29 May 2010


In Penybontfawr, Powys, is the Bethania Service Station, featured in an article in the May issue of Classic Bike, about the death of independent filling stations. The three Beckmeter pumps in front of the garage have not been in use since 2007. The owner, John Evans, confirmed what had been said in the magazine piece: small independents can no longer afford the cost of wholesale petrol, forced out by the branded chains and supermarkets. The garage is still in the car repair and MOT business, but trade must be thin on the ground out here.

28 May 2010

The Lake with No Name, Shrewsbury

The Radbrook area lake that fills what was once a Hanson-operated quarry doesn't appear to have a name - seemingly enough time has not yet passed for one to be adopted. It is very attractive - the yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) currently in bloom - and home to various ducks and to coots (Fulica atra).

22 May 2010

Old Oswestry Hillfort

The hill upon which Old Oswestry Hillfort sits was settled from the Neolithic right through to the Roman period. The hillfort is one of the best preserved in Britain, and went through a number of phases of construction. The two innermost box ramparts - a clay core, faced with boulders and originally supported by timber, covered with earth - were built in the early Iron Age. In the middle Iron Age a third rampart was added on the western side of the fort. Still later this was enlarged, and had added to it a series of pits, which may have been defensive in nature or to provide storage. Finally, two further, massive, ramparts were added to encircle those already in place and create a formidable glacis.

At this time of year the hillfort is covered with common gorse (Ulex europaeus) and common bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). (Non-scripta distinguishes the common bluebell from the hyacinth of Greek mythology, borne of the blood of Prince Hyacinthus, its petals marked by the tears of Apollo with the ancient Greek letters for "alas.") Bluebells are always extremely difficult to photograph successfully. Indeed, the whole site better lends itself to illustration by painting or drawing than by photography.

19 May 2010

What, When & Ware IV

On the north side of the River Lea are a number of eighteenth century gazebos, unique as a group. These stand at the end of what were formerly the gardens of Ware's numerous high street coaching inns. Strictly speaking they are summerhouses, as gazebos are roofed but open on all sides. "Gazebo" is one of those words for which there is no known etymology, despite the false claims for a derivation from the French Que c'est beau.

16 May 2010


Llanymynech is dominated by the limestone quarries of Llanymynech Hill and the chimney of the nearby Hoffman kiln (YMGW passim), majestic amongst the common oaks (Quercus robur). The village benefits from a real spirit of community, but is suffering a little from the recession, with both the Lion Inn and the Dolphin Inn closed. The former famously had one bar in Wales and another in England.

Richard Roberts, a nineteenth century mechanical engineer renowned for improving the accuracy of machine tools, was born in the village. In 1847 he patented his Jacquand machine, adapted to punch holes in metal instead of patterns in cloth. His invention was used to make the plates of the railway bridge at Conwy. It was also a version of the Jacquand that punched cards for early computers. One of Roberts's clocks graces the Normanesque St Agatha's Church, one oversized face designed to be visible from the quarry. The church was built in 1844 of local limestone, with terracotta arches and decoration.

13 May 2010

Neither New nor a River

The New River (YMGW passim) was constructed between 1609 and 1613 to carry fresh spring water to London from Hertfordshire, and is still in use by Thames Water as a source of drinking water. Chadwell Spring, rising in a circular basin 30 yards wide and known as the 'banjo,' was the New River's original source, and yields up to just shy of a million gallons per day. The nearby Marble Gauge, of 1770, used to regulate the amount of water taken from the River Lea, but is now bypassed by pipes. The intake from the river is now regulated a little further to the north, at New Gauge.

12 May 2010

Northampton & Lamport Railway

George Stephenson designed the 18 mile Northampton to Market Harborough branch line, complete with six stations and two long tunnels, which opened in 1859. The line closed in 1981, but just three years later railway enthusiasts started work to bring it back to life. Progress is inevitably slow: the line was officially reopened in 1996 and runs on just a couple of miles of track. Some lovely old crates in the goods yard.

09 May 2010


At the 32nd running of the Sandwell Historic Vehicle Show, GTU 864T returned to the locale of its birth, West Bromwich. The Jensen Owners' Club showed a splendid 27 cars. 

The Metropolitan (above) was assembled by Austin at Longbridge, using bodies fabricated by Fisher and Ludlow at Castle Bromwich, on contract to Nash Motors Ltd of the United States. Approximately 100,000 were produced, 95% of which went to America. Some lovely badges on the front of a Ford Prefect.

(Photograph of Jensens by Rupert Lloyd Thomas)

04 May 2010

What, When & Ware III

Hertford and Ware were, from the seventeenth century, England's malting capitals. They thrived on the intense demand for malt for brewing purposes. Hertfordshire's main crop was barley, which was brought to the maltings to be soaked in water (to convert the starch into sugar) and then dried and heated (to prevent germination).

In 1839, Ware boasted as many as 65 maltings. A speciality of the town was brown malt, cured at high temperature using wood-burning kilns, and used in the making of porter. The prepared malt was delivered to the breweries of London along the River Lea, but the railway age gave access to the barley of the Midlands, and Burton became the new centre of the malting industry. The last malting in Ware closed in 1994.