Saturday 31 December 2016

A final London rail adventure

There was just time at the end of the year for a final rail adventure in London, and what an epic it was really. On day 1 i went across from Marylebone over to West Ham on the Hammersmith & City Line and then back into the city to Fenchurch Street (not many London termini left now to visit!) After that i travelled up the West End and back out East again.

On Day 2 i went up to Stratford and then into Liverpool Street before crossing over to the West to Paddington and then exploring the Bakerloo Line in detail. So lots of travel, lots of trains, lots of stations and lots of photos of course which you can see here.
West Ham

Fenchurch St


Kensal Green

Wednesday 28 December 2016


A few times when i was a kid, and a trainspotter, i visited Bescot in Walsall which has a large railway depot and goods yard. Now i am a gentleman who takes photographs of trains i thought it was high time i returned. To be honest Bescot isn't as exciting as it used to be when you used to have lines of BR diesels but there was plenty of interest. You can see my photos here.

It is in a bit of a strange area. The M6 motorway is next to the station and depot, as well as a flood plain for the river Tame. Some horses were grazing on the field, sandwiched between the motorway and depot. Most surreal.

Monday 26 December 2016

2016 Review : Books

I buy a lot of books, most rooms in the house have a book case in them and still i have run out of space. The loft is where a lot of books end up, plus i do throw away quite a few too. I get books on a number of subjects: railways and the military mostly. Back in the distant past my best friend and I used to buy huge amounts of military books. We called ourselves The Book Barons. Well we were young...

The best book i have bought in 2016 is "Night Trains of British Rail". Its a simple subject, photographs of the railways during BR days during the night. A simple subject but also a much changed and fascinating one. A different world of newspaper trains and mobile Royal Mail sorting offices. Its a really lovely book well put together, you should check it out.

Other highlights of the year's book buying have been "The Aldwych Branch", "Merseyside Electrics" and the Haynes book on the "VC-10".

Fiction wise i spent most of the year finally getting around to reading Len Deighton's Bernard Samson trilogy of trilogies. Many years ago i watched the ITV adaptation of the first trilogy and thought i needed to read this. Well its only taken me a few decades to get around to it but it was well worth the wait.

Sunday 25 December 2016

A quiet Xmas morning

We all have our Xmas traditions, one of mine is that i like to have a walk after breakfast and before the mayhem to come later. I also like to walk around the industrial estate that is across the road from where I live on Xmas day, its always so eerie and quiet unlike most of the rest of the year (even Sundays). I took a few photos too. The roads which are usually rammed with cars from the estate and the adjacent Jaguar factory are empty.

Saturday 24 December 2016

The social history of 1970s fireplaces

Social history, especially of the late 20th century, is one of the main aspects of the great subject of history that fascinates me the most (the other is the Roman republic, so as you can see i have quite a wide area of interest). Adverts are often overlooked as a source material but they can provide an insight into the mundane and the intimate that more "worthy" academic-friendly texts and sources may miss or overlook.

Take this example of an advert for gas fires from the August 22 1977 Evening Mail (scanned from a reproduction). You can get a lot of information on life in ordinary British homes in the late 1970s. The 1970s aesthetic design of course (though there is nothing wrong with these in my opinion, especially as the gas fire in my living room right now is listed in this advert...)

The brand names are different, could you imagine someone trying to sell home items branded Radiation these days post-Chernobyl and Fukushima? The prices also show the effect of inflation. £2.25 might get you a thin magazine these days but back in 1977 it was a monthly payment for one of these fires. The total price of £80 and higher might not seem so much these days but back in the late 1970s it was a large amount of money for an average family.

In fact the Measuring Worth website estimates that £80 in 1977 is the equivalent of over £400 today.

Thursday 22 December 2016

Clopton Bridge, Stratford-upon-Avon

Obviously a town on a river needs a number of river crossings, Clopton Bridge is one of several at Stratford crossing the Avon and dates from where the river was forded back in Saxon times and earlier. The first mention of a bridge dates from 1235, later writers considered this bridge a rather poor wooden one that was rather small and could be swamped by the river when waters were high.

The current bridge was built by Sir Hugh Clopton, a "Warwickshire man to the backbone"[1] who also invested in a number of other buildings in the town such as the Guild Chapel and New Place (which later on was where William Shakespeare died) and later became Lord Mayor of London, during the reign of Henry VII in 1480[2]. The bridge has 14 arches though some were widened later to better allow for the passage of boats, a toll house tower also being added. The bridge was widened in the early 19th century due to increasing road traffic. Nowadays the A3400 runs over it.

Parts of the bridge have had to be rebuilt at various times. During the English Civil War for example one arch was demolished, the bridge also had to be partially rebuilt after damage during a great storm and flood in 1588.

[1] John Burman, Old Warwickshire Familes and Houses (Birmingham: Cornish Brothers Limited, 1934), p. 11.
[2] Philip Styles (editor), "The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Introduction and architectural description." A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3: Barlichway hundred (1945): 221-234. British History Online. Web. 01 February 2012.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

2016 Review : Music

Music is always a huge part of my life, but in 2016 something strange happened... i stopped buying CDs! Well i still bought a few but on the whole i bought mostly downloads. Which makes sense to be honest as 99% of the time i play music its on my Macbook. In the past i have bought CDs then ripped the songs to MP3 so i could play them on the Mac. In 2016 i just bought the MP3s instead. It saves money, saves a lot of space and saves time of course.

As for the music itself my love of neo-synth pop continued but my favourite artist of 2016 was the county singer Mary Chapin Carpenter, someone i have been a fan of since i was a teenager. Its nice to still have that link to the past. As always i do a playlist of some of the songs i liked most in 2016, and here it is.

Monday 19 December 2016

Walking the waterways (5) : Regent's Canal

Whats the best way to walk across London? Well the best and no doubt the safest is to walk along the Regent's Canal which runs right across North London from Paddington to Limehouse taking in places like Camden, Islington and London Zoo on the way.
As its London there are cranes everywhere of course

The mighty canal from the North (which is now known as the Grand Union) terminates in London at Paddington. The Regent's Canal was built to link this canal to the Thames in East London, helping to regenerate great swatches of London just North of the centre in the process. Work on the nearly 14km long canal began in 1812 and the canal reached Limehouse in 1820 via two tunnels and various locks and basins.
Going through London Zoo

St Pancras Yacht Basin, as a Javelin train approaches St Pancras

Gas holder next to the canal

The canal is a great walk, and very popular with boaters, joggers and cyclists. Indeed National Cycle Route 1 takes in part of the towpath in Limehouse.

Sunday 18 December 2016


A video from last week at Derby, a Class 170 "Turbostar" departs.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

A morning in Derby

I used up my last day of annual leave before Xmas doing what i do best, yes standing on a railway platform taking average photographs of trains! To be honest i would call today an off-day in the "office", i was at Derby but there wasn't a great deal of interest other than the usual services and the low Sun made some of the photography a bit iffy. But you can see the photos here! Some didn't turn out too badly actually.

Tuesday 13 December 2016

2016 Review : Making things

2016 was a big year for making models, though making Airfix (other brands are available) models took more of a back seat to the model railway. Having successfully converted from HOe to N gauge late in 2015 i gradually built up my stock in the new gauge. Then in the Summer i built a new board to replace the old one dating from 2113. The modified layout works really well though it will be replaced again next Summer.

Late in the Summer i also built a smaller board to build a new layout for my HOe gauge fleet. This has been a bit of a test bed for the main layout and indeed i have largely started again with the layout over the last few days but thats fine. The best way to improve and progress is through making mistakes and learning from them.

There have been 6 Airfix models too. I have built a number of buildings for the model railway too, but time is the main thing i am short of these days. It might be a good idea if i do slow down with the models anyway as i'm fast running out of shelf space to put them on.
N gauge layout

HOe gauge layout


Monday 12 December 2016

Walking the waterways (4) : Worcester & Birmingham Canal

The Worcester & Birmingham Canal links (as you may guess) the cities of Worcester and Birmingham. The canal, which was constructed over an extended period between 1792 and 1815, was a very important link in the canal network as at the Birmingham end it connected to the extensive Birmingham Canal Navigations and at the Worcester end the River Severn.
Where the Worcester & Birmingham Canal connects to the Birmingham Canal Navigations at Broad St

Skips alongside the canal in Bournville
The canal was a major undertaking with the Worcester end being 130m "lower" than the Birmingham one. Work began at the Birmingham end in 1792 and was originally wide enough to take larger barges however as the canal needed to drop down to the Worcester level and no less than 56 locks were needed. To save costs the locks were built to the narrower standard thus meaning larger barges couldn't be used for most of the canal (though could join from the Severn and enter Diglis Basin). The final stretch into Worcester was opened in 1815.
Diglis Lock where the canal joins the River Severn

Canal locks in Worcester

Shortwood Tunnel in Alvechurch

Saturday 10 December 2016

Winter Wootton Wawen

Wootton Wawen and the Stratford Canal which flows through the village is a place i love to visit however i've only ever gone in the height of Summer (the last time back in July). I wanted to see what Wootton Wawen was like in Winter so today i went down and had a short canal walk. The towpath was a bit soggy to be honest but i still took some photos which you can see here. Wootton Wawen is still nice but i'll be back next Summer!

Thursday 8 December 2016

On a warmer day

Back in August now for a video of a freight train passing through Leamington Spa.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

2016 Review : Out and about

Every year on my old blog i used to review the passing year in December. Some times i did a month by month review of the year but i think this can be a bit boring, you want broad brush strokes with this kind of thing not fine detail. So to start... where did i go in 2016?

The answer is a lot of places! To be honest i hate staying at home at the weekend after a week of work so tried to go out somewhere every Saturday. As well as fairly regular haunts like Stratford-upon-Avon, London and Banbury i also broke new ground by travelling to places like Matlock, Portsmouth and Cromford. The Pompey trip at Easter also enabled me to go to the Isle of Wight which i only vaguely remembered from a holiday way back in my early childhood.

I also went up to Liverpool a number of times and explored places like New Brighton and Crosby (which was the first place i ever lived - though was too young to remember it). I've also liked travelling to smaller places in 2016 like Heyford and Ambergate. Basically if there is a railway station handy its on my list. I hope to visit many more places in 2017.
Portsmouth harbour

New Brighton



Monday 5 December 2016

Walking the waterways (3) : Limehouse Cut

The Limehouse Cut is a short canal in East London that connects the Lee Navigation to the Regent's Canal at Limehouse Basin. The canal begins (or ends depending on your point of view) at Bow Locks. After Bow Locks the canal travels 2 miles through Tower Hamlets until it meets the Regent's Canal at Limehouse Basin, which is where the canal joins the Thames.

The canal scheme obtained an act of parliament in 1767 and was operational by 1769 though was said to be only wide enough for one barge to pass at a time. Various improvements and enhancements were made to the canal over the following decades.
Bow Locks
Originally the Limehouse Cut connected directly onto the Thames but that was changed in 1968 because of the need to replace the river lock. Instead a new short length of canal was built to connect the Limehouse Cut to Limehouse Basin allowing traffic to use the river lock there instead.
Abbott Wharf Dock

Railway Bridge, one of a number which cross the canal

Canary Wharf in sight!

Sunday 4 December 2016

Railing around North Birmingham

I always find Sunday afternoons a bit boring so instead of staying at home looking at dry paint on a wall get even drier i decided to explore some stops on the Cross-City line North of Erdington. I visited Four Oaks first, i don't think i've ever been to the station before though i do come to the area every week to use the supermarket!

Following that i stopped off at Sutton Coldfield, the last time i got off a train here i was at primary school on a trip to the park so we are talking about 1982! I also visited Wylde Green and Chester Road which i have seldom ever visited before, infact i can only recall getting off a train at Wylde Green once.

My journey began at Erdington of course though ended at Aston, as the bus home is easier to catch here! You can see my photos here.

Friday 2 December 2016

Tuesday 29 November 2016

Dumb terminals

I was so glad to find the wonderful VT100 website is still up, though it doesn't seem to have been updated for 10 years now. Its a website about dumb terminals, ancient technology to most geeks these days maybe but full of memories for me. Dumb terminals look a bit like computers (in that they have screens, keyboards and sometimes mice) but they do no computing themselves. Instead they access a remote computer where all the actual computing takes place, i suppose you could say they are the ancestors of Chromebooks?

When i started my HND at Birmingham Polytechnic (as it was back then, now BCU of course) in 1990, as well as rooms full of IBM PCs (real ones) there was a Pr1me minicomputer which we logged into for programming class (Pascal) and sending e-mail (the first e-mail i ever had). We usually logged into the Pr1me from one of the PCs using Kermit terminal emulation software but there were also a number of real terminals dotted around the polytechnic.

Baker building (B208) had a whole room full of Volker-Craig VC404 terminals, and there were also some in the library as well as some other type of terminal (i think they were Volker-Craigs too) for accessing the library catalogue. Many an hour was spent pounding away on these terminals (and PCs) logged into the Pr1me. Firstly on the XCOM BBS which was installed on the Pr1me but also in a chat program. Later on we were able to venture out onto JANET and FTP files down using the Pr1me/Kermit (we couldn't use the terminals for this alas) and connecting to the Monochrome BBS (which still exists) and talking to students from other universities using Relay.

Social networking and living a life on-line being a new thing? I was doing this in the early 90s!

I miss the simplicity of using a dumb terminal to access the Pr1me and the internet in general, it was robust, reliable and simple. Just ASCII characters on a screen. Limited and slow maybe but it had a lot of charm. Of course getting any files was a bit long winded. As mentioned above this had to be done on one of the PCs running the Kermit terminal emulation software. First of all you needed to log into an FTP site from your Pr1me account, and bring the files you wanted to your Pr1me space. Then you used Kermit to download the files to the PC. Then you had to take the files home on a floppy disc! Downloading files is a lot easier now.

A document i still have is the university IT department's user guide to using EMACS (a text editor) on the VC404, i scanned the document a number of years ago and you can see it below:

Monday 28 November 2016

Walking the waterways (2) : Gower Branch Canal

The Gower Branch Canal in Tividale is a short canal that links the old and new Birmingham Main Lines. The half mile long canal branches off the Birmingham New Main Line at Albion Junction.
Albion Junction
The other end of the canal connects to the Birmingham Old Main Line at Brades Hall Junction via a triple "staircase" lock or 3 locks close together anyway.

The canal was authorised by the 1768 Birmingham Canal Act but not built until 1836. It was built to enable boats coming (or going to) the Netherton Canal to get to the old main line without a long detour via Tipton and Smethwick.
Staircase Lock
Brades Hall Junction

Saturday 26 November 2016

A return to the Cromford Canal

I made a return to the Cromford Canal today, you may remember i first visited the canal at Ambergate last month. Today i went to Cromford itself which is where the canal started (or ended depending on your point of view) down to Whatstandwell. A good portion of this stretch of the canal is navigable unlike most other places on the canal, restoration is ongoing though has a long way to go. Derbyshire is a great place for a walk and the scenery is lovely along the canal. Its a very interesting stretch of canal too with 2 aqueducts and a tunnel. You can see my photos here.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Electric canal boats

The traditional way to haul canal boats was using muscle, usually horse muscle but sometimes human too. Steam and later internal combustion engines later powered barges but there was an experiment to power barges via an electric overhead line. This Pathé newsreel shows an experiment held in Kidderminster (the photo below is of the canal at Kidderminster so maybe near to where the experiment was).

I don't know about you but powering canal boats this way doesn't seem all that safe. A live electric line and water is an accident waiting to happen, plus all of those overhanging trees and bushes arn't helping the safety case much.

Tuesday 22 November 2016

A mysterious drone

Many times as i lay in bed at night as a kid (and beyond) i would hear a far off drone. Some sort of aircraft of course but with the otherwise peace of the night the drone felt so alone. I would listen to the drone until it faded away and would wonder what plane it was (i of course was a plane spotter back then too). As it seemed like a smaller propeller plane i imagined it could be a light aircraft, maybe some specialist transport link running late at night. Maybe even MI5 or the US government running a black network of secret agents.

Although i've always lived under the BHX flight path (and indeed my own house is a mile closer to the airport) my fascination with the drone went away, no doubt replaced by girls or Class 47 diesel locomotives. In recent years however i've started noticing the drone again, though a somewhat different tone, not as mournful. A few months ago i was in the garden on a light night when i heard the drone, and as it was a clear night i could finally see the source of this drone (and also could see what it was on a flight tracking app, this wasn't available to me in the early 1980s!)

It turned out to just be a propeller regional airliner flying high above, maybe flying into East Midlands Airport. Some of the romance has now been lost. My fantasy of secret missions have turned into the last flight out of Belfast of the day. How disappointing, sometimes its better not to know everything and keep some mysteries alive. I suspect the drone i knew so well was that of RR Dart turboprops which powered so many airliners back in the 70s and 80s. The newer breed of turboprop are no doubt much more efficient, but don't sound as good!
A photo i took at B'ham Airport in the 1980s of a British Midland F27, great drone!

A modern airliner, not as good a drone!