Monthly Archives: February 2018

Nottingham Victoria

Victoria Centre, Nottingham (1978)

Victoria Centre, Nottingham (1978)

In the closing years of the nineteenth century a huge hole appeared in the centre of Nottingham.

This became the city’s Victoria Station, connected through tunnels north and south to the new main line of the Great Central Railway, with an additional connection on a viaduct to the Great Northern Railway line heading east to Newark.

The GCR London Extension was a prodigious engineering feat from end to end, and the Nottingham station, with its tracks below street level, made a greater impact than any of the company’s other new stations.

Over a thousand houses, two dozen pubs and a church were swept away and replaced by a grand brick entrance building with a hundred-foot clock tower and a splendid hotel alongside fronting Mansfield Road, designed by a young Nottingham architect, Albert Edward Lambert (1869-1929).  Below street level, there were twelve platform faces with avoiding lines for through goods trains and two turntables for locomotives.

The Great Northern was determined not to run its trains into a station called Nottingham Central, and printed the name ‘Nottingham Joint Station’ on its tickets and timetables, until the Nottingham town clerk ventured a diplomatic solution.  Because the opening day, May 24th 1900, was the Queen’s eighty-first birthday, he made a proposal virtually impossible to refuse:  as the Great Central station in Sheffield had been ‘Victoria’ for years, the Nottingham station was duly named after the Queen.

Britain’s last main line, London Marylebone to Manchester London Road, had a short life:  it was far better engineered, at least as far as Nottingham, than any other railway in the country, because it was intended to link with the Channel Tunnel (commenced in 1881 and abandoned a year later) and so to Paris.

The GCR and its successor, the L&NER, put up strong competition:  its services to Sheffield, Leicester and London were significantly faster than those of its rival, the Midland Railway.

Nevertheless, in the post-war decline of railways in Britain, the GCR lost out to its older rivals;  express passenger services ended in 1960 and the main line passenger services south of Rugby was abandoned in 1966.

Nottingham Victoria Station itself closed a year later on September 4th 1967, and for a short while services from Rugby to Nottingham ended at Arkwright Street station, perched on a viaduct half a mile out of town:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvO9GkjtK0.

The land on which Victoria Station stood was far too valuable to leave unused, and the Victoria Centre, consisting of shopping malls, a bus station and a twenty-six storey apartment complex, opened in 1972.

The only parts of the original station to survive are the clock tower and the hotel, now the Hilton Nottingham:  http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hilton-nottingham-EMANOHN/index.html.

The magnificent train shed, with its overall roof, footbridges across the tracks and spacious staircases to platform level, is still mourned by Nottingham people and rail enthusiasts.  There is poignant footage of its declining years [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D60XNfJPk8M and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-FQeUKrnNM], and the station is described and amply illustrated at http://www.disused-stations.org.uk/n/nottingham_victoria/index.shtml.

By the magic of digital technology Nottingham Victoria lives on in visualisation – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_JZTk0Nij-E] – and simulation – [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gZ_ukwNMWw].

The tour Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) is based in Nottingham.  For further details please click here.

One man, one mester

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

Stan Shaw, spring-knife cutler, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield (October 2017)

My Sheffield’s Heritage tour-group were honoured to be introduced, by Mike, our guide from the Ken Hawley Collection, to Stan Shaw BEM, who at ninety-one is not exactly the last of Sheffield’s little mesters, simply because in his lifetime he has picked up the craft skills of perhaps a dozen of the specialised traditional Sheffield tradesmen.

Technically, he’s a spring-knife cutler:  all his hand-crafted knives have retractable, spring-loaded blades.

Stan tells his own story in a Sheffield Telegraph article dated March 24th 2016 [https://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/news/life-is-still-at-the-sharp-end-for-expert-sheffield-craftsman-in-his-90th-year-1-7813981]:

“When I got to be 14 years of age I wondered – because I’d never done metalwork or woodwork – what am I going to do for a living?  I went on to Rockingham Street and saw Ibbersons and knocked on the door and said, ‘Can I have a job, Mr Ibberson?’

“I went upstairs to see him, in a little ante-room, and there were all the knives in glass cases.  I said, ‘I want to make them’.  I don’t know why I said it – I’d never used tools in my life – so he sent for his head cutler and said, ‘This lad wants to make knives.  Will you have him?’

“So I started with him the following morning.  I took to it like a duck to water, like it was made for me.”

 Over the decades he gained the expertise to make high-quality, decorative, practical knives that command premium prices, and since he went self-employed in 1987 he has never looked back.

The old hand-craft skills will die with Stan, because he’s consistently declined to take on the paperwork encumbrances that come with apprentices.  He explains in a 2006 interview [http://www.mylearning.org/metalwork-in-sheffield-/p-833] how modern machine-made knives lack the quality he achieves:

“I was taught the proper way with a skilled man.  You’ve got to have somebody teach the proper way and there are a lot of people trying to learn themselves but they can’t.  They try and make as good a job as they can but they’re limited so there is only one way to learn and that is with skilled people who’ve learnt it from his father and his father before him.”

To buy one of Stan’s knives, stamped “Stan Shaw, Sheffield”, you wouldn’t get much change out of £2,000, and you’d have to collect it – wherever in the world you live – because he doesn’t trust them to the post.

And he has a four-year waiting list.

The only clients who don’t have to wait are his grandchildren, to whom he gives knives on their birthdays and Christmas.

No doubt family members, like such other clients as HM Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke of York and President George H W Bush, have to hand over a coin in return, to prevent the friendship being cut.

The best available account of Stan’s life and work is a downloadable illustrated booklet Stan Shaw and the Art of the Pocket Knife (2016) by the Sheffield industrial historian Geoffrey Tweedale [http://contrib2.wkfinetools.com/tweedaleG/stanShaw/0_img/TWEEDALE-Stan%20Shaw-(12-12-2016).pdf] – an example of a craftsman in words writing about a craftsman in steel, silver, brass, wood, bone, stag-horn, buffalo-horn, abalone, tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl.

Nowt but tools

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Ken Hawley Collection, Kelham Island Industrial Museum, Sheffield

Few people have done as much to preserve the living legacy of Sheffield’s industrial crafts as Ken Hawley MBE (1927-2014).

Born on the then new Manor Estate, Ken lived almost all his life in the north of the city, the son of a wire-goods manufacturer.

He left school at fourteen, in the middle of the Second World War, and after National Service he worked for a succession of Sheffield businesses until in 1959 he set up his own shop, selling “nowt but tools” for thirty years.  Retirement in 1989 kept him busy for the rest of his life.

On a sales visit to an undertaker in 1950 Ken was intrigued by an unusual brace which he was allowed to take home because it was no longer useful.

From then on, often with the unanswerable words “You’ll not be wanting this, will you?”, Ken amassed a collection of tools, and tools that make tools, ancient and modern, across the entire range of Sheffield’s multifarious specialist crafts – saws, chisels, planes, hammers, trowels, spades, shovels, scythes, files, awls, shears, scissors, knives of all kinds, vices, drills, micrometers, callipers, soldering equipment, drawing equipment, kitchen equipment and surgical equipment that doesn’t bear thinking about.

He was instrumental, as a member of the Sheffield Trades Historical Society, in restoring the historic Wortley Top Forge [http://www.topforge.co.uk], of which he was Custodian for forty years, but his greatest legacy is the collection of tools and associated archives that gradually filled his house, his garage and two garden sheds.

Eventually, Sheffield University offered space for what became the Ken Hawley Collection Trust, which was relocated in 2007 to the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, where it formally opened in 2010.

Here, as a separate operation from the Museum, a band of volunteers conserve, research and catalogue the seventy thousand or more artefacts and documents that form the collection.

Ken was intensely proud of his city, “a wonderful place, with all the skills of the different people”, and considered it a privilege to bring together the evidence of its industry at the time when the traditional crafts were dying out.

Without him, we’d know a good deal less about the ingenuity and the sheer skill of Sheffield’s metal workers:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijCEeRIdQSo&feature=youtu.be

The Ken Hawley Collection can be viewed whenever the Museum is open, and its volunteers are more than happy to explain the intricacies of the specialist displays:  http://www.hawleytoolcollection.com.

And if you have any spare tools, they might fill a gap in the collection.

 

Great Northern Goods Warehouse, Derby

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse, Friargate, Derby (1977)

The largest building in Derby has stood derelict for over fifty years, and figures in the Victorian Society’s 2017 Top 10 Endangered Buildings list:  http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/the-great-northern-railway-warehouse-in-derby-on-its-2017-top-10-endangered.

When the Great Northern Railway extended its line from Nottingham through the middle of Derby in 1878, it made two grand statements of its arrival in the headquarters town of its competitor, the Midland Railway.  The most visible invasion was the elaborate pair of bridges across Friargate itself, slicing across a Georgian street.

The passenger station itself, built on the viaduct alongside the bridge, was undistinguished, but the vast goods warehouse, visible from the passenger platforms, was given a dignified architectural presence by the architects Kirk and Randall.

The rectangular footprint of the warehouse is extended by a triangular extension housing railway offices and a residence for the goods manager.

When I first explored it in 1977 – before security fencing prevailed – it was empty and derelict but largely intact.

The Derbyshire Historic Building Trust reports a site-visit in September 2016 – https://www.derbyshirehistoricbuildings.org.uk/single-post/2016/05/12/GNR-Site-Visit – and there are recent urban-explorer reports showing the current condition of the building at http://www.ukurbex.co.uk/great-northern-railway-bonded-warehouse-derby, https://www.28dayslater.co.uk/great-northern-railway-bonded-warehouse-derby-october-2014.t92710 and https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/26846-northern-railway-warehouse-derby.html#.We2aA7pFzIU, and a more comprehensive survey at http://derbyinpictures.com/home/friargate_station_and_goods_yard.

Though the Great Northern Warehouse is inaccessible, the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour includes other sites on the former GNR Derby Friargate line – the Friargate Bridge and Bennerley Viaduct.  For further details please click here.