The Book that Lies

This is a typical small workshop office, a family brass foundery. The slant top desk is where the Ledger sat. The ledger is a book that holds a record of all of the transactions for the business.

The term ledger stems from the English dialect forms liggen or leggen, meaning “to lie or lay”. Indeed, in some businesses it did lie. However, in the true spirit of the word, it means the book that is open and lays flat and remains in one place.

Flat grave markers are also called ledgers. So now you know.

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The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge at Ironbridge is an iconic object in the landscape that is seen by many as the birthmark of the industrial revolution. People come from around the world to see it and marvel at this cast iron arch that crosses the River Severn. Built around 1780 it was a first significant bridge crossing that inspired the use of cast iron as a structural material.

A lot of academic stuff has been written about how it was cast and the constructional design. As a first of its kind, it used both dovetail and mortice joints (as seen in woodwork) in its construction. Casting the sections, certainly stretched the imaginations of the designers, ironmasters, and historians.

I still wonder as a builder; how did they erect it with only ropes and pulleys at their disposal.

I think that much construction knowledge, by necessity, resides in the minds of the individual working within the construction domain and that the intent behind the decisions made on sites and projects was often not recorded or documented and is therefore lost in the minds of the people from our past

As the casual visitor to Ironbridge is all consumed by the spectre of the Iron Bridge, just downstream is another icon from the past, the Coracle makers hut.

This hut is an object in the landscape that has become invisible to the casual onlooker by its familiarity. I love it, I have a thing about sheds.

The Coracle is a small locally made craft that is still used all over the world and are to me a link between our modern selves and our ancient past. There were thousands of Coracle made here. Local people used them for fishing and travel, the river itself was an integral part of everyday life and a source of sustenance. Most everyday people in Ironbridge owned a Coracle to avoid paying the toll on the Iron Bridge.

Making Coracles is a tacit skill, built by hand eye coordination and a feel for what’s right and works.

The growth of technology has moved us further away from our tacit skills and association with the landscape. This of course is the builder within me talking, but I do believe that understanding tacit knowledge should be the driving force to bring about critical thinking when exploring the past. I know that when I was building a Coracle, I was seeing he world thought the eyes of a person from the past, many thousands of years ago. If we can begin to understand out past, then maybe we can understand ourselves.

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Acts of Kindness That Stay in your Memories Forever

Birmingham on Sea or Weston Super Mare as the posh people would call it. Weston was the original coach day trip. It was all my mother could almost afford; she would be skint before the day ended. We would jump on a coach at Stockland Coaches in Erdington and travel down the M5 as far as Tewksbury. It’s where the M5 ended then. The A38 took us the rest of the way, through Gloucester, Bristol and onwards to Weston.

There would be a stop or two on the way for egg, crinkle cut chips and beans. I still love those big plastic tomatoes with sauce on the table and the sugar dispenser. The ballyhole machines were for the lorry drovers only. Mind bogglingly complicated.

Weston Grand Pier

Weston is notorious for the mud. It would be, the River Severn delivers several millions tons of the stuff at each tide. Having the second highest tidal range in the world the sea would be around three miles out, just over the horizon. But its was still the seaside to us kids and you could still build a sandcastle or two. I loved those paper flags.

Burnbeck Pier

While I love looking back and enjoying the sense of nostalgia, these were not the good old days. This was childhood poverty, and like most people in poverty like my mom, they managed to keep it a secret. On the way home, the coach would stop at a café. My mom would say “I’m ok, I don’t fancy anything, you carry on”.

A pillar of Strength

I will always remember her for these acts of kindness, and selflessness. Acts of kindness stay in your memories forever.

A pillar of Strength
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Moira Furnace

Today’s dog walk was a bit of a nostalgic day out. I lived in the area within walking distance of the furnace and five active coal mines of the South Derbyshire coal fields. To the casual passer-by the area looked rundown and tired. To me the place was a vibrant living landscape brimming full of industry, both past and present.

Industrialised yes, but it did sustain communities.

Within the space of a couple of years, all of the mines were closed and removed from the landscape, as in a crime novel where the perpetrator conceals the incriminating evidence. Miners who were about to me made redundant were being asked to demolish their own livelihoods and remove the remnants from the landscape. There was to be no monuments to the past mining history, the communities, or the way of live that went with it.

The body bag came in under the disguise of the National Forrest.

I am not bound to feeling sad about change. While we all want happy moments to last, the reality is, nothing is permanent in life only change itself. Saying that, I do get a kick from nostalgia and by visiting these places of change, I can build new fond memoires of this new landscape and new places to explore.

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Down the Cut

Who was Frank Wakeman?

Well this is an historical gem, seeing people down by the cut in and around Oldbury. My dad worked weekends at Allen’s Yard in Valencia Warf of the chemical arm in Oldbury, repairing canal barges. Not far from the Blue Billy spoil heaps, the chemical arm was white with whatever was being chucked into the cut. As a kid I love it and could have spent a lifetime there. The industry, the noise, the smoke and steam, always something new to see and wonder at. Maybe I did never leave.

I would love to know who the film-maker Frank Wakeman was. Did he do more filming?

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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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