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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Reflections of Tewksbury Weir

Mill Avon is a significant mill race that fed two large mills in Tewksbury. Flowing south it joins the Severn at Lower Load. Load being a crossing point on the river where you can still take the ferry to the Lower Load Hotel.

The Control Tower at Tewksbury Weir

To the north you have the Old Avon and confluence with the Severn, so the two sections of the Avon and Severn enclose a floodplain called Severn Ham. Ham is a Saxon word for a meadow or water meadow in the bend of a river or a floodplain. The Pointer loves Severn Ham, miles of space to race around in.

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A Postcard From The Past National Mills Weekend

Don’t forget that National Mills Weekend is starting today. Water and windmills are quite magical places and have been a part of our landscape for hundreds of years. Not only are they places of peaceful contemplation, they are the guardians of our past.

Holding memories deep within their foundations, telling stories of everyday people, the way they lived, worked and their lives. There are stories that enrich our lives….

….as we are creatures of memory. We cannot have a future idea unless we access a memory of the past….

#365daysofdogwalking #fridayfeeling #daysout

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Place Attachment

Landscape enlarges conciseness, we form place attachment so quickly, we don’t need to try. Place attachment is the way we relate, interact, experience and understand our relationship with our environment, our memory and our past.

Wetton Mill Feb 19_0367.jpg

Wetton Mill is where I stood in the landscape and experienced my first changed state of mind….

…. I let go with go without noticing and realised a whole new world….

Now I know, I had never lived until this day….

….I cannot go back.




Now this must be the sweetest place
From here to heaven’s end;
The field is white and flowering lace,
The birches leap and bend


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A Significant Date

Friday 26th October 2018 marks the 160th anniversary of the first water to be pumped from Sandfields Pumping Station, Lichfield to the industrial Black Country in the industrial Midlands.

Sandfields Etchv1

The nineteenth century witnessed significant changes to the landscape. With the industrial revolution driving the economy, urbanisation of the industrial towns reached an unprecedented level that was not equalled or surpassed in any other European country until the mid-1950’s. The existing water supplies could not meet the demands of the people and sewage disposal systems were woefully inadequate or even none existent.

Infrastructure could not support the vast growth in the population or could the technology deal with it’s needs. People were drinking water from the canals in desperation. Malnourishment, ineffective sanitation and a lack of clean water made the area susceptible to disease and ill health. Then in 1832 a new and deadly disease arrived.

V0010484 A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832. Coloured lit

Cholera decimated the Black Country, within six weeks over 2,500 people were dead. Known as a ‘filth death’ the victims died in utter squalor and agony. With no known cause or no known cure panic and terror ensured. The cemeteries were overwhelmed, and a shortage of coffins added to the misery of body’s piling up in the streets. Significant numbers of people were buried in mass graves or cholera pits with no epitaph or recognition of their lives.

Cholera became the regular unwelcome visitor to the industrial towns and cities. It would take back with it people from all walks of life. No one was safe from the insidious tentacles that would snatch a family member or two when their attention was momentarily distracted. Their voices drowned in a sea of squalor, despair and anguish.

Fortunately, human ingenuity prevailed. Victorian culture bought with it a curiosity and challenge to the acceptance of things happen due to the will of god. Critical thinkers started to challenge conventional wisdom and ask profound questions that would dig well beneath accepted cause and effect. Questions that would enhance our understanding of the world we live in…. the origin of our species…. the inner working of the human body…


Scientists like John Snow questioned and challenged the well-established miasma theory of diseases by using oral study and statistical analysis of epidemics. His work gave birth to the science of epidemiology and proved a link between water and cholera. This opened the discussion on how overcome the technical challenges of moving water from a city with an abundance to an area of water shortages 11 miles away and 400 higher. Engineers like John McClean and Francis Croughton Stileman not only found solutions, they also put up their own money to build a scheme to deliver it.

John McClean.jpg

The technical challenges of moving the vast quantities of water required were to say at least very challenging. It would need the collaborative working of a team of people to build two vast impounding reservoirs, a ¾ mile long tunnel, an engine house for a giant of an engine that would lift the water 400 feet high and then push it along an 11-mile-long pipeline to a further impounding reservoir in Moat End Walsall. At the time, it was one of the largest water infrastructure projects built.

As with all project that stretch the mind and imagination, technical challenges had to be resolved on route. But resolve them they did. Bringing in the collective minds and cooperation of others eventually bought the scheme to a conclusion, on 26 September 1858 the first clean water was pumped from the now picturesque reservoirs of Lichfield to the industrial towns of the Black Country.


Clean water bought about significant social and economic benefits to the community. Within a few years, cholera was a thing of the past in the UK, and the average life expectancy had been extended by twenty years. The establishment of organised water supplies gave legitimacy to and underpinned the principals of public health, bringing wellbeing to many. It paved the way for the NHS.

So, on this significant date of 26 September 2018 let us take a moment to look back at the objects and people from the past and learn from them so that we may pave a way to our future.

Sandfields Pumping Station played a key part in these remarkable events. Deep within its foundations it holds the stories of the scientific and medical discoveries of the past. It shows us the remarkable feats of Victorian water engineering, and how engineering technology overcame the challenges of bringing life preserving water to communities. It records in depth and detail the skills and labour of the everyday people who sweated on the building sites, the tunnels and boiler rooms to build and maintain in perfect working order this giant of a machine. These endeavours give very simple message. “Some people have done well for themselves, but the most admired people of this world are those who do well for others”.

Its sad that on this special date our remarkable waterworks and its giant engine that gave so much, is still at risk of permeant loss. Not because of willingness or because of money, but because a small number of individuals don’t care about it. They do not wish to see the remarkable story that this building tells, and why it is important. They do not wish to see that there is anything we can learn from our past, that would help them do well for others. It is purely a commercial decision.

The Lichfield Waterworks Trust will with continue with its best endeavours to tell the story of this building and its giant of an engine. The trust will continue to research and tell the stories of the people who made it happen.

Sandfileds Staff 1893.JPG

The trust will also continue to research and tell the stories of the people who died in the dreadful cholera epidemics of the mid nineteenth century so that this building can hold their stories too and give them voice. We do this because when these stories are told, they will add to and enhance our understanding of our own lives, they will become our ‘Voices from the Past’.


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A Postcard From the Past – Cheddleton Flint Mill

Cheddleton Flint Mill_0020-1

Cheddleton Flint Mill is a water mill situated in the village of Cheddleton, Staffordshire, in the picturesque Churnet Valley. With the fast-flowing river Churnet on one side and the Cauldon Canal on the other. It is an iconic group of building dating from the period of the industrial revolution.

The south mill was originally a corn mill, but with the addition of the north mill built specifically to grind flint, the South Mill was also converted to grind flint too. The mill exploited the newly built Caladon canal, making the transportation of heavy goods to the nearby Potteries bring a welcome longevity to the site.

There are two breast-shot water wheels powered by the River Churnet: the southern wheel is 20 feet 5 inches (6.2 metres) in diameter; the northern wheel is 22 feet (6.7 metres) in diameter. There are also calcining kilns and a drying kiln. The button hole launders are a feature often seen in Cornish china clay works, very at home in Staffordshire. The mill continued in use until 1963 and is still in working order.

Since 1967 the site has been restored and maintained as a museum by the Cheddleton Flint Mill Industrial Heritage Trust. The site is free to visit, but donations are always welcome.

It is a truly remarkable piece of industrial heritage that stands head and shoulders above any institutional museum. The site is a testament to the unselfish endeavours of the volunteers, who keep this site in a state of preservation that displays our industrial heritage at its best.

A true peoples museum; an honest to goodness hands on must-see place. There are no uniformed security guards, sitting like vultures waiting to leap into the back of the casual transgressor of the ivory tower museum rule book.

As a visitor you have the freedom to look, experience and engage with the past. The floors are uneven, the stairs are steep, and the river is deep, but we already know how to take care, and how to stay safe. The lack of ‘do not touch’ signs, are in their own way a recognition of what we already know: how to treat our industrial heritage with care and love. We don’t need reminding.

With all the silly nonsense set to one side, we are free to explore, learn, and to see a world as it looked a hundred years ago. This is a rare combination of landscape and objects in a setting that allows us to engage with the minds people who lived before us. With an uncluttered mind, free from the institutionalised distractions, we can walk with them and let them tell their stories in unspoken words and transfer their tacit knowledge without language into a useable past. This place is well worthy of a generous donation. It is a preserved past that is priceless.

After all we are creatures of memory. We cannot have a future idea unless we access a memory of the past.

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