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.