Monday, 2 January 2017

Between The Lines

Passengers wait atWingham Colliery Station in Kent in 1919

Trouble in Gloucestershire

 The Trouble House Inn near Tetbury in Glocestershire was built in 1754. Originally known as the Wagon and Horses it was said to be "troublesome" being poorly built and prone to flooding. Troublesome too for its landlords. An early tenant had the misfortune to see several wives die at an early age; the next lost most of his customers to the press gang. There was a landlord who say his father, a priest, defrocked for immorality.  A new owner started renovations but when he ran out of money he hanged himself in desperation. The work was continued but again there were insufficient funds, this owner drowned himsel.. The pub gained its present name in 1856 although troubles have continued in the guise of "The Lady In Blue", a resident ghost who makes a nuisance of herself by moving things around. 

When diesel railcars appeared on the local railway branch, a diminutive station was built to serve the pub. The platform at Trouble House Halt was so low that the pub's landlord provided a beer crate to help passengers climb up into the train. The railway closed just 5 years later in 1964 and the landlord made a coffin which was taken aboard the last train with all due ceremony. Filled with empty whisky bottles, it was carried by bowler hatted mourners. Progress of the train was held up though by a barricade of burning hay bales.

Black Dogs of Wiltshire 

Black Dog Halt, a little known station in Wiltshire was opened in 1863 at the behest of Lord Lansdowne. A private station, it served nearby Bowood House, home of the 5th Marquess who had his own reserved compartment on the local train from Tetbury. Black Dog Halt was provided with a siding from where valuables were transferred to Lansdowne House, his Lordship's London home.  The station didn't appear in the timetable until 1952 although it was always available to the public.  During World War I, the outbuildings were used by the army and on one occasion the Cabinet met in a carriage parked in the siding.. Lord Lansdowne was a Government minister serving as Secretary of State for War and Foreign Secretary as well as Governor General of Canada and Viceroy of India.

Wiltshire, like many parts of England has legends of black dogs, ghostly hounds with dripping fangs and flashing eyes. The Black Dog Inn, named after a spectral hound, had closed well before the coming of the railway, but still gave its name to the station as well as to a nearby hill. 

The station closed in 1965 along with the branch line to Calne.

Hauled by a donkey

The branch line to Delph in Lancashire was only just over a mile in length from the junction near Greenfield. It was served by trains from Oldham Clegg Street.

The train was popularly known as "The Delph Donkey" so named because a legend stated that the first trains in 1851 comprised a single carriage pulled by a donkey. The last train in 1955, carrying over 500 people,  was met at Delph by a donkey.

The penultimate station had the curious name of Measurements Halt. Opened in 1932, only one train called in each direction, transporting workers to the Measurements Factory. This was a business that began making clocks and watches under the "Limit" brand. As trade grew, the company diversified into making optical and aircraft instruments, radio sets, counters and gas meters. Taken over by Parkinson Cowan, the factory closed in the 1970s.

Delph Donkey passes Measurements Halt

Orchids, Straw Hats  and The War Cry

Sander and Sons of St Albans grew orchids in such quantities that they needed a railway siding for speedy transport to market. Established in 1881, Sanders produced up to 2 million orchid plants a year in their 60 greenhouses. A large team of collectors explored Asia and South America seeking new plants.  Seeds were produced in large numbers in their conservatories. 

A private station, a single wooden platform, opened in 1897 for the convenience of their staff. It only appeared in the public timetable between 1929 and 1942.
Nearby was the printing works of the Salvation Army whose employees also used the tiny halt.  It came to be known as Salvation Army Halt and continued in use until the railway between Hatfield and St Albans closed to passengers in 1951. Sander's Siding was used to despatch large quantities of Salvation Army periodicals such as "War Cry" which were distributed around the world.  Luton, not far distant, was renowned for the manufacture of straw hats. These were carried to Sander's siding from where they were despatched to London.

A Great Northern Railway Orchid Van
For Baptist End and Bumble Hole

If one changed trains at Blowers Green Station in Netherton, the branch line to Old Hill journeyed through the heart of the Black Country. This was the quaintly named Bumble Hole Line and passed through stations such as Baptist End, Windmill End and Darby End.
This was a heavily industrialised area criss crossed with canals. Manufacturing included nails, chains, ship's anchors, boilers cranes and furnaces. Coal was mined and clay dug from large pits.

The first station was at Baptist End, a district that perhaps took its name from the Baptists who had met here since 1654. One of the many chapels had the delightful name of "Sweet Turf Chapel". It is said that adherents were baptised in the local canal, the waters being warmed by industry.

Windmill End Station was in the district known as Bumble Hole. The origin of the name is uncertain although in the clay pit was a shed housing a steam hammer. It made a clanking "bum-hul" noise, a name which perhaps became corrupted. The dialect survey however, defines Bumble Hole as being an ash midden behind an earth closet.

Next was Darby End, probably named after the prominent Darby family although another suggestion refers to nail-makers from Derbyshire. In the 19th century the area became known as "Darby Hand"

Stations on this line were platforms made out of old sleepers and offered very basic passenger accomodation. Traffic was light and trains were seldom of more than a single coach. Extensive mining subsidence resulted in an uncomfortable ride. The line closed in 1964 by which time there was only one train outside the morning and evening peak. A guard at the time said of the 6.30pm train "If we get one passenger on this particular train, that's as many as we'll ever get. We may get him twice a week and he usually gets off at Windmill End".

Bumble Hole

Twice A Week To Poison Cross

  Eastry is an ancient village near Sandwich in Kent. Here in the 7th century was the palace of the Saxon King Egbert of Kent and here, two young princes, Ethelbert and Ethelred were murdered. Eastry Court is the oldest house in Britain. Behind a Georgian facade, an inner hall dates back to the year 603. In the 9th century it became an abbey and it is said that having fallen out, the monks murdered each other giving rise to the name "Poison Cross"
There is an extensive network of caves and one legend claims that Thomas a'Becket hid underground in 1164 waiting to escape to France.

Railway bridge under construction. Eastry 1911
Eastry is only a village, yet it once had three railway stations.  The East Kent Railway was built between 1911 and 1925, largely to serve the developing Kent coalfield. Poison Cross Station opened in May 1925 and for the first year trains only called on a Saturday. Thereafter, two trains ran on Wednesday and Saturday until the station closed in November 1928. Passengers on this private railway were of secondary importance a coach being added to a goods train. Wagons were shunted at each station making a mockery of the timetable. In order to make up time, the drivers would often pass stations without stopping even when passengers were waiting.

End of the line. Passengers wait for the train in 1919

Wrong Side of the River

 Not far out of Lincoln, the village of Fiskerton was served by a station called Five Mile House. The station however, was on the wrong side of the River Witham and until a footbridge was built in 1957, passengers had to cross by a chain ferry, operated by the railway.  The station took its name from a  riverside pub which catered for boat traffic and which also served as part of the station.

In 1919 a spark from a passing train set the station alight. Station Master's House, Waiting Room, Office and Signal Box were all destroyed. They were later replaced by two huts.

The station closed in 1958 although for the follwing six years a train called each Saturday, a fishermen's special from Sheffield.

The Five Mile House Ferry

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Baubels and Beads

The History of a German Glassmaking Industry

The Fichtelgebirge is a district of Upper Franconia, a region in the eastern part of the State of Bavaria. This is a mountainous country, deeply forested where small villages and towns dot the hillsides. It is a land that earns its living from farming and logging.

Fichtelgebirge was once home to an extensive cottage industry, that of glassmaking. The product of the workshops or "glashutte" as they were known was principally glass beads, buttons and christmas tree decorations. Most glashutte were small family run businesses although a few workshops did employ a considerable number of people.  The history of local glassmaking may be traced back to the 16th century when the first glashutte was established in the town of Bischofsgrun.

The glashutte illustrated below housed the works of Christian Hermann established in 1882. It is now a private house. At its peak, the glass works employed more than 30 people and its output was 18,000 glass beads per day. Much of this production was for export especially for markets in America and Africa, particularly to Ethiopia. The glass was coloured using a variety of minerals such as lead, arsenic, copper, nickel and proterobas a dark green stone found locally on the slopes of the Ochsenkopf mountain.

The largest works was that of Greiner & Co founded in Bischofsgrun in 1857.Their production was largely for export markets all over the world. The glasshutte was the last in Bischofsgrun to close, in 2004.

At the other end of the scale was the works of the Kaiser Brothers, Karl and Fritz. Their speciality was christmas tree decorations. It was here in Bischofsgrun that the method of silver plating the glass baubles, was pioneered. The process was invented by Dr Hartwig Weiskopf in 1853 and employed by the Kaisers. Although they sold products throughout Upper Franconia, most of the stock went to the shop in their own home.

A marked footpath starts in Bischofsgrun and extends several kilometres passing through the towns and villages associated with this industry. Information boards along the way tell the history of each former glass works that one passes.  Small museums in Bischofsgrun and Fichtelberg exhibit examples of
the products of the glashutte including decorative glass vessels from the 17th century..

The town of Bischofsgrun and the Ochsenkopf Mountain

The former glashutte of Christian Hermann

A selection of glass beads

Manufacturing Christmas tree decorations

Silver plated Christmas tree baubles

Monday, 12 September 2016

Tea More Expensive Than Gold

In the east of China, not far south of Shanghai, is the city of Hangzhou.

The city lies on the bank of the West Lake, a World Heritage Site that attracts millions of visitors every year, attracted by the picturesque landscape dotted with temples, pagodas and pavillions.

Just across the water, set amidst rolling, forested hills, are some of China's most famous tea plantations. Here on the terraced slopes, women wearing traditional conical hats are seen tending the bushes or picking the leaves.
Longjing tea is among the most expensive drinks in the world costing up to £800 per kilo.
The village of Longjing takes its name from The Dragon's Well a small pool of water fed by a spring and in which the movement of water on the surface is said to resemble a dragon. Another legend tells that a dragon lives in the water and can reach the sea through an underground channel. Just above the well is the tiny Dragon Well Temple.
The village street is lined with tea houses where women entice passers-by to try the beverage. A popular museum is devoted to the history of tea.
Longjing has the status of an Imperial Tea, granted by an 18th century Emperor. On a visit to the West Lake, he sampled the brew and being so impressed, granted protection to 18 tea bushes. These same plants are still producing leaf which when auctioned fetches a price higher than gold.
Longjing is a green tea, roasted shortly after picking and prepared by hand. The tea is said to
be at its best when infused in a special clay teapot in water at a temperature of 80 degrees.

You perhaps wont find Longjing tea in your local Tesco but if you would like to try the drink, Twinings, and other suppliers, offer a 100g pack for the modest price of £15 - £18.




Saturday, 16 April 2016

A Desirable Address: Manchester

 Mosley Street was laid out in the 1780’s and named after the lords of the manor. The area had been entirely residential and very fashionable.  Here lived Manchester’s greatest merchants and businessmen. Hugh Birley was a cotton spinner and manufacturer of rubber goods. S. L. Behrens was the founder of the firm of shipping merchants and Nathan Meyer Rothschild was of the banking family.
                                             Mosley Street 1825

In 1827 Henry Charles Lacy converted a house at the corner of Mosley Street and Market Street into an hotel and allowed rooms in the building to be used for warehousing.  A rash of house conversions and warehouse building followed over the next decade as property values soared. One house was sold in 1832 for eight thousand guineas, twice its’ vaue of only five years earlier. By the end of the thirties, Mosley Street consisted almost entirely of warehouses, the former resident having moved to the new suburbs such as Victoria Park and Didsbury.

Victoria Park was opened in 1837.  An area of 140 acres had been obtained by a company of gentlemen in order to build villas which would be let for between £100 and £250 per annum. The notable architect, Richard Lane was engaged to design the park, laying out roadways, boundaries and landscaping and designing the gate lodges. The park had its’ own tollgates, walls and police.
                                  Plymouth Grove Toll Gates

By December of the following year only nine houses had been completed and the company was bankrupt. A new group, The Victoria Park Trust was founded. Within the next five years a further sixty five houses had been built.  These were often large mansions with extensive gardens and required a sizeable staff to maintain them.  By the end of the nineteenth century, these villas were already being converted into hotels, colleges and nursing homes. Their weathy residents had been tempted to move further from the city to the newly fashionable area such as Bowden and Alderley Edge.

The building of Victoria Park was by a number of architects in addition to Lane,  Edward Salomons built “The Gables” and this was to become his home.
                                    The Gables, Hope Road
                           First Church of Christ, Scientist
In Daisy Bank Road is the Grade 1 listed “First Church of Christ, Scientist” built by Edgar Wood in 1903 and on Lower Park Road the Xaverian College by Alfred Waterhouse, now a Roman Catholic school for 2000 pupils.

The park was home to a number of notable residents. 102 Daisy Bank Road was home to Charles Halle and was later occupied by Ford Madox Brown at the time when he was painting the murals in Manchester Town Hall.
            Daisy Bank Road. 102 is the first door on the right.
Richard Cobden was a calico printer and political activist. In Newton Street lived Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the suffragette movement and in nearby Plymouth Grove was the home of author Elixabeth Gaskell. Marie Nordlinger and Martin Solibakke were both writers; Elias Bancroft, a painter and  George Hadfield a lawyer and radical polititian who played a leading role in establishing the Anti Corn Law League. People from a number of nationalities lived in Victoria Park including a large chinese merchant community.

                                       Lower Park Road

Today many of the buildings are used as university residences whilst others have been converted into flats. Victoria Park is a conservation area and twenty of its’ buildings are listed.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Architecture needn't be boring

His work may be controversial or eccentric but can never be considered boring.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an Austrian artist and architect famous for his unusual buildings. He opposed straight lines and standardisation. He was an environmentalist who belived that vegetation should be allowed to flourish both inside and outside of his buildings. He was an early advocate of green roofs. His Hundertwasserhaus apartment block in Vienna has uneven floors, trees growing from inside and a grassed roof. The Waldenspiral in Darmstadt has over 1000 windows, not one alike. In Osaka, the waste treatment works is a building of beauty, vibrant with colour.

Hundertwasser believed that the individual should have the freedom to build. His "Mouldiness Manifesto" written in 1958 claimed "If such a fantastic structure built by the tenants themselves collapses, it will usually creak beforehand, anyway, so that people will be able to escape".  He encouraged individuality :  "The tenant must have the freedom to lean out of his window and as far as his arms can reach, transform the exterior of his dwelling space. And he must be allowed to take a long brush and as far as his arms can reach paint everything pink, so that from far away, from the street, everyone can see: there lives a man who distinguishes himself from his neighbours..."

Hundertwasser was also an artist. He studied briefly at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. One can quickly see the similarities between his architecture and paintings. He described his artisitc style as transautomatism, focussing on the experience of the viewer rather than the artist. He designed stamps, clothing, coinage and posters. 

Born Friedrich Stowasser in 1928 to a Jewish mother, he escaped persecution by being baptised a catholic  and joining the Hitler Youth. Hundertwasser was an active environmental campaigner who opposed the European Union and advocated the restoration of the monarchy. He spent his later years in New Zealand and died in 2000 whilst aboard the QEII.

The Hundertwasser Turm is an observation tower at a brewery in Abensberg, Southern Germany. 

The cellar of the tower is just as decorative.
Also in Abensberg, the Hunderwasserhaus.
Uelzen Railway Station where a traditional building has been transformed.
The Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, perhaps his most famous building is covered in vegetation.
The Waldenspirale in Darmstadt. 1000 unique windows.
The Grune Zitadella. Magdeburg. The final project completed after his death.
Waste treatment plants are usually shunned for good reason. This one in Osaka, on the other hand, is celebrated.
Malerei. Typical of Hundertwasser's style of painting.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Sculpted in Brick

"To Build a Community" and "Dome in the Sky" at Winston-Salem, North Carolina, U.S.A
the work of artist Brad Spencer
Detail from another piece by Brad Spencer

Not so comfortable perhaps, this sofa by Rod Harris in Bristol

Appropriate that this 40 metre long locomotive should be in Darlington, home of the steam railway. The sculpture contains 180,000 bricks

A 5m long scupture by John McKenna depicts the history of Rugby

"Taliesin" by Gwen Heeney a public bench outside the leisure centre in the
 Powis village of  Llanfair Caereinion.

Also in Wales is the "Sirhowy Wyvern" a scuplture by Rebecca Buck. Designeed in collaboration with the people of Tredegar.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Standing to Attention

A Swedish soldier standing to attention in the southern town of Simrishamn. I walked past twice before I noticed this art installation. Few people seemed to see him.


Cromer in North Norfolk was largely developed as a resort in the Victorian period. The town perhaps reached the height of its popularity in the 50's and 60's when large numbers of visitors from London and the Midlands holidayed there. Cromer was once important enough to have two railway stations with direct services from many parts of the country. This is not a large town, the population is less than eight thousand so it must have seemed quite crowded in the summer time. Cromer has a pier, a lifeboat station and a few boats still go out fishing. Crab has always been an important catch and there were once many shops and stalls selling fresh or dressed crab to locals and visitors.
Fewer visitors come these days although new attractions have been introduced to try to revive the trade. Many of the former hotels and guest houses now provide accommodation for social services.
This is still a very attractive town, the rolling countryside is quite different from the flat plains of much of Norfolk.
Out of season Cromer can be cold. The vicious east wind seems to carry shards of ice which penetrate the heaviest of clothing.

Watercolour painting by David Easton

San Giorgio Maggiore

This scene will be familiar to all who have been to Venezia. The busiest part of the city is the waterfront near Piazza San Marco. Here gondoliers may be hired to transport you through the picturesque canals, taxis are for hire for a speedy journey across the lagoon or a vaporetto boarded for it's waterbus journey around town.
This is the view across to San Giorgio Maggiore, a small island dominated by the 16th century church designed by Palladio. The frontage is of gleaming white marble. The campanile or bell tower was rebuilt in 1791 after the original 15th century tower collapsed. There is a lift to the top in addition to a ramped walkway. The interior is bright with natural light and contains large canvasses by Tintoretto: "The Last Supper", "The Fall of Manna" and "The Entombment of Christ". Tintoretto was an important renaissance style painter who lived in Venezia between 1518 and 1594.
There was originally an important Benedictine monastery here although in 1806 the monks were expelled by Napoleon's army and the buildings became an artillery depot. Since the 1950's the monastery has been occupied and restored by the Cini Foundation. This organisation was founded by Count Cini ,a World War II concentration camp inmate. His release had been secured by his son through bribary with valuable jewels. The buildings now house literary and theatrical archives and an important library. The civilisation of the former Venetian republic is studied in teh Foundation's school. La Foresteria is the luxury guest house established by Count Cini which continues to be used by notable visitors including many heads of state. The building contains an important art collection.

watercolour painting by David Easton

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Church of Agios Lazarus, Larnaca

Lazarus of Bethany was a devoted follower of Jesus. The Gospel according
to John gives an account of a miracle. On hearing of Lazarus's illness, Jesus
travelled to Bethany only to find that he had died and had already been
entombed for four days. John tells us that "Jesus Wept"; the origin of that
expression. Jesus is said to have visited the tomb and ordered the entrance to be opened. After a prayer, he called upon Lazarus who came out still
wrapped in his burial cloth. This resurrection caused anger amongst Jewish priests as it increased Jesus's following.

According to Greek Orthodox tradition, Lazarus was forced to flee to Cyprus
where he was appointed Bishop of Kition (present day Larnaca) by Paul and Barnabas. He was to live on the island for a further thirty years. The Church of St. Lazarus was built on the site of his burial and the tomb is to be seen in the crypt.

Another tomb claimed to be that of Lazarus is to be found in Palestine. The
site has long been occupied by a Mosque although Roman Catholic and
Greek churches have been built alongside.

The Byzantine Church in Larnaca was founded in the 9th century. For some
time during Venetian rule, this became a Roman Catholic place of worship and then under the Osmanli Empire, it was converted into a mosque. It was sold back in the late 16th century to the Orthodox Church who shared it with the Roman Catholics. Outside the church are monastic buildings and cells. The latter were sometimes rented to tradesmen and craftsmen. The buildings also house a museum.

A watercolour painting by David Easton