Friday, 13 March 2015

St Bartholomew

The church of St Bartholomew the great in West Smithfield is London's oldest church. It was founded as an Augustinian priory in 1123. The church is reached through the archway in the picture below. This 19th century image has been digitally coloured. When compared with the modern frontage, it is obvious that all is not as it seems


Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Quietest Place Under The Sun

The little town of Clun lies in deepest Shropshire, close to the Welsh Border. In the mid 60's when I first stayed at the Boar's Head it was as quiet and remote as it always had been and will ever be. Clun had the rustic charm of communities which we only read of in pre war novels but seldom find in reality. The town had more fascinating "characters" than even the most imaginative writer could dream up.

Walter lived in a wooden hut with his chickens and was permanently dirty. His coat tied with a rope, his dog with a string. The Home Guard on their 1964 outing to Blackpool washed him in the river before allowing him on the coach. They lost him in the resort and it was 3 days before he returned home.

The deaf mute, who was constantly begging matches for his clay pipe was still going strong in the 90's. He could be heard roaring, his only voice, as he tottered home late at night.

For the annual show, the sheep were cleared from the castle and marquees erected. The small tent housed the marrows and leeks; the larger served beer to the entire population, packed in and happy.

The museum seldom opened its doors. The curator, the retired constable would open up for you if you called at his home.

The cafe had shelves stacked with beans and spaghetti and a counter for sweets. Children always asked for something from the back and rifled the display while the proprietor was away.

I woke each morning to the sound of a shot and a squeal as yet another pig was butchered at the shop opposite.

Honey was made next door to the inn and the hotel opposite served only sour beer to the rare customer in its dank and dusty bar.

The road to Newtown climbed steep and narrow and at its peak was a pub which served beer to the dry Welsh on Sundays. Mostly though, patrons were kept away by the landlord and his shotgun.

Across the river stood the church at it's commanding position. Picture hatted of course, the vicar's wife with committees to chair.

The bus came once a fortnight for shoppers and Shrewsbury fans. It was a long walk the rest of the time.

David Easton

" Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun are the quietest places under the sun"


Friday, 12 December 2014

Beneath a Surrey Lake

Lea Park and the adjoining South Park Farm were purchased in 1890 from the Earl of Derby. The new owner, J. Whittaker Wright had made and lost a fortune in the United States through mining. Returning home to England, he used his knowledge of mining to promote colonial prospects on the London market. He was soon a wealthy man again and developed his new property at great expense. The original mock tudor house was rebuilt as a large mansion amidst landscaped grounds and ornamental lakes. The enlarged house with 32 bedrooms was on an extravagant scale and contained a ballroom, observatory, theatre and even a hospital.

One of the lakes concealed an underwater folly which, often referred to as a ballroom, was used as a smoking and billiard room and for observation of the lake fish. A statue of neptune, breaking the surface of the water surmounted the dome beneath.

The folly cost nearly half a million pounds to build but soon after completion, Wright was in trouble. His company collapsed, leaving many investors bankrupt. Wright was charged with fraud and in 1904 was sentenced to seven years imprisonment. He had, however, smuggled a cyanide into court and committed suicide in the presence of his solicitor.
The estate was sold to Lord Pirrie, chairman of Harland and Wolff, builders of the Titanic. Adjacent common land passed the The National Trust. The Leigh family were later owners and changed the name to Witley Park. The house burned down in 1952 and a modern replacement was built on a new site. The follies remain although there is no current access to the underwater passages and rooms.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Bloomsbury WC1

Bloomsbury is a district of  Central London between  Holborn and Euston. It is home to the British Museum, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, several hospitals 

and University of London faculties. The area was developed by landowners such as the Earl of Southampton and the Russell family, the Dukes of Bedford. Building began in the 17th century although the Bloomsbury of today dates largely from the 19th century. This is an area noted for its squares containing small, parks some of which remain gated for the exclusive use of the residents who are provided with keys.  The streets are typically lined with fashionable georgian town houses although the southern parts are more institutional and commercial. 

This part of London has long been associated with the Bloomsbury Group, a loose association of influential artists, writers and intellectuals who from 1904 regularly met at the 46 Gordon Square home of the  Stephen

46 Gordon Square
Family. They only lived at this house for two years before moving to Sussex but they had already made their mark.  In 1916 the house was bought by economist and fellow Bloomsbury Group member John Maynard Keynes. It remained his London home for 30 years

Thoby Stephen introduced many of the friends that he had made at Cambridge and they too often settled in the locality. There is a bust of Thoby's sister, Virginia Woolf in nearby Tavistock Square Gardens.

The Bloomsbury Group apart, this district has long associations with the arts and literature. Charles Dickens, J. M. Barrie, Vera Brittain and William Butler Yeats are just a few of the famous residents. Bloomsbury abounds with blue plaques.

John Everett Millais had a studio at the Gower Street home of his parents. Here in 1848, Millais, Hunt and Rosetti founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; a group of artists who advocated a return to the quality of 15th century Italian art.  

Publisher Faber and Faber had its offices at Tavistock Square, the editor being poet T. S. Eliot.

There are three important churches in Bloomsbury. St George's built in 1731, the gothic Christ the King of 1853 and St. Pancras New Church of 1822. Coram's Fields on the site of a foundling hospital is home to a small flock of sheep, unusual residents for Central London. Adults may not enter the park unless accompanied by children.

Each year there is the Bloomsbury Festival in Russell Square which includes an arts and crafts fair, dance workshops and food stalls. Bloomsbury has numerous hotels, restaurants, pubs and a good selection of interesting shopping.

Family. They only lived at this house for two years before moving to Sussex but they had already made their mark.  In 1916 the house was bought by economist and fellow Bloomsbury Group member John Maynard Keynes. It remained his London home for 30 years.

The Bloomsbury Group

Follw this link to the full story of the Bloomsbury Group and its members :

Friday, 26 September 2014

Take a ride around ghostly Lincoln

As befits a city as old as Lincoln, there are numerous phantoms haunting the streets and buildings, especially in the medieval quarters. We will visit just a few.

A pedestrian street climbs high to Lincoln's historic Bailgate quarter. The lower part is called "The Strait" and on our left we pass "The Jew's House". Here one might hear footsteps on the staircase, voices in the corridors and utensils being clattered about in the empty kitchen. 

Soon the road becomes known appropriately as "Steep Hill".  Tempted to call at Brown's Pie Shop?  Listen out for coins being counted !  Watch out for Humphrey, the young lad who sometimes runs around the shop or the young girl who is occasionally to be seen.
We might also call at the coffee shop on Steep Hill.  There's a mysterious young boy here as well as a man in a grey suit who has his own vanishing rick.

It's a relief to reach Castle Hill and level ground.  Don't feel too sorry for the malnourished lurcher dog that you might see near the Castle walls.  His owner William Clark was hanged for murder and the dog is looking for his master. Sometimes he will bark and scratch at the door of The Struggler's Inn on nearby Westgate. He has been known to sit by the bar and to brush against the legs of customers.

To our left is the Castle Hill Club. Here, the ghost takes pleasure in pinching the bottoms of visitors !

At the Castle gate just ahead, a man riding a black horse has been seen. As he approached the closed doors he called out "open the gates" before disappearing through them.

The Cathedral itself has many ghosts and a famous imp.  Lincoln's symbol is that devellish creature and legend tells us that two were sent to the city intent on making mischief. Having smashed up Cathedral furniture and tripped up the Bishop they were confronted by an angel. The braver imp retaliated by throwing rocks at the angel and for his trouble was turned to stone.  He can be seen above one of the Cathedral pillars.  The second imp hid under the broken chairs and made his escape but his presence can still be felt as he dashes around seeking his accomplice.
One could also see the holy man with a chain around his neck, a procession of monks, the re-enactment of a suicidal leap from the tower or hear a phantom peal of bells.

Within the Cathedral precinct is Queen Anne's Well. Walk around it seven times to summon the Devil.  If you then put your finger in one of the holes in the door you will feel his breath; but only if you have been good. If you are bad, he will bite it off.

Just below the Cathedral is the Edward King House, once the Bishop's Palace.  In the late 1800's the Bishop was lured from his home by some would be robbers. Some years later one of the villains confessed that he would have carried out the crime but for the large, strong man who accompanied the cleric.  Although the Bishop remembered the occassion, he declared that he had been alone that night.

Next door is the Great Hall where a woman's skull once graced the room.  When it was removed it started to scream and had to be returned. The owners bricked it up in a wall to avoid any further troubles but she continues to haunt the hall.

We are now close to Greenstone Stairs, a long flight of steps leading down the southern side of The Hill.  Ghostly monks inhabit this area as does a woman holding a baby. Worst of all of the city's ghosts must be the head that bounces down the steps knocking over all who stand in its path.

If we can tempt you to spend a night or two in Lincoln, perhaps a room at the White Hart Hotel will suit. Here is a floating light, a woman in a mob cap, a highwayman and restaurant food that jumps from the plate. We just hope your rest is not disturbed by the sound of gunfire.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Are Ye Right There Michael

    You may talk of Columbus's sailing
    Across the Atlantical Sea
    But he never tried to go railing
    From Ennis as far as Kilkee
    You run for the train in the morning
    The excursion train starting at eight
    You're there when the clock gives the warnin'
    And there for an hour you'll wait
    And as you're waiting in the train
    You'll hear the guard sing this refrain:

    Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
    Do you think that we'll be there before the night?
    Ye've been so long in startin'
    That ye couldn't say for certain
    Still ye might now, Michael
    So ye might!

Large parts of rural Ireland were barely accessible in the nineteenth century so government encouraged the construction of light railways to a narrow gauge. Hundreds of miles of railway were thus constructed at a relatively low cost and one such was the West Clare Railway. This 43km line ran from Ennis to the coastal towns of Kilrush and Kilkee and operated from 1887 until 1961. It was operated by an independent company until becoming part of the Great Southern Railway in 1925.  A 5km stretch of the line has now been reconstructed and tourist trains are operated

    They find out where the engine's been hiding
    And it drags you to sweet Corofin
    Says the guard: "Back her down on the siding
    There's a goods from Kilrush coming in."
    Perhaps it comes in two hours
    Perhaps it breaks down on the way
    "If it does," says the guard, "by the powers
    We're here for the rest of the day!"
     And while you sit and curse your luck
    The train backs down into a truck.

William Percy French was from an Anglo Irish family who had
lived at Cloonyquin House, Co. Roscommon sine the 17th century. He was educated at Trinity College where he took rather a long time to earn his B A in Civil Engineering. By his own admission he was more interested in tennis, painting and banjo playing. He was to write his first popular song whilst at University "Abdallah Bulbul Ameer" which became a great hit.  French took a number of short term posts before settling into employment with the Board of Works in Cavan. Although well paid, he did not enjoy "inspecting drains"  so in his spare time he took to song writing and watercolour painting.


    Are ye right there, Michael, are ye right?
    Have ye got the parcel there for Mrs White?
    Ye haven't, oh begorra
    Say it's comin' down tomorra
    And well it might now, Michael
    So it might

In 1888, French's employment came to an end due to cuts in council expenditure !  He returned to Dublin where he was offered the post of editor with a satirical weekly paper "The Jarvey". The journal was not popular and soon ceased publication. French now took a part in a theatrical revue "Dublin Up To Date". His comic songs, anecdotes and sketches were to prove so popular that he started touring. First performing in London, then the U. S. A., Canada and the West Indies. He continued to tour Europe, Britain and Ireland almost until the time of his death in 1920.  French was a popular performer, well known in his days. Many of his songs such as "Mountains of Mourne" were major hits.

    At Lahinch the sea shines like a jewel
    With joy you are ready to shout
    When the stoker cries out: "There's no fuel
    And the fire's tee-totally out!
    But hand up that bit of a log there
    I'll soon have ye out of the fix
    There's fine clamp of turf in the bog there
    And the rest go a-gatherin' sticks."

In 1896 French was due to appear in Kilkee, Co Clare for a concert. He left Dublin at eight in the  morning for Ennis where he changed for the 12.30 West Clare train. The 25 mile journey should have taken a leisurely three hours but on approaching Miltown Malbay the train came to a halt.  The fireman found that the water tank contained a lot of weeds and so dropped his fire rather that risk the engine which was in danger of exploding.  It was nearly five hours before a replacement engine arrived and the train finally arrived at Kilkee at 8.20.  French was to find that almost all of his audience had given up and gone home.

    And while you're breakin' bits of trees
    You hear some wise remarks like these:

    "Are ye right there, Michael? Are ye right?
    Do ye think that you can get the fire to light?
    Oh, an hour you'll require
    For the turf it might be drier
    Well it might now, Michael
    So it might."

Percy French successfully sued the railway for loss of earnings and was awarded £10 compensation. He wrote the song "Are Ye Right There Michael" as a parody of the railway and its operations.

    Kilkee! Oh you never get near it!
    You're in luck if the train brings you back
    For the permanent way is so queer
    It spends most of its time off the track.
    Uphill the old engine is climbin'
    While the passengers push with a will
    You're in luck when you reach Ennistymon
    For all the way home is downhill.

The West Clare Railway challenged the judgement and an appeal was to be heard. On arriving an hour late at court, French was admonished by the judge. He apoplogised but when he explained that his train was an hour late, the case was dismissed.

 And as you're wobblin' through the dark
    you hear the guard make this remark:

    "Are you right there, Michael, are ye right?
    Do you think that you'll be home before it's light?"
    "Tis all dependin' whether
    The old engine holds together—
    And it might now, Michael, so it might! (so it might),
    And it might, now, Michael, so it might."

Most of French's songs are now long forgotten but his work as an artist is still popular. He was an accomplished watercolour painter and many of his pictures depict Ireland's mountainous landscape. He was always able to find a market in Dublin. Now his work is sought after and can fetch as much as £6000 in auction.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Marvellous Machines

Rowland Emett 1906 - 1990 was a draughtsman, artist, cartoonist and most famously a creator of "things" as he called his fanciful machines. 

 During the 40's; 50's and 60's his work appeared regularly in Punch magazine. He was to become famous in the United States after a feature in Life magazine and many examples of his work are to be found in museums and institutes in that country.  Many of his designs were for trains, often drawn by locomotives with odd names and exaggerated features. His Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Railway was re-created for the Festival of Britain of 1951. It continued to operate until 1975. 

Many of Emett's designs were actually built and some of these machines work today. One famous creation is the clock in Nottingham's Victoria Centre.

William Heath Robinson 1872 - 1944 was also a cartoonist although his early work was that of a book illustrator.

 The term "heath robinson" came to be used during the first world war to describe a makeshift device or repair. Like Emmet, Heath Robinson designed fanciful machines, often to conduct absurd operations such as rejuvinating stale scones or removing warts from the top of ones head. His work appeared in a varieety of magazines as well as being commissioned to illustrate advertising campaigns.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Extraordinary Station of Moreton on Lugg

The village of Moreton on Lugg lies just to the north of Hereford. Although the railway from Shrewsbury passes through the village, trains no longer stop here, the station having closed in 1958. 

When the railway was being constructed, a navvy made his home in a hollowed out tree. The trunk was equipped with a thatched roof, a brick chimney stack and even a door.  When the railway opened in 1866, the navvy moved on but the tree which was known affectionately as "Eve" found a new purpose. The tree became a store house but when the station became part of the Great Western Railway it was converted into a ticket office. The tree, with a circumference of 19 metres was so large that on one occasion, 15 people were said to have taken tea inside.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

A Wartime Hospital

I was born at St Mary’s Hospital yet my place of birth is recorded as Macclesfield which was where my parents lived at the time.

A little research on the internet has given me some background to the story. Faced with the possibility of air raids, the St Mary’s Hospital Board chose to close their City Centre maternity wards. Collar House in Prestbury was owned by the Moseley family who were then living in Wales and in 1939 was rented by the hospital as an annexe. This was a large house with extensive grounds. It had its own water and electricity supply as well as a laundry. It was converted to hold 45 beds and had maternity wards and nurseries as well as a theatre, dispensary and accommodation for 30 staff. Nearby Prestbury Hall and Adlington Hall were also to become hospitals. St Mary’s remained at Collar House until 1952 when the maternity wards returned to the City. During those 13 years, more than 14000 children were born at the three Prestbury hospitals. Originally a farm, Collar house dates from before 1780 and has been occupied by a number of different families.

Collar House, much extended is now occupied by Beaumont Nursing Home.

A book by Mary E. Roberts has been published on the history of Collar House and is available from Waterstones.

The pages of the Manchester Guardian add a little more to the history of this wartime annex of St Mary’s Hospital.The Guardian of 9th December 1939 reported that Collar House had received its first maternity cases that Monday. It was described as a pleasant Cheshire mansion.  The board of St Mary’s had decided to evacuate cases from a “dangerous” to a “safe” location after some deliberation. “Suitable cases” were to be transferred to Prestbury by ambulance leaving more complex cases for treatment at Whitworth Park Hospital.
At the outbreak of war the board appointed Miss D. H. Stuart to Matron-in-Charge. Fifty staff with were initially transferred to Blackpool together with medical equipment. It was soon realised that expectant mothers were unhappy to leave their neighbourhood and the scheme was phased out.
In January 1945, The Guardian reported that the Prestbury Hall Maternity Home had been due to close in a short time. The Manchester Public Health Committee, faced with an acute demand for maternity beds had decided that St Mary’s Hospitals should continue running this home for a short time in conjunction with Collar House.
In March 1946, The Guardian reported that the Public Health Committee had recommended the purchase of Collar House for the sum of £9750. The cost of running the home was £12732 and annual income from patients £4500 leaving a deficit of £8232. The hospital had a capacity for 800 patients a year.
In December 1952 the Ministry of Health had decided to return Collar House to its owner. This would result in a loss of 40 beds. St Mary’s had 82 beds at Whitworth Street and this reduction would threaten its position as a teaching hospital.
In June 1957, a bus crashed in London’s Oxford Street, killing 7 and injuring a further 12. Among the fatalities was Miss Forbes-Graham, matron of Collar House Hospital who was on a week’s leave.  She had worked at St. Mary’s since 1929 and was involved in the evacuatio of children from Manchester in 1939.  She became Sister-in-Charge of Collar House Hospital and continued as Matron when the hospital transferred to the Macclesfield Hospital Group in 1952.

Perhaps that 1946 purchase did not proceed for the 1952 article suggests that it was still being rented, although Collar House remained as a hospital into the 1970’s as part of the Macclesfield Hospital.
I have not seen any reference to any annex of St Mary’s in North Manchester other than the Blackpool episode.  Collar House was used as a convalescent home in the 60’s. I have not as yet found any reference to any other use that Macclesfield Hospital found for the building.
There are several references to Collar House on the internet. One website states categorically that this had been the home of Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. Not very well researched for the Moseley family of Prestbury did not even spell their name in the same way as Sir Oswald.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

In Good Company - Southern Cemetery, Chorlton cum Hardy

Sir Matt Busby and Lawrence Stephen Lowry need no introduction, neither perhaps does Sir John Alcock.  These are among the famous names to be discovered on the graves of Southern Cemetery in Manchester.

In 1872 40 hectares of land were purchased by Manchester Corporation for £38340.  The City Surveyor J. G. Lynde was responsible for designing the layout and manchester architect H. J. Paull designed the chapels and other buildings. Roman Catholics, Nonconformists Jewish and Anglican denominations each had their own chapels and designated burial areas.  In 1926 a further 36 hectares was purchased making this the largest cemetery in Britain and second largest in Europe.

There are now separate areas designated for Muslim burials, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and for the Polish community. The latter includes a large memorial to Katyn massacre in 1940 when 22000 prisoners were executed by the Soviet authorities.

Sir Matt Busby was of course the famous and revered manager of Manchester United who died in 1994. He shares a grave with his wife Jean.  Nearby is his former friend and racecourse owner, Willie Satinoff who died in the Munich air disaster. Billy Meredith had played for both City and United and earned 48 caps for Wales. He died in Manchester in 1958.

L. S. Lowry died in 1976 and shares his parent's grave.  Lowry never married and left his estate to Carol Ann Lowry, a fan who had written to him because she shared his name.

Perhaps only the older generation will remember Wilfred Pickles who was buried in Chorlton in 1978.  Pickles born in 1904 spent his life in show business appearing in films, on T.V. and as a wartime newsreader. The BBC received numerous complaints about his Yorkshire accent but supported him stating that should therebe a German invasion and a take over of Broadcasting House, it would be easy for the voices of most announcers to be mimicked. No German however would be able to imitate Wilfred's voice. Once the threat of invasion receded, he was no longer needed.  He became in 1946, the presenter of the radion programme "Have a Go" together with his wife Mabel.  It was for this show which ran for 21 years that he is best known.

Sir John Alcock, born in Stretford was an R.A.F captain.  He had learned to fly in 1912 and joined the Sunbeam Car Company as a racing pilot. When war broke out, he first enlisted with the Royal Naval Air Service. Whilst stationed in the Greek island of Lemnos, he built his own aircraft the "Alcock Scout" from remnants of several different aircraft. He earned a Distinguished Service Cross in 1917 for attacking three enemy aircraft. When piloting a bomber on a raid to Constantinople, he was forced to ditch in the sea. Unable to attract a British Destroyer he swam ashore and was taken captive by the Turkish forces and not released until the Armistice.  Attracted by a £10000 prize offered by the Daily Mail, he joined Arthur Whitten Brown in an attempt to cross the Atlantic non stop. Taking off from St.John's Newfoundland in  a Vickers Vimy bomber, they struggled against bad weather as well as instrument failure and icing.  16 hours later on 15th June 1919, they landed at Clifden in County Galway, after the first  non stop flight across the Atlantic. A few days later they were received at Windsor Castle and knighted by King George V.  In December 1919, Alcock was piloting a new aircraft to the Paris Air Show when he crashed in fog near Rouen suffering a fractured scull from which he died.

The grave of a survivor of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade is to be found as well as two recipients of the Victoria Cross, Major Henry Kelly (WWI) and Colour Sergeant John Prettyjohns (Crimea).

The firm of McDougall Brothers of Manchester became the first of Britain's large flour companies opearting mills throughout the country. Established in 1864 they had pioneered self raising flour as early as 1869.  A member of the family Sir. R. McDougall is buried at Chorlton. 

The grandest memorial is to John Rylands whose widow Enriqueta's ashes are in the vault below.  Rylands was an industrialist and philanthropist and Manchester's first multi millionaire. His was the largest cotton manufacturing company in Britain. He died in 1888 at his home Longford Hall leaving hius estate of over £2.5 million to his wife. It was she who built the John Rylands Library in his memory.

Jerome Caminada was born in Deansgate in 1844 to an Italian father and Irish mother.  Deansgate at the time was a street of pubs and brothels and a hotbed of crime. Having first worked as an engineer, Jerome joined the police force in 1868. Within four years he had been promoted to sergeant and transferred to the detective department.  He was to become the first C.I.D. superintendent in Manchester.  His methods were unconventional. He often wore disguises, used handwriting recognition and keen observation. He often met with his large network of informers in St Mary's Church.  His life was threatened on a number of occasions and Caminada often carried a pistol which he used several times. His reputation for success became known nationally for he imprisoned over 1200 criminals and closed down 400 illegal drinking houses.

Anthony H. Wilson was buried at Southern Cemetery as recently as 2007.  He is known as a broadcaster, a journalist and imressario.  Wilson founded Factory records and opened the Hacienda nightclub, at the time probably the best known club in the World.  He was a manager of a number of successful bands including Happy Mondays, New Order and Joy Division. He will be remembered as one of Manchester's greatest ambassadors.

There are regular guided tours of Southern Cemetery details of which are on the internet. It would be difficult to explore this vast site alone without missing much of its' fascinating history. 

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Price of a Haircut

My father worked for a world famous department store. He was a gentlemen's hairdresser and a regular customer was the store's grocery buyer. The weekly trim was paid for with a generous portion of smoked salmon, a rare luxury in the late 50's.  The first time that Dad brought this treat home, he thought that the unfamiliar smell meant that the fish was bad.  The cat next door enjoyed this luxury for a few weeks until we ventured to try it ourselves.  I frequently took smoked salmon sandwiches to school for my lunch break, certainly the only boy with something tastier than ham or cheese.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Sir Joseph Paxton

Joseph Paxton was from a humble background. He was born in August 1803 at Milton Bryan in Bedfordshire. His father, William was a tenant farmer and Joseph was the youngest of nine children. At the age of 15, he left school to work on the farm of an elder brother. His interests however lay in gardening and within a few months he had found employment with Sir Gregory Osborne Page-Turner at Battlesden Park, Woburn.  He stayed  in this post for five years and during that time created his first lake.

In 1823 he applied for a post at Chiswick Gardens, a property leased by the Horticultural Society from the Duke of Devonshire. Still only 20, he lied about his age, claiming to have been born in 1801. Within a year, he was promoted to foreman and often met the 6th Duke, William George Spencer Cavendish who owned the nearby Chiswick House. At the age of 23, Paxton was offered the post of Head Gardener at Chatsworth, the Cavendish family seat. The gardens were considered to be one of the finest of the time and he immediately accepted. He took a coach to Derbyshire that evening, arriving at Chatsworth early next morning. By the start of the working day, he had explored the gardens, re-organised the 80 garden staff, sat down to breakfast and met Sarah Brown, neice of the housekeeper, whom he was to marry in 1827. He claimed that by 9am he had completed his first morning's work.

Paxton remained as head gardener until 1832 when he became the Estate Manager. He had a friendly relationship with the Duke and he remained at Chatsworth until William Cavendish died in 1858. During that time he was allowed to pursue his own interests and to undertake a number of private commissions. He
brought about numerous changes and improvements to the estate.

Construction of the Great Conservatory began in 1836. This structure of iron, timber and glass was 84m long and 37m wide and Paxton's design concepts were later to be employed in the Crystal Palace. He was assisted by architect Decimus Burton. This enormous building took  3 years to complete after which time it was ready to house numerous exotic plants.  Down the centre was a carriage drive and it was illuminated by 12000 lamps. The heating system was housed below ground and the eight boilers were maintained by a team of ten men. The vast quantities of coal were supplied by an underground tramway.  Coal and staff shortages in the First World War caused many of the plants to die and in 1920 the 9th Duke ordered it's demolition. It took several attempts before a charge powerful enough blew it up!

The Lily House was built in 1849 to house a single species, Victoria Regia which had been transported from the Amazon. The leaves were large enough to supportthe weight of a small child. This was housed in the heated main tank  which also contained wheels to give motion to the water. The Lily House also contained eight smaller tanks. This structure was also destroyed in 1920.

In anticipation of a visit by Tsar Nicholas I, Paxton was asked to construct the Emperor Fountain. Work started in 1843 and took  6 months. A reservoir was dug above the house to supply the water and the fountain stands at the north end of the Canal Pond also known as the Emperor Lake. The highest in the world, it seldom reaches it's full 90m due to shortage of water.

Paxton also built enormous rockeries, ponds, water features, a grotto, an arboretum, a ravine and several greenhouses.

The village of Edensor (pronounced Ensor) lies within the bounds of the Chatsworth estate. The village originally straddled the banks of the River Derwent and was in full view of the house. This displeased the 4th Duke who started to move the villlage to a new location "over the hill" where it would be out of sight. The 6th Duke completed this project by engaging the architect John Roberton of Derby who designed a number of villas and houses in a variety of different styles. The layout of Edensor was to Paxton's design. The walled and gated village surrounds a large green and St. Peter's Church stands high on a mound. Designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, this replaced an earlier, smaller church. Since the death of her husband, the 11th Duke in 2003, the Dowager Duchess now occupies part of the former viacarage.  Edensor churchyard contains the graves of most of the Dukes and their families as well as that of Joseph Paxton and Kathleen, the sister of John F. Kennedy.

Paxton was to become wealthy, largely by astute investment in railway stocks and shares and he held directorship is both the Midland Railway and the London and North Western.  Both railways had adjacent stations in Buxton built to similar designs and Paxton was responsible for the great fan windows at the end of each, one of which may be seen today.  The village of Rowsley is only 3 miles from Chatsworth and in 1845 the Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway  of which Paxton was also a director asked him  to build their station. Five years later, he designed the company offices and some cottages nearby.  The Park in Buxton is Paxton's other great contribution to that town. He laid out a fashionable 19th century estate of villas lining a circular road. In the central open space is Buxton's cricket ground where famously "snow stopped play" in June 1975 when Derbyshire were playing Lancashire. 

It was away from Derbyshire that Paxton found his greatest fame.  In 1850 a Royal Commission was considering entries in a design competition for the Great Exhibition which was to be held in Hyde Park. Although over 200 designs were forthcoming, none were suitable. A fellow director of the Midland Railway suggested to Paxton that he might submilt a scheme although the deadline was only 9 days hence. Paxton had to attend a board meeting in Derby and was seen to be sketching throughout the proceedings. At the close of the meeting he displayed the design of his Crystal Palace. After some opposition, Paxton's scheme was accepted and construction took just 8 months. This enormous glass building was prefabrictaed in iron and glass and was based upon his work at Chatsworth. The exhibition hall was 563m long and 124m wide. The floors covered almost 72000 square metres.

"The Great Exhibition of 1851 of the works of industry of all nations" was conceived by Prince Albert whose aim was to stage the greatest exhibition of all time of inventions and art. More than 100000 xhibits were drawn from across the Empire.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert performed the opening ceemony on 1st May 1851.  By the closing date in mid October, more than 6 million people had visited the Crystal Palace. The profits of over £200000 were used to purchase the land in Kensington where  The V & A and many of London's other museums now stand.

Queen Victoria granted Paxton his knighthood in 1851 for his achievement.

In 1852 the building was dismantled and re-erected in Sydenham in South London. It continued to be used as an exhibition hall and for concerts until 1936 when it was destroyed by fire.

Baron Mayer de Rothschild commissioned Paxton to build Mentmore Towers in 1850. This Buckinghamshire house was one of the greatest Victorian country homes. He was next asked by a cousin, Baron James de Rothschild to build Chateau de Ferrieres near Paris, a house in the style of Mentmore but twice as large. Proposals currently stand to renovate Mentmore for conversion to a luxury hotel and the Chateau has been donated to the University of Paris. Wilhelm I of Germany said of Ferrieres "No Kings could afford this. It could only belong to a Rothschild.

A further country house was built at Battlesden near Woburn, the place of his first empoyment at age 15. The Duke of Bedford purchased this after just 30 years and demolished it as he wanted no other mansion so close to his home at Woburn Abbey.

The first municipal cemetery was in London Road, Coventry designed in 1845 by Paxton. His connection with that city continued and he was elected as the Liberal M. P. in 1854, a seat which he held for 11 years.

The most ambitious project, one which never left the drawing board, was The Great Victorian Way. Paxton adapted his design for the Crystal Palace to a structure that would encircle Central London. This was to be a great glass arcade 22m wide and 33m high. The route, 10 miles long would have linked a number of main line stations passing through Westminster, The City, Hyde Park and crossing the River Thames in three places.  The streets were congested and polluted and a fast transport system, protected from the weather was projected. A roadway down the centre would be served by buses and cabs and would be lined with houses and shops. At the second floor there was to be a railway originally planned to carry 4 tracks but later revised to 8. The trains would be driven by compressed air carried in tubes alongside the tracks. There would have been both stopping and express trains, the latter completing half of the circuit in 15 minutes. The estimated cost was £34 million and income would come from property rental and transport fares. The scheme was presented to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Metropolitan Communications in 1855 and although it initially found favour, it was rejected on grounds of cost.

Paxton undertook many other projects including the design of public parks and of private houses. He was consulted on improvements to Kew Gardens and he published and edited a number of horticultural magazines and books.

On the death of the 6th Duke in 1858, Paxton retired from Chatsworth but was to continue working independently. He died in June 1865 in Sydenham and his funeral was held at Edensor. His wife Sarah continued to live at their Chatsworth home until her death in 1871.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

On being ten with two shillings and sixpence to spend on an adventure

By Andrew Simpson

When you only have 2/6d [12p] pocket money where you can have an adventure away from home and still have something left for sweets is an important consideration when you are 10. 

Now I was an urban child born in south east London and my adventures were circumscribed by the sheer size of London.  Not for me the lonely walk along a country lane, or a journey through an enchanted wood hard by a babbling brook.  Apart from our back garden, trees, vast expanses of grass and water was by and large offered up by the local parks and the river.

But the Thames was a working river, which made it fascinating but dangerous and a place where great stretches were out of bounds.  Likewise the parks were where grownups had sought to curtail your fun by flower beds, and signs warning you to keep off the grass.

But that is perhaps a little harsh on the park authorities.  For some time after it was opened as Telegraph Hill Park in 1895 a small section of the lower park had been given over to a play area, including a hollowed out tree truck which became in succession the conning tower of a submarine, a tank and the gate of an old castle.

Later in the great freeze of 1962-63 the park benches became toboggans to be pulled with great difficulty up the hill only to be turned around and ridden down the same icy incline.

And there were of course still plenty of bombsites but by the 1950s most had been cleared, flattened and boarded off.  Although there was the old bombed out church around the corner whose crypt had survived and this became an assembly point for groups of children armed with candles to explore the labyrinth of passages below.

Which I suppose is the point that most of our adventures didn’t require much money and like children all over it was up to you to make the adventure from what you could find.  So David growing up in Chorlton played in the old brick works along with what was left of the clay pits and a dark and encountering the  sinister figure of Duffy who guarded the place.

He remembered “the Clay Pits” which were “situated to the immediate east of Longford Park, just the other side of the interrupted Rye Bank Road - it was a series of mounds and gulleys, the left over from previous workings of the old brick works factory with its tall chimney.

It was a forbidden play place and it was guarded by an almost mythical man named Duffy.  With another 9 year old boy, I recall daring ourselves to go into this derelict building one day and even crawling under the tunnel - through rubble to a place where I could look up inside the chimney and see the small hole of daylight at the top.

On re-emerging we continued to play until - that knowledge of being watched - made its presence felt - and we looked around to see a man who I think was called Duffy staring at us, stood on a small wall about 12 yards away. Scared witless we fled the scene, and although not chased, the memory of Duffy, the clay pits, and the old building, has played a part in several nightmares since that day!”

On the other hand London offered a huge network of buses, trains and the Underground and for 2/6d you could travel to the edges of the city and beyond.

Personally I never saw the point in sitting on the Circle Line of the Underground and constantly looping past the same 27 stations, alternating between daylight and the noisy and smelly tunnels.  Even if the game of guessing which station people got off could be fun.

No, for me it was the booking hall of Queens Road railway station on a Saturday morning and the promise of a bright new adventure.

Sometimes you struck gold and got to the end of a line, all open fields, posh houses and sunshine.  And sometimes you ended up in a drab nondescript mix of streets old timber yards and as often as not a canal which with that wonderful sense of timing of such disasters was always accompanied by rain.

Never ever believe anyone who tells you that summers were always dry sunny and hot when they were young, because they could never have paid one shilling return to travel to South Bermondsey Railway Station and try to find a bright spot in the warren of streets which snaked under the railway line.

Some childhood memories and adventures are best left in the past.

Pictures; from the collection of Andrew Simpson & Cynthia Wigley

Read more articles by Andrew Simpson At

SomeSouth London Memories

Throughout my childhood, a fortnightly visit to New Cross in South East London was obligatory. My grandmother lived at 105 Woodpecker Road, a house that she shared with my aunt and uncle and their children. My grandfather had died in 1944. the year of my birth. My Nan was a dour victorian woman, the sort who gained her only pleasure by constantly grumbling. Auntie Dolly was cheerful and always gave a warm welcome. Her husband Vic, was jolly too, although I always had trouble understanding his strong London accent. This was a large house in a terrace. Two reception rooms, a dining room, a kitchen and three bedrooms. The bathroom was only added in the 1960's. The small back yard had a toilet and a coalshed. Outside the back door was the meat safe; a wooden box with a mesh front to fend off the flies. The tin bath hung on the wall. It was always a gloomy home, even in  bright daylight. Come evening, the 40 watt bulbs would be grudgingly illuminated when it was almost too dark to find the light switch.

There was just one more street between Woodpecker Road and the railway sidings so the clanking of waggons and coaches being shunted was a common sound. Of a Saturday afternoon, the air would be filled with the roar of the crowd at Millwall football ground which was just across the railway.

The woman next door but one was known to be eccentric. She lived alone with Tibbles and when her feline friend failed to come home one day, she went out in search. Around the corner in Chipley Street, a tabby cat lay in the gutter. Carrying the body home, she was sure that a little warmth was all that was needed to bring about a revival.  It was only when the real Tibbles came through the door a couple of hours later, that she realised that the dead cat still roasting in the gas oven was an imposter.

The highlight of these visits was the journey across London. In the early years, we would sometimes take a tram from Victoria. This waited at its' terminus in the middle of Vauxhall Bridge Road. I think this was route 36 and took us along Old Kent Road into New Cross. As a young child, I was always thrilled to sit on the top deck of the swaying and rattling  old car. This was one of the last tram services in London, replaced by buses in 1952, the latter offering little excitement.  Another route involved an ancient relic of the Undergound. Changing trains at Whitechapel we would descend the stairs to the platforms of the East London line. The railway would soon pass under the Thames and it was clear from the moisture running down the station walls that not all was watertight. The ancient train, of only 3 or 4 coaches, had sliding doors - passenger operated. One had to heave on a shiny brass handle and remember to close it behind you. We travelled only 2 or 3 stations to Surrey Docks where we would wait for a single deck bus. I never saw a ship but sensed that masts and funnels were hidden behind the high dock walls. The bus wound it's way through the south London streets crossing the Surrey Canal where a Thames lighter  or two, laden with sawn timber,  would always be seen moored at a woodyard. The canal is now sadly filled in and turned into roadways. Nearby was Folkestone Gardens, now a small park but then a group of forbidding tenement buildings known as "mansions".

As I grew older and bored with family chatter, I would go out exploring the neighbouring streets. This was near to dockland and had suffered wartime bombing. There were a number of cleared sites where houses once stood. Some of these served as used car lots, others were occupied by pre-fabs. My aunt worked at Pecry Haberdashers in Deptford High Street. I seem to remember an open fronted shop, wooden floors and a pneumatic payment system . Each counter was connected to a system of pipes and payments would be sealed into a container which would be propelled by air pressure to the office upstairs. She was the cashier and would receive the money, prepare the receipt and send it back to the counter with any change.  On New Cross Road, the Frank Matcham designed Empire Theatre had not yet been demolished. The last curtain had fallen but the house opened again for a record attempt by a pianist. There was no entry charge but people out of curiosity were looking in to see this man who had already suffered two sleepless nights and by this time had bandaged fingers. Wandering another day, I went in the opposite direction and found that the strangely named Coldblow Lane, dived under the railway line through a narrow tunnel. The other side was an abandoned level crossing and diminutive signal box. The tracks led into what appeared to have been a wagon works. The large sheds and empty yards were open to anyone who cared to wander in. There was no vandalism, no graffiti; they stood as they had on the day that the last worker had left.

My visits to New Cross eventually became less frequent. My Grandmother died, my cousins married, Aunt and Uncle moved to Lewisham and Woodpecker Road was demolished to make way for a new estate.

David Easton

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Reckless Motoring

Reckless Motoring 
 Summer has at last arrived and living as I do in Whaley Bridge, within half a mile of Taxal Church, in good air and good company, I ought, you would think, to be as happy as the days just now are long. Not so. Motor cars run through our pretty village to and from Buxton at the rate of from 25 to 40 miles an hour. Some - I do not say all - are careless of everybody and everything but themselves. They think they have the complete right of the road. Everyone must make way for a high powered motor car. Dogs and cats they run over, and occasionally old men. The dust they create in running at the speed they do is most injurious to pedestrians, crops, and dwellings. Should you open your bedroom windows your rooms are soon covered, and make extra work for the already hard worked maids and assistants. Shopkeepers have to shut their doors, or their goods would be spoiled. A butcher told me that on a Saturday afternoon in fine weather, after his shop had been open all day, anything sold after 4 to 5pm wanted washing before being fit to eat.
July 17th 1907

Sheep Rustling

In December 1850 Samuel Taylor of Hulme left 9 sheep in a field in Hodge Lane in Salford. He had left them in the charge of a young man named Richard Warren but the following day, neither man nor sheep were to be found. The loss was reported to the police at Chorlton upon Medlock who soon tracked down the culprit. Warren was found to have sold a sheep to a butcher at  Heaton Lane, Stockport, another to a butcher at Hazel Grove and a third in Whaley Bridge. 
The police caught up with Warren in a Whaley Bridge pub where he was found with the remaining 6 sheep in his possession.

Saturday, 29 December 2012


Hidden away behind the high hills of North Derbyshire and served only along a by-road, Chinley feels remote.  The fact that one can be in Manchester in 30 minutes by a fast train has turned Chinley into something of a commuter village. It is the presence of the railway that caused this community to grow from a small hamlet, for this was once a major railway junction with a station of six platforms. London trains regularly called here as did services to Sheffield, Derby, Buxton, Manchester and beyond. The station once boasted a refreshment room and bookstall as well as the usual waiting rooms and booking offices. There was a large goods yard, a turntable and two signal boxes. The station now has a train every two hours and passengers wait in a glazed shelter on the single island platform.

On the train  from Manchester Central to Chinley

Sleep descended upon the ruddy gentleman who had been with friends and when the train stopped at Withington a "good samaritan" joggled him and shouted "Withington, D'y' want to ger out 'ere?. The dreamy one shook his head in sleepy denial and snored again until awakened at Didsbury by the same kind hand and voice. . At Heaton Mersey the voluntary knocker-up repeated his dose of questions, accompanied by the usual shaking, and finally, at Stockport, really aroused his patient and harangued him thus: "I'm gerrin' out 'ere myself. This is Stockport!  See Stockport!.  D'y want to ger out 'ere?  "No" said the patient. "Where d'y' want to ger out then?"  "Chinley". "Oh!" muttered the good man as he banged the door. "An' now" murmured his protege, settling himself in comfort, "now p'raps I can get a wink o' sleep."

February 1912

A Sleepy Stranger

On Easter Monday 1913, a stranger turned up in Chinley. Despite never having seen the man before, a railway official and his wife took him in. He immediately fell asleep and despite the efforts of doctors did not awake for a week. He stated his intention to walk to Bakewell but he got no further than Buxton where he was found sleeping at the roadside. He was carried into a house and then to Buxton Cottage Hospital where he remained for three days. Still asleep he was transferred to the infirmary at Chapel-en-le-Frith Union Workhouse where he slept for another five days.45 years old he had arrived in Englad after spending 25 years in the United States. He said that he could feel the coma coming on and had at times walked the streets of New York, all night long in order to stay awake. He carried papers which gave his case history in America. He was treated for neurasthenia in a Californian sanitorium. He had been found in October 1910 in an old log cabin in Canada. Barely alive, a number of men had assembled to hold an inquest on him but they were able to nurse him back to health. A New York charity had supported him and his relatives had spent a great deal of money on his treatment.

A Horrible Nuisance

In March 1926 the Parish Council received a complaint about open air religious services.  Councillor Murray asked if the Council had the power to stop these services which he described as a horrible nuisance. Chinley had plenty of churches and chapels and there was no need for "Salvation Army" tactics. The services were held by people who shouted at the top of their voices while children "lolled on walls and joked".  Mr Green said that the services were a damned nuisance and that personal remarks were made.  The Council chairman thought that this was a matter for the police and would see what could be done.

A Gruesome Event

As the 12.47 train from Chinley passed through Edale, a railwayman noticed two men throw a parcel onto the platform. On examining the package he found that it contained a child's decomposed body. He telephoned ahead to the next station where the two men were interviewed. On boarding the train at Chinley, they found a parcel in the compartment. On reaching Edale, they could no longer stand the smell and threw it out of the window.

An Electricity Boycott.

Electricity was arriving in Chinley in July 1929 supplied through overheard cables along the roadside. Such was the objection to this eyesore that a petition of 120 names demanded the immediate removal and burial of the cables. The Chinley Women's Institute also objected to the cutting of trees that were in the way of the power lines.  Unless immediate action was taken by the electricity company, the petitioners would refues to use the power supply. The Paris Council endorsed the petition and resolved to submit it to the electricity company.

Let Parliament Decide

An argument over a footpath reached Parliament in 1930. The L.M.S.Railway had sought to close a footpath which crossed it's tracks in Chinley and which they considerd dangerous. Local magistrates had granted an order stopping the footpath but this had been overturned on appeal to the Derby Quarter Sessions. The railway company was having to resort to a parliamentary bill in order to achive their aims. The Peak District and Northern Counties Footpaths Association was fighting the closure which they stated was used by thousands of people each year.

Pull The Other One

A Chinley doctor appeared before Salford magistrates in November 1934 charged with driving under the influence of drink and of driving without due care and attention. He had been observed by a police superintendent, holding onto his car following a collision with a taxi. He was unsteady on his feet and smelled of drink. He was later seen by the police doctor and by an inspector both of whom wer of the same opinion. In his defence, itwas said that his slurred speech was due to bad teeth and his unsteady gait due to one leg being shorter than the other. Consultation with another doctor had caused the police surgeon to change his opinion. He had learned that the accused suffered from a complaint that always gave the impression of being under the influence.
The magistrates believed the defence and found the Chinley man guilty only of the lesser charge.

Not Chinley's Turn

A squabble over which village should host the 1937 Coronation celebration lasted for two months. It was Chinley that held the Jubilee celebrations, now it's our turn said Bugsworth.  Every resident on Brownside was on their committee so they rsolved to hold their own event. The row started when the vicar said that Bugsworth was being "left out in the cold". The Parish Council eventually agreed that Bugsworth should be the venue and that beacons should be lit on the peaks of Cracken Edge and Eccles Pike

Another Chinley motorist acused of drink driving gave the excuse that he was a beekeeper and having been stung, drank two double whiskies as he felt ill. The magistrates were not sympathetic and suspended his licence for two years. He was also fined £40, rather a large sum in 1939.

An Aeroplane Crash

Seven year old George, from a farm near Chinley reported seeing a plane crash at the top of Jacob's Ladder, a path leading up Kinder Scout. He ran home to tell his mother. His sister ran down the hill to tell the railway signalman at Cowburn Tunnel. He sent a telegraph to the Station Master at Edale Station who passed the message to Police Sergeant Birch at Castleton.  The police called out the R.A.F., the Fire Brigade and Ambulance and jeeps with wireless transmitters. The moorland was frost and ice bound but visibility was very good. At last, at dusk, the Flight Lieutenant in charge decided to call off the search thinking that a crash had been unlikely. It was thought that George had seen a plane disappearing behind a bank of cloud and hearing a loud noise had come to the wrong conclusion.

Cracken Edge

Crichton Porteous, writing in September 1951, tells of the stone quarries and mines, high up on Cracken Edge.

"Stone for floors and roofs came out of special quarries. On Cracken Egde, over Chinley, the stone was got from underground, as out of a pit.  The orad to this quarry was so bad that my father-in-law's father after going up once with a horse and cart swore he would never do so again. But soe men went up regularly and having no brakes, would chain a greatheap of slates behind - as many as they had in their carts- and let them drag. At the bottom the chains were undone, the load in the cart was delivered, and then the secod load waiting at the foot of the Edge was returned for. The floor in my father-in-law's father's kitchen consisted of two slabs only, out of this quarry, each six feet square. They must have weighed half a tom apiece. Before the quarry shut down, flagstones could be had for very little indeed. Next they could not be got rid of. Concreting had killed the trade"

A Tourist Attraction

For 40 years Chinley had campaigned for the provision of a public lavatory. Now,  this new facility, was causing great controversy. Some local residents and the Women's Co-operative Guild went so far as to accuse the Parish Council of treating the matter frivolously.
There was criticism of the siting and type of signs indicating the convenience. A councillor stated that if they were not removed, the village was in danger of becoming a rendezvous for busloads of tourists, revellers and bottle parties. A colleague pointed out that it was no good building a convenience and then hiding it away.
A letter had been received by the council compaining that "All dignity and peace had been destroyed. There was aconstant banging of car and lavatory doors, even in the early hours of the morning. It is a sorry state of affairs in a bit of rural England."
The council resolved to plant a hedge around the building.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012