25 September 2011

Snakes & Loaders, Macclesfield

The Macclesfield is one of the six canals that form the Cheshire Ring; and runs for 26 miles between Hall Green at its southern end and Marple Junction at its northern. One of the last narrow canals constructed, it took just five years to build, commencing in 1826, under the engineering leadership of Thomas Telford. It's famous for its roving (or 'snake') bridges, over which the draft horses passed from one towpath to another. In an adjoining field was this suite of vintage tractors: from left, a David Brown, a Fordson, and a Ferguson.

18 September 2011

Charente - Racing Angoulême's Ramparts

Street racing started in Angoulême in 1939, the ramparts of the town providing a testing circuit of short straights, extremely tight turns between steep inclines, and mixed road surfaces. Racing recommenced in 1947, after WWII, but stopped again in 1955 due to changes in French law bearing on street racing. In 1978 Juan Manuel Fangio gave his support to the circuit, and racing commenced once more in 1983.

A number of races lasting twenty minutes or so provide for cars of many pre-war and pre-1980s marques to be seen in quick succession, including Bugattis, Rileys, Fraser Nashes, and MGs. There are races of just Bugattis, and races of mixed marques. It is quite possible to see Minis mixing it with Renault Alpines and Porsches (top). Overall winner was Erik Comas, in a Renault Alpine A110.

The organisation is impressive, but thankfully the overall atmosphere is relaxed. F1 can't touch this, in terms of either cost or closeness to the action. In the paddock one can see the cars close up, including this year a very nice Triumph Dolomite Sprint, and talk with the drivers. On the circuit one can move around and view the action from various vantage points. Proper racing.

17 September 2011

Charente - The Road to Montignac

In support of the racing at Le Circuit International des Remparts d'Angoulême is the Rallye International de Charente, which this year saw no fewer than 400 vintage and classic cars explore the countryside of the Charente.

The rally took the cars through Montignac, north-west of Angoulême. A route taken to intercept them passed close to Balzac. The château here (top) was built circa 1600, although the chapel is of the fourteenth century. All in limestone, the house's curtilage is defined by a wonderfully columned arcade of stables and garages.

Just into Montignac is a sizeable junkyard, full of both cars and vans of yore, including faded but still attractive Simcas, Renaults (above), and a Citroën H van (middle).

15 September 2011

Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex

Sited on the seafront, the De La Warr (pronounced "Delaware") Pavilion was built in 1935 in International Style to the design of Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff. They had won an architectural competition set up by Herbrand Sackville, ninth Earl De La Warr, the brief for which specified a 1,500-seater hall, a restaurant for 200, a reading room, and a lounge. The budget was initially set at £50,000.

The pavilion was built with a welded steel frame cased in concrete, the first in the UK, which enabled graceful cantilevered balconies. Construction took less than a year. However, after the war the council failed to properly maintain the pavilion, and made a number of philistine and ham-fisted alterations. Grade I listing was applied in 1986, but the council dithered. In 2002 serious funding was secured from the Arts Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund to enable the pavilion to undergo a major restoration in 2004, returning it to its elegant modernism. Thankfully, the pavilion is now owned by a charitable trust.

Bexhill lays claim to being the birthplace of motor racing in Britain, hosting the first recorded race, in 1902. It was also the original home of Elva cars. In the town's museum is a lovely Elva Climax III, rebuilt by its original creators. The bodywork was undertaken by Hastings Motor Sheet Metal Works, also behind the one-off Jensen Esporando.

09 September 2011

Clywedog Trail, Wrexham

Between Minera (YMGW passim) and King's Mill lies the Clywedog Trail, along which are numerous remains of mines, mills, and ironworks. Deep Day Level drained the Minera lead mines into the River Clywedog. Near to the outlet is Nant Mill, originally a fulling, and later a corn, mill.

The stretch from Nant Mill to Bersham runs through Plas Power Woods, largely oak and beech. Big Wood Weir (top) was constructed in the mid-18th century to feed water, via a leat, to a nearby coal mine. Another weir, Caeau, supplied Bersham Ironworks, next stop on the trail.

The works was founded in 1718 by Charles Lloyd, and was the first in Wales to use a coke-fueled blast furnace. Under John 'Iron Mad' Wilkinson it was one of the most important in Europe. In 1774 Wilkinson patented a means to bore cannon from the solid, and this technology was used later to accurately bore cylinders. Many of the cylinders used in James Watt's steam engines were made at Bersham.

Wilkinson's nearby East Works was used for rolling and boring, later as a paper mill, and later still as a school. It now operates as a small museum, outside which are a number of mining and iron-making artefacts, viewed (above) through one of the ventilation holes in a mine's double-decker man rider.

05 September 2011

Ormskirk, Lancashire

Ormskirk is not the most wildly attractive of places - charity shops are a great source of books, but one can have too much of a good thing - yet has some interesting corners. Principal amongst these is the parish church of St Peter and St Paul, on the site of the original church reputedly founded by Viking Ormr, from whence the town's name - Ormr's church. 

Only three churches in England have both a spire and a tower; the other two are both near Swindon. The spire dates from the early 15th century, rebuilt between 1790 and 1832. The tower was added circa 1548, its massiveness accounted for by the fact that it was built to house the bells from nearby Burscough Priory, dissolved by Henry VIII.

A second unusual feature of the church is the late 19th-century cast iron pissoir that stands to one side of the porch. Manufactured by McDowall Steven & Co at the Milton Ironworks in Glasgow, this is in excellent condition. As the verger ruefully observed, it is no longer in use due to 'health and safety' - for which, as usual, read laziness on the part of a public body.

From the perspective of those interested in architectural details, shabby towns have one major advantage: not all the old shop frontages have been ripped out. There is some excellent tile and terracotta work to be seen, especially above first floor level.

04 September 2011

Another Fine Car, Stanley

It's not every day that a steam car is seen out and about, rather than at a specialist show. This Stanley steamed up outside Canal Central (YMGW passim). It is owned by Diana and David Goddard, of Montford Bridge, near Shrewsbury.

The Stanley twins built their first car in 1897, and later sold the design to Locomobile. They formed the Stanley Motor Carriage Company, of Newton, Massachusetts, in 1902. The company operated until 1924, killed off by the internal combustion engine.

This car is of 1909. The 20hp Model 85 was known colloquially as a "coffin nose." It has two cylinders, connected directly to the rear axle - no driveshaft and no clutch. And it's huge.