Wednesday 31 January 2018


Birmingham Thinktank has an excellent collection of stationary (including steam) engines including this one.

Tuesday 30 January 2018

Churches (16) : St Alkmund, Duffield

The parish church of Duffield is one of only a handful of English churches dedicated to the eighth century Northumbrian prince and martyr St Alkmund. A church has been on the site since before the Domesday Book. The current church dates mostly from the fourteenth century but with numerous changes and alternations over the following centuries.

The church was heavily restored in the nineteenth century though retains much of it's original state including the fourteenth century tower. The church is a fair walk from Duffield itself (though the spire can be clearly seen from the edge of the village) probably sited next to Duffield Bridge for the benefit of pilgrims.

Sunday 28 January 2018

A return to Nuneaton

Yesterday was a dull grey wet Saturday, where better than to be standing on a railway platform in Nuneaton? (No comments please!) I went to Nuneaton hoping to see a Class 319 on its way North though this never materialised, i did get to see (hear and smell) the glory of a Class 37 hauling an EMU though the station. Modern locomotives are much more advanced of course, but nothing matches the excitement old school English Electric motive power can bring you. You can see my photos here.

Friday 26 January 2018

Five years of the model railway project

When i was a boy i had a model railway (though it wasn't very good to be honest) but i stopped in my late teens due to other things becoming more interesting like girls (in theory anyway).

When i became a home owner in my late twenties one of the things i planned to do in my new house (and with plenty of space) was have a model railway again. Thirteen years later (and five years ago today) i finally got around to ordering some new railway stock and a few days later (January the 31st to be exact) i was able to run a train on my dining table...

The next five years have seen a number of adventures and misadventures. I guess i like to try and learn from my mistakes and there were plenty of those. I am now on my third generation layout since 2013. However the Falcon (which i called the blue locomotive) is still running. You can read more about the layout on its dedicated blog. A Flickr photo gallery showing the older layouts can be seen here.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

The Birmingham Tram

Long before the Midland Metro Birmingham, like many towns and cities, had a street tram network. It was one of the largest networks in the country opening in 1904 and lasting until 1953. At its height the network stretched for nearly 130km growing as the city grew in the Interwar Period. The Birmingham network, operated by Birmingham Corporation Tramways, had a narrower track gauge than many networks and it was the largest narrow gauge tram system.

As with nearly all the systems in the UK, decline began in the 1930s as trolleybuses and later motorbuses proved to be cheaper and more flexible. With hindsight of course it was a big mistake to close down the tram systems though made sound financial sense at the time. Most of the Birmingham network was closed just after World War 2 with a number of lines surviving until 1953 and the final closure.

There are not many traces of the Birmingham tram network now. Two tramcars survive and bits of track here and there plus some of the old depots. I remember when Erdington High Street was resurfaced in the 1980s, some of the old tram track which had been tarmaced over could be seen. In 1999 the Midland Metro began operation and in 2015 with the extension to New Street street trams returned to Birmingham at last.
Tramcar 395 at Thinktank

Tramcar 170 at the AMRTM under restoration

Interior of Witton depot, at the time used as a bus museum, notice the rails

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Churches (15) : St Edward the Confessor, Romford

The Church of St Edward the Confessor of the Diocese of Chelmsford in Essex (though the church and Romford is now part of London) dates from 1849 when it was built to replace an earlier church which dated from 1410. The new church, in the Victorian Gothic style, was consecrated in 1850.

The church was built from Kentish ragstone and Bath stone. The church has a five bay nave with a clerestory and North and South aisles. The church also has a Lady chapel and a chancel. Two vestries were added later in the 19th century.

Saturday 20 January 2018


Once as a child i went to the Birmingham Science Museum but i have not been to the current incarnation, known as Thinktank, since it relocated from Newhall Street to the Millennium Point until now. To be honest most of the exhibits have not changed though all i could remember from Newhall Street was the City of Birmingham locomotive.

My main reason to go was to see the tramcar. Trams are my theme for this year and so i thought i ought to see the sole surviving in one piece Birmingham Corporation tramcar (i have seen the other survivor at the AMRTM before). Thinktank is nice though it would be nicer if there were a few more exhibits. You can see my photos here anyway.

City of Birmingham


Steam lorry 
Stationary engine

An MG and a Rover

Thursday 18 January 2018

The Prime Computer story

Prime Computer (the name was often written as Pr1me in publications as shown on my copy of the Assembly Language Programmer's Guide right) was a manufacturer of minicomputers in the 1970s and 1980s.

The company was started in 1972 by seven founders and started off with the Prime 200 which was compatible with the Honeywell 316/516 (which had been discontinued). Prime continued to develop minicomputers throughout the decade culminating with the 750 which was known as a "VAX killer" (running at 1.0 MIPS) and this set off Prime into the big league.

By the mid-1980s it was the sixth largest minicomputer manufacturer with many customers in US banking and academia. Primes also had a major use as CAD systems.

In the early 1980s Prime was big enough to be rumoured to be interested in buying Apple (computing today could certainly be different if that had happened!) They also employed the then-Dr Who Tom Baker and Romana (Lalla Ward) for a series of TV adverts!

However, like all the large computer manufacturer they hit turbulance in the late 1980s as customers began to turn away from mainframes and minicomputers and instead went for PCs, workstations and Unix based servers instead. Hardware was becoming a cheap commodity, the real money was in software. Prime bought a CAD software company called Computervision in 1989.

Prime stumbled into the 1990s, surviving hostile takeover attempts but declining revenues were resulting in a number of new system projects being curtailed. Although once Primes had been cutting edge, by the late 1980s they had fallen behind competing systems in terms of processing power. They also failed to join the PC revolution of the 1980s. A Prime PC was developed (or rather bought from another company) but was delayed and by the time it was finally released it was already obsolete.

In the late 1980s Prime tried to break into the lucrative workstation market but the debt mountain finally caused Prime to run out of time in the Summer of 1992. The company was restructured under the Computervision name with hardware projects and manufacturing ceased and most staff were laid off.

Although hardware sales had ended Computervision continued to develop the Prime operating system PRIMOS for a number of years. The last major version (Rev 24) was released in 1994 and the last known update was Rev 24.0.0.R51 released in March 1996. Computervision itself was bought by PTC in 1998.

Nowadays it is unlikely there are any Prime systems still in operation however a number did survive well after the demise of Prime (and indeed Computervision).

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Churches (14) : St. Michael, Huyton

The Church of St. Michael on the edge of Liverpool is Huyton's parish church. A church has probably existed on this site since Saxon times and at least since the 12th century. The current church dates from at least the 14th century with the tower and chancel surviving from then. The church was built from local red sandstone, the exterior is mostly from more modern refacing.

The church was reported to be in a "ruinous condition" [1] in 1555 with parts of the church including the chancel being unusable. Work on improving the condition of the church does not appear to have happened for some time with the church reported as still being in a poor state in 1592. The chancel was repaired in the mid-16th century with further repairs and rebuilding take place in the early 19th century. The aisles and arcade date from then.

[1] "The parish of Huyton: Introduction, church and charities." A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 3. Eds. William Farrer, and J Brownbill. London: Victoria County History, 1907. 151-157. British History Online. Web. 16 January 2018.

Sunday 14 January 2018

Martlet done

Project #080, a Grumman Martlet, has been completed.The end result isn't too bad though i did mess up the building a bit. It was supposed to have it's undercarriage down but oh well, it can join my small sub-fleet with wheels up. This doesn't finish the 2017 model building season as the railbus Project #076 is still waiting for the right paint so that can be completed. I need to get that sorted out...

Saturday 13 January 2018


A much more modest rail adventure this week, just up the Cross City Line to Shenstone near Lichfield. This crosses off another station from the list of course and also i had a look at the rather interesting church that overlooks the village. As well as the rather nice church itself there is an isolated ruined bell tower 100m away, i believe this was the original much older church on the site. You can see my photos here.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Churches (13) : St. John the Baptist, Henley-in-Arden

The church of St. John the Baptist in Henley-in-Arden was built in the mid-1400s replacing an earlier church built just over one hundred years previously. The church is located next to the High Street and the Guildhall and indeed is connected to the latter [1]. The church is largely the same as built on the exterior though the interior has seen a number of changes and updates especially in recent times.

The church is in the English Gothic perpendicular style. The style being dominated by straight vertical lines and having a "single defining motif, applied with an unerring visual logic" [2].

[1] Nikolas Pevsner & Alexandra Wedgewood, The Building of England: Warwickshire (Penguin, 1966) p. 309
[2] John Cannon, Medieval Church Architecture (Shire, 2017) p. 61

Sunday 7 January 2018

Stroudwater Navigation

The Stroudwater Navigation linked Stroud to the Severn estuary and joined the Thames and Severn Canal thus allowing a link between the two great rivers.

The canal was abandoned in 1954 though has been in the process of restoration in recent years, not all the canal is navigable with work ongoing in a number of areas along the stretch between Stonehouse and Stroud which i walked. You can see my photos here.

A visit to the land of my ancestors

Lets begin the 2018 season of travelling about then. I decided (pretty much at the last minute to be honest) to begin my travels down in Gloucestershire. I went to Stonehouse which is apparently where my great-grand mother lived for awhile. I then had a walk along the Stroudwater Navigation (see separate article) and walked to Stroud which is where my great-great-great-great grandmother Mary lived. Who knows maybe they also walked this canal back then?

You can see my railway photos here.

Tuesday 2 January 2018

The railway stations on the Monopoly board

Surely many games of Monopoly were played over Christmas? On the traditional London board the railway stations are Fenchurch Street, Marylebone, Liverpool Street and Kings Cross. This is quite an unusual selection, why not Euston and Waterloo for example? The answer may be when the British board game manufacturer Waddingtons bought the right to the game from a US company in 1935 they headed down from their headquarters in Leeds to London to look for suitable locations.

All four stations they chose are LNER stations which may be no coincidence. They would have arrived in London at Kings Cross and may have seen signs for the company's other stations (or just stuck with their local company!)

Liverpool Street

Kings Cross

Fenchurch Street