THERE IS A FASCINATING pair of railway viaducts at Chapel Milton, near Chapel-en-Frith in the Peak District. Constructed in about 1860 and then 1890, the viaducts support a place where two railway lines diverge. The viaducts, which join each other at a bifurcation were built at different times as the dates suggest. One of the arcades consists of 13 arches and the other of 13.
Allow Wikipedia to explain:”The Midland Railway opened a new line via Chapel-en-le-Frith Central and Great Rocks Dale, linking the Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midland Junction Railway with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, in 1867, giving it an express through route for the first time between Manchester and London … The eastern section, essentially a second, mirror-image viaduct in an identical style, was added in 1890 to allow trains to travel between Sheffield and the south via Buxton and the Midland’s own line.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapel_Milton_Viaduct)
EVERY NOW AND THEN, a canal needs repairing. For example, it might have sprung a leak either in its retaining walls or in its clay bottom. In such circumstances and no doubt others, the repair work can only be carried out if the canal is emptied of water, a tall order in a canal that might be many miles in length. Recently, we were walking along the towpath of the Macclesfield Canal, which links Marples Lock on the Peak Forest Canal with Hardings Wood Junction on the Trent and Mersey Canal, when we spotted something that we had never noticed before whilst walking along a canal towpath.
What we saw was a pile of sturdy wooden planks, each with two metal handles attached to their narrowest edges. They looked quite modern. We asked a man, who was walking his dog, about the planks. He explained that they were used to block both ends of a section of canal between two consecutive bridges. When these barricades are lined with plastic sheeting, the water between the two barricades can be drained from the part of the canal between the two waterproofed wooden barriers, Then, work can be carried out on the drained stretch of the canal. The planks are known as ‘stop planks’
Our informant pointed out notches carved in the stonework near to a bridge. The notch is opposite another identical one across the canal. It is into these pairs of notches that the planks we had noticed ate inserted to create a dam, I regard myself as being quite observant, but I have never seen or noticed either this kind of notch or the wooden planks for inserting in them during many long walks along canals in other parts of England. Maybe, they are common, but until we walked beside the Macclesfield Canal, I had never seen them before, Maybe, this is because other methods of damming (see: https://www.rchs.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/OP-128.pdf) are also employed in addition to that which we spotted on the Macclesfield Canal at Bollington in Cheshire.
ONE OF THE SEVEN WONDERS of the Derbyshire town of Buxton has to be Scrivener’s bookshop. Located on the town’s High Street, this shop displays books on five floors including the basement. Many, but by no means all, of the books are second-hand (pre-loved). At first sight, the books seem to be crowded together in no particular order, but the reverse is true: they are arranged systematically rather than chaotically.
The books are far from being at bargain prices, but they are priced fairly, not outrageously. Those of you, who know my addiction for acquiring books, will be relieved to know that I purchased only two volumes. There were plenty more that I might have been tempted to buy had I not already embarked on on a project of carefully reducing the number of books in my possession.
WE DROVE TO BUXTON from Macclesfield, crossing part of the Peak District, which was shrouded in dense morning mist despite it being mid-September. The town, once an important spa, is delightful. Its centre is rich in Victorian buildings, as well as some 18th century edifices, such as The Crescent, now a hotel. In appearance, the Crescent, which was built for the 5th Duke of Devonshire between 1780 and 1789, rivals the fine crescents found in Bath. Another notable structure in Buxton is The Dome, now a part of the University of Derby. This huge dome was built to cover a stable block for the horses of the 5th Duke, which was constructed between 1780 and 1789 to the design of John Carr (1723-1807). The dome itself, which is 145 feet in diameter and larger than those covering Rome’s Pantheon and St Peters, was added between 1880 and 1881, by which time the building it covered was being used as a hospital. It is the second largest unsupported dome in the world.
In common with great cities such as Vienna, Milan, Paris, Manaus, London, New York, and Sydney, tiny Buxton also can boast of having an opera house. Located next to a complex of Victorian glass and iron structures including a plant conservatory and the Pavilion with its attached octagonal hall, the Opera House was designed by the prolific theatre architect Frank Matcham (1854-1920) and first opened its doors to an audience in 1903. Live theatrical performances, not confined to opera, were held there regularly until 1927, when it became a cinema. Between 1936 and 1942, the Opera House, although then primarily a cinema, hosted annual summer theatre festivals, two of which were in collaboration with Lillian Baylis (1874-1937) and London’s Old Vic Theatre company (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buxton_Opera_House). In 1979, the theatre was restored, and an orchestra pit added. Since then, the Opera House puts on a programme of live performances, which include a little bit of opera. Unfortunately, during our visit to Buxton, the auditorium was closed, but we did manage to enter the lovely foyer with its mosaic-bordered floor and its ceiling painted with a scene evoking the style of 17th and 18th century painters.
The Opera House, the Crescent and the Pump Room opposite it, and The Dome, all add to the charm of Buxton. They are all close to a lovely park, through which the River Wye (not to be confused with the river with the same name in Wales) runs through. Buxton’s Wye flows into the North Sea via the River Humber. High above the park, runs the High Street, where we stumbled across a fabulous bookshop, Scrivener’s, which boasts five floors packed with books, many of them second-hand or antiquarian. So, if it is literature (fiction and non-fiction) rather than drama that appeals to you, this shop is a place that must be visited.
It was well worth winding our way across the hills to Buxton through the low clouds, which made visibility very poor. The town is filled with interesting things to see, some of which I have described above. However, it was the Opera House that intrigued me most. Had it been given a name other than Opera House it might not have fascinated me quite as much. That a town or city can boast an opera house, gives the place a certain ‘caché’ that places, which do not possess one, lack.
WE ARRIVED IN ENGLAND from India on the 27th of February 2020. Because of the covid outbreak, we had not left England until today, the 13th of September 2021. Some, especially those who live there, regard Cornwall as being another country, rather than part of England. We have visited that southwest county of what most people regard as England, since we arrived back from England. So, it would be pushing things if we said that we went abroad to Cornwall,
Today, we travelled abroad, leaving England for a few hours. To reach our destination we did not have to take covid tests or show evidence of double doses of vaccine or, even, show our passports. However, leave England we did. We crossed the River Severn to leave England and enter Wales. Crossing the Severn Bridge on the M48 did not require us to pay a toll as used to be the case, as the crossing is now free of charge. A few years ago, a toll was charged for crossing into Wales, but no longer; it has been abolished.
Well, I hear you say, Wales is not exactly ‘abroad’, but when one has not left England for over 18 months, it will do as ‘abroad’. Wales has its own parliament and most signs, be they on the road or elsewhere, are bilingual (English and Welsh) and, if you are lucky, you will meet a speaker of the Welsh language. To us, crossing over into Wales, after so many moths without foreign travel, felt like going abroad.
We drove along the beautiful Wye Valley and stopped at the attractive ruins of the former Cistercian Tintern Abbey (Abaty Tyndyrn in Welsh), the first ever Cistercian foundation in Wales. At the ticket office, I expressed my joy at being abroad after so many months, and the cashier said to me in a gently Welsh accent:
“I like your style.”
We have visited Tintern Abbey (founded 1131) many times in the past and each time it has been a wonderful experience. Today was no exception. Set in a wooded valley, the ruins of the gothic buildings look great against the background of trees with dark green foliage. After spending about an hour in Tintern, we drove along roads which were mainly in Wales but occasionally crossed the border into England. When we reached Wrexham (Wrecsam in Welsh), we headed off north and east into England, our trip abroad having been completed.
A SOLITARY CHIMNEY stands in the middle of East Harptree Woods in the Mendip Hills of Somerset, not far from Bristol and Bath. This tall, not quite vertical, chimney and the surrounding uneven landscape is all that remains of the local tin and zinc mining activities in the area. Known as Smitham Chimney, this was built in the 19th century and was the exhaust for the toxic fumes created by the furnaces smelting lead-bearing materials. The unevenness of the surrounding area, now richly populated with a variety of trees, was caused by the pits and spoil heaps created during the era of mining activity. The chimney was built in 1867 and by 1870, the East Harptree Lead Works Co Ltd were producing about 1000 tons of lead per year (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smitham_Chimney,_East_Harptree).
Today, the chimney stands amongst a fine collection of trees including conifers and birches, all growing in a sea of ferns and other bushes. Much of the woodland is mossy. Maintained by Forestry England, the Mendip Society, and Somerset County Council, the woodland has good, fairly level paths, easy on the feet. The place and its industrial archaeological feature make for a pleasant and interesting short excursion.
MY PARENTS, ESPECIALLY my mother, were keen that I learned to swim. It took me a long time to learn this activity. For many years, I was taken to various indoor pools to take lessons with a variety of swimming teachers, some professional and others not. One of the latter was a young Asian lady, who gave me a few lessons in the pool at the White House. This was not the famous establishment in Washington DC but a 1930’s apartment block, now a hotel, near Great Portland Street Underground station in London.
The teacher, who had no success with getting me to swim, lived in the White House and was recommended to my parents by another resident, a family friend, whom we knew as ‘Sakki’. Like my parents, Sakki was born in South Africa and my father told me that his family and Sakki’s were either remotely related and/or in business together. Both Sakki and my father were on the academic staff of the London School of Economics (‘LSE’). Sakki was the anthropologist Professor Isaac Schapera (1905-2003). He had become an expert on the anthropology of indigenous people of Botswana and South Africa. Amongst his many published works was “The Khoisan Peoples of South Africa”, published back in 1930.
Apart from providing me with one of my many swimming instructors, Sakki took a great interest in my sister and me. He gifted me several books, amongst which was several books about the adventures of Hergé’s cartoon character Tintin. These were in French and were volumes that were at the time neither available for sale in the UK nor translated into English. When I graduated with my PhD in 1976, he presented me with a two-volume book about magic, myths, and science.
In the very early 1960s, Sakki joined us on a family driving holiday in France in our smallish Fiat 1100. My mother, who had been involved in a serious car accident in the 1930s, had installed seatbelts in our car, a rare thing for the time. Sakki had to travel in the rear seat with my sister and me. Sakki had his own seatbelt (lap design), and my sister and I were strapped together in the other belt, separated from each other by a pillow. It soon became obvious to my parents that Sakki was not enjoying being confined in the rear of the car with two young children. My parents solved the problem by stopping at regular intervals at roadside cafés so that Sakki could enjoy a glass of cognac. This seemed to help him tolerate the journey, about which I remember little else.
During my childhood, Sakki was a regular visitor to our family home. He used to amuse us kids with comical verses, only one of which I can remember. It sounded to my ears something like this: “Olke, bolke, reeby, solte. Olke, bolke, knor.” While writing this piece, I looked for this on the Internet, and now know that what he was telling us was the words of an Afrikaans song that goes:
“Olke bolke Riebeeck stolke, olke bolke knor…”
Well, now, many years since I last saw Sakki, I know that what he was telling us was not his invention, as I had always believed as a youngster.
Sakki underwent surgery on his vocal cords. This affected his speech badly and drove him to avoid socialising in his later years. However, he did visit our home on at least one occasion after his voice had been affected. I was a young teenager then and I can still remember that when he spoke, all that one could hear was a hoarse, rasping, whisper. After conversing with me for a few minutes, he said to me:
“You don’t have to whisper just because I am talking so softly.”
And then he added:
“I have noticed that everyone with whom I talk gradually lowers their voice to a whisper whilst they converse with me. It is strange how the loudness of my voice affects that of people who are talking with me.”
That people unconsciously adjust their voices to match that of their interlocutors made a great impression on my young mind, and I have never forgotten it.
I do not believe that I ever met Sakki again between 1976 and 2003, when he died. By then, the White House had almost completely changed from being an apartment block to becoming a hotel. Sakki lived there until he died and was one of the place’s last full-time residents from the time before it became a hotel with a few flats.
And, just in case you are wondering, I did learn to swim eventually, not at the White House but in the pool of the old YWCA near to Tottenham Court Road station.
There is a lovely parish church in Long Melford, Suffolk. Called Holy Trinity Church, it is a fine example of the perpendicular gothic style, completed in about 1484. Some of its windows contain old pre-Reformation stained-glass. A tiny circular piece of stained-glass above the north door of the nave depicts something unusual. It is hard to see with the unaided eye, but if you can manage to see it properly, you will notice something interesting. Known as the Hare Window, it depicts the heads of three hares and three hare’s ears. Each hare appears to have the usual two ears, but each of the three ears on the glass are shared by a pair of hares.
Although unusual, the three hare motif is not unique to Long Melford. Another example, a ceiling boss with three hares sharing three ears can be found in the Chapter House of the Church of St Peter and St Paul in Wissembourg, France, and another on a bell at Kloster Haina near Kassel in Germany (http://www.chrischapmanphotography.co.uk/hares/page3.htm)