Gap in the townscape

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno

Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno (2014) 

When I visited the Llandudno Arts Society to give a lecture recently, my host Mark Esplen drove me round the town to show me recent developments in which he felt pride, such as the refurbished Railway Station (completed 2014) and the Lifeboat Station (2017).

Driving past the former Tudno Castle Hotel, he remarked that it was about to be demolished after unsuccessful attempts at redevelopment.

There’s more to the story than meets the eye, as I discover from a recent Victorian Society bulletin.

This Grade II listed building, which was originally two hotels, the Tudno Castle and the Temperance, seems not to be datable, and is not credited to a named architect, but it was obviously an integral component of the development of Llandudno as a resort, occupying a prominent site between Mostyn Broadway and Conway Street, closing the vista at the south end of the principal shopping thoroughfare, Mostyn Street.

The reasons for listing, last revised in 2001, are vague:  “C19 hotel retaining its character on important free-standing site.  Group value with adjacent listed buildings”.  It seems nobody took the trouble to recognise its history or its townscape value.

In 2014 planning permission was given, against the strong objections of the Victorian Society, for a retail development and a Premier Inn hotel, retaining only the façade of the building.

The interior, when surveyed by Archaeology Wales, was a mess and had clearly seen better days, but it was intact and the better parts could have been incorporated into a sensitive redevelopment:   http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/inside-tudno-castle-llandudno-demolish-13468477.

There is a slide-show of the April demolition which was intended to leave the façade supported by scaffolding at http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/plan-submitted-tear-down-grade-13467581, along with a depressing sketch of the limp proposed replacement.

When demolition began, the contractors noticed “historical movement” [http://demolishdismantle.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/tudno-castle-hotel-demolished-due-to.html] which made it impossible to support the façade for retention.

This euphemism turns out to cover a failure to realise, when the 2014 application was processed, that the walls were not ashlar but rubble, and the Victorian Society is questioning how the developer and the authorities can have failed to survey the building adequately before making their proposal.

Anna Shelley, Conservation Adviser at the Victorian Society, is clearly spitting tacks:  “The complete demolition of the Tudno Castle Hotel was entirely avoidable, and the plans could have been revised and reconsidered at various stages in the assessment process.  All those responsible – particularly developer and Local Authority – should take a good hard look at themselves. How has this been allowed to happen?” [http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk/news/irresponsible-development-razes-tudno-castle-hotel]

Primarily as a result of watchful care over decades by the landowner, the Mostyn Estate, Llandudno has remained one of the finest and most intact of British seaside resorts, and now its streetscape has a regrettable and unnecessary gap.

Other local authorities have shown a more muscular response to ostensibly fortuitous demolitions:  http://www.eastlondonadvertiser.co.uk/news/politics/illegally-demolished-historic-cottages-must-be-rebuilt-brick-by-brick-tower-hamlets-council-orders-1-5209885?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=Social_Icon&utm_campaign=in_article_social_icons.

The replacement building had better be good.

Hong Kong hero

Hong Kong Cemetery:  grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Hong Kong Cemetery: grave of Driver Joseph Hughes GC

Understandably, Remembrance brings foremost to British minds and hearts the two World Wars and the conflicts within living memory – particularly the Falklands, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In fact, British servicemen and women have given their lives in every year but two since 1945:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/01/forces-have-first-year-since-1968-no-one-killed-operations.

One such I found when I explored the vast cemetery in the centre of Hong Kong.

On March 21st 1946 Driver Joseph Hughes of the Royal Army Service Corps was driving his three-ton lorry of ammunition and explosives when it caught fire.

Joseph Hughes tried desperately to remove the burning netting covering the load of munitions, and then he tackled the blaze with a fire extinguisher.

He survived the explosion but died of his wounds two days later.

He was awarded a posthumous George Cross, because his sacrifice was not in the face of an enemy but was nevertheless an act “of the greatest heroism [and] most conspicuous courage in circumstance of extreme danger”.

Not much seems to be known of Joseph Hughes, who came from the Glasgow Gorbals and would have been about twenty-four years old:  http://www.rascrctassociation.co.uk/hughes.html.

We honour such heroes, who are trained to run towards danger when the rest of us would run away, among all those who have given their lives in military service.

Old bore

Glenfield Tunnel, Leicester:  North Leicestershire Association of the National Trust/Leicestershire Industrial History Society visit, August 11th 2017

Glenfield Tunnel, Leicester: North Leicestershire Association of the National Trust/Leicestershire Industrial History Society visit, August 11th 2017

The North Leicestershire Association of the National Trust runs particularly interesting tours.

In conjunction with the Leicestershire Industrial History Society, the Association provided a rare opportunity to visit the Glenfield Tunnel of the former Leicester & Swannington Railway, a particularly significant relic of the early days of railways.

In the canal age Leicestershire coal owners were at a grave disadvantage in comparison with their Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire competitors, because the mines around Swannington could only be served by packhorse, and were undercut by coal from the Erewash valley transported along the Soar Navigation and the Leicester Canal.

A “forest” branch of the Leicester Canal, colloquially called the Charnwood Canal, was a spectacular failure, never fully opened for lack of water, and was practically abandoned by 1802.

Two far-sighted Leicestershire grandees, William Stenson and John Ellis, aware of the success of the Stockton & Darlington Railway, contacted George Stephenson in 1828 and persuaded him to support a railway from the pits at Swannington to the West Bridge at Leicester.

Construction of the Leicester & Swannington Railway, with two steep cable-hauled inclines at Bagworth and Swannington, and the 1,796-yard tunnel at Glenfield, was overseen by George Stephenson’s son Robert, and opened in two sections in 1832 and 1833.

It enabled the Leicestershire mines to undercut Erewash coal at Leicester, and eventually to export coal by canal and railway further afield.  It made possible a complete new town, Coalville.

Glenfield Tunnel was the second railway tunnel in the world, following the shorter Tyler Hill Tunnel on the Canterbury & Whitstable Railway.

Though the later main line from Leicester to Swannington was diverted away from the tunnel and the inclines, the route through Glenfield remained open for freight until 1964.

It’s now maintained by Leicester City Council and opened occasionally by the Leicestershire Industrial History Society:  http://www.lihs.org.uk/Industrial_heritage2.html.

We were guided round to and into the tunnel by Chris and David as far as the first ventilation shaft.  The whole tunnel is a mile long, but the cutting beyond the east portal is filled in, and access to the tunnel is through a manhole in someone’s garden.

I was glad to have access to one of the monuments of Britain’s industrial history, and to gain a close-up, first-hand idea of the magnitude of the achievements of the Stephensons and their generation of pioneering engineers.

It’s one thing to read about the Glenfield Tunnel, and quite another to walk inside it – to give “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name”.

Exploring Melbourne – St Silas’ Church, Albert Park

St Silas' Church, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

St Silas’ Church, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia

As I rode up and down the 96 tram-route between my hotel in St Kilda and central Melbourne, I kept noticing an elegant brick church across the road from the Albert Park tram stop, so one morning I took the opportunity to investigate.

It’s the parish church of St Silas [http://www.parishoftheparks.com.au/our-building.html], designed in 1925 by Louis Williams (1890-1980), a prolific Australian church architect and a committed proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement well into the post-war period.  His life and work are analysed in Gladys Moore’s 2001 Master’s degree thesis:  https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/bitstream/handle/11343/38261/300554_MOORE%20vol.%201.pdf.

St Silas’ replaced a wooden church that had served the community since 1879 and, if it had been completed to Louis Williams’ design, would have been spectacular both inside and out.

Unfortunately, the economic depression of 1929 onwards interrupted construction, and only the chancel without its side chapels, the north transept and the first two bays of the nave were constructed.

In 1961 the church was divided horizontally:  the ground floor was adapted to serve as the church hall, and the worship space occupies the upper half of Louis Williams’ intended volume.

The result is particularly attractive inside, especially as the lack of a south transept brings huge amounts of natural light through a great window that fills the crossing arch.

Outside, the result is less satisfactory:  the contrary sloping roofs express the staircases within, but the junction with Louis Williams’ sheer brick walls is abrupt.

When the nearby 1919 church of St Anselm, Middle Park, closed in 2001 the two parishes combined, and St Anselm’s glass and other fittings were brought to St Silas’.

But for this chance visit to St Silas’, where I was made very welcome by the parishioners preparing for Sunday services, I’d have been unlikely to know of Louis Williams’ greatest work, St Andrew’s Church, Brighton (1961-62), which is both a magnificent essay in stripped mid-twentieth century Gothic, taking further the massive proportions of Sir Edwin Maufe’s Guildford Cathedral, and also a neat reuse of a the remains of an older destroyed church, in this case a fire-damaged 1857 nave, in a similar way to Sir Basil Spence’s incorporation of the bombed ruins alongside the new Coventry Cathedral:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Andrew%27s_Church,_Brighton#/media/File:St_Andrew%27s_Church,_Brighton,_West_Front.jpg.

Exploring Melbourne – by tram to St Kilda

Former Melbourne & Hobson's Bay Railway Albert Park station, Melbourne, Australia

Former Melbourne & Hobson’s Bay Railway Albert Park station, Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne’s tram route 96 between the city and the beach resort of St Kilda was formerly a railway line, originally the Melbourne & Hobson’s Bay Railway Company, opened in 1857.

In 1987 the line, along with the connected rail line to Port Melbourne, was converted from heavy rail to light rail, regauged from the Victorian railway 5ft 3in to the Melbourne tramway standard gauge, with the overhead line voltage reduced from 1,500v DC to 650v DC.

A simple junction into Fitzroy Street allows trams to continue along the Esplanade to a terminus at Acland Street, serving the beach, Luna Park and the shops.  In the city, route 96 runs past Southern Cross Station, along Bourke Street and out to East Brunswick.

Because it is so heavily used it’s operated by big light-rail vehicles: the five class C2 units were leased and then bought specifically for route 96 in 2008, later supplemented by class E units from 2013.  Each unit can carry in excess of two hundred passengers, which is useful not only in rush hours but also for events such as the St Kilda Festival and the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

It’s a hugely popular route, quicker and more comfortable than alternative tram routes between St Kilda and the city:  http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/tram-96-travels-tracks-to-glory/2008/03/07/1204780065938.html.

St Kilda railway station is barely recognisable, though it’s the oldest surviving railway building in the state of Victoria, opened in 1857.  It was the subject of a controversial redevelopment in the late 1990s, when the station building was converted to shops and an apartment block with a Woolworths supermarket was built on the site of the goods yard.

As you sit in air-conditioned comfort on a fast modern tramcar, you pass immediately recognisable steam-age railway stations, no longer usable because of the height of the platforms, all of them converted to other uses.

I called at the Albert Park station, which is a railway antiques showroom, where I was offered a working Melbourne tram destination indicator for A$1,000:  http://www.melbourneplaces.com/melbourne/railway-antiques-restored-furniture-coffee-and-cakes-at-the-albert-park-station.

It’s hardly surprising that National Geographic nominated route 96 as one of the world’s best tram rides:  http://www.theage.com.au/multimedia/2008/national/tram/index.html.

Dig in the park

Firth Park bandstand dig, Sheffield, July 6th 2017

Firth Park bandstand dig, Sheffield, July 6th 2017

When I took my friends John and Lynn for a post-prandial walk in the park we came upon a deserted trench, surrounded by security fencing.

We were intrigued to see brickwork exposed, and I surmised that it would have some connection with the bandstand that I knew stood on the park from the Edwardian period until it was demolished in the 1970s.

Sure enough, when I saw activity a couple of days later and walked across to ask what was going on I discovered it was Dig it!, a project led by Dr Katherine Fennelly, Lecturer in Heritage at the University of Lincoln, and Colin Merrony from the Department of Archaeology at Sheffield, a happy combination of academic investigation and outreach to encourage local school and college students to take an interest in the fascination of archaeology and to think about taking the opportunity to study at university:  https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/news/digit_2017-1.714348.

Teenagers are likely to take notice when they see young people a few years older than they are – in this case Sheffield University students Ceiridwen Blakesley and David Inglis – enjoying themselves with hands-on work that also requires serious thinking.

By the end of the two-week dig the team had determined the dimensions of the octagonal bandstand from its remaining foundations, and had decided that the brick-lined compartment in the centre was a furniture store accessed by a trap-door in the wooden floor of the bandstand.

The exercise will be all the more valuable if, sometime in the next five years, some kid from a north Sheffield school decides they want to train their mind and expand their career by going to university, whatever they choose to study.

And I trust the Department of Archaeology will continue to Dig It! – after all, in archaeology as in show business, you’re only as good as your last dig.

The Victorian Society South Yorkshire Group has a meeting that includes a talk by Kathy Clark of Historic England on Bandstands on Thursday November 23rd 2017 at 7.30pm at the Friends Meeting House, St James’ Street, Sheffield, S1 2EW.  There is a charge of £5.00.

 

 

Niagara by bus

London Transport RM1102, operated by Double Deck Tours, Niagara Falls, Ontario (2001)

London Transport RM1102, operated by Double Deck Tours, Niagara Falls, Ontario (2001)

My explorations on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls were enlivened by the opportunity to travel by London Transport Routemaster bus:  http://www.doubledecktours.com.

The outside temperature in late July was pushing 100°F (37.8°C) and the nearest a Routemaster goes to air-conditioning is to open the top-deck quarter-drop windows and the rear emergency-exit window and hope for a through-draught.

There’s no better way to survey the passing scene than the top deck of a bus, and Niagara-based Double Deck Tours have a sizeable fleet of around twenty Routemasters:  http://www.old-bus-photos.co.uk/wp-content/themes/Old-Bus-Photos/galleries/double_deck_toures/double_deck_tours.php.

The red double-deck London bus qualifies for the over-used expression “icon”.  Alongside the San Francisco cable-car and the trams of Melbourne and Hong Kong, it’s instantly recognisable – and unlike rail-borne icons – easily exportable.

London still has heritage Routemasters running tourists across the West End, though they were removed from ordinary services in 2005.

It’s possible to ride on genuine London buses in many parts of the world:  my introduction to Christchurch, New Zealand, a few days before the 2011 earthquake, was on a Routemaster that took the steep and sharply curved Mount Pleasant Road without complaint:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=1228.

Apart from their nostalgia appeal, the Routemaster has the advantage of being an extremely robust, well-designed vehicle with extraordinary longevity, attributable to the maintenance programme which amounted to a full rebuild every five years at the London Transport works at Aldenham.

The Routemaster was an improvement on its predecessor, the RT.  It’s regrettable that when the traditional two-man-operated, open-platform Routemaster was superseded by off-the-shelf vehicles from commercial manufacturers, none of them have lasted so well.

Like the High Speed Train, the Routemaster stands as unbeatable British design that wasn’t directly followed up.

Nearly half of the 2,876 Routemasters built between 1954 and 1968 are still in existence, and there’s no difficulty in obtaining spares.  Indeed, Routemaster owners have an association to call on for assistance and rallies can attract over a hundred vehicles from far and wide:  http://routemaster.org.uk/pages/diamondjubilee.

Niagara Falls stories: “Red” Hill and the runaway scow

Niagara River scow

Niagara River scow

From the Canadian side of the Niagara River, some distance above the Horseshoe Falls, you can see what looks like a rusty iron skip sitting in the middle of the rapids.

It’s actually a scow, a river barge intended to be towed by a powered vessel.  This one was being towed by a tug, the Hassayampa, when it came adrift on the afternoon of August 6th 1918, carrying two deckhands, Gustave Loftberg (51) and Frank Harris (53), helplessly towards the falls until it ran aground on the shallow rocks, where it remains to this day.

Crowds gathered to observe their predicament, but rescuing them by boat was impossible because of the current and the danger of the falls downstream.

It took until nightfall to secure a rope to rescue the men.  Searchlights were installed and a breeches buoy attached but became entangled.  At 3.00am William “Red” Hill Snr, a local Canadian daredevil with a formidable record of lifesaving around the Falls, traversed the rope hand over hand but was unable to disentangle the buoy until daylight.

It took until 10.00am on August 7th to bring Loftberg and Harris, shocked, hungry and suffering from exposure, back to the Canadian bank:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nxeznO5D4s.

“Red” Hill was awarded the Carnegie Life Saving Medal for his rescue.

By the time of his death aged 54 in 1942, he was credited with saving 28 people, including Loftberg and Harris, in and around the Niagara River.

Niagara Falls stories: Schoellkopf Power Station

Schoellkopf Power Station ruins, Niagara Falls, New York State, USA

Schoellkopf Power Station ruins, Niagara Falls, New York State, USA

I once went to Niagara Falls, to see the waterfalls, as you do.  I stayed on the USA side, in what the cab-driver described as “the best b&b in town”:  http://www.travelassist.com/reg/ny33-71.html.

Over a couple of days I saw and photographed the Falls from all angles, including the Maid of the Mist and Cave of the Winds.

I spent an afternoon in Canada, because the Canadians have all the best views, while the Americans have all the best close-up vantage points.

One oddity intrigued me on the bus-ride along the Canadian side – a heap of rubble and vestiges of an industrial site on cliffs that form the opposite bank.

I was told that this was the site of the Schoellkopf Power Station, which collapsed in a spectacular manner in 1956.

This was the creation of Jacob F Schoellkopf (1819-1899), the first person to harness the power of Niagara Falls to generate electricity.

He was a remarkable entrepreneur, who built his fortune first in tanneries and later in flour-milling.

He bought the previously unsuccessful Niagara Falls Canal in 1877 and opened the first of a succession of hydro-electric power stations, No 1, in 1881.  No 2 followed in 1891, and after his death Nos 3A and 3B opened in 1904, and No 3C in 1921-4.

Schoellkopf looked for a more efficient way of illuminating the Falls at night than the ineffective calcium flares that had been used since 1860.  In 1881 he made a contract with Charles F Brush (1849-1929) of Euclid, Ohio, to harness sixteen carbon arc lights to his hydraulic power company’s generators.

The Schoellkopf generating stations worked efficiently, but there was a fatal weakness in the construction of No 2 station, which was built immediately in front of its predecessor.

Between the two structures water slowly penetrated until on the morning of June 7th 1956 leaks became evident and increased despite the efforts of forty labourers to pile sandbags against the retaining wall.

At 5.00pm a loud rumble was immediately followed by the collapse of Power Stations 2, 3B and 3C – two-thirds of the entire plant – into the Niagara River, taking out six huge generators and throwing debris as far as the Canadian bank, cutting 400,000 kilowatts of power from the grid.

Only one worker, Richard Draper of Lewiston, was killed.  His companions, Louis Bernstein and Robert Chapman, were picked up by a Canadian Maid of the Mist boat.  All the others escaped without injury.

The destroyed power-stations were replaced by what became the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, named after the controversial New York city planner Robert Moses (1888-1981), generating 2,525 megawatts.

The St Pancras clock

British Horological Institute Museum, Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire:  St Pancras Station clock hands

British Horological Institute Museum, Upton Hall, Nottinghamshire: St Pancras Station clock hands

The clock at St Pancras Station has long been a rendezvous for couples to meet, a tradition now symbolised by Paul Day’s magnificently kitsch thirty-foot-high sculpture The Meeting Place (2007).  (The frieze below the huge figures, added in 2008, is actually much more interesting.)

The clock itself is not original.

The original eighteen-foot-diameter dial was sold to an American collector in the 1970s for £250,000, but during the removal fell to the concourse and smashed to pieces.

Mr Roland Hoggard, a railwayman and clock enthusiast, paid £25 for the pieces, including the hands and clock mechanism, and took it all back to his home village of Thurgaton in Nottinghamshire.

There he reconstructed the dial on the side of his barn and powered the hands by the original motion.

When the station was refurbished as the permanent terminus for Eurostar, the clockmakers Dent & Co took moulds and samples and reproduced the dial and hands exactly, with new Swithland slate numerals and much 23-carat gold leaf.

In 2015 the artist Cornelia Parker devised a second, black dial to hang in front of the not-original clock-face.  The installation was entitled ‘One More Time’  [https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition/cornelia-parker-st-pancras-international].

When Mr Hoggard died in 2013 at the age of 96 he bequeathed the clock to the British Horological Institute museum, five miles away from Thurgaton at Upton Hall, where for the moment the hands sit incongruously on top of a doorcase.

The BHI museum conservators are restoring the clock mechanism.  Where they’ll find space to put the dial remains to be seen.

The BHI Museum at Upton Hall is open on a limited basis: http://bhi.co.uk/museum/museum-events