Sunday, 16 August 2015

Traveling with the GWR (1)

While gravehunting recently in Prestbury Cemetery in Cheltenham,  I kept on hearing a steam whistle, and I had read that there was a heritage rail operation in the area called the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, it was time to investigate, and I duly headed in that direction on the 15th of August.


The railway runs from Cheltenham Race Course Station, to Gotherington, Winchcombe and then to Toddington stations where the loco shed and end point is. Actually that is not quite true as there is a halt further on called Laverton, which is really a signpost and not a station.  

Like most heritage rail operations I have encountered in the UK I was amazed at the professionalism of the operation. They are staffed by volunteers and run like well oiled machines, just like their fleet of steam and diesel engines.

I joined the train at Cheltenham Race Course Station for the run through to Toddington.


The loco in charge was a GWR 4200 Class, number 4270, and she dates from 1919 and she is one of 5 surviving sisters that were rescued from the famous Woodham Brothers Scrapyard in Barry. 


Her rake of coaches were a mixed bag of Carmine and Cream corridor and compartment coaches typically found in the UK. 



The train also had a buffet car and a compo van as well as a first class compartment coach. They are very comfortable coaches, totally unlike anything we had in South Africa. Oddly enough though, many of the internal fittings were the same as that found in South Africa, and the chances are the fittings all originated from the same place. 

Once our loco had had a drink she ran to the end of the line and then through the points onto the opposite line, ran past the train, back though the points and onto the back of the train (which was now the front of the train), she would run bunker first to Toddington. 


And then we were off. The line to Toddington has some challenging climbs until it comes to the Greet Tunnel which is almost the highest point of the line. The first station is Gotherington and I happened to be leaning out of the window as we came into it, and it looks like a fascinating place to visit as a destination. Technically from here you can just see Tewkesbury (although I expect binoculars would be needed).


The one things that amazes me is how children instinctively know how to emulate a team engine whistle, and I know that from the other heritage rail trips that I have taken.

The next "highlight" of the trip is the Greet Tunnel which is 693 yards long and it is the 2nd longest tunnel on a British heritage railway. I did try some photography in it using the camera flash, but my experiments were not really a success.


Next stop was Winchcombe and we stopped here to wait for the other train to arrive. The line is single rail between stations with passing blocks at the stattions. On this particular day there were 3 trains running on the system. 


And here comes the other train...


And with her out the way we could now proceed to Toddington. 


Our train is the one of the right, and the one on the left is the Railcar which runs between Laverton and Winchcombe. I had planned to look around Toddington and then grab the railcar to Laverton, and then reboard the train and travel back to Cheltenham with the next train depending on how much there was to see at Toddington. The loco shed is here and that was what I was really after. GWR also operates heritage diesels, and while these do not have the attraction of a steamer, some are really interesting machines in their own right.

45149 (D135) - Class 45/1 Diesel Electric Locomotive.

Class  49 'electro-diesel 6036
26043 (D5343) Class 26, Diesel Electric Locomotive

Yorkshire Engine Company 372
Of course there were steamers too, but they were all in the wrong position to photograph, the closest I could see were:

2807 - '28xx' class heavy freight locomotive, built 1905
35006 'Peninsular & Oriental S. N. Co' - Rebuilt Merchant Navy class
I would have really liked to have seen that Merchant Navy Class in action, but there was just now way to even get a decent pic of her.

I had decided to catch the railcar to Laverton and time was catching up with me so I headed across to the platform where she was was now due after a short jaunt to Winchcombe.


This particular example is 117 and it comprises cars W51405 (DMS), W59510 (TCL), W51363 (DMBS), although on this occasion there were only two cars coupled, of which both had a drivers end. They are powered by 2 x Leyland 680 150hp driving through 4-speed epicyclic gearboxes on each power car. It is an odd vehicle though, not quite a train, not quite a bus, although I was impressed by the smooth ride that it gave.


The trip to Laverton is a a short one, and the highlight is traveling over the Stanway Viaduct, which is 50 feet above the valley floor and comprises of 15 arches. You cannot really get a sense of these things when you are going over them, but you can bet that from ground level the viaduct is a pretty impressive piece of engineering.


The end of the line is Laverton. It is really just a signpost and not much else. However, there are future plans to extend the railway till it meets with the main line at Broadway, and then this operation will explode with traffic. It is 2 miles from here, so near, yet so far.
Our driver changed ends and we headed back to Toddington. Once we arrived I bailed out and went looking around again, realistically I wanted to catch a train back about 14H00, and it was do-able assuming I planned it right. The train was already in Toddington, but would not leave here until the other train had turned around at Cheltenham. It left me about 45 minutes to kill.

There was a particularly interesting exhibition in a restored bag van that had some fascinating artifacts in it, as well as a small shop with similar items.



Realistically Toddington is an eclectic place, with the emphasis on the past. They even have a narrow gauge railway at the station, but sadly this was not in use on the day when I was there.

Time was creeping, and I reboarded the railcar for Winchcomb as there were a lot of interesting pieces of rolling stock that I wanted to look at.


Unfortunately Winchcomb was a bit of a disappointment as the coaches were not accessible. It was a pity though as there were a lot of very interesting coaches to see.


I stuck my nose into nooks and crannies, passing time till my train arrived, or should I say, till both trains arrive. The one train cannot pass a section while there other is possibly in that section. It is the safe way to do things.




And then I heard a steam whistle.

It was not some imitation done by a child, but the sound of the train from Cheltenham. She would have to be alongside the platform and could only proceed until the Cheltenham bound train arrived. With minutes of her arriving my train hove along the bend and it was time for me to head off home.


That is the thing about trains, some arrive, and some depart, and some pass each other along the way.



My loco for the ride home was the 1928 built 2-6-2T - known as a ‘small prairie’ tank engine, and was used on light branch lines.  Her coaches were a crimson rake and they were just as nice inside.




As I left the station and headed for the bus stop I could hear the loco blowing her whistle, and I knew that I had heard that sound a few weeks ago, and that is what drew me to here in the first place.

It had been an awesome day, and I had seen so much interesting stuff and travelled on or behind three heritage railway vehicles. The GWR operation is fantastic, my only real gripe is that I did not get to see more of the loco shed, but otherwise, it was worth the time and effort. I returned to the GWR for the heritage diesel weekend, and you can read about it here.

Video of the some of the loco movements are on my youtube channel

DRW 2015.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

The Sleeping Children

I love Cathedrals and old churches, and usually make an effort to have a look at them whenever I am near one. The one attraction that always draws me are the wall memorials and of course the effigies. I have seen quite a few now, but there is one that really sticks in my mind.


Inside Lichfield Cathedral you will find "The Sleeping Children"; it is the memorial to Ellen-Jane and Marianne Robinson, who died in 1813 and 1814, and it is breathtakingly beautiful, and the history of it is even more tragic.




In the history of the memorial they mention the Boothby Memorial, which is equally beautiful, and an inspiration for this one. There is an interesting article about Penelope Boothby at "Pigtails in Paint"

The images of the Boothby Memorial below were taken by Laurence Manton at the Graveyard Detective, and are used with his permission.




In 1826 the poet, William Lisle Bowles wrote a poem about the Sleeping Children sculpture:

Look at those sleeping children; softly tread,
Lest thou do mar their dream, and come not nigh
Till their fond mother, with a kiss, shall cry,
'Tis morn, awake! awake! Ah! they are dead!
Yet folded in each other's arms they lie,
So still—oh, look! so still and smilingly,
So breathing and so beautiful, they seem,
As if to die in youth were but to dream
Of spring and flowers! Of flowers? Yet nearer stand
There is a lily in one little hand,
Broken, but not faded yet,
As if its cup with tears were wet.
So sleeps that child, not faded, though in death,
And seeming still to hear her sister's breath,
As when she first did lay her head to rest
Gently on that sister's breast,
And kissed her ere she fell asleep!
The archangel's trump alone shall wake that slumber deep.
Take up those flowers that fell
From the dead hand, and sigh a long farewell!
Your spirits rest in bliss!
Yet ere with parting prayers we say,
Farewell for ever to the insensate clay,
Poor maid, those pale lips we will kiss!
Ah! 'tis cold marble! Artist, who hast wrought
This work of nature, feeling, and of thought;
Thine, Chantrey, be the fame
That joins to immortality thy name.
For these sweet children that so sculptured rest
A sister's head upon a sister's breast
Age after age shall pass away,
Nor shall their beauty fade, their forms decay.
For here is no corruption; the cold worm
Can never prey upon that beauteous form:
This smile of death that fades not, shall engage
The deep affections of each distant age!
Mothers, till ruin the round world hath rent,
Shall gaze with tears upon the monument!
And fathers sigh, with half-suspended breath:
How sweetly sleep the innocent in death!


My own images of the Sleeping Children Memorial do not do it justice, unfortunately I did not get back to the cathedral to rectify the situation. However, if I do get back to that city one day, be rest assured I will visit Ellen-Jane and Marianne, two girls who have reached through the ages to touch so many that pause at their effigy.

DR Walker 2015.

Friday, 24 April 2015

We all sall to Walsall

Walsall, I had never heard of it until I moved to Staffordshire, and with some time on my hands, and a bus that goes there quite frequently, I decided it was time to go looking around. The bus travels through Burntwood, Chasetown, Brownhills and then to Walsall. It was a long journey, punctuated by frequent stops and a dustbin truck that kept on stopping in front of us. But, eventually....

The first thing I saw from the bus that made my eyes water was the "Council House", it is a spectacular building, and impossible to photograph as a whole because of its size and because you cannot get far back enough from it. I believe it is known locally as "the Candle"


However, I did not start my exploration from there. My exploration really started at "The Crossing at St Paul's" which is a former church that has been re-invented into a yuppie/trendy/coffee shop type place so beloved of yuppies and cellphone clutching fashionistas. I really intended coming back to this building as the day passed as I did not get decent exterior images. That never happened.


I did not know what to expect it would look like after its re-invention, but it is spectacular inside, and parts of the old church have been incorporated into the structure, and a small chapel still exists inside of it. It is really very pretty inside, but I just wonder how much was lost when they did it. You can bet the graveyard is now paved over.


My initial planning had centered around finding the Cenotaph in the city, and anything else after that was a bonus. One of the plaques in the church mentioned an "Alabaster First World War Memorial by Messrs R Bridgeman..." that had been relocated to the Council House, and that sounded like something to look into while I orientated myself in the city.

I first stopped to have a look at the Library, which stands in the block next to the Council House. It too is a beautiful piece of work, and while I did not see a lot of the interior, I was really impressed by what I did see.


The statue outside is that of Ordinary Seaman: John Henry Carless VC, and he is one of three Victoria Cross Holders from the city. (John Henry Carless, James Thompson and Charles George Bonner)

There is also a strange statue of a Hippopotamus, and frankly I don't know the connection. It is however the sort of statue kids would enjoy, although I do suspect there is an ambulance chaser lawyer watching with binoculars to see if anybody gets injured by falling over it.



I asked at the Council House about the alabaster memorial and one of the staff members took me to see it, and it is spectacular. In fact it is one of four war memorials in the building that I know of (and it turns out there are three VC plaques that I did not know about). 


A bit further from the memorial there is a large hall with a magnificent pipe organ with two large matching paintings by Frank O. Salisbury on either side of it it. They were commissioned by Joseph Leckie "to commemorate the never to be forgotten valour of the South Staffordshire Regiments in the Great War 1914 - 1918" and were completed in 1920. One shows "the First South Staffordshires attacking the Hohenzollern Redoubt", the other "the 5th South Staffords storming the St. Quentin Canal at Bellingtise Sept 29th 1918".

Images merged and tilted slightly



The walls of the hall are also festooned with 12 bronze name plaques of men from the borough of Walsall that died in both World Wars, and post war conflicts. 


It is a beautiful space, although the boxing ring was only temporary as it was going to be used for a function.

I came away dazed at what I had just seen here, it is such a pity that spaces like this are probably never seen by the inhabitants of the city, and I am sure very few are even aware of the memorials that this building holds.

I managed to attract the attention of an elderly borough warden and asked him about the cenotaph and any cemeteries nearby, and he told me that there was an old cemetery up in Queen Street, and it was more or less in the direction that I was going to be going if I wanted to see the cenotaph. 

The town was also having Market Day, although like many of the markets it has become a place to sell cellphone accessories, cheap and nasty clothing, e-cigarettes, ugly shoes and dodgy luggage. Oddly enough I have seen almost identical rubbish in markets in Salisbury, Basingstoke and Burntwood. They may even be the same people selling it! 

The market space had two statues that interested me, the first was kind of odd, and reminded me of an Afro hairdo gone mad.


and the other was a statue to Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison,



Fondly known as "Sister Dora", it turns out she is somewhat of a legend in this city and the industries that surrounded it. Her death must have left the city just that much more poorer. More about Sister Dora may be found at Victorianweb


I got distracted by a church spire in the distance, so headed up in that direction, passing the Guildhall on the way. This building was in use from 1867 till 1907 when the Council House was built.


Unfortunately the sun was behind the church I was approaching so photography was not great. Called  St Matthews, it sits atop a hill overlooking the city below. The graveyard still exists, although it is probably much smaller than it used to be, and it is quite a large church. I won't say when the church was built, only that a church has existed on this site for roughly 700 years. My image is taken from the West of the church and you can see the 1927 built Lychgate.



The inside of the church was very pretty, and had the two levels that I have been seeing in the Midlands since I arrived. It also had a magnificent ceiling and strangely enough no matter how hard I tried I could not get the camera to photograph the one end of the church. It could be the combination of the bright light from the windows that was fooling it, or the deep contrast just exasperated the camera.


Outside the church there is another War Memorial, and it is placed in a circular alcove on the steep stairs leading to the church. It was an odd place for a memorial, but it does make sense given how the church dominates the city below.


Now to find my Cenotaph. 

I headed in what was supposedly the right direction. I had one problem though;. I could find the cemetery and then possibly have to double back along the path I was heading, or I could try reach the cenotaph and from there go to the cemetery. Whichever route I took I was probably still going to have a long walk. I was however stuck along the road that I had chosen and headed towards the Cenotaph area (or where I thought it was), and that brought me to another church perched on a hill, it was called St Marys the Mount Roman Catholic Church, and the entrance was on the opposite side of where I was at that moment! 


Built in 1825, it seems somewhat of a featureless church, and frankly the graveyard was much nicer than the church was. The small arched object built into the wall is another war memorial for members of the parish who died during the war, and John Carless VC is mentioned on this memorial.

The nice thing about finding this church was that it put me on the right track for the cenotaph, and I was soon seeing what I was looking for in the distance. How did I miss seeing it?


Situated on a traffic island in the centre of a roundabout, it shares many similarities with Cenotaphs in London, Southampton, Hong Kong and Johannesburg and it was erected in 1921, Over 2000 men from Walsall were killed in fighting during the First World War. The Cenotaph is located on the site of a bomb which was dropped by Zeppelin 'L 21'  killing the town's mayoress, and two others on 31 January 1916.


Behind the cenotaph is another of those wonderful old buildings that I kept on bumping into. Unfortunately I just could not get a photograph of the building without a bus in front of it!


The building seems to be the Science and Art Institute,  but there is an inscription above that which reads: "This building was erected by public subscription in 1887, to commemorate the jubilee year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. in 1897 a sum of £2500 was raised by public subscription to a district nursing institution to provide free nurses for the poor in commemoration of Her Majesty\s  glorious reign of 60 years. William Smith. Mayor. 22 June 1897." It is a very pretty building, but I have no idea what it is used for now. 

My cemetery was about to happen after this, and I located it reasonably easy. The problem was that it was a disappointment. I was hoping for more of a cemetery and less of a park, but I had to bear in mind that it was very possible that the place was full and there just weren't too many headstones. Unfortunately the few headstones that there were just looked out of place, and many were in a very poor condition.


Sister Dora is buried in the cemetery, and has a reasonably plain headstone.

And while there is a plaque for James Thompson VC, I was unable to find a grave, and do not know whether there is one with a legible headstone. (On May 21st I made a trip to Ryecroft Cemetery which serves Walsall and it was a much better experience.) 

Suitable satisfied, I decided to pick up the canal that was next to the cemetery and follow it back to the town. The canal system still exists in the Midlands but so far I was not seeing any narrow boats. Unfortunately, with the rise of the truck the canals declined and are probably very little used now. 


The canal ends up in the centre of the yuppie pads that always seem to spring up in old buildings, or close to water features and the wharf where the canal terminated was no exception.


I was close to town now and time was marching.


I was beginning to tire, so headed to the bus station, which I could not find, although I did find the cenotaph and the market again.


I had really wanted to explore the Victorian Arcade if possible, but did not get that done.


But overall though this town had a lot of really nice architecture.



This building had the most exquisite carvings on it, and I just had to take a photograph of them. It is such a pity that often this artwork is high up and people don't ever see it.



 

And then I was on my way home. When I had come here the bus had passed a large statue of a miner, possibly in Brownhills and I was hoping to get a better pic of it too.


That is probably the best I can do out of a moving bus. It is a sobering statue though, most of this area was coal country and while the coal mines have gone, the communities were built by the mines and those who worked in them. The legacy I saw this morning was partly attributable to the coal mines, and the work of Sister Dora was as a result of it too.

DR Walker 2015. Created 24/04/2015.(Some images replaced 13/05/2015)