FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Above, below and inside Clifton Suspension Bridge

Posted in Bristol, England by folkestonejack on June 8, 2019

The iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol is one of the engineering marvels of the nineteenth century that has gone on to become one of the most recognisable symbols of the city. It was a daring project at its conception and yet despite the passage of time has still managed to surprise and impress us all over again in the 21st century, as we discovered on a visit today…

The Clifton Suspension Bridge

The idea of bridging the Avon Gorge had been cherished for nearly a century, encouraged by a bequest from a Bristol merchant by the name of William Vick in 1753. The will specified that when the interest on the initial bequest had reached £10,000 it should be used to build a stone bridge across the 91 metre tall Avon Gorge from Clifton Downs to Leigh Woods. It was not to prove a straightforward exercise.

A competition held in 1829 to design a viable stone bridge failed to produced a design that everyone was satisfied with on the grounds of cost, appearance or feasibility. Among the entries were four ambitious designs from a 23 year old engineering apprentice looking to make his mark on the world – Isambard Kingdom Brunel. In the end the highly respected competition judge, Thomas Telford, produced his own design for a suspension bridge and the committee sought approval to change the terms of Vick’s bequest to allow it to be built.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was not to be deterred, proposing an alternative to Telford’s design which picked up much public support. The ensuing arguments and debate prompted a change of plan, leading to the announcement of a second competition in October 1830. The winner on this occasion was a design by Smith and Hawkes of the Eagle Foundry in Birmingham, but Brunel somehow managed to persuade the lead judge to change his mind at a private meeting.

The foundation stone was laid in 1836 but progress with the construction was exceedingly slow. The two abutments were completed by 1840 followed soon after by the towers. Although most of the ironwork had been manufactured, the money to finish the job had run out. A decade of proposals and alternative thinking could not find a way to complete the bridge. Some wanted to see the abutments demolished to remove the stigma of failure, but in time the Clifton abutment took on a new life as a viewing platform.

Brunel died in 1859 without seeing his ‘first love’ completed. However, the death of the great engineer galvanised his peers and led to a renewed effort to complete the bridge as a fitting monument. The money was raised in a surprisingly short time and the bridge eventually opened on 8th December 1864. It is now hard to imagine Bristol without the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which has taken on a life way beyond the hopes of its initiator, William Vicks.

The bridge is indeed a great monument to Brunel and to the foresight of Vicks (wonderfully remembered in the playful latin inscription on the bridge ‘Suspensa Vix Via Fit’).

Looking down into the Avon Gorge

Our reason for visiting the bridge today was to take a look at one of the most surprising discoveries from its more recent history. It had been long assumed that the Leigh Woods abutment was solid but as the plans from the early phases of construction had not survived no one could say that with any certainty. In 2002 a worker replacing the paving slabs above the Clifton abutment discovered a small void and repeated the exercise on the Leigh Woods side out of curiosity, discovering a much deeper void.

The experts lowered in by rope discovered an amazing double-deck arrangement of 12 vaults connected by small tunnels. The surprises didn’t end there. The vaults were surprisingly well finished for a space that no-one would ever have been expected to see again and despite traces of the construction scaffolding it was pretty clear that everything must have been removed through the access shafts at the end of the job. No mean feat in itself.

In the last few years the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust has opened up two of the larger chambers (vaults 4 and 5) to members of the public on hour long hard hat tours and we eagerly snapped up a couple of tickets at the second time of trying (it’s well worth subscribing to their updates by email to get notification of the next batch of tours on offer).

After a quick orientation exercise on the bridge we made our way down, descending a caged vertical ladder to a new entrance that has been bored into the side of the abutment. No matter how many photos I had seen of the newly discovered space I found stepping into the first vault to be a real wow moment, exceeded only by passing into the larger cathedral-like vault.

The dimensions take some believing – the walls are two metres wide at their thinnest and the height of the chamber we had entered was equivalent to three double decker buses. It is a little hard to comprehend that an equally tall chamber lies underneath your feet, accessible by ladder. Quite extraordinary.

Inside the first vault

An hour passed incredibly quickly as we absorbed the fascinating story and the sights of the chambers on our wonderful volunteer led tour. It also has to be said that the trust have done a terrific job in telling the history of the bridge in the permanent exhibition on display in their visitor centre. It was fascinating to see the alternative designs for the bridge and consider what might have been.

We combined our visit to the bridge with a visit to the Clifton Observatory which offers an unusual perspective on the bridge through the 360 degree camera obscura installed in the roof of the tower. The museum in the tower is also well worth a look, particularly the displays that explain the early adoption of photography here. The historic Clifton Rocks Railway site is also located nearby, though this is currently only open a few days a year.

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Farewell to HSTs in the west

Posted in England by folkestonejack on May 18, 2019

There are some iconic British designs that have taken on a life way beyond their original purpose and remain much loved as they slip out of everyday use. In time, some may well be forgotten while others cement their place in the history books. Today sees one of those design icons, the InterCity 125 High Speed Train (HST), reach its end in the west of the country.

The last long-distance HST passenger services on the Great Western Railway network today brings to an end a 43 year run. This is rather fitting, given their current designation as class 43 locomotives. The story of the last day has been captured rather wonderfully on twitter under the hashtag of #LastoftheHSTs but I couldn’t let the moment pass without adding my own farewell.

HST on the Teignmouth Sea Wall in 2014

HSTs have been a familiar sight on the western railway network since their introduction in 1976, running from Paddington to the South West and Wales. Some of my earliest childhood memories are associated with the wonder of seeing HSTs, which have been with us for virtually all of my life. It’s hard to imagine taking a walk along the Teignmouth and Dawlish sea wall without seeing a HST come whizzing past.

Thankfully it’s not quite the end of the HSTs altogether – you’ll still be able to see them for a while yet in Scotland, the East Midlands and on the East Coast Main Line.

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Inescapable Brexit

Posted in England by folkestonejack on March 29, 2019

I have travelled to the other side of the world and still can’t escape Brexit. It’s everywhere. On the rolling ticker of news updates on the in-plane entertainment screens, on local television and in the papers.

The perspective to be gained as you travel away from the UK is interesting, which I think can best be summed up as bafflement at how a country can voluntarily choose to tear itself apart like this. One question running through through some of the recent international coverage is how such a close 52-48 result came to be interpreted in some quarters as a mandate for the hard Brexit that Parliament is now rejecting. Mostly, it seems to have become a spectacle for all the wrong reasons and I think can only be destroying the credibility of Britain on the international stage.

Banksy mural in Dover

I am no political activist, shying away from political matters. However, I supported the recent ‘Put it to the People’ march and signed the petition. Not because I want to see democracy thwarted, but because I wanted to see the close result respected. It was a small way to get my voice heard and was pleased to hear this reflected in the words of Donald Tusk in his stirring speech to the European Parliament.

I don’t know what will unfold in the coming days, but I hope that the Brexit that is finally delivered takes a much softer form.

London’s newest rooftop viewpoint

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on February 24, 2019

I have been known to grumble, every now and again, about the monstrous skyscrapers that have been filling the skyline of the City of London over the past couple of decades. However, I have to confess that I rather like the rooftop spaces that they have created for the public to enjoy. The newest addition to the list is The Garden at 120 at 120 Fenchurch Street.

The view from the Gardens at 120 across to the Walkie Talkie

A week after the public opening I took a look for myself. It’s not on most tourist itineraries yet, so there were just ten of us queuing for the morning opening (10 o’clock) while a much larger queue was in evidence just a short walk away at the Walkie Talkie. There might not have been many of us, but I was still impressed by the speed that the staff got everyone through the security checks and into the lift to enjoy the tranquility of the gardens fifteen storeys up. Over the next hour a steady trickle of visitors arrived to join us but nowhere enough to trouble the limits.

It was a glorious morning to go up top with the morning fog giving way to clear blue skies and full sun. Needless to say, the views of the surroundings were superb. The walkway around the gardens offered sight lines to St Pauls, the Walkie Talkie, Lloyd’s Building and the Gherkin. In particular, I liked the fact that you are looking across the rooftops of these mid-height buildings, rather than looking down from a great height with little chance of admiring the detail.

The garden aspect of the rooftop is still in its infancy but once the wisteria reaches maturity this will be a lovely spot. There are plenty of benches spread around the spacious rooftop and a handful of visitors were taking advantage of the opportunity to bask in a little of the unseasonably warm weather on offer today and admire the bravery of the cleaners washing the windows of the Scalpel next door.

If the planners at the City of London have anything to do with it we will see more accessible and free to enter roof terraces and spaces. The draft City Plan 2036 would require the provision of ‘free to enter, publicly accessible areas’ as part of all tall building developments to help deliver their vision of a more inclusive city.

Views of St Pauls and the Lloyd’s Building from the rooftop gardens

In the space of a week there have been quite a few reports from the rooftop, including IanVisits and Diamond Geezer. The Guardian also published an interesting architectural review of the development, describing it as a candy-striped miracle in the central London skies.

Information on opening hours and a live footfall counter is available on the official 120 Fenchurch Street website. In the rush to get up top don’t forget to admire the wonderful giant video screens (with accompanying sound installation) on the ceiling of the entrance.

Photography is permitted but a little tricky, on account of a sloping see through barrier that runs around the 360 degree perimeter of the roof garden. Not that it stopped anyone from trying today!

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Farewell to 2018

Posted in England by folkestonejack on December 31, 2018

I am glad that I am not one of those journalists having to round up a year filled with as much madness as 2018 has seen and can just focus on a much narrower field. It has been a great year for travelling and I am particularly glad to have finally made it to Eritrea some six years after abandoning plans for a trip there. I really thought my chance had passed so I was absolutely made up that it was possible again. It exceeded every expectation.

The year in numbers…

15,800 holiday photos taken
450 hours spent commuting
67 blog posts written
58 hours endured in the air
49 plays watched
36 museums visited
33 roast dinners consumed
16 steam locomotives seen in action
13 castles/forts explored
5 rounds of minigolf played
3 art exhibitions wandered
1 wedding attended

The year has brought about some stunning surprises, many of which did not make it to the blog. One of those that I did not really know how to describe at the time was the Good Friday service at Westminster Abbey. I got absolutely drenched waiting to go in with Jo but the strange yet beautifully sung Solemn Liturgy of the Passion and Death of Our Lord (Tomás Luis de Victoria) was quite unlike anything I have heard or ever expected to hear. I still don’t know how to describe it!

Although I rarely talk about theatre much in this blog, there have been some absolute crackers this year. The standout for me was a heartbreaking performance of Peter Gill’s play The York Realist at the Donmar. Honourable mentions should go to a few more: Seawall at the Old Vic; Julius Caesar at the Bridge; The Inheritance at the Young Vic; the Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward; the gutsily staged Troilus and Cressida at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre; and the wonderfully bonkers Tell-Tale Heart at the National.

There were plenty of TV highlights in the year including the big dramas of Bodyguard and Killing Eve. One of the unexpected delights for me was ‘A Passage to Britain’, a fascinating documentary series that set about tracing what happened to the individuals recorded on ship’s passenger lists who were emigrating in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Some fascinating and relatively little known nuggets of history were recalled during that – I certainly had no idea there was a Polish settlement in India in the 1940s.

Plenty of good food was on offer during the year, but the best meals got served up at The Medina Restaurant in Mdina, Malta (the background music and sound of cannons firing to celebrate a saints day added to an already excellent meal); Rubino in Valletta, Malta; 4 Stagioni in Gibraltar (especially if your better half is too ill to eat a second dessert and you have to bravely step in…); Tides in St Aubin, Jersey; and rather surprisingly, the tasting menu at Belle Epoque at Heathrow of all places!

It has also been a year of family re-unions. Two events, my parents golden wedding anniversary and my brother’s wedding, brought together family members that I haven’t seen in years and some that I had never met. I thought that was all quite wonderful. Sadly, my brother didn’t get any luck with the weather – heavy rain on his big day was a bit of a downer.

In the equivalent post last year I wrote about the long established businesses closing down in my local high street. Since then, the last bank has finally closed but aside from this the degree of change has been less dramatic. That is likely to change in the years ahead as there are plans to build a 17 storey tower block (8 storeys higher than the existing buildings) behind the Victorian high street that sits in the South Norwood Conservation Area. Not quite sure how that squares up, but what do I know!?

I had a little chuckle when I read the suggestions in the planning documents that the design of the new tower block would be an elegant addition, echoing the historic buildings of South Norwood, and that it would ‘fix’ the aesthetically unpleasing ‘broken tooth’ skyline that we have already.

An unexpected sight at the end of the year – a festive slug at Tate Britain this Christmas

I suspect that 2019 will be a challenging year on many fronts, not least the sad denouement of the Brexit saga, but if it gets anywhere close to the highs of 2018 I will be very happy indeed.

Fort Burgoyne

Posted in Dover, England by folkestonejack on September 9, 2018

The first sight of Dover Castle in its majestic hilltop position must have impressed any visitors to the town in the nineteenth century, who would have felt re-assured by its supposed impregnability and its symbolic status as the key to England. In practice, matters were not so simple. Military engineers had long known that improvements in artillery had left the castle vulnerable to attack from the higher ground immediately behind the castle. The solution was simple – build another fort to defend it!

A view of the Haxo Casemate at Fort Burgoyne

The result was Fort Burgoyne, one of many Palmerston Forts that sprung up across the South coast to meet the recommendations of the 1860 Royal Commission on the Defence of the United Kingdom. The fort has never been tested in the heat of war but remained in use by the military until 2006. Since then, the 10-hectare site has been handed over to the Land Trust (along with 32 hectares of grassland and recreation ground).

The local area is undergoing considerable change. The final evolution of the barracks which have surrounded the site since 1913 were demolished in 2016 and plans for the construction of 500 new homes have been announced. It’s all part of a significant shift in the use of the military landscape in Dover that can also be seen on the Western Heights with the sale of the 13 hectare site of the Citadel following the end of its use as a detention centre.

Against this backdrop of change, ideas for the future of Fort Burgoyne are being explored with great potential for a community space, commercial use and as a visitor attraction. It’s tricky though – Dover has the unusual problem that with so much history on its doorstep it can be hard for anyone to see beyond the biggest draws. Anywhere else, places like Fort Burgoyne and the fortifications of the Western Heights would be significant tourist attractions in their own right.

A view of the parade ground at Fort Burgoyne

Every now and then the site has been opened up for tours. Such has been their popularity that places have booked up very quickly, invariably faster than I have been able to get my act together. However, this time I was lucky enough to get a place on one of the two hour walks scheduled for Heritage Open Days.

Our tour took us from the parade ground to a viewpoint atop the centre caponier, into the casemates, down to the lower levels of the fort, over to the buildings on either side of the gate and then round the ramparts. It was fascinating to see the different layers of history that have survived from each evolution of the site, which even include old cannons re-used as pivots for AA guns!

It was also great to see that traces of more recent history have not been lost – unlike other sites which have been stripped back later additions in order to reach an artificial golden age of military development. The remains of more recent usage include markings on the parade ground and position markings for WW2 era guns.

Concrete blast walls show how the fort was adapted in World War 2

The fort was adapted during both World Wars to meet the changing nature of warfare, with a series of gun emplacements and pill boxes added across the site. Some of these are now in a parlous state, far worse than the older structures. Windows of the casemates were reduced in size or bricked up and new concrete walls placed in front of them in an effort to make the casemates less vulnerable in the event of a bomb exploding on the parade ground.

It is easy to focus on military development and overlook the everyday life of the fort and the surrounding barracks. One of the most surprising sights in the fort would have to be the paintings of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck in one the casemates. It’s a helpful reminder that the families of many soldiers would have lived here. The paintings are thought to date to the late 1930s and are evidence of the three casemates adapted for use as schoolrooms by 1906.

An unexpected presence – Mickey Mouse in one of the casemates

The two hour long tour flew by with so many fascinating spaces and historic elements to explore. You can get a good idea of just how impressive this fort looks from the terrific video produced by the Land Trust and a superb guide to the fort by David Moore is available to purchase through the Victorian Forts website.

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Maison Dieu

Posted in Dover, England by folkestonejack on September 8, 2018

One of the pleasures of Heritage Open Days is to discover extraordinary buildings that have somehow blended into the surroundings, raising barely a glance from most passers by. The town hall in Dover is one such building, hardly helped by the fact that the town and the surrounding countryside are simply overflowing with historic buildings that would be major attractions in their own right anywhere else!

Dover Town Hall

Dover Town Hall, originally known as the Maison Dieu, has seen an unusually large number of changes of use from its beginnings in 1203 as a hostel for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury to its current use as an event space. Along the way parts of the complex have been used as a hospital, navy victualling yard (complete with bakery and brewery), courthouse, council chambers, gaol and exhibition hall.

The future restoration plans might expand this further with proposals for a visitor centre to explain the history of the building, community meeting rooms, a new cafe and holiday lets.

The Mayor’s Parlour

The current shape of the building and its gothic design is the work of Ambrose Poynter and William Burges, who were approached in the mid-nineteenth century to adapt the building on its purchase by the town council. The highlight is the stone hall, which includes medieval style gargoygles climbing over the doorways and stone carvings of the coats of arms of past Lord Wardens of the Cinque Ports along its length. Six wonderful painted glass windows, designed by Edward Poynter, depict scenes from Dover’s history such as the relief of Dover Castle from a siege by the French in 1216. A display of weapons and portraits on the walls complete the effect. It’s alot to take in!

Other rooms on our tour included the council chamber, with a beautifully decorated ceiling and rare gas sunburner for illumination; a large assembly room named the Connaught Hall; the Mayor’s Parlour with an original Burges ceiling design; and the Courtroom, entered through one of the original 13th century arches. Sadly, many of the decorative designs by Burges had been painted over by the 1950s but some traces have survived under layers of paint and wallpaper, which we saw in the corridor and the Mayor’s Parlour.

The proposals for restoration include the re-instatement of the interior designs of William Burges in the Mayor’s Parlour and the Connaught Hall which would be really worth seeing. The digital images produced during the bid for Heritage Lottery funding already give a hint of just how impressive that will be.

Although I made my visit during a Heritage Open Day there are opportunities to see the interior on regular tours led by volunteer guides from The Dover Society.

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Back to Folkestone Harbour

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 8, 2018

A trip down to Folkestone for a family gathering provided an opportunity for a short stop off at the harbour to see how much progress has been made with the re-development of the old station at Folkestone Harbour.

Since my last visit the old ticket office (facing towards the Leas) has been demolished and the station platforms have re-opened following extensive repairs to the station canopies. The difference between the station today and in its last years of decay is rather striking!

Folkestone Harbour Station – 2011

Folkestone Harbour Station – 2018

In some of the press reports from earlier in the year there was talk of providing train carriages for traders to operate from so it will be interesting to see what happens next.

I’m not against the wider development that will follow on from this, but I can’t help thinking that the harbour will look swamped with over 1,000 beach houses, apartments and town houses surrounding them (some apparently up to 12 storeys tall). I wish the density of the development was somewhat less. On top of that, it is sad to see that the familiar sight of the harbour master’s house doesn’t feature in the plans. Still, it’s good to see the preservation and restoration that has taken place so far.

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Mercedes mastery

Posted in Brands Hatch, England by folkestonejack on August 11, 2018

In the early 1990s the arrival of commercial satellite services to the UK opened up an exciting panoply of European motor sport series that had been largely invisible before.

Our dish was installed in 1992 and I immediately started channel hopping. My happiest discovery was the live broadcast of DTM races on 3sat. I only had a limited grasp of German but soon picked up enough new vocabulary to understand what was going on. My ad-hoc German lessons ended when live coverage of later seasons appeared on english speaking channels. The first races I saw were dramatic enough to ensure that I came back for more and I have been pretty faithful, losing touch only during the years when UK coverage largely disappeared.

Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters

The ‘exotic’ sight of cars like the Mercedes-Benz 190E Evo 2, Mercedes C-Class V6 and Alfa Romeo 155 V6 Ti made for a thrilling spectacle on TV and one that we couldn’t resist seeing up close, buying tickets for the non championship races at Donington Park. I was completely hooked and ended up travelling to see races at Brands Hatch, Hockenheim, the Norisring and Zandvoort as the series evolved, died and got re-booted.

This year the DTM returned to Brands Hatch after a five year gap and better still, racing on the grand prix circuit rather than the shorter indy circuit. I booked my tickets for the first day early on, eager to see the Mercedes C-Class one last time before the manufacturer leaves the DTM at the end of the season. It was money well spent – the sight of these machines plunging down the track from Paddock Hill Bend and up to Druids was as wonderful as ever.

I don’t know how I had ever forgotten just how brilliant Brands Hatch is for spectators but I fell in love with it all over again. On top of that, a compact schedule served up action aplenty – two free practice sessions, a series of practice starts, qualifying and a race. The drivers had alot to take in as most were unfamiliar with the grand prix circuit. A few found the limits of the track the hard way and the grid had a quite unusual look to it, with the current championship contenders scattered throughout the ranks.

A little off-track excursion

The racing was rarely dull, though the absolute highlight had to be Mike Rockenfeller’s audacious pass on Glock and Green at the same time to jump from 13th to 11th towards the end of the race. All the talk at the start had been of the difficulty of passing, so the sight of three cars abreast was quite an effective ripost! The race victory went to Daniel Juncadella, recording his first win in his 67th DTM outing.

There is much talk of 2019 being a transition year for the DTM and the possibility of aligning the series with the Japanese Super GT championship. Wherever it is headed, I hope the next evolution of the DTM is as successful as its past and that it won’t be long before we see these cars climbing Hailwoods Hill once again.

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RAF 100 Flypast over London

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on July 10, 2018

The blue skies and wall to wall sunshine might have disappeared but that could not diminish the sight of 100 aircraft flying over London today to celebrate one hundred years of RAF operations. Every rooftop, building site and crane seemed to be alive with spectators eagerly anticipating ten minutes of noise and spectacle. Crowds started to gather at Waterloo Bridge a good hour before the clock struck one.

22 Typhoons mark the RAF’s 100th anniversary in style, seen here passing over the City of London

It was amazing to think that as the first helicopters reached the mall the Red Arrows were only just starting their flight along the route from Ipswich to London, via Chelmsford. It’s not often you get to see some of these aircraft in the skies, let alone over central London, so it was a real pleasure to watch. The RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic surveillance aircraft, the E3-D Sentry, Sentinel R1 and the soon to be retired Tornados were all pretty special. However, the highlight had to be the 22 Typhoons in an astonishing ‘100’ formation.

The photos are almost silhouettes and not really worth sticking up here, but I have included a few to give a sense of the occasion. Thank you to the 200+ aircrew and all those involved in creating this wonderful spectacle.

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Paddling along the Thames

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on July 7, 2018

The sporting smorgasbord on offer this weekend offers something for everyone, whether that be the opening stages of the Tour de France, Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix and the World Cup quarter-final between England and Sweden. However, slipping under the radar a little is a rather interesting newcomer – the International Stand-up Paddle Board World Tour.

Michael Booth approaches the finish line at the 2018 London SUP Open Pro Thames Race

This is the first time that the world tour has come to London, giving Londoners a chance to see some of the world’s best paddle boarders in action. After London the world tour will move on to New York City, San Francisco and Paris.

Most of the activity this weekend is taking place at the City Paddle Festival at the Royal Victoria Docks but first up there was the small matter of the 2018 London SUP Open Pro Thames Race early this morning. The race took in a 4.5km stretch from Battersea Bridge to an impressive finish outside the Palace of Westminster, with victory claimed by Michael Booth.

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Bank holiday sun atop the city

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on May 9, 2018

A couple of months ago I booked a table at one of the restaurants at 20 Fenchurch Street for my father’s 80th birthday, little suspecting that it would be a day of record breaking temperatures, beautiful blue skies and wall to wall sun. Perfect conditions for a lovely family occasion – a little wander round the Sky Garden followed by a leisurely meal as the sun set.

The view towards Canary Wharf from the Sky Garden

It was my first visit to the Sky Garden and I was impressed by the sights on offer, even if the feel of the space was more green airport concourse than public park to my mind. The outdoor terrace was closed throughout our time on floor 35 but even without this we still had the most wonderful views across the city and out to Canary Wharf (albeit with the shocking sight of a layer of pollution hanging over London).

The Sky Garden opened in January 2015 so my visit comes rather late in the day compared to most bloggers. It is interesting to see that the green element, such as it is, is a little more substantial than it appeared to the first visitors (the Evening Standard reported some users describing it as more of a “Sky Rockery”). It’s definitely worth a look though and a good deal easier to get up top now that the initial rush has subsided, though clearly still a very popular destination.

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Night sleeper to Cornwall

Posted in England, Penzance by folkestonejack on March 26, 2018

I thought that a long weekend in Penzance in the off-season was a little bit bonkers, given the likelihood of the English weather throwing everything and a little bit more at us, but it turned out to be not too bad at all. Admittedly, there were some bursts of heavy rain and blustery winds but we got away with it. In any case, it turned out to be not quite such a strange idea as I discovered one of my work colleagues waiting to board the same night sleeper (either that, or our work has driven us all mad!).

Our night sleeper to Penzance would be hauled by a GWR class 57 diesel locomotive

The refurbished cabins on the ‘Night Riviera‘ sleeper are rather delightful. Ours contained two bunk beds with wonderfully soft duvets connected by a clever space-saving ladder, a sink that doubles up as a table and a cute GWR branded box of travel essentials from Spezia Organics (organic soap, muslin flannel and skin balm) for the journey. In theory we could have popped down to the buffet carriage for a late night drink, but after partaking of drinks and snacks in the first class lounge at Paddington station we just wanted to settle down to a good night’s sleep.

I slept surprisingly well, waking up to see the sunrise as we crossed the Tamar Bridge into Cornwall. On our arrival into Penzance at 8 o’clock we stored our baggage (a handy service offered by The Longboat Inn which we had arranged in advance) and headed back out by train to St Ives. Unfortunately the return trip was affected by a problem on the track which brought trains in all directions to a halt. After a couple of hours sheltering from the heavy rain it was a relief to be on the move again!

Our home for the next few days would be an apartment in the Egyptian House, a remarkable building from the 1830s built as a museum with an elaborate Egyptian facade. It was acquired by the Landmark Trust in 1968, restored and converted into holiday accommodation. The second floor apartment was just perfect for us – a cosy space with two bedrooms and a roaring fire to keep out the lingering chill.

The Egyptian House in Penzance

Over the next few days we covered a handful of the local attractions by bus, including the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum, St Michael’s Mount and Mousehole.

I had no idea of the importance of Porthcurno, which held the distinction of being the largest telegraph station in the world at the time of the Second World War. The need to safeguard this vital communications hub prompted the decision to move the telegraph station underground. Two hundred tin miners from St Just and the West Indies were employed in the construction of two bomb-proof tunnels protected by foot-thick steel blast-proof doors. The work to move the equipment inside was completed in May 1941. It was just in time – 48 hours later enemy bombs fell nearby.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this unlikely site on the Cornish coast and how much we have to thank for their efforts to keep communications flowing 24 hours a day. The museum uses the illustration of a message being transmitted from London being rapidly repeated through Porthcurno, Gibraltar and Malta on its way to military headquarters in North Africa. At one point in the Blitz, when the landline was severed, the messages were transmitted to Porthcurno and then put on trains to London!

The wartime tunnels at the Telegraph Museum

The telegraph station at Porthcurno was sufficiently important that all sorts of extraordinary hidden defences were built into the valley including flamethrowers mounted under the beach that could be switched on at the flick of a switch from a control room in the cliffs. It really is hard to imagine that this quiet green valley could have once been such a heavily fortified and restricted zone.

Inside the Telegraph Museum you can learn about the history of telecommunications and visit the impressive underground telegraph station. You get quite a good sense of how well buried into the clifftop the tunnels are if you take a walk up the emergency escape stairs to a cliff-top platform 30 metres up. This was originally intended for use if the main entrance had become blocked.

A free map of Valley Tales and Trails highlights the history of the parish, the telegraph station and the engineering college. It’s a helpful guide to some sights that would seem a little odd without explanation, such as mini training telegraph poles. Around the beach warning signs highlight the hidden danger still posed by cables just under the water and there are signs of cables coming up through the sand in a few places, especially near to the cable hut.

It’s fair to say that I was absolutely fascinated by Porthcurno and it was certainly the unexpected highlight of our Cornish adventure for me.

Mousehole

St Michael’s Mount and the fishing village of Mousehole made for charming spots to visit on our last full day. The tide was in so we had to make use of the small boats to get across to the mount and then took our time making our way around the castle. One of the most surprising discoveries on our visit to St Michael’s Mount was the cable-operated incline railway that has been used to carry goods from the harbourside to the castle ever since it was constructed in 1901.

We hadn’t planned a visit to Land’s End as the winter bus timetable didn’t offer an easy way to integrate a stop into our schedule without a lengthy stay, but in the end a broken down bus forced our hand! While an engineer was called out out to fix the bus we wandered over to the clifftop. It all looked rather more commercialised than I remembered from my last visit in 1981/82 but it was still good to be able to take a peek.

Our stay in Cornwall was a short one. On the Monday morning we headed back to London on the 10:00 train from Penzance. It’s a journey that continues to retain its appeal, particularly with the stretch along the coast through Teignmouth and Dawlish. Hopefully I’ll be back again before another quarter century passes!

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Lighting up London

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on January 18, 2018

The winter gloom has been banished for four nights by the bright illuminations of Lumiere London, a festival of over 50 artworks clustered in six locations across London. I took the opportunity of a pre-theatre wander around Westminster and the West End to check out some of the delightful sights.

Westminster Abbey illuminated for Lumiere London 2018

The highlight for me had to be Patrice Warrener’s The Light of the Spirit (Chapter 2) at Westminster Abbey which has brought two gates of the abbey to life with a colourful overlay of light. The effect is quite astonishing. Other favourites include the glowing stairway to heaven atop St Martin-in-the-Fields, the Flamingo Flyway in Chinatown and the nightlife of Leicester Square Gardens.

The second edition of Lumiere London runs from 18th to 21st January 2018 with the illuminations available to view from 5.30pm to 10.30pm each night. Maps and guides are available to download from the Visit London website to help plan your visit. If you are looking for a good night at the theatre to accompany your wanders why not check out the superbly improvised and addictive shows at Mischief Movie Night. I can’t stop going back for more!

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Stars in London

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on January 13, 2018

A little weekend outing to the Tate Modern provided one of the odder sights of the year to date – Tom Cruise running over the roof of Blackfriars Station!

Tom Cruise sprints across the roof of Blackfriars Station

It was a little puzzling at first – a glance from the rooftop viewpoint revealed dozens of orange clad crew on top of Blackfriars station and the buildings that surround the northern end of the railway bridge. The appearance of a low-flying helicopter with a giant camera, following a running man across the rooftop, helped put us in the picture and twitter confirmed the rest.

Our visit to Tate Modern gave us an opportunity to see Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–55 on a grey winter’s day. It’s a fascinating exhibition that covers the remarkable wave of art and graphic design that accompanied the new regime, from highly decorated agitprop train wagons to colourful posters bringing the revolutionary message to the farthest reaches of the state.

The exhibits ranged from Aleksandr Deineka’s optimistic studies (which formed the basis for the giant mural at USSR pavilion at the 1937 ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques’ in Paris) to the chilling evidence of the doctoring of photographs and paintings to airbrush discredited individuals from history. I found it all fascinating. I haven’t seen Soviet revolutionary posters in arabic script before and found the explanation of how posters were altered for the eastern republics especially interesting.

It’s well worth catching the exhibition whilst it’s at the Tate Modern (8th November 2017-18th February 2018) and the connected exhibition of works by Ilya and Emilia Kakakov (18th October 2017-28th January 2018) which offers some interesting perspectives on the Soviet past, beginning with Ilya’s clandestine artworks from the 1960s.

Farewell to 2017

Posted in England, South Norwood by folkestonejack on December 31, 2017

Over the past few decades I have watched as the relatively well served high street in my local area, South Norwood, has gradually been losing the shops that once made it a great independent shopping centre – a story that I’m sure has been echoed across the country. It feels like 2017 was a turning point, seeing the arrival of some exciting new businesses as well as the departure of another long-standing store.

Emertons closed after 115 years

There are few historic survivors left in South Norwood so the closure of Emertons, The Ironmonger after 115 years was sad to hear. It was a brilliant store in its time which would always have just what you needed for home repairs, backed up by a really knowledgeable team. It’s going to be strange seeing Station Road without the familiar green storefront (although it has to be said that this was a latter day creation, the signage was bright orange when I was growing up and only met its end with the storm of 1987!).

It follows the closures of other long-standing high street businesses in the past decade, including Kennedy’s (1877-2007) which made the best sausage rolls anywhere in London and terrific Christmas puddings to a long-standing recipe with ale and suet. Other businesses that have disappeared from South Norwood High Street have included Boots, Co-op, Dewhursts (Butchers), Woolworths, Lawrences (Bakers) and Lorimers (Stationers and toy shop). When my parents arrived in the area there was also a branch of Mac Fisheries on the High Street.

The Clocktower (1907)

In many ways the trigger for the steady decline of the high street was the arrival of the first large supermarket in the form of Safeways many years ago (subsequently replaced in sequence by Morrisons, Somerfield, Co-op and now Aldi!). Up to the arrival of Safeways there were at least three butchers, three greengrocers and a couple of bakeries in the high street. In some ways it is surprising how long it took for shopping habits to change and the true impact to be felt on the high street.

It’s not just shops that have been disappearing. Not so long ago there were three banks in South Norwood High Street and at least two Building Societies. The last remaining of these will leave the high street when NatWest closes its doors on 22nd May 2018. I’m sure the nuisance value of this for me must be outweighed by the inconvenience of trekking further afield for local business owners.

Aside from this, I miss the re-assuring sight of Norwood Junction Models (1963-2013), just off the high street at the top of Portland Road, even though I had long since stopped spending my pocket money there by the time it closed.

The artwork ‘The Long Way Home’ in Norwood Junction subway (1912) shows Emertons in happier times.

More change is on the way with a proposal to re-locate South Norwood Library to a spot on Station Road next to Aldi in 2019. Much as I love the old library building, a place I spent many happy hours as I was growing up, the idea of creating a library within sight of Norwood Junction Station, next door to Aldi, seems a great way of binding the library even closer to the community. It’s certainly better than the talk of closing the library altogether a few years back with nothing in its place.

There has been some talk about the unwanted gentrification of South Norwood which rather overlooks the ups and downs of the past 100 years. I prefer to think that the arrival of some of the new businesses to the area as a much needed and welcome revival. Long may it continue!

A day at the château – in Buckinghamshire!

Posted in England by folkestonejack on October 14, 2017

One of the most surprising sights in Britain can be found in Buckinghamshire, a short drive from Aylesbury, where Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild built an exquisite turreted country home in the style of a French château between 1874 and 1883. It is one of only a handful of Rothschild family houses that survive today out of the forty that were once spread out across Europe.

Waddesdon Manor

The moment you step onto the drive it feels as though you have somehow been transported to the Loire valley and that first impression carries through into the extravagant interior, especially in the marble-clad dining room with its echoes of the grandest French palaces. Among the many extraordinary furnishings are pieces commissioned by Louis XIV (the Sun King) and Marie Antoinette for the Louvre and Versailles respectively. The mixture of 18th century decorative arts and English portraits from the same era works remarkably well – nothing feels out of place.

Marvels abound in every room and reward a slow soaking up of detail, such as the set of chairs with small carvings of birds assembling a nest or a golden cherub appearing to climb out of a set of drawers.

One highlight was a bronze elephant automaton dating to 1774 which stuns even in its static state. A video of of the automaton shows how much more astonishing it is in action. Other stunners included a musical box depicting Orpheus taming the animals (c. 1720) and a strikingly curvy-swirly silver gilt cup by Christian Van Vianen (1640) which is now paired with a contemporary painting showing a boy holding the cup. In truth, it is a house of highlights.

The house might seem like a historical anachronism to us now but in its heyday it was a showcase for cutting edge technologies, including central heating, electric lighting and one of the first lifts to be installed in an English country house. Queen Victoria was said to have been so impressed by the lights that she asked for them to be switched on and off repeatedly!

The original Otis lift (installed in 1898) is now on display in the Power House

The Rothschild family had great foresight in understanding that great collections such as this would naturally drift towards national art museums without taking special steps. James de Rothschild (1878-1957) ensured that the collection could be enjoyed in its family context by future generations by donating Waddesdon Manor to the National Trust backed by a suitably large endowment. It’s a pleasure to step inside and marvel at their legacy.

Practicalities

Our trip to Waddesdon Manor proved to be one of the most straightforward days out that we have enjoyed. An hour or so on the train from London Marylebone to Aylesbury Vale Parkway station followed by a short ride on the free shuttle bus to Waddesdon Manor.

At the time of writing the shuttle bus connects with the Chiltern Railways service that leaves London Marylebone at 9.57am so you end up reaching the property at around 11.15am. Return times vary. The bus only runs once a day in each direction, but that’s not really a problem as there’s plenty to see at Waddesdon. If you time your visit for Wednesday, Thursday or Friday you will also be able to see the rooms in the Bachelors’ Wing.

We spent around two hours inside the house but could easily have spent longer looking at the displays on the first and second floors. The rest of our time was divided between the aviary, grounds and stable block. Although the food on offer in the cafe in the stable block was perhaps a little on the pricey side there was no doubting the quality and super taste of everything we sampled. Last but not least, the fudge was sensationally good…

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Charlecote Park

Posted in England, Stratford-upon-Avon by folkestonejack on October 8, 2017

A weekend trip to Stratford upon Avon gave us an opportunity to take a Sunday morning outing to see Charlecote Park, a National Trust property that is a mere 14 minute bus ride away from the centre of town. From the moment you enter the estate and start your walk down the drive towards the sixteenth century turreted gatehouse you get a sense of how special this place is. More of the magic gets revealed as you make way through the archway and see the main house and as you explore the deer park beyond.

Through the gatehouse

The Lucy family has lived here since at least 1189 when Sir Walter de Cherlecote inherited the estate, though the current house dates back to 1558 and what we see today is very much how the Victorian owners wanted to present it. The site looked a little familiar to me without ever having visited which turned out to be because this historic site was a source of inspiration for the set designers of the recent Royal Shakespeare Company production of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won!

The Elizabethan exterior is magnificent but the interior is a nineteenth century vision, partly drawing upon a two year grand tour by the Lucy family that sounded like the ultimate in holidays from hell! The family set off in their carriages with their retinue but got stuck in heavy snow whilst crossing the alps, resulting in the death of their young son. Incredibly, another child was born while they were on the road! You can still see the carriage they used on their grand tour in the carriage house.

The material gathered during their grand tour was much more than a collection of artifacts, even extending to the red and white marble flooring in the Great Hall which was picked up in Venice.

The view from the west

Overall, a visit to the house and grounds kept us entertained for a leisurely two and a half hours – including some lovely moments watching deer running through the west park. Hard to imagine that a young William Shakespeare spent time in the same grounds here whilst poaching!

Practicalities

We were thoroughly confused by the information available on the bus route that passes the property. The information on the National Trust website and in the journey planner suggested that we needed to take the X18 bus, but on arriving at the bus stop at Bridge Street in Stratford-upon-Avon we discovered a notice stating that the X18 is now taking a more direct route to Warwick and would no longer stop at Charlecote. Instead, passengers are asked to take the X17, which only runs Mondays to Saturdays. Not much help for our Sunday outing…

Our disappointment turned to delight when the driver of the next X18 confirmed that he was going to Charlecote. At the other end we discovered a crucial piece of missing information – a notice at the Charlecote bus stop states that on Sundays the X17 runs as the X18! Talk about a convoluted change. So, in summary, X17 Mondays to Saturdays and X18 on Sundays/Bank Holidays. The notice states that not all X17 buses will serve Charlecote so it is worth checking carefully…

The bus route passes the Charlecote estate before reaching a bus stop outside the Pheasant Hotel. The visitor centre is an easy walk round the corner from here and the entrance to the estate is just over the road.

At the time of writing adult admission costs £12 (with Gift Aid) for the house, grounds and outbuildings but is free for National Trust members. You can get a discount for the restaurant or shop when arriving by public transport.

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A peek inside Crossrail Liverpool Street

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on September 21, 2017

The last stop on our Open House London schedule for 2017 brought to the Crossrail site at Liverpool Street Station, just around the corner from my workplace. I was quite intrigued to see what was going on behind the hoardings that I regularly pass during my working week.

The entrance to the Eastern Ticket Hall (Broadgate) will be through a five metre tall glazed canopy in a newly pedestrianised plaza

I think we all knew that it is a massive undertaking to build this new railway line but I still had not appreciated the degree of complexity involved in weaving this new line through the heavily built up city and finding a place to fit the infrastructure needed to support it. This even includes the need to avoid the disused stretch of the mailrail that passes through here.

The other fascinating insight was how innovative technology is being used to improve the efficiency of the build, from drones used to inspect the tunnels to VR hard hats allowing easy access to plans and drawings whilst working with both hands. The future industrial application of this technology sounds so optimistic that it makes you wonder why so much of the initial focus was on the leisure market!

Our visit allowed us to take a look inside the construction site at what will be the Eastern ticket hall of a new station that will stretch all the way across to Moorgate which has a rather striking ceiling design that looks like someone has been making origami in concrete.

The view down from the Eastern Ticket Hall to the lower levels of the concourse

From here we could also see the space where escalators and an incline lift will take passengers down to the lower levels. It’s hard to believe that in just over a year this space will be bustling with passengers. As it will almost halve the time from the City to Heathrow I am sure it won’t be long before I am amongst the throng.

Exploring Alexandra Palace’s hidden history

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on September 20, 2017

Our first stop on this year’s Open House London weekend took us to Alexandra Palace, a pleasure palace built for the people in the late nineteenth century. In act, it was built twice over – the first palace burnt down in 1873 sixteen days after its grand opening so the building we see today is a complete re-build which opened on 1st May 1875.

Alexandra Palace

Alexandra Palace is probably most famous as the birthplace of television with the first BBC broadcast transmitted from here to 200 television sets on 2nd November 1936. However, our visit focused on the basement and some remnants of earlier chapters in its remarkable story.

After donning hi-vis jackets and hard hats we headed through the doors of the curiously named ‘Traitor’s Gate’ below the south terrace and into the surprisingly extensive south basement where the layers of history are still visible. In contrast the north basement, which was completely rebuilt after the terrible fire of 1980, is of little interest.

Entering the basement through Traitor’s Gate

At first it was hard to imagine that this derelict and dusty space was once a thriving underworld filled with offices, kitchens, cellars, store rooms, larders, ice wells, plate stores and a dining hall for servants. However, as our guide pointed out the surviving features, including storerooms with shelf markings still visible and bread ovens, the space started to come alive a little.

The industrial scale of the dining experience here looks pretty grand in the pictures that survive but it was said that the food was often cold by the time it reached the table after making the long journey from the kitchen!

Bread ovens

Move forward a decade or two and the picture is entirely different. Alexandra Palace became home to Belgian refugees in 1914 and then an internment camp for German, Austrian and Hungarian ‘enemy aliens’ between 1915 and 1922. Over the span of the war 17,000 aliens spent time at Alexandra Park, divided into three battalions reflecting their social class. The working classes found themselves crammed into the great hall whilst the upper class inhabitants had a more comfortable living space in the towers. The divisions didn’t end there – working class men were allowed weekly visits of just 15 minutes whilst the upper classes were allowed 2 hours.

The basement space was a part of this re-purposing of the palace. Our guide pointed out a prison cell with barred windows that survives in the basement (apparently many internees tried to get themselves sent here to escape the noise of the overcrowded hall) and some of the discarded heavy machine tools from the workshops used by the internees. Amongst other things, the internees made model boats that they sailed on the boating lake behind the palace. Other aspects of the camp have long since vanished, such as the 400 allotments that once surrounded the site.

Abandoned workshop tools

After making our way back into the main building we had an opportunity to see a marvelous short film that gave us a little bit more of the story of the internment camp, drawing on letters and drawings from the individuals detained here. The last internees left in 1922 but the effects were longer lasting, whether from mental illness brought on by the confinement (‘barbed wire disease’) or through harrowing deportations that separated the men from their english families (only a minority of 4000 were allowed to remain).

Alexandra Palace has so much history to share and I hope that the plans for restoration will allow the spotlight to be thrown on all these layers.

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Open House London 2017

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on September 16, 2017

Open House London celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with another bumper crop of new buildings added to the list of old favourites. It is testament to the riches of London that there is never any shortage of places to visit every year from stunning livery halls to astonishing industrial sites. This year was no exception – with two palaces offering some fascinating and very different glimpses of the past.

Lambeth Palace

Our day took us back and forth across London with visits to Alexandra Palace, Lambeth Palace, Watermark Place, The Walbrook and Crossrail Liverpool Street. Along the way we enjoyed a side-visit to the incredibly surprising St Mary Abchurch which we just happened to see was open whilst walking between sites.

The highlight of the day was a ‘taster’ tour of Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury for over 800 years. The sense of history is overwhelming, such as when you step inside the Guard Room to find yourself being watched by two centuries worth of Archbishops of Canterbury and learn that this was where the fate of Sir Thomas More was sealed.

Other interesting sights on our tour included the beautiful stained glass and blitz marked floors of the chapel, the vaulted crypt and the charming State Drawing Room.

The enthralling nature of our tour of Lambeth Palace was as much a testament to the story-telling skill of our wonderful guide as the building itself, weaving in historical events, tales of chance encounters with past archbishops and some unusual discoveries (such as the green man in the Guard Room). Absolutely wonderful.

The roof gardens at Watermark Place

The biggest surprises of the day came at Watermark Place, where we enjoyed a stunning rooftop view and met the hawk that keeps the skies above clear of pigeons two days a week, and at St Mary Abchurch, where we discovered that the conventional looking square red-brick exterior hides an astonishing painted dome (one of Wren’s experiments in preparation for St Paul’s Cathedral).

From the outset Open House London has been an incredible event and to my mind it is by far the best weekend of the year in the city, though it is considerably more popular than when I first participated as a university student in the 1990s! Thank you to Victoria Thornton, the Open House London team and the many volunteers for twenty five years of wonderful insights into the architectural gems of this city.

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THV Galatea visits London

Posted in England, London by folkestonejack on September 11, 2017

The Trinity House Vessel Galatea, a Multi-Function Tender, arrived in London in the early hours of this morning after making the journey round the coast from her home port of Harwich. The visit has been organised in conjunction with the biennial London International Shipping Week (11-15 September 2017).

THV Galatea arrived in London in the early hours of this morning

The Galatea is just a month shy of the tenth anniversary of her naming by the Queen at this very spot on 17th October 2007. The vessel was constructed at the Remontowa shipyard in Gdansk and launched on 26th July 2006. She is normally based at her home port of Harwich.

The near ten year old tender was designed as a state of the art vessel to support Trinity House’s role as the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar. This includes buoy handling, wreck marking and hydrographic surveying. Quite a striking change from the cruise ship visitors more familiar through the summer, especially with her distinctive 30 tonne lift crane!

THV Galatea and HMS Belfast with Tower Bridge in the background

The evening rush hour got a rather impressive view of the ship with black skies, brilliant sunshine and a rainbow which are probably circulating on social media right at this minute. I was a little too slow making it to the bridge for that shot, timing my arrival for the last few rays of sun and the arrival of a deluge! After sheltering for a moment or two I was lucky enough to have a chance to redeem myself.

THV Galatea will be moored alongside HMS Belfast until the evening of Thursday 14th September.

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Seven highlights from the Folkestone Triennial 2017

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 3, 2017

The Folkestone Triennial has once again served up an interesting mix of work from 20 artists which have been spread across the breadth of the town from the Leas to the East cliff. Highlights include a couple of figures from Anthony Gormley, gilded replicas of Folkestone’s fishing fleet by Jonathan Wright and an audio installation by Emily Peasgood in the Baptist Burial Ground.

I usually pop down some time after the event has got into its stride, but on this occasion I took a look on its opening weekend and discovered that not everything was quite ready. One of the artworks, Bill Woodrow’s The Ledge, won’t be installed until later in September so all you can do now is admire an empty black plinth!

1. Fleet on Foot – Jonathan Wright

The moment I stepped into Tontine Street my eye was immediately drawn to Jonathan Wright’s distinctive gilded replicas of boats from Folkestone’s current fishing fleet which stand atop poles at various points along the street, leading you down to harbour square. The location is rather appropriate as the street sits atop the Pent stream, a mostly hidden water channel that runs along a culvert and into the harbour (though I discovered the hard way, in August 1996, that it causes havoc when it floods!).

A 3D printed replica of fishing boat FE75 “Rowena” (built Rye, 1989) in Tontine Street

I’m no art connoisseur but I liked the crossover between the artworks and the familiar everyday sights of Folkestone Harbour. It was fun comparing these to the real thing a little later in the day on a wander along the Stade.

2. Halfway to Heaven – Emily Peasgood

The Bradstone Road Burial Ground is a Folkestone oddity – a graveyard that has sat 20 feet above street level since the mid-nineteenth century. The burial ground was originally on the hillside, in the grounds of the local miller’s house, but when the railways arrived the land was needed to allow the town to expand. No-one wanted to disturb the dead so the burial ground was left untouched as the rest of the hillside was cut away. The graveyard was surrounded by retaining walls that have kept this last piece of the hillside intact right up to the present day.

Bradstone Road Burial Ground

The sound installations at the Baptist Burial Ground were quite hauntingly beautiful. The artist, Emily Peasgood, had researched the individuals buried here and this was used to create sound pieces that triggered as you wandered amongst the graves. It was perhaps at its most amazing when a handful of people were wandering around, triggering the sound pieces at the same time.

I was really pleased that we got the chance to go up the stairs to the burial ground and look around. It really is very odd to find a graveyard up a set of steepish stairs with the street on one side and a garage at the back. My father was fascinated too – his best man’s house overlooked the burial ground from across the street but he had never been up until this weekend. It’s a fascinating curiosity of history.

3. Holiday Home – Richard Woods

It is pretty much impossible to miss Richard Wood’s contribution to the Folkestone Triennial – six one-third size ‘holiday homes’ that draw attention to the growth in second homes at a time when many cannot afford a house at all. The six homes are deliberately placed in unlikely places to show that ‘no site is too small, too unlikely, or too inconvenient for its neighbours, for a holiday home’.

One of the holiday homes on the shingle in front of Marine Crescent

The printed maps we picked up show a different location for one of the houses (marked on the map as 6e) to that shown in the map available to download from the website. This house is sited on the shingle in front of Marine Crescent not part-way up the zig zag path.

4. Another Time XVIII and XXI – Antony Gormley

Two of Anthony Gormleys now very familiar cast-iron figures are on loan to the Folkestone Triennial and were a big draw on the opening weekend. One is placed at the far end of the Parade, nearest to the east cliff, whilst the other has been installed in a loading bay on the Folkestone Harbour arm.

Another Time XVIII 2013 at the Loading Bay, Folkestone Harbour Arm

The figure on the harbour arm was sufficiently popular that queues had formed at one point on the first day of the Triennial. A short set of steps takes you down to a viewpoint over the loading bay but you can’t get up too close. You also need the tide to be in your favour – when I returned on the sunday the floor of the loading bay and viewpoint was completely covered with water!

By contrast, the figure in the parade was somewhat easier to access, albeit down a rather slippery set of steps. I probably haven’t wandered around the arches here since I was a child, so it was good fun looking at the different angles that were possible for a photograph.

Another Time XVIII 2013 at high tide (photographed through the grill)

I’ve seen these figures in a few locations now, but nothing quite compares to the effect of seeing so many spread along Crosby beach. Nevertheless, it was great to see them in Folkestone.

5. Siren – Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od

The piece from Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od really appealed to me as it draws on the ‘listening ears’ along this stretch of coast which I just happened to have visited a little over a month back.

Siren at sunrise

Siren is marvelously positioned near the East Cliff Pavilion, with a great view over the Sands and Folkestone Harbour. It was proving a popular spot on the first day, though most folk seemed more interested in hearing their own voices impressively amplified than listening to the waves to get the sea-shell effect.

6. Lamp Post (as remembered) – David Shrigley

The idea behind David Shrigley’s piece was to reflect Folkestone’s creative-led move away from its long history serving the traditional tourist market. To that end he invited an artist to spend 40 seconds memorising the decorative lamp posts on the Leas and then re-create this from memory, thus turning heritage into an artwork befitting of the new Folkestone.

Lamp Post (as remembered)

It’s an interesting concept and one that plays out nicely as you stroll along the Leas wondering if you will spot the interloper immediately. In fact, it is easy to do so because it is much shorter and then as you get closer you notice the differences in design. Quite apart from anything else it made me look closer at the existing lamp posts which I have too easily ignored in the past!

7. Minaret – HoyCheong Wong

One of the things I love most about the triennial is the chance to see Folkestone afresh, whether that is surfacing a bit of forgotten history or providing a new viewpoint on a familiar sight. I have to confess that I had absolutely no idea of the existence of the Islamic Cultural Centre, which has operated as a Mosque in Foord Street for 28 years. I must have walked past it plenty of times on my way to my Nan’s house without noticing.

The Islamic Cultural Centre illuminated at night

You certainly can’t miss it now. For the duration of the triennial HoyCheong Wong has added a delightful temporary facade with minarets which is illuminated at night. It proved a popular spot to visit on our evening stroll, turning the usually quiet side street into a magnet for art-hunters. I’m not sure what the occasional motorist made of the folk lined against the wall that borders one side of the road in an attempt to get that perfect shot!

Practicalities

The fourth incarnation of the Folkestone Triennial runs every day from 2nd September to 5th November 2017. A map and app are available through the Folkestone Triennial website.

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Re-imagining Folkestone

Posted in England, Folkestone by folkestonejack on September 3, 2017

A weekend trip to see the Folkestone Triennial provided a welcome opportunity to see what has been going on around the town in the three years since I last made it down.

A view of Folkestone Harbour from the newly opened walkway towards the True Briton

The transformation of the town was already well under way last time I visited, but I was really struck by the health and vitality of Tontine Street, a far cry from the run down state of the street in the 1990s. The restoration of the Brewery Tap as an exhibition space for the University for the Creative Arts is rather wonderful (we popped in to see the current installation and my father reminisced about his last visit in the 1960s, a time when it still had a sawdust floor).

The Old High Street looked reassuringly busy with only a handful of shop units lying empty – astonishing when you consider how many high streets are struggling right now. It is also encouraging to see the side-effects of regeneration spreading across town and the much needed refurbishment of hotels that have long seemed stuck in the past.

In various spots around town you can see that the work continues. The demolition of the Old Bingo Hall and Co-op buildings has left quite a noticeable gap at the junction of Dover Road and Tontine Street which will be filled by a world class six storey Urban Sports Park when construction is completed in 2018. It looks like a really exciting development and one that shows that this wave of transformation is not solely for the benefit of incomers (as some have suggested).

The new pedestrian walkway across the old Folkestone Harbour Viaduct on the morning of 3rd September 2017

However, it is around Folkestone Harbour and the coastal park that the most dramatic changes have taken place. On 2nd September 2017 a new pedestrian walkway across Folkestone Harbour opened using the railway viaduct and swing bridge. It seemed to be an instant success with everyone and offers a lovely perspective on the harbour (I especially like the way that they have adapted the well-built brick support for the sidings into a viewing platform looking across the outer harbour). Access is currently via temporary steps in harbour square – a staircase and lift will come later.

The new walkway will eventually continue through the railway station, providing a connection with the harbour arm and the newly established boardwalk across the shingle towards the Leas Lift. At the moment work is continuing on the station but what you can see already looks pretty impressive with the replacement of the canopies and restoration of the station walls. When this is finished visitors will have the option to walk at platform level or on the track bed path. It may not be the preserved railway line that I once hoped for but it is a wonderfully sympathetic restoration that does a terrific job of preserving the history of the site.

Restoration of the canopies and installation of the new trackbed paths continues at Folkestone Harbour Station

An indication of how well this has been done can be seen in the beautiful revival of the last surviving part of the old Customs House, with the addition of some lovely wooden doors, which currently houses an exhibition in connection with the triennial. The restoration and adaptation of the buildings on the harbour arm and the re-establishment of the platform break (where the line to West Beach Carriage Sidings used to cut through) show a similar respect for the history of this site. The latter connects with a boardwalk across a freshly re-shingled beach that hides the footprint of the old Rotunda site.

If I have any quibbles about the development they are mostly around the scale of a few of the taller buildings that will be built in the last stage of the project on the south quay – it looked as though they rather dwarfed elements like the Old Customs House in the model and illustrations on display in the visitor centre (located at the entrance to the harbour arm from the car park overlooking the sands). However, it’s not as though the buildings that were on this spot until recently were pleasing to the eye and surely nothing can be any worse than the architectural monstrosity that is the Burstin!

The first stage of the Folkestone Harbour walkway is a striking addition to the geography of the town and puts it on the map with other innovative adaptations of old railway lines such as the Promenade Plantée in Paris and the High line in New York. Not bad company to be keeping!

The sympathetic restoration of the station platforms is rather special

The creative-industry led regeneration in Folkestone continues to be rather wonderful and unusual, saving the town from the downward trajectory seen in many a coastal town where traditional industries and/or tourist markets have been in steady decline. Sadly most of the deprived coastal communities around the country do not have a benefactor like De Haan to inject such sustained and much needed investment.

Folkestone’s fascinating story of re-invention from the fashionable resort of the Victorian era to a new life as a hub of artistic creativity is remarkable, but it is worth remembering that the regeneration is not a panacea for all the problems that the town faces, particularly when there are still wards around the harbour that are among the 10% of most deprived in the country.

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A little bank holiday sun at Chartwell

Posted in England by folkestonejack on August 28, 2017

After the coldest start to the summer holidays since 1982 a little heat over the august bank holiday weekend has been a pleasant surprise to those of us missing the sun. In an attempt to make the most of the good weather we took a little trip on the 246 bus to Chartwell, Winston Churchill’s family home in Westerham, Kent.

Winston Churchill’s country retreat at Chartwell

As others have noted before, it is a delightful bus ride in its own right taking you through Keston, Leaves Green, Biggin Hill (with views of the airport, memorial church and the boarded up married quarters from the former RAF station) and Westerham. The route includes the southernmost bus stop in London and also the highest above sea level. It is easy to forget that you are on a London bus as you pass along one narrow country lane after another.

Once you have entered the grounds it is quickly apparent why Winston Churchill made his uncharacteristic decision to buy the house in September 1922. Standing on the terrace in front of the homely red brick Victorian mansion you are faced with splendid views of undulating green countryside. The house is surrounded by other green delights too, including a colourful butterfly-filled garden and a croquet lawn.

I have been to Chartwell once before, as a teenager in 1986, so it was good to come back to better appreciate the house and grounds. One thing that hasn’t changed in 30 years is the slow procession through the house – it is inevitably too cosy for the 230,000 plus who visit each year despite the careful arrangements to allow entry via timed slots. At least it allows you time to soak up the detail.

The exhibition in the house offered up a few surprises, not least the discovery that it was Winston’s own efforts at bricklaying to create a beautiful walled garden that we had been admiring before our tour. I rather liked a picture of Churchill building a snowman at Chartwell too!

Summer colour at Chartwell

After wandering through the house we made a quick stop off at Churchill’s painting filled studio before heading home in the midday sun. Our only regret was that we didn’t get to see Jock VI, the latest marmalade cat in residence!

Practicalities

The 246 only heads to Chartwell on a handful of Mondays each year (it only runs on Sundays and Bank Holidays) and conveniently stops right outside the entrance to the grounds. The first bus of the day arrives at 10.12 and we picked it up from Hayes.

Admission to the house and grounds is free to National Trust members or £15 (including gift aid) per adult at current prices. Entry to the house is by timed ticket at 10 minute intervals and on summer sundays and bank holidays these often sell out fairly early in the day.

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Biggin Hill – Festival of Flight 2017

Posted in Biggin Hill, England by folkestonejack on August 19, 2017

It is all too easy to overlook the sights and attractions that lay closest to home. Unfathomably, I never attended the Biggin Hill International Air Fair, the largest privately organised air show in Europe in its day, even though it was more or less on my doorstep. I only appreciated my mistake when time was called on the event in 2010 after a 43 year run. The closest I got was looking up at military jets in transit whilst mowing the lawn!

The Saab JAS39C Gripen from the Czech Air Force

In 2014 a smaller event, the Festival of Flight, was launched at Biggin Hill and this year’s show was extended to two days to celebrate the centenary of the airport. The airport has come along way from the airfield used by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the First World War and is today mostly used by business jets.

I finally made it out to the air show by bus (regular local buses from Hayes on the first day and the special bus from Croydon on the second) and spent two enjoyable days taking photographs with the terrific backdrop of some of the older buildings of the West Camp.

Mil Mi-24 Hind and Mil Mi-171 Hip

The highlight for me had to be the Mil Mi-24 Hind and Mil Mi-171 Hip from the Czech Air Force but there was a lovely variety to the air show, in part from the regular and irregular traffic interspersed with the displays that included civilian flights and military jets departing for air displays in other parts of the country.

Other aircraft at Biggin Hill included the Belgian F-16 Fighting Falcon, the B-17 Flying Fortress, Typhoon, Rockwell OV-10 Bronco, JAS39C Gripen, EADS CASA C-295 and Boeing CH-37 Chinook.

The Red Arrows taxiing in at Biggin Hill

As always the Red Arrows put on an excellent display (on this occasion the flat display as the full display is impossible here due to the restricted airspace overhead) but the biggest surprise of the show had to be the display from G-Force aerobatics which features the unusual double act of an Extra 300s with a 40% scale radio-controlled model Extra. The precision of the acrobatics these two planes performed was simply astonishing and it was easy to forget that you were looking at a model at times.

It may not be the slickest of air shows but the Biggin Hill Festival of Flight has a lovely atmosphere, a great setting and doesn’t feel too overcrowded. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back!

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Goddards House and the Terry’s chocolate story

Posted in England, York by folkestonejack on August 13, 2017

On our travels we have come across many surprising twists and turns in history that have been long forgotten. A late afternoon visit to Goddards House at the edge of York Racecourse, home of the Terry family, revealed another of these: if the original plans of the Terry’s chocolate company had worked out we might all now associate the name of Terry’s with the chocolate apple (1924-1954) instead of the chocolate orange (1926-present).

Goddards House

This year sees the 250th anniversary of the Terry’s business, which started life in 1767 as a chemist shop near Bootham’s Bar in the centre of York. The story of the family and their chocolate business is told in the wonderful arts and crafts home that Noel Terry commissioned to overlook their new factory in 1927.

Goddards House is a lovely property in its own right but must have been all the more special in its time as a family home as Noel Terry was an avid collector of mid-18th century English furniture. Today this collection can be seen at Fairfax House and the house is rather more sparsely furnished with pieces befitting of a house of this era.

In the upstairs rooms the story of the Terry’s chocolate business is illustrated with wonderful photographs, a model of the factory complex and examples of their packaging. It offers a fascinating glimpse into the ingenious designs from the early 20th century and a bit of nostalgia for later product ranges that I had long forgotten about.

The guides explained that the creativeness of the business in developing innovative products led to it having too many product lines, many with runs too small to be economic. The business was sold on to United Biscuits in 1975 and then on to Kraft in 1993 with the new owners immediately slashing the product range from over a hundred to just three.

250 years of Terry’s

The factory closed in 2005 and production was switched to plants in Europe, such as the massive ‘line of the future’ at Skarbimierz, Poland. The factory site has since been redeveloped for luxury flats and the original office complex has been sympathetically restored as the hub of a rather impressive care village (including a Terry’s chocolate shop).

It’s well worth making the trip out to Goddards House (just a short trip by bus from York Railway Station) in this double anniversary year. Adult admission currently costs £7 per person though for us this was covered by our National Trust membership.

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Fountains Hall and Abbey

Posted in England, York by folkestonejack on August 13, 2017

A Sunday outing to the National Trust site at Fountains Abbey proved to be a great way to enjoy a sunnier day in Yorkshire, but the initial draw for us was not the abbey ruins but the somewhat overlooked Elizabethan prodigy house. Arguably, you could say that we were still coming to see the abbey as Fountains Hall was built using stone from the ruins (the hall even includes a complete spiral staircase taken from the abbey).

Fountains Hall

In any other location Fountains Hall would be a major attraction, but on this site it is dwarfed by the majestic ruins of Fountains Abbey and the extensive 18th century pleasure gardens of Studley Royal. Construction of the hall began in 1598, almost 60 years on from the dissolution of the abbey and the subsequent wrecking to make it unfit for religious use. The abbey has been a ruin for the entire lifespan of the hall.

The exterior of the hall reflects the influence of Robert Smythson but is not in the league of grander houses from the late Elizabethan/early Jacobean age such as Hardwick Hall or Burghley House. Nevertheless, Fountains Hall has the wow factor that you expect from a prodigy house even if the three rooms open to visitors can’t hope to live up to that first impression. Through much of its history the hall has been in a state of decay as the home of estate workers and tenant farmers. The rooms not open to visitors include holiday and staff flats.

The later history of the hall turns out to be as fascinating as its beginning. In 1923 the hall was purchased by the Vyner family and their extensive restoration efforts saved the building at a pivotal moment in its history. It is intriguing to note that Clare and Doris Vyner were great friends of the then Duke and Duchess of York and had history turned out differently Fountains Hall may have become a royal country retreat. Instead the abdication of Edward VIII set the couple on a different course.

I gather there are plans to open up and make more of the hall, including the re-opening of the chapel room. I hope this comes to pass as this house deserves to be appreciated for the architectural marvel it is.

Fountains Abbey

A short walk from the hall brought us to the west range of Fountains Abbey, which was first established on the site in December 1132. The views of the surviving buildings as you wander through are magnificent and make it pretty clear that this was an impressive complex by the time of its surrender in November 1539. Some elements, such as Huby’s Tower, were barely 40 years old by this point.

The pleasure gardens present an altogether different collection of delights with temples, towers and statues within a watery setting. Although these stand on their own today they were originally the grounds of Studley Royal House which burnt down in 1946. I particularly liked the gothic Octagon Tower which you reach by taking an artificial uphill tunnel (known as the Serpentine Tunnel).

Our day visiting the estate was a delight and it is wonderful to see a site where so many layers of history are so accessible, from the earliest abbey buildings to the carefully engineered water gardens of the eighteenth century and on to the second world war memorial established by the Vyner family inside Fountains Hall in memory of their two eldest children. It is well worth a day of exploration and discovery!

Practicalities

We caught the first 822 ‘Fountains Flyer’ bus of the day from the stop at York Theatre Royal to Fountains Abbey at a cost of £10 for an adult return. This bus only runs on Summer Sundays and Bank Holidays, taking 1 hour 20 minutes to reach Fountains Abbey via Ripon. The seating on the bus was filled up by the time we reached the halfway point, though many switched to another bus at Ripon. We picked up the return bus at 2pm, but there is a later bus at 4.55pm and I suspect that most of the passengers we encountered in the morning opted for the latter.

Our stay was sufficient to take in the abbey, water gardens and the hall but we skipped the mill and the exhibition in the Porters Lodge. We also didn’t stray far beyond the National Trust grounds. If you want to take the time to walk out to the Deer Park and St Mary’s Church you would probably need the later bus.

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Castle Howard and the Treasurer’s House

Posted in England, York by folkestonejack on August 12, 2017

A short stay in Yorkshire gave us the opportunity to spend our Saturday visiting two very different historic sites – Castle Howard and the Treasurer’s House – each with their own fascinating preservation stories.

Castle Howard

The three hundred year old Castle Howard is a remarkable survivor. In November 1940 the house was ravaged by a terrible fire that destroyed 20 of the finest rooms, its iconic dome and many of its artistic treasures. A third of the building was left open to the skies. It could easily have started the building on a spiral of decline but instead the family opened the house to the public and set course on a steady programme of restoration that has allowed this stately home to reclaim its place among the treasure houses of England.

Early successes included the restoration of the Temple of the Four Winds in 1955, the reconstruction of the dome in 1961 and the recreation of Pellegrini’s Fall of Phaeton on the underside of the dome in 1962. The list of works needed to keep this place in good shape must be daunting, including many elements far from the house that many visitors will have missed such as the Monument to the 7th Earl of Carlisle and the castellated walls half-way up the stray (we only half-glimpsed these from the bus taking us back to York).

One of the most intriguing elements of the house today are the derelict interiors left over from the fire of the 1940s. The film company shooting the most recent Brideshead film saw an opportunity to create film sets in these spaces to ‘restore’ the garden hall and the high saloon. The guides in the rooms were keen to stress that everything was not as it seemed the moment we stepped inside, pointing out the most illusory elements and techniques used to achieve the effect of aging. It was certainly effective and gave us a stronger sense of what has been lost here.

The continuing appeal of the restored house and grounds can be judged in the massive increase in visitor numbers over the past decade or so, with 270,680 visitors in 2016, up from 171,601 in 2004 (according to the figures published by Association of Leading Visitor Attractions). Let’s hope this stays on its upward track, helping to contribute to the funds needed to keep up the ongoing restoration of the estate.

The Treasurer’s House

Our second stop, on our return to York, was the Treasurer’s House. This building has the distinction of being the first property gifted to the National Trust, albeit with the stipulation that it should be presented exactly as its owner specified.

You might not think this a problem but that owner, wealthy industrialist Frank Green, had an interesting perspective on historical accuracy which saw him conduct substantial architectural re-arrangement and inauthentic decoration to achieve his vision of how he thought the house must have been. This included the movement of fireplaces, re-positioning walls and the complete removal of one floor! The exacting degree to which this presentation was specified can be seen in the metal studs used to mark out the exact positions of furniture on the floor.

Through the mid-twentieth century the house was presented with more historically accurate interior decoration, but in the late 1990s the National Trust decided that the honourable course of action would be to return the house to the way Frank Green intended it to be seen. In a funny way this makes it all the more fascinating as you enter each room and discover how it had been altered to fit Frank Green’s vision for the house (assisted by the very knowledgeable guides and photographs showing the rooms before and after alteration).

The property has seen more royal visits than you might expect – Edward VII, his wife Alexandra and daughter Victoria stayed here and the rooms given names to permanently record this. However, the rooms were not preserved exactly as they has been arranged for their stay with much grander beds and furniture added afterwards. You can’t take anything at face value in this place!

We arrived fairly late in the day so we didn’t get the opportunity to try the hard-hat tours of the basement (where the famous sighting of an entire legion of ghostly roman soldiers occurred) or the rooftop walks. Maybe next time…

Practicalities

We took the direct 181 bus from York (leaving from stop RM in Station Avenue, a short walk down the road from York Station) to Castle Howard. Admission to the house and gardens came to £18.95 (we were able to take advantage of a 2 for 1 voucher from Treasure Houses of England given to us at Hatfield House.

The 181 bus route is operated by Stephensons of Easingwold and at the time of our trip a return ticket came to £10 per adult for the hour long journey. It’s only a single decker bus (presumably because it has to pass under a low arch on its way down the ceremonial southern approach, known as ‘The Stray’) but just about everyone got a seat on a busy summer Saturday, suggesting that they’ve got this just about right. Three buses run out and back each day between Monday and Friday, with a fourth added on Saturdays. Separate services are available on Sundays and Bank Holidays between 14th April and 24th September 2017.

The Treasurer’s House is located in the centre of York, just around the corner from York Minster. The garden is free to enter whenever the house is open (it’s a lovely space in its own right). Admission to the house currently costs £8.50 for an adult (including gift aid) but our entry was covered by membership of the National Trust.

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A tale of two taxis

Posted in England, Stratford-upon-Avon by folkestonejack on August 6, 2017

The idea of a relaxing and stress free weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon with the opportunity to visit two fascinating National Trust sites sounded great in principle, yet proved to be anything but. Instead, it became memorable for two hours waiting for rail replacement taxis instead!

Baddesley Clinton – one of two NT properties we visited this weekend

It used to be relatively easy to catch a through train from London Marylebone to Stratford-upon-Avon at the weekend, but since the new route to Oxford Parkway started in October 2015 most of these have been reduced to connect with local services. At present this requires a switch to a London Midland service at Dorridge with a 6 minute connection.

Our train reached Dorridge at precisely the same time as our connecting train was due to leave. It stayed on the platform just long enough for the fastest among us to race over the footbridge, only setting off the moment they reached the doors! The thirty or so passengers left behind trooped in to the ticket office to discover that Chiltern Railways would be laying on replacement taxis. Our relief was short lived. The slowly unfolding saga of the taxi arrivals ensured that we were still waiting when the next train appeared – one hour later!

Incredibly, the next day delivered yet more rail replacement taxis after our train to Hatton (for Lapworth) was cancelled. In a ludicrous sequence of events our taxi took us as far as the outskirts of Stratford upon Avon before we discovered that the taxi firm would only allow our driver to take us in the wrong direction to a connection for London that we didn’t want or need! This madness was only resolved after our taxi returned to our starting point and the incredibly helpful station master intervened.

To say that we were relieved when we finally reached Packwood House, would be a massive understatement. Thankfully, the calming beauty of the gardens was the perfect antidote to the stresses of the morning.

Our first stop in Lapworth – Packwood House

Packwood House is an interesting beast – a Tudor manor house remodelled by Graham Baron Ash in the 1920s-30s to create a much grander country house, financed by a family business in the galvanised steel industry. It’s such an effective transformation that it is not always immediately apparent when you step into new territory – such as with the Great Hall converted from a barn in 1927 and the long gallery from 1932 that connects this to the main house. Much of the furniture, fittings and tapestries that look so at home here were actually rescued from country houses facing destruction or financial ruin (including many from a sale at Baddesley Clinton in the 1930s).

The house is presented as it was left by Baron Ash in 1941, reflecting the way he wanted it to be seen rather than how it had appeared during his time living in the house. Nevertheless, it still comes across as an eminently comfortable country house unlike many that I have visited. Queen Mary must have had the same opinion on a visit in 1927, remarking on the comforts of this bachelor pad. This extends to the rather delightful gardens that surround the property, including a rather extraordinary Yew garden that dates back 350 years (supposedly symbolising the Sermon on the Mount!).

The moated manor house at Baddesley Clinton

The second National Trust property we visited was the picturesque moated manor house at Baddesley Clinton. This building is a wonderful blend of styles that reflects its construction in phases during the 15th and 16th centuries followed by major remodelling in the 17th and 18th centuries. This was the home of the Ferrers, a family of Catholic recusants, for thirteen generations – an impressive feat in the turbulent history of this island.

There is plenty to take in on a wander through the house and plenty of wonderful stories to bring it to life, from tales of fishing in the moat from bedroom windows to the long-lasting stain of blood in the library supposedly from the murder of a priest in the late 15th century (which it transpires was actually animal blood, topped up by a member of the family to keep up the story!). The elaborate decoration in the great hall and in Henry Ferrers’ bedroom were highlights of the free flow tour, but the room I found the most satisfying was the library – it managed to blend the old with a livable quality and looked to have been left much as its last owner left it.

One of the most interesting elements of the house is a chamber below the house used to hide Catholic priests from the priest hunters of the late 16th century – a brave move at a time when this action would have brought a charge of treason. This ‘priest hole’ was accessed through the shaft running from the privy on the upper floor and was large enough to have hidden nine priests during a four hour long search in October 1591. In more recent times a view of the hole was cut-through the kitchen floor for the benefit of visitors.

It was a lovely day out, despite the slight rocky start, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a visit to both properties. If I had to choose just one I think the rich history of Baddesley Clinton would win out for me.

Practicalities

The plan for our weekend was simple enough – an afternoon and evening show at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Stratford upon Avon base on the Saturday followed by a sightseeing trip to Lapworth on the Sunday.

The execution of this plan showed up its weaknesses! Under the current timetable there are only two trains that you can realistically catch from Stratford upon Avon on a Sunday to reach Lapworth with a reasonable journey time. In both cases this involves a change of trains at Hatton. The first of these options, at 9.38 gets you to Lapworth at 10.06 and the second at 12.19 gets you to Lapworth at 12.49. The only alternatives to these involve 1.5 to 2 hour trips. If you want to see both National Trust properties at Lapworth on a Sunday outing from Stratford upon Avon the 9.38 train is your only option.

Summer colours at Packwood

The walk from Lapworth station to Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton takes around half an hour apiece, whilst our walk between the two properties took us around 1 hour and 15 minutes with one hobbling walker! I’m not sure if we took the quickest route between the two properties but it was certainly a pleasant walk that was mostly covered by public footpaths (including a stretch along the Grand Union Canal between Rising Lane and the Old Warwick Road). The footpaths were reassuringly well marked and maintained, though you do need to keep an eye out for the small square markers and ideally have an OS map to hand. If you feel up to it, there is a longer seven mile circular walk connecting the two properties.

Our admission fees were covered by our National Trust membership but at each property you are allocated a slot to visit the house. If you visit on a busy day, as we seemed to have done, you may find yourself with a bit of a wait before you can enter the houses. We were lucky here – our entrance slot was perfect to give us enough time for a visit before we had to head back to the station to get our train home. If we had arrived any later we may well have had to admire the building without being able to go in!

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