Author Archives: Mike Higginbottom

New use for Catesby Tunnel

Former Great Central Railway: Catesby Tunnel, Northamptonshire (1984)

One summer’s day in 1984 I was driving around Northamptonshire and decided to find out what remained in the area of the former Great Central Railway main line, which had been closed in 1966.

Twenty years later most of the formation remained, though the track and buildings had mostly been dismantled.

I wandered around Woodford Halse, a railway town near Daventry but in fact in the middle of nowhere, where the GCR made an elaborate junction with the earlier East & West Junction Railway that wandered across country between Stratford-on-Avon and Bedford.

Afterwards I found my way to the site of Charwelton Station and walked up the line to the south portal of Catesby Tunnel.

There I stared down the 1¾-mile dead-straight bore and, in the days of 35mm colour-slides – expensive photography – took a single shot at the light at the end of the tunnel that actually came out.

Much more recently I wrote a blog-article about Catesby Tunnel at a time when there was debate about whether the proposed High Speed Two should be routed in places over the old Great Central, which was itself a nineteenth-century attempt at an express route from Manchester to Paris.

There was talk of using the tunnel to carry one HS2 track and dig a parallel bore for the other.  The idea came to nothing.

But now someone has found an ingenious way of making money out of a Victorian tunnel that has been abandoned and unmaintained for over half a century but was so well-built that it has remained in good condition .

Aero Research Partners, a consortium which provides facilities for aerodynamic vehicle testing [https://www.totalsimulation.co.uk/computational-fluid-dynamics/catesby-tunnel], has leased the trackbed from Daventry District Council to build an indoor test track for motor vehicles:  https://www.daventrydc.gov.uk/your-council/news/tunnel-transformation-project-making-good-progress-05-10-20.

Catesby Tunnel is uniquely suited to this purpose.  Apart from being dead straight, it has a constant gradient of 1 in 172 and is bigger than any other British tunnel of its length because it was built to continental loading gauge to accommodate Channel Tunnel trains:  https://www.tunneltalk.com/UK-30Jan2020-progress-challenges-Catesby-Tunnel.php.

The project is expected to cost around £13 million and will command worldwide demand as a unique facility for the motor industry.  Not only will it respect the resident bat population, but at weekends it will welcome members of the public who wish to cycle its length, following in the tyre-tracks of the TV presenter Rob Bell:  https://www.my5.tv/walking-britain-s-lost-railways/season-3/episode-4.

It’s an admirable solution for making use of one of Dr Beeching’s white elephants.  There’s another such project in West Yorkshire that’s still the subject of argument.  It’s to be hoped that Queensbury Tunnel isn’t squandered like the string of tunnels north of central Nottingham that could have saved a great deal of 21st-century traffic congestion.  

There is a well-illustrated account of the Catesby Tunnel in its derelict state at http://www.forgottenrelics.co.uk/tunnels/gallery/catesby.html, and a knowledgeable survey of the conversion at https://www.railengineer.co.uk/video-catesby-tunnel.

Italian job

Lingotto Building, Turin, Italy: former test track

It’s not feasible to travel by train from Florence to London within a day.

When I took the Great Rail Journeys ‘Highlights of Tuscany’ tour [https://www.greatrail.com/tours/highlights-of-tuscany]  our return journey was broken at Turin.

As we drove through the Turin suburbs our guide Caroline mentioned that our hotel, the Nh Lingotto Congress [https://www.nh-hotels.com/hotel/nh-torino-lingotto-congress], was a conversion of a former Fiat car factory.  I’d vaguely heard about an Italian car factory turned into a hotel but I was unprepared for the luxurious splendour to which we were treated.

The building is a lengthy concrete-framed oblong with an elegant façade, built 1916-23 to the designs of Giacomo Matté-Trucco (1869-1934), originally the Fiat company’s in-house architect and engineer, but in private practice by the time he conceived the Lingotto factory.

When car production ceased in 1982 its renovation was entrusted to the Genoese architect Renzo Piano (b 1937), already well-known for collaborating with Richard Rodgers on the Centre Georges Pompidou (1971-77) in Paris and latterly famous for the Shard (2000-2012) at London Bridge.

Piano’s scheme embraces an exhibition centre (1992), an auditorium (1994), two hotels (1995) and a shopping centre.  The site includes a helipad and an art gallery stocked with pieces from the collection of Giovanni and Marella Agnelli:  Giovanni Agnelli (1921-2003) was customarily known as Gianni to distinguish him from his grandfather and namesake (1866-1945), the founder of the Fiat company.

The hotel lobby is cool and modern, and the space within the outer wings of the factory buildings is filled with a dense jungle visible through glazed walls.  The bedrooms are beautifully finished, reflecting the calibre of the designer, using the high ceilings of the original factory design, spacious and comfortable.

Although I felt hot and exhausted I couldn’t resist exploring, and by the time I’d showered and had some lunch other tour-guests were insisting I should go to the roof to see the “race-track”. 

The key to the complex is the shopping mall, 8 (Italian number ‘otto’, echoing ‘Lingotto’).  Among the shop units is the Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, where a haughty young lady behind a desk pointed towards a lift which took me up four storeys to another even more haughty female who pointed me towards a further lift which carried me to the fifth-floor art gallery and the roof.

The bijou art-gallery is a delight, containing a couple of Canova sculptures and a series of paintings by Canaletto, Bellotto, Renoir, Manet, Matisse and Picasso.  No British shopping centre can boast such a life-enhancing experience above the shops.

Only when I walked on to the sunlit roof did I realise that the so-called race-track was not visible from the roof, it was the roof – an intact and well-preserved test-track, designed to run cars at 90kph at a time when the normal top speed was 70kph, with alarmingly banked curves at each end.  It features in The Italian Job (1969).

Back at shop level I got lost, which was a benefit because I came upon the helical ramp which runs through the building to give cars access to the roof. 

When I read it all up in Wikipedia Italian (in English translation, naturally,) I discovered that the raw materials were brought in at ground level, presumably from the nearby rail line, and cars were assembled as they moved upwards through the building until they emerged complete and road-ready on the roof – the exact opposite of the process in the Studebaker Building in midtown Chicago.

There’s an excellent video-essay on the Lingotto factory at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ciscQuVD5vo.

Elegant and commodious sports bar

Former Carver Street Methodist Chapel, Sheffield – now Walkabout sports bar

Sheffield’s Carver Street Methodist Chapel, built on what was the edge of town in 1800, is now a buzzing Australian sports bar in the centre of Sheffield’s entertainment quarter.

Its founders and the successive generations of teetotal worshippers would be appalled, but Grade II listing protects the historic fabric, and the income from customers has guaranteed that the building is well maintained.

There were Methodists in Sheffield almost from the very start of John Wesley’s great crusade, and they built a succession of modest chapels from 1741 until the Carver Street building was opened in 1805 at a cost of about £4,720 to seat 1,500 people to the designs of the architect-minister Rev William Jenkin (1788-1844).

The plain but imposing building was described by the Sheffield poet and hymn-writer James Montgomery (1771-1854) as “one of the best planned, most elegant and commodious places of worship in the country”.

Services were often packed to capacity, and the congregation spilled over into the yard outside. 

Sheffield was a predominantly nonconformist town:  in 1841, when the population was 112,492, the nonconformists had 25,000 sittings, a third of them free, in comparison with the Anglicans’ 1,500.

The Methodists were strict and ascetic in their private lives and public worship.  The first Methodist Conference at Carver Street in 1805 passed a resolution prohibiting the use of musical instruments in worship “except a bass viol, which was permitted when the principal singer required it”.

The Carver Street congregation was strict but not rigid.  When the chapel was refurbished in 1839, with new pews and double-glazed windows, an organ was inaugurated by the organist of Doncaster Parish Church, Jeremiah Rogers, “who on that occasion performed some of Bach’s organ music for the first time in Sheffield”. 

The congregation flourished for 150 years.  Its prestigious members included the ironfounder Henry Longden (1754-1812), who is buried in a vault at Carver Street, the steelmaker Alderman George Senior (1838-1915) of Pond’s Forge, Lord Mayor in 1901, and Sir Samuel Osborn (1864-1952), Lord Mayor in 1912.

The premises were repeatedly extended, by a schoolroom in the yard (1834), vestries at the rear of the building (1883) and a new block of schools and classrooms, at a cost of £5,000 in 1897.

The church was reseated in 1902 and a new organ by the Hull manufacturers Forster & Andrews was installed.  It cost £1,200, the gift of Samuel Meggitt Johnson (1836-1925) of Endcliffe Court, sole proprietor of the George Bassett confectionery company. 

The congregation continued to thrive between the wars:  in 1934 the adult membership was 550 and the Sunday Schools had 900 on roll.

The Institute was wrecked in the December 1940 Blitz, and the church itself suffered damage, yet the community played a significant part in the war effort, and was still flourishing at the time of its sesquicentenary in 1955.

By the 1970s, however, there was a decline in numbers, and in 1990 the congregation combined with that of the demolished Wesley Methodist Church in Broomhill and occupied a new building on that site in 1998.

The Carver Street building was sold and converted into a pub, in which the paraphernalia of a modern bar sits incongruously in the intact surroundings of the Grade II-listed galleried chapel, with the pulpit occupied by the DJ’s desk, and the organ intact but mothballed behind.  The graves outside are protected by timber cladding.  The entire pub-conversion is reversible, so that in future the space can be restored to its original elegance and the building put to another use: https://www.walkaboutbars.co.uk/sheffield.

The People’s Priest

St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street, Sheffield

It’s difficult to visualise the hatred and vituperation that poisoned the nineteenth-century Church of England as clergy and their congregations attacked each other’s beliefs about worship.

High-Church Anglo-Catholics, who sought to move closer to Roman Catholicism, fought holy wars with strongly Protestant Low-Church Evangelicals over matters of ritual.

In Sheffield, the focus of Anglo-Catholicism was St Matthew’s Church, Carver Street, from the arrival of the third vicar, Rev George Campbell Ommanney (1850-1936), in 1882 until his death, both for his pastoral strengths as the “People’s Priest”, resident among parishioners in a congested slum area, and for promoting Anglo-Catholic worship in the town. 

Fr Ommanney came into immediate conflict with his predecessor’s churchwarden, Walter Wynn, and their disputes led to brawls in the vestry, court-cases and representations to the Archbishop, William Thompson, until eventually a commission of Sheffield clergy backed Ommanney’s right to minister as he thought fit.

St Matthew’s did not receive episcopal visits until the 1930s because of alleged illegal practices such as the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament.  Yet, the second Bishop of Sheffield, Leslie Stannard Hunter, appointed in 1939, described Fr Ommanney as “that great man of God”.

As well as upsetting the sensibilities of the predominant Evangelical Anglicans in Sheffield, and caring devotedly for the inhabitants of the surrounding streets, Father Ommanney found the means and the artists to embellish his church.

The chancel was extended by the Arts & Crafts architect and designer John Dando Sedding (1838-1891) in 1886:  the reredos, to Sedding’s design, was carved by the Sheffield sculptor Frank Tory (1848-1939), with a painting of the Adoration by Nathaniel Westlake (1833-1921). 

J D Sedding also designed the altar, crucifix, candlesticks and the processional cross which was made in 1889 by Henry Longden & Co and bears a figure of Christ by Edward Onslow Ford (1852-1901) and figures of the Virgin Mary and St John by Richard Arthur Ledward (1857-1890). 

The choir stalls were designed by Sedding’s partner Henry Wilson (1864-1934).  The font and the pulpit (both 1903) were designed by H I Potter and carved by Frank Tory with Art Nouveau copperwork by Henry Longden.

The east window was apparently designed by Fr Ommanney.  Westlake’s partnership, Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, designed the west window, installed in 1902.

St Matthew’s escaped the Blitz but was damaged by fire shortly after the completion of a restoration programme, in August 1956.  The diocesan architect, George Gaze Pace (1915-1975), undertook a further restoration and over a period of ten years the congregation raised a total sum of £15,000 to put the building in order. 

The revival of the parish was threatened by a 1970s road-widening scheme.  The City Council promised a replacement building on a fresh site, but the plan was shelved and the 1854 church remains, having been listed Grade II in 1973. 

The area was redeveloped as the Devonshire Quarter, a lively mixture of retail, pubs and restaurants and apartments. 

Although the parish entirely lost its residential community in the post-war period it has retained a congregation attracted by the continuing Anglo-Catholic character of its worship: http://www.stmatthewscarverstreet.co.uk.

St Matthew’s installed an outstanding organ by Martin Goetze and Dominic Gwynn in 1992 and the building underwent a further major restoration, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, in 2000. 

The adjacent Grade-II listed clergy house attracted a European Community grant in 2012 and has been redesigned as The Art House, opened in 2016, to provide work- and exhibition-space for local artists and community groups.

Volunteer effort

Rawtenstall Station, East Lancashire Railway: British Railways locomotive 33109

This article describes that East Lancashire Railway in the days before Covid 19. The railway is determinedly operating, whenever possible, in line with current coronavirus restrictions: http://www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk/events-activities.aspx.

Volunteers are the life-blood of heritage organisations, nowhere more so than on the labour-intensive steam railways.

I visited the East Lancashire Railway [http://www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk]on a freezing January day, an unforgiving time of year when tourists stay at home.

Nevertheless, the ELR was running their Blue Timetable, a full service using two trains, one hauled by steam, the other by diesel.  The ticket-office, shop, stations, cafés and the trains themselves were fully staffed and operational.

As we travelled above the snow-line to Rawtenstall, we passed a tracklaying crew, clad in hi-vis jackets, sorting out a siding in billowing snow.

The twelve-mile ELR route actually encompasses two former rail routes out of Bury – north via Ramsbottom to Rawtenstall, and east to Heywood where a link is planned to Castleton to join the Network Rail route from Manchester to Rochdale and beyond.

The railway also runs the over-stuffed Bury Transport Museum in the goods shed behind Bury Bolton Street station and offers a wide-ranging events programme from on-board dining to train-driving experiences, from days out with Thomas the Tank Engine to guided rail ale trails.

All this is made possible by a small army of volunteers – there must have been nearer a hundred than fifty on a quiet day – giving the most valuable thing they have, their time.  The satisfaction they gain from working a traditional railway and serving the public must be considerable:  they could just as easily stay at home and watch television.

Those of us who simply pay our fare, buy refreshments and maybe take home a souvenir are in a small way supporting their venture, and we shouldn’t take for granted the hidden value of the volunteers that turn out regardless to make the railway function.

Exploring Sydney: Newtown and the inner-city suburbs

Camperdown Cemetery, Sydney, Australia

A highlight of my week in Sydney in 2017 was an exercise in the Heineken effect – reaching the parts other tours can’t reach.  Patrick O’Neill, who I had met while working for Sydney ADFAS in 2011, offered to take me to places in Sydney I had not myself discovered.

He picked me up at 10.00am and drove me around central Sydney pointing out landmarks and drawing my particular attention to the Sydney Observatory [https://maas.museum/sydney-observatory] which, like the old observatory at Greenwich, was built for navigational purposes as much as astronomical exploration.  It was designed by Alexander Dawson and completed in 1858.  Its primary function was to operate a time-ball precisely at 1pm so that ships in line of sight could synchronise the chronometers they needed to navigate accurately.  A cannon fired simultaneously from Fort Denison, an island in mid-harbour, provided a time-signal to ships in coves further away.

Paddington, once rough and deprived and threatened with post-war clearance, is now gentrified.  On the way, along Oxford Street, Patrick pointed out that I should seek an opportunity to visit Victoria Barrackshttp://www.armymuseumnsw.com.au.

Part way along Oxford Street, next to the impressive Paddington Town Hall (1890-91) lies the remains of Paddington Reservoir (1866), one of Sydney’s numerous underground water-supply storage reservoirs:  https://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/explore/facilities/parks/major-parks/paddington-reservoir-gardens.   It ceased to function in 1899, and was adapted as a garage until part of the roof gave way in 1990.  It was then adapted as an intriguing public garden which opened in 2008.

Patrick drove down street after street of small terraced houses, with balconies and ironwork, once the homes of artisans, and later post-war immigrants, and now changing hands for remarkable amounts of money.  The area is awash with hotels, art galleries and high-end retail outlets.  The pavements of some streets are lined with fig trees, which look both attractive and curious, and must be a problem to high-sided vehicles because their branches spread diagonally from the trunk.

We cut through a sequence of inner-city suburbs – Surry Hills and Redfern, where the New South Wales Government Railways workshops were sited – to Newtown where Patrick and his artist wife Stella live, to drink very fine coffee in very fine cups under the veranda at the back of the house.  Over the garden wall is St Michael and all the Angels Cathedral, the seat of the Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Michael Archangel in Sydney, essentially an orthodox group in communion with Rome. 

Then we explored Newtown – Hollis Park, a sequence of residential streets with a synagogue, which Patrick thinks indicates the religion of the original developer, and the main shopping street and former tram-route, King Street, picking off the Trocadero Ballroom (1889) [http://sydneyarchitecture.com/INW/INW22.htm], a fine post office, a town hall and St Stephen’s Church (Edmund Blacket, 1874), which is surrounded by Camperdown Cemetery [https://www.neac.com.au/grounds-and-facilities/cemetery]. 

Much of the cemetery has been cleared, but I observed two curious nautical monuments which I later identified online – the anchor from Morts Dock commemorating the SS Collaroy which ran aground in 1881 and the detached pediment with a carved ship ploughing through the waves placed as a memorial to seamen, which came from either the old Maritime Services Building (c1850) or the former Harbour Trust Building, Circular Quay (c1902), depending which source you believe.

In the evening Patrick picked me up again and took me to dinner at home with Stella.  As we drove down a main street he pointed out fruit bats in the sky, like a horror movie, and later we heard their cries as we were having dinner.

Nothing makes visiting a place more memorable than knowing hospitable locals.

Rainbow’s End

Rainbow’s end

One of the images in the ‘Sunlight’ series of my greetings-card range is a photographic fluke.

It was taken through the window of a moving train sometime in 1977.  It exists as a 35mm colour slide, and has been gently buffed up by Photoshop.

The occasion was memorable.

In those days, most of my adult-education courses were based around transport history, and it was a good time to be teaching about trains.

Dr Beeching’s reshaping of Britain’s railways had been running for the past ten years, steam had gone, and a brave new world of high-speed intercity passenger services was on the horizon.

My classes in Derbyshire were often populated by retired railwaymen who could tell stories back to the 1930s, and sometimes by current rail employees who knew what was going on in the industry.

I had an invaluable contact in British Rail’s Sheffield office, a gentleman called George who was in charge of group travel and could pull all sorts of levers if I booked a dozen or more adult-ed students on a rail trip.

It was George who gave me access to the former Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras when it was most neglected – Grade I listed and nobody could think what to do with it.

When the spanking new High Speed Train (HST), later branded as Intercity 125, came on stream on the Great Western main line and the Cross Country route from the South West to the North East in 1977, George was able to provide us with tickets to travel on both lines on the same day, beginning on the Midland Main Line at Chesterfield (which was not then served by HSTs, though they came later).

We travelled south to St Pancras, hopped on the Underground to Paddington, sped down the Great Western to Bristol Temple Meads, and then returned all the way to Chesterfield.

It was somewhere on the last leg of the triangular journey, south of Birmingham, that I spotted the rainbow and lined it up with a passing cottage.

The HSTs were a new experience in travel, not only for their maximum speed of 125mph but for the air-conditioning and solid comfort of their Mark 3 carriages.  Many of them are still in service, despite the fact that until recently they still had slam doors and direct discharge of lavatories on to the track.

I’ve written elsewhere about the designer Sir Kenneth Grange’s influence on the shape of the production HST, and about the export of the design to Australia, where it’s known as the XPT.

The HST was supposed to be a hastily-contrived stand-in for the tilting Advanced Passenger Train, which was aborted by British Rail and its technology sold to Fiat Ferrovia, only to return to Britain as the Pendolino in 2010.

Meanwhile, the HST has given many years of yeoman service, and hasn’t yet outlived its usefulness.

The above image is available as a greetings card, price £2.95 for one or £11.95 for a pack of five, or as a notelet to order. For the entire range of Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times greetings cards, please click here.

Sam’s Space

Firth Park Methodist Church, Sheffield

I’ve remarked more than once that the northern suburbs of Sheffield are short of landmark buildings.

I deplored the demolition of St Hilda’s Parish Church, Shiregreen and the Ritz Cinema, Parson Cross, and I’ve written blog articles about the uncertain futures of St Cecilia’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, the Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top and the Timbertop pub, Shirecliffe.

I was delighted to read, in the Methodist Church periodical The Connexion (Summer 2020), that Firth Park Methodist Church has put its attractive and expensive building to good use to ensure its long-term survival.

The Grade-II listed building is an essay in Perpendicular Gothic style by the Sheffield architects Frank W Chapman (1869-1933) and John Mansell Jenkinson (1883-1965), built of red brick with ashlar dressings and a slate roof.  Its entrance front has a wide Perpendicular window, with twin turrets and a porch with twin entrance doors.  The sides of the nave are buttressed and its roof carries an octagonal flèche.  It cost £4,000.

The interior plan of the worship space was originally cruciform, with transepts and a chancel.

The foundation stone was laid on Saturday May 28th 1910, and the Sheffield Daily Telegraph of that date mentioned that the building would accommodate a congregation of three hundred and the ancillary facilities included a church parlour, minister’s vestry, choir vestry and kitchen.

The church opened on May 11th 1911.  It was affiliated to the United Methodist Church until the 1932 amalgamation which created the modern Methodist Church.

I’ve been told that in the early 1960s a property developer offered the congregation a deal whereby in exchange for the corner site on Stubbin Lane and Sicey Avenue, a brand-new chapel would be incorporated into a proposed supermarket.

The Methodists turned down this offer and instead the unlovely Paragon Cinema (1934), fifty yards up Sicey Avenue, was replaced by a supermarket and bowling alley.

Maintaining the building became increasingly difficult in the decades that followed, and a suspended ceiling was installed circa 1980 to make the place easier to heat.

As the Anglican congregation at St Hilda’s declined, there was talk of amalgamating in order to use one building instead of two, but when eventually St Hilda’s closed in 2007 the remaining members transferred to the Anglican parish church of St James & St Christopher, Shiregreen.

The Methodist congregation continued to flourish, however, and nowadays includes people of Caribbean heritage and from a number of African nations, especially Ghana, and former refugee families from Thailand.  The former vestry now serves as a café and is used for Café Church.

To support its thriving programme of activities – youth groups, English as a Second Language groups, an entertainment group – the congregation visualises creating two separate spaces in the nave, and in February 2020 opened ‘Sam’s Space’, containing a substantial indoor soft play structure.  In the five weeks before the pandemic lockdown forced it to close, an encouraging number of visitors crossed the threshold.

Sam’s Space isn’t only for kids.  Rev Mark Goodhand’s article in The Connexion comments,–

It’s a meeting place for young children, parents, grandparents and carers.  It’s a space that outside of soft play sessions will be used for wider conversations – fellowship groups, local councillors’ surgeries and school curriculum work.  As the project has unfolded new opportunities for service have emerged.  We hope to be involved with mental health work by using an open area attached to our building to provide raised beds for gardening.  It’s a place where new expressions of worship will begin to be shaped by the community.  This is exciting!

Every church is, of course, essentially the people who meet.  The building is only bricks and mortar.

But it’s satisfying that – thanks to the vision of the Firth Park Methodists – the humdrum shopping centre of Firth Park will retain its only distinguished building.

For your tomorrow we gave our today

Fountains Hall, North Yorkshire: memorial to Elizabeth and Charles Vyner

Fountains Hall is a quirky Jacobean house, built into a steep hillside, probably to a design by Robert Smythson, on the edge of the precinct of the medieval Fountains Abbey.  Indeed, its stones came from the Abbey, plundered by the builder, the unlikeable Stephen Proctor, in the first decade of the seventeenth century. 

Periods of neglect in its long history kept it intact and charming.  In the late 1920s it was renovated by Commander Clare and Lady Doris Vyner and during the Second World War the house was used to accommodate evacuees.

The Vyners’ daughter Elizabeth joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service and died of lethargic encephalitis, or sleeping sickness, aged eighteen, on June 3rd 1942.  Her death reminds us that not all the victims of war die by enemy action, but for their loved ones the loss is as great and the grief no less hard to bear.

Elizabeth Vyner’s younger brother, Charles De Grey Vyner, served as a pilot in the Royal Naval Reserve, and was reported missing in action when his plane crashed into the sea off Rangoon on May 2nd 1945.  He was nineteen.

Word reached his family on May 12th.  After the euphoria of VE Day on the 8th there could hardly have been a more cruel blow.

After the War Elizabeth and Charles’ parents erected a memorial, poignantly placed above the main door of the Hall, a stained-glass window flanked by carved figures of brother and sister in uniform.  It was designed by John Seely and Paul Paget and was unveiled on April 9th 1953 by Elizabeth’s godmother, after whom she was named, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.

The memorial is visible only to visitors leaving the house, unless on entering they reach the top of the stairs and turn. 

Its inscription reads, “When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today.  From this their home, they went forth to war.”

Start of the Pennine Way

Edale, Derbyshire

Even though it’s popular with visitors, the Derbyshire village of Edale, tucked high in the valley of the River Noe, feels a long way out of the way.

It is referred to as “Aidale” in Domesday Book and under the Norman kings it became part of the Royal Forest of the Peak.  From the reign of King John the Noe Valley comprised five Royal Farms, or “booths”, based on settlements at Upper Booth, Barber Booth, Ollerbrook Booth, Nether Booth and Grindsbrook Booth.

After royal control gave place in Tudor times to individual tenements, Grindsbrook Booth became the location of an inn dating back to the seventeenth century and the site of the parish church of Holy Trinity. 

The first parish church here dated from 1633, but the present, third building was built in 1885-6, with a spire added four years later. 

Cattle farming gave place to sheep, and in the late eighteenth century the valley was enclosed with the gritstone dry stone walls that are characteristic of the Dark Peak.

The village itself is 820 feet above sea level, and the hills round about rise to over 2,000 feet.

Nevertheless, though transport in any direction was arduous, a cotton mill was built on the site of a corn mill and tannery half a mile from the village in 1795. 

Workers lived in a dormitory, on a site still known as Skinners Hall [https://www.cottageguide.co.uk/taylorscroft], and women workers came from Castleton, commuting on foot along the old coffin-trail over Hollins Cross. 

The mill operated until 1934, and the Landmark Trust restored and converted it to apartments in the 1970s.

The railway eventually made the place accessible in 1894, and houses for prosperous Victorian incomers stand among older vernacular cottages.

The Nag’s Head pub, a former barn, is the formal southern beginning of the Pennine Way.

There was a possibility, shortly after the Second World War, that all this would be swept away, when in 1949 the Derwent Valley Water Board proposed to flood the Noe Valley to make a reservoir the same size of Ladybower (completed in 1945) with a dam 127 feet high and 1,750 feet long.  The scheme would have involved burying the Dore-Chinley railway in a lengthy tunnel.

As an alternative suggestion, in the early 1950s the Board considered building a dam west of Castleton flooding the valley of the Odin Sitch below Mam Tor.

They then considered a series of schemes to raise the waters of the Upper Derwent Valley by a great dam which would submerge the existing dam at Derwent and leave only the towers of Howden Dam visible above the waters.

These schemes are described and illustrated in Brian Robertson’s book, Walls Across the Valley:  the building of Howden and Derwent Dams (Scarthin Books 1993), pp 194-205.

Instead, in the 1980s, the Board’s successor, Severn-Trent, began Carsington Reservoir, which after some tribulations opened in 1992.

The Derwent High Dam proposal remains on the table.  No-one nowadays seriously suggests flooding Edale.

The above image is available as a greetings card, price £2.95 for one or £11.95 for a pack of five, or as a notelet to order. For the entire range of Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times greetings cards, please click here.