28 November 2010

Arrival of the Argonaut

Using a dually pickup, Stuart Connell shifts the Silver Streak Clipper (YMGW passim). He's assisted by his son Richard, who's a wheelwright, a highly skilled occupation. A quick initial clean serves to remove a number of small abandoned wasp or bee nests and what appear to be old termite homes. This is most decidedly going to be a long-term project. The floor has been newly boarded and the aluminium belly replaced, but among other things required are brake controls, wiring, plumbing, and a complete internal fit-out to provide storage, seating, sleeping, and cooking facilities. And that's before getting to the repair and polishing of the exterior.

27 November 2010

Tanat Valley

The Tanat Valley Light Railway opened in 1904. Operated by Cambrian Railways, the line ran from Gobowen, through Llynclys and Porthywaen, to Blodwell Junction. At Gobowen the line joined up with Cambrian's network; and at Blodwell with the erstwhile Potteries, Shrewsbury & North Wales Railway. At Llanddu Junction, part way along, a branch line headed off to the quarries at Nantmawr.

Railway ownership and operation around here was, and remains, complicated. Major rationalisation came on 1 January 1923, when all lines in the area became part of Great (God's) Western (Wonderful) Railways. 25 years later, to the day, came nationalisation. Through the 1950s and 1960s there were numerous closures in British Rail's Western Region. The line between Gobowen and Blodwell remained open, for quarry traffic, until 1988.

The Cambrian Railways Society holds a lease on the line. The track has never been lifted, so the Society has, in some respects, less of an uphill struggle than its cousin, the Cambrian Railways Trust, the latter looking to reinstate the line between Oswestry and Llanymynech. At St Michael's in Llanyblodwel the ladies cleaning the church for Christmas kindly provide a cuppa to the cold examiner of bosses.

25 November 2010

The Full Monty

Dominating the county town of what used to be Montgomeryshire, the castle, at least in its stone form, was commenced in 1223, with the inner ward and its gatehouse completed in just five years. The middle and outer wards were added in 1228. The castle was slighted in 1649 after falling into the hands of the Roundheads.

Montgomery is the oldest borough in Wales, and boasts a number of fine buildings from various periods, especially the Georgian. The Norman church, begun 1227, is home to both half a dozen or so misericords, and the lavish tomb of Richard and Magdalene Herbert, parents of the sixteenth-century poet and divine George Herbert.

The town is famous for the hardware store of R.H. Bunner and Son, which has traded since 1892. This is the sort of shop in which Ronnie Barker would have asked for "fork 'andles" and Ronnie Corbett would have fetched four candles. If you can't get it here, it doesn't exist.

On the B4385 to Bishops Castle are a couple of Gilbarco petrol pumps, one a T8 'Fat Lady' of the 1920s. Petrol was last four and three a gallon (about 21 pence for 4½ litres) in 1963, which is presumably when this fat lady last sang.

21 November 2010

RAF Rednal

Parent to nearby RAF Montford Bridge, the station at Rednal was operated for the same period, and by the same training unit. Its three runways, in the form of an almost equilateral triangle, were also used by the US Air Force to bring back to military hospitals in Shropshire, using Douglas Dakotas, soldiers wounded in Normandy.

The range of training exercises undertaken at Rednal - reconnaissance, cross-country, fast ascent and low flying, flying by instruments and in formation, bomber accompaniment and dogfight practice - resulted in a number of accidents. In 1977 the body of Pilot Officer Jean Noizet was recovered from his cockpit: during WWII he had crashed into nearby woods after collision with another Spitfire. The remains of his aircraft are in the museum at RAF Cosford.

The control tower is now the centrepiece of a paintballing arena; and a section of one of the runways is given over to a karting circuit. A nearby fortified farmhouse has three brick-faced pillbox embrasures. The various hangars and support buildings are in either agricultural or light industrial use. In one yard are stored an Austin K9 truck and a number of fairground rides.

19 November 2010

RAF Montford Bridge

RAF Montford Bridge was a satellite to the nearby, and significantly larger, RAF Rednal. It was operated between 1942 and 1945 as a fighter pilot training establishment, with No. 61 Operational Training Unit flying Spitfires and Mustang IIIs.

The watch office, the single storey to the left (top), was built in 1940. The adjoining two storey control tower was added in 1942, in all likelihood when the three runways of the airfield were laid. The flight office (below) seems at some later stage to have been reused by a skydiving club.

16 November 2010

National Memorial Arboretum

At 150 acres, the NMA is a small but important element of the National Forest. Work on the latter was commenced in 1990, the aim being to join up Needwood Forest in the west with Charnwood Forest in the east to provide a central England forest of 200 square miles in extent, with an average of 33% woodland cover. In just 20 years the percentage of cover has grown from 6% to 18%, with 7.8 million trees having been planted so far.

Near Alrewas and on the banks of the River Tame, the NMA commemorates all those service personnel killed in action, or as a result of terrorist activity, since 1945. Upon the five metre high Portland stone walls of the Armed Forces Memorial (top), designed by Liam O'Connor and dedicated in 2007, are engraved their names. Through a slit in the circular outer wall the sun shines at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. In the centre of the memorial is a large bronze wreath, flanked with striking bronze sculptures by Ian Rank-Broadley.

The gardens and fledgling arboretum, laid out on land once quarried by Lafarge, who still quarry the adjoining land, are home to numerous individual and group memorials. Particularly striking is Shot at Dawn - 307 plain wooden poles, one for each soldier known to have been executed by British firing squads for 'cowardice,' ranged around Andrew DeComyn's marble statue (below). This represents 17-year-old Private Herbert Burden, executed for leaving his trench to reach the transport column and console a friend that had just lost a brother. In November 2006 the British Government finally pardoned all those shot at dawn. By implication, it apologised for their murder.

13 November 2010

Barmouth & 70mph Unicycling

Cut in two by the railway, Barmouth has two sides - the dramatic Snowdonian scenery against which it is presented, and the amusing tackiness of its centre. The town sits on the north side of the River Mawddach, crossed by the 900 yard long Barmouth Bridge, built 1867.

Carrying both the Cambrian Railway and pedestrians, the bridge was originally entirely of wood, with a lifting drawbridge section, to allow for the passage of tall ships, but this was replaced in 1901 with a steel swing section (above).

Amidst the dunes is a sculpted wooden head, akin to the moai statues of Easter Island. This appeared overnight in July this year, and is known locally as Kiki Dum Dum. There are a number of pleasant corners that provide that unmistakable sense that one is in a faded British resort. Visiting this one was a chap who happily exhibited the trip computer on his 36" wheel Nimbus unicycle - he'd hit a frightening 70mph on the hill down into Dolgellau!

07 November 2010

If It Ain't Broke, Fix It!

That in just four years the National Trust and its partners managed to bring back from near ruin the magnificent pile of Erddig calls to mind the oft-used phrase of a friend, "They did it because they didn't know it was supposed to be impossible."

Few things are more irritating than the cry that one shouldn't fix that which is not broken, that one should recognise the 'impossibility' of something, that one should be content with the satisfactory. This cry generally emanates from those who lack ambition, who fail to understand that breakthroughs result from personal involvement in unrelenting hard work, not from the preaching of slogans, or from the half-cocked application of barely understood 'magic fixes.'

Charles Babbage invented the speedometer and cowcatcher, pioneered dendrochronology, proposed the uniform charge postal service, and, with his difference engine (above), fathered the computer. As he had it: "Propose to an Englishman any principle, or any instrument, however admirable, and you will observe that the whole effort of the English mind is directed to find a difficulty, a defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible; if you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless, because it will not slice a pineapple."

Long life to those that strive for lasting improvement, who extend themselves and sometimes fail, but try again; who risk and make mistakes, then seek to put these right. If only the pedestrian placemen, who mistake movement for action, who want merely to pick up their monthly pay cheques, would give way to the thoughtful, the ardent, and those with integrity. "This has been got out by a friend" - Ian Dury.

06 November 2010


Erddig, pronounced AIR-thig, was designed by Thomas Webb and built between 1684 and 1687. The wings were added in the 1720s, when the fa├žade was faced with stone. This is quite severe, but provides a superb contrast to the rich Queen Anne brickwork of the rear of the building.

The house remained in the hands of the Yorke family from 1733 right through to 1973. The Yorkes were early adopters of self-sufficiency, and in many ways the most interesting aspect of Erddig is the extensive range of estates facilities. A steam engine drives a sawmill along with a mill designed to mix materials for brick-making and mortar production.

The extensive walled garden, sectioned by stunning avenues of pleached limes, is full of espaliered fruit trees. 173 varieties of apple are grown here. In the park, landscaped by William Eames between 1768 and 1789, is the 'Cup and Saucer,' which provides a fall of water from the Black Brook sufficient to drive an hydraulic ram pump that raises drinking water to the house.

The Yorkes also kept everything, so the National Trust acquired a house complete with its furniture, and coach houses boasting means of transport through the ages. Amongst these is the second Austin 12 seen recently (see Return to GBZ), this one a 1927 Tourer, and a 1907 Rover.