25 December 2014

Shrewsbury Canal - Wappenshall Junction

Opened in 1796, the Shrewsbury Canal, constructed by Josiah Clowes and, later, Thomas Telford, linked Shrewsbury and Trench. Here an inclined plane provided a link to the canals to and from the coal mines and iron works of east Shropshire. All these canals were designed to take tub-boats, rectangular in plan, 19' 9" long, just 6' 2" wide, and made of riveted wrought iron plates.

In 1835 the Shrewsbury Canal was finally linked to the rest of the national canal network, by means of the Newport Branch of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal. A three-way junction was formed at Wappenshall. The arm from there to Shrewsbury was widened to accommodate the narrowboats used on the Newport Branch, broader in the beam than tub-boats, but the arm to Trench was not.

The Duke of Sutherland had built the two transhipment warehouses that survive at Wappenshall Junction, designed to transfer loads between tub-boats and narrowboats. The largest (above) sat astride a basin that linked the canals, with cargo hoisted through trapdoors into the upper storeys of the building. There is some uncertainty as to whether the warehouses are by James Trubshaw or Telford.

The site also boasts a roving bridge, the curving ramps up to which enabled a towing horse to cross from a towpath on one side of the canal to that on the other without being unhitched. This example is thought to be Telford's work. The Trench incline closed in 1921, the basin in Shrewsbury in 1922, and the Shrewsbury Canal, and Wappenshall Junction, in 1944.

Shrewsbury Canal - Longdon Aqueduct

The Shrewsbury Canal is at Longdon carried over the River Tern, a tributary of the Severn, by means of a cast iron aqueduct - possibly the idea of ironmaster William Reynolds and at least in part designed by Thomas Telford. This is oft-claimed as the first such in the world, but that honour belongs to Benjamin Outram's 44 feet long cast iron Holmes Aqueduct on the Derby Canal, in water by February 1796, just one month ahead of Longdon-upon-Tern.

Telford's 187 feet long, 7' 6" wide, trough was bolted together from sections cast at Reynolds' ironworks at Ketley. It was erected, complete with a cast iron towpath, in place of Josiah Clowes' stone aqueduct, washed away in 1795 before completion. The masonry at each end is of the original aqueduct.

In its design can be seen that later adopted by Telford for the trough of his Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, completed in 1805. The Shrewsbury Canal closed in 1944, since when the Longdon-upon-Tern Aqueduct, Grade I-listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, has stood stranded amid fields.

03 December 2014

Berkhampsted Castle

Berkhampsted is arguably the most important of the early Norman castles: it was here that William the Conqueror received the submission of the English, after the Battle of Hastings. Controlling the northern approach to London, thirty miles away, William's half-brother Robert of Mortain built, circa 1070, a wooden castle, atop a 43 foot motte, surrounded by a huge bailey. The castle is unusual in that it had two surrounding moats.

Thomas à Becket, Lord Chancellor to Henry II, was granted the castle in 1155, when the first stone buildings were erected. The curtain walls too were built under Becket. The castle was though besieged in 1216 by Prince Louis of France. The possibly first use of trebuchets on British soil overcame the defences. The Earls of Cornwall held the castle for much of the 13th century, and the first Duke of Cornwall, the Black Prince, honeymooned there in 1361.

The castle fell into disuse late in the fifteenth century, and declined thereafter. The railway from Euston, built in 1838, cut across the outer earthworks, but the twin trenches remain in good order. The brick cottage that sits inside the castle, still owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, was built in 1865.

20 November 2014

Headstone Tithe Barn

Headstone is a moated manor house, built circa 1310, that was once the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, surrendered to Henry VIII in 1546. It is the earliest remaining timber-framed building in Middlesex, and surrounded by the only surviving water-filled moat in the county.

Yet it is not the manor that dominates the site. The nearby tithe barn is 140 feet long and 29 feet high, and entirely framed in oak. Grade II* listed, the barn dates back to 1506. Although called a tithe barn, the building was not actually used to store the Church's decimation of farm produce.

Harrow Council restored the barn in the 1970s, but unsympathetic lighting and heating vents, and inappropriate modern materials, rather spoil the grand interior. The exterior, though, is glorious; and it is hoped that a lottery grant will help fund a new restoration that will put right the mistakes of the past.

28 October 2014

The Lady of the North

Northumberlandia, otherwise known, by those familiar with Viz, as the Fat Slag, is an immense land sculpture near Cramlington, north of Newcastle. 1,300 feet long and 112 feet high, the Lady is formed of 1.6 million tons of clay, soil and rock.

All of this came out of the adjoining Shotton open-cast coal mine, the operators of which, the Banks Group, engaged architect and artist Charles Jencks to design something more attractive than the usual levelled slag heaps and water-filled pits.

The Lady is laid out on land owned by the Blagdon Estate, which has been surface mined since 1943. Work began in 2010 and was completed in 2012. Once the slag had been formed it/she was sprayed with seed. There are stone-built viewing platforms upon the forehead and breasts, and at the hip, knee and ankle.

Waste is inherent in mining, and one might as well have a land-form that distantly echoes the tradition of the Long Man of Wilmington and the White Horse of Uffington as another fake hill. At £3 million, it probably also cost the Banks Group and Blagdon Estate less than other forms of landscape restoration.

26 October 2014

The Angel of the North

Located in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, The Angel of the North, designed by Antony Gormley, is the largest sculpture in Britain - and weighs in at a very earth-bound 220 tons. The strong horizontal form, and the slight forward angling of the wings of the sculpture, which stands just south of Low Fell, assists it to dominate the nearby A1.

This was coal-mining country, and the underlying mines had to be grouted before foundations 66 feet deep, comprising 165 tons of reinforced concrete, could be formed. The statue is just 66 feet tall yet has a wingspan of 177 feet, and has been designed to withstand wind speeds of up to 100 mph. 52 bolts each ten feet long affix the Angel to a concrete plinth 17 feet thick. Intriguingly, the body is hollow, accessible via a hatch on one of the shoulder blades.

Completed in 1998 at a cost of £800,000, the Angel was constructed, by Hartlepool Steel Fabrications Ltd, from 3,153 pieces of steel. It was delivered to site in three parts - the body of 110 tons and the wings of 55 tons each. 88 bolts hold each wing in place. COR-TEN steel and copper alloy was used, two inches thick for the ribs and of a quarter inch for the skin, the surface of which rusts in a predictable manner and doesn't require painting.

20 October 2014

Plotlander Arcadia, Farndon

The Dugout was built in the 1930s, along with many of the cabins and huts alongside the River Dee at Farndon, near Chester. The plotlanders, often city dwellers and artists, or simply those with little money, built themselves personal Arcadias on small chunks of marginal farmland, either bought or leased. Before the 1938 Holidays With Pay Act, most taking a holiday had to stay somewhere cheap, and the plotland huts were popular holiday billets.

Old railway carriages were a favourite basis for self-built cabins, extended using scrap materials. The 'movement' largely ended with the coming of WWII and the planning constraints introduced thereafter. Plotlands can have an wonderfully anarchic feel, and mutual self-help was at their root. But councils hate free-thinkers, and many plotlander cabins have been destroyed, yet Farndon thrives, and there's a similar edgeland feel to the chalets of Bewdley, Worcestershire.

08 October 2014

Neon Dreams

This vintage neon advertising sign came from a radio and television retailer and rental shop in Leeds. House and Sons is understood to have been quite a large concern, with six shops at its height. The illuminated part of the sign is about 16 inches wide by nine inches high. The contacts of the tube simply rest in cylindrical holders on top of the transformer, unlikely to meet current safety standards.

The Parmeko P2626 Luminous Tube Transformer has an iron core, embedded in asphalt to reduce noise, and is thus very heavy for its size. The output is 4,000 volts, 18 milliamps, more than enough to kill through even dry skin. Parmeko was founded as Partridge and Mee Ltd in 1927, in Leicester. The company name was changed in 1935. Parmeko went into administration in 2013.

27 September 2014

Kuwait - Kuwait Tower

Although referred to in the singular, Kuwait Tower is a group of three towers, built as part of a city-wide water management system. Designed by the Swedish engineers Sune Lindström and Malene Björn, the towers were built, in concrete, by Energoprojekt of Belgrade. The other five groups of water towers are mushroom-shaped, but the Emir of Kuwait wanted something more spectacular to overlook the Persian Gulf.

Construction commenced in 1971, and the towers were formally opened in March 1979. The main tower is 613 feet high, and features two spheres. The lower stores a million gallons of water, and also houses a restaurant at its top, 270 feet up. The upper sphere is home to a rotating observation deck and café, 404 feet above the ground.

The second tower is 482 feet high, and stores another million gallons of water. The third, 371 feet high, carries a number of lights to illuminate the two larger towers and their spheres, covered with 55,000 steel discs in eight different colours. The towers were damaged during Gulf War I, 1990-91, and have been closed since 2012 for restoration.

Kuwait - The Souqs

There are numerous souqs in the capital of Kuwait. All are proper markets, geared to the demands of the locals. Istanbul Grand Bazaar-like tourist tat and pushy sales pitches are entirely absent.

Most items have marked prices, although haggling is still de rigueur. Amongst the best souqs are those in Kuwait City, the downtown part of the capital.

The souqs sell the fruit, vegetables and spices, in great profusion, that one might expect. Fish and meat have their own areas within the larger markets. Clothing comes in the form of inexpensive hijabs and niqabs for the ladies, dishdashas for the gents, right through to cheap imitations of Western dress.

There are alleys of the souqs devoted to particular products, such as perfumes, both raw and blended. And always an alley of tea-pots and other kitchenwares. Addictive.

24 September 2014

Grim's Dyke

Standing high on the Harrow Weald is a hotel that was once home to Sir W.S. Gilbert. Its name, Grim's Dyke, comes from the remains of the nearby ancient defensive earthwork, Grime's Dyke, which defined part of the boundary of the lands of the Catuvellauni, and which as it passes the house now forms a partial moat.

The house was built, between 1870 and 1872, for the painter Frederick Goodall RA. The architect was Norman Shaw, who had been a pupil of George Edmund Street (architect of the Royal Courts of Justice). Shaw designed Old Scotland Yard and Vauxhall Bridge, and his domestic work was a precursor to that of Sir Edwin Lutyens. His tile-hung gables, tall chimneys, mullioned windows with leaded lights, and timber framing served to give the impression of great age.

Goodall sold in 1880 to the banker Robert Heriot, who added in 1883 a billiard room (now the restaurant) designed by Arthur Cawston. W.S. Gilbert bought the house in 1890, for £4,000, and added further bedrooms, using the architects Ernest George and Harold Peto. He converted the drawing room into a library, now the hotel bar; and Goodall's studio, complete with minstrel's gallery, into a drawing room, now a conference and reception room.

Grim's Dyke was jointly acquired by the Middlesex and London county councils in 1937, and leased for use as a tuberculosis recuperation centre. During WWII the house was home to an engineering unit that investigated captured German equipment, including the Nazis' first jet engine. The hospital closed in 1963, and the steadily dilapidating house was used as a film set. It was Grade II*-listed in 1970, and opened as a hotel in 1971.

28 August 2014

Wembley Stadium, Nil

The current Wembley Stadium was designed by Populous and Foster and Partners, and built, by Multiplex, between 2003 and 2007, at a cost of £798m. At 90,000, the stadium seats the greatest number in the UK. It provides more covered seating than any other venue in the world. One might thus expect it to be stunning.

In truth, the stadium has absolutely no architectural merit, unlike its iconic predecessor. It fails every test that could be applied. The partially-retractable roof was designed to cover all the seating yet not shade the pitch during common playing hours, but the calculations were wrong. The pitch is recognised as worse than its predecessor, has had to be relaid a dozen times in seven years. The stadium was supposed to double for athletics - and funded on that basis - but the cost of temporary conversion is in the millions, and it's never been used for athletics, not even during the 2012 Olympics.

Even the contractors recognise the stadium as a disastrous project. Multiplex sued structural engineering consultants Mott McDonald for £253m, and the original steel contractor Cleveland Bridge for £38m, and was counter-sued by both. Concrete contractor PC Harrington sued Multiplex for £13m.

The famous Wembley Arch, 436 feet high, 23 feet in diameter, and spanning 1,033 feet, is indeed a superb piece of engineering, but isn't enough to save the overall construction from mediocrity. It's sterile, soulless, and looks like nothing so much as a cross between a 1970s' county council headquarters and a multi-storey car park, has the form of a popped zit, and is surrounded by an ugly sea of tarmac and retail sheds.

28 July 2014

Isle of Man - Douglas Head

Overlooking the town of Douglas is the Great Union Camera Obscura. Built as a tourist attraction in 1892, this is the only camera obscura in the world with eleven apertures. A metal tube is rotated between each of these, and the captured light mirrored down and through a series of lenses onto a circular and concave white tabletop, to produce a properly-oriented changing view of the immediate locale.

Clearly visible is the Douglas Head Lighthouse, built in 1857 by David and Thomas Stevenson, and rebuilt in 1892. The tower is 66 feet tall, and provides a light at an elevation of 105 feet. The light, one of five on the island, was automated in 1986.

27 July 2014

Isle of Man - Point of Ayre

Point of Ayre marks the northernmost point of the Isle of Man. There are three marine warning systems here. The Point of Ayre (High) lighthouse, at an elevation of 105 feet, is the oldest on the island. Built by Robert Stevenson, of the famous family of lighthouse builders, the light (in background below) operated from 1818.

The accretion of shifting shingle - the Norse Eyrr means a gravel bank - necessitated the construction in 1888 of a second light, Point of Ayre (Low), 30 feet tall and known as The Winkie, 250 yards to seaward of the main light. The Winkie (top photograph) had to be moved a further 80 yards to seaward in 1951, but ceased operation in 2010.

The main lighthouse was automated in 1993, since when the lighthouse-keeper's house has been in private ownership. The fog signal, the twelve feet-long horns of which were supplied by Sentinel air compressors driven by Kelvin diesel engines, was taken out of service in 2005.

24 July 2014

Isle of Man - Snaefell Mountain Railway

The Snaefell Mountain Railway climbs from Laxey to the Isle of Man's highest point (2,034 feet) over a distance of five miles. The electrified railway, built in a single season in 1895, is of 3 ft 6 in gauge, and employs bow collectors to pick up 550 volts DC from catenary wires, the most exposed of which are removed in winter to prevent damage through icing.

There are six wood-bodied railcars, all built by George F. Milnes & Co. in 1895 (although No. 5 was rebuilt in 1971). These can also be used on the Manx Electric Railway (the "low road"), which runs between Douglas and Ramsey, on track of 3 ft gauge, crossing that of the Mountain Railway at Laxey, by virtue of a change of bogies.

Isle of Man - Laxey Wheel

Known also as the Lady Isabella (after the wife of the island's then governor), the Laxey Wheel is the largest operational waterwheel in the world. It was designed by Robert Casement and built in 1854 to pump water from part of the Great Laxey Mine.

The overshot wheel, six feet broad, and a stunning 72 feet and six inches in diameter, is still, as designed, driven by water syphoned to the top of the structure in concealed pipework. The wheel turns, in 'reverse', at about three rpm, and drives a crank with a throw of four feet. This is connected to a counterweight and a wooden rod, 600 feet long, which runs on iron wheels seated upon short lengths of flat ironwork affixed to the top of a stone 'viaduct'.

The wheeled rod moves back and forth about eight feet, its movement transferred, via T-rockers, to vertical pump rods that descend 1,500 down the mine shaft. Although the wheel no longer pumps water, it originally moved 250 gallons per minute, and was capable of managing significantly greater volumes. Great Laxey Mine closed in 1929.

23 July 2014

Isle of Man - Peel Harbour

Peel is the third largest town on the Isle of Man, but known as the isle's sole 'city' - as only Peel has a cathedral. The town is the island's main fishing port, and shellfish processing and kipper curing continue as viable trades.

Accordingly, Peel has a substantial harbour. The inner harbour, pictured, is tidal, but a gate was added in 2005 as part of the development of Peel Marina. There are five marine lights around the town, that on Peel Castle Jetty marking the west side of the entrance to the inner harbour.