Are we Nearly There Yet?

Who remembers going on a holiday to the sea? A once-a-year pilgrimage to Rhyl, Severn Beach or Weston-super-Mare if your family was really posh. Coach trips were a popular way to get to coastal destinations in the 1960s, and it was common to see entire families hopping aboard together. At that time, cars were not common, so the coach was the only solution for families seeking a seaside holiday.

This trend for using coaches really started after the war, when transport ceased to be a functional solution and began to gain new ground in the tourism industry. Everyone would look forward to an exciting journey on the coach, which became part of the holiday itself. On the way back, the kids could catch up on their sleep as the adults unwound together.

The humble coach to me was a classic alternative to the Ford Pop

This trend for using coaches really started after the war, when transport ceased to be a functional solution and began to gain new ground in the tourism industry. Everyone would look forward to an exciting journey on the coach, which became part of the holiday itself. On the way back, the kids could catch up on their sleep as the adults unwound together.

The humble coach to me was a classic alternative to the Ford Pop. Anyone in my social circle who owned a car could only afford some clapped out heap. Coaches were different, they had a space age design, they had to compete with the likes of Fireball XL5 and Supercar. They did so remarkably well. All they needed was a set of wings and a rocket engine. The 60’s coach was a Tardis in reverse, full of the promise of adventurous luxury travel to exotic destinations on the outside and all of they pretty much of a muchness on the inside. They all had these hairy art deco pattern upholstery seats that absorbed the small of tobacco smoke from the ashtrays attached to the back of each seat. The headrests were covered with white linin to mop up the gallons of brill cream men would put on their hair. You felt travel sick before the diver even started the engine.

The driver’s cockpit was brilliant. A gigantic knobbly steering wheel, enormous pedals, a huge handbrake lever and the soup stirrer gearstick. Big round speedometer that went up to almost 30 mile per hour, oil gauge, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, vacuum gauge, and several other gauges I have no idea what they were for. Just to be on the safe side there were rows of long throw switches to swich on all sorts of things on and off. No wonder we would sing “oh he’s a jolly good fellow” to the driver at the end of the journey.

Road travel was slow. After all, cars were not common, and we were right in the middle of Dr Breeching dismantling the railway infrastructure. It was also pre motorway days. Therefore, the roads were narrow, overused and under maintained. Very little in the way of road lighting, road signs had glass reflectors, the cat’s eye was the guiding light of the roads. A 100-mile trip took all day. People queued at the Aust Ferry for three hours or took a five-hour car ride through Gloucester to get to Wales from Bristol. Imagine doing that journey in a clapped out Ford Pop.

Fortunately, there were lots of roadside cafes. Anything more then ten miles outside Birmingham was called The Halfway House. I have no idea where it was because there were so many of them. It seemed to be a way of reassuring the holiday traveller. It gave a sense of progress, a place in time and distance in the landscape to place yourself into context with the seaside. I found this interesting, as I would often not actually see the sea until the last ten seconds of the weeklong internal journey.

These roadside cafes were great. The plastic tablecloths, the plastic tomato sauce container shaped like a giant tomato. A row of Pinball and Ballyhole machines along one wall and occasionally a jukebox. Glass salt and white pepper and vinegar cruets and a large glass sugar dispenser. I was always fascinated how people put sugar in their tea.

The menu was always something with chips. Egg and chips, sausage and chips, pie and chips, chips and chips. Served with baked beans or peas and white thin sliced bread and margarine. Some cafes served crinkle cut chips. This was a real novelty for us kids. Only people on TV ate crinkle cut chips.

The café owner would put the tea pot on around about March, so it was almost ready by August. You certainly could taste the tea. For kids it was milk or a milkshake or orange squash. Served out of a machine that had a glass tank that sprayed the orange juice over the inside of the tank lid to cool it down.

These meals were marvellous and memorable. I had never used a serviette before, a change from the spit wash mom delt out. They were a very welcome break to what was an incredibly boring journey for kids. Adults would say the trip was part of the holiday. We just wanted to be at the seaside. I just could never sit still; I am still the same. I would eat my food then want to explore Halfway House. There would be a petrol station, with the old tall pumps and gantries. The pumps had sight glasses, with a little fan that spun around so you could tell the petrol was going in the tank. Oil sold in glass bottles or on tap in a measuring funnel. The shot of RedX can could be found at every garage. Free air and water was the logo, there to attract the passing holiday maker.

Refreshed, it was time to go back to the coach and onward to the seaside. Every coach had a clock, right at the front in middle of the isle. There for all to see. This was a clock on go slow; go very slow; go very very slow in fact. I was there, I watched it. The driver would announce that we would be arriving at out next stop in one hours’ time. One hour later the clock had moved five minutes. Not only did this encourage me to develop the concept of eclectic time, after all I did go on the crack the sequence of the gambling machine in the arcade. I was also forced to pluck up the courage to ask my mom that classic question “Are we Nearly There Yet?”

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Lock, Stock and Smoking Chimneys on the Terraced House

I love the terraced house; they have been around since the 16th century and can be found all over the world. To me they are a house we understand and am familiar with. They have an honest means of construction governed by the materials available that has stood the test of time.

Terraced Houses have been associated with everyday people and with their uniform fronts and uniform height they have a degree of stylishness not found in traditional rows. They are also a very cost-effective house that’s easy to maintain.

I grew up in Birmingham, where contrary to popular belief, it was the terrace house that dominated the landscape and not the back-to-back. There were many thousands of back-to-back houses, but they were concentrated into certain areas, whereas the terraced house could be found city wide.

Birmingham, in its infinite wisdom and thirst for government grants demolished thousands of them to boldly build unsocial estates plagued with anti-social behaviour and a maintenance minefield of forever escalating costs.

This is interesting because retrofitted reproduction and genuine historical terraced houses in other parts have become part of a gentrification process in some inner-city areas. Long live the terraced house.

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A Caravan Holiday by the Sea

So, who remembers caravan holiday by the sea? Travelling by steam train to exotic locations like Rhyl or Prestatyn… to caravan parks with mind bogglingly creative name like “Happy Days” or Sunny Sands Holiday Park or Sea View… a telescope in every caravan.

Carovan G13

These holiday caravans were the height of luxurious comfort. One year we were fortunate enough to stay in G13. The water supply was a bucket… The drainage system was a bucket and if you wanted a shit you could either use a bucket or brave the mud, duck boards and puddles to find the ablution block. If you wanted to wash the crocks, you used the sink outside the ablution block.

If you wanted to wash your cloths, you used the sink….

To cook meals there was the two burner calor gas hob, with the distinctive cabbage small and the “calor gas man calling” van, who would visit the site every day.

This was accommodation for me, my brothers, my mom, my nan and grandad. We packed ourselves in like sardines and every night we would make up the beds by climbing over each other several times to make up this wall-to-wall bed system. Sometimes I slept on the floor: I loved it.

Caravans had gas lamps. Gosh this was now very exciting; so exciting I could not wait for nigh time to light them up. Turn the knob, the whiff of cabbage (gas), strike the match and the distinctive pop that would bathe the room in a delicate soft yellow light. The reassuring hiss of the gas was music to my ears. Of course, I have a caravan gas lamp in my shed, just to be on the safe of nostalgia.

Happy Days caravan park had a penny arcade called The Black Cat. Lots of one-arm-bandits and other games of chance designed to relive the holiday make of their cash. Usually lots of flashing lights and large dials that would whirl around then randomly choose a one in six destination.

Of course, I have that type of mind that could sport pattens. So, it did not take me long to workout that the “Around the World” machine has two sequences that operated each day. All I need was 2d coins to see which sequence had been set and then go about emptying the machine. I could get five shilling for my 2d each day before either the machine was emptied, or the attendant kicked me out. A bag of chip or a hot dog was 6d, so it was all good stuff.

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Bewdley Museum

I love this museum; it has to be my all-time favourite. It’s a museum without a hard boundary. There are lots of interesting outdoor rooms for you to immerse and indulge yourself in. It’s a place where you can take a self-guiding journey back to the past without feeling like you are skipping the approved and authorised learning programme, picking out only to the best parts. It’s a sandwich without the crust and a jam tart without the pastry.

Bewdley Museum

Traditional museums have often been places set up by the great and the good to fulfil their need to appear to publicly give something back to those less fortunate and privileged. They all have this similar theme of telling you what they think you need to know. At the same time providing the benefactor with a pedestal to set themselves that makes a statement about themselves, reminding us of their great publicly spirited achievements. Of course, the well reserved medal and title of office of public mindedness is all part of the deal.

Bewdley Museum is different. Its an eclectic mix of local social history, workshops, a garden or two and an amazing outdoor café. People are actively encouraged to display their items and objects; it is a true public museum.

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On this special Remembrance Day, let us not forget the invisible casualties of war.

John Fredrick Moore

This is my dad 18 at years old. Already a fully trained soldier fighting for his country and a cause he believed in. He survived the WWII and continued his active service for another two years after the war ended. But in his head, the war never stopped.

Within days of enlisting in the army, he witnessed the deaths of his fellow soldiers and friends while completing basic training. Abroad, he witnessed more death and injury through combat and ill heath bought on by the sheer horrific conditions they lived in. He had been injured by the horses he tended and worked with. He also suffered with a jungle abscess, dysentery, and heat stroke; at times he was so ill he thought he would die.

Throughout this time, he held onto his belief he could play his part in bringing this war to an end. On one of the rare occasions he did open up to talk, he told me how he had heard rumours of a holocaust happening in Germany, but said we were not in a position to do anything about it.

But with his well-intended belief that he now could, and a promise by Churchill that Britain would be a land fit for heroes, he was given the motivation to continue. Unfortunately, like all well intended beliefs, they are often not based on fact.

While Churchill had promised a land fit for heroes, Walter Frank Higgs an ex MP from 1937-45 was speaking in Wellington New Zealand in 1947…

“The present blizzard and power crisis in Britain was possibly a blessing in disguise. Empty bellies is the one thing that will make Britons work…we want 11 people after 10 jobs, 11 firms wanting 10 orders, it is the only economic way, the only sane way. We are living in a fool’s paradise.”

Prior to enlisting into the army, my dad had, as a 14-year-old worked in Higgs factory, Higgs Motors, Witton. He often told me how poorly the Higgs treated their workforce, how poorly they were paid, and the shockingly unsafe conditions people worked in. The Walter Frank Higgs speech was to my dad, the ultimate insult.

When he eventify came home, he was a broken man. Today we would call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Treatment is available in today’s world, but in my dad’s time it was not. He carried the scars and the horrors of WWII in his head for the rest of his life. These invisible injuries robbed him of his dignity, his self-pride, his motivation to do the right things and the ability to love his family in that way any dad is entitled to do so.

This of course is another story, but for now, let us not forget the invisible casualties of war.

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A lighthouse tower in Birmingham

In the Studio, time for another tower, a lighthouse tower in Birmingham? Of course, there is a connection between lighthouses and Birmingham. Chance Brothers and Company was a glassworks originally based in Spon Lane, Smethwick.

Located between Birmingham and the Black Country in the cluster of the Midlands industrial heartland, they took advantage of the skilled workers, canals and many advances that were taking place in the industrial West Midlands at the time, building amongst all things glass, they built lenses for lighthouses.

Producing optical components, machinery, and other equipment for lighthouses around the world. James Timmins Chance pioneered placing lighthouse lamps inside a cage surrounded by fresnel lenses to increase the available light output; the cages, known as optics, revolutionised lighthouse design. Another important innovation from Chance Brothers was the introduction of rotating optics, allowing adjacent lighthouses to be distinguished from each other by the number of times per revolution that the light flashes. The rotating optics cage floated on a bath of mercury.

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Back to Backs

In the Studio…. The Back to Backs. I was in a mind experiment mood today. Teasing out memoires of how well I recalled the Back to Back houses that were so common in Birmingham. No reference photo to draw by, it’s all in the mind….

Back to Back Housing in Birmingham

A single door off a street or courtyard into a kitchen – dining – room – pantry – scullery – lounge. Belfast sink with just a cold water tap and a luxurious draining board. Fireplace, range with door off to a winding 180-degree staircase to first floor bedroom. Door off to a winding 180-degree staircase to second floor bedroom.

In the courtyard was a row of loos, 6 or 7. Cisterns (thunder box) with chains and wooden seats on the loo. The posh people had Izal toilet roil, the less posh had newspaper on a nail.

The brewhouse… communal washing boiler, wringer and bike shed.

Birmingham had vast quantities of back to back houses, they were a product of the industrial growth. Other cities developed their own mass social housing solutions, but that’s another story.  

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Leawood Pump House on the Cromford Canal

This is one of my favourite (special) places. Set in woodland between the Cromford Canal and the River Derwent, it is a wonderful icon of our industrial past. The now Grade II* listed building was erected 1849 to pump water from the River Derwent into Cromford Canal. It houses an unusually large none rotive beam engine that was built in Elsecar, Yorkshire.

Leawood Pumphouse 1849

The growth and speed of technical innovation was a contributing factor to the design of this site. Conflicting interests between mine, mill, railway and canal owners bought about many legal battles on who has the rights to the water for industrial use. Eventually it seems they reached an agreement. The canal company could pump water from the River Derwent to top up the canal only at weekends. Not wanting to miss a trick, the canal company built an engine that could gulp up almost a ton of water every ten seconds and lift it into the canal.

The whole site is an area rich in industrial artifacts that will have the curious person spending lifetime exploring and still have plenty left over.

Leawood Pumphouse has regular steaming dates throughout the year from Easter until October, run by a team of volunteers. Do go and support them and get some steam.

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A symbol of the past fighting for its future.

Redcar Steelworks. I took this image in 2015 while the steelworks was still operational. I was captivated only buy the industrial process, but the sense of community that had grown up around this site.

A symbol of the past fighting for its future.

There was an immense pride in the steelworks, its our place, people would say. The steelworks had become part of the local culture. The railways station is named British Steel Redcar and is located in an area called Steel House.

The steelworks created jobs, training, education and skills that lead to sustainable independent living. This enabled everyday people to meet their very basic needs of food and shelter. People felt contents with just that.

Along the South Gare Breakwater there is a whole community of small wooden huts and a marine club. It’s almost as if people did not have a desire to be away from their beloved steelworks.

At the time of taking the photo, this concept of people in worthwhile work sat very comfortable with me, but in today climate it all felt too good to be true. It was.

We all know what happened next, so now we have this iconic monument to our industry now becoming a symbol of the past fighting for its future.

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Staying on the Radar at Titterstone Clee

Shropshire is the home of my ancestors; I have traced them back to the 17th century. While it is seen as rural, it has been an ever-changing landscape. None more so than at Titterstone Clee.

Near the summit trig point are the remains of a Bronze Age cairn, dating back up to 4,000 years and there is a Iron Age hill fort too. A significant amount lost to quarrying in recent years. In medieval times ironstone and, later, coal was mined, in particular from bell pits: localised mine shafts, one of which has now flooded to form a lake. Over the years large numbers of quarries were opened up on Titterstone Clee to exploit the dolerite. All but one, on Clee Hill, are now abandoned.

I say that landscape expands consciousness, I will invite you to find out for yourself.

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