30 December, 2013

Middlesbrough and Hartlepool

I worked in Middlesbrough for the worst four years of my life! Middlesbrough started its life as a railway docks town of the Stockton and Darlington Railway called Port Darlington. Incorporated as a borough in the 1850s the prime minister at the time called it an 'infant Hercules. Until very recently there was a firm called 'The Ownere of the Middlesbrough Estate' who had their offices in the place with the columed portico in the picture. The Owners of Middlesbrough did not, at the end, own Middlesbrough but they did at the begining. I called in Middlesbrough on a Monday and most of the newly built cultural places were closed. Hartlepool is a place that was used by the writers of Coronation Street to write out charachters who usually said they were improving their job prospects by moving to Hartlepool. I'm not sure that they could but I think that's a case of irony in soap operas. Hartlepool is the home of Andy Capp. 'Nuff said! Andy Capp The old part of Hartlepool has some historic buildings like St Hilda's Church.
From Travels around London
St Hilda's Church

29 November, 2013


A long walk in the Essex town was supposed to be interesting but it wasn't.  There are lots of historic buildings in the high street and an interesting 18th century brick church with a clock commemorating Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee.

26 October, 2013

Ipswich - Urbs veteris

I hope it's not the onset of senility: I said to the custodian in the museum that I'd never been to Felixstowe before. But I had a good day none the less in the oldest town in England (it sez 'ere). The first thing that greets you when you come to Ipswich proper from the station is the Willis Faber Building - a black glass walled building housing a firm of solicitors that like impressive buildings - they are also in the former Port Of London Authority building. The first commission of Norman Foster after establishing Foster Associates it was the youngest building to be given grade 1 listing. This certainly makes a statement in what is a meadieval town but the black glass reflects the older buildings and is a pleasant blend of old and new. The museum is also a blend of old and new too with a proper Victorian natural history display, including a woolly mammoth and these bad boys. The whole museum has some interesting artifacts, including a scolds chair and a gallery devoted to Thomas Clarkson an Ipswich man who campaigned for the abolition of the slave trade. Not all the galleries looked like this. The Co-op department store in Ipswich has alas been closed down. But there is an Age Concern charity shop in there, and I'm glad I went in because they had limited edition prints of the store, done for the 120th anniversary of Ipswich Society in 1988. Five years later the Ipswich Co-operative Society merged with Norwich and twelve years later East Of England Co-op was formed from societies in Essex and East Anglia. Sadly the department store business isn't what it was and these vast co-operative palaces had to close. You can see pictures here. Ipswich is under catered foodwise but has three Wetherspoons! I ended up in the Golden Lion which had nice food. After lunch it was time to call in at the Christchurch mansion and the Wolsley Art Gallery which contained some great art and artefacts displayed to advantage in the historic house. I particularly noted the Great Hall had some half doors which I thought unusual. Ipswich does not neglect its famous sons: Cardinal Wolsley is honoured by a statue in front of his birthplace although the plaque is rather back handed in its compliments. Although not as protestant as Lewes Ipswich is firmly puritan. Aother Ipswicher to be honoured is a rugby playing pilot, Prince Obolenski who has his statue in Cromwell Square. Ipswich worth a return, although might do Lowestoft and Felixstowe...

Coventry historic buildings

A rather late in the day visit to Coventry on the heritage open days. Having been to see the Birmingham back-to-backs in the morning and a rather indulgent lunch in the Loft Lounge it was rather late in the day when Phil and I arrived in Coventry. The Cathedral was closed for Evensong so we couldn't go in but we looked round the ruins of the old. I took the plunge and bought a guide book to a walk around the historic buildings of Coventry. Considering the bombing there are surprisingly many of these buildings left. However the 1950s buildings are now considered historic although not mentioned in the guide.

06 October, 2013

London Open House

I'll say one word - Trains! and everybody in London will know what I mean. Getting around London at weekends is now almost impossible although not necessarily within the control of the companies concerned - Passenger under a train I'm accusing you! First up Taberner House in Croydon. As this is shortly to be demolished (in around two weeks time I understand) I thought this was worth going to. It's story is interesting although the building is not particularly. Built in the white heat of the technological sixties Taberner House represents some sensible forward planning on behalf of the Croydon County Borough as it then was. The London Borough of Croydon was to be created in 1965 which would incorporate Coulsdon and Purley UDC and new space for council officers would be needed - the result was the 20 storey Taberner House named after a long serving Town Clerk. The open house access was to the 18th floor and the viewing galleries above. There were wonderful views of Croydon and Surrey although not so much to the north. Overall a worthwhile experience. After that on to Little Holland House which only opened at 1400 - and I got there at 1250. Oh well just go on another day. Perronet House. After an appalling journey by train and bus I arrived at Perronet House an interesting block of council flats at the Elephant and Castle. Constructed on a scissors structure with all living rooms on the noisy side of the building and all bedrooms on the quiet side of the building it is quite confusing, all bathrooms being under and over corridors, presumably for easy cleaning of drains. But it might be difficult to know where your drains are. You go into a flat on the 10th floor and there is a hall with pram/bicycle space. Down a few steps to floor 9.5 and there is a living room and a kitchen. Down again to floor 9 and there is a bathroom and storage area. Down again to floor 8.5 and there are bedrooms. Down to floor 8 there is a 'back door' leading out onto the 8th floor corridor. There are communal outdoor areas on every floor. Such generous room sizes - we shall not see it's like again.

 Kingsley Hall and the Lesters - Wind of Change. Muriel and Doris Lester wanted to set up a community centre in the East End and did so on a type of university settlement basis, with live in staff leading a communal life together housed in six 'cells' on top of the building for maximum fresh air. I was more interested in R D Laing's philadelphia association but the guide was more interested in dhowing the small party Ghandi's cell used by him when he went to the conference on Indian independence, therefore causing trouble for the organisers and not achieving his objective of staying with working people. The Lesters were solidly middle class. River Police Museum Wapping Interesting display of artefacts relating to the river police. The Red House Bexleyheath. Lots of queues to get into the former home of William Morris designed by Phillip Webb. Morris only lived here for five years but went mad with the interior and exterior decoration. There was even a minstrels gallery for midget minstrels in the first floor room. Loads of stained glass, Morris wallpapers and furnishings and some recently discovered murals ('and painted muriels) from behind a wardrobe. Bricky fireplaces completed the image. A meadieval fantasy for a Victorian industrialist, albeit one who was reviving crafts.

30 August, 2013


Well she tried, I'll give her that! I refer to the lady in the Tourist Information Office in Halifax who gave me some tips as to where to go in Halifax during a short break. However the lady in the hotel was more au fait and directed me to three real ale pubs - and rather good ones at that. Halifax has the head of John the Baptist on its shield and this makes for interesting municipal buildings - bit scary!
Halifax does have a few points of interest though.  One of these is the gold postbox to Hannah Cockroft, the wheelchair athlete who won gold at the London Paralympics.  It stands outside the Town Hall.  As Halifax is a woolen town the Piece Hall is a fine space originally used for selling cloth and now a shopping centre for all kinds of crafts and things, as well as a gathering space for town events.
The Minster in Halifax is a recent creation of an old church by the present Archbishop of York. Many of the windows were installed after the reforms of Thomas Cromwell and are of a unique design. There is a large wooden figure carrying the poor box. The stocks are outside the Minster.
An altogether more grisly artifact is the gibbet which bears a strong resemblance to a guillotine. Thankfully a modern installation.
Halifax was once home to the largest building society in the world. Younger readers will not know what one of those is as there are so few left but they were once members organisations who took deposits from the public and leant them out so that people could buy houses. And that's all they did- isn't that funny! This building was once the Headquarters of the Halifax Building Society and shows something of the might of building societies before they were marginalised.

28 August, 2013


Some schoolboy giggles at the name of this rather small South Yorkshire town. There is not much at Penistone but a cinema I should have taken a picture of (Sorry Brian) a church (locked when I called - as usual) although there were some interesting artworks in the churchyard.
What sets Penistone apart is the new market hall completed in 2011 (and not on google maps yet). This building replaced some uninteresting corrugated iron stalls and has become the largest public oak framed building in the country. I can well believe it. The hall is available for other functions too such as wedding fairs etc. You can read about it here.

Wortley Hall and village

"In Memory of Vincent Albert Williams whose vision it was to transform this stately home from ruins and decay into the splendour of today". Wortley Hall is a co-operatively owned conference centre, holiday home and (it must be said) wedding factory in between Sheffield and Penistone. Once home to the Earls of Wharnecliffethey found it difficult to keep up after nationalisation of the mines upon which they depended for their income. The hall has beautiful gardens and at least one pleasant and up to date room (the one we stayed in) but reviews are mixed. Anyway I have no complaints about the place and good value it was too, although I was disappointed that the suppliers listed on the menu did not include the Co-operative Group or the Sheffield Co-operative Society.
There is an old walled garden near the old stable block that some volunteers are licking into shape with some success although I doubt they'll ever grow peaches there again.
There is also this mysterious door, rather grand but also very much locked. A peep through the keyhole revealed a pile of bricks so perhaps just an entrance to a builders yard, but what a grand one!
Wortley village has a pub, a post office (handy for co-op bnk customers), a tea shop also handy, a church and some houses, perhaps still the property of the Wharncliffs, perhaps the property of the Wortley Hall Co-operative. The church was locked when I called bt had a proper lych gate with a stone platform for a coffin
A very pleasant stay, heartily recommended.

27 August, 2013

The Darlington Train

A visit to have a look at the Brick train in Darlington.

26 August, 2013

Mount Grace Priory and the Lady Chapel

The path up the hill to the Lady Chapel from this Charterhouse of Yorkshire was quite covered by the most adorable tiny frogs, just about the size of a penny. Far too quick for me to photograph, I just hope I didn't tread on any. They were certainly abundant. The Lady chapel had been converted into use as a Roman Catholic church and was a long way above the priory - but I needed the exercise. The priory itself was given to the National Trust to be cared for by the nation by the Pennyman family who also gave their home, Ormesby Hall to the nation to be cared for by the National Trust. This is the right thing to do. The interpretation has improved a lot since I were a lad with the 17th century manor house owned by Sir Lowthian Bell brought into use as a museum of the priory. It shows the rooms decorated in the fashionable William Morris Style that was done when Sir Lowthian bought it.
The carthusian monastery was sold at the dissolution of the monasteries to one of the priory's benefactors whose parents were buried in the church. This is why the church is quite well preserved today as it was not quarried for stone until much later. Sir Lowhian also restorred parts of the priory including one of the monk's cells. Carthusians lived solitary lives in gtoups having their food passed to them through L shaped hatches. Each cell was like a mini monastery with its own garden, cloister, oratory, living room, workroom and bedroom. The monks seemed to have quite a good life in the fairly prosperous middle ages. They went into the church on festival days.
The pictures show the priory ruins and the reconstructed monk's cell.

24 August, 2013


Redcar is a fading seaside town with the major hotel (the Coatham) transformed into flats. Never built for high-class visitors it was the resort for the steel workers and miners of Middlesbrough and Northern North Yorkshire. The resort may well have had a steady and slow death had the council not thought to actually spend some money on it. The day I visited was foggy and damp but there were some new things going for the town. The lovely sandy beaches are not really enough for today's tourist: there must be something else. And here we have it: the Redcar Vertical Pier.  This is really a 25m observation platform.
I couldn't see much from it the day I called but on a clear day it must be an impressive view. The colours are bold using purples and yellows (ticks all the boxes in my view) and has space for micro businesses in the craft industry. There is a stained glass workshop in one of the rooms. This observation platform is complemented by...
The Hub which is a place for creative and digital industry replacing a disused cinema. All that was in there when I called was an art gallery, and although there were some interesting pieces there was nothing to induce me to buy. Backing up this stuff is also Tuned in! Redcar's centre for young people which has facilities to develop their musical and dramatic talents.
Alas the vertical pier has generated controversy and has even been put up for a carbuncle award. I think they should ignore the knockers and give themselves a pat on the back for embracing the future and actually spending some money on a very run down and tatty resort. Redcar also has it's history. The world's oldest lifeboat is in the town. The Zetland lifeboat saved lives at sea and is preserved in the old lifeboat station. There is also an exhibition about lifeboats and the sea generally with some goss ware with the Redcar arms collected by a lady.

04 August, 2013

Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation

Donald and the Duchess, the Compton theatre organ at the Odeon Leicester Square, entertained a large crowd, mostly male, in fact amongst the whole crowd, about 300 people I only counted about ten women. The Odeon was celebrating its 75th annivetsary although it opened in November 1937 and
Donald MacKenzie was celebrating 21years as resident organist.

02 August, 2013

Dangling above the Thames

A venture onto the ArabFly Dangleway as another London blogger puts it. After admiring the snazz uniforms of the guardians of the cablecar I paid my money and queued up for a short while to take a flight on the cablecar. After a family asked me to go in front so they could be together I actually stepped back to allow them to go ahead. But they weren't having any of thaat so I went ahead. I got a pod to myself, then some vulgar family muscled in on me! You'd think they would want a car to themselves as well - there was certainly no shortage. The doors closed and the flight began. The whole thing was surprisingly smooth if steep. Even when the car goes over the poles there is the most muted of vibration. However wind is rather a problem making the car shake. I have to admit that the steep climb and the height had a somewhat unnerving effect on me and it was with a profound sense of relief that I got out of the car and my boots touched the terra firma of the Royal Borough. The footaage I took was completely unusable.

Hackney - the abode of love

Hackney is usually considered the abode of crime and violence and indeed there were a few times today whn I feared for my (extremely cheap) camera. But back in the day, Hackney was home to a false messianic cult - the Abode of Love.

First I called at Leandro Erlich's Dalston House an art installation in Dalston where visitors interact with the exhibit by walking on the facade of a house laid on the ground and are reflected in a mirror showing them seemingly hanging off a facade in a sort of 'human fly' way. The next bit I got wrong although the Round Chapel is of great interest it is not the abode of love. It was once the Clapton Park Congregational Church. A grade two listed building it is now used as a community arts centre. I thought the inscription was suitably far out to be cultish but it seems it was not intended to be so as the Congregationalists were and still are eminently respectable. So I shall tell the story of the Abode of Love another day.

01 August, 2013

Brixton Windmill and the Rookery, Streatham

I didn't know there was a windmill in Brixton, but there is and it is an ancient monument. The windmill is in the south of Brixton in a rather scrubby little park with a non-working drinking fountain. The windmill is covered in tar as a kind of primitive weatherproofing and it's type is known as a tower mill, rather similar to remains of mills on farms seen during my youth in County Durham. The sweeps, or sails, would once have been covered with canvass and are new after the old sails were burnt in the 1860s. Yo can visit the mill inside, which might be a whole lot more interesting than staring at it from the outside, but it is small so probably quite a lot of ladders meaning it is not suitable for the infirm. We first met The Rookery in 2006 when I walked in it as a deviation from the Capital Ring. The Gardens have celebrated their centenery on 23 July this year and were purchased when the Streatham Spa went into decline. You can still see one of the wells, which still has water in it although wether it is still sulphur water or chalybeate I could not determine by smell. Water could be had for 6d a gallon in 1878, delivered for 1/6. It could cure a lot of things too, such as gravel, giddiness and eczema. Now the gardens are simply formal and informal gardens with what one mother described as a fairy path, with water flowing down it in a rockery. I could well believe it.

21 July, 2013

Curiosity in South Norwood. A site specific installation.

The South Norwood cemetery was full of quarrels - I heard at least two pairs of people quarrelling! I wasn't there though to eavesdrop on whether X really was a nasty piece of work or not I was here for Curiosity, a series of installations in the cemetery. There are 21 installations altogether including one in a mausoleum and an extra informal one of some lads working on community payback. Some of the installations were good and some were indifferent. The Flower theatre by Jane Brockbank in the greek section of the cemetery was a pleasant little experience. Others were difficult to find - I didn't see no 10, and others were frankly bizarre in particular listening to the dead at no 16 where you put two electrodes connected to a set of headphones into the earth. THe best was the grave of Sir Henry Bessemer which had been covered to show liquid, solids and gasses. Illustrated above. All in all a rather bizarre experience on a strange day. As everyone else is going on about red posts - I will too!