Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Castles (9) : Tamworth

Tamworth is a well preserved example of a Norman motte and bailey castle though was built on the site of earlier Saxon fortifications. The original castle was made from wood in the years following the Norman invasion. It was rebuilt from stone while under the ownership of the Marmion family. When the Marmions turned against King John in 1215 he ordered the castle destroyed. The castle destruction was halted after John's death and the damage repaired. The Marmions were restored to royal favour and Henry III visited the castle in 1257.

The castle had a number of additions as it passed to the Ferrers family especially during the Elizabethan period with the castle being made more suitable for habitation than war. During the Civil War it was captured by Parliamentary forces and used as a garrison. The castle changed ownership a few times in the following centuries, fell into disrepair but was restored. It was finally bought by the Tamworth Corporation in 1891 and remains a council owned museum and tourist attraction with well preserved interiors.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Return of the TwiggyMac

The Twiggy Mac is the stuff of myth surely? What am I talking about? Well the Apple Macintosh, up until a fairly late stage in the project (which was finally released in 1984 of course) was going to use the same 5 1/4 inch "Twiggy" disk drive as used in the Apple Lisa. Unfortunately the Twiggy drive was rubbish and often failed, indeed this was one of the Lisa's Achilles' heels (along with the huge price). Luckily Sony had just bought out their new 3.5 inch floppy drive format which Apple used instead and the rest is history...

It has been assumed that none of the Twiggy drive equipped Macintosh prototypes had survived as Apple had had them all recalled and destroyed in 1983. However one was found and later on another one turned up too!

After some restoration work the Twiggy Macs now work again and could boot from the original Twiggy system disks which included a beta version of Mac OS from August 1983. This version of the eventual first release of Mac OS included some intriguing differences from the final version including "Steve sez" in dialogue boxes. The whole story is recounted in the highly enjoyable Twiggy Mac website.
Heres how it ended up looking, my 512K

Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Stratford in Shirley

Today I didn't go very far, just to Solihull in fact. I went to Shirley and then walked the Stratford Canal as far as Whitlock's End. It was nice walking along the canal with many signs of autumn (my favourite season). So many leaves were on the towpath and canal in some places it was hard to see where one ended and the other started! You can see the canal photos here.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Castles (8) : Tutbury

Just inside the Staffordshire border is Tutbury castle which was owned by one of William the Conqueror's leading Norman magnates Henry de Ferrers. He was awarded over two hundred manors in England by the King mostly across the Midlands. Duffield castle was another of his castles, though more an outpost, Tutbury castle was his headquarters. The original motte and bailey of Tutbury was constructed in 1068-9.

The castle was nearly destroyed during a rebellion by one of Henry's descendants against Henry III in 1269. It was repaired though became a residential property than a military base. People who stayed at the castle in later years included the wife of John of Gaunt and Mary, Queen of Scots. The Queen noted that the castle was worn out, damp and draughty though she was a prisoner at the castle.

The castle was destroyed after the English Civil War on the orders of parliament though some parts were repaired after the restoration of the monarchy. In later years it was used as a farm and a residential property, but is now open to the public.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Apple, NeXT, Be and Steve Jobs

It is all part of Apple's rich history, how when the chips were down Steve Jobs returned to the company he co-founded and help lead them from the abyss and towards where they are now: one of the biggest companies in the world. However this fascinating blog post details how that almost didn't happen.

In the mid-1990s Apple was struggling. MacOS was becoming out of date and attempts to create a new more modern version were failing hard. Apple looked to buy in an existing operating system to form the basis of the MacOS replacement. In the end they chose NeXT Computer (another company founded by Steve Jobs) and Next's operating system became the basis of Mac OSX. It nearly wasn't this way though, BeOS was also a contender and it is interesting to consider how (Apple) history and maybe the history of the world would have been different if BeOS had been the chosen system.
NeXT Cube

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Wirral Transport Museum

Yesterday I visited Wirral Transport Museum, somewhere I have been keen to visit for some time due to it's tram collection and live running of trams. I had a trip on one of the latter, a good old vintage tram... or was it? Actually the tram was built by the HK Tramway company in the early 1990s! It is one of two built for the Wirral Tramway which is part of the museum. The trams on display in the museum are originals though, including a Liverpool tram. My Nan in Liverpool was a conductor on trams in the Second World War, maybe she worked on that tram? You can see my photos here. The museum is well worth a visit and includes road transport including some nice old buses too.

The past, present and future of Merseyside rail transport

Yesterday I visited Liverpool and of course did quite a lot of travelling around on various trains. One interesting aspect of yesterday's visit was to see the preserved Liverpool Overhead Railway exhibit in the museum, this was one of the earliest electrified railways which opened in the 1890s. Before that I had a look at the mock-up of the new Merseyrail trains which should enter service in 2020. As I also travelled around on the current stock I visited (and was aboard) the past, present and future of Merseyside rail transport! You can see my photos here.
Liverpool Overhead Railway

Current Merseyrail Class 507

The future: Class 777

Friday, 9 November 2018

Erdington postboxes

You can do far and wide to see stuff but sometimes the interesting things are right on your doorstep. While waiting for my car to be repaired the garage (pothole damage) i had a walk around the local area. I discovered a George V postbox in Erdington which was interesting. However what was even more exciting was finding an Edward VII postbox right around the corner from my Mum's house. I do find this a bit odd as surely I would have noticed this before but anyway there it is.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Castles (7) : Bridgnorth

Not much remains of Bridgnorth Castle in Shropshire these days. The castle, which was built in 1101 by Robert de Belleme the third Earl of Shrewsbury, is situated on a cliff which overlooks the river Severn. Robert was said to be fond of a little torture so it is likely some of his castle's guests did not enjoy their stay that much.

The castle once had a great tower over twenty metres high and a bailey that encompassed the top of the cliff. The castle was a Royalist stronghold during the Civil War and was destroyed by Parliamentary forces under orders from Oliver Cromwell.

The castle tower was left as a ruin which leans at an angle of fifteen degrees. This is largely all that remains of the castle today.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Creating the Apple Lisa (and Mac) user interface

How exactly are graphical user interfaces (GUI) created? Obviously it involves quite a lot of advanced programming and design work but where do you start, especially back in the 1970s when there weren't many examples of GUIs to gain inspiration from? This extraordinary page on the Mac Folklore website has a series of photographs how the Apple Lisa GUI developed from the first basic graphic tests to the finished article which shipped in the early 1980s, and later carried on by the Apple Macintosh to the present day.

What is especially interesting how the Apple UI, with elements still familiar and used today such as the menu at the top, evolved. Early in the Lisa GUI development a softkey menu along the bottom of the screen was the direction the developers took before the abrupt change to a window and mouse based design. Inspired / stolen from Xerox PARC? Well various theories abound, i'm sure there was plenty of inspiration taken but some elements of the GUI are said to predate that.

It is interesting that in 1980 the Lisa had a menu on the top of windows (like Microsoft Windows later went with) instead of along the top of the screen as how the final design used.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Walking in Wigan

I went up to Wigan yesterday. I have been once before but only to change trains on my trip to St Helens last year. This time I wanted to explore the Leeds & Liverpool Canal which passes through the town. The canal in Wigan is very interesting and i explored part of the Leigh branch too. You can see my canal photos from Wigan here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Gardening update

With Winter approaching maybe it's time for a little review of how the gardening has gone in 2018. Well apart from cutting things down not a great deal has happened. The herb garden is still doing really well. The raised bed is starting to show some wear and tear though (it is over five years old now) so i'll have to do some reinforcements next year or over the Winter.

The lawn was doing well until the drought, it hasn't yet recovered and is rather patchy. The second raised bed is now settling down ready for some plants next year. Maybe in 2019 there can be more new plants instead of just cutting bits off the existing ones.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Castles (6) : Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth castle is ruins nowadays, though recognisable as having once being a substantial castle. The castle and it's predecessor have had a troubled history.

The first Aberystwyth castle was a motte and bailey castle built in 1100 to the South of the current castle. The castle was besieged and later burnt down in 1136. The castle was rebuilt but burnt down again at a later date. The current Aberystwyth castle was built by Edward I in 1277. However it was captured and burned down just a few years later!

The castle was finally considered finished in 1289 though by the 1340s it was already said to be in a state of disrepair. However it continued to be an important political centre being well situated on the coast and next to a thriving town. The castle was captured by Owain Glynd┼Ár in 1404 during the Welsh uprising.  The castle was finally destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in 1649, the castle having been a royalist centre and mint during the Civil War.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Remodelled Derby

I went to Derby yesterday for the first time since the early Summer. The station has undergone a lot of change with new signalling, a changed layout and a whole new platform so I thought I'd go up and see how it looks now! Unfortunately the old staging siding at either end of the station are now gone, there always used to be at least one old locomotive resting there. However the ends of the platform are better. You still get some good sights at Derby, including a rail tour yesterday. You can see my photos here.

Thursday, 25 October 2018


The usual history of graphic user interfaces goes like this: Xerox PARC invented them in the 1970s and Apple got inspired to build their own closely followed by X Windows and Microsoft... Well it didn't quite happen that way. Xerox were not the first to develop GUI technology and in the late 1970s and early 1980s there were a number of other GUIs in development.

Blit was a multi-tasking windowing environment developed by AT&T in the early 1980s. It ran on the AT&T 5620 which might be termed more a smart terminal than a computer but it had a M68K processor - like the first Macs - and so was quite powerful for it's day. The 5620 could be connected to a Unix computer via an RS-232 connection. The GUI is familiar but also had some interesting ideas, somewhat similar to Smalltalk systems in some ways and early X Windows. The video is well worth a watch.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Castles (5) : Stamford

Stamford Castle was a Norman structure built around 1075. It was built on a small hill overlooking the river Welland and the west of the town of Stamford. Little details of the castle's early existence are known though it thought to have been a standard motte and bailey design. The castle may have been built on the site of earlier fortifications.

The castle was besieged in the civil wars of the twelfth century but fell into decay in the following century when it was described as old and decayed.

The castle was largely demolished in 1484, the site remaining vacant for hundreds of years before being built on in the twentieth century. All that remains of the castle now are a small part of the curtain wall.

Monday, 22 October 2018

Waterways of Manchester

Manchester has a lot of waterways just like Birmingham and London, the most famous one is the Ship Canal of course though I haven't visited that yet. Instead I walked parts of the Bridgewater and Rochdale Canals which meet at Castlefield Junction. You can see my Bridgewater Canal photos here and the Rochdale Canal photos here.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Manchester Science & Industry Museum

The Science & Industry Museum in Manchester is part of the Science Museum group along with the main museum in London and the National Railway Museum in York. I visited the Science & Industry Museum yesterday and greatly enjoyed the exhibits, especially the railway and aviation halls. Among the exhibits at the museum include surviving parts of the very first "proper" railway Manchester Liverpool Road (from 1830), an Avro Shackleton and Rocket - maybe the only steam locomotive that can rival Flying Scotsman for fame. You can see my photos from the museum here.