Friday, 18 July 2008

Banbury v Eccles
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady on a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes

She shall have music wherever she goes

That's how I remember the nursery rhyme
However I recently came across a very different version:

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross,
To see what Tommy will buy.

A little white loaf and a little white cake,

And a tuppeny apple pie

But what is a Banbury cake? Isn't it just an elliptical Eccles cake ?
That is a dangerous question to put voice to in Oxfordshire. There are (apparently) well documented references to the Banbury cake two centuries before the suburb of Manchester put its name to the Eccles cake. When they are full of currants, as I believe they should be, I am partial to either offering. The travesty which most bakers produce is hardly worth the effort of making. For the original recipe (take four pounds of currants.....) go to

I found it difficult tracking down a shop in Banbury where I could buy an authentic Banbury cake.

Somehow I don't think the cake referred to on this building was quite what I was looking for.

Unfortunately in the canal world Banbury is more famous for its reputation in the 1980s of being the place to avoid mooring if you were not looking for a fight. We have been reminded of this recently by two incidents of boaters being assaulted on their boats whilst moored in the town centre.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

You Can't Trust Numbers
On the way from Coventry to Sutton's Stop there has been considerably development over the past 20 years including a giant Tesco store and the Ricoh Stadium which I understand is something to do with a game called football. There is also a terrace of houses which proclaim themselves a "Eco Houses" Apart from the very large letter E on the end of the building and the solar panels on the roof they appear fairly traditional.
When we were at school it was customary to sew name tags into all items of clothing which were considered at risk of being lost. These tags came from a company called Cash. Apparently they were woven in Coventry and alongside the canal there is a terrace of houses called locally Cash's 100. These three-storey buildings comprised accommodation on the lower two floors and weaving rooms on the top floor. All the weaving looms were powered by a single steam engine housed at the end of the terrace, power being transmitted through shafts and pulleys. This project was certainly ambitious as there were only 48 houses built, not 100. Now there are only 37.
Generally bridges over canals are numbered in sequence to aid location of boats in the absence of other landmarks. As rail and road transport developed it has been necessary to add numbers in the sequence, usually by the addition of a letter. This has led to some peculiar sequences when bridges are inserted between those already bearing a suffix. Usually the number plates are in cast iron and painted in white and black.
On this bridge the forge appears to have utilised the top of the number 8 to create a letter a (or is it intended to represent alpha?)
Perh8ps there is 8 short8ge of letters in the Coventry are8.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Sofa, So Good - 2

Please refer to blog entry of
7th May 2007
to appreciate this adornment of the Coventry Canal.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

How not to spend our money - 2
Surveys reveal (don't you love that prelude to unsubstantiated assertions?) that only 5% of visits to the canals involve boating or angling. Actually these figures come from the omnipotent British Waterways to whom I have referred on occasions before.
If you consider that figure coupled with the fact that only boaters and anglers make direct financial contributions to the maintenance of our waterways then I feel qualified to express my views on how BW spends our money.
During our week or so cruising the southern Oxford canal we have been hit only once by an oncoming boat. This is very surprising as there are quite a few boats around and many of them are hire boats which increases the chance of and inexperienced crew. From Braunston Turn to Banbury there is hardly a bridge where the line of sight is not obscured by bushes and other flora. Has anyone at BW ever tried to manoeuvre a 60ft narrow boat safely through a bridge when you have to get 30ft through the bridge before you can see if there is anyone coming the other way?

However, in their infinite wisdom they are installing THREE bollards alongside each lock on this canal. What for? No one will use them. All they are achieving is an increase in trip hazards at what are already the most dangerous places on the canals.

If you don't believe that, take a look at the following photos of recent incidents.

Two into one doesn't go

These boats were jammed in the bridge because of the intransigence of the crews but the same could happen if sight lines are not kept clear.

Friday, 11 July 2008

TBH 871
Ducks, geese, swans, coots and moorhens are our constant companions as we cruise around the English canals. They all have their own peculiarities however: ducks quack all night and wake us up at 4 am by nibbling the weed which attaches itself to the boat below the water line. When we get up, they are fast asleep on the bank, heads tucked away to avoid our angry looks; swans attack the boat when we venture near their nest; Canada geese only appear in multiples of 50; coots are likely to nest in a bush so that if the young do not get the hang of flying on their first attempt they end up in the drink; and moorhens appear to be poor parents, often leaving their young with unhatched eggs whilst they go out on the town. One characteristic all these birds share is that they know boats dispense bread. If a duck glimpses a human face or limb the boat is surrounds by birds of all kinds within minutes. Except on the Coventry canal arm. Whenever we threw food out here the birds flinched and moved away. Whey are the water-birds of Coventry scared of flying food?
It is over 20 years since we have been to Coventry by canal and generally the environment is cleaner and tidier. The canal basin is certainly much smarter. The ring road which runs around the city appears to be effective as we encountered very little traffic as we walked around the city centre. The bus station is well designed and functioned efficiently when we used it and the Transport Museum has been renovated. We visited this late one afternoon but had missed the guided walks which they offer at weekends. As we expected visitors for tea the next day and Margaret had a cake and scones to bake we decided to return the next morning and catch the one o'clock tour. One of the staff we had been chatting to caught up with us later and said they would run a tour at noon for us so that we would not have to hurry the baking. Now that is customer service. For fairly obvious reasons the museum majors on road transport and has many features for the younger visitor. I was particularly interested in the locally manufactured cars. Despite its rather staid name, Standard was quite innovative. As a child, our first car was a 1954 Standard Vanguard Phase II. Black of course. The gear change was on the steering column and it had a pair of reversing lights. There are cars around today which do not have even one reversing light.

This picture is actually of the the rare DIESEL version but the bodywork was identical.

As you may have worked out by now, the registration number of our Standard Vanguard was TBH 871. When there was fun in collecting car numbers ie: there was time to write one down before the next car passed, we used to know which counties were denoted by most of the letter groups. Bucks, where we lived, first used BH and when these were exhausted they adopted KX. Both of these seemed appropriate to me. Why they went on to use PP I could not understand.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Tunnel Vision
Nuneaton - a name to conjure with - is it the capital of dieting or perhaps religious cannibalism?
And what about Bedworth? I am not speculating about that one. (orders from er indoors)
We stopped in Nuneaton today in order to look at Astley Castle. Some years ago the Landmark Trust were offered this property but, after much deliberation, gave it up as a lost cause. The fabric of the building was just too far gone for a viable restoration. However they have now taken a new approach and have the bit between their teeth again. Their aim now is to stabilise the fabric of the building and build a completely new accommodation unit inside the castle walls. They have not tried this before and have run a competition for the best design. The weather was a bit changeable but we started the walk up to Astley late morning intending to get some lunch at the charming little country pub which will be next to the church. Apart from the rainstorm and the race-track of a road we followed, the five miles to Astley were fine. Arriving around 13.15 we found the castle, the church and the dozen houses which comprise the village. But no pub. The nearest pub, we were informed, is in Ansley about two miles away (everywhere round here begins with A). We arrived at The Lord Nelson at 13.45 but were just in time for lunch. This was really very goo. I tried a beer called OTT from the Tunnel Brewery which turned out to be in the back garden of the pub, on top of a railway tunnel. This must be one of the most bitter ales I have drunk but a superb aperitif. Of course I had to try the IPA as well. If you are ever visiting Arbury Park which is nearby I recommend you head for The Lord Nelson for a meal in either the bar or the posh restaurant and try the very local ale. We took a bus back to Gecko which accomplished the return journey in 10 minutes. On our walk up, however, we had encountered two modern incarnations of childhood memories - a rag & bone man and a chimney sweep. Haven't seen either of those for a while.
A few weeks ago we visited another Landmark. Silverton Park Stables are in Devon, just north of Exeter. It really was stables but now sleeps 14 with about six bathrooms in a magnificent building and location.

Monday, 7 July 2008

More about Bletchley Park
A few weeks ago, when we were in Fenny Stratford, Margaret spent a day at the Bletchley Park museum. We have been several times before and find that a day is never long enough. Not only are the exhibits concerning the Code-breakers interesting there are exhibitions by other interesting groups - even Newsreels being projected on historic projectors. There is a rumour at large that the museum may have to close due to lack of support so GO NOW.
When you do go, you may be surprised by the appearance of the building as it was not used in the film Enigma. Apparently it did not look convincing. How can the authentic building not look right?

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Robin's nest
For T L Williams 1935 was a big year. On the 1st of January he registered and licensed his new creation - the Reliant 3-wheeled van. A former works manager at Raleigh, he probably chose the name because many of the components he used bore the R for Raleigh.
This first vehicle was a 7cwt van powered by 600cc Jap engine.
In 1937 the Austin 7 engine was introduced.
Reliant went on to produce a range of three and four wheeled vehicles in Tamworth over the next 65 years. Probably the best know was the Robin. This was introduced in 1975 and continued in various forms until Reliant closed in 2001.

If you have been paying attention you will be aware of the connection with Tamworth of the Peel family. Here is another link (if tenuous) between Tamworth and the Peel name.
The smallest production three-wheeled car ever was the Peel P50. Built in the Isle of Man in 1963 it was 4'5" long (that's about 1500mm) and was single seated. Fewer than 100 were built and there were many variations within that number. All were powered by 49cc two-stroke moped engine from DKW.

But who would you like to see in one?

How about J. Clarkson, Esq?

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Another Guy to remember
We all remember the story of the South Sea Bubble and how thousands of investors were ruined when this early foray into share dealing crashed. For one man at least the bubble did not burst. Thomas Guy sold his shares in the South Sea Company before the crash and made a great deal of money. He brought this money from his erstwhile home in London to Tamworth and set up a book shop and publishing business. He was very successful at this too but earned the reputation of being penny-pinching despite financing the new Town Hall and a row of almshouses for seven poor women of the parish. This he later extended to include seven poor men. He was elected MP for Tamworth and the world was bright for him until he lost his seat in 1707. This he took umbrage to, accusing the electorate of disloyalty. He banned residents of the town from the almshouses restricting residents to those from the surrounding villages. He also took his vast fortune back to London with him and used it to build Guy' Hospital.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Who remembers Colin Grazier?
The short answer is : Tamworth does.
But why do they? And why should we all remember him?
Did you watch the film Enigma? Do you remember how the whizz-kids at Beltchley Park ground to a halt when the German navy started using a four-rotor machine?
And how did they get back into action?
Able Seaman Colin Grazier was the man who went aboard the sinking U-boat and rescued the invaluable code book which helped the code-breakers to shorten the war by an estimated two years. The people of Tamworth erected this handsome memorial by the church from public subscription. And they do remember him: when I was taking this photo a lady passed me and told her companion all about it without reading the inscription. And she remembered his name too.
Don't mention the war
If you follow the original A5(Watling Street) from London to Holyhead and don't get diverted by the numerous new bypasses you will pass through Fazeley just south of Tamworth. If your eye is caught by either the United Methodist Free Church on your left or the Victoria Memorial Hall on your right you will probably miss the canal junction below you. Here the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal joins the Coventry Canal. Ignore the canals for the time being. At the crossroad by the Memorial hall built in 1897 there is a monument commemorating the local men who died in the two World Wars. Take a closer look at the inscriptions and you may notice two interesting things. On one side is a list of names in alphabetical order but at the bottom is Robert Peel Bt Obviously not the one who was responsible for repealing the Corn Laws but a descendant of that Lancashire cotton spinner who built Drayton Manor.

On an adjacent side is the inscription illustrated here. What puzzles me is that I thought the Great War finished on 11th November 1918. Whey does the inscription read 1919?

You may wonder why we are in Fazeley at all when we planned to explore the Ashby Canal. This week we have guests on board - Dave the rave and Margaret. Their wish is to do some locks and the Ashby canal is signally devoid of locks. So we have made a little detour to Stone and back. This gives me the opportunity to seek out the Old Mill which the Peel family built here in 1791 when they brought their Spinning Jennies down from Lancashire to avoid the industrial unrest. They established mills in Burton-on-Trent and Tamworth before building the mill in Fazeley but last time I was here I did not manage to locate it. The much larger mill which they later sold to William Tolson for his bleaching and dyeing is difficult to miss, however. I know that the spinning mill had 19 bays so when I walk into this building full of small company offices I start counting, and here it is. Strangely this commercial park is call Tolson Park but his mill was on the other side of the canal.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Stoned Again
We always enjoy visiting Stone despite managing to arrive a week before or after a festival of some kind. In 1976 we started our first ever canal holiday here. We hired a tiny narrowboat named James Brindley II from Canal Cruising Co. Into this boat were squeezed six berths. A hire boat this size now would have only two berths. By the toilet was a lever which when pumped, drew canal water into the toilet and back into the canal along with the waste. Not all the old ways were better!
Another date which Stone remembers wit almost as much affection is 10th June 1766. On that day James Brindley and Josiah Wedgewood met in the Crown where they were appointed Surveyor-General and Treasurer respectively of the Grand Junction Canal Company with the plan to build what we now know as the Trent and Mersey Canal. The opening of the Stone section in 1771 was not quite as auspicious as they might have hoped as a lock and a bridge both collapsed. However, things soon improved and the canal became very successful.

Our visit in 1976 was just two years too late to enjoy a pint of beer from the brewery of John Joules & Sons but we did our best to make up for the lost time. The brewery building is still standing alongside the canal and appears to be enjoying a new life. In the High Street the Somerfield store still bears the Joules trademark cross (although not in colour) and legend OFFICES

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Toilet Talk
It never occurred to me that Armitage Shanks was anything other than the name of a company that made toilets and wash basins. Not, that is, until we passed the factory in Armitage.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

A bit on the side
About 30 years ago we negotiated the eleven locks at Atherstone in a hire boat. In those days the side ponds were in operation. These locks are unusual, but not unique, in having a second chamber alongside each lock and a sluice gate connecting the two. When emptying a lock, opening this sluice will transfer half a lock of water to the side pond. When the lock next needs filling the same half lock of water can be transferred back thus saving up to half a lock of water for each boat passage.
It is disappointing to see that neglect by BW over the intervening years has rendered all but one of these side ponds are derelict. This is another manifestation of the 'dumbing down' which is so prevalent in society today. We can't trust the public to operate these side ponds properly as they require the brain to be engeged. Much better to waste water and spend the maintenance money on painting bollards and sticking little signs by every bridge on the Coventry Canal to remind people of the name of the canal.

It is comforting to find a real coal yard with real sacks of coal above the top lock, however - a rare sight indeed. Last year when we passed this way we had to wait two hours whilst an obstruction was removed from the top lock. By the time the flight opened there were about 20 boats waiting and I have to admit that we were so busy drinking tea and gossiping with the others in the queue I did not notice the coal yard on that occasion.

This reminds me of my childhood when , at primary school, each classroom was heated by coke-fired stove which stood at the front next to the teacher's desk. In the winter the crates of milk in one-third pint bottles which we consumed during morning break were sometimes brought in and placed on top of the stove to warm up. Occasionally this was done too early and the milk boiled over. On many occasions the milk was too warm for the waxed paper straws we had to drink with and they unwound. This could have passed as a practical science lesson.
The coke was delivered by an ancient black man in an ancient black flat bed lorry. When he had started these deliveries in his youth it had been by horse and cart. I believe now that the man was white underneath and the lorry was green. Deliveries were quite frequent as the cellar only held one ton - 20 sacks for the metricated readers. One day the black man and black lorry did not come - in their place was a young man in blue overalls and a shiny lorry. This did not go down well with Miss Reddit, the headmistress. This needed watching. And sure enough, her suspicions were vindicated when the shiny man came in to the office after only tipping 19 cwt into the cellar.
"I'm not signing for a ton of coal - you have only shot 19 sacks."
Miss Reddit was not going to let this young upstart pull the wool over her eyes.
The shiny young man looked nonplussed,
"I can't get any more in there"
was all he said.