29 April 2011

Haughmond Abbey, Shropshire

Like its cousin at Thornton, Haughmond, founded in the late eleventh century and granted abbey status in 1155, was governed by the Augustinian rule. The remains here are far more extensive, and include the abbot's luxurious quarters, a large part of the refectory and dorter, and a good portion of the cloisters, all built in white sandstone rubble, with ashlar dressings.

Most impressive is the chapterhouse, rectangular at its front and 'half-octagonal' at its rear. The frontage features a dozen statues of the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. Inside is a splendid oak roof, over five hundred years old, an amazing survival.

The abbey church (above) was heavily stepped up the rising ground of the site. Surprisingly, given the scale of the place, just 24 canons lived at the abbey at the end of the twelfth century. When dissolved in 1539 just the abbot and ten canons were there to sign the deed of surrender and be granted pensions.

27 April 2011

Humber Bridge

The reinforced concrete towers of the Humber Bridge, 533 feet tall, and its massive concrete anchorages, are founded, 100 feet below ground level, in clay. The bridge is of the suspension type, built between 1973 and 1981, with aerial-spun catenary cables, inclined hanger cables, and a continuously-welded, closed box road deck.

It is a truly magnificent piece of engineering. The statistics are incredible: 15,000 wires in each cable; 44,000 miles of wire all told; 30,000 tons of steel; 530,000 tons of concrete; a central span of 0.9 miles; another half mile of side spans. The cables alone weigh 11,000 tons, the road deck weighs 17,000 tons, and there's often a live load of 6,000 tons.

But it's only a round walk of its east and west foot and cycle paths, cantilevered out from the road deck, and positioned below this, that provides a real appreciation of its size, as the return journey takes an hour-and-a-half. The bridge's streamlined shape makes it very stable, far more so than the Golden Gate or the Severn bridges.

The south side of the Humber used to be home to numerous brick and tile works, to a cement works, and to ACC Chemicals, and was thus heavily polluted. 86 acres have been reclaimed and now form a country park. The visitor centre for this, designed by Gerard Bareham, stands just west of the bridge.

Barton upon Humber

As its full name implies, Barton lies on the south bank of the River Humber. The town's treasure is St Peter's, partly on account of its tower, the lower stages of which are pre-conquest, i.e. Anglo-Saxon. Adjoining the tower is the only surviving Anglo-Saxon baptistery.

The church was made redundant in 1970, and its archaeological importance led to it being taken into the care of the Department of the Environment in 1978. Between then and 1984 over 2,800 interments, in and around the church, from the Anglo-Saxon to the Victorian periods, have been excavated and studied. St Peters is thus Britain's largest resource for historic bone analysis, enabling study of diet and disease through the ages.

Although its foundation goes back to 970, what is most immediately striking is the 18-window clerestory. Nearby St Mary's, also commenced in the late tenth century, and now the parish church, also has a clerestory, of the fifteenth century. One is put in mind of Long Melford, Suffolk. The town has a number of interesting buildings, including a Trumpton-like police station.

Thornton Abbey, Humberside

The gatehouse at Thornton Abbey, founded 1139, is the largest monastic such in the land. The Augustinian abbey here was exceedingly wealthy, and the gatehouse, a very early example of the use of expensive brick (originally rendered), proclaimed and protected that wealth.

The gatehouse was commenced in the 1360s, and reinforced with a moat and barbican after the 1391 Peasants' Revolt. It stands 69 feet high, and on entering one passes through a magnificent brick-built passageway, complete with its time-worn fourteenth-century gates.

Inside, over four storeys, are numerous chambers, both small and very large. These are linked by a maze of brick-built corridors, which twist and turn, reminiscent of Jean-Jacques Annaud's film of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Garde-robes are placed at regular intervals (below).

The foundations of the monastic church provide a sense of just how vast this was; whilst the remains of the octagonal chapterhouse, built between 1282 and 1308, provide a feel for the architectural beauty that it would have boasted. The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539, and its stone robbed for other uses.

26 April 2011


Reg: And what have [the Romans] ever given us in return?!
Xerxes: The aqueduct?
Reg: What?
Xerxes: The aqueduct.
Reg: Oh, yeah. They did give us that. That's true. Yeah.
Commando: And the sanitation.
Loretta: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
Reg: Yeah. All right. I'll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.

Matthias: And the roads.
Reg: Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads ...
Commandos: Irrigation.
Xerxes: Medicine.
Commandos: Huh? Heh? Huh ...
Commando: Education.
Commandos: Ohh ...
Reg: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.

Commando: And the wine.
Commandos: Oh, yes. Yeah ...
Francis: Yeah. Yeah, that's something we'd really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
Commandos: Public baths.
Loretta: And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
Francis: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it. They're the only ones who could in a place like this.
Commandos: Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh.
Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Britain's First Bicameral Parliament

Built of red sandstone, and framed by a magnificent cedar of Lebanon, Acton Burnell Castle, really a fortified manor house, was built between 1284 and 1293 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Lord Chancellor to Edward I. It's rectangular in plan, with towers at each corner. Over three storeys were the usual offices of kitchen, buttery and pantry; hall, solar, cabinets, and chapel.

Acton Burnell is famous for being the location for Britain's first legislating parliament consisting of both Lords and Commons, in 1283. This is believed to have been held in the nearby barn, of which remains only one gable end, in the grounds of Concord College.

The college incorporates Acton Burnell Hall, built in 1814. The castle had been in ruins for a century or so by this point, and was adopted as a folly in the grounds of the hall. Two shallow-arched coach gateways in the castle walls date from this period, the driveway to the hall passing through the castle.

Robert Burnell also founded the nearby church of St Mary, still largely as built in 1282. A small square window in the north wall of the chancel gave lepers, kept outside, sight of the altar - a heartwarming instance of a charitable Church. In the north transept is a fine sixteenth-century monument to Richard Lee and his wife.

24 April 2011

Loton Park Hillclimb

Loton Park, Alberbury, is one of only two private deer parks in Shropshire, and has been in the hands of the Leightons since 1391. The eleventh baronet, Sir Michael Leighton, has planted over 200,000 trees, and it is through these that the hillclimb rises and, unusually, for part of the run, dips.

The climb was laid out in the mid-1950s by the Severn Valley Motor Club. Since 1970 the course, 1,475 yards long, has been included in the British Hillclimb Championship, organisation being in the hands of the Hagley & District Light Car Club.

No fewer than ten championships are contended for this weekend, the climb tackled by road-going production, modified production, sports libre, racing, and classic cars (Hillman Imp, second from top); motorcycles, and motorcycle side cars. Particularly stylish are the cars of Club Alpine Renault - Renault 8 Gordini, and Alpine Renault A110, above.

It's a relaxed venue, with full access to the paddock, and no over-zealous security. Many of the spectators' cars are as interesting as those competing - TVR Vixen (top), and Lancia Flavia coupé (above). The Dolomite 1500 SE didn't look at all out of place.

22 April 2011

Easter Hare

Deep in the Berwyns, at the head of Cwm Pennant, Pennant Melangell is home to Britain's only extant shrine of the Romanesque period. There's no through road, and just three houses about the church. The oldest part of this is of the twelfth century, but the almost round churchyard suggests pre-Christian use - there are Bronze Age burials here. Four of the five massive yews are adjudged to be over two thousand years old.

Just inside the porch of 1737 are animal-excluding gates, of 1763. The window to the far right (top) is fifteenth-century, the others in the south wall Victorian. Remarkably, the apse at the east end is of 1989, built upon the twelfth-century foundations of the original apse, replaced six centuries later by a square schoolroom, and replaced in its turn a further two centuries on.

The rood screen is of the fifteenth century, with a new oak loft above - the rood itself would have been destroyed as a result of the Reformation. Behind the tympanum is preserved a huge plaster panel, originally a reredos upon the east wall, featuring the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer, in Welsh.

The chancel is dominated by the shrine of St Melangell. The story goes that in 604 a Welsh prince chased a hare into a briar patch, wherein was in saintly contemplation Melangell, a traditional beautiful virgin. The hare hid under her garment and the hunting dogs fled. The prince gave Melangell the valley as a sanctuary.

Originally constructed circa 1160-70, the shrine was likely broken up early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth as part of the drive to control devotion to relics. Re-erected in 1958, some parts recovered from where they had been built into the nave walls and the lych gate, it was moved into the chancel in 1989.

20 April 2011

Shropshire's Stonehenge

Shown on Ordnance Survey Explorer maps as a temple, the 36 stones of the circle at Bron-y-Garth are, in fact, an attenuated take on Stonehenge. Erected circa 1850-1860, in the grounds of a house (The Quinta) of the same date, the circle was apparently put up by one Major West.

The folly, Grade II listed, is known as the Quinta Circle. The outer circle, about ten yards across, consists of 20 limestone uprights, of which six pairs are capped with lintels. In the centre of the inner U-shape array of trilithons is a large flat stone. But, this being Shropshire, albeit only just, one can't imagine Beltane being celebrated here on the first of May.

A number of the stones are marked by the signs of stitch drilling. In Follies: a National Trust Guide, it is speculated that construction of the circle may have been a squire's project to alleviate unemployment.

18 April 2011

Double Cream

Familiar yet different are the cream (and crown-less) K6 telephone boxes of Kingston Communications, the only 'municipal' telephone company left in the UK. Granted a licence in 1902, the operation of Hull Corporation (later Hull City Council) was the only municipal service not ultimately absorbed into the Post Office's telephones division.

The Hull area is, thus, the sole part of the UK not served by British Telecom. KC beat BT to the punch with its Golden Pages, launched in 1954, ahead of Yellow Pages; and again in 1989 by becoming the first all-digital network in the UK. Right up to 1999 the company was wholly-owned by the council, which retains a 44.9% stake.

13 April 2011

Church & State, God & the Bomb

Atop Beacon Hill, overlooking Holme upon Spalding Moor, five miles from Market Weighton, stands All Saints church. "Holme" refers to the hill, about which the land is otherwise flat, as the word is Danish for an island. The church is of the thirteenth century, with walls of both stone and brick.

A couple of hundred yards away is an ROC post (YMGW passim), complete with an Orlit-made, pre-cast reinforced concrete, aircraft spotting post of the 1950s. This one is a type B, on stilts. The steel door is still present, although detached from its hinges.

11 April 2011

Absolute Bee-ginner

Newly installed are four stands, bedded into the ground in order to avoid any mishaps, to support, ultimately, eight beehives. These have to be no less than half a yard apart, so that the bees from each hive don't get confused and seek to enter the wrong one.

For the moment there are four hives, of the National variety - the traditional 'stepped' hive is known as the WBC (William Broughton Carr). They face broadly east and southeast, to catch the morning sun. At this point the hives consist of a brood chamber only, although one has two such. Above these will ultimately be the supers, from which the queen is excluded and in which the workers will store honey.

08 April 2011

BBC3 - Countryfile

A burtone was a fortified farmhouse, and it is from this that comes the name Bishop Burton. The former estate village could be described as delightful archetypal English - parish church, pub, geese on the tree-shaded green, and two ponds (the larger known as the Mere).

The houses predominantly feature whitewashed walls, red pantiles, dormers, and rustic porches supported by black-painted logs that retain the stumps of removed branches. The church houses a bust of Wesley, carved from the wood of a wych elm under which he is said to have preached. The carpenter who treated it for woodworm in 1898 completed his timesheet thus: "To rebaptizing John Wesley and curing him of worms, 25/-."

07 April 2011

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head appears to boast two lighthouses. In fact, one of these is actually a beacon tower, built in 1673, on top of which brushwood would have been burned to warn of invasion. The lighthouse proper, designed by Samuel Wyatt, was built in 1806. It originally burnt oil, but was electrified in 1940. At 92 feet high, its 3.5 million candela sequence of four white flashes is visible 21 miles out to sea.


Bridlington's origins likely extend as far back as the Bronze Age. An Augustinian priory was founded here in 1133, and what is now known as the Old Town grew around this after it was given prominence by Henry V, who in 1415 gave thanks at the priory for his Agincourt victory.

But it is for the New Town that most visitors now come. The fishing port expanded and developed into a small spa town during the nineteenth century, subsequent to discovery of a chalybeate spring. Although past its heyday, Bridlington is lively, bright and interesting, with a very pleasant promenade.

The light here is luminous in the way that only coastal light can be. It wasn't though enough for Bridlington to hold on to its most famous son, David Hockney. One doesn't tend to hear in California the line heard in a café here: "A cheese and onion sandwich? Sorry, we don't start those for another week yet. Only bacon sandwiches until then."

05 April 2011

Funicular Bridgnorth

The Bridgnorth Cliff Railway, opened in 1892, operates between Stoneway Steps in Low Town and Castle Walk in High Town. There are two cars on parallel tracks, 201 feet long, and raising the passengers 111 feet. The incline of 33° makes this the steepest funicular railway in England. The cars are connected by a steel safety rope, looped around a large pulley at the top of the track, and counterbalance each other.

Originally, each car had beneath it, within the triangular steel frame on which the passenger compartment sits, a 2,000 gallon water tank. From a 30,000 gallon reservoir on the roof of the upper station, the top car's tank was filled with water. At the same time the bottom car's tank was emptied. The heavier descending car thus lifted the lighter ascending car.

This hydraulic motive system was replaced in 1943 with an electric motor. Two steel ropes operate so that one winds onto one drum of four feet diameter, as the other winds off another drum of the same size. The cars no longer needed on-board attendants to operate the brakes, as air brakes, operating on the drums, were introduced. In 1955 the original wooden cars were replaced with the current ones, of aluminium.

03 April 2011

Mold, Flintshire

Mold, on the River Alyn, is the administrative centre of Flintshire. It's an honest town, not pretending to be anything beyond that which it is. Intriguingly, it's home to a good number of auction sites and houses, for both livestock (including J. Bradburne Price & Co., above) and deadstock. There's also a lovely long-closed garage, Harley's, complete with Beckmeter pumps.