Bennerley benefactors

Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire (2022)

On January 14th 2022, fifty-four years after the last train crossed Bennerley Viaduct, the “Iron Giant” reopened, providing public access to magnificent views across the Erewash Valley on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border.

This remarkable structure, built to cope with the likelihood of subsidence in a heavily mined coalfield has survived because of three lucky circumstances.

Its wrought-iron construction made demolition inordinately expensive;  the demise of most similar viaducts ensured its listing at Grade II* and, most important of all, its location near to the Derbyshire town of Ilkeston meant that local people held it in their hearts.

The novelist D H Lawrence (1885-1930), born in nearby Eastwood, mentions it repeatedly in Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow.  For local youths, clambering in the girders as the trains rumbled overhead was an adolescent rite of passage.  Its distinctive shape told local travellers they were nearly home.

After the railway closed the viaduct survived a succession of vicissitudes until Sustrans, the charity which oversees the National Cycle Network, devised a scheme to fund its renovation.

When Sustrans backed away from the project in 2018, the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct worked with Railway Paths Ltd, the owner of the viaduct, to find the means to make it accessible as a community asset. 

I visited the viaduct within a week of its opening with my mate Richard, who often rides shotgun on my history explorations.

We took a train to Ilkeston Station, from where it’s an easy walk up the Erewash Canal towpath to cross the viaduct by a newly-constructed ramp at the west end and steps at the east, returning by the Nottingham Canal towpath to the station.

There must have been at least fifty people on the deck on a cold January midday, enjoying the new experience and full of curiosity.

The Friends of Bennerley Viaduct have brought long-term benefits to local people, dog-walkers, joggers and cyclists, bird-watchers and nature lovers, as well as rail enthusiasts and industrial archaeologists.

The restoration cost of £1.7 million was met in part by railway heritage organisations (the Railway Heritage Trust, Railway Paths and Railway Ramblers), national heritage organisations (Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund) and the local authority, Broxtowe Borough Council.

Richard was intrigued by the sheer variety of other charities that had contributed to the restoration, and back home he researched the less obvious ones:

© Richard Miles

  • the Charles Hayward Foundation, set up in 1961 by Sir Charles Hayward (1892-1983), a Midlands-based businessman whose engineering company Electrical & General Industrial Trusts Ltd eventually became part of the Firth Cleveland group
  • the World Monuments Fund, a New York-based non-profit organisation founded in 1965 to preserve architectural and cultural heritage sites around the world
  • the Headley Trust, a division of the Sainsbury Family Trust, which makes awards to projects both in the UK and overseas supporting causes from arts and heritage to education, health and social welfare and overseas development
  • the Pilgrim Trust, established in the UK in 1930 by an American philanthropist Edward (‘Ned’) Harkness (1874-1940), son of one of the founders of Standard Oil, and dedicated to the UK’s “most urgent needs” and for “protecting its future well-being”
  • the H B Allen Charitable Trust, founded in 1987 by Miss Heather Barbara ‘Mickie’ Allen (d 2005), a descendant of James Burrough, the founder of Beefeater Gin
  • the Sylvia Waddilove Foundation UK, a trust bequeathed by the Bradford-born textile heiress Miss Sylvia Waddilove (1911-2001) which provides grants for a variety of causes, including the preservation of buildings of architectural or historical significance

I admire the Friends of Bennerley Viaduct for three particular reasons:  they are clearly rooted in an energetic local community;  they manage mainstream and social media extremely well, and – as Richard discovered – they are adept at finding financial support from eclectic sources.

The result is, as the Friends’ spokesman Kieron Lee told the BBC, that there are Bennerley Viaduct supporters as far away as Australia, Canada and Hawaii:  Bennerley Viaduct reopens to public after £1.7m repairs – BBC News.

No-one much under seventy can now remember travelling in a train over Bennerley Viaduct, but there is footage of a journey from Derby Friargate to Nottingham Victoria shortly before the passenger service ended on September 7th 1964:  A short film of the Friargate Line – YouTube.

Additional research by Richard Miles

Soane’s hidden house uncovered

Moggerhanger Park, Bedfordshire

Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was one of the greatest English architects who ever lived, but he’s relatively little known because many of his major buildings have been destroyed or mutilated.

His father and brother were bricklayers, and John used their connections to train with the architect George Dance the Younger (1741-1825) and later with Henry Holland (1745-1806). 

From the start of his career he was fortunate to know the right people and to travel to the right places.

On a Royal Academy travelling scholarship he undertook a comprehensive Grand Tour from London to Malta, centred on Rome, seeing and drawing a huge range of classical buildings between 1778 and 1780.  During his travels he encountered numerous people of influence who would eventually help to advance his career.

After a slow start on his return to England, his reputation grew on the strength of country-house commissions, leading to official posts such as Architect and Surveyor to the Bank of England, architect to the Office of Works, professor of architecture at the Royal Academy and clerk of works to the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, St James’s Palace and the Palace of Westminster.

As a member of the United Grand Lodge of England he extended the Freemasons’ Hall in London (1821-31) – and, no doubt, his client-base.

The most distinguished of his surviving public buildings is the Dulwich Picture Gallery (1817), and his abiding legacy is the row of three terraced houses, 12-14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, filled with his collections of drawings and sculpture and now known as Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described the destruction of much of Soane’s Bank of England structures after the First World War as “the greatest architectural crime, in the City of London, of the twentieth century”.

Only three of his country houses had remained intact – Pitzhanger Manor, Middlesex, Tyringham Hall, Buckinghamshire and the decayed but restorable Pell Wall Hall in Shropshire – but one, Moggerhanger Park, Bedfordshire, underwent an astonishing rediscovery at the turn of the twentieth century. 

It was commissioned by Godfrey Thornton, deputy governor and latterly governor of the Bank of England in the 1790s, and further altered for his son Stephen in 1806 and 1811.  His close friendship with Stephen Thornton and his brother and cousin meant that Soane used Moggerhanger Park as a test-bed for architectural innovations.

The house was sold to Bedfordshire County Council in 1919 for use as a TB hospital, which inevitably required extensive alterations and extensions.  In the late 1950s it became an orthopaedic hospital which closed in 1987.

It was bought by a developer who intended to build houses in the gardens, but it remained untouched for ten years until it was acquired by the Harvest Vision charity as a Christian Conference and Retreat Centre.

Harvest Vision worked with the Moggerhanger House Preservation Trust, which was led by a neighbour, Isabelle Hay, Countess of Erroll, to restore the building – a process of fascinating rediscovery that stretched over several years and repeatedly expanded the original budget – aided by designation as a Grade I listed building and support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

The cheap hospital extensions were stripped away, and a forensic archaeological examination of the original fabric, aided by the rich archive of the Soane Museum, showed that Moggerhanger could be substantially returned to its 1812 condition, revealing the architect’s command of proportion and spatial planning, the ingenious use of light and colour, and the inventive use and reuse of earlier structures.

Described by the architect Peter Inskip, who was involved in its restoration, as “a great work of art which has been ignored for a hundred years”, Moggerhanger Park could not have a better modern use. 

Alongside their mission work, Harvest Vision open the house to the public, provide accommodation for individuals and groups and offer outstanding wedding facilities, in which Mrs Thornton’s Dressing Room has become a chapel:  Moggerhanger Park.

It’s loved, it’s lived in, and it’s secured for posterity.  Sir John Soane would approve.

Moggerhanger Park features in Mike Higginbottom’s lecture ‘English Country Houses – not quite what they seem’. For further details, please click here.

Tramtown

Blackpool Tramway, Rigby Road Depot

The Blackpool Tramway is a monument to the entire history of railed street transport in Britain.

Blackpool had the very first electric street tramway in Britain, opened in 1885, and it now runs a modern light rapid-transit (LRT) service, alongside a varied collection of heritage trams for tourists and enthusiasts.

Until after the First World War three tram operators between Fleetwood and Lytham St Annes each ran two fleets – entirely conventional trams for local traffic alongside a range of designs to cater for crowds of holidaymakers who wanted to ride around enjoying themselves, preferably in the open air when the weather was favourable.

In the 1930s when a new transport manager, Walter Luff, was appointed he quickly realised that it would be impossible to handle the Promenade crowds with buses, particularly in the autumn Illuminations period.

He commissioned a suite of four ultra-modern tram designs primarily to work the Promenade service – luxurious, streamlined single- and double-deckers, some of them open to the fresh air for summer services.

After the Second World War, while every other tram operator in the country went over to electric trolleybuses or diesel motor buses Blackpool still needed the segregated Promenade tracks, stretching from Starr Gate in the south to the outskirts of Fleetwood in the north, to shift the crowds up and down the Promenade efficiently with the best possible view of the Illuminations.

New trams were far more expensive than new buses, however, so the 1930s fleet soldiered on, patched, repaired and many of them rebuilt in new guises. 

The only completely new trams to be added to the fleet after the 1950s were eight Centenary cars, built around the time of the tramway’s hundredth anniversary in 1985, when Government subsidies became available for new trams as well as buses.

Eventually the game was up, and the Victorian tramway was upgraded to modern LRT standards, with a fleet of sixteen sleek articulated trams which took over the basic service in 2012.

Nowadays, the Blackpool Tramway has three fleets:  the LRT cars are the “A” fleet, nine modified 1934-35 double-deck Balloon cars are the “B” fleet with widened doorways so they can stop at the raised LRT platforms, and the “C” fleet is a huge and varied collection of rolling stock dating back to, and before, the 1930s modernisation. Some of these trams are operational; others await repair or restoration.

The “C” fleet’s traditional home, Rigby Road depot, had an uncertain future in the period when the LRT fleet was planned and installed.  The new fleet eventually went to a purpose-built depot at Starr Gate, and Rigby Road was designated the base for the heritage fleet, despite a long-standing backlog of building maintenance.

It’s now intended to double as a working tram depot and a museum, branded as Tramtown.  The building needs attention to make it weatherproof, and some at least of the relics on wheels that have fetched up there need to move elsewhere to increase display space.

At present Rigby Road is a uniquely fascinating treasure-house of transport history, open to the public on bookable tours led by enthusiastic volunteers.

If you enjoy rail transport, it’s not to be missed.   

Exploring Canberra: one cathedral short…

St Christopher’s RC Cathedral, Manuka, Canberra, Australia
St Paul’s Church, Manuka, Canberra, Australia

I knew from a tablet at St John’s Church, Reid that there is no Anglican Cathedral at Rottenbury Hill in Canberra, though its site has been held since 1927 [View from the platform constructed for the dedication ceremony for the site of St. Marks Anglican Cathedral on Rottenbury Hill, Canberra, 8th May 1927 [picture] (nla.gov.au)], and I discovered that Canberra has a Catholic cathedral in a suburb called Manuka (named after the flower, Leptospermum scoparium). 

On the way to the Catholic cathedral through the Canberra suburbs, misdirected by a bus driver, I came across the Anglican Church, St Paul’s, an immaculate brick essay in Art Deco with Gothic hints by the Sydney architects Burcham Clamp & Son, begun in 1939 and most recently extended in 2001.  The Anglican diocese remains based in Goulburn, where there is a particularly fine cathedral of St Saviour (1884) by Edmund Blacket, one of his best works.  As a result, St Paul’s, though only a parish church, often hosts civic and government services.  St Paul’s has Canberra’s only ring of eight bells for change ringing and its largest pipe organ.

St Christopher’s Catholic Cathedral is a few hundred yards away, a Romanesque design by Clement Glancy Snr, begun in 1939 and extended by his son, also Clement Glancy, in 1973 when the previous Catholic cathedral in Goulburn was demoted.  St Christopher’s is the largest place of worship in Canberra, so it vies with St Paul’s Church to receive major services and events.  This building is not the intended design and doesn’t stand on the intended site of the planned Catholic Cathedral for Canberra:  GC447YC Canberra Cathedrals (Multi-cache) in Australian Capital Territory, Australia created by Pacmania (geocaching.com).

Meanwhile Rottenbury Hill, the site designated in 1927 for an Anglican cathedral in the national capital, has never been used for its intended purpose.  Instead, there are plans, apparently, for a Southern Cross Sanctuary:  Southern Cross Sanctuary | civicarts.

The story is one of masterly clerical inactivity:  http://anglicanhistory.org/aus/campbell_canberra2002.pdf.  Successive synods of the Church of England in Australia (since 1962 the Anglican Church of Australia) have repeatedly kicked into touch discussion of how a bishopric for the capital would fit into the Australian hierarchy, as well as the practical question of how an actual cathedral would be financed and built.

At the outset it fell to the then Bishop of Goulburn, Lewis Bostock Radford (1869-1937), to raise questions about this project in Synod because the New Capital Territory lay within his vast diocese.

He spent much of his career as bishop urging his fellow clergy to decide what to do while distancing himself from taking responsibility for a nebulous and unwieldy scheme that was beyond his capacity as an individual.

He retired at the end of 1933 and died in England four years later.

His ashes lie in St John’s Church, Reid, waiting to be interred in the new national cathedral if and when it is built.

Exploring Canberra: St John’s Church, Reid

St John the Baptist Church, Reid, Canberra, Australia

Having visited the one building in Canberra I’d specifically come to see, All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, I looked for the obvious tourist sites like the National Gallery and the National Museum of Australia and the obscure, unlikely places that often prove to be more interesting.

I enjoyed, for instance, the National Museum of Australia, not least for the excellent salmon sandwich and pot of tea overlooking the West Basin of Canberra’s enormous artificial lake.  Like the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, entry is free and the standard of presentation is top-quality.  It supplemented my learning in a number of ways, not least because it displays an example of the gold-diggers’ wooden cradle which I’d read about and couldn’t visualise.

I’d decided to pursue my trail of buildings by the architect Edmund Blacket (1817-1883), who had built, amid much else, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney the Necropolis Receiving Station and the Cemetery Station no 1 that became All Saints’, Ainslie, and some of the minor churches I’d spotted in Sydney and around Maitland and Morpeth, New South Wales.

I spotted that Edmund Blacket built the 1864 tower to the older Church of St John the Baptist, Reid, consecrated in 1845, sixty-odd years before Canberra was even thought of. 

There’s a photograph of it c1864 with an earlier tower, surrounded entirely by flat fields.  It’s the oldest building in the area, with a narrow nave and chancel because the original cell was small and has been three times lengthened.  It has the warm, modest atmosphere of an English parish church.  Edmund Blacket’s tower and spire of 1864 sits neatly at the end of the 1841-45 nave, and the chancel is 1872-73. 

The walls are worth reading.  One panel alerted me to the existence of an abortive St Mark’s Anglican Cathedral project, for which the federal government provided a site at Rottenbury Hill in 1927, though nothing has yet been built. 

There is also a monument to the first minister of St John’s, Rev G E Gregory, who was drowned on August 20th 1851 “while attempting to swim across the Queyanbean [River] on his return from ministering to the scattered colonists on the banks of the Murrumbidgee”. 

Outside in the churchyard, the so-called ‘Prophetic Tombstone’ to Sarah and George Webb has as its inscription Hebrews 15:14 – “For here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come”.

The Wright stuff

St Pancras Station, London

An embarrassingly long time ago, one of my school contemporaries gave me a book that had belonged to his late father – Roy Christian’s Butterley Brick:  200 years in the making (Henry Melland 1990).  The title misled me.  It sat for far too long on my pile of unread books because I’m not particularly interested in brickworks.

Roy Christian was one of the most lucid and knowledgeable Derbyshire local historians of his generation, and he named his book after only one of the three divisions into which the old Butterley Company had been divided in 1968 – Butterley Brick, Butterley Engineering and Butterley Aggregates.

Brickmaking only emerges in Roy Christian’s book at chapter ten, and much of his text is a masterly account of a now-vanished major industrial complex, based on a 1950 company history aptly entitled Through Five Generations and subsequent researches by Jean Lindsay and Philip Riden.

Bricks had been made around Butterley since William Jessop (1745-1814) and Benjamin Outram (1764-1805) engineered the Butterley Tunnel on the Cromford Canal in the early 1790s, and the two canal engineers founded Benjamin Outram & Co, in conjunction with a lawyer, Francis Beresford (1737-1801), and a banker, John Wright (1758-1840), to mine coal and iron and to manufacture iron goods.

The company was renamed the Butterley Company sometime earlier than 1809.

Of the descendants of these four founders, William Jessop’s son, also called William (1784-1852), led the company for forty-six years, and then its long-term success was directed by five generations of the Wright family, who owned 100% of the company’s shares from 1888 and remained in control until 1966. 

They established an ironworks literally above the canal tunnel at Butterley and a forge further along the canal at Codnor Park, and purchased limestone quarries at Crich and elsewhere, so that they were fully in command of the necessary raw materials and the means of transporting them cheaply.

The district was not populous so the company built housing at locations along the canal – Ironville, Golden Valley and Hammersmith.

The most prominent memento of the company’s engineering prowess is the magnificent trainshed at St Pancras Station (1867), which bears the name “Butterley Company, Derbyshire” repeatedly cast into the ironwork.

But their handiwork is evident in so many other places, from the elegant Hospital Lane Bridge, Boston, Lincolnshire (1811), the surviving winding-engine on the Cromford & High Peak Railway at Middleton Top (1829) in Derbyshire and London’s Vauxhall Bridge (1906) to the Falkirk Wheel (2000) and the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmorth (2005).

In contrast, Roy Christian explains the Butterley habit of espousing unlikely, ill-starred inventions, ranging from William Brunton’s Steam Horse (1813) [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jffVbuUhblc] to the Simm-Wulpa vertical car park (1962) [https://www.rdht.org.uk/all-things-local-august-2017].

There was a time in the early 1970s when Butterley could have become a tourist asset comparable with the Beamish Open Air Museum in co Durham and Blists Hill at Ironbridge, Shropshire. 

Derby Corporation acquired the Britain Pit site, midway between Butterley and Golden Valley, to establish an open-air museum around the railway line from Pye Bridge to Butterley:  https://www.midlandrailway-butterley.co.uk/history-of-the-midland-railway-butterley.  Though the local authority stepped back quickly, the rail museum developed into the ambitious Midland Railway Butterley, but much of the industrial archaeology associated with Butterley Ironworks and Codnor Park Forge has been lost.

The Butterley Company was sold to the Hanson Group in 1968 and split up.  The engineering works closed in 2009 and the ironworks site was sold in 2015.

To ensure that the memory of this once mighty enterprise isn’t completely lost, the Butterley Ironworks Trust has been formed, led by former company employees, with ambitious plans to make the most of what’s left:  https://www.rdht.org.uk/butterley-ironworks-the-future.

Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel

Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, Sheffield (1977)

In 1977 I made a point of photographing the demolition of the magnificent All Saints’ Church, Ellesmere Road, Sheffield and, incidentally, took one image of the nearby Petre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel (1869).

I knew nothing of its history;  I simply thought it looked attractive, surrounded by boarded-up terraced houses that were clearly going to disappear.

Petre Street was the largest Primitive Methodist chapel in Sheffield:  its main hall seated 1,250 and its site on a steep slope provided room for a schoolroom, institute and classrooms in addition.

It had a troubled inception.

Sited on what was then the outskirts of Sheffield, it stood on a bleak hilltop overlooking the burgeoning steelworks in the Lower Don Valley below.

During construction a storm blew away the roof in November 1867, and the contractor repaired the several hundred pounds’ worth of damage.  This was completed on Friday February 7th 1868, when the beginning of another storm obliged the workmen lash themselves to the scaffolding to avoid being blown off.

This second storm over two days and nights caused considerable damage over a wide area, including two fatalities in the centre of Sheffield.

Overnight part of the gable end of the partly-constructed chapel fell away, and at three o’clock the following afternoon the side wall collapsed, bringing with it the roof and its timbers, filling the interior with debris and weakening the remaining side wall so that it too collapsed. 

This time the repair bill, estimated at £1,200, was the direct responsibility of the trustees, who immediately set about fundraising. 

The church was opened at an eventual cost of £5,000, with a remaining debt of £2,400, on Friday March 27th 1869.

As a community, the Petre Street Methodists lost no time.  Newspaper reports in 1869 show a relentless programme of events in addition to services – Band of Hope meetings, a sale of work, a bazaar, the oratorio Babylon and, immediately after Christmas, a tea for a thousand in two sittings, for which eight hundred tickets were sold.

The trustees’ courage and determination in surviving not one but two storms at the outset is remarkable.

At the start of the twentieth century this congregation was described by the Primitive Methodist Magazine as leading one of the most “aggressive and prosperous” Primitive Methodist circuits in Sheffield.

For a century, the two congregations, Anglicans at All Saints’ and Primitive Methodists at Petre Street, came and went each Sunday within sight of each other.

As the houses were cleared in the mid-1970s both congregations diminished.  All Saints’ had gone by the middle of 1977, and the Petre Street chapel was closed and quickly demolished in 1980, when the two churches moved together into a new building, St Peter’s,designed by the G D Frankish Partnership.

It’s an attractive building, though it lacks the impact of All Saints’ or the quieter dignity of the Petre Street chapel.

St Peter’s Church, Ellesmere, Sheffield

Beneath the City Streets

BT Tower, Fitzrovia, London

I’ve always been interested in the rumours, urban legends and hard evidence for secret government installations underground, both in urban settings and in remote country areas, quietly inserted before, during and particularly after the Second World War, ever since I first read Peter Laurie’s book, Beneath the City Streets (Allen Lane 1970), shortly after it was published.

Peter Laurie (b 1937), a freelance journalist, had written an article for the Sunday Times in 1967 about how wartime civil defence had been transformed, with hardly any public attention, ostensibly in response to the peculiar threats of nuclear warfare.

He became sufficiently intrigued to develop his research as a hobby, which he published as a book which ran to two editions.

He concluded that “civil defence in its higher manifestations deals with the brute realities of government…it encases the central essence of political power”.

All this he accomplished on paper, using information that was in the public domain, stringing together data sometimes from unlikely sources, such as the GPO trunk dialling codes and the London Underground map, and throwing up facts that fascinated me at the time.

He pointed out quirks in the alignments of the horn aerials of the GPO microwave system that, while providing the nation with colour television signals, bent back and forth to serve as an impenetrable communication system between sites that would protect government and military operations in the event of warfare or civil unrest. 

He showed that the locations of the GPO towers at Bagshot and Stokenchurch were aligned with RAF Medmenham, a secret installation at Warren Row (identified by the Spies for Peace [Spies for Peace – Wikipedia] in 1963) and the RAF Staff College Bracknell.  Each site had sufficient altitude to tap into the microwave signal overhead making them independent of more vulnerable underground cables.

He drew attention to the existence of Second World War facilities in the underground quarries adjacent to Box Tunnel on the Great Western main line, providing easy transportation for an emergency evacuation from central London and from Windsor to National Seat of Government under the village of Box [Closely-guarded secret | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times].

Much of this infrastructure subsequently became outmoded, and some of it is now common knowledge.  Churchill’s Cabinet War Rooms, for instance, is a celebrated attraction:  Visit Churchill War Rooms – Plan Your Visit | Imperial War Museums (iwm.org.uk).

Nuclear bunkers are open to the public in York [York Cold War Bunker | English Heritage (english-heritage.org.uk)], Cheshire [Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker], Holderness [Home – Home (visitthebunker.com)] and Essex [The Secret Nuclear Bunker – Kelvedon Hatch – Kelvedon Hatch – Secret Nuclear Bunker].  Another is under restoration in Edinburgh [Barnton Quarry Rotor SOC and Regional Seat of Government – Subterranea Britannica (subbrit.org.uk)].

Others, rarely mentioned in the public domain, may still be operational:  Hidden depths at Manchester’s Arndale Centre | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times.

Peter Laurie’s book has long been out of print, though copies are still available [Beneath the City Streets: 9780140033816: Amazon.com: Books], and the content is inevitably dated, but it remains worth reading for insights into the effort expended to preserve government control, and the ubiquity of secret activity hiding in plain sight.

Top Forge

Wortley Top Forge, South Yorkshire

South Yorkshire boasts two of nationally significant historic metal-working sites, the Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet on the southern edge of Sheffield and the Wortley Top Forge between Sheffield and Penistone.  Both are scheduled ancient monuments and contain Grade I listed buildings.

They exist because of the foresight of the individuals who formed the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society who recognised the significance of each site and campaigned to protect them from the risk of demolition before the Second World War – back in the prehistory of industrial archaeology and historical conservation.

Abbeydale Works became part of Sheffield City Museums and, along with Shepherd Wheel and Kelham Island Industrial Museum were transferred to Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust in 1998.

Wortley Top Forge, abandoned by 1929, was acquired by the South Yorkshire Industrial History Society in 1953, and the Society continues to maintain and develop the site and open it to the public through its operational arm, the South Yorkshire Trades Historical Trust Ltd.

The leading light of the project was the late Ken Hawley (1927-2014), the celebrated saviour of much of South Yorkshire’s tools and machinery.  His collections are now divided between Wortley and Kelham Island.

The Top Forge, along with the now-obliterated Low Forge, was operating by 1640, though water-powered metal-working was practised in the area from the thirteenth century onwards.

Alongside the remaining original buildings, the Trust has restored and built new structures to accommodate the growing collection of artefacts, including stationary steam engines – a very recent innovation, because the Forge was always powered by water.

A succession of enterprising and innovative lessees imported new techniques to the two forges:  James Cockshutt brought Henry Cort’s reverberatory furnace from Wales to South Yorkshire in the 1790s and in the nineteenth century Thomas Andrews Jnr made Wortley renowned for the quality of its wrought iron for railway rolling-stock axles.  Both these men became Fellows of the Royal Society;  indeed, Thomas Andrews belonged to the Royal Societies in both London and Edinburgh.

Visiting the Top Forge is challenging.  Its site is at least 1½ miles away from Wortley village, deep in the depths of the Don Valley, and access is encumbered by tight bends and the low bridges of the now closed Woodhead railway.  Signage is minimal:  a Yorkshire flag indicates the entrance:  Flag of Yorkshire – Flags and symbols of Yorkshire – Wikipedia.

Those who have the determination to arrive are made warmly welcome, but on ordinary Sunday working days there is little provision for tourists.  The location is beautiful.  The loos are impeccable, but the place is otherwise innocent of visitor amenities.  Donations are gratefully received, guided tours run ad hoc and rides on the miniature railway are free. 

It’s not so much a tourist attraction as a man-cave, populated by friendly, welcoming gentlemen of a certain age in overalls, working with metal and tweaking their engines, who are more than happy to discuss the technicalities of the machinery they tend.

I was shown round by an admirable young guide, Emily, who, once she realised that I know very little about engineering, pitched her tour to my level of understanding.

Open days are a different matter:  then the Top Forge is en fête.  Details are announced on the website events page, which has been understandably disrupted by the pandemic.

The Society’s website provides a detailed history and description of this fascinating place: Wortley Top Forge – The oldest surviving heavy iron forge in the world.

Colonel Lance Newnham GC MC (1889-1943)

Stanley Military Cemetery, Hong Kong: grave of Colonel Lance Newham GC MC (1889-1943)

Stanley, on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island, dates back to the foundation of the British colony in 1842 and has always been the location of the main military base.

A short walk from the beach lies Stanley Military Cemetery, used for burials up to 1866, and then again during the brutal Japanese occupation from Christmas 1941 to the end of the War.

It has the hallmarks of a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery – the Cross of Sacrifice overlooking rows of uniform gravestones and immaculately kept lawns – interspersed with nineteenth-century gravestones, civilian burials and the improvised memorials erected during the occupation:    https://gwulo.com/node/9180/photos.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission identifies 595 burials within the cemetery, each denoting a story of hardship and fortitude. 

Elsewhere on the island, the post-war Sai Wan War Cemetery contains 1,528 Commonwealth and Dutch burials and commemorates a further group of Indian personnel who were cremated according to their religious beliefs.

In Stanley Military Cemetery one gravestone in particular caught my eye – Captain L A Newnham GC MC of the Middlesex Regiment, who died on December 18th 1942 aged 54, “shot while a prisoner of war for refusing to betray his comrades”.  The motto at the foot of his gravestone is simply “True to the end”.

He earned his Military Cross in the First World War.  His posthumous George Cross was awarded for his heroism in working to arrange escapes and for defying Japanese attempts through torture and starvation to make him divulge details of his connection with an MI9 unit, the clandestine British Army Aid Group:  https://vcgca.org/our-people/profile/153/Lanceray-Arthur–NEWNHAM.

Colonel Newham was not alone.  Two others, Captain Douglas Ford (1918-1943) and Flight Lieutenant Hector Gray (1911-1943), were executed by firing squad alongside him.

Another notable victim of Japanese brutality was Captain Mateen Ahmed Ansari GC (1916-1943) of the 5th Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment, in the Indian Army, who was beheaded for repeatedly refusing to renounce his allegiance to Great Britain.

Hong Kong under Japanese occupation was a bad place to be, and the catalogue of atrocities is lengthy.

For me, as a casual visitor, Colonel Newnham’s stone and story stood for the unimaginable hardships endured by those who happened to be on the island at the time.