Category Archives: Cycling Around Britain

Clifton Suspension Bridge

In 1952 on one of his cycling trips across the country, my father was in Bristol and took some photos of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

The bridge has been on my rather long list of places to visit, so when tours of the hidden vaults beneath one of the abutments supporting the bridge were announced, I booked, and a couple of weeks ago the day arrived to visit the bridge and take the tour. I even found some very tangible links back to London and the River Thames.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge spans the River Avon from the Clifton area of Bristol to Leigh Woods on the opposite side of the large gorge that the river has cut through limestone rocks.

The first photo is my father’s photo showing the Clifton Suspension Bridge from the side of the River Avon at the bottom of the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

I started my visit to the Clifton Suspension Bridge by walking up from the centre of Bristol to the Clifton end of the bridge. This was the view in 1952:Clifton Suspension Bridge

Sixty five years later and the view is almost identical. A bit less tree cover, and today there are automatic barriers to collect the one pound charge for traffic to cross the bridge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge opened on the 8th December 1864.

The Illustrated London News on the 17th December 1864 covered the opening of the bridge and included some history of the efforts to build the bridge:

“The history of this project is somewhat remarkable. In the year 1753 Alderman Vick, of Bristol, bequeathed to the Society of Merchant Venturers the sum of £1000, directing that such sum should be placed out at interest until it should accumulate and increase to £10,000, when it was to be applied to the building of a stone bridge across the Avon from Clifton-down, in the county of Gloucester, to Leigh-down, in the county of Somerset. this was the origin of the gigantic scheme that has only just now been carried into execution after the lapse of 111 years.

It was at once perceived to be impossible to build a stone bridge across so vast a chasm. For nearly 80 years the £1000 left by Mr Vick was allowed to accumulate; and in the year 1839, when the railway system was beginning to make itself felt, the citizens of Bristol began to think of the old legacy and the possibility of applying it to the purpose for which it was left. At the time the money had increased to £8000 and it was resolved to use the amount as the nucleus of whatever sum might be required to construct the bridge. An Act of Parliament was obtained, and plans were advertised for. The first estimate given for the stone bridge was £90,000, about half of what such a building, if practicable, would cost; so stone was given up for iron, and Telford, the builder of the Menai bridge, and the late Mr Brunel, competed for the honour of giving a design for a suspension bridge. Mr Brunel’s design was preferred. His estimate was £57,000; but when £45,000 had been spent only the towers had been built, and the work came to a stop. His design was a chain bridge of a single span of 700ft, two chains passing over two towers, and being anchored deep in the limestone rocks behind them.

In 1843 all the money was gone, and the scheme was in abeyance for want of funds, and though many propositions were made to the trustees under the old Act of Parliament, the bridge would very likely have been incomplete to this day had not the removal of the Hungerford Bridge become necessary. Mr Brunel, as it happened, had been the engineer of Hungerford Bridge; and when, therefore, its chains had to be pulled down and to give place to the bridge of the Charing-cross Railway, it occurred to Mr Hawkshaw to have them applied to the completion of one of Mr Brunel’s bridge designs. For such a purpose the money was soon forthcoming. A new company, under a new Act and presided over by Mr Huish was started, with a capital of £35,000. The chains of Hungerford Bridge were purchased for £5,000; the stone towers built by Mr Brunel for the old company, for £2000. Two years ago the work of slinging these chains began and the bridge is now finished.”

The Hungerford Bridge referred to was the original Hungerford Bridge that crossed the Thames prior to the construction of Charing Cross Station. The old Hungerford Bridge had to be demolished to allow a railway bridge to be built in its place.

I asked the guide whether all the suspension iron rods were from Charing Cross, he was not sure of the actual number as some new rods had to be made, but many of the rods suspending the deck of the bridge today are the originals from Hungerford Bridge. These rods look out on a very different river to the one they originally spanned.

The following print shows the original Hungerford Bridge and it is clear that the same design principles are used for both this bridge and the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Another of my father’s photos looking along the bridge from the Clifton side:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The same view today. The height of the bridge is very apparent, being 245ft above high water. The banks of the gorge are wooded. The size of the large brick abutment supporting the bridge tower at the Leigh Woods end of the bridge is very apparent. Within this abutment are the chambers that I will be visiting.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

During the construction of the bridge, people and materials needed to be transferred between the two banks of the Avon. To achieve this, a metal rod was pulled across the Avon gorge. From this rod a basket was suspended and was pulled across the gorge by ropes. Given the height of the gorge this must have been a rather dramatic crossing.

A report in the West Kent Guardian on the 3rd September 1836 wrote about one of the events when there was a near disaster when crossing the river by this means:

“In the afternoon of Saturday, several persons were attracted to the spot where the bar crosses the Avon, in consequence of some gentlemen being observed taking a car over the Leighwood side of the river. In a short time it was perceived that this car was being affixed to the iron bar, and in a few moments two young gentlemen entered it, and it was drawn about midway, hanging over the river, here it stopped, owning it is supposed, to their being an obstruction in the bar caused by its fall; the rope by which the car was being drawn was then slackened to a very considerable degree.

The Benledi steam vessel at this time approached, and the mast just caught the rope; a cry of horror was uttered on both shores. The parties on board the steamer not being aware of the circumstance, did not stop the vessel, which proceeded, drawing with it the rope, the bar, and the car. The people on the shore covered their eyes with their hands, and expected every instant to hear the report of the bar breaking, for if this had been the case the young gentlemen would have been precipitated into the river below.

Fortunately, however at this awful crisis one man had sufficient fortitude and presence of mind to cut the end of the rope, and thus let the voyagers free from the steamer, but the car then swung to and fro with the most awful rapidity and a gentleman who was present states that the sight was so dreadful, that it was impossible to give a description of it. After a lapse of some time the car became steady, and the young gentlemen were drawn to the rock in safety. A gentleman then got into it, and was drawn to the same spot. he ascended from the car to the bar, and was apparently engaged in endeavouring to remove the obstruction, but our informant had seen enough and left the spot, assuring us that what he had witnessed had made such an impression on his mind that it was some time before he recovered his self-possession.”

An inscription on the top of the Clifton tower records the start of construction in 1836 and completion in 1864. The iron chains supporting the bridge pass through the tower and roll over a mechanism that allows the chains to move very slightly to avoid undue pressure on the tower.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Plaque on the side of the bridge recording the laying of the original foundation stone. It would be almost three decades before the bridge would be complete.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

There was an extravagant opening of the Clifton Suspension Bridge in 1864. The following drawing shows the crowds assembled for the ceremony.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Illustrated London News recorded the opening ceremony:

“The ceremony of opening the new bridge was attended with much festivity and pomp. There was a procession through the city of Bristol, composed of all the trades and benefit societies, bearing the banners and models illustrative of various callings. This procession, which came early, was immense in numbers, and took nearly three hours to wind through Bristol to the edge of the Clifton ravine, whence they wound down by the ‘zigzag’ to the banks of the Avon. 

There was another and more dignified procession, which came precisely at twelve o’clock to perform the actual ceremony. This procession did not arrive upon the ground till all the spectators and visitors were assembled – that is to say, till the approaches to the bridge were filled, till the heights of Leigh Wood were crowded, and the ledge of steep grey cliffs lined with dense masses of people. 

The opening ceremony was performed by the procession crossing the bridge from Clifton to the Leigh Wood side, amidst a grand salute from the Volunteer Artillery. from the Somerset side the return was made in the same order to the Clifton or Gloucestershire end, when a halt was called in frount of the grand stand erected for visitors; and Captain Huish, the chairman of the company, read a brief address setting forth the history of the undertaking, which was loudly cheered.

The Bishop of Gloucester offered up a prayer; after which, in a few brief words, the Earl of Ducie, for the county of Gloucestershire and the city and county of Bristol, and the Earl of Cork for the county of Somerset, each formally declared the bridge opened to the public for traffic, amidst renewed cheers, which were repeated again and again.

In the course of the afternoon a late dejeuner, or early dinner was given in the Victoria Rooms, to which all the chief visitors and the leading gentry of Bristol and its neighbourhood were invited. 

During the night the bridge was illuminated with the electric light and with Bengal fires.”

The Victorians knew how to open a bridge !

This is the view from the centre of the bridge, looking inland as the River Avon curves around Bristol and heads to Bath.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

From the opposite side of the bridge, the Avon gorge is very apparent. In this direction the river heads towards the River Severn and the Bristol Channel. The A4 is the road that runs along the base of the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

My father took this view from the Clifton end of the bridge, looking down on the road. During my visit, this side of the bridge was closed, so the above photo taken from the Leigh Wood end was the closest I could get.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The view of the bridge from the Leigh Wood side looking back at Clifton. Unlike Leigh Wood, the Clifton tower was built on rock so does not have the very large abutment to be found supporting the Leigh Wood tower.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Leigh Wood tower:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Leigh Wood tower has the Latin inscription SUSPENSA VIX VIA FIT which translates as “A suspended way made with difficulty”. It is also apparently a play on words to record the name of Alderman Vick who made the original £1000 contribution to the bridge in 1753.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

View looking along the bridge from the Leigh Wood end.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Time to enter the chambers beneath the abutment.

It was long assumed that the abutments were solid, however when a builder was replacing paving slabs, he found that the wooden sleepers on which the slabs had been fitted had started to rot and a small hole had appeared. Poking a rod through the hole the builder found a large void underneath.

On descending down the void, they found holes leading off which led into other large chambers and discovered that rather than being solid, the abutment comprised a number of large, vaulted chambers, untouched since the bridge towers had been constructed.

In the photo below, to the right of the seat, just before the start of the shadow there is a manhole cover. This is the location where the discovery was made.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

To gain access to the chambers, an entrance way has been cut into the side of the abutment which is reached by a walk down the side of the abutment, then a short vertical ladder to reach the floor level of the first chamber.

The first sight of the chamber is stunning. A large vaulted chamber, original builders rubble on the floor and stalactites hanging from the ceiling.

The rock on the left is part of the natural rock formation, showing how the abutment and chambers were built onto and around the rock edge of the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

In the above photo you can see a hole in the roof of the chamber. Apparently this was used for access during the completion of the abutment, and then sealed.

On the surface of the bridge, the hole is located roughly at the end of the traffic island, in the centre of the road in the photo below.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

From the first chamber, a small hole leads through to the next chamber:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The first chamber is up against the rocky edge of the gorge, this chamber is at 90 degrees to the first chamber and the wall at the end of this chamber is the wall that faces out from the abutment, across the gorge.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

This is the largest part of the abutment and there are similar chambers on either side and below. In the photo below you can see two round holes, high up on the side walls of the chamber. these lead through to chambers on either side of this chamber.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

View of the access hole to the side chambers:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

There are also lower access holes to the side chambers – it would be a very narrow crawl through these:

Clifton Suspension Bridge

And on the floor there is a ladder leading to the chambers below. When looking at the external view of the abutment, it is hard to believe that there as so many large chambers hidden within.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

On the floor of the chamber there are a number of stalagmites, built up over the decades from the water dripping from above.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge is a superb example of Victorian engineering. Not only highly functional and built to last, but the bridge also looks so good and blends perfectly with the surrounding landscape.

It is surprising how on all my visits to locations outside of London I always find a link with London, and in the case of the Clifton Suspension Bridge a very tangible link, walking across knowing that some of the supporting iron rods had once also supported the deck of the original Hungerford Bridge.

After the tour of the chambers, I climbed the hill at the Clifton end of the bridge to the observatory for a final view of the bridge before heading back down into Bristol.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Clifton Suspension Bridge has an excellent visitor centre and the volunteers who run the tours are really knowledgeable and enthusiastic about this wonderful bridge.

The Clifton Suspension Bridge web site has details of the visitor centre and the hard hat tours of the abutment chambers. It can be found here.

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Chepstow Castle

After visiting the town of Chepstow and the River Wye in last Sunday’s post, in this post I explore Chepstow Castle – one of the earliest Norman castles in the country.

Chepstow Castle is on a large limestone cliff overlooking the river and town. Construction started in 1067, the year after the Battle of Hastings and the coronation of William the Conqueror as King William I.

William had given Chepstow to William Fitz Osbern, the Earl of Hereford and it was William Fitz Osbern who started construction of the castle. The castle passed to William Marshall in 1189 and stayed in the Marshall family until 1245 when the Marshall estates were divided between five daughters with Chepstow going to Maud Marshall and through Maud’s marriage to Hugh Bigod, the 3rd Earl of Norfolk, it passed to the Bigod family.

As the castle passed through various families, it was extended considerably, existing buildings were remodeled and the castle lived a relatively peaceful life until the Civil War.

This is the 1947  view of the castle from across the River Wye. The castle is rather hard to see, but is behind the bridge, on the left bank of the river. The castle from a distance can appear to blend in with the cliffs on which it is built.

Chepstow Castle

And this is the view in 1947 taken from one of the castle towers looking back towards where the above photo was taken.

Chepstow Castle

The same view today. The buildings at both ends of the bridge are the same, however the buildings at the bottom of the 1947 photo have been cleared to make way for a large car park and the visitor centre which are located directly in front of the entrance to the castle.

Chepstow Castle

A 1947 view of the external walls and towers of the castle:

Chepstow Castle

Another view from inside the castle looking over the river and bridge.

Chepstow Castle

The same view today:

Chepstow Castle

My father took these photos during his National Service when he was at an Army base just outside Chepstow, and he was at the castle with a number of his colleagues from the army – there are photos of them in and around Chepstow and the castle, including this one rather precariously sitting on the edge of the cliff lookiing back towards the castle.

Chepstow Castle

The lighting was not ideal in the above photo to show the height of the cliffs on which the castle was built, however this photo shows the height of the cliffs and the sheer vertical ascent above the river.

Chepstow Castle

The setting of Chepstow Castle high on the cliffs over the river has attracted many artists over the centuries to paint and draw different views of the castle. The following painting by the Flemish artist Hendrik-Frans De Cort shows a rather overgrown and ruined castle. The bridge in the background is the version of the bridge prior to the existing bridge.

Chepstow Castle

Cellars underneath the castle provided storage and also access to the river. The following 1947 view is of the large opening from the cellar overlooking the river. From this opening, goods could be winched up from boats on the river below.

Chepstow Castle

The view from the cellar in 2017:

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle was further fortified in the early 15th century to prevent any attacks by Owain Glyndwr, the last Prince of Wales to be a native Welshman, and who led a number of revolts against the rule of Wales by the English.

In the 16th century the castle become more of a home than a castle and was modified for a more comfortable form of living, however it was during the English Civil War in the 17th century that the castle was to see considerable action.

During the Civil War, much of Monmouthshire and South Wales supported Charles I, and Chepstow was the main Royalist base in the area.

Parliament briefly gained control of the castle in 1643, but for the majority of the Civil War the castle remained loyal to the Royalist cause. In 1645 the castle was besieged and surrendered without waiting for a full attack.

In November 1647 whilst being held at Hampton Court Palace, Charles I briefly escaped. News of his escape triggered a number of Royalist rebellions across the country, including at Chepstow where Sir Nicholas Kemeys captured the castle in a surprise attack with 160 soldiers.

On May 11th 1648 Cromwell arrived in Chepstow and captured the town but not the castle. He left part of his army at the castle to commence a siege.

The siege lasted for two weeks, when Kemeys was offered terms for surrender which he refused until only unconditional surrender was offered.

Kemeys realised he could not continue to hold the castle and he arranged to escape by boat, however the boat was seen by Royalist soldiers who captured the boat before Kemeys could escape.

The Parliamentary forces then breached the walls of the castle, and in a last desperate fight, Kemeys was killed. Of his original force, only 40 survived and surrendered.

A plaque on the interior wall of Chepstow Castle records where Sir Nicholas Kemeys met his death.

Chepstow Castle

After the Civil War, Chepstow Castle entered a long period of peace and gradual decay as illustrated by this print from 1787 (©Trustees of the British Museum):

Chepstow Castle

View inside the castle in 1947:Chepstow Castle

Along the top of the ramparts:

Chepstow Castle

View across the castle to the cliffs on the opposite bank of the River Wye. In the bottom right hand corner is the Georgian Castle Terrace (see the photo in last week’s post of the street facing facades of these lovely buildings)

Chepstow Castle

I could not find the exact location that the above photo and the following two photos were taken from, a task that should have been easy given the number of obvious landmarks, however I suspect the point where the above photo was taken is now closed off, and the following two photos may have been taken just outside of the castle on land that rises behind and now looks to be mainly wooded.

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle

Back in Chepstow Castle, the following photo shows the remains of the Great Tower. It originally consisted of a two storey tower built between 1067 and 1115 making this the earliest stone structure in the castle.

Chepstow Castle

It was extended over the years and as the rest of the castle developed, the Great Tower moved from being a purely defensive structure to being ornate private apartments and ceremonial space. The photo below shows some of the decoration that remains within the Great Tower. In the centre there is the remains of a decorated arch. Part of a pair that crossed the width of the hall.

Chepstow Castle

The ornate east doorway to the Great Tower is shown in the photo below. Note the layer of Roman tiles running along the wall and over the arch of the door. There is no evidence of a Roman building on the site of the castle, however there were Roman buildings nearby and the tiles probably came from one of these buildings.

Chepstow Castle

The interior of Marten’s Tower which was built between 1288 and 1293 by Roger Bigod. Possibly intended as a guest suite for a king, it contained grand private rooms on three floors along with a private chapel.

Chepstow Castle

Recent tree ring dating tests have identified a gate that until 1962 still hung at the main castle gateway, as being the oldest castle doors in Europe. Tree ring dating identified the doors as having been made no later than the 1190s. Just image the people that have passed these doors and the events they have witnessed over the almost 800 years that they were in place.

Chepstow Castle

That concludes my all too brief visit to Chepstow Castle, one of the oldest Norman castles in England and Wales, and indeed my visit to Chepstow.

There are more photos from 1947 and 1948 taken in the areas around Chepstow so I hope to return one day and track these down, but I was really pleased that tracking down the locations of the photos in these two posts gave me a reason to visit Chepstow and discover a wonderful town that is really worth a visit.

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Chepstow And The River Wye

In addition to photos of London, my father took lots of photos of the rest of the country whilst cycling and staying at Youth Hostels (a very popular post war pursuit) and during National Service. As well as tracking down all the locations of the London photos, I have a side project to track down this geographically wider set of photos. I have already featured a number of these locations in previous posts and this week I am visiting Chepstow and the River Wye.

These photos were taken in 1947 whilst my father was based with the army near Chepstow as part of his National Service. The post will be in two parts, today covering the town of Chepstow and the River Wye. A mid-week post will visit Chepstow Castle. Construction of the castle started in 1067 which makes Chepstow one of the earliest Norman castles in the country. I will be back in London next Sunday.

The River Wye runs up from the River Severn and here forms the boundary between England and Wales. Chepstow is located in one of the many loops of the River Wye, just on the Welsh side of the river, not far from the River Severn.

The following extract from a 1930s edition of Bartholomew’s Revised Half Inch Contour Maps shows the location of Chepstow. These are wonderful maps, their use of colour to show the height of the land, the typeface used for the lettering and the symbols used for landscape features produced maps that are lovely to look at as well as highly functional.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The River Wye between Goodrich, Monmouth and Chepstow runs through several sections of limestone, with deep valleys, large meanders and densely forested cliffs. Meanders are usually associated with a sluggish river, but this is not so with the Wye. It is a fast running river and also has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world with a range of up to 44 feet (13.4m) at the bridge in Chepstow. Large volumes of water are therefore moved up and down the river each day.

Despite the large tidal range, Chepstow was once a thriving port. The town’s location within the Welsh Marches meant that imports and exports were free from duties to the Crown, providing that the ships did not call at Bristol.

Such was the success of the port of Chepstow that in 1791 there were 31 ships belonging to the town of 2,495 tonnage which grew to 75 ships with a tonnage of 5,782 in 1824.

Trade from Cheptow was with the rest of the UK as well as the Continent and ships from Chepstow carried spirits, wines, wheat, barley, flour, cider, iron, millstones and timber for the navy from the forests that lined the Wye Valley. The level of trade justified a Customs House at Chepstow which was in operation until the mid 1850s. Goods were also transferred from sea going ships at Chepstow onto lighters which would transfer goods further up the River Wye, to towns such as Monmouth, Hereford and Hay on Wye.

The port went into decline after the 1850s, probably due to the arrival of the railway at Chepstow in the same decade. Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s railway bridge across the Wye at Chepstow was a remarkable engineering achievement and whilst a new support structure was put in place in 1962, Brunel’s original cast iron pillars still support the bridge.

Time to take a walk to explore Chepstow and the River Wye. According to my father’s notes all the Chepstow photos were taken over two weekends, the 5th and 6th and the 12th and 13th of July 1947, so I assume these were periods of leave. In the collection there are also many photos of army life at Chepstow, including one of a troop of 18 and 19 year National Service recruits leaving “for a p*** up”, so I am not sure if the inhabitants of a quiet Welsh market town appreciated having the army so close. My visit to Chepstow was on Saturday the 8th July so as close as I could get to being exactly 70 years between the two sets of photos.

I will start just outside the original town, at the entrance to the Town Gate, originally the only landward entry to Chepstow in the walls that surrounded the town and port.

The original town gate was built in the 13th century at the same time as the walls. The gate in place today dates from the 16th century with the usual repairs, part rebuilds and modifications that would be expected for a building in such a prominent position in over 400 years.

On the right of the town gate is the George Hotel. An Inn has been here since the early 17th century however the current building dares from 1899.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The same view today, 70 years later. Mainly cosmetic changes to the buildings. The increase in road traffic is such that traffic lights now control traffic through the town gate.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Walking through the Town Gate takes us into the High Street. This is the view looking up the High Street back towards the gate.

Chepstow And The River Wye

And looking down the High Street from the same position. These two photos show the slope of the land as it descends down towards the River Wye.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Thankfully Chepstow retains the feel of a local town with individual businesses rather than being overrun with national chains, although one national coffee chain has established a prominent position at the bottom of the High Street.

Along the High Street, I found a connection with London, although a rather derogatory reference:

Chepstow And The River Wye

The text is from a poem by the Rev. E. Davies:

Unlike the flabby fish in London sold,
A Chepstow Salmon’s worth his weight in gold,
Crimps up delightful to the taste and sight,
In flakes alternate of fine red and white,
Few other rivers such fine Salmon feed,
Nor Taff, nor Tay, nor Tyne, nor Trent, nor Tweed.

The earliest references to this poem I have found are from the early 19th Century so this was written at a time when salmon were relatively abundant in the River Wye at Chepstow. Salmon numbers have fluctuated considerably over the centuries, periods of over fishing and poaching as well as environmental factors have contributed to reductions in numbers however salmon seem to recover well and the 1960s and 70s were record decades with salmon weighing in excess of 30lbs and measuring over 4ft long being caught and over 6,000 being caught each year in the late 1980s.

Salmon numbers plummeted dramatically soon after so by 2002 only 357 salmon were caught. Numbers are gradually recovering and in 2016 there was a spring catch of over 500 as salmon returned to the river in numbers not seen for 20 years.

I did not get a chance to try a Chepstow salmon so cannot compare with the flabby fish in London.

From the High Street, I walked into Middle Street and immediately along the pedestrianised St. Mary Street.

This is the view looking up St. Mary Street. The Chepstow Bookshop is on the left of this street – a brilliant independent bookshop where I bought a couple of books on the history of the area.

Chepstow And The River Wye

At the end of St. Mary Street is Upper Church Street and this was the view in 1947:

Chepstow And The River Wye

And the same view in 2017 which stupidly I took in landscape rather than the portrait format of the original.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Again the scene is much the same with only cosmetic differences. There is however one remarkable difference between the two. All my photography of street scenes and buildings today are generally plagued by cars. Roadside parking and street traffic generally obstructing the view of a building or scene, however in the above pair of photos there are three cars in 1947 and nothing in 2017. Traffic in Chepstow is much lighter than London and I was lucky that there was no parking in the marked bay in front of me, but it did seem strange not to be trying to take a photo in between parked and passing traffic.

Staying in the same position as the above two photos, but turning to look in the opposite direction is this large old building in Bridge Street at the end of Upper Church Street.

Chepstow And The River Wye

These are the Powis Alsmhouses. The plaque above the door states that the almshouses were built following an endowment in 1716 from Thomas Powis, a Vintner from Enfield in Middlesex for six poor men and six poor women of the town and parish. His connection with Chepstow is that he was born in the town. The cellars underneath the almshouses were used by wine merchants during the 18th century.

The almshouses are now Grade II listed and the following photo shows the full building, which again is little changed from 1947.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Above the plague there is a sundial projecting from the edge of the roof. This was also in the 1947 photo.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Bridge Street, as the name suggests is the road that leads down to the original bridge over the River Wye, linking Chepstow to England. One side of the street is lined by 3 storey houses. This is Castle Terrace and consists of an unbroken row of 14 Georgian houses built between 1805 and 1822. The rear of the houses look out onto the castle. They are also Grade II listed.

Chepstow And The River Wye

At the end of Bridge Street is the bridge over the River Wye. This was the view in 1947 a short distance on the bridge looking back towards Chepstow.

Chepstow And The River Wye

70 years later the view is much the same.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The building at the end of the bridge surrounded by scaffolding was the Bridge Inn, a Grade II listed pub, however the pub has now closed and the building is being converted into a cafe, shop and apartments. Just one of the twenty one pubs that are closing each week according to a Campaign for Real Ale report.

The bridge provides a very dramatic view of the River Wye and Chepstow Castle. This is the 1947 view with a high tide showing the full width of the river.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Similar view in 2017 – rather more ornate lights have replaced the 1947 versions.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The tidal range of the River Wye at Chepstow is one of the largest in the world. The lowest astronomical tide is 1.2m and the highest is 14.6m giving a maximum tidal range of 13.4m (44 ft). The highest tidal range of 16.2m is at the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada, 15m at Ungava Bay in north eastern Canada, followed by 14.7m across the Severn Estuary, then Chepstow at 14.6m.

The following photo was taken as the tide was receding – low tide had not yet been reached. Tide height can be seen by the height of the mud banks and also by the tide line on the cliffs in the distance.

Chepstow And The River Wye

There is a much later road bridge carrying the A48 into Chepstow, however this is the original road bridge.

Chepstow And The River Wye

There has been a bridge on the site since the 13th century, the first built of wood and with a central stone arch it was subject to frequent damage requiring a ferry to provide transport across the river until it was repaired. There was also an earlier Roman bridge further upstream.

The current bridge was built between 1815 and 1816 and is the largest remaining iron arch bridge built prior to 1830. The original Ironbridge in Shropshire is about 35 years older but is a shorter bridge than the one at Chepstow.

The bridge was designed and built by John Urpeth Rastrick – an engineer who has been rather overshadowed by the likes of Brunel and Thomas Telford.

Born in 1780 in Morpeth, Northumberland, Rastrick built steam engines, including the first engine to be run in the USA. He was the chairman of the judging panel for the Rainhill Trials in 1829 where 5 engines competed along a mile of track at Rainhill. Stephenson’s Rocket was the only engine to complete the trials. He was also the engineer for the extension of the London to Brighton railway from Croydon to Brighton.

If you look back at the map at the top of the post, the bridge carried the A48 across the River Wye and was the only road bridge to cross this section of the river. Also, if you follow the River Wye down to where it meets the River Severn you can see there is a ferry at Beachley. This was long before the Severn road crossings were built and the only route across was via the ferry or a long detour via Gloucester.

The bridge has a very elegant design and looks remarkable during a very high tide when the water fully covers the concrete piers and the white arches appear to be floating on the water.

As well as the high tide, the Wye has been known to flood. In the photo below there is a plaque at the bottom of the white pillar at the end of the railings. The plaque marks the high tide level on the 17th October 1883.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The River Wye is home to a growing population of salmon, and there have been very occasional sightings of seals who have come up from the River Severn to hunt fish. Remarkably on the day of my visit there was a seal hunting for fish in the muddy water slightly downstream of the bridge.

Chepstow And The River Wye

A short distance from the bridge, there is a small wine bar / restaurant along the banks of the Wye. A July day with a beer and some food sitting outside along the banks of the River Wye was hard to beat.

Directly opposite are these limestone cliffs. There is a large, square hole in the cliffs. This opens out onto a much larger chamber. There are a number of possible origins and use of the chamber, one of the most credible uses was to unload and provide a temporary storage place for goods that could not be unloaded from ships at the shallower wharves across the river.

If you look just below and to the right of the hole is a Union Jack. This was originally painted in 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of King George V. The flag has been repainted a number of times since.

Chepstow And The River Wye

The tide mark for a high tide is very visible in the above photo and in January 2014 heavy rains and flooding caused the River Wye to reach above the flag.

My father took the following photo from the top of the cliffs shown in the above photo, looking back onto Chepstow and the River Wye. I tried to get up to the same spot, however housing seems to have been built along the cliff and I could not find the same view point, although I was by then short of time, so an excuse for another visit.

Chepstow And The River Wye

There are rows of benches along the river’s edge in the above photo. Then as today, this is a lovely place to sit on a summer’s day and watch the rise and fall of the tides.

I assume the following photo was from around the same spot as the above. This is looking downstream and the railway bridge across the river can be seen on the left. The white painted building towards the right of the photo facing the river is now the Riverside Wine Bar. The photo again gives a good view of the tidal range at Chepstow.

Chepstow And The River Wye

Chepstow and the River Wye is a wonderful place to visit and I was really pleased that tracking down the locations of the old photos provided the motivation to make the journey. There was much more to see – I will cover the castle in my next post, however the town also has a museum (which I did not get time to visit), there are long walks along the River Wye and Chepstow has some excellent pubs and restaurants (one of which I did get the time to visit).

From London, Chepstow is roughly a three hour train journey, or by car, straight down the M4 then turn right after crossing the River Severn – it is well worth the journey.

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Salisbury – Poultry Cross, High Street Gate And Cathedral

As long term readers will known, as well as London, my father also took lots of photos outside of London during National Service and through the only realistic travel option to see the country in the post war period – cycling between Youth Hostels.

There are a limited number of photos from each place visited, film was expensive and there was not much storage space when you were cycling away from home for several weeks. As well as the London photos, I am also trying to identify and visit the locations of all these photos.

Therefore, for this week’s post I am travelling down to Salisbury.

Salisbury is a cathedral city in Wiltshire, located at the point where several rivers meet to join the River Avon. The cathedral is the focal point of the city, a beautiful medieval building with the highest spire in the country.

Although part of Salisbury has suffered from the mania of a few decades ago to rebuild city centres with pedestrianised shopping centres, much of Salisbury has survived and it does still retain the feel of a small country town.

My father cycled through Salisbury in 1949, whilst cycling from London to Cornwall and stopping at Youth Hostels along the way. The route has already passed through Winchester and Stonehenge and Salisbury was a short distance to cycle further south.

The first photo is of the Poultry Cross. Salisbury originally had four crosses, each marking the location where specific market produce was sold. As well as the Poultry Cross there was a Cheese Cross, a third cross marked the location for the sale of wool and a fourth cross, Barnwell Cross marked the location for the sale of livestock.

The Poultry Cross is the only surviving one of the four crosses. The first mention of a cross being here was in 1307 and the first written record of the name occurs in the following century.

The core of the cross is the original, the side wall, buttresses and canopy are later additions. There is a J.M.W. Turner painting of the cross from around 1800 which shows just the central cross and the side walls. The painting can be found here.

The Salisbury Poultry Cross in 1949:

Salisbury

And a view of the cross from the same location in 2017:

Salisbury

There have been minor changes to the surrounding buildings and the street in my father’s photo (Butcher Row that runs in the lower part of the photo from left to right) has now been pedestrianised.

Salisbury Cathedral is enclosed within a large space, part of which is the Cathedral Close. The entrance to the Close from the High Street is through the High Street Gate. This was built between 1327 and 1342 and is still in use as a gate, being closed at 11pm and opened at 6am. As well as controlling access to the Cathedral Close, the gate also housed a small lock-up for those committing a crime in the cathedral grounds.

View of the High Street Gate in 1949 from the Cathedral Close looking back towards the High Street:

Salisbury

The same view 68 years later:

Salisbury

The Cathedral Close leads into the grounds surrounding the cathedral. The western front to Salisbury Cathedral in 1949:
Salisbury

And the same view on a summer’s day in 2017:

Salisbury

Construction of Salisbury Cathedral started in 1220 in order to build a new church to replace the one at Old Sarum that had been built just after the Normal invasion in the centre of an Iron Age hill fort just a few miles to the north. The cathedral was consecrated in 1258 and rest of the cathedral (with the exception of the spire) completed by 1266.

Given that Salisbury Cathedral has been here for almost 800 years, the 68 years between my father’s photo and my visit is a relatively very short period of time. Standing here it does make you think about all the generations who have also looked at the same view of the cathedral.

The tower and spire were built between 1300 and 1320, and the spire is the highest cathedral spire in England at 404 feet. The spires of Lincoln Cathedral and St. Paul’s Cathedral were originally higher, but as both these buildings have since lost their spires, Salisbury Cathedral now holds the record.

The tower and spire of Salisbury Cathedral:

Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral is a wonderful example of a medieval church, historically and architecturally impressive both inside and out. After a walk around the church it was time to explore inside.

The view along the Nave towards the west frount of the cathedral:

Salisbury

Turning round from the position of the above photo and this is the view of the Quire with the Altar at the far end:

Salisbury

Named seating along the side of the Quire:

Salisbury

Salisbury Cathedral originally included a stand alone Bell Tower located between the Cathedral and the High Street Gate. The Bell Tower was demolished in 1792 and the original clock within the tower that dates from around 1386 was moved to the main cathedral building and worked in the cathedral tower until 1884. It was then stored, but rediscovered in 1929 when it was moved into the main body of the church. Repair work was needed in 1956 and following completion it was moved to its current position from where it has been in continuous operation.

The clock can still be seen in the cathedral, possibly the oldest working clock in existence:

Salisbury

18th century weather vane:

Salisbury

The artist and illustrator Rex Whistler lived in the Cathedral Close until his untimely death at the age of 39 whilst leading his troop of tanks into action on the Normandy Beaches in 1944.

A memorial to Rex Whistler in the form of an engraved prism can be found within the cathedral. The prism was engraved by Rex’s brother Laurence who died in the year 2000.

Salisbury

There is so much about the cathedral that can be classed as the finest remaining medieval example of its kind. This includes the tomb of Giles de Bridport who was the Bishop at Salisbury at the time of the cathedral’s consecration in 1258. He died in 1262 and his 13th century tomb is still well preserved in the cathedral.

Salisbury

During my visit to Salisbury Cathedral, the cathedral library was open for a small art exhibition, which was good however I always love seeing old books. The oldest book held by the library dates from the 9th century.

Salisbury

Many of the books were originally chained. This method of securing books is not is use today, although the original chains are still stored in the library.

Salisbury

Entrance to the library through a small circular staircase from the ground floor.

Salisbury

Wood to build the bookcases was donated by Henry VIII, although his bust at the top corner of the door in now obscured by the edge of one of these bookcases. I suspect he would not be pleased.

Salisbury

The Chapter House of the cathedral had on display Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of the original 1215 Magna Carta. This is apparently the best of the four remaining copies and is protected within a small viewing gallery in the centre of the Chapter House so that the copy is protected from light. I have not seen the other three copies, however the copy on display is very well preserved and fascinating to see a document of such age and importance.

Salisbury

The roof of the Chapter House:

Salisbury

The Cloisters that run around an enclosed garden also add to Salisbury Cathedral’s list of records as they are apparently Britain’s largest Cloisters, and having walked along all sides I was in no position to argue.

Salisbury

Leaving the cathedral, I walked back through the Cathedral Close to see the other side of the High Street Gate.

Salisbury

The view down the High Street provides the impression of a small town decked out for summer.

Salisbury

Salisbury today has an affluent feel, although this has not always been the case for the many visitors who have descended on the city. Writing in 1934. J.B. Priestley in English Journey describes his arrival in Salisbury:

“So we descended upon Salisbury. Once in the city, I could not see the cathedral, but I saw the Labour Exchange and, outside it, as pitiful a little crowd of unemployed as ever I have seen. No building cathedrals for them, poor devils: they would think themselves lucky if they were given a job helping to build rabbit-hutches. We ran into the big square, into which coaches like ours were coming from all quarters, and anchored off Oatmeal Row.”

At the end of the High Street, turning right into Silver Street takes me back to the Poultry Cross.

Salisbury

I walked past the cross, along the now pedestrianised Butcher Row, then into Fish Row (wonderful names that indicate the trades that once worked in these streets),

It was in Fish Row that I found a connection to London, a plaque commemorating the dash by Lieutenant John Richard Lapenotiere from Falmouth to London in November 1805 to inform the Admiralty of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson.

The plaque records that it took 37 hours to cover the 271 miles between Falmouth and London with 21 changes of horse, Salisbury being the 14th change of horse on the afternoon of the 5th November 1805.

Salisbury

There are apparently many more plaques marking the route taken by Lieutenant Lapenotiere from Falmouth to London including a number of plaques in London which I have not noticed before, however the wonderful London Remembers site has found them.

My visit to Salisbury was all too brief, it is a fascinating city which deserves more time. I shall have to return, however I am pleased to have found three more of my father’s photos outside of London.

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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.

Forth Bridge 1

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.

Forth Bridge 2

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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My father took the train across and there are few photos taken from the train window. 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.

Forth Bridge 11

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.

Edinburgh 7

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.

Edinburgh 8a

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).

Edinburgh 8

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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Edinburgh 10

Edinburgh 10a

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.

Edinburgh 11

Edinburgh 11a

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

Edinburgh 12

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.

Edinburgh 12a

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.

Edinburgh 1a

Edinburgh 2

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.

Edinburgh 2a

Edinburgh 3

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.

Edinburgh 3a

Edinburgh 4

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.

Edinburgh 4a

Edinburgh 5

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.

Edinburgh 5a

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.

Edinburgh 6

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.

Edinburgh 14a

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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.

Edinburgh 17a

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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.

Edinburgh 18a

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View looking down the length of Princes Street.

Edinburgh 19a

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And another pair of views along Princes Street.

Edinburgh 20a

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.

Edinburgh 21a

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.

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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.

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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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