Category Archives: Personal

The place where I grew up (2)

Last time, we looked at the pretty little village where I grew up. It was called Woodville and it is in Derbyshire, England.

The school I went to was down Moira Road, one of the five roads that met at the Tollgate. Much more interesting, though, was Donald Ward’s scrapyard, where we would call in hoping that we would be given metal ball bearings to use in our schoolboy games of marbles:

Occasionally the metal ball bearings would be thrown at us, but none of us were too proud to reject any projectiles that came whizzing our way. Legend told of an immensely strong gentleman of Ukrainian heritage, who worked in the scrap yard, and who was so strong that he could lift a length of railway line off a lorry without any outside help. Here’s his brother, as I could not find any pictures of a man carrying a railway line. He’s just bought his lunch at the takeaway:

Inside the scrapyard was a traditional bottle kiln, which is still there to this day, because it is a Listed Building:

My grandfather, Will, spent a great deal of his adult life working in a bottle kiln. It was hard physical work, which required an enormous physical effort. Grandad was immensely strong and, although he was only a small man, he had huge slab like forearms and muscles made powerful from years of lifting heavy objects. He worked in the pipeyards at Wragg’s and then at Knowles’s. Both of these companies were near Swadlincote, and they manufactured underground pipes, mostly for drains and sewers. During the 1920s and 1930s, because of the severe physical strains of his job, Will was a relatively well paid employee, earning at one point some 42/- per week (£2.10):

Will’s job was to carry a tray of soft, “green ware” which would have weighed around a hundredweight, perhaps some fifty or so kilos. He took them from the place where they were made from moist clay, on a large wooden carrying tray, into the bottle kiln, to be fired and hardened. The bottle kiln, in an effort to retain heat and to economise, was slightly recessed into the ground. It had a very small door, so that Will was obliged firstly to slide down a gentle slope, and then to dip down so that he could enter through the tiny, heat conserving, door. Finally, Will had to lift the heavy tray with its cargo of wet clay objects upwards onto the racks inside the kiln.

Here, of course, inside the kiln, it might be immensely hot, and stories were often told of how men, stripped to the waist, would drink a whole bucketful of water to slake their huge thirst. They always wore sacking on their feet. Newcomers who arrived wearing a pair of shoes for their first day on the job would find that their footwear barely lasted until finishing time at the end of the first day. When he finally retired in 1964, my Grandad was replaced by a fork-lift truck.

Continuing down Moira Road, on the right was, firstly, the Junior School, and then St Stephen’s Church and then the Church Hall. We’ll look at them in more detail next time, but for now, here’s a glimpse. When I was a child, of course, the younger generation were so clever that they did not need to spray paint the names of the roads on the asphalt:

 

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Three war crimes, two Sunderlands and one Ashley Wilkes (1)

One of the world’s most bewitching aircraft is the Sunderland flying boat. When I was a boy, I never did save up enough pocket money for the Airfix kit, although it was only fifty pence or so in the 1960s. I should have bought it then, though. They’re fifty pounds now!

The Short S.25 Sunderland was a flying boat patrol bomber operated not just by RAF Coastal Command but also by the RAAF, the RCAF, the SAAF, the RNoAF and the Marinha Portuguesa. The last one’s a bit of a give away, but did you get all of the rest? This one’s Australian:

The Sunderland was designed and built by Short Brothers of Belfast, and the cynic inside me says that it was the only decent aircraft of their own that they made during the war. This model of the aircraft was numbered the S.25 because it was a warplane but it was a direct descendant of the S.23 Empire flying boat, the flagship of Imperial Airways. Here it is, a beautiful aircraft:

The new aircraft S25 was very well designed for its purpose. The Sunderland had a wingspan of 112 feet, a length of 85 feet and a height of 32 feet. It was a big aeroplane! Even the stabilising floats on the wings were as big as a rowing boat or a small plane. Compare one of them with the man with a pram, and the Walrus behind them both:

A Sunderland had four Bristol Pegasus XVIII nine-cylinder radial engines which gave it a total of 4,260 horse power:

And those powerful Pegasus engines gave it a range of around 1800 miles at a cruising speed of 178 mph Don’t fly too fast when you’re doing maritime reconnaissance!

The S 25 Sunderland featured a hull even more aerodynamic and more advanced than that of the S23. You can see why it’s called a “Flying Boat”:

Here’s lengthways:

Here’s the nose end of that hull:

Weapons included machine guns in front and rear turrets. The front turret had rather weak 0.303 guns which could not always penetrate thick metal, but at least I got a good shot of it:

I even got a good shot of the three jokers who seemed to be making off with the plane from the Hendon museum, trying to push it backwards through the very large French windows:

Here’s some close-ups for the wanted posters:

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I didn’t get any good photographs of the rear turret but it had heavier 0.50 calibre machine guns. You can just about spot it among the bits of other aircraft. It’s slightly right of centre:

There was also a heavy machine gun firing from each of the beam hatches. You can just about see one poking out here:

The Sunderland made extensive use of bombs, aerial mines, and depth charges. Here are four which have been winched out ready to drop. Hopefully, they are dummies:

Here they are in close up.

The Vickers Wellington’s immensely  powerful Leigh Lights, designed to light up U-boats on the surface at night, were rarely, if ever, fitted to Sunderlands.

Next time, a look inside the mighty Sunderland.

 

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The place where I grew up (1)

I grew up in a small village called Woodville, just to the south of Derby, in more or less the centre of England. Cue The Orange Arrow:

The village had around 4,000 inhabitants who worked for the most part in the local industry, which was digging up the local clay and using it to make water pipes, sewage pipes and the like.

Originally, the village was called Wooden Box, because five roads met in the centre, and the man who collected the tolls from the travellers on those five roads lived in a large wooden box the size of a small house. The place where he stopped the traffic therefore became known as the Tollgate. Nowadays, it is a roundabout.

Here is the High Street shortly after the end of World War Two:

It was quite grim when the snows of 1947 began to get a little grimy:

Over a series of blog posts, I would like to show you what Woodville was like when I was a little boy in the late fifties and early sixties, and what all those places are like now.

In the 1950s, the shops of Woodville were vastly different from what they are nowadays. At the top of Hartshorne Road, where I lived, was the Co-op butcher’s, with its decorated ceramic tiles, where meat was displayed on a big white slab behind a huge plate glass window. Here are some of the ceramic tiles:

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Inside was the counter with a wooden chopping block at the side. The butcher wore a striped blue and white apron, soiled with smears of old blood. He was, like all butchers, a Smart Alec, who fancied his chances with the women and was always over familiar with them.

Here’s the butcher’s shop today. It’s derelict:

Higher up, on the corner of the roundabout was a large shop called the Co-op. In the picture below, it’s on the right:

Margaret who worked in the Co-op was my mother’s particular friend. Here’s the shop today. It’s derelict too:

On the opposite side of the road was what had been the old Police Station. Here it is, in the centre of  a very old postcard:

The County Library was to move into the derelict police station around 1960. The story was told locally that four special garages were constructed to house the mobile library vehicles, but that the people in charge forgot to measure the huge vans’ lengths, so that they eventually stuck out of their garage by some  three or four feet and it was impossible to close the doors of the new buildings.

Around this time, the same location also housed the local Civil Defence, who had a large and enormously loud siren next to the building’s chimney. It was a frightening machine which could be sounded should “Our Friends the Soviets” ever launch a nuclear attack on Woodville. In the early 1960s, I well remember the threatening and haunting sound of this siren curling around the walls of the houses on, thank goodness, just one occasion per month, possibly the first Sunday, when testing was allowed to occur if my memory serves me well. Here’s the police station pretending to be a library:

Over the road from the Police Station was a ramshackle, black, wooden garage where cars were repaired and petrol was sold, BP, if I remember correctly. Further along this road towards Burton on Trent, on the left hand side stood a garage which sold Cleveland Driscoll petrol, and which was unstinting in the way in which it gave away primarily purple coloured advertising lapel badges to small boys.

Here’s the garage today. It’s derelict, with weeds growing in front of it:

The roundabout was called the Toll Gate, and it had a third garage, which sold, again if I am not mistaken, Regent petrol. It was called the Clock Garage and here it is today, repainted and restored:

Next time we’ll look at my old school and the house where my Dad was born.

 

 

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (3)

Last time I was showing you more of the attractions at Botallack, in West Penwith, in western Cornwall:

I introduced the Crowns Mines which I called:

“the most photogenic industrial location in Cornwall.”

From the base of the stone chimney, a long sweeping path descends the cliff face. It goes down towards the Crowns Mines:

Their position is so dramatic that it attracts film crews like bees to honey. Here is a slightly different shot which includes what looks to me like the silhouette of Pan and below that, to the right, a number of faces in the rock. At least two gannets are visible flying past as just two white dots. Notice too, the croquet lawn right in the middle of the photograph:

There must be quite a few people who are frightened by the path, which is wide and flat with a substantial fence made largely of rust. To your left, there is a very, very long way to fall on to the sharp rocks below . If you do fall, though, make sure that you look to the right as views are tremendous.

These mines had tunnels which stretched under the ocean for several miles, allegedly. Equally allegedly, the miners could always hear the noise of the waves above their heads.

As you walk down, the two mines gradually grow closer. If I remember correctly, you can go safely into the right hand structure:

But the left hand tower is a very definite “No-No”. Or at least, you’ve got a very large queue of kamikaze pilots to contend with.
Still, it’s a wonderful location. The ocean is so blue and it is transparent enough for the rock platform underneath the waves to show up. Gannets are still passing by . There is one to the right of the right hand tower, just where the wall meets the ground. Again, if I remember correctly, it is impossible to climb to the top of this tower, although a door lets you in to see a very limited part of the ground floor.

This is the best shot I could get of the left hand tower.

The National Trust says that the tunnels went out under the sea just 450 yards (very roughly 450 metres), and reached 1600 feet under the seabed, an amazing depth if you think about it (very roughly 487.68 metres).

Here is a comparison of the two mines then and now. If you look very carefully, you can see a lot of similarities but many differences, some of them the effects of a hundred years’ plus of Atlantic storms:

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The path leading back up to the main group of ruins is quite steep but you’re not going to get lost with such a landmark to guide you:

How long it must have taken to quarry the stones to build this impressive edifice! It’s certainly lasted a lot longer than the men whose toil and sweat erected it:

Back at the top, among the ruins, I found some intriguing graffiti. This first one could fire at least a couple of romcoms:

And this is a full length effort, vandalised by some moron, unfortunately:

My last memory of the place will be watching a couple of retired BBC planners (click on the picture to enlarge it, and they are on the cliff edge). They are working out the cost of a modern Poldark sequel starring Jeremy Corbin as Poldark’s charismatic youngest son and Vladimir Putin as George Warleggan:

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“Hilarity with Heraldry” (4)

Last time we were looking at the old badges of mainly football clubs in the late 1950s and early 1960s:

As well as coats of arms, animals, birds and flowers, some football clubs have a story behind their badge.

The English FA Cup Final was played from 1895 onwards near to the famous Crystal Palace Exhibition building. The owners of the latter attraction wanted other things for the tourist to do (or rather, to pay to do) and so a football team was formed. It was called, rather imaginatively, “Crystal Palace Football Club”:
Here’s the building and the badge:

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Heart of Midlothian was a team formed in Edinburgh by a group of dance loving friends from the Heart of Midlothian Quadrille Assembly Club. Midlothian is a Scottish county and the Heart of Midlothian is a heart-shaped mosaic in the pavement near St Giles Cathedral in the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. People spit on it for good luck, so don’t go too close if you visit it. The pavement can be treacherous:

Another Scottish club, Third Lanark, went out of business in 1967. They began as the football team of the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers on December 12th 1872. The soldiers were inspired by the first ever international match between England and Scotland just two weeks previously:

Three teams at least display the Moslem symbol of the crescent moon and star. There are many, many explanations offered for Portsmouth:

The rugby club Saracens supposedly adapted the emblem because of the “endurance, enthusiasm and perceived invincibility of Saladin’s desert warriors”. More likely is the fact that the other local team was already called the Crusaders:

The best story is that of Irish football team, Drogheda United. Around a million people perished in the Great Potato Famine in Ireland in 1847. The Ottoman Emperor, Sultan Abdülmecid I, sent three ships full of food to Drogheda and a gift of £10,000. This wonderful gesture was praised worldwide. Even Queen Victoria had sent only £2,000.

No problem about embarrassment for the Queen of Mean, though. The Ottoman Emperor was asked by the British Government to reduce his gift to £1,000 so that the impoverished Queen of England and Empress of India was not embarrassed by her own frugality.

The Sultan was not forgotten though, and the crescent and star went onto the city’s badge and in 1919, that of the football club:

In a Festival of Original Thought, a lot of badges are formed merely from initial letters. These here are the rather imaginative badges of Blackburn Rovers Supporters Club, Hartlepool United Football Club, Headingley Football Club (who play rugby), the Scottish team, Stranraer Football Club and Watford Football Club:

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When the letters are really seriously tangled, though, it gets a lot more difficult. Try sorting, one from another, “Edinburgh Academical Football Club” and “St Johnstone Football Club”, from Perth in Scotland. I have deliberately removed the name of one club:

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Three badges, I thought, were just plain strange. They were Bective Rangers, a rugby club from Dublin:

Second was Stockport County near Manchester. Does the shield have three diamonds on it? And why?

The last one is a Scottish club called Dunfermline Athletic. Ever since I glued it into my Tiger album of football club badges in 1961, it has haunted me. No idea why!

I checked in Wikipedia and I wasn’t far wrong

“The current Dunfermline Athletic badge was created in 1957 by Colin Dymock, an art teacher at Dunfermline High School. It was allegedly inspired by one of his nightmares. The tower is Malcolm Canmore’s Tower, adopted by the town of Dunfermline for its own coat of arms. Malcolm Canmore was King of Scotland from 1057-1093, and lived in what is now Pittencrieff Park. The park is represented by the stormy, ghostly blue and black night scene behind the tower, including the park’s infamous hanging tree. The green area represents the club’s stadium.”

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (2)

Last time I talked in very general terms about the main, and most obvious, sights at Botallack, a disused tin mine in Cornwall:

First, there is the enormous stone chimney, to power the pumps that maintain low water levels in the mine:

And then there is something which I have never managed to fathom out. It looks rather like Cornwall’s attempt at Peru’s Nazca lines, but constructed with stone and concrete:

In among them were two Georgian missile silos, their “Hanover” ICBMs targeted on Napoléon’s distant boudoir. Spot the photographer, by the way:

Walk a little further on to the south and there is a view of  the winding gear, the top bits of a more modern chimney, and a ruined wall. And what a sky! :

Keep walking and there is a view back towards the car park. The metal winding gear has not been used for a long time, perhaps as far back as 1900.

Again, everywhere there are ruined buildings, all of them in local stone:

At least one of the forgotten buildings was an arsenic-refining works. In areas of volcanic rock where tin and copper are mined, some nasty substances may always  be encountered such as arsenic, cadmium, lithium and even uranium.
I suspect that perhaps, over the years, the local builders and farmers have been helping themselves to many of the pre-cut stone blocks for their own walls and/or barn building or perhaps even as the hard core for country roads.

If you turn round and walk past the big stone chimney:

You can then continue for fifty or a hundred yards, until you get to the “abandoned mine engine of Wheal Owles”:

That particular disused mine is frequently used in Poldark episodes when the work force is filmed  actually working the mine. I have walked over to the Wheal Owles on just one occasion but I didn’t take any photographs. To be honest there are so many of this type of ruined pump house in this part of West Cornwall that the old adage “Seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” comes into play.

This is the view straight ahead of the bench towards the north. There is another large ruined building and then what looks like the stump of a demolished chimney nearer to the tip of the headland.

Here’s that same view looking slightly more northwards;

You can just see the reason why the BBC people chose this site. It’s at the bottom left of the photograph above, and it’s one of the Crowns mines, the most photogenic industrial location in Cornwall and its second most photographed tourist site after the Men-an-Tol:

We’ll walk down to see  the Crowns mines next time.

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On holiday with Ross Poldark (1)

We visited Cornwall on family holidays in every year between 1987-2012. Sometimes, the largest town, Penzance, can be really wet, wet, wet:

Overall, though, Cornwall can be a magical place:

The west of Cornwall, of course, is where the TV series “Poldark” is set.   Here is the cast without their TV make-up:

It was only in our last year in Cornwall that I realised that, on several occasions, we had visited one of the main filming locations for this popular TV series without even knowing it.
The site which we knew is near a ex-tin mining village called Botallack. First of all, this map shows where Cornwall is situated in England (although the native Cornish, it must be said, do not consider themselves to be English). The orange arrow points to the car-park for the National Trust site at Botallack:

The orange arrow, on all three maps, remember, is pointing to the car-park for the National Trust property where filming takes place. Here it is on a slightly more detailed level:

And here is the largest scale of all, where you can see just how convenient it is for filming, as both of the roads going north are dead ends, and the entrance road in the south can easily be blocked off from the public.

You’d never think that every household in the country is forced to pay the BBC an annual sum of £154.50 if they want to watch TV in this country. And that’s not watching BBC television. It’s to watch any channel at all. Hopefully,  my foreign friends will now realise that we English don’t get our TV for free.

And if the BBC programmes are good, then so should they be with an annual income in 2019 of £4,889,000,000. Incidentally, none of the roads that have to be blocked are a public right of way, so there are no legal problems:


This is the view looking away from the car park. There are lots and lots of shattered buildings, as if the demolition company one day got a better offer and just cleared off in the middle of the job:

Up near the car park is the most modern structure, a set of nineteenth century metal winding gear:

Outside the museum type building which acts as a tourist centre, there were two scarecrows, or at least, we took them to be scarecrows, rather than peasants starved by Sir George Warleggan:

As you walk down towards the mine, the first thing you see is one of the area’s two or three large stone chimneys and a ruined building. Beyond that is the mighty Atlantic Ocean and ultimately, America. Almost invisible, gannets pass by ceaselessly:

And then there is a welcoming bench, from which you can see most of the best attractions. It’s good for mother and daughter:

And for two dear friends:

Next time, we’ll take a closer look at the attractions that have made Botallack one of the hidden treasures of West Penrith, as this area is more properly called.

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