and their eldest son, William Shakespeare was baptised on the 26th April 1564 (his date of birth is not known but must have been a few days earlier).

Shakespeare’s birthplace in 1949:

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And from exactly the same position in 2016:

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Stratford-upon-Avon is much busier today:

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A short walk away from Shakespeare’s birthplace, at the junction of Wood, Windsor, Greenhill and Rother Streets was the Old Thatch Tavern:

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And here it is today, still a pub, with the same name and looking much the same, although the door on Greenhill Street has disappeared along with the plaque above which would have been interesting to read. The pub is Grade II listed and dates from 1470.

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This is Harvard House at 26 High Street:

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Dating from 1596 when the house was built by Thomas Rogers, the grandfather of John Harvard who was one of the benefactors of Harvard University in the US. John was one of the members of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 17th century and on his death left a considerable sum of money and his library of books to the colony’s college which was renamed in his honour. The house is now owned by Harvard University, and is cared for by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust. Note the small stars and stripes symbol on the left of the building in the above photo.

That also explains why the American flag is hanging from the building today.

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View down Church Street:

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And the same view today:

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The buildings to the left of the above photos and in the photos below are Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and the Guildhall, where Shakespeare went to school and saw actors performing at the Guildhall.

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And the same view today:

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If you look at my father’s photo above, there is a sign at the side of road in front of the entrance. The sign reads “No waiting this side today”. Although the sign has gone, on the wall of the building to the left there is still the following sign. No idea why you could not stop here on even dates, but good to see this sign is still here which is probably associated with the sign on the road in 1949.

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Stratford-upon-Avon is full of well-preserved timber-framed buildings. There is hardly a street in the centre of town without examples:

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I started this post with a reference to the English Civil War with the John Hampden monument and the battles at Chalgrove and Edge Hill. Stratford-upon-Avon also records the impact of the Civil War across this part of the country with this plaque on the side of the Town Hall.

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The Town Hall also has a very interesting ghost sign running along the front of the building just below the flower boxes, the outline of the original painted words of “God Save The King”. The King in question was George III who was the monarch at the time the new town hall was built and the sign dates from this time.

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And here we finish a brief journey from Chalgrove, through Wroxton, along the A422 to drop down over Edge Hill and into Stratford-upon-Avon.

While the story of Shakespeare is well-known and with major tourist attractions both in Stratford-upon-Avon and Bankside in London, it was interesting to discover more about the Civil War through the Hampden monument in Charlgrove and Edge Hill – this period in British history does not get that much attention these days. The guide post in Wroxton is also a wonderful reminder of the old roads and tracks that crossed the country.

Again, another post that has just scratched the surface, but hopefully has provided an insight into the road leading to, and the town of Stratford-upon-Avon.

And finally…..on the same strip of negatives as the Stratford-upon-Avon photos are the following two photos which I have been unable to locate. I assume they are in the same area as the architectural style is right, however being on the same strip of negatives does not guarantee this. In the window on the right of the entrance door in the photo below, there is still the wartime sign “Air raid precautions volunteers enrol here”. Any information as to the location would be really appreciated.

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Newport Transporter Bridge – 1947 and 2016

After last week’s visit to Canterbury, I am continuing my travel around the country during the month of August, visiting some of the places my father photographed, and for this week I have travelled to the other side of the country to Newport in South Wales to visit the wonderful Newport Transporter Bridge. Looking at it today and back in 1947 when my father visited during National Service in the army when he was based a short distance away in Chepstow.

The Newport Transporter Bridge is a fully working bridge that uses a gondola to carry people and vehicles over the River Usk whilst providing a very high bridge clearance to allow shipping to continue to pass underneath, something that would not have been possible with a traditional bridge design.

So what does a transporter bridge look like? The following photos are my father’s from 1947 and my 2016 photo showing the transporter bridge from the east side of the River Usk. In both photos, the gondola is docked at the left side of the bridge, I will show this in more detail later.

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The Newport Transporter Bridge was opened in 1906 to provide access from the city to a new steelworks being built on the east side of the Usk and to avoid the existing congested crossing of the Usk further upstream.

The challenge with providing a crossing was the need to provide sufficient clearance for shipping with the very large tidal range of the Usk. Newport was a very industrial city during the 19th and first part of the 20th century with many industries related to steel, shipping and with a large docks so there was a large amount of shipping needing to move up the river past the proposed location of the bridge.

In the next photo, we can see the western side of the transporter bridge in 1947 taken in Brunel Street which ran straight up to the bridge.  The West of England Tavern is the building on the left and the bus is a number 9 to the docks.

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The same view today. Brunel Street has been separated from the bridge by the new A48 ring road around the southern end of Newport. The pub is still there, however no more buses to the docks.

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A view further back from the junction of Brunel Street and Alexandra Road.  The houses on the left are still there. I did try and take a photo from the same spot, however there is now a large tree in the gap between the houses which totally obscures the view of the bridge.

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The majority of the design of the Newport Transporter Bridge was by the Frenchman Ferdinand Amodin who was a specialist in the design of suspension bridges and who had already worked on a transporter bridge near Bilbao in Spain. Amodin, along with Robert Haynes, the Borough Engineer of Newport were appointed as the joint engineers for the new bridge in 1901.

It was Robert Haynes who had spotted the designs that Amodin had worked on for transporter bridges and encouraged the council to support this form of river crossing as the only realistic method.

The contract to build the bridge was awarded to Alfred Thorne of Westminster (just managed to maintain a London connection in this post !) with work commencing in 1902 and the bridge opening in 1906.

The design of a transporter bridge consists of a large structure across the river at a height to provide sufficient clearance above the high tide state of the river. A tower is located on each bank with a high level span between them. This carries a walkway and also a “traveller” from which is suspended the gondola. The traveller is pulled along the high level span by a cable connected to a motor near ground level.

As the gondola is suspended from the traveller, as the travaller is pulled back and forth along the high level span, so the gondola carrying people and vehicles also crosses the river. A simple design, but one needing a complex bit of engineering to implement.

The Newport Transporter Bride in operation:

1947 view looking up one of the towers.

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Thanks to Newport City Council and the Friends of Newport Transporter Bridge, the bridge is open and working from Wednesday to Sunday during the spring and summer period and a £3 ticket provides unlimited crossings on the gondola plus access to the high level walkway – incredibly good value (and you get a really good ticket).

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Getting up close to the bridge and you realise what a wonderful example of very early 20th century engineering this is. Some key statistics:

  • The main span of the bridge is 197m
  • The height from the water level at high tide to the bottom of the span crossing the river is 54m and the top of the towers are 74m above road level.
  • The overall distance between the anchorage of the anchor cables on each side is 471m
  • The weight of steel in the span crossing the river is 548 tonnes which carries a traveller of 16 tonnes and the gondola and steel suspension cables with a combined weight of 34 tonnes
  • The anchor cables are attached to masonry anchorages that each weigh 2236 tonnes
  • The traveller and gondola are pulled across by two 35 brake horse power electric engines

My father climbed the bridge in 1947 and took the high level walkway across the river. This photo shows the western end of the bridge with the anchor cables running down to their anchorage points.

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Another view from the top of the bridge showing the bridge structure and Brunel Street below,

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I have to admit that I attempted the climb, but it was a very hot day, I made the mistake of carrying my camera bag and iPad with my father’s photos on and we had already been for a walk so I only made it just over half way up before the direct sun started to take its toll.

The following photo shows the cables running down to the anchorage points today.

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Looking along the high level span across the river.

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1947 view of the gondola crossing the River Usk.

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And a similar view today. The blue building in between the two legs of the opposite tower is the motor house. From here, cables run up to the top of the bridge and attach to the traveller.

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Another 1947 view of the gondola as it crosses the river.

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There is only one other transporter bridge in operation in Great Britain. A transporter bridge which opened in 1911 to roughly the same design still runs across the River Tees in Middlesborough. The original transporter bridge near Bilbao designed by Ferdinand Amodin is still in operation along with a single bridge in France and two bridges in Germany.

Looking from the top of the east tower across to the city of Newport.

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Looking out from within the steelwork.

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A series of views from the west tower looking over the city of Newport as it was in 1947.

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My view across the city of Newport today. I could not get an identical view to the above photos as standing on the stairway up the tower with a camera, bag and trying to see an iPad screen in direct sunlight was not that easy – I should have printed the photos.

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1947 photo from midway along the top of the bridge looking north with the River Usk at low tide. The edge of the steelworks is on the eastern bank of the river. This was the main justification for building the bridge and can be seen on the right.

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The view today. The new bridge across the River Usk can be seen in the distance. This, along with the change in industry on the east bank of the river meant that the transporter bridge was no longer the main route across the river, however it is now grade 1 listed and maintained by Newport City Council so hopefully its future is assured.

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1947 view of the east bank of the river. The buildings are part of the Orb Steelworks, opened in 1899 by Wolverhampton based John Lysaght Ltd. Prior to the opening of the transporter bridge, workers from the west side of the Usk had a four mile walk to reach the steelworks.

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View from the transporter bridge walkway looking south, with the south east bank of the river on the left of the photo. It was on the river wall in the photo that the first photo of the transporter bridge at the top of this post was taken. I assume that the photo was taken at the weekend as there is a cricket match being played in the field.

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Looking a bit further to the right with the docks starting to come into view.

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The same view today from half way up the west tower. The far electrical pylon on the left in the photo below looks to be the same as in the above photo. These two photos also highlight the tidal range of the River Usk. The above photo looks to be low tide and the photo below is getting on for high tide and this rise in the water level had to be accommodated in the height of the transporter bridge so that shipping could still pass underneath at high tide.

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Further to the right with a view of the docks.

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The same view today.

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The end of the docks. the city of Newport is to the right.

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As my father took photos when it was low tide, he was able to photo the top of the foundations supporting the towers. The state of the ground on the riverbank required significant foundations and for each leg of the towers, the foundation was 6m in diameter with a depth on the east bank of 26m and 24m on the west bank.

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The scale of the transporter bridge is very impressive and is difficult to appreciate in photographs. The following photo is looking up the stairway of the west pier. It is these steps that provide access to the high level walkway.

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Boarding the gondola. This has space for four cars and covered seating on either side for foot passengers.

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Leaving the east bank of the river. The ride across is remarkably smooth. A slight bump as the gondola arrives at the landing point, however the trip across is fast and smooth.

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The operating position on the gondola.

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Looking up from the gondola to the traveller. The steel cables running up from the gondola attach to the traveller and as the traveller is pulled along, the gondola smoothly follows.

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The gondola halfway across the river.

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It is really good to see the Newport Transporter Bridge still in full operation and I can only hope that Newport City Council continue to have the funds to support this wonderful example of early 20th century engineering.

The link to the Newport City Council page on the transporter bridge is here, and the Friends of the Newport Transporter Bridge can be found here.

If you happen to be in South Wales, stop off at Newport and see one of the last examples of this method of crossing a river in action.

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Canterbury – 1948 and 2016

As covered in my recent posts, one of the aims of the Festival of Britain was to show that after a long period of war, austerity and rationing there was a brighter future ahead. The other impact of the period since 1939 had been the lack of any opportunity for holidays, to travel and to explore either Great Britain or abroad. The only travel came with being in the armed forces or the associated war effort with the dangers and hard work that these activities involved.

If you were young in the late 1940s and early 1950s travel options were limited, foreign holidays were still some years in the future, British holiday camps were being converted back after years of war use and for most people, any spare cash was in short supply. A relatively cheap option was touring the country by foot or cycling and in this period, membership of organisations such as the Youth Hostel Association and the Cyclist Touring Club reached their peak.

This was the option taken by my father, cycling across both Great Britain and Holland with friends and staying at Youth Hostels. National Service also took him out of London and whether cycling across the country or in the army during National Service, his camera was always with him during this time.

For the month of August, I am going to leave London and return to a sample of the places he visited, and for this week’s post we have travelled into the county of Kent to explore the city of Canterbury.

Canterbury is best known for the Cathedral and the murder of Thomas Becket in the 12th century after which Canterbury was a destination for pilgrims with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales telling a series of tales by each of the pilgrims on their way from London to Canterbury in the 14th century.

It is an old city, the foundation of the See of Canterbury by St. Augustine dates from the year 597 with an earlier Roman town (Durovernum Cantiacorum) occupying the site of an even earlier settlement.

A city wall surrounded the centre of Canterbury, originally the walls of the Roman town with many changes to the build and configuration of the walls and gates in the following centuries. Today, large sections of the wall remain, and it is on the road approaching one of the gates that we will stop and compare the scene.

This is St. Dunstans Street looking towards the Westgate. I will not put any text between these two photos as close together it is possible to see how remarkably similar the view is between 1948 and 2016 – 68 years since my father took the original photo.

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On the left is the Falstaff Hotel. Hopper’s Bakeries next to the Falstaff is now a Coral betting shop. At the end of the street is the Westgate, one of the gates that connected the roads leading into Canterbury with the centre of the city.

Architecturally, the scene has not changed. One difference is the amount of street furniture that now seems to clutter all streets, no matter what town or city you visit. Compare the pavements of the two photos and the empty pavements of 1948 look much better, they are easier to walk and do not detract from the surrounding buildings.

There is a member of the armed forces in the 1948 photo. A few years after the war and it was still very common to see people in uniform walking the streets of the country’s towns and cities.

Another view of the Falstaff Hotel.

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I much prefer the earlier colour scheme to that used today and the sign hanging from the hotel in 1948 was much more representative of the hotel name, Falstaff being Shakespeare’s cowardly knight who spends too much time eating and drinking. Dating from the 15th century and originally called the White Hart the coaching Inn changed to the current name in 1783. The original entrance on the left of the 1948 photo which would presumably have led back to a yard and stables area in now the main reception for the hotel.

At the end of St. Dunstan Street is the Westgate, which has the distinction of being the largest intact city gatehouse in England and the remaining gate of the seven that originally provided access through the city walls. The Westgate dates from around 1380 and is in excellent condition so must have been repaired many times over the intervening centuries but is still a fine example of a medieval gatehouse.

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Pass through the gate and into St. Peter’s Street and this is the view of the Westgate from the other side.

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Canterbury is a wonderful city for walking. The Cathedral and the surrounding streets attract the majority of a very busy tourist trade, however walk down the many side streets with names such as Beer Cart Lane and a quieter Canterbury can be discovered.

The architectural writer, Ian Nairn visited Canterbury in 1960 as part of a trip to a number of British towns and cities for a series of articles for the Listener magazine. These were later published in book form as Nairn’s Towns. He describes Canterbury as the “Happy City”, praising the post war reconstruction of parts of the town with the rebuilt St. George’s Street being described as “a real attempt to match old and new honestly and sensitively” and that “St. George’s Street is not a collection of masterpieces, it is just a street where every building is decent“. The damage to Canterbury was due to the so called Baedeker raids when towns and cities were chosen for their historical and cultural significance with the Baedker name coming from the Baedeker range of guide books. Although there was damage to much of Canterbury and many lives were lost, there was no damage to the Cathedral.

When Nairn returned to Canterbury in 1967 he criticises some of the reconstruction that had been carried out since his earlier visit, and walking round some parts of Canterbury today it is easy to see why, however these areas are the exception and Canterbury is an example of what towns could be like with careful planning.

Walking up from Westgate and taking one of the side streets to the left we approach the Cathedral. In front of the entrance to the Cathedral precincts is the Buttermarket, a small square at the junction of Sun Street, Mercery Lane and Burgate. Writing about his wartime visit to Canterbury, the journalist H.V. Morton wrote in his book “I Saw Two Englands” – “Old streets, like Mercery Lane, cannot have changed much since the Middle Ages in appearance or in their function. They exist to sell cheap souvenirs which prove that the purchaser has been to Canterbury. These shops sold leaden medallions of the head of St. Thomas; now they sell postcards and ash-trays emblazoned with the city arms“. Canterbury has always been a city of pilgrimage and tourism.

On one side of Buttermarket is Christchurch Gate, the entrance to the Cathedral precincts. Originally built between 1504 and 1521, the main changes to the gates were the removal of the tops of the towers in 1803 and the earlier removal of the statue of Christ and the original wooden doors in 1643.

The tops of the towers were rebuilt in 1937 (you can see that they still look very new with sharp edges in my father’s photo from 1948) and the statue of Christ was replaced in 1990, you can see the empty place in the 1948 photo and the new statue in my 2016 photo.

This was the scene in 1948, looking across the square at the Christchurch Gate entrance to the Cathedral and on the right the Cathedral Gate Hotel with a war memorial on the left. My 2016 photo follows.Canterbury 5

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I could not get to exactly the same spot for my 2016 photo as this corner of the square is now covered in tables from the adjacent pub, so the above photo is the nearest I could manage without upsetting too many people drinking and eating. Again, there has been hardly any change in the buildings, the main change is the degree that tourism and the numbers of people visiting Canterbury has impacted the town, however it must bring some prosperity to the town and critically important funds to maintain the Cathedral.

My father did not take any photos of the inside of the Cathedral, however a visit to Canterbury is not complete without a visit to the Cathedral. A church has been on the site since St. Augustines arrival in 597 with the earliest parts of the current Cathedral being built in 1077 and continuing to grow over the following centuries. The nave was completed by the end of the 14th century, the south-west tower in the 15th century and the duplicate of the south-west tower being added in 1832.

Walking into the Cathedral and looking along the length of the nave there is a forest of columns leading the eye to the far end of the church.

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The High Altar with the Trinity Chapel at the back.

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The Trinity Chapel, built over 800 years ago for the shrine of St. Thomas Becket which stood where the single candle burns today. The shrine was in this position from 1220 to 1538 when King Henry VIII ordered its destruction.

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Within the Trinity Chapel are the tombs of King Henry IV who died in 1413.

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And the Black Prince who died in 1376.

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Looking around the Cathedral and there are carvings from across the centuries. If this happened now we would call it vandalism, but seeing a carving made by an individual over 300 years ago provides a link with whoever stood here tracing this out in the fabric of the building.

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My father walked the grounds of the Cathedral which cover a wide area and includes the King’s School and it was whilst walking around the grounds of the school that I found the location of the following photo of the King’s School war memorial.

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The same location today. Apart from the car and the scaffolding seen through the arch to the left, the scene is the same across the 68 years. Look at the square base to the round pillar on the left – the same flints can be seen within the stonework.

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My father also took the following photo within the King’s School grounds, however despite a long walk around the grounds I could not find the location, although I am sure it is still there. It will have to wait for a return visit.

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Outside the city walls is St. Augustine’s Abbey, founded at around the same time as the Cathedral and continuing as a Benedictine Monastery until the dissolution in 1538. During the following 400 years the Abbey buildings were used for a range of different purposes, including a brewery, were part sold, some building were destroyed and finally some considerable damage by bombing in 1942.

A number of the buildings are now used by the King’s School with the rest now under the care of English Heritage.

I ran out of time to visit the Abbey, although my father did visit and took these photos in 1948 and I suspect the Abbey is still much the same.

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In two of my father’s photos from Canterbury were the following of a locomotive. This is the Invicta built by Robert Stephenson in 1829 to run on the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway.

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The Canterbury and Whitstable Railway was the first railway in the world to provide a regular, steam powered passenger service. It opened in 1839 and was also known as the Crab and Winkle Line as it also provided a route for the produce from the fishing town of Whitstable to be taken into the centre of Canterbury.

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The Invicta was fully restored in 1977 and is now in a much more secure location, on display in the Canterbury Heritage Museum.

There is much to see in Canterbury and during a day visit I did not get the opportunity to photograph all the locations in my father’s photos. Too much time spent walking the centre of the town, exploring the Cathedral and the grounds of the Cathedral and school, finding an excellent second hand bookshop and last, but by no means least, an excellent pub.

I will need a return visit to photograph the locations of the following.

The city walls:

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A wider view of the city walls, gardens and cathedral tower.

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Mound and 19th century monument in the Dane John Gardens. The mound is the site of a Norman motte and bailey castle.

Canterbury 11

The Canterbury Heritage Museum. The building in its current form dates from 1373, having been a medieval alms house from about the year 1200. The museum is still much the same as in 1948 and is now the home of the Invicta locomotive.

Canterbury 16

Canterbury is a fantastic city to explore. With some exceptions, the centre of the city has not suffered the level of post war destruction or out of place architecture that has turned many other towns across the country into identical shopping centres. Canterbury is still a town with its own identity.

I still find it strange to stand in almost the same place as my father did 68 years ago and photograph much the same scene as in many of the photos of Canterbury.

Finding out about each of the above photos identified several individual topics that could each fill a large post, for example, the history of the Invicta and the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway is fascinating.

As I found out, Canterbury requires more than a single day to explore and I will be returning to find the sites I did not get to and to discover more of what Ian Nairn called – the Happy City.

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Route 159 – Marble Arch to Shrewsbury

Imagine you are a young Londoner in the late 1940s. Apart from a very brief period being evacuated to the countryside, you spent the whole of wartime in London. National Service then gave you experience of the world outside of London. You want to travel and explore but money is still very tight, international travel is still limited, petrol rationing is still in force, what would you do?

For many Londoners the answer was a bike and the Youth Hosteling Association. Membership of the YHA had reached 100,000 during the war and continued to rise for the first few years after the war due to challenges with travelling outside of the UK and the need for a cost-effective method of travel within the UK.

Cycling magazine had published a series of routes centred on London giving directions and distances across the country. The title of this week’s post is the route covering the 160 miles from Marble Arch to Shrewsbury, route number 159.

Main roads just after the war were very different to roads today. This was before the Motorway network, most long distance goods transport was still via train rather than lorry, and petrol rationing (which did not end until May 1950) restricted the amount of private cars on the road.

So for this week, let’s head out from London, along the old A5 and see how the area around Shrewsbury has changed.

old road

Our first stop is just to the south of Shrewsbury and the ruins of part of the old Roman town of Wroxeter (or ‘Viroconium’), which was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, almost half the size of Roman London. The town was established in around 58AD and lasted for about 500 years during and for sometime after the Roman occupation.

Wroxeter was on Watling Street which started in the channel ports of Dover and Richborough, to London then up-country following a route with parallels to the original A5 (before the current A5 which has been considerably re-routed). Wroxeter also had a quay on the River Severn which gave the town access to the sea.

I would imagine there would have been considerable travel between London and Wroxeter during Roman times.

Much of the town still lies below ground, however the ruins of the Municipal Baths have been excavated and exposed.

This is how they appeared in the late 1940s:

old wroxeter

And in 2014 as an English Heritage site. Much the same as you would expect for something that has already lasted for over 1700 years.

new wroxeter

Leaving Wroxeter, we continue on the old A5 (now the B4380) and cross the River Severn at Atcham. This is an unusual river crossing as whilst a new, wider bridge was built in 1929 to support increasing levels of traffic, the original bridge built in 1774 was left in place and can still be crossed on foot.

My father took the following photo of the original bridge, with the new bridge in the background in the late 1940s. A summer photo with a slow flowing River Severn and a spot of fishing taking place just into the river.

old bridge

Again, the scene is virtually the same today as my 2014 photo shows. Apart from some minor changes to the river bank and the sand banks in the river, nothing has changed, however I did not have the luck of finding someone fishing in the river.

new bridge

Next we reach Shrewsbury, and one of the first landmarks we pass, just prior to crossing the River Severn to enter the main part of Shrewsbury is Shrewsbury Abbey. The following was the late 1940s view of Shrewsbury Abbey:

old shrewsbury cathedral

And the 2014 view from roughly the same position is below:

new shrewsbury cathedral

A few changes to road layout and street furniture, however very similar to the scene some 65 years ago.

The Abbey is close to the River Severn and unfortunately suffers from flooding relatively frequently. The Abbey was founded in 1083 although today only the nave survives from the original Abbey as it suffered much destruction and damage during the dissolution and the post-reformation period and also during the Civil War as Shrewsbury was a Royalist town.

To enter the centre of Shrewsbury we now cross the English Bridge. Again, this was on the original pre-A5 road from London and Thomas Telford used this bridge as part of the route from London to Holyhead for onwards sea travel to Ireland. The bridge is named the English Bridge as it is facing the road route into the heart of England, whilst the bridge on the opposite side of Shrewsbury continuing the road onwards is called the Welsh Bridge as it is facing the onwards route into Wales.

Although the present bridge is a 1926 rebuild of the bridge completed in 1774, a bridge has been on the site for many centuries.

The following is the late 1940s view of the bridge from the side of the River Severn closest to the centre of Shrewsbury:

old english bridge

And the following is my 2014 photo from roughly the same spot. Incredible how, some 65 years later, the view is almost identical.

new english bridge

And now after cycling 160 miles after leaving central London along the original A5 road with light traffic and through some beautiful countryside, we now reach our destination, the centre of Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury is a very historic market town and county town of Shropshire. The centre of Shrewsbury has many timber-framed buildings from the 14th and 15th centuries and a street plan that is largely unchanged since the medieval period.

This is how one of the main road junctions appeared in the late 1940s:

old shrewsbury street

And again in 2014, apart from minor changes, very few differences in some 65 years.

new shrewsbury street

The timbered building in the centre of the picture is Henry Tudor House, built in the early 1400s and originally a collection of different shops and houses. Henry Tudor (Henry VII) sought refuge here on his way to the battle of Bosworth. This is where the Tudor dynasty replaced the Plantagenet dynasty as Henry’s army killed Richard III.

This is recorded by a sign on the front of the building:

plaque shrewsbury

And as proof that many of the original lanes and steps have survived, here is Bear Steps in the late 1940s:

old bear steps

And as they remain in 2014:

new bear steps 1

Although many of the views are very similar over a period of 65 years, as with London, the way of life would change dramatically. Roads, transport, tourism would not be the same again. The days of long distance cycling for pleasure and to experience countryside and towns would be soon long gone.

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