06 March, 2013

Stansted Mountfitchet

Keep the pavement dry! The Gilbey family donated a water fountain to the village of Stansted Mountfitchet in Essex and emblazoned it with their shield and the motto stated above. If it's the same family who made the gin why did they give a water fountain? Although perhaps on special occasions it ran with gin... Maybe one of those special occasions was the coronation of our own Queen and a memorial stone with the simple inscription "Elizabeth II 2nd June 1953" marked out a bus stop with admirable utility. The village had a number of old houses and pubs including this splendid old house. There are also other historic items around including a Great Eastern Railway fireplace in the station and this milestone

03 March, 2013


Great Western meet London Midland. One of the few places they do is at Smethwick Galton Bridge Station. Named after the major investor the Galton Bridge spans a large cutting with a railway, a canal and a river. Did you really think there was an old castle in Smethick? Alas Smethwick is a workaday town with little to see and that not very old. Even Portrait of the Black Country gives it very little space, and you can hardly tell where it merges into Oldbury, either by book or by town. I walked under the Galton Bridge which had the widest single span in the world when it was built but is, of course, now dwarfed by other bridges around the world. It has an elegant functionality and you have to cross it to get from the station to the towpath, which I did. There was also a canal tunnel, albeit modern and concrete, to walk through so I did. I came out near the other station, Smethick Rolfe Street, where the river met the canal with a former pumping station now converted to a heritage centre (Closed Saturday afternoons Admission 3/6d). The road bridge over the canal had a fine crop of icicles which failed to glisten in my camera flash. I also found a historic toll house although people tell me it wasn't lost. I think somebody had just left the church unlocked so I was able to go in. I'm not sure it was officially open even now. It was 19th century and pleasant enough with some attractive glass and in good decorative order. There wasn't evan a church there before the 18th Century. The lych gate was dedicated to the Brotherhood, whether masonic or a church orgainsation I do not know.


Nobody eats out in Kidderminster. Even the Subway had closed down. However when I did find a cafe (the Three Shires Cafe) I was quite surprised. The Three Shires cafe had all the atmosphere of a morgue, and indeed it was so full of old people I wondered if I'd gone into a charitable pensioners club rather than a commercial cafe (although it wasn't exactly cheap). The waitress served me though. And to my astonishment when the chicken, ham and asparagus pie arrived it was ecellent. I cannot over use the superlatives here. I don't think I've had a better pie. Wonderful. With the body satisfied it was time to look at the real reasons for going to Kidderminster. The place has one famous son I knew about and one I didn't although only one was born here. In Chronological order they were Richard 'the Reformed Pastor' Baxter and Rowland 'Penny Black' Hill. Richard Baxter came to Kidderminster in 1641 and found the people in a dreadful state with all kinds of wickedness. He persisted with them and managed to turn them from their bad deeds,  Then he wrote about it. Naturally turning to Parliament in the civil war things got a bit hot for him in Royalist Worcestershire so he retreated to Gloucestershire and after many adventures, including serving as a chaplain in the Parliamentary army, returned to Kidderminster finally leaving when the Act of Uniformity maade it impossible for him to stay.  His monument was erected by churchmen and non-conformists and there is a Baxter United Reformed Church in the town.   photo PICT4627_zps62f0231d.jpgJust over the churchyard wall, towards the canal, I noticed huge numbers of Sainsburys value lager tins.  At least 50 cans!  I was surprised to say the least!

Rowland Hill was part of the technological revolution and the inventor of the penny post. This was important as it allowed the rapid and cheap transmission of ideas across the country so that something thought up in Manchester could be in Tewksbury the next day. And people who joke about 'snail mail' today perhaps need to be reminded that in the 1840s a letter posted for a penny at 1500 would be in the recipients hands by 1700. And that I can remember the time when an email might take 24 hrs to come through - that's in the very early days for the young folk who don't remember.  Rowland Hill's statue was paid for by public subscription. photo PICT4632_zps7906d73a.jpg


"Birmingham looks like New York" said an enthusiastic young man on the train up for a night out. "But it's really more like Detroit" replied his rather more weary friend.  I do enjoy going to Birmingham and I found it exciting seeing the saturnalia on Broad Street, which is where all the pubs are.  A very pleaseant weekrnd. Birmingham is getting a new library - and here it is! Although I do think it's a pity the old one can't be scrubbed up a bit.