Tragedy in Sweden

PARR HALL IN the heart of Warrington (Cheshire) is a concert hall designed by local architect William Owen (1846-1910). It was built for the townspeople by Joseph Charlton Parr, descendant of the founder of a local bank. The benefactor was a prominent member of his family’s bank, Parr’s, and Warrington’s Mayor between 1901 and 1903. A plaque on the wall of the hall facing Palmyra Square commemorates his generosity. A much larger and newer plaque, actually a frieze, also outside the front of the hall, serves a sadder purpose.

In May 2013, a new rock band was formed in Warrington. Called Viola Beach, it had four members: Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, and Jack Dakin. Frankie Coulson and Jonny Gibson were initially members, but they left the group to concentrate on their university studies. Reading of this, I was reminded of one of my father’s students at the London School of Economics: Mick Jagger. Unlike Coulson and Gibson, he could not afford to remain a student as his band was becoming so successful. Incidentally, The Rolling Stones performed at Parr Hall in November 1963.

In June 2016, the band’s debut album, “Viola Beach”, was released. Consisting of 9 tracks, it reached the number 1 position on The UK Albums Chart in August of that year. However, the band were never to learn of their success. In February 2016, the members of the group and their manager were on tour in Sweden. In the early hours of the 13th of February, the car in which they were travelling failed to stop at the closed barriers of a bridge across the Södertälje Canal. The roadway of the bridge was lifting to allow the passage of a vessel in the canal. The car carrying the band plunged into the water 98 feet below. The driver, the band members, and its manager, were all killed.  The memorial outside Parr Hall, which portrays the band members and their manager in bas-relief, was sculpted by Tom Murphy. It was unveiled in September 2021.

Had they not met their end so prematurely, I wonder whether Viola Beach formed in a town on the Mersey might have gained some of the success enjoyed by another now much more famous Merseyside band: The Beatles.

A pioneering bridge

THE CONCRETE PEDESTRIAN bridge over the railway tracks at Kew Gardens Station cannot be described as attractive. In fact, it is rather ugly. However, on a recent visit to the station, I spotted a notice attached to the bridge that provides interesting information about it.

The bridge was opened in 1912. It is one of the earliest examples of the use of reinforced concrete in Britain. The technique used to construct this bridge was that pioneered by François Hennebique (1842-1921). The first building made in Britain using his method of reinforcing concrete with wrought iron beams was the Weaver Building in Swansea (in 1897). An article in Wikipedia related that between 1892 and 1902, over 2000 structures were made using Hennebique’s method. This makes me wonder why the plaque on the bridge at Kew is described as a “rare example” of this kind of structure. Maybe, what is meant is that it is a rare surviving example of his construction method. In any case, the bridge at Kew incorporates two features that were designed to protect users of the bridge from the smoke produced by steam engines that used to travel beneath it. One feature is the high wall on each side of the pathway over the bridge. The other are small projections over the railway lines, which were designed to deflect smoke from the bridge.

Kew Gardens station was opened in 1869. It is the only station on the London Underground network to have a pub attached to it. In the past, this pub, now known as The Tap on the Line, had an entrance directly from the London bound platform. In addition to the bridge described above, there is also an underground pedestrian passageway running beneath the tracks. The main reasons to use this station are to visit the National Archives and/or Kew Gardens. If you are coming from central London to visit the gardens, you will have to cross the tracks. So, why not cross them on a bridge that, although ugly, is a landmark of engineering history?

Up and down Molesworth Street

YOU CAN BYPASS the small town of Wadebridge in Cornwall by speeding along the A39 road, which extends from Bath in Somerset to Falmouth in Cornwall, but that would be a pity because it is a charming town. Wadebridge thrives because of its fine bridge across the River Camel. The great writer Daniel Defoe (c1660-1731) wrote about the town and nearby Padstow in his “A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain”, published 1724-26, as follows:

“Padstow is a large town, and stands on a very good harbour for such shipping as use that coast, that is to say, for the Irish trade. The harbour is the mouth of the river Camel or Camal, which rising at Camelford, runs down by Bodmyn to Wodbridge or Wardbridge [sic], a large stone bridge of eight arches, or thereabouts, built by the general goodwill of the country gentlemen; the passage of the river there, before, being very dangerous, and having been the loss of some lives, as well as goods…”

Defoe noted that the passage from Wadebridge to Ireland via Padstow could be achieved in 24 hours. Thus, Wadebridge and its river crossing, now much widened since Defoe’s time, was an important stage for vehicles carrying passengers and goods between England and Ireland. The route for this transport would have been to first cross over the Camel on the bridge and then to proceed north westwards up the slope of Wadebridge’s then main thoroughfare, Molesworth Street. During daylight hours, most of this road is closed to motorised vehicles and provides a pleasant pedestrian precinct.

Molesworth Street is lined with shops, eateries, and some pubs. The Molesworth Arms, a former coaching inn, has existed since the 16th century. It was previously known by other names including The Fox, The King’s Arms and The Fountain. It got its present name in 1817. Nearer the bridge, there is The Swan Hotel near the old bridge, originally named ‘The Commercial’, is much newer than the Molesworth Arms. It was constructed the late 19th century.

I cannot explain why, but spending time on Molesworth Street always satisfies me. The recently opened (late 2021) Dollies café provides good coffee and exceptionally wonderful English breakfast items; everything is prepared freshly after ordering. Up the hill, stands Churchill Bars. Housed in the premises of the still functioning Wadebridge Conservative Club, it comprises a bar and a small restaurant named Winston’s. Popular with locals, this eatery serves generous helpings of lovingly prepared, tasty food. Its speciality, which is well worth trying, is roast belly pork served with roast potatoes, gravy, and vegetables (not overcooked). Unlike so many other places serving food in Cornwall, this place is good value and not pretentious.

Apart from several charity shops, a good newsagent, two butcher’s shops, a hardware store, banks, and so on, there is a small bookshop on Molesworth Street. This independent bookstore stocks a superb range of Cornwall-related books, both fiction and non-fiction. In a backroom, there is a large selection of second-hand books. Small booksellers such as this one on Molesworth Street make a welcome change from the countrywide bookshops such as Daunt’s, Waterstone’s, and WH Smiith’s.

Not as ‘trendy. as places such as Fowey, Falmouth, St Ives, and Padstow, Wadebridge seems a more ‘normal’ or ‘real’ kind of place, not wholly dependent on tourism. It is well placed to make excursions to places all over the county of Cornwall.

A post office and an abdication

BRADFORD-ON-AVON is a charming old-fashioned town in Wiltshire. It straddles the River Avon, which flows through Bath and Bristol. Its Town Bridge is not only old (construction includes some 14th century structure) but also it has a small building on it. This was originally a chapel but became used as a lock-up in the 17th century. Also of interest is the Roman Catholic church of St Thomas More, which is unusual in that it is housed on the first floor of what had once been the Town Hall (built 1854).

Despite the many old and attractive buildings in the town, what interested me most was the old post office. It stands in the picturesque Shambles, which used to be the part of the town dedicated to slaughtering animals and butchering. Compared to many of its neighbours, it is a relatively modern building; it was built in 1899 (www.bradfordonavonmuseum.co.uk/post). It was designed by William Henry Stanley. Then, in 1935 it was enlarged. By the time the new extension was complete, King Edward VIII had ascended to the Throne. What makes it most interesting and unusual is that it bears the monogram of King Edward VIII and the date 1936.

King Edward VIII, who succeeded King George V, reigned from the 20th of January 1936 until he abdicated on the 11th of December 1936. As is well-known, he gave up the throne to marry the American divorcée Mrs Wallis Simpson. What is less well-known is that few, only of a handful of, new post offices were opened in Edward’s brief reign (http://britishpostofficearchitects.weebly.com/bradford-on-avon.html), and Bradford-on-Avon’s extended branch was one of them.

I first spotted the Edward VIII monogram when we visited the town about 20 years ago. Then the post office in the Shambles was still in use. About 5 years ago, this special post office closed. It now operates from within a Co-Op supermarket in the town. However, the old office is now a protected building. The monogram remains but the building is now home to various shops.

A bridge, canals, and a church in west London

THE GRAND UNION canal meets the River Thames at Brentford. From there, it runs towards the Midlands where it meets other waterways in England’s extensive network of canals, which was built for commerce, but is now used mainly for pleasure.

Six miles along the canal from Brentford, there is an important junction. Here at Bulls Bridge, the Paddington Arm branches off the main Grand Union canal. From beneath the bridge, the Arm runs 13 ½ miles to Paddington. Near its destination in central London, the arm flows through a large body of water, known as Little Venice. From there, two canals, the continuation of the Arm and the Regents Canal, link Little Venice to Paddington Basin and Limehouse Basin respectively.

The Paddington Arm was opened for use in 1801. The Bulls Bridge is a single-arch brick bridge spanning the Paddington Arm a few feet east of its junction with the Grand Union Canal. It stands amidst a dull landscape filled with industrial units and large supermarkets.

Following the towpath along the Grand Union Canal away from Bulls Bridge in a north-westerly direction for 177 yards, we reach a bridge that carries the canal over a narrow stream, the River Crane. a tributary of the River Thames. According to a website, touristlink.com, the course of the Crane is as follows:

“The River Crane is 8.5 miles (13.6 km) in length. Its source is taken to be a point south of North Hyde Road in Hayes, Hillingdon, from where its course is generally in a southerly, if near semi-circular, direction, before it joins the River Thames at Isleworth. Its name is a back-formation from Cranford, London. Formerly it was called the Cranford River. The River Crane creates the boundary between the London boroughs of Hillingdon and Hounslow.”

What could be seen from the bridge carrying the canal over the Crane was a deep weed-filled fissure in the depths of which there was a narrow stream. This lies in the shadow of an elevated road, the busy Parkway (A 312) that links both the A40 and the M4 with Heathrow Airport.

Continuing north-west along the Grand Union, the canal passes beneath a series of railway bridges that carry trains to and from Paddington Station. Nearby is Hayes and Harlington station, which stands in a part of Hayes, which was once the village of Botwell. This is now a shopping area with supplied with lavishly stocked fruit and vegetable shops and a branch of Lidl’s supermarket chain. Lidl’s faces a Roman Catholic Church, Immaculate Heart of Mary, built in 1961, which according to Pevsner, contains a painting by Pietro Annigoni (1910-1988). Near the station is a less attractive church, St Anselm, built between 1926 and 1928.

Even at the beginning of the 20th century, Hayes in Middlesex was a village north of Botwell and separated from it and other neighbouring settlements by open countryside. By 1940, Hayes had begun to be engulfed by London’s western spread. The village was, according to James Thorne, writing in 1876:

“… quiet and respectable, and chiefly dependent on the wealthy residents … consists of a few ordinary houses and shops.

Today, it is still quiet, the commercial district being in Hayes Town, the former Botwell, near the railway station.

There is one good reason to visit what was old Hayes. That is to see the parish church of St Mary the Virgin. It stands on the eastern side of Barra Hall Park, which are the grounds of the former manor house, now much modified. The church is mediaeval. Its lychgate is probably early 16th century.  Its chancel is late 13th century, the tower and the north aisle are 15th century, and the main aisle is 16th century. The church has beautiful timber ceilings and a 12th century font. On the north wall there is a large wall painting of St Christopher carrying the Christ child. Pevsner did not consider this image was painted before about 1500.

The church is full of fine funerary monuments. These include elaborate memorials for Sir Walter Grene (1456); the judge of the King’s Bench Edward Fenner (died 1612); Roger Jenyns (died 1693) and members of his family; Richard Lugg (1697); and Thomas (died 1576) and Elizabeth Higate. There are plenty more monuments to be seen as well as several fine brasses. Fenner’s monument consists of an effigy of Fenner lying recumbent supporting his head on his right hand. This is framed by marbled pillars supporting an elaborate carved stone semi-circular canopy, which is flanked by a pair of sculpted figures.

Although Hayes is not high on most tourist’s lists of what to see in London, the old church parish church of Hayes is certainly worth a detour. As for Bulls Bridge, visiting it is only for dedicated enthusiasts of  desolate landscapes and inland waterway history.

A bridge in London waiting for repairs

In the middle years of the 1720s, Daniel Defoe described Hammersmith as a village that was growing into a small town:

“… and some talk also of building a fine stone bridge over the Thames …”

It was almost 100 years after Defoe speculated that a bridge across the Thames would be built at Hammersmith. A suspension bridge was constructed between 1824 and 1827. It was the first of this type of bridge to be constructed anywhere near London and the first to span the Thames. James Thorne, writing in 1876, that in outline and simplicity of style, it:

“… remains the best-looking-bridge of its kind on the Thames …”

The bridge was designed by William Tierney Clark (1783-1852), who had been guided in his development of bridge construction techniques by Thomas Telford and John Rennie, who designed the old London Bridge that now stands in Lake Havasu City in Arizona. Clark also designed the suspension bridge (1832) across the Thames at Marlow and the impressive Széchenyi (Chain) Bridge which crosses the River Danube to link Buda and Pest. The latter resembles Clark’s Hammersmith Bridge as depicted in old engravings.

In 1883-37, Clark’s Hammersmith Bridge was replaced by a newer one designed by Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891). According to Cherry and Pevsner in The Buildings of England. London 2: South, Bazalgette:

“… re-used the piers and abutments. Iron-framed towers clad in cast iron partly gilt, with Frenchy pavilion tops, and elephantine ornament at the approaches … The deck stiffening girders were replaced in a major overhaul in 1973-6.”

This bridge, which was built for use by horses and carts, pedestrians, and the occasional cyclist, long before the advent of heavy motor vehicles such as busses and lorries. It has been closed for repairs several times, causing much nuisance for those who live on both sides of it. In April 2019, Hammersmith and Fulham Council closed the bridge to all motorised traffic. This was done following the discovery of serious cracks in the pedestals that support the bridge. It remained open for pedestrians and cyclists until August 2020, when a heatwave caused further deterioration. Then, the bridge was closed to all users.  

A variety of schemes have been proposed for repairing the bridge and there was some disagreement as to who would pay for the work. In June 2021, Hammersmith and Fulham Council came to a cost-sharing deal to complete the rehabilitation of the Victorian bridge. In July 2021, the bridge was reopened for use by cyclists and pedestrians until 2027. In February 2022, I stepped on the bridge for the first time since it closed. The view from it is marvellous, especially upstream where one gets a good view of the historic buildings lining the waterfront between Hammersmith and Chiswick.

A bridge near Regents Park

PARKWAY LEADS GENTLY uphill from Camden Town Underground station to a short road called Gloucester Gate, which leads to the Outer Circle that runs around Regents Park. Much of Gloucester Terrace runs along what looks like a bridge, which is lined on its north side by red-coloured, decorative stone parapet.

St Pancras, Regents Park, London

The bridge traverses a grassy dell that does not appear to contain any kind of watercourse. I wondered why such an elaborate bridge had been built to traverse what appears to be merely a grassy hollow. Well, when it was built, it did cross a waterway, the Cumberland Market Branch of the Regent’s Canal  known as ‘The Cumberland Arm’ (www.londonslostrivers.com/cumberland-arm.html). This waterway, built in 1816, ran for about half a mile from the Regents Canal to a basin near Euston Station, running for most of its length parallel to Albany Street. During WW2, the Cumberland Arm, which had up until then been used to transport freight, was used to supply water to firefighting appliances. By the end of the war, the canal had been filled with rubble from buildings destroyed by bombing and then covered with topsoil. All that remains of the Cumberland Arm is a short blind-ending stretch of water near Regents Park Road, on which there is a large floating Chinese restaurant and a few moorings for narrow boats.

The Gloucester Gate bridge with its decorative parapet and elaborate cast-iron lampstands also includes two interesting memorials. One of these relates to the fact that the bridge was constructed by the St Pancras Vestry, the then local authority governing the area (www.andrewwhitehead.net/blog/the-most-pointless-bridge-in-london). There is a bronze bas-relief depicting the martyrdom of St Pancras. It was a gift of William Thornton and sculpted by the Italian Ceccardo Egidio Fucigna (c1836-1884), who died in London. St Pancras (c289-303/4) was born a Roman citizen. He converted to Christianity and was beheaded for his beliefs when he was 14 years old (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancras_of_Rome). The bronze relief on Gloucester Gate bridge shows a young man being mauled by an animal, possibly a lion. Why this motif was chosen when the saint was beheaded puzzles me.

Near the St Pancras panel, also on the bridge, there is an old but elaborate drinking fountain. A metal plate attached to it has faded letters that read:

“Saint Pancras Middlesex.

This fountain and works connected therewith were presented to the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association on the (?) day of August 1878 by

Matilda

Richard Kent esq. Junior Churchwarden 1878.

The figure … cast in bronze was designed by Joseph Durham ARA.” (https://victorianweb.org/sculpture/durham/1c.html)

The fountain, known as ‘The Matilda Fountain’, is part of a miniature cave made with granite boulders. A sculpture of a milkmaid stands above the cave. At her feet, there is a wooden pail with two handles. The girl with a rich crop of hair on her head is depicted shielding her eyes from the sun with her right hand as she stares into the distance. Cast in bronze, the female figure and the pail were sculpted by Joseph Durham (1814-1877). Matilda might possibly have been Richard Kent’s wife, but the plaque does not specify this. The sculpture is not unique; several other copies of it, all by Durham, exist. One of these, dated 1867 and called “At the Spring/Early Morn”, can be seen in Blackburn’s Town Hall (https://victorianweb.org/sculpture/durham/1d.html).

Today, the bridge is redundant since the canal was filled-in long ago. However, it is used by many people walking to and from Regents Park and its zoo and a steady stream of vehicular traffic crosses it. Although it has outlived its original purpose, the bridge serves as a reminder of a once important element of London’s continuously evolving transportation system.

Praying above the flowing water

ALMOST OPPOSITE THE modern and magnificent Hepworth Wakefield art gallery, completed in 2011, there is a nine arched bridge, built between 1342 and 1356, crossing the River Calder. Midway across the bridge, there is a small gothic chapel. It is the oldest one of only four surviving bridge chapels in England. Between the mid-14th century, when it was built and the Reformation in the 16th century, the Chantry Chapel of St Mary the Virgin served as a place of worship for travellers crossing the bridge on their way from Wakefield to Leeds.

The purpose of a chantry chapel was:

“…to provide for a priest to say mass for the souls of the dead to reduce their time in purgatory.” (www.wakefieldcathedral.org.uk/visit-us/the-chantry/a-history-of-the-chantry-chapel)

Two acts passed during the reigns of King Henry VIII and his successor the young and fanatically Protestant Edward VI resulted in the closure of the well over 2300 chantry chapels in their kingdom. The chapel on the bridge at Wakefield was one of them. Whereas many chantry chapels were demolished or otherwise rendered unrecognizable, that on the bridge at Wakefield survived because it is an integral part of the structure of the bridge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chantry_Chapel_of_St_Mary_the_Virgin,_Wakefield).

The former chapel on the bridge was used for various purposes between 1547, when its religious use was terminated, and 1842, when it was restored. It was used at different times to house a warehouse, a library, an office, and a cheese shop.

In 1842, the formerly Roman Catholic chapel was transferred to the Church of England and it was restored by the Yorkshire Architectural Society, which was influenced in its philosophy by the Oxford Movement, a group of High Church members of the Church of England who wanted to reinstate older Christian traditions, which had been abolished during the Reformation, and incorporate them into Anglican theological practice. The architect George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) was involved in the restoration of the edifice.  By 1848, the bridge on the chapel was once again being used as a place of worship. For a while it became a parish church, and then after a new parish church was built in 1854, it became used for occasional rather than regular services, and peopled prayed whilst water flowed below them.

Currently, the chapel is under the care of the Friends of Wakefield Chantry Chapel, which was founded in 1991. The chapel is usually kept closed but is opened on certain days (see: www.chantrychapelwakefield.org/open-days.html). As luck would have it, we walked across the bridge on a sunny day that the chapel was open. The small chapel is on two floors. The upper chapel is well-lit both by electric lamps and light flooding through its five sets of stained-glass windows. A narrow spiral staircase leads down to a lower, poorly lit, rather dusty chamber, somewhat devoid of interest.

The decorative ancient gothic chapel on the bridge makes an interesting contrast to the elegant but puritanically unadorned exterior of the Hepworth Wakefield gallery almost opposite it. Both buildings are definitely well worth exploring.