31 October 2010

Calcott Hall: Too Late to Save?

A walk along stretches of Offa's Dyke Path and the Severn Way between Four Crosses, Llandrinio, Haughton and Domgay takes one past the Grade II listed but sadly derelict Calcott Hall. This is a magnificent three storey pile of about 1725, once surmounted by an octagonal lantern, now collapsed. It features in SAVE's Buildings at Risk register. To judge by the various documents lying around inside, the hall was abandoned sometime in the 1970s, most probably upon the death of its owner. Given time and extensive funds, the house and its numerous outbuildings could be glorious. It would be wonderful to be in a position to restore it.

28 October 2010

Five Names, One Bog

In the midst of Cadney Moss stands a fine tower windmill, sympathetically converted. The 2,340 acres of Fenn’s, Whixall, Bettisfield, Wem & Cadney Mosses form Britain’s third largest lowland raised bog, after Thorne Moors and Hatfield Chase near Doncaster. The mosses were in the past exploited for peat, and thus display a regular pattern of drainage.

Commercial exploitation of the mosses grew with the arrival of the Llangollen Canal, engineered between 1801 and 1804, and the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway, opened 1864. Built as recently as 1938, Fenn's Old Works, a peat milling and baling facility, is steadily rusting into the ground it once processed. The canal was originally below the level of the bog, but this subsided as a result of the peat cutting. With extraction halted, the central part of the mosses is now returning to bog conditions.

27 October 2010

Shot Mill, Southbank, London

Lawrence Josset (YMGW passim), master of the mezzotint and described as a "magnificent anachronism" in his obituary in The Independent, was a prolific drawer and engraver of London scenes. There is no catalogue raisonnĂ© of his work, and internet searches keep turning up further items. The latest is Shot Mill, a pen and ink drawing with watercolour wash, 22 x 14½ inches in size, in the hands of Peter Harrington, dealer in rare books and works on paper.

The work is described as circa 1980, but that can't be right. The image shows Waterloo Bridge, designed by our old friend Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and, west of this, on the south side of the river, the Royal Festival Hall under construction. The foundation stone of the RFH was laid in 1949. The shot tower was kept as a feature during the 1951 Festival of Britain, and demolished when the Queen Elizabeth Hall was built in the sixties. So, the scene is sometime between 1949 and 1951, and the drawing is likely to be contemporaneous.

18 October 2010

Return to GBZ

The various buildings of Criggion Radio Station (YMGW passim) have recently been boarded-up again. Less and less is left in them to indicate their 'secret' history and function. The medium wave (high frequency) transmitter building, pictured, is now in a particularly poor state, all the cabling having been ripped out for scrap. Back in the days of LPs, when artwork still mattered, one could have shot a fine album cover here.

On the way, parked up on a corner and for sale, is a 1928 Austin Heavy 12/4, complete with artillery wheels. The 12/4 was introduced in 1921 as a four-seat tourer. Other body styles followed, and the car was still being produced in 1939, as a taxi - it is from an empty one of these that one can imagine Attlee stepping. The "Heavy" designation was used retrospectively, in the 1930s, to destinguish the car from Austin's newer 12hp models. YV 2703 was originally a saloon, but has during its life also been a pick-up. It was converted to a coupĂ© in the early 1980s.

11 October 2010

That's a Fine Pear You've Got There

This year's West Midlands Tree Warden Forum was held in the wonderful surroundings of Worcester Woods Country Park, just outside the city. Boasting an hundred acres of ancient oak woodland, and a fine Countryside Centre, the venue is ideal for this purpose.

Nunnery Wood (above) was, together with Nunnery Farm, managed by the White Ladies, Cistercian nuns. As a result of the dissolution, the wood was made an endowment to Christ Church College, Oxford, to the benefit of which it remains to this day. It is home not just to oak, but also aspen, wild service, yew, crab apple and pear - including the Worcester black pear, featured on the city's coat of arms.

An oak on the edge of the wood is likely half a millennium old, marking an ancient boundary. The woods were once farmland, and in nearby Hornhill Meadows one can still see the lines of ridge and furrow cultivation. An orchard of the nineteenth century, the remnants of Horn Hill Farm, has been restored, with apples and pears that were shrouded in briar now brought back to production (above).

Much Binding in the Marsh

Shropshire is a treasure trove of hidden gems, corners from another time. One such is Birchfield Garage, in Much Wenlock. Three redundant pumps, from different eras, stand sentinel. The central one is a Gilbarco (Gilbert and Barker as was), and that on the right is likely an Avery. Doubtless various collectors have sought to acquire them, but they look right just where they are, waiting for an Austin A40 to come by.