27 February 2011

Sorviodunum = Sarum = Salisbury

Two miles north of Salisbury is Old Sarum, the original site of the city. Massive Iron Age ramparts, raised five millennia ago, remained intact until the arrival of the Romans, who built a fort in the river valley and knew the place as Sorviodunum. William the Conqueror later built a motte and bailey castle within the ancient earthworks. A stone keep was erected in 1110, and a royal palace was completed 30 years later.

The first Salisbury Cathedral, erected in the outer bailey, was finished in 1092, but was seriously storm-damaged just five days after its consecration. It was enlarged by, in two principal stages to 1190, the addition of transepts and a grand west front, this last overseen by Roger of Salisbury, both bishop and Chancellor.

Church and state didn't always see eye-to-eye, and in 1219 the cathedral was demolished. A replacement, about which the modern city of Salisbury grew, was commenced on church land the following year. Amazingly, it was not until 1834 that the foundations of the Old Sarum cathedrals were noticed. They were excavated as recently as 1912-14.

26 February 2011

The Bastards of Blandford

Blandford Forum, Shottesford Forum in Hardy's Wessex novels, is a market town famed for its Georgian architecture. The market goes back to the thirteenth century, but the town was ravaged by fire in 1731. John and William Bastard, local bigwigs, builders and furniture makers, set about rebuilding it over the next 30 years. The church of St Peter and St Paul, although built 1735, is classical in style.


Although closed, the owner of Edmonsham House, a gorgeous Tudor manor house of 1589, with Georgian additions, allowed access to the grounds, six acres of lawns, shrubberies and trees. Edmonsham is the family home of Julia Smith, in whose family it has been since the sixteenth century. The symmetrical Victorian stable block is stunning, but the nearby garages and sheds, and a petrol pump, caught the eye. Housing for various vehicles and on-site motor spirit - oh for the 1920s!

Just beyond the grounds of the manor house is the diminutive St Nicholas, built of Heathstone rubble and flint. The nave and chancel are twelth century, the north aisle is fourteenth century, and the stubby tower is early fifteenth century. Framed by ancient yews, it is the very epitome of an English rural church.

Tidworth and Tedworth

12 miles south of Marlborough in Wiltshire is Tidworth, and hard by the A338, its spire visible from the road amidst a surrounding small wood, is St Mary's. This was commissioned by Sir John Kelk, Victorian civil engineer and contractor, who built, amongst other landmarks, Victoria Station and the Albert Memorial. Designed by John Johnson, architect of Alexandra Palace (Ally Pally), the church was built 1879-80. It was declared redundant in 1972.

An avenue of lime trees leads to Tedworth House, acquired by Kelk in 1876 when, on becoming High Sheriff of Hampshire, he bought the Tedworth Estate. The house had been built in Palladian style by Thomas Assheton Smith III, between 1828 and 1830. Kelk extensively rebuilt and remodelled it between 1878 and 1880.

17 years later the Army acquired the whole estate for military training. Tedworth House is currently undergoing renovation by the Help for Heroes charity to provide a personnel assessment and recovery centre. There are extensive stables, some of which housed Smith's 50-odd horses; various military buildings, including Nissen huts; and, at present, woods full of snowdrops.

The grounds are home to Tidworth Combined Services Polo Club. The polo ground, second largest in the UK, is named after one General Sir Bertie Fisher, who oversaw it being made by the 2nd Cavalry Brigade when commanded by him in 1922. Recalled from a TV documentary in the 1980s, from the mouth of a d├ębutante: "Doesn't everyone meet their future husband at the polo club?"

24 February 2011

Much Wenlock Quarries II

To one side of the limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge is Lea Quarry, operated for the production of roadstone until about four years ago, when extraction became uneconomic. Wenlock is of international significance in geological circles, part of the Silurian Period (440-410 million years ago) being known as the Wenlock Era. As at Farley Quarry (YMGW passim), just along the road, brachiopods and coral are in abundance, as the Edge was a reef back before God was invented.

The National Trust, which owns and manages seven miles of the Edge, about half its length from Much Wenlock to Craven Arms, has reportedly expressed an interest in acquiring the quarry as a wildlife refuge. For now, the elevators and crushers of the quarry, which would hopefully remain in situ, are starting the long journey of returning to the earth they served to work.

20 February 2011

Shrewsbury in 200 AD

Wroxeter, when it was still Viroconium Cornoviorum, was the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, having developed from a legionary fortress. English Heritage has worked with Channel Four in the making of a documentary, Rome Wasn't Built in a Day, modern builders applying materials and techniques of the period to recreate a second century Roman villa. This, raised on an artificial platform to protect the underlying archaeology, is based on excavation evidence from the city, occupied from 58 AD for half a millenium, at its height home to 15,000 people.

The reconstruction, which took just six months to complete, includes a self-contained shop (which would have had living space above), porter's lodge, and reception/dining room with frescoes and mosaic floor. There's also a three-room bathing facility - frigidarium, tepidarium and calderium. The rooms, all connected by an open corridor, are in some cases part-finished, so as to exhibit the various building techniques used.

18 February 2011

Planes, Trains, Boats & Automobiles

Amos Bell of Pool Quay has an Interceptor SP (six pack), LPH 500K, very smart in Porsche Guards Red with a black vinyl roof. Amos previously had an Interceptor II in Germany when flying helicopters for the RAF. He has some wonderful photographs of the Jensen in the back of a Chinook - with bags of room to spare!

At Canal Central, Fiona has a Citro├źn 2CV Dolly, apparently one of only six hundred in grey and cream livery, made for export to the UK - most are red and white. In the adjoining shed is Peter Clare's 10¼" gauge Canadian Pacific Hudson Class 4-6-4 live steam locomotive. This was designed and built between 1937 and 1941 by one Perry Routledge, ex-CP locomotive engineer; and first shown at the Vancouver Exhibition of 1941.

Mr Routledge died in 1960, and the locomotive was last in steam in that decade. Peter brought it to the UK in 2004, since when it has been restored. A new boiler was recently pressure-tested, and the aim is to have the locomotive operational once again this summer. It is capable of what must be a rather scary 50mph.

In yet another shed are two Russell and Newbery marine engines, shipped back from Canada. R&N was formed in 1909, in Altrincham, producing generators and lighting sets for grand houses in the days before the national grid. R&N built its own engines, originally petrol and petrol/paraffin. In the late 1920s it expanded into diesel units, and in the early 1930s it was R&N diesels that were installed in the new narrowboats of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company Ltd.

15 February 2011

Beverley, Sisters

Regarded by many as the most impressive non-cathedral church in England, Beverley Minster is the jewel in the crown of a delightful town, full of attractive buildings and interesting corners. The minster was originally a collegiate church - the College of Canons was abolished, and the chapter house taken down, during Edward VI's reign - and is dedicated to St John. This is the Evangelist, not St John of Beverley, founder in about 700 of a local monastery, and who lies beneath the nave.

A serious fire occurred in 1188. In shades of the hubris of Golding's The Spire, the central tower was raised during the reconstruction but collapsed c.1213, taking much of the church with it. The present building was commenced c.1220. Work extended for about 200 years, so the east end and transepts are Early English, the nave largely Decorated, and the gorgeous west front (top) Perpendicular, although the whole looks and feels coherent. The new central tower, graced with a lantern, itself threatened collapse, and as a consequence was rebuilt yet again in the eighteenth century.

There's lovely blind arcading inside, with that in the north aisle decorated with numerous fourteenth-century stone carvings of musicians and their early instruments. The 68 stalls of the choir have eighteenth-century canopies and early sixteenth-century misericords, each one unique. Just around the corner is a street-side fat-bodied petrol pump, with swinging overhead hose.

10 February 2011

Much Wenlock Quarries I

Just north of Much Wenlock lies Farley Quarry. A geology website explains that the quarry reveals the uppermost strata of the Coalbrookdale formations, an alternating sequence of grey, shaley mudstones and thin, nodular, buff to blue-grey limestones. The limestone was once coral reef, 100 feet under warm seas. Brachiopod fossils can be picked up from the ground.

The site has for many years been used for off-roading and quad-biking. It appears to be undergoing extensive grading (and, on the other side of the road, around the lake, preparation for building). For the grading much building rubble has been imported. Amidst this is the remains of marble headstones, which hopefully haven't come from consecrated ground.

03 February 2011

Weston's Real Pier

Whilst he oversaw the construction of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, the great I.K. Brunel lived in Weston. The railway opened in 1841, bringing visitors from Bristol and the Midlands. Birnbeck Pier was built to entertain them. Designed by Eugenius Birch and opened in 1867, it provided tea rooms, various rides, and a photographic studio. It was lit in the evenings with gas. A new landing stage was added in 1872 and a lifeboat station in 1881 (rebuilt 1902). This last, with the longest slipway in England, is still operational; but otherwise the pier, listed Grade II*, is derelict.

It suffered storm damage in 1903, and the western jetty (built 1898) disappeared in 1920. The Birnbeck Island amusements closed in 1933 as a result of competition from the Grand Pier's funfair. During WWII the pier was used by the Admiralty for experimental weapons development - a Lancaster bomber dropped on it a large block of concrete. The pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1988, the pier was extensively damaged by a 1990 storm, and ultimately closed four years later. One now can't get beyond the remains of the cast iron turnstiles (above).


Weston is famous for the mud of the Bristol Channel on which the town sits. At low tide the sea is about a mile from the promenade, resplendently repaved with what must be hundreds of thousands of tons of granite, and edged with a splash wall into which are built numerous stone benches, at a total cost of £34 million. Near the prom stands the Weston Wheel, 130 feet in diameter and boasting 30 observation pods.

The Grand Pier, opened in 1904, was originally planned to be 6,600 feet long, and now extends 1,200 feet. The largest pavilion ever built on a pier was added in 1932/3, after a fire destroyed the original pier-end building in 1930. This Art Deco building in turn burned down in July 2008. A staggering £51 million has been spent on a replacement, opened in October 2010. Irritatingly, the owners allow children but not dogs on the pier, which suggests that it is as corporate and clinical as it looks from below.

Weston is an odd town. In January 1941 and June 1942 large swathes were destroyed by thousands of incendiary bombs; and these areas are home to ugly constructions of the 1960s. There are also though some fine Art Deco buildings, such as a Burton's from the 1930s, designed by Harry Wilson, the head of the firm's in-house architects - note the elephant heads.