Thursday 27 September 2018

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Golden Age (11) : The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu

Having already been familiar with Fu-Manchu through the popular films starring Christopher Lee i thought i knew what to expect when i finally read one of the novels the films were based on, but the level of madness within was more than i expected to be honest! Dr Fu-Manchu is a Chinese criminal mastermind / warlord who terrorises the West with his poisons, evil plots and brutal inhumanity. His aim is the ascendancy of China. This is real Yellow Peril stuff.

This first Fu-Manchu novel by Sax Rohmer was actually a collection of short stories already published, and it does show as there is little flow throughout the book though the stories are quite closely linked. The stories describe Fu-Manchu's epic battle with former policeman Nayland Smith and various action set pieces. Despite the Oriental theme the stories take place in the dark and sleezy underbelly of London... and even Windsor.

Truthfully it is a rather strange read, at times the dated stereotypes are so awful you wonder if you are reading some kind of weird modern parody. However it is undeniably compelling.

Monday 24 September 2018

Super Sabre

The latest model project, #084 is a North American F-100 Super Sabre. It is come out pretty decent too which is good as the last couple of models this year have been a bit sub-optimal. Just got the varnishing to do.

Sunday 23 September 2018

The Pigeon House, Monks Risborough

Monks Risborough is a lovely village in Buckinghamshire. It is at the foot of the Chilterns and has been in existence since pre-Norman times. Not quite as old but still very interesting is a building near the church of St Dunstan (originally between the church and a farmhouse) that dates from the 16th century.

This is the Pigeon House which now stands in a recreation ground. Pigeons were bred for food in the house though later it was used by the nearby farm as a cattle shelter. One curiosity is a door on the Northern side of the house which does not match the rest of the architecture and may have been originally part of another building.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Golden Age (10) : The Secret of High Eldersham

The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton starts off a typical detective murder story in a small East Anglian village. As its a Golden Age story the police inspector is assisted by his friend who is of course an enthusiastic amateur. So far so good... then suddenly we are in a tale of witchcraft, black magic and forbidden rituals.

A few chapters later the story changes tack again (actually literally) as it becomes a mystery set in the littorals near the village, in lagoons along the coast.

All these aspects of the story are linked and come together reasonably well in the end. The pacing goes a bit off at times and the genre switching can make you think the author was a bit confused but this was one of his earlier novels. The amateur detective Merrion went on to appear in fifty nine further stories!

Monday 17 September 2018

A tale of two Warwicks

Today I travelled to Warwick Parkway railway station, to gather some imagery which will one day feature on my Calling At stations blog of course. The main reason though was to join the Grand Union Canal which is next to the railway line and walk into Warwick itself (the Parkway station is in Budbrooke).

In the town I went to the other Warwick station (and took some photos there as well of course). So a tale of two Warwick (stations), you can see my railway photos here. You can see my canal photos here.

Sunday 16 September 2018


My original plan for the weekend was to go to Bedford on Saturday but for various reasons that never happened. Instead I went to Evesham instead on Sunday. I have been to Evesham once before, when I was at university but that was about thirty years ago! Evesham is a nice old town with medieval and Civil War buildings though I was more interested on this brief trip by walking along the Avon. To get from Worcester to Evesham I went on the new GWR Class 800 train, which was rather nice. You can see my photos here.

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Golden Age (9) : The Pit-Prop Syndicate

The two most common themes in Golden Age detective literature were the enthusiastic amateur detective and the steady plodding police professional. Ingeniously Freeman Wills Croft has combined both in this tale of smuggling and murder.

The first part of the book (the two parts are actually titled "The Amateurs" and "The Professionals") describes how a wine merchant touring South West France comes across a mysterious English lorry which for an unfathomable reason has changed it's number plate. As he investigates further with his friend he discovers mysterious goings on in a remote yard and a coaster that regularly travels to England. Are they smuggling brandy?

Eventually in part 2 the police are called in as the plot is far too dangerous for our amateurs, especially after one of the gang members is murdered in London. A complicated plot is uncovered by our Scotland Yard detective involving secret tunnels, dedicated telephone lines and other mysterious goings on. It can be quite intricate a plot at times, maybe even rather dense but enjoyable in how it all comes together. Freeman Wills Croft really did know how to write an engaging crime novel.

Monday 10 September 2018

North London tubes

As well as visiting the RAF Museum on Saturday I also did some train travelling in North London. After the museum (which is best reached via the Northern Line) i headed up to the terminus of the line at Edgware. Now the Northern terminus of the Jubilee Line is only a couple of kilometres walk away in Stanmore so I walked over to it (to be honest it was further than it looked on the map!) You can see my photos here.

Sunday 9 September 2018

RAF Museum London

I went down to London yesterday to visit the RAF Museum in North London. It is a very impressive site, similar in scale and quality of collection to the other RAF museum up at Cosford. I particularly enjoyed seeing the Heinkel He162 Salamander there, the insane project in coming up with a jet fighter in a few months at the end of World War 2 always fascinating me, especially as the resulting aircraft was somehow pretty decent. You can see my photos here.

Thursday 6 September 2018

Wednesday 5 September 2018

Birmingham Snow Hill in 1914

Birmingham Snow Hill, one of the city's three railway stations, was the Great Western Railway's main station in the city. The station still exists nowadsys but it is very different to how it used to be. These three photographs are from the Railway Times in 1914 (via and show the station just following a major rebuild.

The station was closed in 1972 and became a car park for a while until it was finally rebuilt and re-opened in 1987, though looks very different now. It is a shame that both Snow Hill and New Street have lost their overall roofs. At least Moor Street is still close to it's original state. More old photos from Snow Hill (from the 1950s this time and showing the lines just outside the station) can be seen here.

Tuesday 4 September 2018

British Airliners (5) : Vickers Viscount

The Vickers Viscount was one of the most successful British airliners of the post-war period, taking advantage of the new turboprop engines developed in the late 1940s by Rolls Royce.

First flight: 1948
Withdrawn: 2009
Number built: 445
The Viscount first flew in 1948 and entered service in 1953 being the first turboprop airliner to enter service and the first turbine powered airliner to carry fare paying passengers. It was designed for short to medium haul journeys on routes with lower passenger numbers. Originally it had a fairly short fuselage and could carry up to thirty two passengers but later versions were extended. The Viscount had a pressurised cabin and large cabin windows and proved popular with passengers and airlines.

The then new turboprop propulsion proved it's superiority of traditional pistol engines and despite some initial scepticism from airlines soon proved a hit and four hundred and forty five were eventually built. It had a long service life, finally leaving airline service in Britain in 1996 but continued in service elsewhere especially in Africa. The final Viscount flight was in early 2009 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
In service with British Midland in the early 1980s at Birmingham Airport

Preserved Viscount at Brooklands

Monday 3 September 2018

Nightingale / Leawood Arm, Cromford Canal

The Nightingale (or Leawood) Arm of the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire was built by Peter Nightingale (the great-uncle of Florence) to reach his cotton mills and lead smelters [1]. The canal arm, which opened in 1802, reached Lea Wharf, later extending to Lea Mills before being cut back due to disputes over water rights. The arm was in use up into the 1930s but fell into disuse and was closed like the rest of the canal during the Second World War.

At the junction of the arm and main canal stands Aqueduct Cottage built for the lockkeeper who looked after the lock at the entrance to the arm. The cottage was lived in until 1970 [2] but as an unoccupied building has sadly fallen victim to neglect and vandalism and is now a ruin.

[1] Hugh Potter, The Cromford Canal (Tempus, 2003) p. 106
[2] Ibid. p. 27

Saturday 1 September 2018

Butlers Lane

Just a short railway adventure this weekend, up to Butlers Lane which was the last station I had yet to visit on the Northern half of the Cross City Line. It isn't far away, indeed i was back within a few hundred metres of the station later in the day (in the car this time) when i did the weekly supermarket shop!

Now I need to complete the remaining stations on the Southern half of the line, including the new terminus of Bromsgrove. As a bonus today I travelled on a West Midlands Railway train in the new orange livery for the first time. It looks really good.