Monthly Archives: July 2016

Undisturbed by Victorian hands: St James’ Church, Midhopestones

St James' Church, Midhopestones, South Yorkshire

St James’ Church, Midhopestones, South Yorkshire

The best-known example of an English church that was not modernised by Victorian restorers is St Mary’s Church, Whitby, but there are others if you know where to find them.

One such is St James’ Church, Midhopestones on the road between Sheffield and Penistone in South Yorkshire.

This tiny place of worship goes back to the Middle Ages, when the Lord of the Manor, Robert de Barby, whose residence was on the site of the present-day Midhope Hall Farm, converted his private chapel into a barn and replaced it with what became St James’ Church, c1368.

It served both as a private chapel and a chapel of ease to save local people trekking ten miles each way to the parish church at Ecclesfield.

Sometime in the seventeenth century an enormous Jacobean pulpit was installed for Puritan preaching, high enough for the priest to look out of the church window.

George Bosville, who became Lord of the Manor in 1690, undertook the only significant modernisation in 1705 when he rebuilt the east and west walls, built the porch and bell cupola and installed the box pews and west gallery that remain.

The Diocesan Architect, George Pace, installed a new roof in 1959, and further gentle alterations were made when St James’ became part of Penistone parish in 1978.  This involved lowering the pulpit and removing the front row of box pews, using the wood to make internal doors and a desk and chair for the minister.

Otherwise, St James’ remains very much as it has for three hundred years.

Haytor Granite Tramway

Haytor Granite Tramway, Dartmoor, Devon

Haytor Granite Tramway, Dartmoor, Devon

In the days before the steam locomotive made railways the obvious means of moving heavy loads at speed, guided transport was often based not on rails but on angle plates which controlled the direction of carts with plain wheels that could also run on roads.

The Haytor Granite Tramway is a highly unusual – indeed, almost unique – alternative that arose from the remoteness of Devon from the rest of England before the age of steam railways.

Dartmoor granite, hard-wearing but workable, was in great demand in the early nineteenth century:  Sir Robert Smirke favoured it for his extension to the British Museum (1823-31) and the General Post Office at St Martin’s-le-Grand (1825-9) and John Rennie used it for his London Bridge (1825-31).

George Templer (1781-1843) linked the Haytor quarries to the Stover Canal at Ventiford by means of a tramway quite unlike the plateways that prevailed in the north of England and the Midlands.  Whereas such plateways or gangroads guided smooth-wheeled wagons by means of cast iron flanged rails secured by stone blocks at regular intervals, the Haytor Granite Tramway dispensed with iron from outside the region and instead used the indigenous granite.

The track of the Tramway consists simply of granite blocks, shaped so that an upstand, 4ft 3in across, guided the iron-wheeled wagons along the route.  Where turnouts were needed, “point tongues” were provided, made of either iron or wood.  Apart from one short section at the exit of Holwell Quarry, the entire seven-mile length of the route from the quarries down to Ventiford was a downgrade, so that the teams of horses hauled the empty trains uphill, and followed the loaded wagons downhill presumably to provide braking.  A train of a dozen wagons was handled by a team of eighteen horses.

The total fall in altitude along the seven-mile main line was 1,300 feet.  There was an additional two or three miles of granite track serving half a dozen quarries around Haytor.

The tramway was out of use by 1858.  It was practically superseded by the broad-gauge Moretonhampstead & South Devon Railway when it opened in 1866, but substantial lengths of the granite track remain in situ and can be followed across the moor and down into the Teign valley

The 36-page, A4 handbook for the 2017 Railways of Devon tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Morwellham Quay

Morwellham Quay, Devon

Morwellham Quay, Devon

Devon and Cornwall lie far from the industrial heartlands of England, so in the period before the railways supplies of coal and iron were costly and difficult to transport to the mines, quarries and manufactories of the South West.  Yet the products of the region – tin, copper, silver, lead, manganese, arsenic, fluorspar, china clay, pottery, slate and granite – were periodically in high demand in the rest of Great Britain and overseas.

Morwellham Quay was the northern limit of navigation of the River Tamar, 23 miles inland from the sea, and linked with the stannary town of Tavistock by the 4½-mile Tavistock Canal and an inclined plane that drops 237 feet down to the river, powered by a 28-foot-diameter overshot waterwheel.

The canal was practically superseded in 1859 by the opening of the South Devon & Tavistock Railway, connecting Plymouth with Tavistock, and was eventually sold to the 9th Duke of Bedford for £3,200 in 1873.  It continued in use as a water-supply channel for local industry until 1930.  Three years later the West Devon Electric Supply Co Ltd took the canal over to generate hydro-electricity in a power station adjacent to Morwellham Quay which continues in operation in the ownership of South West Water.

Mining in and around the Tamar valley was subject to great fluctuations both in the availability of ore and the strength of the markets.  The area was boosted by the discovery in 1844 of a huge lode of copper ore, four miles away at a site that was named Wheal Maria.  The lode “was said to span the entire floor of the 10 foot by 10 foot shaft forming a carpet that glittered like gold”.

The Devon Great Consols company was founded in 1846 to develop the mines on the Devon bank of the Tamar Valley.  Such was the excitement that £1 shares traded at up to £800 each.  The landowners, Francis, 7th Duke of Bedford and his son William, 8th Duke, received a total of £182,036 9s 2d in dues, most but not all as an 8% royalty on the extracted ore.

In 1856 the mines yielded 28,836 tons of ore, and were only limited by the capability of the quay to send the materials away.

Latterly, as the stocks of copper declined in the 1870s, demand for arsenic increased, so that Devon Great Consols became the world’s largest supplier, using the arsenopyrite deposits up to six feet thick which had previously been left as valueless.  Arsenic was in demand for use as a pigment and an insecticide.

By the end of the century, however, trade declined and the mines closed in 1901 and were abandoned in 1903.

During the First World War some of the mines reopened for mining arsenic, tin and tungsten and arsenic production continued for a few years after 1918.  The Arsenic Chimney of 1922 at Wheal Fanny dates from this final phase of activity.

Morwellham Quay and the New Quay downstream were abandoned until the 1970s when Morwellham was developed as an educational and tourist attraction and New Quay’s derelict buildings were consolidated.

A battery-operated mine railway made possible public access to the George and Charlotte Mine, and allows the public to view the New Quay site without having to walk down the valley.

In 2010, when Devon County Council withdrew its funding support for Morwellham Quay, the site was taken over by Simon and Valerie Lister, the owners of Bicton Park Botanical Gardens near Budleigh Salterton:

The 36-page, A4 handbook for the 2017 Railways of Devon tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Royal Station Hotel

Former Royal Station Hotel, Hull, now the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel

Former Royal Station Hotel, Hull, now the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel

My Humber Heritage (September 5th-9th 2016) tour had to relocate from the Beverley Arms Hotel, which has ceased trading, to the Mercure Hull Royal Hotel, which had the advantage of being literally across the platform from the trains:

This splendid traditional station hotel was completed in 1849, designed by George Townsend Andrews (1804-1855), house architect for the York & North Midland Railway, as part of the second terminal station into the centre of Hull, replacing an earlier station adjacent to the Humber Dock which then became a goods depot:

Andrews was also responsible for the original York railway station (1841) and other surviving stations including Whitby, Pickering and Beverley.

The new station was named Hull Paragon because it stood on Paragon Street, which was itself apparently named after a long-vanished pub.  Hull people thought it grossly over-ambitious and called it “Hudson’s Folly”:  the “Railway King” George Hudson was indeed guilty of more than folly, but his station and hotel remain in use, and both have been repeatedly extended.

Andrews’ career as a railway architect seems to have been eclipsed when George Hudson was disgraced for his unscrupulous financial dealings, and the Hull hotel was his final major commission.  At the time it opened it was the largest station hotel in the country, and Andrews’ largest building.

It became the Royal Station Hotel after Queen Victoria’s visit in October 1854, for which a throne room was contrived at the south-east corner of the first floor, along with a bedroom, drawing room and boudoir, and a bedroom and drawing room for the royal children.  The royal household lodged on the second floor.

The following morning she greeted an assembly of Sunday School pupils from the balcony, and then processed through the Old Town to the Corporation Pier, which was renamed the Victoria Pier, and boarded a launch to inspect the docks.

Additional wings to the hotel were designed by the North Eastern Railway’s company architect, the York-born William Bell (1844-1919) and constructed in 1903-5.  Both the station and the hotel were damaged in air raids in both the First and Second World Wars.

The Hull poet Philip Larkin, whose statue by Martin Jennings is on the concourse, found it a gloomy place in 1966 [] though he was apparently a regular customer.

The interior of the present-day hotel is mostly a tasteful pastiche by the Fisher Hollingsworth Partnership, following a fire which gutted the building in 1990:  The hotel reopened in 1992 and has traded happily ever after.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2016 ‘Humber Heritage’ tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.