A ladder by the sea

GENESIS CHAPTER 28 describes a dream experienced by the biblical Jacob. In it, he dreamt that there was a ladder set on the earth that reached up to heaven. In his dream, he watched angels of God ascending and descending what is now called ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.

The small town of Sidmouth on the coast of Devon has its own Jacob’s Ladder. Unlike the one seen in the dream, it neither reaches heaven nor is it being used by angels. Often rebuilt, Sidmouth’s Jacob’s Ladder is made of wood and consists of three flights of stairs which connect Connaught Gardens with the magnificent stretch of sandy beach (at the western end of Sidmouth). This lovely, gently curving strand, known as Jacob’s Ladder Beach, is flanked by red stone cliffs and is about a mile in length. The views from the top of the Ladder and the café in the Connaught Gardens are spectacularly beautiful.

The Ladder was first constructed in 1853 on the instruction of Mr Lousada of nearby Peak House. It was rebuilt in the late 19th century, and then again following WW2. The Connaught Gardens on the clifftop overlooking the beach were first laid out in 1934 by the Gardens Department of Dartington Hall Ltd.

It is unusual features such as Sidmouth’s Jacob Ladder that give many British seaside towns great character and individuality, and makes them fun to visit.

Let there be light

KENSINGTON COURT IS between the Whole Foods department store and Curry’s electrical store, both on High Street Kensington. The doorway to a brick building with white stone masonry trimmings is beneath a carved stone notice that reads “Electric Lighting Station”.

This was an outhouse converted in 1888 to an electricity generating station by a local resident, an electrical engineer Rookes Evelyn Bell Crompton (1845-1940). According to the RBKC website (rbkc.gov.uk):

A dynamo transmitted direct current on bare copper mains through subways to the houses to charge batteries or accumulators. This quickly expanded to become the Kensington and Knightsbridge Lighting Company, housed in a basement below street level and continuing as a substation until 1985. It has since been converted into private premises and the exterior restored. This quickly expanded to become the Kensington and Knightsbridge Lighting Company, housed in a basement below street level and continuing as a substation until 1985. It has since been converted into private premises and the exterior restored.

The original generating equipment was designed and installed by Crompton. Now no longer in use to produce electricity, it is an example of one of the earliest surviving generating stations in the UK.

A pair of post boxes

WHILE WALKING IN CAMBRIDGE, I spotted a pair of pillar boxes. At first sight they looked identical but soon I realised that they were not. One had a wider orifice for inserting letters than the other. The wider one bears the ‘logo’ of Queen Elizabeth II and its neighbour with the narrower slit bears the logo of the Queen’s father, King George VI. Apart from these differences, there were much the same.

The two pillar boxes I saw in Cambridge are not particularly old. The first post box on the British mainland was placed in Carlisle in 1853. The idea of using such receptacles for collecting mail is connected with the author Anthony Trollope (1815-1882). An informative website (https://www.postalmuseum.org/collections/highlights/letter-boxes/#) related:

“Anthony Trollope, now more famed as a novelist, was, in the 1850s working as a Surveyor’s Clerk for the Post Office. Part of his duties involved him travelling to Europe where it is probable that he saw road-side letter boxes in use in France and Belgium.He proposed the introduction of such boxes to Britain and a trial on the Channel Islands was approved. Four cast-iron pillar boxes were installed on the island of Jersey and came into use on 23 November 1852. In 1853 the trial was extended to neighbouring Guernsey. None of the first boxes used on Jersey survive. It is possible that one still in use on Guernsey together with another in our collection, originally sited in Guernsey, date from the 1853 extension to the trial.”

Before the introduction of pillar boxes:

“… there was [sic] principally two ways of posting a letter. Senders would either have to take the letter in person to a Receiving House (effectively an early Post Office) or would have to await the Bellman. The Bellman wore a uniform and walked the streets collecting letters from the public, ringing a bell to attract attention.”

Well, all that history is news to me and I might not have bothered to find out about it had I not seen the father and daughter pillar boxes standing side=by-side in Cambridge’s Market Square.

Praise is always welcome

HERE IS SOME PRAISE FOR MY PUBLISHING ACTIVITIES in a book review by Stephen Turner (of the University of South Florida College of Arts and Sciences (USA)) in the Journal of Classical Sociology 2022, Vol. 22(2) 247–253:

Adam Yamey, a retired dentist and son of an LSE Professor, has published, through Lulu, a self-publishing company discussed in the book, several books about London, the history of places in Britain,the social movements of the Indian diaspora, travel in the Balkans, his great-grandfather, who was a Jewish South African politician, and other historical topics with a strong“social” content. His blog and webpage (https://adam-yamey-writes.com) are nicely professional and indistinguishable from the pages digitally competent academics produce.”

My LATEST book, which is about #Hampstead and its environs is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92

A roof of straw

Thatcher at work in Cambridgeshire

The tradition of covering roofs with thatch continues all over the English countryside. Although most buildings are now roofed with tiles, there are still quite a few that have a covering of thatch. The thatch has to be renewed regularly, This is a lengthy and costly business that can only be carried out by the small number skilled thatchers, who operate around the country. Because of the costliness of maintaining it, having a thatched roof is now a conspicuous sign of wealth, whereas once it was not.

Honey for tea and death in Greece

THE SHORT-LIVED POET Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) lived outside Cambridge in the nearby village of Grantchester, where he rented a room in The Old Vicarage between 1909 and 1912. In May of 1912, Brooke was sitting in the Café des Westens in Berlin and feeling nostalgic about his life in Grantchester. He put pen to paper and composed his poem “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.” Clearly fed up with Berlin, the poet begins the final verse of his poem with:

“God! I will pack, and take a train,        

And get me to England once again!       

For England’s the one land, I know,      

Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;                

And Cambridgeshire, of all England,     

The shire for Men who Understand;      

And of that district I prefer        

The lovely hamlet Grantchester…”

The final verse ends with the famous lines:

“The lies, and truths, and pain?… oh! yet          

Stands the Church clock at ten to three?     

And is there honey still for tea?”

Inside the old pavilion at the Orchard in Grantchester

Having recently visited Grantchester, I can sympathise with Brooke’s desire to return to this charming village whose meadows run along the bank of the winding River Cam. The parish church of St Mary and St Andrew contains structures created as early as the 12th century, but most of the building dates from the 14th and 15th centuries. The west tower is mainly early 15th century. The clock on it no longer stands at ten to three, but it was stuck at that hour during the era when Brooke was in Grantchester.

The Orchard, which lies across the High Street from the church and between it and the meadows by the river, was planted in 1868. Before moving into the Old Vicarage, Brooke had lodged in a house in The Orchard. In 1897, a group of Cambridge University students asked Mrs Stevenson of Orchard House if they could enjoy tea under the blossoming trees. Thus began The Orchard Tea Gardens, now a popular haunt of students and tourists. Because of the unreliability of the English weather, a wooden pavilion was built at the end of the 19th century. In case of rain, tea drinkers could sit in the pavilion and enjoy their tea without getting soaked. Rupert Brooke was one of those, who used this place often. The Orchard’s website (www.theorchardteagarden.co.uk/history-new/) noted:

In taking tea at the Orchard, you are joining an impressive group of luminaries including Rupert Brooke (poet), Virginia Woolf (author), Maynard Keynes (economist), Bertrand Russell (philosopher), Ludwig Wittgenstein (philosopher), Alan Turing (inventor of the computer), Ernest Rutherford (split the atom), Crick and Watson (discovered DNA), Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author), Jocelyn Bell (discovered the first pulsar) and HRH Prince Charles (future King of England). There is a list of some of the famous people who have visited in a separate page on our web site, and there are photographs of many of them on the walls of the Rupert Brooke Room.”

The Rupert Brooke Room was constructed later than the pavilion. The famous visitors included several noteworthy Indians including Jawaharlal Nehru, Salman Rushdie, and Manmohan Singh. There is a whole host of other well-known personalities who have taken tea at The Orchard including a group of Cambridge students, who achieved notoriety for their involvement in espionage for the Soviet Union: Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, Donald Maclean, and Kim Philby.

As for Brooke’s question “And is there honey still for tea?”, I forgot to ask during our far too brief visit to The Orchard.  Brooke was commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve force at the outbreak of WWI. In early 1915, he set sail with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. In late February, he developed a serious infection following an insect bite and despite the efforts of surgeons on a French hospital ship moored near the Greek island of Skyros, he died. He was buried in an olive grove on the island. In the churchyard of St Mary and St Andrew, Brooke’s name in carved on the church’s simple war memorial.

Diversity traffic signals at Trafalgar Square

The pedestrian crossing signals in London’s Trafalgar Square are fitted with a variety of different green lights, such as can be seen in the two examples in the photograph. I have not seen these sorts of green signals anywhere else in London. They are a part of a project to promote ‘diversity’ in London.

For more detail, see: https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/diversity-pedestrian-traffic-signals#:~:text=Around%2050%20pedestrian%20traffic%20signals,new%20’holding%20hands’%20design)

War and peacefulness

THE CRANE IS a tributary of the River Thames. Named after Cranford (Middlesex) through which it flows it is about 8 ½ miles in length. It rises as Yeading Brook and flows towards its mouth at Isleworth, just opposite the southern tip if Isleworth Ait. On its way, the Crane passes east of Heathrow Airport, Hounslow Heath, Whitton, Twickenham, and St Margarets. It also feeds the man-made Duke of Northumberland’s River, which enters the Thames about 610 yards downstream from the mouth of the Crane.

The shot tower at Crane Park

The Crane flows through beautiful, wooded parkland known as Crane Park. This incredibly peaceful open space, part of which is a nature reserve, is in Whitton near Twickenham. Part of the park is in the Borough of Richmond-on-Thames and the rest in the Borough of Hounslow. The Crane, which contains a wooded island and breaks up into rivulets occasionally, is bordered on both sides by the park. The island, Crane Park Island, now a lovely nature reserve, a peaceful oasis in a busy part of London, was created for a purpose that was far from peaceful: warfare.

In the 1760s, a gunpowder works was established in what is now the west part of Crane Park. The island was created to form a millstream for operating a waterwheel connected to a mill for grinding saltpetre (nitrates of either sodium, potassium, or calcium) used to make gunpowder. It was part of a complex of buildings that housed the Hounslow Powder Mills. Before the 19th century, what is now Crane Park would have been part of the then much vaster Hounslow Heath. The website of the Twickenham Museum noted that gunpowder mills were established on the Heath as early as during the reign of King Henry VIII.  

All that remains of the Hounslow Powder Mills is a tall brick tower topped with a lead roof and a small lantern with a weathervane. It resembles a lighthouse. This was built either late in the 18th century or early in the 19th. Lying near it are a couple of circular millstones, which might have been used for grinding gunpowder. Described by some as a shot tower, it might have been used to manufacture lead shot. Molten lead would have been poured through a copper mesh near the top of the tower, and as it fell downwards, it formed into droplets, which when cooled became pellets of lead shot. This is most likely, but others suggest that the tower was part of a windmill.

Manufacturing gunpowder was a hazardous procedure, and unintended explosions were not unusual. The Twickenham Museum’s website related:

“Joseph Farington noted in his diary on Monday 25 January 1796 that: “The Powder Mills at Hounslow were blown yesterday. The concussion was so great as to break the windows in the town of Hounslow. Hoppner having been to Eaton, on his return rode to the spot where the Mills had stood, not a fragment of them remained. They were scattered over the country in small pieces. Three men were killed”… Burial records note deaths from further explosions: 5 on 17 November, 1 on 19 June 1798, 7 0n 15 July 1799, 2 on 27 June 1801, and so on through the century. Abraham Slade noted in his diary for 1859 that: “On the 29 of March the Powder Mills blew up, sending 7 poor souls into eternity in a moment. It has broken a great deal of glass in Twickenham & neighbourhood. We thought the whole place was coming down.””

The last major explosion at the Hounslow Mill was in 1915.

The powder mills passed through the hands of various operating companies: Edmund Hill, John Butts and Harvey and Grueber until 1820, then Curtis and Harvey until 1920, and then by Nobel Industries.The licence for producing explosives at Hounslow Powder Mill was revoked in 1927. In 1927, a Twickenham councillor, Frank Yates, bought the site. Later, he sold part of it for housing and the rest to Twickenham Council, who used it to create what is now Crane Park.

In addition to the impressive tower and a rusting sluice gate, several other less impressive remnants of the manufacturing complex can be seen on the island in the form of the bases of engine housings: lumps of bricks and concrete with thick metal rods protruding from them. Apart from the tower and a few other barely identifiable remnants, it is hard to believe that the sylvan and peaceful Crane Park was ever a place where the material of warfare had been produced for several centuries.

A fantastic floral feast

IT IS THAT TIME of year again, maybe a little earlier than usual because of the changing meteorological conditions, which are of great concern these days. Located in the southwest part of Richmond Park is one of London’s floral miracles: The Isabella Plantation (see: https://adam-yamey-writes.com/2021/05/21/a-floral-fireworks-display/, for a shorth history). It is at its colourful best at the end of April and in early May. During this period, the camellia, azalea, and rhododendron bushes explode into flower alongside many other flowering plants.

During our visit in the last week of April 2022, we were fortunate to have arrived at the right time to see vast carpets of bluebells in full bloom. Fantastic as this is to see, they pale into relative insignificance in comparison with the flowering bushes, which have been skilfully planted so as to provide the viewer with three-dimensional multi-coloured natural works of art. On our recent walk around the Plantation, the morning sun was shining brightly, enhancing the vividness of the flowers’ colours. Filtering through the trees, the sunlight created splashes of light on the flowers, producing an interestingly dappled effect. One visitor, with whom we spoke said that the best time of day to see the flowers is in the afternoon. She might be right, but I would strongly recommend seeing them at about 1030 am, which is when we were there.

There are three ponds in the Plantation. The largest is Peg’s Pond, in which we were fortunate to see a duck with her flock of tiny ducklings swimming around her. Next largest and at a higher altitude is Thomsons Pond, which is surrounded by a few flowering bushes. The most magnificent pond is the smallest of the three. It is the Still Pond. It is almost completely surrounded by azalea and rhododendron bushes. When they are in flower, their incredibly exuberant blooms are reflected in the mirror-like water of the Still Pond. This amazing effect must be seen to be believed (if you are unable to visit at the right time of the year, look at my video: https://youtu.be/WLipU0kdoLM).

We parked in the (currently free) Broomfield car park, which is a short, pleasant walk away from the Plantation. On our way, we were lucky enough to spot several stags and deer resting in the shade of a tree not far from the footpath. Seeing these and the resplendent display of colour in the Plantation provided a pleasant distraction from the many disturbing things that are happening  places all over this planet.