21 March 2014

Anderton Boat Lift, Northwich

The Weaver Navigation was completed in 1734, allowing swift transportation from the Cheshire 'salt towns' to the River Mersey. In 1777 opened the Trent and Mersey Canal, at Anderton close to, but fifty feet above, the navigation, and providing a connection to Stoke-on-Trent. In 1793 a basin was excavated on the north side of the navigation, enabling goods to be trans-shipped by crane and inclined plane. To address significant traffic growth, the engineer Edward Leader Williams designed a lift of two counterbalancing water-filled caissons, supported by interconnected hydraulic rams: additional water need only be added to one caisson for this to descend and its twin to rise, with fine adjustments requiring just a 10hp steam engine.

The hydraulic engineer Edwin Clark undertook the detailed design. The caissons, each 75 feet long, 15.5 feet wide, 9.5 feet deep, and weighing 252 tons when filled, were supported by hydraulic rams - hollow cast iron pistons, 50 feet long and three feet in diameter, inside buried cast iron chambers of the same length but of 5.5 feet diameter. The original superstructure consisted of just seven hollow cast iron columns, to guide the caissons, connecting at the top to a 165 feet long wrought iron aqueduct, gated at each end. The ride took three minutes, although were a caisson raised or lowered independently, using only the power of the steam engine, this extended to 30 minutes. Construction commenced in 1872, and the lift opened in 1875.

Unfortunately, canal water was used as the hydraulic fluid, and the rams corroded badly. The engineer Colonel Saner designed a replacement system of electric motors, wires, counterweights and pulleys to allow each caisson to move independently. The superstructure was strengthened by the addition of steel A-frame buttresses, and 36 cast iron counterweights, of 14 tons each, were installed. The pulleys were driven by a 30hp motor. The conversion work was undertaken between 1906 and 1908.

The lift closed in 1983 due to the discovery of extensive corrosion in the superstructure, but was fully restored between 2000 and 2002. Although the headgear and buttresses of 1906-8 remain in place - the weights form a children's maze nearby - the lift once again operates hydraulically, using oil-filled rams to drive each of the caissons separately. The Anderton and the Falkirk Wheel are the only operational boat lifts in the UK.

Wallerscote Island, Northwich

Between the River Weaver (bottom of above picture) and the Weaver Navigation stands, on Wallerscote Island, the last remaining part of the giant soda ash works that once dominated Northwich. Brunner Mond was founded in 1873, built its chemical works in Winnington, by the navigation, and produced its first soda ash - sodium carbonate, used in glass making, dyeing, detergents and cooking - in 1874.

BM became a limited company in 1881 and grew like Topsy, was one of the five largest soda ash producers in the world. In 1926 it joined with the British Dyestuffs Corporation, Nobel's Explosives Ltd, the United Alkali Company, and many smaller enterprises, to form Imperial Chemical Industries - the once mighty ICI.

The Brunner Mond name reappeared in 1991, when ICI divested itself of its UK and Kenya soda ash businesses. The new BM grew once more, and in 2010 acquired British Salt, a provider of one of the key ingredients of soda ash. BM was itself acquired by Tata Chemicals in 2005, and rebranded as Tata Chemicals Europe.

The main chemical plant was the other side of the Weaver, and from this led conveyor belts, running in a huge gantry over the river, to the storage, packing and loading facility on Wallerscote Island. The main plant closed in the 1980s, and has already been bulldozed - the two last photographs are taken from where it once stood. Tata closed its Northwich operation in 2013, blaming the price of gas, and the Wallerscote Island facility is being run down before demolition.

12 March 2014

Nottingham's Rive Gauche

The Wilford Suspension Bridge crosses the River Trent to link West Bridgford and the Meadows area of Nottingham. Although the bridge can be used by pedestrians, this is at the discretion of its private owners, Severn Trent Water. It was built by the Nottingham Corporation Water Department, to a design by architect Arthur Brown, principally to carry a water main to the nearby Wilford Hill reservoir, and opened in 1906.

Adjoining the 1¼ mile long Victoria Embankment, constructed between 1898 and 1901, stands Nottingham's principal war memorial. This, and the associated memorial gardens, was laid out on land donated in 1920 by Nottingham's most famous son, Sir Jesse Boot, he of Boots the Chemist.

Work on the gardens and memorial commenced in 1923. Both opened on 11 November 1927, nine years after Armistice Day. The memorial, designed by the City Engineer of the day, T Wallis Gordon, is truly monumental, a trio of archways flanked by colonnades, all in Portland stone, with a terrace behind that overlooks the gardens.

The Orthodox cross-like ornamental pond has recently been renovated at the expense of a private benefactor. Unfortunately, the statue of Queen Empress Victoria, relocated from the bottom of the city centre's Market Street, is surrounded by an ugly anti-vandal fence.

Nearby stands a beautiful little Moderne bandstand of 1937, which was threatened with demolition by the City Council as part of its flood defence scheme, but is now protected by a Grade II listing.

04 March 2014

Karan Anne Porter

Thursday 4 March 1965 to Wednesday 4 February 2009.
Photograph: University of Lancaster, 1988.

03 March 2014

First Chermayeff Ekco

The architect Serge Chermayeff designed four of Ekco's Bakelite cabinets - the AC86 of 1935, the AC77 of 1936, and the AC64 and this, the AC74, both of 1933. The set was available in alternating current, direct current (DC74) and battery (B74) versions, and two colours - the pictured 'walnut' and black and chromium. It features a light beam and shadow tuning indicator. The station indicator strips, of engraved celluloid, are affixed by pairs of metal studs over the permanent wavelength scales beneath, and could be changed as new radio stations appeared.

02 March 2014

The Folly of Hope

Alan Terrill runs the website of the Folly Fellowship. He and his wife Claire live in the Hope Valley, near to Minsterley, Shropshire, where their garden is itself home to a couple of follies, plus various welded metal animals. One of the follies is a shed in the guise of a tin tabernacle, its front influenced by the spa building in Tenbury Wells.

The tortoise tunnel was built, in rendered blockwork, into the side of the steep garden. At one end is a round room, about six feet across, the roof of which was formed using the top of an old circular gazebo. The sides of this were used as a former for the tunnel roof, a painted Gothic arch about six feet above ground level.

The fa├žade of the tunnel was built up with sandbags, over which is mortared stone from the nearby stream. Sedum matting was pinned over the top. The tunnel has a solid floor, that part in the round room sporting a mosaic in the pattern of a tortoise shell. The exterior of the room's roof is a three-dimensional mosaic in the shape of a tortoise, the head and legs of which were fabricated from wood covered with lead sheet.

Alan plans to build, in wood, a tower at the currently open end of the tunnel, likely about twenty feet tall, and in the shape of the grain elevators of Saskatchewan. This will look great against the background of the wood-clad house, almost Alpine in its lime green woodstain.