Monthly Archives: July 2019

Nottingham London Road Low Level

Former Great Northern Railway: Nottingham London Road Low Level Station

Former Great Northern Railway: Nottingham London Road Low Level Station

Britain’s railways are notoriously ill-organised, thanks to the Major government’s privatisation process of 1994-97, in which operating companies hired trains from rolling-stock companies and ran them on track owned by a nationalised entity.  (Sir John Major himself suggested simply reviving the “Big Four” grouping of 1922, which on reflection doesn’t seem such a bad idea compared with what we’re now stuck with.)

The early railway builders quickly dismissed the idea of having independent operators running on railway lines, like the eighteenth-century turnpikes, and Gladstone’s Railway Regulation Act of 1844 provided for the possibility of nationalising the railway system even as it was being built.

But the Victorians put their faith in competition, and Britain’s railways grew willy-nilly, leading to a confusion as profound as the 21st-century British rail system.

This is evident in Nottingham, where throughout the nineteenth century two competing railway companies, the Midland and the Great Northern, ran from separate stations a short distance away from each other, on Station Street and London Road respectively.

In 1879, under the auspices of the ponderously named Great Northern & London & North Western Joint Railway, a third company, the London & North Western Railway, began running passenger services into London Road Station and delivering goods to a purpose-built station at Sneinton.

Then in 1900, a fourth company, the Great Central, built the magnificent Victoria Station, which it shared with the Great Northern, in a cutting in the centre of town.

The Great Northern built a duplicate London Road station, which they named High Level, to distinguish it from their original station, latterly Low Level, which the L&NWR continued to use for their services to Market Harborough via Saxondale Junction, Bottesford and Melton Mowbray.

This absurdity continued until 1944, when the former L&NWR trains were diverted into Nottingham Midland and the Low Level station became a goods depot.

Much of this has since been swept away.  There is now only one station in Nottingham, the former Midland, though it serves trains run by three separate modern operating companies.  The lines into Low Level were taken up in the 1970s, and after a fire in 1996 Thomas Chambers Hine’s imposing 1857 building was restored and refurbished as a health club.

But it’s a mistake to think that the way we run British railways in the 21st century is any more bizarre than the travellers’ chaos that the Victorians created.

The East to West

Former Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway: Fledborough Viaduct

Former Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway: Fledborough Viaduct

Of all the grandiose railway schemes proposed in Britain in the nineteenth century, few match the audacity of the Lancashire, Derbyshire & East Coast Railway.

Its original Act of 1891 authorised a 170-mile line from Warrington in Lancashire to Sutton-on-Sea in Lincolnshire, together with extensive docks at each terminus, crossing the paths of every major main line to the North in the hope of carrying substantial traffic east and west from new collieries opening on the concealed coalfield in east Nottinghamshire.

In fact, only the section between Chesterfield and Lincoln was built.  It opened in 1897, along with a branch to Sheffield in 1900.  It was sold to the Great Central Railway in 1907 without ever paying a dividend.

Driven by Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coal-owners’ desire to exploit their untapped mineral resources, it would have involved audacious engineering over the Peak District, including a three-hundred-foot viaduct topping the existing sixty-three-foot viaduct at Monsal Dale.

Most of what was built has disappeared – the main station at Chesterfield Market Place, the sixty-three-foot high viaduct at Horn’s Bridge on the outskirts of Chesterfield, which crossed two rivers, two roads and two railway lines within a couple of hundred yards, and the notoriously unstable 2,642-yard Bolsover Tunnel.

The line west of Langwith Junction closed in 1951 when Bolsover Tunnel became impassable, and passenger services on the remaining section ended in 1955.  Freight traffic over parts of the route continued until 2015.

The only part of the line still in use is now Network Rail’s High Marnham Test Track, reopened in 2009 between Thoresby Colliery Junction and Dukeries Junction.  Beyond that, almost all the way to the end of the LD&ECR at Pyewipe Junction, the trackbed is now part of the National Cycle Network.

And on that stretch is the only surviving substantial engineering monument of this bravura piece of railway building – Fledborough Viaduct, 59 brick arches and four girder spans, in total just over half a mile long, crossing the River Trent and its wide flood plain at no great height.

There had to be a viaduct at this point because of the Trent’s propensity to flood.  An embankment would have acted as a dam and caused serious flooding upstream.

On the west bank of the Trent High Marnham Power Station opened in 1962 and the railway supplied it with coal until a derailment in 1980 led to a temporary closure that became permanent.

The power station in turn closed in 2003 and was finally demolished in 2012.

The cycle trail is the best way to appreciate the scale of Fledborough Viaduct, which is difficult to see from any public road.

The best view of the Viaduct is from the river path at High Marnham, where the Brownlow Arms [https://www.thebrownlowarms.co.uk] marks the existence of a now-vanished ferry.

Exploring Sydney: Watson’s Bay

The Gap, Watson’s Bay, Sydney, Australia

Our Lady Star of the Sea RC Church, Watson’s Bay, Australia

On my previous visits to Sydney, in 2010 and 2011, I made no use whatever of its extensive ferry system, an omission as grievous as my failure, on my first visit to Rome, to visit the Vatican.

At leisure on my 2017 visit, I took the first opportunity to catch a bus to Circular Quay and hop on the first ferry out, which took me to Watson’s Bay, a headland with spectacular views and a long history of maritime and military significance.

There I had a cup of tea at Doyle’s on the Wharf [https://www.doyles.com.au], one half of a celebrated fish restaurant, along with Doyle’s on the Beach (established 1885).  It was too early for fish and chips, but I’d gladly return another time, especially if it was an appropriate occasion for the more formal Doyle’s on the Beach which has tablecloths.

My exploration led me along the cliff-top path known as The Gap.  The Gap was and still is a notorious suicide spot, though the cliff edge is strongly fenced.  There is a memorial to Don Ritchie OAM (1925-2012), a local resident who repeatedly took in and tried to help people in despair at The Gap.

He was a World War II navy veteran who after the war worked as an insurance salesman.  He was adept at spotting distressed individuals on the cliffs and by making a simple approach such as “Can I help you in some way?”, and inviting them home for a cup of tea, he saved the lives of 164 potential suicides.  As he put it, “You can’t just sit there and watch them.”

Another rescuer of more than thirty potential suicides was Rexie, a German Shepherd bitch owned by the proprietor of the Gap Tavern in the 1960s.  She had the ability to recognise potential suicides and would bark to attract assistance.

I tried to locate the former tram-track, where first-generation Sydney trams plunged down hairpin bends to reach their terminus, and though I think I found it in part, it was so overgrown as to be unrecognisable:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLjwCFtqKgc.

When I emerged on to Old South Head Road and headed back downhill towards the bus terminus I came upon St Peter’s Anglican Church, a tiny little cell designed by Edward Blacket in 1864 and the more remarkable Our Lady Star of the Sea RC Church, a 1910 exterior with a much later spire but no tower, and a beautiful 1966 interior, with a five-light east window in the form of the Southern Cross constellation.

Further along the cliffs stand two lighthouses, the Signal Station (1790) [http://www.watsonsbayassociation.org/cms_subpage/5/20]  and the Macquarie Lighthouse (1883) [http://www.watsonsbayassociation.org/cms_subpage/5/21].

The bus that I caught back into town took me a different way, so that I discovered the stunning views to be had of central Sydney, with the Harbour Bridge in the distance, from an area called Dover Heights, before the bus dropped down into Bondi Beach, the classic Australian version of seaside.

Traquair murals

St Peter's Parish Church, Clayworth, Nottinghamshire: Traquair Murals

St Peter’s Parish Church, Clayworth, Nottinghamshire: Traquair murals

When I visited Drakeholes to photograph the canal tunnel my curiosity was piqued by brown tourist road-signs marked ‘Traquair murals’ because I didn’t recognise the name.

That’s because I’m neither Scots nor a fine-art aficionado.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936) was Irish by birth, an illustrator, jewellery designer and embroiderer whose mural painting was mostly done in Scotland.  Only two of her mural schemes are in England, and one of them is a couple of miles down the road from Drakeholes, at St Peter’s Church, Clayworth.

The church itself is interesting – built in the twelfth century, restored in 1874-5 by John Oldrid Scott, Grade I listed.

Phoebe Anna Traquair, who married a Scots palaeontologist, was a leading figure in the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland, and the first woman to be elected to the Royal Scottish Academy,

The Traquair Murals dated from 1904-5, and were restored by Elizabeth Hirst in 1996.  They were given by Lady D’Arcy Godolphin Osborne as a thank-offering for the safe return from the Boer War of her son, Captain Joseph Frederick Laycock DSO (1867-1952), of Wiseton Hall.  As Joe Laycock he competed for Britain in the 1908 Olympics with his friend the 2nd Duke of Westminster.

The murals cover all four walls of the chancel, illustrating in rich colours and gilding a comprehensive figurative scheme and incorporating portraits of local children:  several of the figures on the north wall, bringing gifts to the Christ Child, are members of the Laycock family, and some of the adjacent Angel Choir are actual choristers, including Tony Otter (1896-1986), who was Suffragan Bishop of Grantham from 1949 to 1965, and his cousin Jack Martin.

The murals are claimed, collectively, to be the largest artwork in eastern England.

Size doesn’t matter.  They’re beautiful, and worth seeking out in this gem of a church, set in the countryside between Bawtry and Gainsborough in north Nottinghamshire.

Clayworth stands on the B1403 road south of Gringley-on-the-Hill.  St Peter’s Church is open daily.