Wednesday, 28 August 2013

2 out of 5 ain't bad

This morning we ascended the five Tyrley locks, south of Market Drayton and met the following:
- an American lady who decided to fill the empty lock which I was approaching because she thought I had stopped (in the middle of a lock pound!)
- a Welsh family who had to be restrained from opening the paddles at both ends of the lock I was in
- a lady who decided to pull out from the queue of boats waiting for the lock I was leaving and head straight for me.  Apparently her dog was annoying her and this manoeuvre was to prevent said hound from jumping ashore.
- two normal boaters who operated the locks without problem
To paraphrase the Meat  Loaf song - 2 out of 5 ain't bad

Looking for Spinning Jennies

Trowbridge Museum is researching Hargreave's Spinning Jenny and believes that there are only two original machines still in existence. There were possibly 20,000 in use at one time  but they were soon made obsolete by mechanisation.
If you think you know of one please contact Dave Feathers at West Wilts U3A who is helping with the research -
I think there is one  in MOSI in Manchester but it may not be an original.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Audlem Lock wheelers

Had we not been under time pressure we would have stayed longer in Audlem. In the event we spent 25 hours on the 24 hour mooring. Shock! Horror!
As a break from salads we went out for lunch to the Lord Coombermere    where the main course was very good.  Unfortunately the waitress then decided that we really didn't mean it when we requested the dessert menu and ignored us.  So we paid up and bought a take-away pud fromt the Co-op.  Our visit coincided with their beer festival - 32 real ales and 18 craft ciders - and live music in the car park.
Tony & Noeline on Mary Russell arrived about an hour after us and took a spot on the 5 day moorings opposite.  In the evening we all decamped to the Bridge Inn.  On Monday nights a group of folk musicians turn up and just jam.  With such instruments as violin, hurdy-gurdy, Northumbrian pipes, penny whistle and squeeze-box the evening was great fun.
After the generator was serviced this morning we tackled the remaining 12 locks of the  Audlem flight. She who must be obeyed was ably assisted by  two lads from South Wales.
Lock wheelers hard at work

James takes a breather
William helping to balance the lock gate

Monday, 26 August 2013

Which Way?

In case you don't understand pictures...

This sign in Vancouver caters for the literate amongst us who lament the use of symbols when good old-fashioned words will do.

O where are the signs of yesteryea such as:

Te Anau on the South Island of New Zealand has a lovely Chinese Restaurant.
I guess that for 99.9% of my readers that is somewhat academic.

It also has a road called Wond Way

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Ta Ta to Brunner Mond

This  post is for Jane and Dick through whom I was able to view Wotton House

 What links these three buildings?

Buckingham House (top) was built in 1705 for the Duke of Buckingham and only became a palace when it was acquired by King George III. When it was constructed it looked more like Wotton House (above, right) which was also built around the same time for the Duke of Buckingham, in his home county.
This can be appreciated better from this contemporary drawing of Bcukingham House.

Wotton House today still retains this perspective although the house has undergone some remodelling.

In 1820 a fire gutted Wotton House and the then Duke retained John Soane immediately to restore it. Soane was given a free hand in this work and decided to reduce the height  of the house producing proportions more Georgian in style.
Originally the lower two  storeys were the same height but by reducing the height of the first floor, Soane achieved the desired change in proportions.

My photograph (left) shows the effect on the height of the first floor windows and the new brickwork is clearly visible.

Soane also created a three-storey entrance hall with a dome.

The gardens were replanned, possibly by Capability Brown who was working at Stowe around that time.
In 1889 the last of the Grenville line - the Dukes of Buckingham - died following which the house had a series of owners culminating in being used as  a school. In 1953 the school suddenly closed and the house fell rapidly into disrepair.  
Following WWII, building materials were in short supply and many stately homes were demolished to feed the programme of house rebuilding. Bucks County Council who owned Wotton House by 1957 decided that it was unsaleable and it was to be demolished.

The old stables which were to the south of the house had been sold along with the walled garden and this had some illustrous owners including Sir John Gielgud and, currently, Tony Blair.

Two weeks before its demolition, Elaine Brunner, a widow, bought Wotton House for £6000 payable in six annual installments and devoted the rest of her life to its restoration.  The Grenville's other great house - Stowe - was acquired by The National Trust and Elaine Brunner was determined not to be restrained by such an arrangement at Wotton.  To improve  her finances, she created several apartments within the house which she let. In 1998 Elaine died and the house passed into the hands of her daughter, April, and her husband, David Gladstone.
The restoration is continueing in their hands.
3 cherubs waiting patiently for their elevation
The one remaining major work is the restoration of John Soane's dome which I  hope one day to see fully finished.

Elaine's husband was Patrick, the grandson of John Brunner who, in 1873, set up a factory in Winnington, near Northwich to produce soda ash.  With his partner, Ludwig Mond they built a successful chemical company based on  the River Weaver close to the Anderton Boatlift which gave them access to the Trent & Mersey Canal. The company expanded into many other fields and also other parts of the UK.
In  1912 the Brunner-Mond caustic soda plant in Silvertown, London was moth-balled but was requitioned by the War Dept for purification of TNT.  this is more hazardous than production of the explosive and the plant was not suited to the activity.  In January 1917 30 tons of TNT exploded in rail trucks used for storage killing 73 people including fireman who were attending a small fire which
preceded the explosion.  Ironically Silvertown fire station was destroyed along with 900 other properties.  A further 70,000 were damaged including, alledgedly, the windows of the Savoy Hotel in The Strand.  On the Greenwich Penninsula, where the Millenium - sorry, O2 - dome stands today burning debris from the explosion landed on  a gasometer causing a fireball as 7.1 million cu ft of gas ignited.
On 7 december 1926 Sir Alfred Mond and Sir Henry McGowan the chief executive of Nobel Industries formulated a deal which created ICI .  The other companies involved were British Dyestuffs and United Alkali Co.
Brunner Mond Winnington Plant now part of Tata

Eighty years later, and after spinning off the pharmaceutical business into what is now Astra Zeneca, ICI was no more - gobbled up by the Indian conglomerate  Tata.
Brunner Mond



now nameless

Little evidence of the Brunner Mond name exists.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Is This Safe?

Believe it or not boaters are in general no different from the rest of society. We have our foibles as any group does.  Some tend to demonise those who do not share their views.  When this happens I think of a song from Oklahoma!- The farmer and the cowman should be friends. I am trying to avoid making stereotypical remarks but there is one class of boat which I feel brings more than its fair share of problems to the canals - the day boat. These attract celebration parties of some kind and this often involves alcohol. The boats are small and light and can perform manoeuvres  beyond the performance of other canal users, the implication of which is not understood by the day cruiser. 

When i see this sort of thing I get very worried

Friday, 23 August 2013

Sea Otter For Sale

We have been moored for the last few days in Nantwich and behind us was this charming little boat.
31ft long and built in aluminium 
with the original paintwork from 2004

A good starter boat for cruising the canals.  
Sleeps three and has all the necessary galley equipment

Obviously well looked after by experienced cruisers who down-sized too far and are now up-sizing again

Only weighs 1.5 tons out of the water so could be trailed to the remote canals.

£38,499 ono

For full information contact the owner direct at:
07778 907 599
01745 730 954

 Watch this blog as I may have another wonderul boat to tell you about soon - a really special one!

Straw Dalek

My trip back to Hurleston Jct was not purely altruistic.
Regular readers will be familiar with these posts which are all still available via the index>>>>
Straw Wiggo - 1 Aug 2012
Rings and Things - 11 Oct 2009
Who has seen Big Ben? - 6 June 2007
The other  reason for making the bus journey was to visitSnugbury's Ice Cream Shop  and to see the latest in their amazing straw sculptures.

This year they are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr Who with a straw Dalek

and a special ice cream cornet

See more amazing straw sculptures from previous years  here

Thursday, 22 August 2013

SUCS to C&RT !

Just for the benefit of my readers I took the bus back to Hurleston locks and walked down to the junction to photograph the recent repair work carried out there.

August 2013
In fulfilling their statutory duty to maintain the waterways for public use C&RT have improved a section of the path and the bank which will be appreciated by all the pedestrians and cyclists.

They  have not improved this stretch of waterway for the boaters, however, as there is no provision to utilise the 48hr mooring permission.

In Nantwich, where we are tonight, we usually encounter problems finding mooring rings in the right position for us but the Shropshire Union Canal Society  - SUCS - has added more rings. There is now no more than 15ft between any rings which suits boats of every length.
Why is it that a group of enthusiasts can see the needs of boaters but the statutory body cannot?
And which one takes £35m a year from boaters?

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Large or Small Fine Sir?

Somerset is another country: they do things differently there
(apologies to L.P.Hartley)
Further to my discovery that a weekly parking ticket is ten times a daily one I feel compelled to share the other half of the car park notice with you.
It seems you can choose the size of your penalty too. Maybe it is the OAP concession.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

An Illustration of C&RT's Attitude

Everyone has their own preferred statistics and C&RT seems to use different ones to support different points.  However, whichever figures are used it is accepted by all parties concerned that something around 95% of all visits to canals are carried out by people who make no direct financial contribution to the maintenance of the waterways system eg; walkers, joggers, cyclists etc.
Current spending by C&RT on waterways maintenance is about £80m/year. Current contribution by boaters and anglers (the only people who do contribute) is about £35m.   Any survey of visitors to the canals confirms that they want to see boats - not just water. But somehow C&RT has calculated (they don't say how) that boaters do not pay their way.
This is  Hurleston junction on the Shropshire Union Canal taken last summer.
Notice the collapsed bank with posts to keep pedestrians safe?
We passed this today.  The posts are gone; the reeds are gone; the path is now broad, level and gravelled; the bank is smooth concrete.
That's all good, isn't it?
Not if you are a boater.
We are allowed to moor here for 48 hours but the new concrete bank has no provision for mooring: no rings, no bollards, no piling - just a nice new footpath for us to hammer stakes into. I was too busy to take a photograph of the new bank but where on C&RT's list does this indicate boaters reside? We are not even on the list, are we? 
I believe that the more widely the access to canals the better for all.  Early morning dog  walkers and joggers, commuting cyclists, anglers, weekend mountain bikers, mid-morning pushchairs and Sunday family strollers all bring something to the waterways and they should be encouraged by continuous improvement of facilities.  But let's get things in perspective. The latest licence figures from C&RT show that the number of boats has fallen in the last year from 35,000 to 33,000 and I can hazard a guess why.  My unscientific observation over the past three years is that there are fewer boats travelling, more boats for sale and many more staying put. When we pass a hire base full of boats in the middle of the school holiday it makes you wonder why. It is becoming too expensive, difficult and sometimes downright dangerous.  And what are C&RT doing?  Carving poems on lock beams and paying qualified surveyors to measure lcok ladders.

Monday, 19 August 2013

I couldn't put it better myself

The following view was expressed in an email from one of the trustees of C&RT and it made my blood boil.

'And Yes, boats are very important. We know towpath users like to see them. They produce not far off 30% of the gross income. But boats do not pay their way. I'm not suggesting they should. However, it helps to recognise that boats are only part of the picture—and an important part. The Government didn't enter into that 15 year contract because of 35k or so boat owners but because of the 10m or so towpath users, the benefits of regeneration/rural and town economies, health, tourism, heritage etc etc.'

Before I calmed down enough to compose a suitable comment I was beaten by a fellow boater, Graham Bevan. 

Bravo Graham - I could not put it better than this

Well John I'll tell you now that I won't be picking up any more rubbish, broken glass or dog poo off the tow path, dragging tree branches, furniture and dead animals out of the lock when the gates won't open or close, dragging shopping trolleys out of the navigation channel, and any rubbish I get round my prop will not be coming aboard through the weed hatch to be disposed of in a responsible manner.
I certainly won't be helping cyclists with my puncture repair kit, tools or bicycle pump! And any visitors who ask me to borrow my BW key so they can use the CaRT toilet can go and whistle! 

Your 'pact' with the government and Sustrans to encourage visitors to the canals, particularly commuter cyclists, is based upon a false premise as without the care and diligence of many boaters the canals would just be a number of festering stagnant ditches surrounded by rubbish!
Check out the Coventry Canal where not many boaters go now because of the rubbish and poor facilities and condition of the canal. Look at the surrounding area of Camden locks where there's nothing but broken glass and empty beer cans.

You are obviously sat in an ivory tower, looking at the canals through rose coloured glasses. CaRT are nothing but a management company! Tom Rolt must be turning in his grave!
The government of this country turned its back on the canals after the WWII and it was boaters and canal enthusiasts like Rolt who got the system open and running again. Boaters are the lifeblood of the canal!

We are licence payers and you have an obligation in law to provide a safe and adequate environment—we boaters have given the CaRT a fair opportunity to improve the dire mess that BW left behind.
We put up with badly balanced lock gates, difficult paddle gears, leaking lock walls, loose brickwork, vicious spillways, missing guard rails, submerged masonry etc. etc

We get complimented every day about the condition of our boat. "What lovely flowers," they say!
Anyone that comes into contact with us we say 'you can get involved—just Google the Canal & River Trust' Well no more my friend—As I don't enter into your equation now, so you don't enter into mine!

Your customer, Graham Beven. Narrowboat Maid Of The Mist,

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Food in Middlewich

After a week kicking my heels in Middlewich whilst she who must be obeyed was with the grandchildren  and having run two loads of washing through the machine I felt it prudent to top up the water tank today.  Not being an accomplished single-hander, I sought  assistance with the locks from Terry on Dragon Lady who is at Kings Lock waiting for a new engine. As I sought a new mooring on the Middlewich Arm I was accosted by a gentleman in his back garden. 
I know he is a gentleman because he has a narrowboat (see photo) and he reads my blog.  He commented about my experience at the Kings Lock pub.  This made me realise that perhaps my comments on Middlewich might be a little unbalanced: something I hope to rectify now.
Almost opposite the afore-mentioned pub is the Kings Lock Chippie which is in a different league.  The fish is freshly cooked and tasty; service is quick and efficient and the staff smile - three characteristics not found across the road.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

I've never Been Asked That Before

So I approached the barman at White Horse in Middlewich and said:
OK if I photograph your urinals, gov?

And so I did

When we were in Burnley visiting the Weavers' Triangle Museum I noticed that they had a toilet made in Burnley by Ducketts and, odd that I am, it rang a bell with me.

As I left the museum I recalled where I had seen the name Middlewich......on the night of the Olympic closing ceremony

I'll get you a picture, I promised.

And here I am sharing it with you
We spent the evening in The White Horse watching the show on their big TV whilst the other five customers ate their take-away from the Indian restaurant.
Now that's what I call sensible:  If you don't do food, let the customers bring theirs in whilst they drink your beer.

Shame the Kings Lock doesn't do that.

Friday, 16 August 2013

What size are your feet?

Further to the post yesterday, it has been reported that C&RT has a team of surveyors inspecting 400 locks on the network.  This important work is not chekcing for structural problems or inoperable lock gear. 

No, they are measuring the distance between the lock ladders and the lock walls.
Photo by Mike Fitzgibbons

What action they will take if they find these measurements do not meet with their requirements I am at a loss to understand.

I have it on good authority that on future licence renewals applicants will be asked to give the shoe sizes of each of the crew and those with feet too big or too small to use the ladders will be barred from all locks.

And on a secret visit to the C&RT foot gauging station I was abe to view some the equipment  to be deployed.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Kings Lock Pub, Middlewich

As a change from the ubiquitous salad which I have been consuming whilst she who must be obeyedd  is away I joined some boating friends for the curry night at the Kings Lock pub.  I suppose when the barman had to check if they were still doing curry - at 7.30pm - I should have been suspicious:  there was one other diner.
The food?, no, stuff. arrived within a few minutes and comprised something under 2oz of chicken smothered in a generic canned curry sauce and rice which was swimming in water and starch.  O yes, there was also a popadum which required repeated bending before it would tear and a mini naan bread which they had not managed to spoil. The "curry" was just warm enough not to qualify as frappe.
Expending any more words on this subject  is a waste of mine and your time.

And Smethwick Makes Three...

Photo by roving photographer - Annie Brown

Five  months ago Lock 12 on the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal collapsed, closing the arm and trapping 24 boats in the town basin.  These had to be lifted out by C&RT and put back into the canal at Willowbridge Marina near Milton Keynes.

Repairs are under way but the expected date of completion has moved from August to October and so boats will be lifted back into the arm during September.

There months later  lock 20 of the Wolverhampton flight of the BCN mail line collapsed, cutting one access into Birmingham.  Repairs have been partially completed and passage is now possible during certain hours with assistance from C&RT staff at the site.
Photo by John kelly
Photo by Stuart Field

Now the top lock at Smethwick has collapsed.

When will C&RT realise that maintainance of the canal network is an important element of their remit.  That means planned preventative work on all structures. The current attitude appears to be let's wait until it fails then we'll send in the contractors.  For at least eight years to my knowledge, locks on the Aylesbury Arm have had notices on them asking boaters to empty the lock on leaving because the lock wall leaks.  Didn't it dawn on anyone that water washing through brickwork continuously would erode the soil behind the lock wall?  Why not? Because they were too busy carving poetry on lock gates and towing floating gardens around Birmingham and losing millions of pounds on property speculation.
Are these people answerable to no-one?

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Somerset Week

Back in April I wrote a piece about the Country Mile.   Recently in Somerset I uncovered the Somerset Week which comprises ten days. This became obvious as  I perused the parking charges in a public car park. You can see what a bargain the weekly ticket is at only ten times the daily charge.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Devil is in the Detail

On Sunday we attended  a Ruby Wedding Anniversary lunch at Sweeney Hall Hotel near Oswestry. There were about 30 in the party and the hotel is beautifully set in parkland. All commented on the food and service which were both well executed.
We returned to sleep at the hotel at around 10pm and our initial impression of the room we had (the cheapest in the hotel) was disappointing.  The TV was located on the wall by the bathroom door so that entering or leaving that room involved swinging the screen to an unviewable position. After preparing for bed we discovered that there was no hot water - ie: no water of any kind from the hot tap!
We were offered another room but on following our request for the water to be checked there before we dressed again, it was discovered that it also lacked hot water. So at 11pm we were shuffling across a rainy courtyard to sleep in the self-catering cottage.  This boasted two bedroom , a sitting room, kitchen and dining room. None of the TVs worked. Items  not mentioned in the glossy brochure were the dirty towels hanging on the back of the bedroom door and the mouldy coffee in the cafetiere.
Despite asking the night before what time we wanted breakfast it was not ready when we arrived at the agreed time: the fruit salad only arrived after we had eaten the cooked course. The solitary lad who was trying to cope with all tasks failed to appear for about 15 minutes while he was cooking my bacon and one guest returned to his room.  Even the cereal table lacked any receptacle for the discarded packaging.
The manager, who I believe lives on site, responded readily to our problem by promising  a full refund. However, it was obvious to me that he was a big picure manager interested in weddings and dinners but not concerned with the details which will be the death of his business if he neglects them much longer.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Bites and Breaches

Last year  our route to winter moorings in Burnley were interrupted  by an enforced diversion we had to make to avoid the breaches near Anderton  and Middlewich.

The larger of the two breaches, at Dutton, north of Anderton,  cost more than £2m to repair and has been open for a couple of months.  When we saw the finished repair we decided to moor there for the night.

The impact of the breach can still be seen in the field below the canal.

We soon revoked the mooring decision as my left leg, which had been bitten by an insect of some kind two nights before was now too big to fit in my sandals.
So we cast off and made for civilization.

Getting medical treatment when you are away from your own doctor can be difficult and on this occasion it involved four bus rides, two hospitals and 5 hours.
Four days later, my leg is responding to treatment and I look less like a two legged elephant.
As we approached Middlewich we saw ahead the site of the breach at Croxton and pulled in to moor.  Here, however C&RT has not provided any mooring rings so we imitated their boat which was already moored and put in pins.

For the past week or two we have been revising our planned route as, once again, there are major obstacles appearing.  Lock 20 of the Wolverhampton flight collapsed and is taking longer to repair than expected.  The embankment near Curdworth on the Birmingham & Fazeley canal is leaking and requires attention.  There is only one other viable route into Birmingham open to us and we have decided to by-pass Birmingham this year. 
The most serious obstacle, however, is lock 12 on the Aylesbury Arm.  This collapsed four months ago and the completion date for the repairs has been postponed from August to the end of October. This is when we intend to go down the arm for winter moorings in the new Aylesbury Canal Basin at Circus Field.
We just live in hope as there is no way round this obstacle.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Mill

This weekend we hired a car in order to attend a Ruby Anniversary celebration near Oswestry.  After picking up the car we went for a drive and gravitated towards Quarry Bank Mill at Styall. 
This water-powered cotton spinning mill is owned by The National Trust.  The demonstration of hand-spinning and weaving are a superb introduction to understanding how mechanical assistance such as Hargreave's Spinning Jenny and John Kay's Flying Shuttle changed the  dynamics of the cotton industry. 
There is currently an exhibition relating to a Channel 4 drama - The Mill - which is based on the Gregg family who owned Quarry Bank amongst other mills. We do not have a TV so this exhibition was only of passing interest. However on Sunday night (of which, more later) we stayed in a hotel and on the TV was that very programme. Then the significance of the exhibition became evident.  Part of the exhibition attempted to put the record straight by highlighting where the drama diverged from historical fact. Here is what I remember of that:
1)  In the drama the children of the Apprentice House received poor treatment whilst harsh punishments are given to those working in the mill.  In reality the Mill had a very disciplined workforce but the Greggs refused to use corporal punishment. Instead they fined the  children for bad behaviour or, in the case of girls, cropped their hair. For more serious offences, such as running away, they were put in solitary confinement for a few days with only porridge to eat, as in the case of Ester Price.
2)  The drama shows the workers of Quarry Bank involved in violent activity in support of the 10 Hour Bill and attending a radical meeting at Wisbey Moor. There is no evidence of the workers of Quarry Bank being involved in such activity, or any rebellion against the Gregg family.
3)  In the drama Tommy Pristley is shown losing an arm in an accident.  In fact Thomas Priestley lost a finger in 1806.  During his treatment by the doctor he ran away to London to find his family.
4)  The drama shows the relationship between the father and sons as one of tension as the patriach struggles to reliquish control of the business.  In fact both sons were taken into the business and took control of mills within the Gregg empire.
Is this what they call artistic license?