29 April 2010

The Power & the Glory

Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, by the River Trent, was commissioned in 1968, and is now run by E.ON. Coal-fired, the power station has been the focus of much environmental protest, reflected in the miles of crush barriers and WWI-like looped barbed wire that now ring the site. 

Near Newark is Kelham Hall, a Victorian gothic mansion in brick. It was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, architect of St Pancras Station, and grandfather of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (YMGW passim). Completed in 1861, the hall was bought in 1903 by the Society of the Sacred Mission. A chapel was added in 1928, atop which sits a impressive Byzantinesque dome. The theological college here closed in 1972 and since 1973 the hall has been home to Newark and Sherwood District Council.

13 April 2010

What, When & Ware II

In 1613 the New River, an artificial waterway built to supply London with fresh drinking water, was opened. The waterway starts between Ware and Hertford, supplied by the River Lea, and is still walkable along most of its length to New River Head, Islington. It originally terminated near the current Sadler's Wells theatre. (In the early nineteenth century water from the 'river' was used to fill a large tank to enabling staging of aquatic theatre, one tableau featuring 117 model ships built by Woolwich Dockyard, complete with working guns - like an early Las Vegas!) Broadmeads Pumping Station is a fine piece of Victorian industrial engineering, recognised by its Grade II listing. Built in 1885, it consists of a beam engine house and engineer's house, and still boasts its stack.

Ware is full of alleys and yards, quirky corners that are always worth turning into, as many of them are home to interesting buildings. Bluecoat Yard is named after the blue heavy cloth coats worn by the scholars of Christ's Hospital. The yard features Place House, one of Ware's two mediaeval manor houses, an aisled hall acquired in 1674 by Christ's Hospital Foundation to provide a healthy location for London children; and a row of cottages that provided housing for about 150 boys, each cottage (also known as a ward) under the aegis of a nurse. These are now private dwellings. The original Bluecoat Boy statue is safely inside Place House, that above the yard entrance a copy of 1987, by local sculptor Angela Godfrey.

Of course, the Bluecoat School of Ware is not alone. The most famous is that in Newgate Street, London. This featured in the 1975 edition of the Calendarium Londinense, or London Calendar, engraved on copper by Lawrence Josset, a mezzotint engraver of the very highest standard. His most commonly seen work is his superb engraving of Pietro Annigoni's portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, but his uncatalogued oeuvre is expansive and includes many original works.

11 April 2010

Rodney's Pillar

Rodney's Pillar was erected atop Breidden Hill in 1781 by local landowners who had supplied oak, floated down the River Severn, to build Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney's ships. The monument honours the man who played a key role in expeditions against the French during the Seven Years War, 1756-1763; assisted in the capture of Martinique in 1762; and relieved Gibraltar in 1780. Rodney accounted for 15 of 21 ships-of-the-line destroyed or captured by the Royal Navy during the American War of Independence. The pillar was originally crowned with a 'golden' ball, destroyed by lightning in 1835.

10 April 2010

Two Stroke Sir?

In Strensham, Worcestershire, is the Grade II Elizabethan rectory of Peter and Rosemary Read, who run Old Rectory Retreats. Don't miss a trip on the Narnia II, a 30 foot narrow-boat moored at the foot of the gardens. This Beckmeter Multi Mix mobile pump, designed to deliver various ratios of mixed petrol and oil, was recovered from one of the Old Rectory's outbuildings.

Bond Bryan at Broxbourne

Bond Bryan, the Sheffield-based architects, designed the fantastic new buildings of Hertford Regional College at both the Ware and Broxbourne sites, a £41m project in total. Whilst the final phase of the staged development at Ware has been affected by the LSC's financial difficulties, the Broxbourne site is virtually complete, with just landscaping works to finish. The buildings were handed over as operationally ready earlier this year.

The design is bold and confident, a central atrium flooded with light and providing a real sense of space. But it is also, critically, led by student need, rather than by egoism and self-aggrandisement. One feels energised here. The facilities include JetBlueAir, a 18-seat aeroplane cabin complete with lockers and PA system from real aircraft; a restaurant in the atrium; dance, TV and recording studios; music practice suites and a 140-seat theatre; and a fully-equipped gym.

07 April 2010

What, When & Ware I

Where? Ware is in Hertfordshire, on Ermine Street, the Roman road that ran from London to Lincoln. The town is famous for the Great Bed of Ware, originally from the White Hart Inn and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington; and has a long history. Ware was once Britain's premier malting town, but that unfortunately came to an end in the 1990s.

It's an attractive place, with numerous tiled shops, old town houses, along the main street, and a variety of interesting larger buildings. Foremost amongst these are the fourteenth-century Franciscan friary (above) and St Mary's Church, of the same century (corbelled arch pictured below). The friary was converted into a private residence after the first of Henry VIII's Dissolutions. As one of the premier buildings of the town, it is now occupied by the local council, as is often the way.

06 April 2010

John Gilpin, Citizen of Credit & Renown

The Ware campus of Hertford Regional College includes the Grade II* listed Amwell House, built near the River Lea very early in the eighteenth century. It originally consisted of two storeys and just the central part of the current building. Samuel Scott bought the house in 1722 and it was likely he that added the third storey. The building retains many original features, including fireplaces, Doric columns, attic servants' quarters - there is said to be a ghost - and an early raised cistern toilet (complete with lead pipework).

In the late nineteenth century Amwell was bought by Mr & Mrs Arthur Tite. Mrs Tite commissioned the Gilpin Window, of painted glass, which features scenes illustrative of William Cowper's poem, "The Diverting History of John Gilpin," citizen of credit and renown, from which:

Says John, "It is my wedding-day,
And all the world would stare,
If wife should dine at Edmonton,
And I should dine at Ware."

In the twentieth century, Amwell House has been home to the Girls' Grammar School for Ware, the Hertford Evening Institute, Ware College and, since its amalgamation with East Herts College, Hertford Regional College. It is flanked on one side by the college's excellent new build, designed by Bond Bryan. It is to be hoped that funds will be found for Phase II, which would place the 300-year-old Amwell House in between, and thus contrast it with, two quality new builds seen through by a college with vision and determination.

Mr Schumacher & Racing Cars

Cecil Schumacher, a brilliant engineer, worked for Hobbs, Borg Warner, and Keith Duckworth at Cosworth, designing transmission systems for both road and racing cars. He now develops and repairs transmissions in the fantastic workshops at his home. Cecil founded Schumacher Racing Products Ltd in 1980, designers and manufacturers of radio controlled cars. Amongst other things, he invented the 'ball differential,' the world's first, and a genuine constant velocity joint.

His workshops and garages are filled to the gunwales with lathes and presses, memorabilia, and serious machines. Amongst these are a stunning 1933 Talbot, rebodied as a boattail in 1937; a 1925 Sunbeam; and a Rolls Royce Merlin engine (below) from a 1940s Kittyhawk, "Swapped for two-and-a-half motorbikes." Cecil has raced in Angoul√™me and in the Le Mans Classic, and the Talbot has been taken all over Europe. Cecil is friends with the legendary Derek Gardner, who built Tyrrell's first F1 chassis in his own garage, sworn to secrecy.