A station, a friend, a cousin

BEFORE I LEARNED TO drive, I began visiting a friend who lives in the heart of the Cornish countryside, a few miles away from Bodmin. I used to travel by train from London’s Paddington to Bodmin Parkway station, which is a short distance away from the town of Bodmin. My friend, Peter, used to collect me from this small station and drive me to his family’s smallholding deep in the countryside. After passing my driving test in 1982, I began driving to Cornwall. Today, the 10th of October 2022, we dropped off our daughter at Bodmin Parkway station to catch a train to London. This was my first visit to the small station since the early 1980s. It brought back memories of my early visits to see Peter and his family.

Bodmin Parkway station

I met Peter through mutual friends. We clicked. In the years following our first meeting, we saw each other regularly, considering how the great the distance is between our homes. On one visit to Peter’s home, I spotted a photograph of his mother, and remarked that her appearance reminded me of my mother. We thought nothing of this at the time.

In the late 1990s, I began researching the history of my parents’ families. An enquiry to a relative, who lived in Zimbabwe led me to contacting another relative, who worked for New Zealand’s diplomatic service. He got in touch with me and was able to supply information that was missing on one of the family trees connected to my mother’s family. I looked at what he had sent me, and my eyes nearly popped out of my head. For, amongst the people listed in that branch of the family tree were Peter and his children. It turns out that Peter is both my fourth and fifth cousin. The reason for this double relationship is that my mother’s parents were second cousins once removed; they shared a common ancestor. So, it turns out that not only is Peter a good friend but also a cousin. It is interesting that although Peter and I were already good friends, knowing that we are related has enhanced our relationship. Standing on the platform at Bodmin Parkway, waiting for our daughter’s train to arrive, brought back memories of my first encounters with Cornwall, a good friend and his mother’s photograph, and my discovery that he is part of my family.

Mismatched signals

HOW RIDICULOUS IS THIS?

The newly opened Elizabeth Line is supposed to link east and west London. However if you wish to travel from a station east of Paddington to one west of it (or vice-versa), you have to change trains at Paddington. This is far from simple. The section of the line that runs west from Paddington is on one side of Paddington mainline station, and the section that runs east is far across the mainline station concourse at a lower level.

Platform lighting at Paddington Station (Elizabeth Line)

Today, I asked an official whether the east and west branches of the Elizabeth line will ever be connected, so as not to need to change trains at Paddington. He said that the infrastructure (tracks etc) are already in place, but there is a problem that still needs to be solved. The problem is that the signalling system on the western part of the line is completely different from that on the eastern part. Surely, someone could have solved this problem during the many years it has taken to construct the Elizabeth Line(s)?

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?

Out to sea without stepping off land

THE FIRST TIME I visited Southend in Essex was in about 1960. I was invited to go there on a day trip with my best friend, his younger brother, and their father, who was a senior official in London Transport. We went by car, stopping on the way at several London Transport bus garages, where we saw a few vintage busses. I remember two things about Southend on that first visit. First, we ate fish and chips. It was the first time I had sampled this cuisine because my parents were too snobbish about food to have been seen dead in a fish and chip shop. I have enjoyed fish and chips ever since that time in Southend. The other thing that sticks in my mind was travelling along Southend Pier in a special train that carried passengers almost to its furthest point from the seafront. It was not until the 11th of February 2022 that I made my second visit to Southend.

Southend Pier

Southend Pier is the longest pleasure pier in the world. It is 1.34 miles (2.16 kilometres) in length. The present pier, which replaced an earlier wooden one built in the early 1830s, was completed in the late 1880s. it was opened to the public in 1889. At about this time, the single-track railway running along it was also ready for use. It was extended by 1898. The trains were then electrically operated. In 1978, the electric railway was closed. By 1986, it had been re-opened using trains that were driven by diesel engines. It was on one of these that we took a return trip this February.

I enjoy piers. They provide a way of going out to sea without leaving land and without risking seasickness. In addition, like the one at Southend, most of the piers in England are visually satisfying when viewed from the shore. At the sea end of Southend Pier, there are various structures ranging from painted wooden shacks to the beautiful contemporary-style Royal Pavilion, opened in 2012. Despite being a complete contrast to the other constructions on the end of the pier, it enhances to visual attractiveness of the area.

Although the pier was not the primary reason for our excursion to Southend, it certainly enhanced our enhancement of the place as did our lunch at a local fish and chips shop.

David Hockney painted here

AT THE EASTERN END of Notting Hill Gate, there is a road called Linden Gardens. In the 1860s, only the eastern part of this existed and it was named Linden Grove. To the west of Linden Grove was Linden Lodge, set in extensive grounds with a large pond or lake. It was designed by the engraver, architect, and property developer Thomas Allason (1790-1852) and constructed in 1826. He lived there until about 1838. In the late 1860s, the Lodge was demolished, and houses were built around the edge of, and on, its grounds. This occurred because of the construction of the Metropolitan Railway in the mid-1860s. The gateposts of the lodge still stand, partially embedded in the buildings at the south end of Linden Gardens.

The website british-history.ac.uk noted that it was probably the peacefulness of the Grove:

“… which attracted two other artists, William Mulready, who lived in the southernmost of the eight paired houses (now demolished) from 1828 until his death in 1863, and Thomas Creswick, who lived at the still surviving No. 42 from 1838 until 1866. In the latter year this house was affected by the building of the Metropolitan Railway. Creswick therefore moved to Mulready’s now vacant house, and also, apparently, occupied the adjoining house to the north (with which it formed a pair) until his death in 1869.”

William Mulready (1786-1863) was the designer of the penny postage envelope depicting Britannia. Creswick (1811-1869) was a landscape painter and illustrator. Someone, who lived in Linden Gardens, told me that some of Queen Victoria’s children received art lessons in a studio in Linden Grove, but I have found no evidence to confirm this. However, it is certain that David Hockney painted Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, a portrait of the dress-designer Ossie Clark (1942-1996) and his wife in their flat in Linden Gardens. The balustrades in the painting are typical of those on most of the first-floor balconies of the houses in the Gardens.

Another artist, Elsa Fraenkel (1892-1975), a German-Jewish born sculptor and Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts, who fled from the Nazis, also lived briefly in Linden Gardens, so I was informed by her daughter, who lives in Bangalore (India), where Elsa died.

In the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi

RECENTLY, I WALKED in Mahatma Gandhi’s footsteps, neither in India nor in South Africa nor in London, but in southeast England.

I am sure that many years ago, at least once, I travelled by ferry across the English Channel from Folkestone in Kent to a port in France. Whether I was travelling by car or by train I cannot recall. Had I been travelling by rail I feel sure that I would have remembered the pier at Folkestone, but I cannot now recall it. If I reached the ferry by train, it would have had to have been before 2001, when the last ferry sailed from Folkestone.

The first ferry service from Folkestone to Boulogne began in 1843 (https://folkestoneharbourarm.co.uk/history/the-harbour-in-the-19th-century/). Passengers reached the boat from the mainline railway station by local transport. In 1847, a long viaduct was constructed to take a steeply inclined mile long branch line from the main line, which was 111 feet above sea level, to the shoreline. This track crossed the viaduct and a swing bridge, which still exist and separate the Inner harbour from the Outer Harbour. At the seashore, the track ran onto a newly constructed pier, The Harbour Arm, from which passengers and freight could be embarked and disembarked. The pier, which was only fully completed in 1904, had a station, a customs house, and warehousing facilities.

During WW1, the Harbour Arm played an important role in the conveyance of military personnel and materials between war-torn Europe and the UK. In December 1915, the famous spy Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (‘Mata Hari’; 1876-1917) was prevented from boarding a vessel at Folestone bound for France by Captain S Dillon of the Secret Intelligence Service. Another famous person, of far greater historical significance than Mata Hari, stepped of a vessel, the SS Biarritz, onto the Harbour Arm on the 12th of September 1931. This passenger was a Gujarati, the only member of the Indian National Congress, Mohandas K Gandhi (1869-1948), going to London to attend the Round Table Conference. A picture taken at the time (www.alamy.com/mahatma-gandhi-alighting-at-folkestone-kent-england-united-kingdom-uk-12-september-1931-old-vintage-1900s-picture-image346793736.html) shows him, dressed in white robes and a dhoti, stepping along a gangplank. The curved platform of the station on the pier, which still exists, is clearly visible in the picture. He is shown walking towards a group of policemen and reporters, some of whom are holding unfurled umbrellas. His arrival at Folkestone on a rainy day is also recorded in a short but amusingly commentated newsreel film (https://youtu.be/P6njRwz_dMw), which also illustrates the rapturous reception he received in the streets of London.

Far more recently, another arrival at Folkestone has hit the headlines. On the 19th of October 2021, a large puppet called Little Amal (‘amal’ meaning ‘hope’ in Arabic), over ten feet in height, first made its appearance in the UK in Folkestone. Little Amal has been carried on foot all the way across Europe from Turkey (www.creativefolkestone.org.uk/whats-on/the-walk-one-little-girl-one-big-hope/) as part of an exercise to raise the public awareness of the plights of refugee children fleeing their native lands. On British soil, she plans to tour the country for a while. Little Amal did not arrive, as Gandhi did, on a cross-channel ferry bound for Folkestone, but she did make her first an appearance on the Harbour Arm (www.kentonline.co.uk/folkestone/news/little-amal-coming-to-town-255932/). She was greeted by the actor Jude Law.

Folkestone harbour was heavily bombed during WW2 and then the pier was repaired after the war ended. Passenger services to France resumed in 1946, but limitations of the harbour’s depth, which prevented the docking of larger ferries, and the development of roll, on roll-off ports elsewhere, led to Folkestone’s gradual decline as a port. These factors and the completion of the nearby Channel Tunnel resulted in the ending of Folkestone’s life as a passenger port by 2000. After this date, the Harbour Arm and its buildings fell into decline and became dilapidated.

In 2014, the Department of Transport closed the railway line ad the facilities on the Harbour Arm. The following year, it was acquired by the Folkestone Harbour & Seafront Development Company (www.folkestoneseafront.com/). This organisation has tastefully restored the Harbour Arm and its buildings as well as the viaduct leading to it across the water. The rails on the viaduct have been preserved but submerged in the walkway in such a way that their top surfaces can be seen. The sinuous platforms and their canopies have been repaired, as have the signal box (now a café) and the old Customs House. Beyond the station, the pier runs out to sea towards a lighthouse. All along the pier, there are several eateries. Also, there is an artwork by Antony Gormley.  What was once a busy transport hub has now become a delightful leisure facility, which along with Folkestone’s transformation as an artistic ‘creative hub’ has turned the town into a place well worth visiting, a far cry from what it was when Gandhi set foot on its pier. My wife and I wondered whether Little Amal, who is quite tall, will have as much influence on the future of the world as did the short man from India, who arrived in his dhoti at Folkestone in 1931.

I am pleased to have walked where Gandhi once stepped in Folkestone because I have also followed in his footsteps in various places in India including his birthplace Porbandar in Gujarat, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Bombay, Madras, and Bangalore. In London, I have often walked by Friends House on Euston Road, passing the very door through which he left the building to greet his admirers back in 1931. In all these places, there are ample monuments and other reminders of the Great Soul (the Mahatma), but, as far as I know, Folkestone is yet to materially commemorate his brief presence there.

A pair of converging railway viaducts

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)

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.

Station with no trains

THERE ARE NO MORE trains running to the picturesque town of Clare in Suffolk. Between 1865 and 1967, trains running on the Stour Valley Line between Marks Tey (in Essex) and Shelford (in Cambridgeshire) stopped at Clare Station. In 1961, you could leave London’s Liverpool Street Station at 8.30 am and reach Clare at 10.44 am (www.disused-stations.org.uk/c/clare/).  

On a recent visit to Clare in August 2021, we decided to take a look at what remains of Clare Castle, which was built shortly after 1066 by Richard fitz Gilbert (1035-c1090), who took part in the Norman invasion of England (1066). To reach the remains of this structure, we walked across a large car park, at the far end of which is the attractive Clare Castle Country Park. The north side of the park is occupied by a tall conical mound, the motte of the former castle. On top of this, there is a short length of ruined, curved walling. Running east from the base of the motte, is a length of wall with one archway, presumably a wall that formed part of the castle’s bailey. These features are all that can be seen of the former castle. Exciting as this might be for historians, the park contains some other structures of historic interest. They are not as old as the castle, but fascinating, nevertheless.

Clare railway station

The Country Park contains the platforms, station buildings, and the goods shed of the former Clare Station. These have all been preserved well and employed as leisure facilities for visitors to the park. The main station buildings on platform 1 contain a waiting room with its old fireplace and ticket office. Built in 1865 to a standard design used in 30 Great Eastern Railway stations, this building now serves as an eatery and café. Across the grassy strip, where the tracks used to be laid, is platform 2, with its own waiting room, now used as a visitors’ centre and souvenir shop. A short distance away from the old platforms, the former goods shed still stands. With an old-fashioned goods crane outside it, the shed contains toilets and other facilities for visitors. Clare’s signal box no longer exists as it was destroyed by fire in the late 1960s.

The line that used to run through Clare was closed in 1967 as part of a plan devised by Dr Richard Beeching (1913-1985), who became Chairman of the British Railways Board in 1961. Beeching was instructed by the British Government to devise a plan to increase the efficiency of British Railways. This was eventually executed and involved the closure of many stations, including Clare, and of many miles of track, including the Stour Valley Line. The last passenger train to stop at Clare was on the 4th of March 1967. Although trains used the line for a short time after this, none ever stopped at Clare again.

A visit to Clare is worthwhile because it is small town with many historic buildings and an attractive parish church. We visited recently on a Saturday morning when a small street market was in full swing. The town has several shops selling antiques and a few cafés, apart from that in the former railway station. We had visited Clare several times before, but it was only on our latest visit that we came across the old railway buildings. In this period when there is great concern about global warming and ‘saving the planet’ seeing the station and its platforms reminds us that Beeching’s plan to close so many lines was short-sighted because a good network of mass rail transport could contribute to reducing the current dependence on road transport and might reduce pollution. Thinking back to the 1960s, the time of Beeching’s plan, I do not recall that there was much concern about the future of our planet in those days.

The most southern city in England

AN HOUR IN TRURO is hardly enough to get to know the county town of Cornwall well, but it is long enough to discover that the city’s centre is attractive and interesting. In 1876 the Diocese of Truro was founded and in the following year, it gained the status of ‘city’, making it the southernmost city in mainland Britain. Until the diocese was established, the county of Cornwall including the Scilly Isles and a couple of parishes in Devon were in the Diocese of Exeter. Given that the Christian faith was well established in this southwestern part of England at least 100 years before the first Archbishop of Canterbury was appointed, it was high time that Cornwall had its own diocese and archbishop.

Truro Cathedral

Between 1880 and 1910, a gothic revival cathedral designed by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-1897) was constructed on the site of the 15th century parish church of St Mary. Parts of this old church were incorporated into the new cathedral and the top of its granite spire stands in a garden next to it. One of only three British cathedrals with three spires, Truro’s cathedral was the first new cathedral to be built in England after many centuries. Although a relatively recent structure compared with many of Britain’s other cathedrals, it is a fitting design for the mediaeval heart of the city with its narrow winding streets.

The name Truro might be derived from the Cornish words meaning ‘three rivers’ or ‘the settlement on the River Uro’. In any case, Truro has a river running through it, which helped stimulate the growth of the city’s prosperity. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the tin mining industry added to Truro’s wealth. Lemon Street, where we parked, is evidence of that; it looks like a Georgian street in Bath or some parts of London. The arrival of a direct railway line between the city and London in the 1860s provided a further boost to the city’s success. Earlier in mediaeval towns, Truro, which is inland and therefore difficult to reach by seaborne foreign invaders, became an important port. In addition, it was a stannary town, where revenue from the tin industry was collected, yet another source of the town’s wealth.

Our brief first visit to Truro (at the end of a long day out) has whetted my appetite for another lengthier exploration of the city, which at first sight seems to have many interesting features to excite tourists who have an interest in history.