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.  

A bridge in suspense

MY WIFE WAS studying to become a chartered accountant in the mid-1970s. As a trainee, she was required to carry out audits for her company in many parts of the UK. One of these was the building site where the Humber Bridge, which crosses the River Humber and links north Lincolnshire with the East Riding of Yorkshire. The bridge has a long span suspended between two tall concrete towers. When my (then future) wife arrived to audit the accounts of the entity involved in the construction, the towers had already been erected but there was no span for carrying the roadway across the river. A precarious looking cradle, attached to cables suspended between the towers, was used to cross the river. Some of the construction workers used it to traverse the Humber.

Being a keen and extremely assiduous trainee accountant, my wife wanted to inspect the construction site in considerable detail. Respecting her desire to examine the site properly, the managers on the site ensured that this happened. After carrying out the audit, she returned to London satisfied and has always held a special affection for the then yet to be completed bridge.

It was only a few years after my wife qualified as a chartered accountant that the bridge was eventually opened for use in mid-1981. The bridge is 1.38 miles in length and is currently the world’s eleventh longest bridge of this design (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humber_Bridge). A small toll is payable to cross it, which is what we did while travelling from Yorkshire to Lincolnshire in September 2021. After driving across the elegant, impressive bridge, we drove through the small town of Barton-upon-Humber to reach a bridge viewing park. There, my wife and I enjoyed snacks whilst gazing at the bridge for which she still harbours a soft spot. There is no accounting for taste!

Riding high above London

DOLLIS BROOK IS one of the two main tributaries of the River Brent, which in turn is a tributary of the River Thames, which it enters at Brentford. Dollis Brook rises near the A1 dual-carriageway at Mote End Farm and then flows southwards towards Brent Park, where it is joined by another stream, Mutton Brook. Both brooks are lined with pleasant green spaces containing footpaths that follow the streams. Thus, they are lovely green corridors providing much-needed rustic relief from the relentless built-up suburbia through which the streams flow.

Nether Street is road running west and downhill from Finchley Central Underground Station. After reaching a small roundabout, it continues as Dollis Road. The latter descends ever more steeply until it runs under a tall brick arch, part of the Dollis Brook Viaduct (also known as ‘The Mill Hill Viaduct’). The road runs beside a stretch of Dollis Brook, which at that location is only a few feet in width – rather a miserable little stream. However, the viaduct with its 13 arches, each with spans of 32 feet, traverses a veritable steep sided gorge, maybe created over time by the waters flowing in the humble Dollis Brook, or, more likely, by glacial drift (“Nature”, 9th of November 1871: http://www.nature.com/articles/005027c0.pdf). This amazing viaduct, a masterpiece of brickwork, carries Underground trains on a spur of the Northern Line running between Finchley Central and Mill Hill East stations.

Designed by John Fowler (1817-1898) and Walter Marr Brydone, who was Engineer-in-Chief for the Great Northern Railway (‘GNR’) from 1855-1861, the viaduct was constructed between 1863 and 1867, when the first train ran across it. The line that now carries Northern Line trains over the viaduct was originally built by the GNR, as was the viaduct. As trains traverse the viaduct, they are at one point 60 feet above the ground. This point must be close to where both Dollis Road and Dollis Brook pass beneath the arches,

We have often driven beneath the viaduct, but it was only in August 2021 that we decided to park near it and examine it as closely as we could. We had recently visited the impressive granite railway viaduct near Luxulyan in deepest Cornwall and been amazed by its grandeur. We had not expected to find a bridge in north London that is almost as awe-inspiring.  As I gazed upwards at its tall arches, I admired the Victorian bricklayers, who must have had to work at ever-increasingly dizzying heights as they constructed it. The viaduct is certainly a sight worth seeing, and whilst you are in the area, much pleasure can be gained by taking a stroll along the paths that run close to Dollis Brook.

Lost and found … in Cornwall

MY COUSINS IN CORNWALL live not far from a place called Withiel. The mainline train from London to Penzance usually stops at a station called Lostwithiel. The latter is just over 7 miles southeast of Withiel as the crow flies. Yesterday, the 26th of July 2021, we decided to visit both Withiel and Lostwithiel. Despite its name, Lostwithiel on the River Fowey is much easier to access than Withiel, which is deep in the Cornish countryside.

Mediaeval arch in Lostwithiel

The ‘lost’ in Lostwithiel has little if anything to do with being unable to be found. There is agreement that ‘lost’ is the Cornish word for ‘tail’. It is likely that Lostwithiel derived from the Cornish ‘Lost Gwydhyel’, meaning ‘tail end of woodland’. The village of Withiel is known as ‘Egloswydhyel’ in the Cornish language. This means ‘church in woodland’. Having found out that Lostwithiel is not actually lost nor ever has been, I will compare the two places.

Withiel, far smaller than Lostwithiel, is small village with a fine old church, St Clements and a few, about twenty at most, houses arranged around a rectangular open space. The parish church, which I have yet to enter, originated in the 13th century. It was rebuilt in granite in the 15th and 16th centuries and looks far too large for such a small village and its neighbouring communities including one called Withielgoose. The rebuilding was instigated by Thomas Vyvyan (late 1470s – 1533), the penultimate Prior of Bodmin before the Reformation. He was a Cornishman educated at Exeter College (Oxford), who was instituted in the rectory of Withiel in 1523,  and then at St Endellion Church in 1524.  Withielgoose, which is tiny place that includes the word ‘withiel’, has nothing to do with geese. The name derives from the Cornish words ‘gwyth’, meaning trees; ‘yel’, of unknown meaning; and ‘coes’, meaning ‘wood’.

Tiny Withiel has at least one interesting historical figure apart from Thomas Vyvyan, Sir Bevile Grenville (1594/95-1643). Educated at Exeter College (Oxford), he was a Member of Parliament and a Royalist. He was killed at The Battle of Lansdown (5th of July 1643) in the English Civil War. The historian of the Civil War Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1609-1674), who served the Royalists during the conflict, wrote of Sir Bevile:

“…to the universal grief of the army, and, indeed, of all who knew him. He was a gallant and a sprightly gentleman, of the greatest reputation and interest in Cornwall, and had most contributed to all the service that had been done there.”

From small Withiel, we move to the town of Lostwithiel, an attractive place that seems not to have become as great a tourist attraction as have many other picturesque places in Cornwall. The town was established in the early 12th century by Norman lords, who constructed Restormel Castle nearby. It was a stannary town, which meant that it could manage the collection of ‘tin coinage’, a duty payable on tin mined in Cornwall. Most of what was collected entered the coffers of the Duchy of Cornwall.

In the 13th century, Edmund, 2nd Earl of Cornwall (‘Edmund of Almain’; 1249-1300) built both the Great Hall in Lostwithiel and the town’s church tower. Edmund was son of Richard of Cornwall, 1st Earl of Cornwall and King of the Romans (king, not emperor, of the Holy Roman Empire) between 1257 and 1272.  The tower is still standing as are also the remains of the Great Hall, built between about 1265 and 1300, making it one of the oldest non-ecclesiastical buildings in Cornwall. It was a large complex of buildings, which was badly damaged during the English Civil War. What remains is an interesting set of mediaeval buildings and the old Exchequer Hall, now known as ‘The Duchy Palace’. Later used as a Masonic Hall, some of its windows contain six-pointed stars as used by the Masons. A crest on one of its walls is the earliest version of that of the Duchy of Cornwall, which has long since been replaced by the plume of feathers used today. The Cornish born (in St Austell) and world-renowned historian Alfred Leslie Rowse (1903-1997) wrote that in the mediaeval era:

“… the real centre of Duchy administration was Lostwithiel; here the various offices, the shire hall where the county court met, the exchequer of the Duchy, the Coinage Hall for the stannaries’ and the stannary jail, were housed in the fine range of buildings built by Edmund, Earl of Cornwall…”

So, Lostwithiel was once important as an administrative centre, but it has now lost this role.

The River Fowey flows through Lostwithiel, passing meadows where people picnic, and children play. The river, though wide, is shallow enough for youngsters to play in safely. The river is crossed by a magnificent multi-arched, stone bridge, which is so narrow that it is only wide enough for one single motor vehicle. The crossing has six pointed arches. It was constructed in the mid-15th century. Its parapets were built in the 16th century and an additional flood arch was added in the 18th century (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1327324).

We wandered around Lostwithiel for a while and saw many fine old buildings apart from those already mentioned. One of them is the Museum, housed in the former Corn Exchange (a Georgian building), and the former Grammar School. We also spotted an ancient Cornish cross in the parish churchyard. Lostwithiel is a place to which I hope to return to spend more time there. In comparison to Withiel that is far more lost from sight, Lostwithiel has plenty to interest the visitor.