Category Archives: Cycling Around Britain

Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill – 1949 and 2021

Regular readers will know that as well as London, my father also took very many photos whilst cycling around the country during the late 1940s and early 1950s. For a mid-week post, I am visiting the location of one of those photos, which tells an interesting story of how land has been reclaimed, and the uses to which we have put that land. This is the view of Portsmouth from Portsdown Hill in 1949:

Portsdown Hill

The same view in 2021:

Portsdown Hill

There are a couple of details that confirm that this is the same view. Both photos have the electricity cables on the right disappearing over the edge of the hill, and in the distance the profile of the Isle of Wight is the same.

The location is important for the rest of the post. The following map is a wider view of the area. The Isle of Wight is lower left, the water is the Solent, the channel leading up to the top left corner is Southampton Water. Portsmouth is the block of land with water on both sides, in the centre of the map  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Portsdown Hill

The following map is an extract from the above map, with the red circle marking the location from where both photos were taken  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Portsdown Hill

Portsmouth can be considered as an island as it is surrounded by water on all sides. Portsmouth Harbour to the west, Langstone Harbour to the east, the Solent to the south, and around the north of the island there is a narrow channel of water.

It is not very clear from the above map, but the place from where both photos where taken is on a hill. Portsmouth is generally flat and low lying with a maximum height of 6 metres. Directly behind Portsmouth is a chalk hill, known as Portsdown Hill, running east to west. The height at the location of the photo is 101 metres, so considerably higher than Portsmouth as illustrated in the photos.

Portsdown Hill is part of the geologic feature called the Portsdown Anticline.

An anticline forms when the ground has been compressed from two sides, and the compression causes the land to rise and fall. An anticline is the part where the land has risen and a syncline is where the land falls. The following diagram illustrates the concept of an anticline and syncline.

Portsdown Hill

The sides of an anticline sometimes erode over time, and also become exposed due to human activities, which has happened to the chalk of the Portsdown anticline, which I will show later in the post.

The anticline / syncline model explains much about the landscape of this part of southern England, with the hills on the Isle of Wight in the photo being part of the Sandown anticline, the ripples of anticlines and synclines forming the landscape up to Petersfield and Winchester, and further north, the Hog’s Back in Surrey, before flattening out to form the London Basin.

Human activity is often very visible with the construction of roads, housing, factories and warehouses, and in the two photos from Portsdown Hill we can see the impact of another form of human activity which has had a considerable impact on the waters of Portsmouth Habour since my father’s 1949 photo.

In the 1949 there is a large area of water in the foreground. In the 2021 photo this has disappeared. The following map extract shows the area in 1962. Again, the red circle indicates where the photos were taken from.

There is a large island (Horsea Island) in the north east part of Portsmouth Harbour (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Portsdown Hill

In the 1970s the area of land between Horsea Island and the mainland was reclaimed. The following map shows the reclaimed area.

Portsdown Hill

Comparing the above map, with the map of the area in 2021 earlier in the post will show that the reclaimed area has been used for the M27 motorway, the M275 into Portsmouth, construction of Port Solent marina, along with housing, shopping, entertainment and buildings for marine businesses.

One large part of the reclaimed land was used as a landfill area for household waste. The area destined for landfill is shown in the above map highlighted in blue.

Even though the decision was made in the 1970s, it is still surprising that such a marine environment would be used for landfill. A number of old landfill sites on the coast are already, or at risk of erosion. This is already happening at an old landfill site on the Thames at East Tilbury.

The Portsmouth landfill site closed in 2006, and the site has now been grassed over, although vents can be seen protruding from the ground to vent the gasses from the decaying materials below.

I have marked up my father’s 1949 photo with some of the key features, including the area that would become landfill.

Portsdown Hill

The masts are part of a navy wireless station that occupied much of Horsea island. The island also had a torpedo testing range, which can still be seen as the long channel of water in the 2021 map earlier in the post.

The torpedo testing range was the result of earlier human intervention. Horsea Island was originally two islands – Great and Little Horsea. The admiralty purchased the islands in 1885, and they were merged into a single island using chalk excavated from Portsdown Hill. The enlarged island provided the space for the torpedo testing range which was eventually extended to a length of 1,000 yards.

The following photo from the same location shows the old landfill site as the large grass mound in the centre of the photo.

Portsdown Hill

The Isle of Wight can be seen across the Solent and there is a tower rising to the right of the taller buildings of central Portsmouth.

This tower is the Spinnaker Tower located on the Portsmouth Harbour waterfront at Gunwharf Quays.

Spinnaker Tower Gunwharf Quays

Gunwharf Quays is now a retail and entertainment complex, built on the site of HMS Vernon, an old part of Portsmouth’s naval base, and an area focusing on mine warfare and the development of torpedoes which provides a link with Horsea Island. HMS Vernon was decommissioned in 1986.

Construction of Gunwharf Quays started in 1998. It was a complex engineering and construction process as much of the new site would be built over tidal mudflats and one of the largest marine decks in Europe was built to support much of the new building.

Construction of the Spinnaker Tower started in late 2001, based on a design chosen from three designs put to a vote by the residents of Portsmouth. The design is intended to emulate the billowing out of a spinnaker sail to reflect Portsmouth’s marine heritage.

At the top of the Spinnaker Tower is a viewing gallery, which I visited a number of years ago. The height of the tower provides a spectacular view over the surrounding area. In the following photo, the view is back towards Portsdown Hill and I have marked the site of the 1949 photo with a red arrow.

Portsmouth Harbour

The white of the exposed chalk can be seen just to the right of the arrow, with a much larger area to the left. This is the underlying chalk of Portsdown Hill which has been exposed by both weathering and erosion over time, as well as human quarrying.

The Portsmouth naval base as well as the historic dockyard occupy much of the foreground of the photo.

The large ship nearest to the camera is HMS Warrior. Built in 1860, HMS Warrior was powered by both steam and sail, and was Britain’s first iron hulled, armoured naval warship. The most technologically advanced ship of her time.

Follow up from the funnels of HMS Warrior and HMS Victory can also be seen. The Historic Dockyard is also home to the Mary Rose, the flagship of King Henry VIII, which sank in the Solent in 1545, and raised from the seabed in 1982.

Looking in the opposite direction, the Spinnaker Tower provideds a superb view over the Solent and the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

Portsmouth Harbour

In the above photo, the area to the left of the harbour entrance is called Portsmouth Point, also known as Spice Island.

Today, there are a couple of brilliant pubs facing onto the harbour entrance, however in the past, Portsmouth Point / Spice Island had a reputation for drunkness, prostitution and crime, with press gangs roaming the streets.

Thomas Rowlandson produced the following satirical print of Portsmouth Point in 1814.

The view is looking out towards Portsmouth Harbour where numerous ships are moored or with their sails up. General confusion and chaos reigns on the Point with sailors just returned or about to leave (a sailor is saying goodbye to his family in the doorway on the right, whilst in the window above an officer is looking towards the harbour with his telescope).

The power station chimney seen in the 1949 photo was just to the left of the above photo, the area is now covered with housing.

Portsmouth harbour opens out into the Solent, the water that runs around the north of the Isle of Wight.

Although the Isle of Wight is now an island, this was not always the case. The Solent was once part of a large river system that drained part of southern England, including Portsmouth, Langstone and Chichester Harbours, along with Southampton Water.

The west of the Isle of Wight was connected to Dorset during the time of the Solent river system, however the land was breached around 7,000 years ago as sea levels rose following the end of the last glacial period and melting of large sheets of ice.

There is so much history to be discovered around Portsmouth. In the above photo, there are some round objects visible in the sea to the left of the photo. These are what have become known as Palmerston Forts, or Palmerston Follies:

Palmerston Forts

These were built between 1865 and 1880 following a Royal Commision that raised concerns regarding the risk of a French invasion. They were intended to defend Portsmouth from an attack from the east.

They were named after Lord Palmerston who was Prime Minister at the time, and who championed the idea of the forts. They became known as Palmerston Follies as they were never used as a French invasion never materialised, and they quickly became outdated following advances in weapons technology.

Three additional land based forts were also built along Portsdown Hill which can still be seen when travelling along the road that runs along the top of the hill.

The following print from 1823 shows a view from Portsdown Hill, further to the west of my father’s 1949 photo (© The Trustees of the British Museum).

Portsdown Hill

There is a tower like structure in the centre of the print, which can also be seen to the right of the 1949 photo. The tower is the Norman keep of Portchester Castle at the northern end of Portsmouth Harbour.

Portchester Castle was originally a Roman fort, built in the 3rd century as one of a number of shore forts to defend the area against Saxon raids.

The old Roman fort seems to have been occupied from the ending of the Roman period to the Norman conquest, when the site became a Norman castle, with a 12th century keep. The castle continued to be in use and further fortified due to its strategic position, and what seems to have been an almost continuous threat of invasion by the French.

Charles I sold the castle to a local landowner in 1632, and for periods during the next two centuries, the castle was rented to the Government as a prison to hold prisoners of war, including during the Napoleonic wars of 1793 to 1815, when the castle was home to thousands of prisoners.

Portchester Castle is still owned by descendants of the landowner who purchased the castle from Charles I, and is now managed by English Heritage.

Portchester Castle from the air, facing onto Portsmouth Harbour:

Portchester Castle

Some of the prisoners left their mark with graffiti on the castle stone:

Portchester Castle

The view from Portsdown Hill has changed considerably since 1949, however the view still includes a fascinating sweep of historical and geological time, and there is far more to be discovered than I have been able to cover in a single post. The view tells the story of how the land developed, and what we have done with that land.

The 1949 photo was taken by my father on one of his cycling trips out of London, Youth Hostelling with friends from National Service. Other locations I have so far covered on this route along the south of England include:

Chichester Market Cross And The First Fatal Railway Accident

Salisbury – Poultry Cross, High Street Gate And Cathedral and,

Winchester and Stonehenge

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74 Miles from London

Before getting into this week’s post, can I thank readers for all the feedback on last week’s post, and the mystery building to the left of the National Theatre. This was identified as the curved riverside end of a multi-storey car park and some of the comments included links to photos which clearly show the overall building, and the end wall that was in my photo.

The building partly visible behind this structure was the London warehouse of HMSO and also the Cornwall Press print works. This building can still be found along Stamford Street, and is  now part of King’s College.

Again, my thanks for all the feedback.

Now for today’s post. I have always been interested in London’s relationship with the rest of the country. Frequently, this is seen as a negative. The north / south divide, London getting the majority of available infrastructure investment, higher wages in the city etc.

London’s central role in the country started many hundreds of years ago with the founding of the Roman City of London, located on a crossing point on the Thames, and where the new city was accessible from the sea.

Roads spread out from London, and the city became a cross roads for long distance travel. This was accentuated with the city becoming the centre for Royal and Political power, the Law and also a centre for trade and finance.

Look at a map of the country today, and the major roads that run the length and breadth of the country still start in London (A1 – London to Edinburgh, A2 – London to Dover, A3 – London to Portsmouth, A4 – London to Bath and Bristol, A5 – London to Holyhead).

Many of these major roads have been upgraded and follow new diversions, but their general routes have been the same for many hundreds of years. These A roads have now been mirrored by a similar network of Motorways.

The railway network follows a similar approach, with the main long distance routes running across the country to stations in London – (Waterloo, Liverpool Street, Euston, Paddington, St Pancras, Kings Cross etc.).

There are still tangible reminders to be found across the country’s roads that London has long been a destination for long distance routes, and in this post I will explore examples from around the counties close to London, starting with this 18th century milestone to be found in Southampton, indicating that it is 74 Miles from London.

Milestone

A number of these milestones can still be found in central London. There is a very fine example on the side of the Royal Geographical Society at the junction of Kensington Gore and Exhibition Road:

Milestone

This rather fine example, with pointing hands, dates from 1911, with Hyde Park Corner being the London point from where distances have been measured.

Milestone

To get really geeky, on the same wall as the above milestone, there is another marker that was used to measure the country. Loads of these can be found across London, and in the days before GPS they had an important role with accurately mapping and surveying the country.

This is a benchmark.

Milestone

It was used during the 1931 to 1934 re-levelling of Greater London, when the height of the city above the Newlyn reference point in Cornwall was measured. The flush bracket rather appropriately on the side of the Royal Geographical Society was on a survey line from Staines to the British Museum, and was levelled at a height of 67.8260 feet [20.6734 metres] above mean sea level at Newlyn.

This was how the Ordnance Survey were able to show all the contour height lines on their maps.

The above milestone measured the distance to Hyde Park Corner, and before there was any standard for where distances to London should be measured, routes usually used the first point at the boundary of the city that the route reached.

The Mayflower pub in Rotherhithe has a milestone set into the wall of the building.

Milestone

This example indicates a distance of 2 miles to London Bridge, which would have been the entry point to the City of London.

Milestone

The 1894 Ordnance Survey map shows the Mayflower milestone marked as M.S. to the front of the pub (P.H.) in the following map extract, and includes the distance to London Bridge.

Milestone

For centuries, London Bridge was the main crossing point from south of the River Thames into the City of London, and then to the northern routes which stretched out from the City, There is another fine example of a distance marker in Rochester, Kent where, on the front of this 1928 building above the word Furniture:

Milestone

Is this example, indicating a distance of 29 miles from London Bridge.

Milestone

Although the building dates from 1928, it replaced an earlier milestone or wall sign, as the OS map revision of 1896 shows a marker and distance of 29 miles at the same spot as the above building. This is circled red in the extract below (‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’).

Milestone

Milestones marked the long distance routes from London. Camberley in Surrey is on the road that now has the designation of the A30. This was originally the main London to Exeter road.

The following photo shows the A30 at the eastern boundary of Camberley. Traffic lights, road signs, a car dealers – all the signs of 21st century travel, but look to the lower left of the photo and an old stone can be seen.

Milestone

Indicating 29 miles to London. If you were a coach traveler from Exeter, bumping along poorly maintained roads for many hours, you would be counting down these milestones till you reached your destination.

Milestone

As well as London, the milestone indicates the next village, town, turnpike boundary etc. that would be found on the route. These are shown on the side of the milestone facing traffic heading in the destination of the name. So, for example, Bagshot is on the opposite side of the milestone to the town of Bagshot as if you were travelling to Bagshot you would see the name and distance as you were heading to the town.

Coach travelers passing the above milestone would have to tolerate a very tough journey. In 1790, the typical times for a journey from London to Exeter would be:

  • Leave London at 8pm
  • Arrive Bagshot at 11:55 pm
  • Arrive Salisbury at 7:15 am
  • Thirty minute stop in Salisbury for breakfast
  • Arrive Blandford at 10:45 am
  • Arrive Dorchester at 12:55 pm
  • Thirty minute stop in Dorchester for dinner
  • Arrive in Honiton at 6:40 pm
  • Arrive in Exeter at 8:50 pm

So if you were traveling the full journey from London to Exeter, you would have been on the coach for 24 hours, 50 minutes, covering a distance of 179 miles. We can now fly from London to Australia in the same time.

In the days before any form of electronic communication, these long distance routes supported mail coaches, and individual riders who were carrying important news and information to and from London.

A good example of this is commemorated by a plaque to be seen in Salisbury which commemorates the route taken by Lieutenant John Richards Lapenotiere in October 1805 when he brought the news of the Battle of Trafalgar, and the death of Nelson from Falmouth in Cornwall to London. A journey that took 37 hours to cover the 271 miles with 21 changes of horse.

Milestone

Although Camberley is not mentioned on the map, Hartford Bridge and Bagshot are listed. These are the two locations shown on the Camberley milestone, so Lieutenant Lapenotiere would have passed along the same road carrying the news to London.

Signs indicating distance took many forms. In Wroxton, Oxfordshire, there is an unusual example:

Milestone

This 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 it breaks from the road and heads to the south of Banbury.

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.

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

This would have been the route to travel between London and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Milestone

As well as milestones and guide posts, the first printed route maps were of the strip map form showing the full route of a road from source to destination. John Ogilby was one of the first to produce this type of map in the 17th century and the following is one of his maps showing the route from Chester to Holyhead, one map of a sequence showing the complete route from London to Holyhead (Attribution: John Ogilby (1600–1676), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Ogiby map includes the incremental distance in miles marked along the road, and milestones would have provided physical verification as the traveler passed along the road.

Many routes out of London still have lots of milestones tracking the distance from London.

This is the village of Ingatestone in Essex.

Milestone

Ingatestone was on the original London to Colchester road, and has now been bypassed by the dual carriageway of the A12. In the centre of the village is a Grade II listed milestone from when the road was a turnpike and carried traffic from London to north Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.

Milestone

23 miles to London, 6 miles to Chelmsford and 5 miles in the direction of London to Brentwood.

Milestone

The passing coach trade was often a reason for the expansion of villages on major roads, as they needed Inns and horse changes to serve the coaches.

Today, if a house for sale is close to a train station with a good service to London, it will increase the value of the property, and estate agents will emphasise the fact in their advertising. This was exactly the same in 1822, when the following advert appeared in the Morning Post:

“Stock Lodge, near Ingatestone, Essex – To be Let, handsomely Furnished or Unfurnished, for a term of five or seven years. The above healthy and cheerful Villa Residence, erected within these five years, for the reception of a Family of respectability, in the pleasant village of Stock, 26 miles from London, six miles from Chelmsford, three miles from Ingatestone where numerous coaches pass daily”.

Although this was almost 200 years ago, proximity to a good transport network, with numerous coaches passing daily was just as important as it is today.

Coaches would depart London for Essex from multiple Inns. In 1804, the Spread Eagle Inn, Gracechurch Street, was advertising:

  • Chelmsford, Ingatestone and Brentwood Coach, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoon, two o’clock
  • Chelmsford, Ingatestone and Brentwood Post Coach every morning, half past seven o’clock

Today, the train has replaced the coach to carry commuters between Ingatestone and Liverpool Street station, and the eastern end of Crossrail terminates at Shenfield, one stop towards London from Ingatestone further improving connectivity for this part of Essex with London.

This stretch of the London to Colchester road still has many milestones in place. These were frequently installed at each mile point, and were often a mandatory requirement when the road was administered by a turnpike. A turnpike trust was responsible for the maintenance of a major road, and for collecting fees from those travelling along the road to fund the upkeep.

Heading out of Ingatestone towards Chelmsford is a milestone that has the original stone marker to the rear, with a later metal marker in front. We are now 24 miles from London.

Milestone

Then 25 miles from London.

Milestone

Heading from Ingatestone towards London and 21 miles:

Milestone

The coach route through Ingatestone went to Colchester, a town from where you could transfer to other coaches heading across north Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Many milestones extended their London connection on past Colchester. This was often the case where the end point was of some importance, and there would be frequent direct travel to London.

An example can be seen with the following milestone in the village of Bradfield in north Essex on the road to the sea port of Harwich.

Milestone

Harwich has long been an important port, serving northern Europe and also serving as a Royal Naval dockyard for periods, dependent on who the country was at war with at the time. A good coach service between Harwich and London would have been essential, and the milestones along the route between Colchester and Harwich provide a reminder.

The perils of travelling along these roads is clear from an inquest held in the Spread Eagle Inn in Ingatestone in 1828:

“Friday an Inquest was held at the Spread Eagle Inn, Ingatestone, on the body of a Yarmouth pilot, named Simkin, who was killed by the Telegraph coach, about nine o’clock on Wednesday night. The deceased was returning from London as an outside passenger on the above coach, and when at Ingatestone, the coachman, perceiving he was very much intoxicated, prevailed upon him to get inside; but this, it appears, was rather against the will of the deceased, who frequently expressed a wish to be ‘aloft’, and opening the door whilst the coach was proceeding at a brisk rate, he fell out, and the hind wheel passed over his thigh and across his body. He expired in a short time”.

There are still plenty of these milestones to be found across the country, however so many have been lost over the years. Road widening, vandalism, hit by passing vehicles, general lack of care, have gradually reduced their number.

They serve no purpose today. Travel these roads and a SatNav is probably guiding you to your destination, and telling you exactly how many miles you have to go, however they are an important link to when road travel was far more difficult than it is today, and coaches provided an important link between London and the rest of the country.

What has not changed is the importance of good travel connections, and looking at estate agent adverts for houses around Ingatestone and Stock today, they still list the benefit of frequent connections to London, but this time by train rather than by coach.

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Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley

London provides plenty of opportunities for discovering the history of places that were once of significant importance, but now only have a faint footprint. There are plenty of these places outside of London, and whilst I catch up on the research for some London posts, for this Sunday, join me on a trip to a fascinating small museum on the shore of Southampton Water. The museum is all that remains of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital dates from 1863 and was built at a time when there seemed to be almost continuous wars, or skirmishes across the world as the Victorian view of Empire tried to establish and maintain dominance. The most recent major conflict being the Crimean War of 1853 to 1856.

On completion, the hospital was a quarter of a mile in length, and had 138 wards with the ability to accommodate over one thousand patients.

All that remains today is the original central chapel, shown in the photo above, and which now hosts a small museum dedicated to the history of the hospital. This chapel was once part of the central block, with two long wings of wards stretching to either side.

The following photo shows the Royal Victoria Military Hospital, soon after completion, from the end of the jetty that was built for the hospital, out into Southampton Water. The tower of the chapel can be seen in the centre of the photo and is all that remains.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital was built at a site alongside Southampton Water for a number of reasons. Wounded troops would come from across the world on ships, along the English Channel, past the Isle of Wight and along Southampton Water to dock at Southampton.

This placed the hospital close to where potential patients would be arriving. A branch railway was constructed into the hospital grounds so that train loads of wounded troops could be efficiently moved from the docks directly to the hospital.

The hospital needed a large area to be available, and the space near the historic Netley Abbey provided room for the hospital, and additional land as the hospital grew.

The position facing onto Southampton Water was thought to provide benefits for both mental and physical health. The fresh sea air, the views across the water from grounds in front of the hospital were all expected to help with the recovery of patients.

The following map extract shows the location of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital (ringed), alongside Southampton Water, with Southampton at the top of the map (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The size of the hospital can be clearly seen from the air. The following photo, from the Britain from Above site, taken in 1923 shows the main hospital buildings (the chapel can be seen in the centre), the gardens down to Southampton Water, and the hospital pier

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The chapel was a key part of the hospital, hence the chapel’s central position and the tower providing a central high point. Patients were encouraged to participate in services, and the chapel considered of rows of benches at ground level, with a surrounding gallery with tiered benches

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The chapel forms today’s museum, and has been restored to much the same appearance as when patients were attending services in the chapel. The benches that covered the ground floor have been removed, and today replaced by displays covering the history of the museum.

The gallery has an interesting display featuring the history of individuals involved with the hospital as patients, medical staff or workers displayed along the benches.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Much of the drive for the hospital came from Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Conditions for wounded soldiers in the first half of the 19th century were very basic. They were often housed in normal barrack buildings, with very poor sanitation and limited medical care. Disease and infection would often account for the deaths of more patients than their actual wounds.

Having visited a number of forts, Victoria expressed the concern that wounded soldiers were being treated in worse conditions than those for prisoners (which is saying something given the conditions of prisons during the first half of the 19th century).

The Queen also had the support of Albert, who saw the provision of improved medical treatment as one of the improving initiatives of Victorian Britain.

Based on her experience of the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was also campaigning for improved conditions and treatment of wounded soldiers. During the Crimean War, British casualties consisted of 2,755 killed in action, but a much higher number of 17,580 died of disease.

A meeting between Nightingale and Victoria was an opportunity for Florence Nightingale to put before the Queen all the problems with the current system, and how badly wounded troops were treated.

Victoria wrote to Lord Panmure, the Secretary of State for War, who agreed that there should be improved general hospitals for the military, and a survey was initiated for a suitable site, and the Royal Victoria Military Hospital at Netley was the result.

Although the hospital was intended to be seen as a leading edge improvement in the treatment of the wounded, the design did not really follow leading thinking by those who had significant experience in the treatment of large numbers of casualties.

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital was designed with two large wings radiating from the central block (where the chapel was / is located). A corridor ran the length of the wings, and off the corridor were individual wards, sized to hold less than fourteen patients. Many of the wards were facing inland, so did not get a view across the gardens down to the water, or much access to fresh air. They were described as little more than cells for patients.

One of the corridors in the Royal Victoria Military Hospital:

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Florence Nightingale was highly critical of the new hospital. Her experience and research had led her to believe that the best design for a hospital was for separate areas for different types of patient need, general medical, those undergoing surgery, and for those convalescing.

These separate areas needed to be of sufficient size to provide plenty of space for the patients, free airflow and good ventilation to provide patients with plenty of fresh air.

She was critical of the ward design at the Royal Victoria Military Hospital where she found small wards, facing away from the water with limited ventilation:

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Queen Victoria maintained an interest in the hospital throughout construction of the hospital and throughout the hospital’s operation. When ever they were at Osborne on the Isle of Wight, described as the holiday home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, they would take the short journey across the Solent and down Southampton Water to the site of the hospital.

Queen Victoria’s ship, with the hospital in the background:

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Queen Victoria laid the first stone of the new hospital in 1856. The newspaper reports described the scene, along with a tragic event during the ceremony that underlined the dangers that those in the army and navy were exposed to, even when not in battle:

“The Queen, Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, Prince Alfred, and the Princess Royal, went on Monday to Hamble, on the Southampton Water, where her Majesty laid the first stone of the Royal Victoria Hospital, near Netley Abbey. After the ceremony had been performed, her Majesty inspected the troops employed on the occasion whilst at the dinner which had been provided for them. A sad accident occurred on board the Hardy, a screw gun-boat, two seamen, named Flanigan and Devine, having been killed while firing a royal salute. An inquest was held the next day, when it appeared that the accident arose from some burning fragments of the first charge being left in the gun and igniting the second charge. This was caused by defective sponging on the part of the deceased. The captain of the gun had his thumb over the vent at the moment, and it was blown off. Devine served in the trenches before Sebastopol, and was wounded by a shell at the storming of Malakoff. Flanigan had served in various parts of the world”.

Laying the foundation stone of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital:

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Prince Albert would not see the hospital fully completed, he died in 1861, however Queen Victoria continued to take an interest in the hospital, and a visit to the hospital in July 1863 was one of her first public outings since Albert’s death: “Her Majesty the Queen recently visited the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, the foundation stone of which had been laid by the Prince Consort. This may be considered as the first public act of Her Majesty since her irreparable bereavement – an act every way very appropriate, as well as in accordance with her humane disposition”.

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital continued to grow over the coming decades, with additional facilities being built on the landward side of the hospital, including a psychiatric hospital which would attempt treatments for those suffering from the impact of war on their mental health, shell shock, and what is now recognised as post-traumatic stress disorder. Large numbers of shell shocked soldiers would be treated during the First World War.

The following map extract from 1907 shows the size of the hospital, the railway line dedicated to the hospital coming in from the top of the map, the “Lunatic Hospital” to the right and the Hospital Cemetery.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Credit: ‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 

The number of patients at the hospital would reflect frequency and size of war’s that Britain was involved with around the world, with ships continuing to bring patients into Southampton for transport along the short distance to the hospital.

The size of the hospital was such that it was a significant landmark from Southampton Water, and one wonders how many troops leaving Southampton to fight abroad, would look at the hospital as they left, hoping that it would not be their destination on return.

The main hospital was demolished in the 1960s. It was a Victorian institution, and did not reflect the latest medical thinking when first built, so was very unfit for purpose in the later decades of the 20th century.

Countries of the former Empire were gaining their independence, so a hospital built to support the high number of casualties of the endless wars and conflicts that go with building and maintaining an Empire was thankfully no longer needed.

When Queen Victoria and Price Albert laid the original foundation stone, they also buried a time capsule, and when the hospital was demolished, there was much speculation as to the contents of the time capsule. The Daily Mirror on Thursday 8th December, 1966 reported:

“SECRET OF THE QUEEN’S BOX – the secret of Queen Victoria’s little copper box, buried 110 years ago, was revealed yesterday at a ceremony attended by eleven generals and an admiral.

The box was buried near the foundation stone of the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hants.

Queen Victoria put articles in the box before she laid the foundation stone of the military hospital on a sunny May afternoon in 1856. The Army authorities never knew exactly what was in the box.

Now the hospital is being pulled down, and, at yesterday’s ceremony the contents were revealed:

The first Victoria Cross ever made – and never awarded; a Crimea War medal: coins of the realm and the plans of the hospital.

The Victoria Cross was slightly tarnished, but otherwise unmarked, said one of the officers who looked at it. Later it was carried, in its box and under escort, to take its place in an exhibition at Aldershot arranged by the Royal Army Medical Corps”.

The chapel had been included in the plans for the overall demolition of the hospital, however as demolition worked along the two wings and started on the central core of the building, a decision was made to retain the chapel, and the tower – for an as yet unknown purpose. As demolition of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital completed, the chapel and tower were all that remained of such a significant Victorian institution that had seen countless thousands of wounded and damaged patients pass through its wards, many of whom would still die of their injuries.

The site now belongs to Hampshire County Council. The grounds occupied by the hospital are now the Royal Victoria Country Park, and after a number of limited uses, and periods of neglect, the council received a National Lottery grant in 2014 to repair and conserve the chapel and tower, and convert into a museum, which opened a couple of years ago.

The museum in the chapel, tells the story of the hospital, medical treatments, and of those who worked and were patients in the hospital. The tower is open to climb to the top where the views provide an appreciation of the size and location of the hospital.

Stairs to the top of the tower:

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

At the top of the tower, windows provide external views and painted panels give an impression of what the view would have looked like at different periods of the hospital’s history.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Top of the dome, with the original bells in place.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

View to the south-east with Southampton Water stretching out to the Solent, the Isle of Wight and the open sea. The wing of the hospital would have originally stretched all the way to the far tree line.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

View to the north-west with the buildings of Southampton in the distance. Again, this wing of the hospital would have stretched up to the trees.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Shipping in Southampton is visible from the top of the tower. The Port of Southampton would have been the arrival place for the majority of patients heading to the hospital.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

View to the north-east, with the shadow of tower and chapel on the grass.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The tower and chapel of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital. The hospital’s wings would have been dominating the view to left and right.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The hospital sat on flat land at the top of a slope down to Southampton Water. This emphasized the size of the hospital to those passing the hospital on the water.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Historical information about the Royal Victoria Military Hospital has been extended out from the museum in the central chapel, to the surrounding landscape.

In a brilliant example of how this should be done, at the far corners of the original hospital wings, there are corner displays showing the buildings and views from each location.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

So from each corner, you can really appreciate the size of the original building.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

In the car park are the remains of the rail tracks that once transported patients to the hospital from the docks.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

A very different railway runs through the park today:

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

The museum in the old chapel of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital shows just how a small museum can make use of a building, to display the history of the site, and the people who came into contact with the hospital.

The displays within the landscape of what is now a park, again show how a place that has disappeared can still be represented – it has really been well done.

The Royal Victoria Military Hospital has a fascinating history. After visiting the place, I found the book Spike Island – The Memory of a Military Hospital by Philip Hoare. The book is both a fascinating personal history, and a deeply researched, in depth history of the Royal Victoria Military Hospital.

Royal Victoria Military Hospital

Out of London, but I am fascinated by history, how places change, and how we can still find the footprints of those places.

Next Sunday, i will be back in London.

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Ely Cathedral and Oliver Cromwell

As well as London, my father took lots of photos around the country during the late 1940s / early 1950s whilst youth hosteling with friends from National Service. Long term readers of the blog will know that I am also visiting the locations of these photos with occasional trips out of London, and for this week’s post I am returning to the City of Ely in Cambridgeshire, to visit Ely Cathedral, and a historic house.

This was last August, but it seems a very long time ago now.

My father’s photos were taken on the 23rd July 1952, my photos 67 years later on the 12th August 2019.

Ely is a fascinating city, both from a historical aspect, but also the location of the city. Built on the highest point (around 20 metres) where an area of Kimmeridge Clay provides elevation above the surrounding Fens, which through their marshy and waterlogged landscape, turned Ely almost into an island.

The marsh has been drained, however the magnificent Ely Cathedral still rises over the surrounding landscape, giving the building the name of the Ship of the Fens.

Approaching the cathedral from the west provides a view of the magnificent west tower, standing 215 feet tall. The lower two thirds of the tower date from the 12th century, with the upper section being added in the 14th century. The view in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same view today:

Ely Cathedral

In the foreground in both photos is a cannon. This is a Russian cannon captured during the Crimean war and was presented to Ely in 1860 by Queen Victoria to mark the creation of the Ely Volunteer Rifles.

The walls of an old building can just be seen to the right of the above photos. This is the Old Bishop’s Palace building:

Ely Cathedral

1952 above and 2019 below. I suspect that is the same tree to the left of the photo showing 67 years growth.

Ely Cathedral

The Old Bishop’s Palace dates from 1486 when it was built by John Alcock. It was the home of the Bishop’s of Ely from 1486 to 1941, when it was taken over by the British Red Cross. The building is now part of King’s Ely public school.

Ely has seen its fair share or religious persecution over the centuries. During the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I, her attempts to reverse the English reformation and restore the Catholic church resulted in two Protestant martyrs being burnt to death on the green outside the cathedral and Old Bishops Palace.

William Wolsey and Robert Pygot were both from the local town of Wisbech. Wolsey was accused of not attending Mass and also of possessing and reading a smuggled New Testament in English. Pygot was accused of not attending church. They were both burnt at the stake on the 16th October 1555.

Wolsey was almost looking forward to his fate. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs records that in the days preceding his execution “that being wonderful sore tormented in the prison with the toothache, he feared nothing more than that he should depart before the day of execution (which he called his glad day) were come.”

During their execution, copies of the English New Testament were also burnt, and Foxe records that “With that cometh one to the fire with a great sheet knit full of books to burn, like as they had been New Testaments. ‘Oh,’ said Wolsey, ‘give me one of them;’ and Pygot desired another; both of them clapping them close to their breasts, saying Psalm cvi., desiring all the people to say Amen; and so received the fire most thankfully.”

Elizabeth I followed Queen Mary and the country returned on the reformation path of Protestantism. It was now the turn of Catholics to be prosecuted and between 1577 and 1597 the Old Bishops Palace was used as a prison for “Catholic Recusants”  – those who remained loyal to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Thirty two recusants were held in the Palace buildings between the years 1588 and 1597 during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Fortunately Ely is a far more peaceful place today.

The street that runs in front of the main entrance to the cathedral has the unusual name of “The Gallery”. I will visit the cathedral later, but to find the location of more of my father’s photos, I turned right along The Gallery, and walked alongside the buildings that are currently the home of the Bishop of Ely.

This was the view looking back towards the cathedral in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same view in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Further back along The Gallery, and here to the right we can see the external structure of the Octagon, one of the magnificent internal features of Ely Cathedral.

Ely Cathedral

The same view in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Along the cathedral side of the street, The Gallery has the Bishop’s residence, the external wall of a walled garden, and at the end of The Gallery is the gatehouse shown in the photo below. At the end of The Gallery, the street joins Back Hill which then descends to the River Great Ouse. The downwards slope of the street away from the cathedral down towards the river helps demonstrate that the cathedral was built on higher ground in a low lying region.

Ely Cathedral

The Gatehouse today:

Ely Cathedral

The Gatehouse leads into Cherry Hill Park, an open space which includes Ely Castle Mound, the site of a long demolished castle. The park also provides a walkway down to the river, with superb views of the southern facing side of the cathedral.

There is another historic building in Ely which my father photographed in 1952. Oliver Cromwell, who led Parliament’s forces to victory during the Civil War and led the country as Lord Protector during the period of the Commonwealth, lived in Ely between 1636 and 1646.

This was Oliver Cromwell’s house in 1952:

Ely Cathedral

The same house in 2019:

Ely Cathedral

Cromwell inherited the house along with a number of other properties in Ely from his uncle. He was firstly the MP for Huntingdon, then from 1640 the MP for Cambridge, and raising troops to defend Cambridge was one of his first actions at the start of the civil War, including a number of soldiers from Ely.

The building today has a Tourist Information Office and also has a Civil War Exhibition. The building also hosts Murder Mystery evenings and an Escape Room – all the commercial things that historic buildings without large numbers of visitors need to do to survive.

Ely Cathedral

I could not find the location of the following photo:Ely Cathedral

We walked around all the buildings that look as if they would have such a window, but could not find the location. I suspect it is within the King’s Ely school.

The inscription tells that the house was erected by the piety and charity of Mrs Catherine Needham, Widow of New Alresford in Hampshire, but originally of Ely. She left certain estates in the town and neighbourhood of nearly eighty pounds per annum, to be used for poor boys born in the City of Ely of poor parents. For their school clothing and putting them out as apprentices.

Having had a walk around the town, the next stop was to visit the inside of Ely cathedral.

Ely Cathedral occupies a site with a long religious history – from a time when the area occupied by the town was surrounded by marsh and water.

Originally, a monastery founded by Etheldreda, an Anglo-Saxon queen in 673, was built on the site of Ely Cathedral. The site was probably the location of an earlier religious building.

Etheldreda reached Ely after fleeing from her husband, the King of Northumberland. The Isle of Ely was part of her wedding dowry.

The monastery was a mixed community of both monks and nuns.

Etheldreda would be viewed as one of the more important English saints, compared with St Cuthbert, and Thomas Becket. Bede portrayed her as an English version of the Virgin Mary.

After her death, she was buried in the monastery, and her body was believed to be incorruptible.

In the 10th century, Ethelwold, the Bishop of Winchester converted Ely into a Benedictine Monastery, and the Isle of Ely was defined by King Edgar as a Liberty and therefore free of royal interference.

The next name from history to pass through Ely was Hereward the Wake, an Anglo Saxon noblemen and one of the rebels against the Norman Conquest who assembled in Ely in 1071. William the Conqueror sent a force which surrounded Ely. There are various legends as to how Ely was taken, that the Norman’s built a causeway over the marshy land, that they bribed a monk to show them a safe route into the town or that the majority of the would be rebels negotiated. However Ely was taken, Hereward the Wake apparently disappeared into the marshes, and again become a figure of legend, possibly being pardoned by William, hiding in Scotland or being ambushed and killed by Norman knights.

Building of a new Norman cathedral that would replace the Anglo-Saxon monastery could now commence, and this was started in 1082 by Simeon who was the brother of the Bishop of Winchester. Work on the new cathedral was slow and gradual, with the style changing over the years as new Bishop’s took over and new design approaches were tried.

Bishop Ridel was appointed in 1169 and completed work on the Gothic west front.  The church had a Norman central tower, however in the early 14th century this would collapse leading to one of the most beautiful features of the cathedral we see today, being constructed in its place.

This was the central Octagon which required far more substantial foundations than those that supported the Norman tower, so parts of the central church were demolished to create a large space for the Octagon supporting structure to be built, and foundations were dug down to a depth of 3m. At the very top of the Octagon is a magnificent lantern.

The view of the nave after entering Ely Cathedral:

Ely Cathedral

The painted roof was part of the Victorian restorations of the cathedral, and is the work of two artists, Henry Styleman Le Strange and Thomas Gambier Parry, who painted the final six of the panels – you can see the change of style halfway along the roof.

Ely Cathedral

Underneath the Octagon – a magnificent example of medieval architecture and construction.

Ely Cathedral

Occupying the space of the collapsed central Norman Tower, the pillars were moved further out to enlarge the central space, and were built on much firmer foundations.

The Octagon is topped by a central Lantern and is built of wood covered in lead to reduce weight, as a stone lantern would have been too heavy for the pillars to support.

The height of the Octagon is 142 feet, and was the work of Alan of Walsingham. John of Burwell carved the central image of Christ and in total, the Octagon took 18 years to complete.

Close-up view of the lantern:

Ely Cathedral

The space directly underneath the Octagon is occupied by an octagonal altar:

Ely Cathedral

The Octagon and Nave viewed from the Choir:

View towards the north transept and the choir:

Ely Cathedral

Mid fifteenth century hammer beam roof with flying angels of the south transept:

Ely Cathedral

There is a remarkable amount of graffiti across the cathedral. If this happened today we would condemn such an activity, but graffiti from the past is often preserved and studied. Does make you wonder who IN was and what he was doing in Ely Cathedral in 1628 (assuming they are the initials of a person).

Ely Cathedral

The remains of the canopy of a stone tomb. An information panel states that these have been mistaken as part of the Shrine of St Etheldreda. The Shrine was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of King Henry VIII.

Ely Cathedral

A plaque set into the floor marks the spot where the Shrine of St Etherdreda was located:

Ely Cathedral

The Lady Chapel includes unusual additions to the windows. The names of companies that have contributed to the cathedral.

Ely Cathedral

There is the base of a wayside Saxon cross in the Cathedral, oldest of all the monuments. It was found in the nearby village of Haddenham and the Latin inscription on the base reads “Give, O God, to Ovin your light and rest”. Ovin was apparently a common Saxon name.

Ely Cathedral

I have only just scratched the surface of the history, architecture and story of this wonderful city. The Cathedral is stunning. As you approach Ely, the cathedral rises up above the surrounding landscape, and must have been even more dominant during the medieval period.

Walking the side streets reveals many more historic buildings. The River Great Ouse has played a part in Ely’s history and the drainage of the surrounding marshland which has transformed Ely from the Isle of Ely, to the city we see today. I doubt Hereward the Wake would recongise the landscape if he could return.

After a long walk around the city, we returned home. After his visit in July 1952, my father headed to Ely Youth Hostel, which I suspect by today’s Youth Hostel standards, was rather basic. A long bike ride from London.

Ely Cathedral

Ely Youth Hostel Dining Room.

Ely Cathedral

Ely is on my list of places to return – which at the moment is getting longer every day.

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Tintern Abbey – Summer 1947 and 2019

As long-term readers of the blog will know, as well as photographing London, my father also took many photos across the country, on National Service and whilst cycling the country and staying at Youth Hostels. For this week’s post, I am visiting a site photographed in 1947. Tintern Abbey in South Wales. I returned in August of this year on a hot sunny day, when a clear blue sky emphasised the beauty of this part of the country, that runs along the valley of the River Wye.

It seemed the right time for the post, on the weekend with the shortest day of the year and the winter solstice, to remember and look forward again to long, sunny summer days.

This was the 1947 view, approaching Tintern Abbey on the road from Chepstow:

Tintern Abbey

A closer view of the abbey:

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey is alongside the River Wye which forms the border between England and Wales, so the abbey sits just inside the Welsh border. The River Wye runs through a valley carved through the hills that run along both sides of the river. The majority of the hills are covered in trees, indeed there seems to be more tree cover in 2019 than there was in 1947.

The following map shows the location of Tintern Abbey (circled). The River Severn is the large area of water to the right. the new Severn Crossing is at the bottom of the map and the River Wye curves and loops up from the Severn to create the most wonderful landscape, and to pass alongside Tintern Abbey  (Map © OpenStreetMap contributors).

Tintern Abbey

Within the grounds of the abbey. The surrounding hills provide a tree covered background to the ruins.

Tintern Abbey

The origins of Tintern Abbey date back to 1131 when Walter Fitz Richard of Clare, the Anglo-Norman Lord of Chepstow founded the abbey for Cistercian monks who established a basic abbey consisting of timber buildings, alongside the River Wye. Stone buildings soon followed, but it would not be until 1269 when construction would start on the abbey we see today.

The borders between England and Wales were a frequently contested area and Marcher Lords, appointed by the Crown, held land in both Wales and England on either side of the border. It was the patronage of one of the Marcher Lords, Earl Roger Bigod, Lord of Chepstow, who contributed significantly to the funding of the abbey built from 1269. The Bigod family were also responsible for much of the construction of nearby Chepstow Castle.

Work continued through to the early years of the 14th century, when the stunning Gothic church was completed, surrounded by the building and infrastructure of an important Cistercian Abbey of the 14th century.

The abbey would last for a further 200 years, until King Henry VIII’s Reformation when Tintern Abbey was taken by the Crown in 1536.

There then followed centuries of decay. The lead roof was melted down, the arches supporting the roof of the magnificent nave would collapse, the surrounding buildings would be demolished, mainly down to foundation level and much of the stone of the abbey would be robbed and reused for other construction in the area.

The following photo shows the view in 1947, looking along the south transept. The group of men in Army uniform in the foreground were probably with my father, as from other photos he was also in uniform, as part of his National Service was in nearby Chepstow.

Tintern Abbey

After centuries of neglect, Tintern Abbey was rediscovered in the 18th century. The ruins were covered in ivy, small trees and plant growth. The remains of parts of the roof and stone work from the walls covered the abbey grounds.

This “Romantic” view of the British countryside, and antiquities from the past, were the fashion of the time, and became the focus of early forms of tourism.

The romantic view of Tintern Abbey was fed by authors such as Reverend William Gilpin, the poet William Wordsworth, and by the artist JMW Turner, who in 1794 completed the following painting of the east window of Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/D00374 Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported)

By 1947, tree and plant growth had been removed, rubble and stone covering the floor of the abbey had been cleared, but the east window still looked exactly the same as when Turner visited the site at the end of the 18th century.

Tintern Abbey

And the east window in the summer of 2019:

Tintern Abbey

The central church of Tintern Abbey looks glorious on a sunny summer’s day. Although the roof has been lost, there is enough of the medieval architecture and craftsmanship remaining to understand what a significant building this must have been.

What is not obvious today, is that many of the standing piers of the abbey ruins have a steel core. After the abbey was handed to the Crown, many of the walls were found to be in such a state that temporary piers were built below the arches. This allowed the original piers to be dismantled, with steel stanchions then being installed, with the original facing stones then being replaced around the new steel core.

The following photo looks along the nave towards the west window.

Tintern Abbey

Although the nave is clear today, when Tintern Abbey was in use, the nave would have been split into separate areas with partition walls, and passages running along the length of the side walls.

The view looking towards the south transept.

Tintern Abbey

Substantial columns, arches and walls, again demonstrate the scale of the original church.

Tintern Abbey

The eastern view of the central church, with the east window:

Tintern Abbey

The view from the north is shown in the following photograph. To the north of the central church, there are the foundations and many of the remaining walls of the buildings that once supported the many functions associated with the abbey – living spaces, store rooms, kitchens etc.

Tintern Abbey

The location contributes so much to the history of Tintern Abbey. The following photo, taken slightly further north, shows the River Wye, the surrounding hills and to the right, the tops of the walls of Tintern Abbey can be seen.

Tintern Abbey

This helps understand why Tintern Abbey was built in such a location.

It was probably a suitable area of flat ground, but being next to the River Wye provided easy access to the River Severn, and therefore out to sea. The River Wye also provides access inland with the town of Monmouth being further north along the river. Transport along the river would have been so much easier than along medieval roads, and probably much safer. The river also must have provided a supply of fish to supplement the monk’s diet. The surrounding hills provided a large supply of timber and wood for burning.

As well as the painting by Turner, Tintern Abbey was the subject of a large number of paintings and drawings that focused on the Gothic / Romantic nature of the ruins.

Tintern Abbey

A south view of Tintern Abbey after S.C. Jones and dated to 1825:

Tintern Abbey

An 1805 hand coloured print of Tintern Abbey:

Tintern Abbey

From the late 18th century onward, Tintern Abbey has attracted significant numbers of visitors. Although the abbey today is not the overgrown, romantic vision which attracted early tourists to the site, it is still remarkably impressive, not just the abbey ruins, but the location which seems to complement the abbey perfectly. The 12th century monks could not have picked a better location.

Tintern Abbey was sold to the Crown in 1901 and is now the responsibility of Cadw, (the Welsh Government’s historic environment service).

Although much of the surroundings of the abbey, not occupied by the church, walls and foundations, are grass lawns, there is a large oak tree that dates from 1911, and the plaque demonstrates that the abbey grounds were seen as the appropriate place to commemorate national events.

Tintern Abbey

The abbey is named after the village of Tintern, which is strung out along the road that passes the abbey, and in the surrounding hills. Evidence of occupation in the Bronze Age can be found in the surrounding hills. In the 6th century, the West Saxons had started to expand into South Wales and in 765 a small church is recorded at Tintern Parva (little Tintern, at the northern end of the village).

According to the Penguin Dictionary of British Place Names, the name is of Celtic origin. The Welsh form of the name is Tyndyrn and means “king’s fortress”.

According to legend, Tewdric, the King of Gwent won a battle against the Saxons near Tintern. In 1849 a sculpture of the event was exhibited in the Sculpture Room of the Royal Academy. The work by J.E. Thomas shows the wounded King Tewdric urging on the pursuit of the fleeing Saxons, attended by his only daughter, Marchell and an aged Welsh bard.

Works such as this, as well as the many prints and paintings of the abbey added to the historical and romantic interest in visiting the area.

From the mid 16th century, a number of iron works were established in the surrounding hills and brass was produced for cannons. Iron works and wire production continued to the late 19th century.

Construction of the Chepstow to Monmouth road in 1829 improved access to the abbey and village, which was further enhanced in 1876 with the opening of the Wye Valley Railway. This must have been one of the most picturesque railways in the country, however it seems to have permanently run at a loss and passenger services closed in 1959, with the line continue to carry limited volumes of production from quarries close to the route, however this trade also finished in 1990 when the railway closed.

To the west of the abbey is a large, relatively flat field:

Tintern Abbey

Goal posts on the field give a clue that this is a community resource. The field also backs onto a pub and cafes between the field and Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

My father also took a number of photos in this field during his visit to Tintern Abbey in 1947:

Tintern Abbey

I have no idea what was happening, whether this was some village event, or perhaps part of the facilities put on for tourists visiting the abbey on a sunny, summer’s day – I suspect the later.

Tintern Abbey

Today, the road leading to the abbey, to the side of the field, is lined with a couple of cafes, gift shop, pub and car parks. The location is popular not just for the abbey, but for walking along the River Wye and the surrounding hills. In 2019 though, there were no horse rides available.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

Whether for the history, architecture, the River Wye or the surrounding landscape, Tintern Abbey is a fascinating place to visit. And revisiting on the weekend of the shortest day of the year, after weeks of rain and overcast skies, it is a reminder for me that the days will now get longer and the sun will start to rise higher in the sky.

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Chichester Market Cross And The First Fatal Railway Accident

The main aim of this blog is to trace the location of my father’s photos of London. He also took many photos across the country whilst out cycling between youth hostels in the late 1940s and early 1950s and I occasionally take a trip out of London to explore the location of these photos. For this week’s post I find the Chichester Market Cross, a link with London and the first fatal railway accident.

This is the Chichester Market Cross photographed in 1949.

Chichester Market Cross

The same view of Chichester Market Cross, 69 years later in 2018.

Chichester Market Cross

Market crosses were mainly built during the medieval period and often formed a hub for a market, with the Cross providing a location where transactions could be formerly validated. They also served other functions in the daily life of a town, for example as a central point for meetings, preaching, proclamation through both verbal announcements and the use of posters.

They came in many forms, from a basic cross through to the highly ornate structure that forms Chichester Market Cross. The complexity of the design was usually down to the level of funding available and the importance of the primary sponsor.

A view of the Chichester Market Cross in 1797 (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Chichester Market Cross

The Chichester Market Cross was constructed in 1501 and was funded by Bishop Edward Story who allowed the poorer residents of the town to trade basic goods without payment of a toll, provided they did so within the confines of the market cross.

The stone market cross we see today is not the first, it replaced a wooden structure that dated from the 14th century.

The market cross is much the same as when first built, however there has been damage to the decoration of the cross over the years, particularly during the Civil War. The market cross has been repaired over the years and in 1724 a belfry and clocks were added so the market provided a central reference for the time.

The Chichester Market Cross is Grade I listed, and the English Heritage listing states that the cross is believed to have originally stood in a large market place, rather than the small space within the town centre of today. Over the centuries, surrounding buildings have gradually encroached on the structure and taken up space allocated to the market, particularly after 1808 when the market moved location to find a larger space to serve the growing town.

The central location of the market cross is indicated by the names of the fours streets that radiate out from the market cross. They are North, East, South and West Streets with Chichester market cross sitting in the centre of a compass laid out in the streets.

Another drawing of the market cross, with the spire of Chichester Cathedral in the background (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Chichester Market Cross

Chichester Cathedral is a magnificent building. It is believed to be built on an earlier Saxon church dedicated to St. Peter. Construction of the cathedral was down to a decree by the Council of London in 1075 that seats of Bishops should be in towns rather than villages. The local bishopric was based in the village of Selsey so in the early 12th century the construction of the new cathedral building commenced.

Chichester Market Cross

The majority of construction was completed by the early 15th century when around this time the spire was completed. Over the centuries the building has been through numerous renovations, additions and changes. Fires during the first centuries when construction was ongoing, and severe damage to the internal decoration during the Civil War, however the most significant event occurred in 1861 when the original central tower and spire collapsed.

Cracks had been observed in the piers supporting the tower and spire in the months preceding the collapse, and the Illustrated London News of the 2nd March 1861 recorded the events that led up to the collapse:

“After the usual Sunday services in the nave, which had been temporarily screened off, the church was taken possession of by workmen, who have, with but little intermission, pursued their task by night and day down to the hour of the final catastrophe. It soon became evident that the heart or core of the piers was rotten; the task of sustaining a weight on each pier exceeding 1400 tons thrust forward the facing on every side, and when the masonry was restrained in one place by props and shores the restraint caused it to bulge on the adjoining surfaces faster than it was possible to apply remedies. The terrific storm of wind on Wednesday night caused these difficulties to increase with alarming rapidity; but the efforts of sixty workmen appeared still to offer some possibility of ultimate success when, at three hours and a half past midnight they quitted the building.

On their return however, after less than three hours’ absence, it was found that the shores and braces exhibited many signs of suffering from the enormous strains to which they had been subjected. The force of men was increased, and various expedients to strengthen what was strained were put into requisition.  The crushing and settlement of the south-west pier poured out, crushed to powder, and the workmen were cleared out of the building, and the noble spire left to its fate. Not more than a quarter of an hour later the tower and spire fell to the floor with but little noise, forming a mass of near 6,000 tons of ruin in the centre of the church, and carrying with it about 29ft in the length of the end of the nave, and the same of the transepts and choir.

The spire in its fall, at first inclined slightly to the south-west, and then sank gently into the centre of the building. The appearance of the fall has been compared to that of a large ship quietly but rapidly foundering at sea.”

The Illustrated London News quickly dispatched one of their artists to draw the following print of the collapsed tower and spire, and the severe damage to the building.

Chichester Market Cross

The spire was quickly rebuilt in 1866 by Sir George Gilbert Scott and reaches the height of 82 metres.

Entrance to Chichester Cathedral:

Chichester Market Cross

Surrounding buildings makes it difficult to get a good view of the cathedral, however this view from 1812 provides a good impression and shows the original tower and spire, confirming that the later 19th century rebuild is very similar to the original (©Trustees of the British Museum).

Chichester Market Cross

Chichester Cathedral is unusual for the location of the bells. In the above drawing, there is a large tower to the left of the cathedral building. This is the separate bell tower:

Chichester Market Cross

There is no firm date for the construction of the tower, however it appears to date from the early 15th century. There is no written explanation from the time as to why a separate bell tower was needed. One theory appears to be concerns that vibrations from the bells in the main tower could have caused damage to the tower and steeple, therefore a separate tower was constructed to house the bells.

Time to visit the interior of the cathedral. The view along the nave to the main entrance.Chichester Market Cross

The screen separating the nave from the choir.

Chichester Market Cross

The choir.

Chichester Market Cross

As could be expected in a church of this age, numerous monuments, tombs, carvings and artworks can be found around the church.

This is one of two carved panels, currently under restoration, depicting the raising of Lazarus. Dating from around 1125, they were concealed for many centuries, only being rediscovered in 1820 and installed in their current location.

Chichester Market Cross

There is one historical display that personally, I found the most interesting in its dimensional representation of layered buildings and time. Set into the floor is a clear panel with the interior space brilliantly lit.

Chichester Market Cross

Peer below the surface of the floor to find part of a Roman mosaic.

Chichester Market Cross

An adjacent information panel informs that this is a section of a second century mosaic belonging to part of a large Roman building that extended under the cathedral wall. Remains of part of the Roman city of Noviomagnus which lies about a metre below the surface of modern Chichester.

It is a brilliant way to display the mosaic. It demonstrates the physical layers of history in that the Roman city is below the current cathedral floor, as well as the layers of time, standing in the 21st century on the floor of a cathedral started in the 12th century, looking at the remains of a building from the 2nd century – it gets the imagination going.

There are many tombs around the cathedral, including that of Joan de Vere, daughter of Robert, Earl of Oxford who died in 1293.

Chichester Market Cross

In the south transept are a series of paintings on wood from the 16th century by Lambert Barnard, court painter to the Bishop of Chichester.

Chichester Market Cross

This is the Arundel Tomb with the figures of Richard Fitzalan, the 3rd Earl of Arundel and his second wife Eleanor “who by his will of 1375 were to be buried together without pomp in the chapter house of Lewes priory“. After the dissolution the tomb, along with some others now in Chichester, were moved from Lewes into the cathedral.

Chichester Market Cross

To understand one of the unique aspects of the Arundel Tomb, you need to look at the detail of the two figures:

Chichester Market Cross

The legs of Eleanor appear crossed and turning towards her husband. The right hand of Richard is across to Eleanor and they are holding hands. A sign close by the tomb informs that the hand holding was originally though to have been due to 19th century restoration, but recent research has confirmed that it is original.

This display of affection by a knight is highly unusual for the 14th century.

Close by there is a monument from several centuries later. This is the monument to William Huskisson.

Chichester Market Cross

The text underneath the statue provides some background:

“To the memory of William Huskisson, for ten years one of the representatives of this city in Parliament. This station he relinquished in 1823. When yielding to a sense of public duty he accepted the offer of being returned for Liverpool for which he was selected on account of the zeal and intelligence displayed by him in advancing the commercial prosperity of the empire. His death was occasioned by an accident near that town on the 15th of September 1830, and changed a scene of triumphant rejoicing into one of general mourning. At the urgent solicitation of his constituents he was interred in the cemetery there amid the unaffected sorrow of all classes of people.”

William Huskisson has the unfortunate distinction of being the first fatality from a railway accident in Great Britain. The following extract from “The Face of London” by Harold Clunn explains:

“Huskisson was killed by a locomotive at the ceremonial opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway on 15 September 1830. The procession of trains had left Liverpool, and at Parkside, the engines stopped for water. Contrary to instructions, the travellers left the carriages and stood upon the permanent way. Huskisson wanted to speak to the Duke of Wellington, and at that moment several engines were seen approaching along the rails between which he was standing. Everybody else made for the carriages, but Huskisson, who was slightly lame, fell back on the rails in front of the locomotive Dart, which ran over his leg; he was carried to hospital, where he died the same evening.”

The London connection is that there is also a statue of William Huskisson in Pimlico Gardens. The following photo is from my post on the area and shows Huskisson in a very similar style, looking more like a Roman senator than an English MP.

Chichester Market Cross

There must be a Roman theme as a statue of Huskisson was also commissioned for display in Liverpool. The following drawing from the Illustrated London News shows the Liverpool statue looking very similar to those in Pimlico and Chichester.

Chichester Market Cross

The text with the drawing provides a possible explanation in that the Liverpool statue was cast in Holland from a statue executed in Rome by Gibson (John Gibson, the sculptor born in Wales in 1790, and who provided works of the Duke of Devonshire and a statue of Queen Victoria for Buckingham Palace). So poor old Huskisson has ended up in all his public sculpture looking like a Roman Senator, although I suspect he will always be known as the victim of the first, fatal railway accident.

The interior of Chichester Cathedral is magnificent, however there is more to explore outside as the cathedral has extensive grounds surrounding the building.

Firstly a wonderful set of cloisters, walled on one side and perpendicular windows on the opposite side.

Chichester Market Cross

Alleys and lanes thread their way through the buildings in the cathedral grounds, and provide wonderful glimpses of the cathedral. This is St. Richard’s Walk. Hard to imagine the sight described in the Illustrated London News of the collapse of the tower and spire.

Chichester Market Cross

Canon Lane runs roughly east to west along the southern edge of the cathedral grounds. At each end of Canon Lane there is a substantial gatehouse.

Chichester Market Cross

This is the gatehouse leading from Canon Lane into South Street, one of the four main streets radiating out from the market cross.

Chichester Market Cross

The gatehouse as seen from South Street,

Chichester Market Cross

Chichester market cross is another of my father’s photos I can tick off, but by going to these locations they provide the perfect opportunity to explore the wider area and Chichester is a fantastic place to explore and I have only touched on the cross and cathedral.

The Roman mosaic on display beneath the floor of the cathedral was for me, the most fascinating. Seeing this type of feature always heightens my awareness that we are walking on layers of history and time. Southwark Cathedral has a very similar feature, as does All Hallows by the Tower.

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Manchester Central Library And Piccadilly Gardens

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I occasionally visit a place outside of London, as my father also took hundreds of black and white photos around the UK in the late 1940s and early 1950s. One of these places was Manchester in 1949, and last weekend we were in Manchester and I had a couple of hours for a walk in the centre of the city to find the locations of my father’s photos.

It was not perhaps the best weekend for a visit. The so-called “mini beast from the east” was influencing the weather with snow, low temperatures and bitterly cold winds. In the centre of Manchester at one moment it was blue sky, then five minutes later there was a blizzard of snow.

I had two locations to visit. The first was Manchester Central Library and the second was Piccadilly Gardens, so to start with:

Manchester Central Library

This is my father’s 1949 photo of Manchester Central Library:

Manchester Central Library

The same view in March 2018:

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library is a glorious building, the type of building I doubt we will see again.

The first free library in Manchester opened in 1852 following the 1850 Free Libraries Act. The Mayor of Manchester, Sir John Potter organised the collection of donations and subscriptions to establish a library. A building was purchased, stocked with books and opened in 1852.

The Library soon outgrew the original building and over the following decades the Library would move through a number of different locations, none of which was a purpose designed Library building.

In 1926 a competition was held to design a new, purpose-built library building, and it was won by the municipal architect E. Vincent Harris. There are a number of examples of Vincent Harris’s work in London. He also won the competition to design the Ministry of Defence building between Whitehall and the Embankment as well as Kensington Central Library.

Construction of the building was from 1931 to 1934. The building is faced with Portland Stone, but has a steel frame. The Reading Room is at the top of the building with the book stacks on the floors below.

The circular building has a Roman influence with the main entrance consisting of a large, two-storey portico with six columns and a thick, canopy roof.

The imposing front entrance to Manchester Central Library:

Manchester Central Library

The above external photos were taken during a brief dry period, earlier it had been snowing heavily (luckily it was not settling on the ground), so it was the perfect time to have a look inside the building which is just as remarkable as on the outside.

Through the entrance door and there is a relatively small entrance hall. Directly opposite is an entrance to the archives section of the library. On either side are stairs which lead up to the reading room and looking up are large columns with open space between that opens onto the circular walkway that runs around the building at reading room level.

Manchester Central Library

The roof of the entrance hall:

Manchester Central Library

Looking across from the upper level at the entrance doorway (at bottom), a stained glass window in the middle and part of the roof at the top.

Manchester Central Library

The stained glass window is by the artist Robert Anning Bell, and has William Shakespeare in the centre, with scenes from his plays in the surrounding window sections:

Manchester Central Library

I had my pocket camera with me rather than the larger camera with wide-angle lens so it was difficult to do justice to the interior of the building. Libraries are also places where you cannot intrude and take photos.

The reading room on the first floor is magnificent. A large open area under a domed roof with a central roof light providing natural lighting. Desks radiate from the centre for the whole circumference of the reading room and at 3:30 on a Saturday afternoon the majority of the desks were occupied.

Manchester Central Library

In the above photo there is a band running around the base of the dome. Within the band is an inscription from the Book of Proverbs:

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her, she shall give of thine head an ornament of grace, a crown of glory she shall deliver to thee.”

Looking up to the top of the dome and the window providing natural light into the interior:

Manchester Central Library

The above photos really do not do justice to the interior of the building. Looking around the reading room, you wonder how many Degrees have been completed and books written in the room, or just reading for the joy of reading.

Back outside Manchester Central Library and a couple of 1949 photos of the streets outside:

Manchester Central Library

The central monument is the Manchester Cenotaph and the column and cross on the right is to commemorate the location of St. Peter’s Church:

Manchester Central Library

The area outside of the Manchester Central library and to the right towards the rear of the Town Hall is known as St. Peter’s Square.

St. Peter’s Church was built in what were then mainly open fields outside the small Georgian town of Manchester, as it was before the industrial revolution. The area to the right in the photo above and my 2018 equivalent below was where the Peterloo Massacre took place.

On the 16th August 1819, there was a meeting of around 60,000 people to hear the radical politician Henry Hunt call for reform of the House of Commons.

The City authorities were concerned with the size of the crowds and called in troops to disperse the meeting. In the chaos that followed eleven people were killed. Henry Hunt was jailed for two years, although it was probably an over reaction of the City authorities to send in an armed force to deal with the crowds.

Manchester Central Library

The building behind the cross in the above two photos is the Midland Hotel.

In my 2018 photo above the Cenotaph is missing. The area in front of the Manchester Central Library and along St. Peter’s Square as it runs to the rear of the Town Hall is a focus for the Manchester Metrolink Tram System with multiple tracks running through the square and along the streets that radiate from the square.

The main tram stop in St. Peter’s Square:

To enable expansion of the tram system, the Cenotaph had to be removed from the original location. After consultation on suitable locations, in 2014 it was moved to the opposite end of St. Peter’s Square where it is now located outside the rear of the Town Hall:

Manchester Central Library

After leaving Manchester Central Library, it was a walk to my next location:

Piccadilly Gardens

On the walk to Piccadilly Gardens, I had my camera in my pocket as I walked through the occasional showers of snow and biting winds. At some point, one of the settings on the camera got moved so my photos are slightly over exposed.

This is my father’s photo looking across Piccadilly Gardens from the south-east. The monument to the right of centre is to Queen Victoria.

Manchester Central Library

My 2018 photo, showing that many of the buildings along the edge of the gardens are the same as in 1949:

Manchester Central Library

The perspective of the two photos is different as I could not get into the same location as my father. The area from where he took the photo is now occupied by the building One Piccadilly Gardens.

One Piccadilly Gardens is shown from across the gardens in the photo below. The building opened in 2003 as part of the redevelopment of the gardens, although it was controversial due to the sale of part of the gardens for private development.

Manchester Central LibraryTwo more 1949 photos looking across Piccadilly Gardens:

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library

In the above photo there are two taller buildings with a smaller building squashed in between – this was in 1949.

Forward to 2018, and the two taller buildings are still there, however the smaller building in the middle has disappeared. the building on the left has expanded to take over the space.

Manchester Central Library

The view across to the western side of the gardens.

Manchester Central Library

The building on the left was Lewis’s department store, part of a chain that started in Liverpool, opening in Manchester in 1877. Lewis’s went into administration in 1991 and the building is now a Primark store as shown in my 2018 photo below:

Manchester Central Library

Photo looking along Piccadilly in 1949:

Manchester Central LibraryThere is a tall building at the far end of the street in the above photo, also seen more clearly in the above photos at the north-west corner of the gardens. This is the Rylands building. An impressive building now occupied by Debenhams:

Manchester Central Library

The building was originally constructed for the Rylands textile company in 1932. The upper floors provide warehouse space for the company with the ground floor being used as space for shops.

The architecture of Manchester is fascinating and many of the 19th and early 20th century buildings constructed during Manchester’s development as one of the major industrial cities of the country can still be found.

I only had the opportunity for a short walk between the Manchester Central Library and Piccadilly Gardens, however a couple of examples include the neo-Gothic Manchester Town Hall:

Manchester Central Library

And the Northern Insurance Buildings built in 1902:

Manchester Central Library

Manchester Central Library

My time walking in Manchester was all too short. There is so much fascinating architecture and history to be explored, I will have to return, however even with the freezing weather I was pleased to find the location of some more of my father’s photos.

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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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