Monthly Archives: August 2020

Exploring Sydney – Parramatta

Anglican Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia
St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Parramatta, New South Wales, Australia

One of my resolutions on my 2017 visit to Sydney was to make the most of the network of ferries across the harbour, and I decided to take one of the two longest trips, to Parramatta.

I had no great hopes of Parramatta – a settlement founded in the same year as Sydney itself, 1788, in the hope of establishing a farm away from the unproductive soil of the coastal area.  I enjoyed the ferry, and on the strength of a free street-map of Parramatta I walked up river to find St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral which was a great surprise.

From the outside it looks an entirely conventional Gothic revival church of parochial size dated 1854, distinguished only by its tower and spire which is later, 1880.  The entrance is located at the east end, and within is a breathtakingly modern chapel with brilliant white walls, built within the original shell and the nave arcade.  The old cathedral was burnt down in 1996, and the shell now serves as a prelude for the new cathedral, designed by Romaldo Giurgola of MGT Architects, built at right angles to the liturgical north, an open-plan space with much modern sculpture and glass, and a Norman & Beard organ brought from St Saviour’s, Knightsbridge and rebuilt here in 2005.  Outside is a monument to Pope John Paul II, a sculptural group featuring the Pope with four young people by Linda Klarfeld.

I walked to the opposite end of Church Street, where stands the Anglican Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, built in 1852-5 in Romanesque style – unusual in Australia – and distinguished by earlier twin towers with spires of c1820 based on the ruined church of St Mary at Reculver in Kent, which was reputedly the last English church the Governor’s wife, Elizabeth Macquarie, saw as she set off for Australia.  Almost all the woodwork in this dark, warm building is in the Romanesque style, except the font, which is a gift from the Māori people of New Zealand, carved by the Māori craftsman Charles Tuaru in 1966-9.

I returned to Sydney by train from Parramatta station, on a suburban double-deck train which gives good views of the passing suburbs.  When the train drew into Lidburne station I remembered it was where on a previous visit I’d got off to explore Rookwood Cemetery, the destination of trains from the Mortuary Station next to Central.  And sure enough, as we drew out of the station I spotted a siding that turns away from the main line and points across the road to the gap in the graves where the trains used to run.

Darnall Works

Darnall Works, Sheffield

The biggest, most significant industrial archaeology site in Sheffield is hardly known to the public, though it contains two of the three Grade II* listed buildings in the Lower Don Valley, the city’s former industrial heartland.

A visitor with time to spare can track the development of Sheffield’s steel industry through its museums and monuments.  The early manufacture of blister steel can be understood at the Doncaster Street Cementation Furnace.  Benjamin Huntsman’s pivotal development of crucible steel – and the process of using it to manufacture edge tools – is displayed at the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel

The later growth of the heavy steel trades is shown at the Kelham Island Industrial Museum, and at the former Templeborough works of Steel, Peech & Tozer in the Borough of Rotherham the Magna Centre provides a convincing simulation of the operating of an electric-arc furnace in “The Big Melt”.

Very few people have ever seen Darnall Works on Worksop Road, near to the Sheffield Canal, dating back at least to 1793, when the Darnall Glass Works stood on the site.  The Sanderson Brothers, cutlery and steel manufacturers, took it over in 1835. 

They concentrated their operations on the Darnall site by building several new structures, now the oldest above-ground survivals on the site, in 1871-74, and continued to use it through much of the twentieth century. 

In 1934 Sandersons combined their operations with their neighbours Kayser Ellison & Company, which had used electric-arc furnaces from 1912, and the two companies merged in 1960 as Sanderson Kayser. 

A major modernisation took place in 1967, but towards the end of the century Sanderson Kayser concentrated their business at Newhall Road, and left Darnall Road vacant.

The remains of over two hundred years of activity on the site are a rich archaeological resource waiting to be discovered and preserved. 

These begin with the below-ground remains of the glass cone.  Above them are the foundations of the cementation furnaces that Sandersons used in the early nineteenth century and many of the crucible furnaces, including some powered by a Siemens gas furnace. 

The standing buildings from the 1870s onwards, many of them dilapidated, are capable of rescue.  

Though much has been demolished during successive alterations, the ground levels have generally not been lowered, so there is huge scope to interpret the complex history of the site and to display it.

In particular, the sheer extent of the remaining crucible workshops makes the Works a unique survival. 

There were well over a hundred crucible furnaces at Darnall Works in the 1870s, with the capacity to produce high-quality large castings by continuous teeming at the time when the industry was moving to Bessemer converters which produced coarser steel very rapidly. 

The existing buildings include an intact range of workshops, each with six melting holes, ranged up the slope of Wilfrid Road, and – most spectacular of all – a large casting floor containing forty-eight crucible holes with a central crane.  This space, last used during the Second World War, is a unique and precious survival.

Ruth Harman and John Minnis, in the Penguin Architectural Guide, Sheffield (2004), described Darnall Works as “one of the most important steelmaking sites in the country”.  There is no question that it’s a historic monument of national, if not international significance.  For the time being the most historic parts of the site are safeguarded, but finding a practical, economical way of investigating the archaeology and interpreting its story for public access remains problematic.

I envisage that within the next two decades, Darnall Works will become Sheffield’s premier museum of the steel industry, to which Magna and Kelham Island, Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet and Shepherd Wheel will be the jewels in the crown.

Ancient chapel

Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, Dingle, Liverpool

At the bottom of Park Road, Dingle, in south Liverpool, the main road makes a sudden, unexpected S-bend which can only represent a very ancient land-boundary. 

It’s no accident that the inside of the bend is occupied by an ancient burial ground.

And the chapel within has been known as the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth for almost two hundred years.

At the start of the seventeenth century, Dingle was an isolated settlement two miles away from the town of Liverpool, then still huddled around its neglected medieval castle.

The early history of British Nonconformity goes back to a time barely a generation after the turmoil of the Tudor Reformation, when people acted in ways that are now difficult to recognise, and one of the oddities of the religious conflicts of the time was that Sir Richard Molyneux, 1st Baronet (1560-1662), as a member of a Catholic family sympathetic to victims of religious persecution, allowed Puritan families to occupy land that he had purchased within the medieval Toxteth Park.

In 1611 a group of farmers built a school and Anglican chapel for Puritan worship there and enlisted a fifteen-year-old youth from Winwick, near Warrington, Richard Mather (1596-1669), as master.  He came to Toxteth soon after his sixteenth birthday, spent a few months studying at Brasenose College, Oxford, before starting work as preacher and teacher in November 1612 and taking holy orders a few months later.

The Archbishop of York’s inspectors suspended him early in 1634 because he had never worn a surplice in the past fifteen years.  Their report declared that “it had been better for him that he had begotten seven bastards”.

He emigrated to Boston, Massachusetts in 1635, became a noted preacher in New England, where four of his five sons graduated at Harvard University and took orders.  His son and grandson were respectively presidents of Harvard and Yale Universities.  Among his later descendants, eighty became clergymen.

The early congregation included the astronomer Jeremiah Horrocks (1618-1641), who is credited with demonstrating that the Moon moved in an elliptical orbit round the Earth, and was one of the first to observe the Transit of Venus in 1639, which enabled him to estimate the size of the planet Venus and the distance between the Earth and the Sun.  He has a memorial in the Chapel, though it’s uncertain whether he was buried there.

By 1662, after the Restoration of King Charles II, Toxteth Chapel was served by two Presbyterian ministers, Thomas Crompton and Michael Briscoe, who were formally licensed under the Royal Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, making the Chapel a Presbyterian place of worship.

Through the following century the Chapel was alternately enlarged and neglected, until it was partly rebuilt in 1774 by those of its congregation who chose to become Unitarian.

The colonnaded “Colybarium” contains monuments dating from 1795 onwards to the Holt, Rathbone, Melly and Holland families, and the porch was added in 1841.

The interior, with its pulpit and seventeenth- and eighteenth-century galleries, was archaic by that time, and was spared Victorian embellishment. 

It is listed Grade I because, according to the list description, “As a chapel which was Nonconformist before 1660, and preserves an excellent set of furnishings which were complete by a century later, this chapel is of the highest importance”.

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth is included in the rescheduled Unexpected Liverpool (June 7th-11th 2021) tourFor further details please click here.

Lodekka bus

Lincolnshire Road Car Co Bristol Lodekka 2378 (OVL 473)

It’s a sign of age when you see in a museum exhibits that you’ve used in real life.

At a South Yorkshire Transport Trust open day I came across a vision of the past in the form of the Lincolnshire Vintage Vehicle Society’s beautifully restored Bristol FS5G ‘Lodekka’ 2376 (OVL 473) of 1960 – exactly the kind of vehicle that I and my school contemporaries, fresh out of sixth-form and off to university, conducted at Skegness depot in the late 1960s.

The Bristol Lodekka was the effective solution to the long-standing problem of building double-deck bus bodies that could negotiate bridges tighter than 14 feet 6 inches.

Bristol Commercial Vehicles, the chassis manufacturer, in combination with Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft, body builders, designed a drop rear axle, which meant that there was no need for a step up into the lower deck and – more importantly – the overall height of the vehicle could be as low as 13 feet 5 or 6 inches.

The first prototype, a famously odd-looking vehicle, was launched in 1949, and by the end of the 1960s over five thousand Lodekkas had been built.

However, a legal anomaly in the arrangement of the part-nationalised British bus industry meant that this revolutionary design was unavailable to many UK operators.

Bristol Commercial Vehicles was a subsidiary of the Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company, which had built its own vehicles from 1908 and increasingly sold them to other operators.  By the late 1930s Bristol customarily worked in tandem with the body manufacturers Eastern Coach Works of Lowestoft, itself an offshoot of the United Automobile Company which had originated in East Anglia but concentrated on bus services in the north-east.

Bristol, with its manufacturing subsidiary, came into the ownership of the huge Thomas Tilling transport combine in 1931.  The Tilling Group was nationalised in 1948, as was Eastern Coach Works, and the two manufacturers were tied to provide vehicles for the third of the British bus industry that was in government ownership.

So during the 1950s Tilling Group companies standardised on the Lodekka, including the Lincolnshire Road Car Company which operated no: 2376.

By a quirk of policy, however, Bristol and ECW were expressly forbidden to sell their products to the rest of the industry,– that is, the other great combine, British Electric Traction, and the many municipalities and independents that ran their own bus services.

Eventually, these operators were able to buy low-floor buses built on licence from Dennis of Guildford.

By an enjoyable irony, the one operator who gained the most practical advantage from the drop-centre axle was Barton of Chilwell.  They ordered a one-off Dennis Loline II with a Northern Counties lowbridge body to prove to the Traffic Commissioners that they could squeeze a double-decker under the railway bridge at what is now Long Eaton station. They made their practical point but the Commissioners refused to license the route for a double-decker and this unique vehicle – the seldom-spotted 861 (861 HAL) – spent its days as a star turn on the X42 Nottingham-Derby express service.