Monthly Archives: May 2018

South Yorkshire’s transport museum

South Yorkshire Transport Museum, Aldwarke, Rotherham

South Yorkshire Transport Museum, Aldwarke, Rotherham

South Yorkshire has two transport museums which grew independently out of an early project to turn the former Sheffield Tramways Company’s Tinsley Tram Sheds into a museum on a nationally significant transport-history site.

At the present time the oldest purpose-built tram depot in the UK is a tile-warehouse, and there are two separate collections of buses and other transport memorabilia within a couple of miles of each other in the suburbs of Rotherham.

The South Yorkshire Transport Museum at Aldwarke is family friendly.  There’s plenty for children to do, and much to entertain kids of all ages.

If you’ve lived in South Yorkshire and are over forty this place provides the disconcerting experience of finding once-familiar objects preserved in a museum.

It has a rich collection of buses, most of them well preserved and the rest under restoration, from across South Yorkshire, as well as tower wagons, towing trucks and other vehicles including two milk floats.

Some of the buses are available for hire, and do a roaring trade in weddings and birthdays.

There’s even a matchstick model of a railway locomotive.

Tucked away in a corner is the lower saloon of a Sheffield tram, no 460 built in 1926.  It’s a rare survivor, sold rather than scrapped in 1951, and now repainted in an approximation of the authentic livery.  Step inside to look at the models and memorabilia and hear an evocative sound-recording of trams in motion that makes up for its incomplete state.

There’s also a café, serving hot and cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks, and a shop full of souvenirs and arcana to satisfy the most deep-dyed transport enthusiast.

Visitor information is at https://sytm.co.uk/visit/opening.html.

Tinsley Tramsheds

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

Former Tinsley Tramsheds, Sheffield

The most substantial remnant of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system is the original depot at Weedon Street, Tinsley, built in 1873 for the Sheffield Tramways Company when it opened its first horse-drawn line.

This very early tramway was founded by the railway contractor Thomas Lightfoot, who also built the Douglas horse-tramway that opened in 1876 and still operates in the Isle of Man.

When the Sheffield Corporation took over the horse-tram company, its first electric trams, inaugurated in 1899, ran between Weedon Street and Nether Edge, with a depot at each end, and for the first few years vehicles were maintained and eventually built at the two depots – mechanical parts at Tinsley, bodywork at Nether Edge – until a purpose-built works at Queen’s Road opened in 1905.

The National Tramway Museum’s photographic library shows the atmosphere of Tinsley Tramsheds up to the end of the 1950s:  http://ntm.adlibhosting.com/detail.aspx?parentpriref [insert ‘Tinsley Depot’ in search box].

A well-made film of a tram-journey from Beauchief to Weedon Street in 1960 ends with Roberts car 523 disappearing into the tramsheds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0a28Q_78eM  [at 16:45 minutes].

Almost all Sheffield’s trams, including the very last in service and those in the final closing procession in October 1960, ended up at Weedon Street, from where they were towed across the road to Thomas W Ward’s scrapyard.

Sheffield people customarily referred to “tramsheds”, though all of them across the city were substantial brick buildings.  Apart from Tinsley, they have either disappeared or survive only as sad facades.

At one time Tinsley Tramsheds was home to Sheffield’s bus museum, until a schism led to one collection moving out to Aldwarke near Rotherham to become the South Yorkshire Bus Museum [http://sytm.co.uk/visit/opening.html] and the other, the South Yorkshire Transport Trust, eventually moving to Eastwood in a nearby part of Rotherham:  http://www.sytt.org.uk.

Little remains of the tram-depot interior:  the tracks, inspection pits and overhead gantries that gave exterior access to trams at upper-deck level have long gone.  Urban explorer reports show empty graffiti-covered spaces [https://www.derelictplaces.co.uk/main/industrial-sites/32188-attercliffe-tram-sheds-sheffield-december-2015-a.html#.WPS3tYWcGUk], and the tile-depot that occupies the first two bays looks like, well, a tile-depot:  http://www.tiledepot.com/pages.php?pageid=3.

A glass-half-empty report from the Hallamshire Historic Buildings Society suggests that the building is deteriorating:  http://hhbs.org.uk/2017/07/01/trams-to-tiles.

Nevertheless, this Grade II-listed relic of transport history, located between the Meadowhall shopping centre and Sheffield’s new Ikea store, close to a retail park and the Sheffield Arena, could be smartened up by a savvy developer.

Cracks in the tarmac of the forecourt show that the track-fan and stone setts survive, at least in part, waiting to be exposed.

The interior is a flexible space with scope for adaptation, and the exterior is capable of restoration as one of the few historic sites remaining in the Lower Don Valley.

The simple life

Stoneywell, Ulverscroft, Leicestershire

Stoneywell, Ulverscroft, Leicestershire

I’ve known, ever since the days when I ran country-house tours for Nottingham University, that the people who manage National Trust property contribute to its atmosphere.

So, on my first visit to the recently acquired Stoneywell, just outside Leicester, the warmth of the welcome was striking even on a chilly autumn afternoon.

There’s literally nowhere to park at this property, so visitors are greeted with a minibus at the car-park down the lane.  There is a shop in the stables, and a modest café in the old laundry which is warmed by the original copper.

Strolling in the garden, a survival of the ancient Charnwood Forest, it’s difficult to remember that the outer suburbs of Leicester are only a couple of miles away to the east, and the M1 motorway is barely half a mile to the west.

The house itself is an overgrown cottage, hunched into the hillside rather like an upmarket hobbit house.  It’s built of local materials, and grows organically from the hillside on which it stands, so that its three floors in fact have six different levels on a zig-zag ground plan.

It’s a hugely significant building, commissioned by Sydney Gimson (1860-1938), son of the founder of a Leicester engineering company that built steam engines and other machinery.  It was completed in 1899.

Sydney Gimson bought enough land in Charnwood Forest to provide plots for his older half-brother, Mentor, and his younger sister, Margaret.

He commissioned his younger brother Ernest Gimson (1864-1919) to design Stoneywell, and employed the architect Detmar Blow (1867-1939) as clerk of works.

Both Gimson and Blow were devotees of the Arts & Crafts movement:  Detmar Blow believed that architects should get their hands dirty, which slowed things down and caused some irritation;  Ernest Gimson was closely associated with the Birmingham-born brothers Ernest and Sidney Barnsley, with whom he set up a workshop at Sapperton, Gloucestershire.

For two generations, until the 1950s, Stoneywell was a country retreat for the summer and Christmas, a place of adventure for the children of the family and their friends, and an opportunity to live a simpler life far removed from their town house and the engineering factory in nearby Leicester.

This much-loved place was too good to give up, and so passed down the family, on Sidney’s death in 1938 to his son Basil (who taught at Bedales School, where his uncle Ernest designed the library).

A fire destroyed the thatched roof in 1937 but most of the cottage and its contents survived and were restored, with a roof of local Swithland slate, by Basil’s brother Humphrey Gimson (1890-1982).

When Basil died in 1953, the house passed to his son Donald (born 1924) who gently modernised it for year-round living:  he sold it to the National Trust in 2012 and continues to make periodic visits.

Continuity of ownership means that this exquisite dwelling retains most of its original contents, with tables, chairs, beds and fittings designed and made by Ernest Gimson and the Barnsley brothers.

It’s a testament to the Arts & Crafts values that William Morris promoted through the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings and the Art Workers’ Guild.

The simple life is all well and good.  Janet Ashbee, wife of the architect Charles Robert Ashbee, writes that the artist Roger Fry tried the simple life but found it too complicated and had to give it up.

The Gimsons made it work, shinning up narrow staircases and a ladder to bed well into old age.

And now its beauty is accessible to everyone – provided they book a timed ticket to prevent overcrowding.

Grand Master

Wignacourt Aqueduct, Fleur-de-Lys, Malta

Wignacourt Aqueduct, Fleur-de-Lys, Malta

Alof de Wignacourt (1547-1622) is a towering figure in Malta’s history.  His name is everywhere on the island.

One of the most popular of the Grand Masters of the Knights Hospitaller who ruled the island from 1530, the young Wignacourt first attracted attention at the Siege of Malta in 1565.

After his election as Grand Master in 1601 he undertook an ambitious programme of public works to improve and protect the island and particularly its newly-established capital of Valletta.

Between 1610 and 1620 he constructed, at his own expense, six formidable watchtowers along Malta’s east coast to keep an eye on unfriendly vessels at the crossroads of Mediterranean shipping routes.  Four of these survive – the eponymous Wignacourt Tower at St Paul’s Bay (1610), the St Lucian Tower at Marsaxlokk (1610-11), the St Thomas Tower at Marsaskala (1614) and St Mary’s Tower on the island of Comino (1618).

Further series of watch towers were built by subsequent Grand Masters Giovanni Paolo Lascaris (in office 1636-1657) and Martin de Redin (in office 1657-1660), but they are generally smaller and less elaborate than the Wignacourt Towers.

His other major engineering achievement was to bring fresh drinking water to the rapidly growing city of Valletta by means of the Wignacourt Aqueduct.

The preceding Grand Master Martin Garze (in office 1595-1601) had planned an aqueduct to run some sixteen miles from inland springs at Dingli and Rabat, but hadn’t made much progress for lack of funds.

Wignacourt took over and largely financed the project, and completed it within five years.  The line runs from Attard, maintaining a constant gradient through underground pipes, and crossing depressions with arcades of limestone arches cemented with pozzolana, a volcanic ash of cement.

It continued to supply water to Valletta and other towns along its route until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Long stretches remain as a monument to Wignacourt’s enterprise, along with other structures, such as the Wignacourt Arch, otherwise known as the Fleur-de-Lys Gate, demolished after an RAF lorry ran into it during the blackout in 1943, and reconstructed in 2012-14.

The community around the Gate takes its name from the three fleur-de-lys that appear on Wignacourt’s coat of arms.

Other surviving structures include inspection towers at St Venera, Ħamrun and Floriana, and a series of fountains including the Wignacourt Fountain in the centre of Valetta.

Alongside these physical achievements, Wignacourt has a claim on posterity as the patron of the artist Caravaggio (1571-1610), whose tempestuous career brought him to Malta in a brief period between 1607 and his expulsion from the Knights’ order at the end of the following year.

During this time, as well as the two great canvases in St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valetta, ‘The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist’ and ‘Saint Jerome Writing’, Caravaggio painted a striking portrait ‘Portrait of Alof de Wignacourt and his Page’, now in the Louvre.